Is the “Cloud” Safe?

Posted by jplesset on May 23, 2014 under Real Stories of Support | Be the First to Comment

Recently, our Church decided to move to using “Cloud” services for office applications and e-mail.  Yes, they did it without consulting with me (typical church stuff, the staff makes decisions without input). This prompted me to ask, “Is the cloud safe?”

For values of “safe”, indeed it is, but . . .  If you’re thinking about putting your information in the cloud, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Who has my data?
  • Do I really trust them?
  • What security measures do they take against hacking?
  • What backup do they do?  What if I delete something accidentally?
  • What will the long term cost be?  It may be inexpensive today, but next year?
  • Can I get my data back if I want to?  If they stop offering the service?

There are alternatives to paying somebody else to store your stuff in a “cloud”. A few months ago, I got a “network attached” storage unit.  Not expensive, and we now use it as our own little “cloud” here at home. We could turn the remote access part on, and be able to access our stuff from anywhere. Since we own the equipment, we don’t have to pay anybody for the service…

Update to the Church experiment, 6 months on.

Most things seem to be working well, except..   All e-mail with attachments are only getting a “winmail.dat” file attached. Many Church members can’t use these, including me. The Church IT person can’t figure out how to fix it, and every time there’s an update, what he tries goes away. Microsoft Support hasn’t been able to help either.

Iris Garden

Posted by jplesset on under Did That Really Happen?, Uncategorized | 2 Comments to Read

Yes, I’m still into photography.  We visited the Scheiner’s Iris Nursery/Garden this week, and I took many pictures.  Here are a few…

I’m not sure how many of these we’ll try to grow…  They’re inspiring!

Um, did you read the screen?

Posted by jplesset on April 21, 2014 under Real Stories of Support, Working with Support | Be the First to Comment

Often, when I get a new Support case, I have to wonder if the person filing the support case has actually read the screen.  Today, I got one where the customer appears to have ignored two very important items:

“Update succeeded with 0 errors and 2 warnings.  Detailed messages are in the logs.”

Ok, what were those detailed messages?  Don’t you think that warnings might be important?

“Restart to activate changes”

Yes, Mr. Customer, you still have to restart the application to make what you did take effect…..


Sorry, just venting.

LED lights for the Living Room?

Posted by jplesset on February 3, 2014 under LED Lighting | Be the First to Comment

Sure, why not?  If you have general lighting in your living room, it’s most likely incandescent, or possibly fluorescent.  Incandescent (regular old light bulbs) is very wasteful of energy and your money.  Fluorescent is much more economical, but they don’t dim, often have poor color, and look kind of “industrial” to many.

LED lighting is even more efficient than fluorescent, comes in either “cool” or “warm” white, both with very good color, and can be hidden easily.  In my case, our living room has sconce fixtures on columns and indirect “trays” overhead.  When we built the house, the sconces could have had incandescent lamps in them, though I put in low power LEDs instead.  The overhead trays had 4′ fluorescent, dimmable tubes across the whole ceiling.


As you can see, it looked pretty good. Five years later, one bay of the fluorescent tubes wouldn’t light.  I bought replacement tubes, but that didn’t help.  Bad ballasts.  Called the manufacturer who said, “buy new ballasts, send us the old ones.  If we determine they’re bad, we’ll replace them for you.”  No thank you.

Instead of replacing the ballasts ($125 EACH), I replaced all of the tubes with LED strip-lights.  “Double-brightness” strips in warm white were $39 for a reel 16 feet long. Add $49 for a power supply for each one, and about 2 hours to install it all.  Now, it’s more dimmable, uses 1/3 the electricity, and should last 20 years with no maintenance.  It doesn’t really look very different. The LEDs come on quicker, and are “warm” instead of “cool”, like the old tubes were.  I also replaced the 6 watt reflector lamps in the sconces with 11 watt LED “A” lamps, so the room is actually brighter than before.  These are dimmable, too…

Here’s a link to the strips I used.

and the power supplies

and the sconce lights. These simply screw into standard sockets.

Stay tuned for more LED projects.  I’ve also replaced all the under-cabinet lights in the kitchen, and all the ceiling recesses in the hallways.  Dining room is next for more light…  Oh, yeah.  The reflector lamps in the bedroom are still the original incandescent 50 watt bulbs.  Those will be replaced as soon as the budget allows with these.

Questions?  Comments welcome.

Buy a New Computer, or Upgrade?

Posted by jplesset on January 26, 2014 under Computers | Be the First to Comment

I hear people talking all the time about getting a new computer.  I always wonder why they’ve decided to throw away the old one, when likely there’s little wrong with it, and most of the parts are no worse than what they get in a new one.

Personally, I haven’t purchased a completely new desktop/tower computer in many years; I just replace what needs to be replaced for upgrading. I save hundreds of dollars, spend an hour or so unscrewing and removing the motherboard, and installing new.  Larger hard disks take just a few minutes to install, too.

OK, I understand that most people aren’t able to open up a computer to “fix” it. I think that’s mostly fear.  For example, adding memory to a computer is just about as difficult as putting bread into a toaster. Many local computer stores are willing to help you. No, not the big chain stores. Most big chain stores have limited knowledge, except for the “service department”, and those people will charge you for help. Find a small, locally-owned store, and most likely the sales people will know what you need, and are willing to offer help. In Portland, I like, Pacific Solutions. The owner and all the sales people seem quite knowledgeable, and have always given me good advice. Their prices are competitive, too.

When my wife needs more performance, I get her a new motherboard, processor, memory.  I take the old out, which is likely better than my system, and put it in mine. My old stuff goes to another system, until all are upgraded. I never buy the “state of the art”, because I refuse to pay the premium for something that’s going to be reasonably priced in 6 months or a year. I buy what was state of the art a year ago. Typically, that means under $100 for the motherboard, another $75 or so for the processor, and maybe $80 for memory. The DVD burner/player is fine, the case is fine, the video adapter is fine, as is the monitor. Why replace stuff that’s good?

Is It Fixed Yet?

Posted by jplesset on January 20, 2014 under Real Stories of Support | Be the First to Comment

One of my first experiences in the real world of corporate Tech Support was the day our Novell server stopped working. As the only “hardware savvy” guy there, it was my task to fix it.

The server was basically  just a PC, with a big hard disk, so I felt comfortable opening the box up and seeing what was in it. Pretty soon, I had the thing spread around me on the floor in the “server room”, trying to see which part had gone bad.

About every 15 minutes or so, somebody would come into the room and ask, “Is it fixed yet?”.  Shortly, I started responding, “Do you see it all over the floor?  If so, then, no, it’s not fixed yet.” I wanted to say, “You idiot, when it’s fixed, I won’t be sitting on the floor here, with parts all around me; I’ll be back at my desk doing something productive. Every time you interrupt me, it takes that much longer for me to get it working…”

Yes, I did get it fixed and back together, and it worked for years after that company went out of business.

Do the “Fix My Computer” Ads Work?

Posted by jplesset on January 17, 2014 under Advertising | Be the First to Comment

You’ve seen the ads.  They promise to fix bugs, worms, and generally cure all that ails your computer.  They claim to diagnose your system for free, and then you can pay to “fix” all that the system finds.  Do they work?

Well, um, for values of “work”, yes, they do.  Please understand, they will find some problems.  In my experience, they will also find hundreds of things that are NOT problems, and may cause you grief if those are “fixed”.  I recently installed Windows 7 on a fresh system, and then ran one of these diagnosis programs.  The system was fresh from installing Windows, and had no other software installed.  It hadn’t been on the internet, had no programs other than Windows on it.  As perfect as Microsoft could have made it.  Yet, this diagnosis program found over 1,100 different things it wanted to fix.

I’ve also found that some of the diagnosis programs actually INSTALL problems to fix, so you are guaranteed to have it find something.  Better, to:

  1. Install a virus scanning tool.  I use AVG, the free version.
  2. Keep the virus tool updated
  3. Practice “safe internet” use.  When you get an e-mail, before you open the attachment, note the e-mail address it came from.  If that address doesn’t match anybody you know, don’t open the attachment. Check the actual address, not the “friendly text” name, because that’s very easy to forge.
  4. Don’t just click on links in your e-mail.  Hover over a link, and see where it’s going (your browser will show where the link goes in the lower-left border).  If, for example, your e-mail claims to come from “”, but the link goes to “”, that’s a site in Russia, and you likely don’t really want to go there.
  5. Don’t put your userid and password into any site you didn’t type in yourself…  Most of these scam sites try to look like the site you think you’re going to, but aren’t.  The URL (Universal Resource Locator) tells you where you are.  Most scam sites are outside the US, in China (CN), Russia (RU), several African countries, etc.  If you send money overseas, you have little recourse…

In short, there’s really little that these heavily advertised online programs can do for you that you can’t get done for free….


Computer Audio? Why?

Posted by jplesset on January 15, 2014 under Audio Technology, Computer Audio | Be the First to Comment

Why mess up a perfectly-working audio system to computerize it?  Well, partially, because I could, but that’s not really the reason.  Let me tell you a story….

Before, our audio system included a very old laptop connected to our home network (music files located on a server), connected to: (1) A pre-amp (volume controls, tone controls, etc) connected to (2) An analog home-built electronic crossover to separate the very deep bass for the sub-woofers from the rest of the music, connected to (3) A bass amplifier, a main amplifier, and a house full of speakers (including exterior speakers).

You may ask, “What was wrong with that?”.  Well, mostly, the crossover was made with the best parts I could get when I built it years ago.  Resistors are 5% tolerance, capacitors are 10% tolerance, and that makes the crossover kind of “vague”.  I wanted better…

I’ve been active on the “diyaudio” forums, and was eventually directed to Mr. Richard Taylor’s site and the article about using a computer instead of the old crossover.  This started me on the route to what we have now:

Our old PC running Ubuntu Linux.  The software installed includes “MPD” and the rest of what Richard said to have.   MPD . “Music Player Daemon” is an application you can control from any other computer on the network, laptop, tablet, or phone.  Now, without getting out of my easy chair, I can change what’s playing, raise or lower the volume, and create a new play list.   How cool (and convenient) is that!

What else did we get?  The crossover is now calculated, not based on vague values of the parts used.  Woofer equalization is now based on exact measurements of the woofers themselves.  The system sounds better.  Instruments are clear, drums and other deep notes are powerful and clean.

I totally recommend this approach.  The software is free. You don’t need a fast, modern PC at all. The best advantage by far, is the convenience.

UPDATE:  Just replaced the computer with an old Pentium 3 laptop.  The broken screen doesn’t matter, and it’s plenty strong enough to run the stereo system.

How To Work With a Support Engineer

Posted by jplesset on January 11, 2014 under Working with Support | Be the First to Comment

You have a problem with your computer.  You need Tech Support.  Here’s how to get the best results from your Support Engineer:

1.  If you see an error message, write it down.  The very last thing a Support Engineer wants to hear is, “I got an error message.  It’s gone now.”

Yes, the error message didn’t mean anything to you, but it might mean something to your Support Engineer.

2.  Note what you were doing when you got the error.  Errors and crashes don’t just happen; they typically come from a specific set of actions, and if you don’t know what those actions are, it will take longer to fix your problem.

3.  If you’re running Windows, the error message is likely recorded in the “Event Manager”.  Your Support Engineer will help you pull it out.  It will help to know exactly what day and time the problem occurred.

4.  When your Engineer asks you a question, it’s not to tell you that you’ve done something wrong, or you are stupid. The question is asked to gather information that will help him or her to resolve your issue.  The Engineer can’t see through your eyes or read your mind.

5.  The most difficult challenge for you is to remain calm. You’ve probably got people making demands — maybe even screaming at you to get the problem resolved NOW. Your Technical Support Engineer is doing and will do everything possible to help you, so you (and others) can get back to work ASAP. It may take only a few minutes, but it may take days (or weeks) to resolve the problem. It’s everyone’s  goal.

Is Tech Support An Oxymoron?

Posted by jplesset on January 10, 2014 under Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

I do Technical Support — yes, capital letters. Not an oxymoron!   I’ve worked on individual user’s systems, answered questions about why their computer isn’t working right. But the thing that really gets me excited is the “stuff” that everyone depends on: individuals, businesses, and governments. Like E-mail.

I get interesting calls, like the one a few years ago, “This is the phone company in Puerto Rico.  Our e-mail server is down.  Nobody in Puerto Rico can get e-mail…”

Yes, I took care of that issue, once I could calm the system administrator down a little, and get the information from him so I could discover what the real problem was. It took a couple of minutes to fix the problem, and everything started working like it should have.

Helping others who don’t understand technology is what I do, who I am, and why I love doing Tech Support.