Apple Store Techs May Have No Experience Fixing Macs?

You’d think the Apple store would hire the best and brightest computer repair technicians.  Due to how busy they are, they’re cutting back on training.

This Apple Store has a new Genius

It used to be Apple technicians would get some hands-on experience fixing Macs before touching your system.  If this story is true, your Mac might be the first one they’ve touched.  If you rely on your Mac, that’s not the type of person you want working on it.

I don’t really blame Apple for this.  Training costs time and money.  Since they make Macs, if a technician breaks a computer, it’s easy for Apple to remedy the situation.

Here at DoctorDave Computer Repair, we don’t have that luxury.  We have to fix it right the first time.  That’s why our team of techs have both hands-on and virtual training before they ever touch your Mac (or PC).  In fact, the first computer I ever worked on back in the 1990s blew up.  I plugged in something wrong and the next thing I knew, smoke and flames.  There’s something to real-world experience as a teacher!

Photo by ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓

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What is Ransomware?

You might have heard in the news about companies getting hit with “ransomware”.  In particular medical offices like chiropractors and psychologists are major targets.  We see the same thing with our Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City computer repair clients.

System Lock

The nutshell is your computer gets some kind of virus.  Instead of just messing up your computer, this software locks it.  It scrambles the information on your computer.  To get your stuff back you pay a fee for a special password.   That’s the ransom.

With business clients, the ransom is only part of the problem.  This article explains the downtime and lost productivity caused by it.

Our recommendations to avoid ransomware are

  • Avoid clicking unexpected links or attachments.  These scams often seem to come from package notifications
  • Keeping your antivirus up-to-date and working. We see to often clients that think they have protection but they don’t
  • Have a good, reliable data backup.  Most clients we see the first time have no protection.  Instead of paying the ransom, we like clients to restore from a backup.  Online backups are less than $50 a year, so we can help you set that up.

By the time you’re hit with ransomware, it’s too late to solve the damage.  Unless you have a backup, you’re often just stuck paying and hoping you can get the data back.  Give us a call if you’d like a free evaluation for your risks of ransomware and protection ideas.

Photo by Yu. Samoilov

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Customer Privacy Again in the News

Apple should be ashamed of itself; recently employees were caught stealing photos from client systems.  I don’t think companies like Apple quite understand the intimate and personal nature of the information they’re entrusted with.

Torley visits the Apple Store 05

I’ve written about our strict privacy policy, but it’s worth mentioning again.  We realize people’s entire lives are stored on their computers and mobile devices.  It’s a job we take seriously. It starts with working with the right people.  We don’t make jokes about what we see and never take information off the computer without consent.  We use remote control software, but it’s turned off by default.

Simply put, it’s your information. It’s in your control.  Even if the FBI offered us money to snoop on you without a warrant, we wouldn’t!  The same can’t be said of other computer repair companies in Lawrence, KS, Kansas City, and Topeka.

Photo by ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓

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Your Privacy and Computer Repair

When we do computer repair, we see all sorts of personal stuff. It’s not just your Facebook profiles and bank accounts.  We can see your browsing habits, who else you know, every password.  It’s everything that’s on your phone and more.  We take that responsibility seriously, some providers don’t

Mobile Service Desk Best Buy 1

Recently, national news outlets have covered how Geek Squad has acted as a paid informants to the police.   That story really bothered me.  As technicians we have an affirmative duty to protect our client’s privacy. We have access to an unprecedented information not just about a client, but all the people that client interacts with.  All our technicians go through extensive background checks and a rigorous interview process.  That process helps prevent unethical or irresponsible technicians working on machines.

I fully support reporting to law enforcement when we see egregious violations on a system.  In particular, we have a duty to report suspected child pornography.  Geek Squad of Lawrence reported a customer of theirs with child pornogprahy.  The difference between the Lawrence KS and the national story was the circumstances of how the pornography was found.  In the Lawrence case, the Geek Squad found the illegal content because of a problem the client reported related to it.  We’ve been in that situation too.  We don’t open up files or images unless a client specifically requests the investigation or those files show up as containing malware.  Our policy, similar to Geek Squad, is to report content we directly see in the process of a repair.  We never look for it and never examine images.  In my almost thirty years of repair experience, I’ve never had to report an image, but that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared for it.

We also comply with law enforcement requests and court orders.  We’ve only turned over a computer once to law enforcement and that was after a fire.  Before we could do data recovery, law enforcement wanted to see the computer for potential evidence of arson (none was found).  We have however called the police when we suspect a stolen laptop as part of our password reset policy.  In these situations, we’ve helped a few people get reunited with a laptop.  That’s one of the best parts of the job.

Beyond these situations, what is in your computer is your own business.  We’ll protect your privacy and fight for it whenever we can.

Photo by roblawton

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Use Gmail? Your Computer May Be Too Old to Use It

If you’re a Gmail user and you’re using an older computer, you might need to switch.  Gmail won’t work properly in Windows XP and Vista.

gmail mailbox

Windows XP and Vista are no longer supported by Microsoft.  That means that it’s ripe to be attacked by hackers.  They can lock you out of your computer or steal information.  I like the fact that Gmail is going to warn users to stop using XP and Vista, but that isn’t enough.

Ideally, Google should prevent users from using XP or Vista altogether. Right now, they’ll force you to use the less-secure “html” version of Gmail.  That’s a bad idea in my book.  XP and Vista need more security to access email not less.

Our advice:  it’s time to switch to a computer that supports a newer operating system.  The reason people avoid a new computer is they’re worried about their old stuff.  We transfer stuff from older computers to new computers all the time.  You’ll want to get that new computer before a hacker (or a company like Google) prevents you from accessing your old stuff.

Photo by rovlls

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Repair or replace an old computer?

Although we do a ton of computer repair in Lawrence, you’d be surprised how often we turn away computers.  Sometimes it’s just not worth repairing!  I hate to talk myself out of work, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

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After Three Years, Trouble Starts

After doing this for almost 30 years now, I’ve seen the lifespan of computers.  In the early days, computers cost a small fortune but lasted for a decade.  Now, we see them last about three years.  A good analogy is three years on a computer is like a car with 100,000 miles.  Not all cars fail at that point, but many start having troubles.  Part of it depends on usage and brand, but everything has a lifespan.  Some things last longer, some last shorter, but there’s always an average.

What Goes Wrong?

The Hard Drive

The most common part we replace after three years is the hard drive.  That makes sense because it has moving parts.  Parts wear out.  Some drives fail after two years and some after four, but three is the average.

While we have tests to determine if the hard drive is failing, the user is the best early warning system.  In these situations, the computer just randomly locks up and doesn’t respond. In a healthy hard drive, the activity indicator on the drive flashes. On a computer with a failing drive, the light stays lit.  The indicator is sold because it keeps trying to use the hard drive but fails.  You’ll sometimes hear a clicking or grinding noise but not always.

We can’t repair failing hard drives because they are sealed units.  We can replace them though.  Usually it’s about an hour of labor to remove the drive, put in a new one, and then install your operating system.  Reinstalling programs, configuring printers, and transferring your data takes extra time.

The Power:  Batteries, Power Jacks, and Power Supplies

If you have a laptop, eventually your battery fails.  It’s just like any other battery.  You can find cheap laptop batteries under $50, but we don’t recommend them.  We’ve seen too many leaking or exploding batteries in our travels.  Some airlines have proposed banning laptops because of exploding batteries. That’s like the ban of the Samsung Galaxy phone.  A quality replacement battery (we don’t sell them directly), is about $75.

The other part to go out on a laptop is the charging port.  It loosens up over time after being plugged and unplugged so often.  The replacement inside the computer is easy.  The hard part is taking the laptop apart and putting it back together.  It usually takes about an hour and the parts are usually about $25.

When a power surge hits a desktop computer, the power supply goes out.  That’s by design. It acts as a kind of circuit-breaker to prevent damage to other parts of the computer or to stop a fire.  Computer manufacturers don’t make it easy to find power supplies.  Each computer seems to take a slightly different one of these.  We often have to look through dozens of different types.  They range in price from $25 to $75.  To install them we basically have to rebuild the computer.  That takes about an hour.

Fans Stop Blowing

Computers run hot, so to cool them, manufacturers put in fans.  They have fans on the processor, on the video card, in the power supply in the case and a few other places I’m probably forgetting.  Each of those fans collects dust and debris from the environment.  If you smoke or have pets, the damage to the fans multiplies.  When the computer overheats it can shut down, or in rare cases, cause a fire.

We can replace those fans, but again, we need to find the right fan.  You’d think it would be easy to find, but it isn’t.  The other complex problem is figuring out which fan is failing.  We often have to replace multiple fans in a system.  Once one starts making noise, they typically all start doing it.  That makes sense since they all have the same moving parts subject to wear and tear and environmental hazards.

Keyboard, Trackpads and Screens

This problem is unique to laptops.  Eventually the more you type and click, the more things wear out.  Keyboard are usually easier to replace than trackpads.  Both wear out though and we need to disassemble and reassemble your laptop.  Since clicking and typing go hand in hand, pardon the pun, we often see that both need to be replaced at the same time.

Screens also have a limited lifespan. They’re like TV screens so they’ll stop being able to light up after a while.  That’s usually after about seven years, though. Newer laptops aren’t supposed to have these problems, but we’ll see.  We’re seeing fewer screens burning out, but it happens.

Is It Worth Repairing?

Given all these problems after three years, any one replacement might be worth it.  The problem is that actual value of a three-year old laptop is pretty small.  We’ve had clients try to sell working ones at garage sales and they can’t even get $50 for them.  After five years, they can’t even get $10.  If you look on eBay, you’ll find the same story.  If everything is working, you can expect to pay $50 for these systems.

The problem becomes, even if they are working, you can expect all this stuff to start failing. That’s why we never recommend paying for a used laptop without at least a year warranty.  Too much stuff could go wrong.

With new laptops averaging about $500 and all the repairs associated with a three year old laptop, repairs just aren’t usually worth it.  Most repair shops won’t tell you this, but it’s the right thing to let you know about.  It’s also why we have great reviews.  Some people get upset we decline to fix this stuff, but again it’s the right thing to do.  We’re in this for the long haul and will always try to do what is tin the customer’s best interest.  Sure we lose money with this approach, but we gain client loyalty.  That’s the key to long-term success and why we’ve been in business since 2003.

We’ll keep doing computer repair here in Lawrence, but occasionally we’ll tell you it isn’t worth it!

Photo by ardenswayoflife

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Don’t Trust Free Diagnostics Scans (Except Ours on Fridays)

We’ve been offering Free Friday diagnostics at our Lawrence computer repair office. Our motivation for was to prevent our clients from getting taken in by scams.  Recently, a TV news station caught Office Depot using their repair service to scam customers.  These free scams take different forms, but they’re all out to get your money.

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The Bait:  A Free Checkup

Even a new computer can have problems out of the box, so who can resist a free checkup? You want the peace of mind everything is going to work right. You want your computing experience to be problem free.  If you’re having a problem, these programs will identify it and suggest some fixes.  Simple enough.  That’s true not just for shops like Office Depot, but free online scans.  A simple program tells you what’s wrong with your computer and optimizes it.

The Switch:  Something is Wrong/It’s Gonna Cost You

This scam isn’t new to the computer industry.  The car industry has been doing the “we found something wrong” scam for decades. These scams pretend to show you all sorts of problems with your computer.  Since you’re not technical, you have no way of disputing this.  Oh no.  Malware!  Bad drivers!  Foreign IPs!  That’s all going to cost you.  Suddenly that free diagnostics turns out to be expensive.  The technician makes a commission on the sale and offers to sell you a variety of products.

Why Our Free Diagnostics Are Different

Since there are so many scam diagnostics out there, we’re offering this as a service to the community.  Just stop in on Fridays, no appointment necessary.  We’ve invested in some great software for the Mac and PC to help us diagnose problems.  When you stop in, we’ll run the software. Then we’ll give you some suggestions to optimize performance.  We’ll even fix some basic stuff we see at no charge.  We’re not going to upsell you.  For most clients, we’re just getting a baseline so we can help you in the future.  With your permission, we’ll also install some software that allows you to get remote support from us in the future.  That saves you money over our standard office visit or onsite computer repair.

These diagnostics check for basic hardware and software problems . They also give you an early warning system for other hazards.  We’ll make sure your antivirus is working and your backup system is up to date.  If you have a backup system, we’ll check that at no charge.  These diagnostics take about 15 minutes. You’re welcome to leave your computer there for some advanced screening.

We’re Here to Help You

Our technicians are not commission based.  Quite the opposite.  We’re not a retail operation, so we don’t have much to sell.  We don’t sell computers, we don’t stock upgrades, and we don’t have ongoing services to sell you.  We do computer repair in Lawrence as well as Topeka, and Kansas City.

Our goal is to keep you up and running.  If we find something wrong, you’re welcome to have us fix it at our standard rate.  However, some clients are fixing it themselves after getting advice from us.  Sometimes we tell you it just isn’t worth fixing based on the age of the system.  If you read our Google reviews, you’ll see that as a common theme.

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Should You Worry About the Repeal of FCC Privacy Protections?

This past week, lots of clients in Lawrence have asked DoctorDave Computer Repair about the privacy of their internet connection.  They’re asking if they should get a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or another  method of protection. Our short answer is “not much has changed”, but we’re always for privacy.

Please

When you cut through the ad-selling media hype (ironic!), these changes are all about ads.  Right now, companies like Facebook and Google give you free stuff.  In exchange for that free stuff, you see ads paid for by advertisers.  That’s their business model.

I’m not ashamed to say we benefit from that model.  We sell ads on both Facebook and Google.  Those companies let us hyper-target our ads.  We’re not advertising computer repair to the world – just Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City.  We can go so far as advertising to older clients, with Macs, who went to KU, and probably voted for a particular candidate.  Anything you search for or click on becomes part of your ad profile. As a business owner, I prefer that model over placing an ad in a newspaper or a billboard that gets seen by people we’re not interested in helping with their computers.

Thus, on that level, it seems weird that Google as a search engine company can sell targeted ads but Google as an Internet Service Provider can’t.  Amazon can suggest products based on your browsing history, but AT&T can’t?  It’s the same browser and same computer.

Don’t get me wrong.  We’re huge advocates of privacy.  We’d gladly place a billboard on 23rd street saying “Call us for Lawrence computer repair” to advertise our services instead of targeted ads.  However, that’s not the way the world works right now.  I’d love to see privacy protections put in place and even sharper restrictions against tracking and advertising.  We take the privacy of our client information seriously here.

So back to the question..should you worry?  I’d say you shouldn’t be any more worried today than you were before October of 2016 when these rules were first adopted.  If you’re concerned about your privacy, the first thing to do is to stop giving companies like Facebook and Google information about you.  If you use a VPN to get to Facebook, you’re not doing much more for your privacy.  VPNs can also cause glitches and slow downs in your browsing experience.

privacy

We’ll set up a VPN for you, and we’ve already started doing more of these for clients. We just want you to know it’s not going to advance the ball much further for your privacy.  You’re still being tracked by the websites you go to and the companies you do business with.  For example, switching to DuckDuckGo for searches instead of a Google is a huge step forward for your privacy.  Using a private mail server (election politics aside) keeps third parties like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft from seeing your stuff.  A VPN is part of a comprehensive strategy to create a more private internet experience regardless of FCC or FTC protections.  Instead of spending money with us, consider giving that money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They lobby on behalf of internet privacy daily.

Photos by hykucambodia4kidsorg

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Come Join the Best of Lawrence Fun This Year

We’re excited to support the Best of Lawrence contest this year, and in particular the computer repair category.  Last year, we had some huge concerns about the contest. Those concerns were met with resistance and profanity (I had to delete some comments!)  This year, not only were we listened to, but the Lawrence Journal-World created a privacy policy that met ALL our concerns.  Read on for the details.

VOTE

In 2017, we don’t need to explain the importance of voting.  With the recent presidential elections and all the controversies, voting has a charged meaning.  Best of Lawrence is more like a contest than an election, even if they use the same word for entering. This year Best of Lawrence is allowing people to enter every day, much like any other contest.  Yup, you can pick one business every day and give them 28 entries in the contest. That makes it clear to players you aren’t voting, but entering a business into a competition.

After a Twitter chat that eventually went to email, the members of the Best of Lawrence team addressed all the concerns local businesses like mine had in the past.  In particular

*Neither advertising nor news staff should have access to entries in advance

*Birthdays are used only to comply with Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

*Data obtained in the contest is not sold to third parties nor advertisers

These three distinctions were why we opted out of the contest last year, which is ironic because we placed second in our category.  As computer support professionals, we respect our client’s privacy.  That privacy is a chief concern during any computer repair appointment. We see tons of privileged information on a computer and go to great lengths to protect that information.  As such, we couldn’t support a contest that could put our clients at risk.  These protections include both our residential clients as well as our business clients.

This year Nick Gerick of the Lawrence Journal-World told me that sales staff do not have access to contest results until they’re announced to the public.  That new policy prevents the sales staff from having any conflicts of interest.  The ads they sell will be independent of the contest results.  That’s a huge step forward in preventing undue influence of advertising on reporting.  Let’s face it, with sponsored stories and fake news, we need to be able to trust what we read.  If a member of the sales staff can influence an outcome in a contest, that calls into question the integrity of the company.  I don’t think people would intentionally try to change the outcome, but conflicts of interests are by definition suspicious.  If someone could gain by an outcome, they shouldn’t be involved in determining the outcome.  This new policy prevents businesses being indirectly influenced into paying for ads.  Even if you pay for a 10-page spread in the magazine, the sales staff won’t know or change the outcome of the contest.

My other concern, which was addressed by the Best of Lawrence, was how individual data would be used.  While Facebook and Google try to anonymize data, my concern with the Best of Lawrence was a lack of transparency on how they would use the data.  Your name, zip code and birthday along with what you consider the Best of Lawrence are private.  You don’t want that information to be sold to advertisers or read by reporters.  Wouldn’t it be creepy to suddenly get a coupon on your birthday to your favorite restaurant (or their competitor)?  Or what if the newspaper reported that your business’s employees didn’t think you’re the best.  That’s a huge embarrassment to any business.  That’s why your entries need to be private.

With the clearly stated privacy policy that we advocated for, your information remains protected.  You’re welcome to opt-in to newsletters (I’m a fan of Chad’s Town Talk), but beyond that, your information is protected from being used by advertisers (including the Journal-World), writers, or any third party.  In other words, your entry in the contest remains just an entry in a contest.

Another new feature this year is you get to enter a business once a day in the contest.  That makes it clear this isn’t a true “election” nor a scientific survey.  It also means you don’t have to put in all your entries on the same day.  If you have a great experience at a business, you can vote for them without having to change your previous entries.

This competition is all about the fun of entering and winning.  On Twitter, Lawrence Magazine described it as each day a new inning in the contest.  Each person gets 28 entries in the contest:  each day they can put in a new ballot with the same information.  That means you can vote for us or other businesses 28 times this month!

Best of Lawrence and the Journal-World went out of their way to address the privacy concerns I had with the contest.  Now that we think it’s safe for our clients, we’d love your entry each day in the contest.  We’re going to provide great computer repair service to Lawrence even if we don’t place.  We know we’re always the winner with great clients and a great team of technicians to support you.

Here’s’ the link to vote in our category!

Photo by antisocialtory

We Help Contribute to The Sales Tax Numbers

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The Journal-World recently that Lawrence had the “best tax growth in the state.”  While much of this was due to construction, I’m glad we played a small part in that.

I’m proud to say we collect sales tax on behalf of the state. Not every business, especially in the computer repair industry, does that. We’re professionals and proud of it.  We use Kansas’s destination based sales tax model to look up how much we’re supposed to charge.  Each month I go in and post a report to the Department of Revenue and return the money we collected from our clients. Much like other aspects of my business, it’s the right thing to do.

I know we’re not the cheapest in town for computer repair. However, I think we’re the best and the reviews back that statement up.  New clients tell me all the time that the person who they used before didn’t charge them sales tax.  It happens so often, I have a template on how to respond to that. That previous computer repair company was required to collect sales tax. In theory, they might have absorbed that cost (coffee shops do that), but it’s unlikely.  Most people who do this part time don’t collect sales tax.  When clients pay cash, some companies won’t “charge” sales tax.  I put “charge” in quotes because you’re not charging the customer. You’re collecting money on behalf of the state.  Kansas is charging, you’re just collecting that on their behalf.  When you work with us, we clearly mark on the receipt how much sales tax we’re collecting

When you use a service that doesn’t collect sales tax, you’re hurting your community.  Taxes are there for a reason.  Moreover, when you use a company that doesn’t collect tax you’re dealing with a business that isn’t fully honest with the state.  Is that the type of business you want working on your computer?

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