DoctorDave: Best of Lawrence Computer Repair 2019

Yesterday the Lawrence Journal World and Lawrence Magazine announced the winners of the Best of Lawrence contest.

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This year was a bit different than in previous years.  The Journal World is no longer locally owned, and a third party administers the contest.  That’s disappointing because I’m a firm believer in supporting locally owned businesses.

That’s one reason I’m delighted this year to see so many locally owned businesses win the contest. While it’s often based on luck and randomness, it’s still lovely to see the support.

In the computer repair business here in Lawrence, local shops have a hard time succeeding.  We see more locally grown companies being forced to become franchisees or simply close down.  I always like as many dollars to stay in Lawrence and support the local economy rather than pay for national branding and affiliations.

In 2019, I’ll be on my 16th year of DoctorDave Computer Repair. Last year we had our 15th anniversary at Alchemy with free coffee, baked goods, and giveaways.  I was humbled by all the people that attended.  I’m also humbled by how many people took the time to enter us in the contest.

How did we do?

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We continue to hold the title of Best of Lawrence for Computer Repair!

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Regardless of the contest results, we’ll continue to do our very best to earn your business.  Winning a contest is nice, but it doesn’t create trust and loyalty.  As you can see by our reviews on Google and our support on Facebook, our goal is to solve your problems.  Sometimes that means not repairing something but instead buying new.  We’re always working in our customer’s best interest.  We don’t sell computers, so when we tell someone it’s better to replace, we’re not making money on that recommendation.  In fact, we’ll consult on a new computer purchase at no charge.

We’re in this for the long haul and look forward to our 30th anniversary, and maybe another 15 Best of Lawrence wins!

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DoctorDave Computer Recycling Event Lawrence

Each year in Lawrence, the city coordinates with a local recycler for an electronics recycling event.  It’s usually in October and May.  The city hasn’t announced an event for 2019.  Lots of clients are asking about it, assuming it would have been by now.

(Dave at his latest pickup from Connecting for Good)

We do recycling year-round but don’t actively advertise it.  We think it’s essential to participate in the city event to show there is a clear need in our community.   To help out, we’re going to create our own mini-computer and electronics recycling event on Tuesday, June 18th from 4 pm to 8 pm.

For this mini event, we can recycle at no charge:

  • Desktop and laptop computers along with FREE secure destruction of data
  • Things that connect to computers like scanners, monitors, and printers
  • Floppy disks, CDs and manuals
  • Mobile phones and tablets
  • Stuff we can’t take is anything non-computer related like appliances or televisions

We’re limiting this to residential customers and can only take three computers per household.  If you need to recycle more, let us know, and we can coordinate with our recycling partner, Connecting For Good.  Connecting For Good is a fantastic organization we work with to make sure computers can be repurposed locally whenever possible to help bridge the digital divide.

If you come by that day, we’ll give you some free DoctorDave gifts for recycling your computer.  Don’t have anything to recycle?  No worries, stop by and we’ll still give you a little something.  Need a quick computer question answered?  We can do that during our recycling event.  We’ll even have a few treats.

If you could RSVP via Facebook if you’re interested, that will help make sure we have enough room, gifts, and treats.

The Smallest Acts of Kindness ​From Our Clients

If you’ve read our reviews on Google, Facebook, or Yelp, you’ll see a phrase over and over again-” they helped us for free over the phone.”  We often help people at no charge over the phone even if they aren’t a client.  We know computer repair is expensive, and if it’s a simple fix, we want to get you up and running as soon as possible.  We’re in the computer repair business for the long haul, so we’ll forgo the short term billable hours for the long-term relationship investment.

Sometimes people will send an email of thanks, but it’s rare you get a written card today.  This one showed up in the office recently.

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What made it unique for me is it’s honestly something I tell people all the time about shutting down their computers.  At first glance, it wasn’t a big deal.  It’s advice I give all the time.  ‘Take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” as the old-time doctor would say.  However, if aspirin got rid of the headache, then it was great advice.

It’s nice to take a pause every so often to remember what’s easy for us, and that which we often give away for free is vital to someone struggling with those computer problems.  Keeps those cards and letters coming because they make my day. Of course, please send those computer repair questions as well.

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The Risks of An Old Battery

A few weeks ago, a client came in with a computer needing a new battery.  She apparently for quite some time knew it wouldn’t hold a charge, but just lived with it since it was always plugged in.  It wasn’t until the keyboard stopped working; she contacted us.

Looking inside, we found this monstrosity.  I included in the picture a standard AAA battery so you could see a comparison.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 700aNo wonder the keyboard and mouse had troubles, the battery had expanded to almost double its size.  It should have been entirely flat on the top.  This was a Dell Latitude PC.  Battery expansion could happen to any computer.  That same day we also saw an Apple MacBook Pro with the same symptoms:  low battery and problems with mouse and trackpad.  You can see how that expanded as well.

Around that same time, a MacBook Pro had his laptop spontaneously burst into flames.  According to the user , he hadn’t modified his computer and it was the original battery.

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All batteries fail; it’s a scientific fact.  You see it in your flashlight, your car, and even your phone.  Laptops are no different.  On average the batteries last about three years before needing to be replaced.  All sorts of symptoms are related to a failing battery.

If your laptop’s battery isn’t holding much of a charge, it’s important we get that replaced before it starts expanding or worse.

Free Loaner Computers for Tornado Victims

With the recent tornados and storms out here in Lawrence as well as Kansas City, many victims have suffered severe damage to their homes.  While I may not be handy with a hammer and nails, I am handy with a screwdriver and anti-static wrist strap.

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I wasn’t sure how I could help until today.  I got a call from someone who had been displaced from their home and needed a computer.  They wanted to know if we sold used ones.  The bad news is we don’t sell new or used computers.  We strictly focus on computer repair. That keeps us unbiased and focuses us on just computer repair.

However, we do have a computer recycling program.  We refurbish computers when we can and work with Connecting For Good to help in their mission.  We’ve also donated them to local non-profit organizations and their clients.  Some of these computers we reserve as loaners for clients in our DoctorDave wellness program.  I was delighted to offer one of these loaners to a very appreciative person who gave me the idea of opening this up to everyone.

If you’ve been displaced because of the storm, please let us know if you need a loaner computer.  We have mostly desktop computers but do have a few laptops.  They are usually five years old or more, but they work for email and getting online.  They’re also great for entertaining the kids.  All we ask you do is return it to us when done, so we can direct them back to Connecting for Good.  Of course, there is no charge for these loaner computers.

It’s a small thing we can do to help families in this time of need.  If you need a computer, please contact our office at 785-841-8766 or 816-301-4335.

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After the Storm – Protecting Your Computer

As anyone in Lawrence, Topeka, or Kansas City knows, we had one heck of a storm last night.  I spent a good part of the evening in the basement.  That wasn’t fun.  I’m sure you didn’t have fun either.

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This bad weather is an excellent time to talk though about the importance of offsite backup, while it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.   I did the same reminder a few years ago after the severe weather in Houston.  Local backups to an external hard drive in your home or business is an excellent secondary method of backup.   However, backing up to an online service is your best backup, because if something happens to your home or office an on-site backup is lost.  Over the years, I found often it wasn’t a direct hit by a tornado that caused damage, but water.  Rain might have leaked in.  For example, one client had a tree fall into her office.  It was the rain that ruined everything. If your computer does get wet, please follow our instructions for “I just spilled something on my laptop.”

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A common question we get asked is about protection against surges and lightning.  A majority of people aren’t protected.  I wrote about this a few years ago, and my opinion remains pretty much the same.  I’d advise though now getting uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with USB ports.  I have one of these in my home and what I like is it not only protects against surges but also provides battery backup for my internet and phone.  It was $50 and a worthwhile investment.

During an electrical storm, we recommend unplugging the computer power from the wall. We also recommend unplugging Ethernet cords from both the back of your cable modem as well as your computer.  Surges can travel through those lines even if the computer is off and unplugged.

Finally, if you have valuable electronics you rely on for a home-based (including remote employees)  or small business, please consider getting your devices scheduled on your insurance.  That can often cover both damages to the computer as well as data recovery should these things come up.

If you have any questions about protecting your computer against surges or data loss, please email us.  We always consult on things like this at no charge and for the next week, we’re waiving any labor fees to install an offsite backup, which is about $60 year.   Call/text 785-841-8766 or email dave@calldrdave.com

Wait on a Computer! Buying Assistance For College Families

Congratulations to all the grads of the local high schools!  Whether it’s Lawrence High or Free State, Shawnee Mission or Blue Valley, you’ve all worked hard for this important day!  

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For those going off to college, your family’s first instinct may be to buy you a new computer as a graduation gift.  Don’t let them.  Well, at least wait until we talk with them first.

We’ve been doing computer repair Lawrence, Kansas since 1990.  We get lots of students asking us for help.  Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University.  Not too far away is Baker University over in Baldwin.  Since we also serve Topeka and Kansas City, we also see students needing computer help from Washburn and UMKC.

The biggest mistake I see people make in buying a computer is to purchase something during the summer.  Computers depreciate and become obsolete quickly, so buying one in May or June for college in August or September means it’s already three months old by the time you get to college.  Since the average computer lasts only about three years, it’s already aging by the fall. The warranty on most laptops is just a year, so that’s depreciating as well.

A poor decision I often see is when people buy a new computer now and decide to keep it in the box until college.  It’s a good idea to keep it together so everything is in one place and well protected, but about 10% of the time a new PC might be bad out of the box.  If it’s within the first 30 days, you can usually return it to the store, but after then you have to ship it back and sometimes wait weeks for a repair.

To help you with all the nuances of buying a computer for college, Dave is holding some free drop-in consulting sessions both in Lawrence and the Kansas City area.  During those sessions, he can help you buy the right computer for college as well as discuss accessories.  Families often pay too much and get the wrong stuff.  For example, it’s better to get accident protection from your homeowner’s policy rather than the one they sell in the store, but there are exceptions.

 Most importantly, you’ll learn the best place to buy a new computer.  Hint:  it’s often your college bookstore.

In Lawrence, he’ll be hosting as his office at 4105 West Sixth Street on Tuesday, June 4th from 4 pm to 6 pm.

In Kansas City, he’ll be at eCafe Coworking Center/Scooters coffee shop for his monthly Wellness Wednesday.  They’re located at 10650 Roe Ave, Overland Park, KS.  He’ll be there from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm

These sessions are free, and no reservation is necessary, but it would be handy to let us know you’ll be there.  Check Dave’s facebook page for the Kansas City Event and Lawrence Event.   Please mark yourself as interested or going.  That’s all the RSVP we’re asking for.  He might even have a few gifts for you if you stop by.

Loyalty Cards, Frequent Flyer Programs : Hacker’s Treasure

Recently the New York Times ran a story about the risks of loyalty programs. Loyalty programs include everything from the virtual punch card at the coffee shop to larger programs like those offered by hotels and airlines.  We tend to hear about the problems with travel-related loyalty programs like the Marriott/Starwood breach and Delta Airlines.

It’s not a credit card, but still a risk to your security.

What’s the Risk?

Your first thought when you hear about these breaches is what about your credit card and personal information like phone number and address?  While that stuff is important, you can always change your credit card numbers.  Most of the time, you aren’t liable for unauthorized purchases from bank accounts or credit cards.

The risk of these loyalty program breaches isn’t just the points, after all, you worked hard to accumulate that free coffee or a free trip around the world.  It’s also about the details these programs can reveal to create more sophisticated hacks.

As an example right here in Lawrence, KS, when we sign up clients for internet service through AT&T, some of the security questions they get asked are:

  1. What is your favorite restaurant?
  2. Where is your favorite place to go on vacation?
  3. What is the name of your youngest sibling?

These are the same type of questions Apple and dozens of other companies ask.  I was asked the same time of questions when signing up for phone service with T-Mobile.  Even if these questions aren’t used directly by hackers, they can be used for targets attacks called spear phishing.  For example, if hackers see that I have a reservation at a hotel, they might call me and say there’s a problem with the card and I need to provide a different credit card.

I’ll admit until I read this article I had “soft” passwords for some of these programs.  I figure Starbucks doesn’t have my credit card, and who would steal a coffee from me?  Cybercrime is cybercrime so they might steal that.  Then I realized my credit card is on file with them and someone could order themselves a gift card.  Ouch.  I’m secure with my Apple iTunes account because it’s a big target for hackers and Apple protects it with things like two-factor authentication.  My Starbucks account is wide open!

What can you do to protect yourself?

First, create unique passwords for absolutely everything.  If it contains personal data, it needs to be protected.  Use a password manager or ask us about the password books we sell (or give away if you ask us nicely and mention this post!)

Second, consider enabling two-factor authentication everywhere you can.  That’s the system where they text you or call you to verify who you are.  If you aren’t sure how to do that, please ask us!

Finally, read your statements and emails.  Sure, you get tons of those, but the only way you can catch a breach is to be vigilant.  Take for example those Starbucks emails.  Those always go into my junk email because I don’t go there that often.  I always shop local for coffee, but sometimes Starbucks is all they have, especially at airports.  After reading this article, I’m now working to unsubscribe from promotional emails from loyalty programs, but make sure emails about account balance and activities don’t go into spam.  Again, if you need help setting this up for yourself, we do email management all the time for clients.

Although it doesn’t make the nightly news, your free pizza, coffee, and airline trips are the latest thing hackers are attacking.  They’re not just stealing your points, but stealing information they can use for more sophisticated attacks.

Yes, We Still Recommend Backblaze

Backblaze has been our preferred automatic safety backup product for years.  Recently they contacted existing customers to let them know the rates would be increasing.  Compared to their competitors who increased rates while decreasing services, or simply went out of business, Backblaze’s price increase is modest. They’ve had the same pricing for 11 years, so that hardly keeps up with inflation.

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For $60 a year, or $110 for two years they backup everything on your computer.  When something goes wrong, you can either download your data or they’ll overnight you a hard drive with all your stuff on it for FREE.  Can’t beat that.

Not only have I used Backblaze for a decade, but I’ve also seen with my clients how well it’s worked.  In particular, we had two clients who had fires at their homes.  In both cases we were able to get the client up and running within 48 hours thanks to the overnight service.  In another example, we were able to trace down a stolen laptop due to the tracing service Backblaze includes in the subscription.

If you haven’t signed up yet for Backblaze, do it by March 11th before the price increase.  You’ll save $10 on the yearly plan and $15 on the two-year plan (what we recommend).

If you’re already a customer, you can extend your subscription for up to one year at the current rate.  It’s a bit confusing, but they explain how to do it here.  You agree to buy now and add onto your subscription’s expiration date.  They make it sound complicated, but it’s not.  Once you click on the Extensions Page, you buy the extension.  I did it and got this message.

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It only gets complex if you have more than one subscription on your account.  Most of our clients don’t, so it’s as easy as clicking a link and then Purchase Extension.

Of course, if you have any trouble at all, please let us know.  We’d be happy to help with this extension process at no charge because we believe in backups.

While you’re in your account, I suggest you test your backups.  Try a few items from your computer and do a sample restore.  That way in an emergency you know how to do it.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, please let us know.  We’re running a Backup Checkup special until the end of March.  We’ll test your backups and make sure they work for just $40.  That’s only half our normal hourly rate.  We can do that remotely so you don’t need to leave your home, or at our office, or on-site (travel rates apply).  If you need anything else done during the service call ,it’s at our normal hourly rate.  We recommend yearly computer checkups to predict and prevent future problems, so if it’s been a year since we’ve seen you let us know so we can schedule a full checkup.

Remember, to go forward, you must backup.

Photo by Duy Hoang on Unsplash

We Can Help With Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) Phone Systems

A few months ago, we switched many of our phone systems over to FreedomVoice.  We’re now a partner of FreedomVoice and can get you set up.

What I like about FreedomVoice is it gives you advance call features like auto-attendants and phone trees for a small monthly fee.  It can do faxing and even a “follow-me” function so when you aren’t at your desk, your mobile phone rings.

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Our toll-free and emergency numbers are fully managed “in the cloud” for a low monthly fee.  The feature I like best is when someone has an emergency the system can send out emails, text messages and push notifications so I’ll never miss that call.  Seriously, when we get an emergency line call come in, red lights flash in my home.

If you’ve got a small office or a home office, let’s talk about your phone systems. I can get you set up with a rep from FreedomVoice to see if it would save you money.  Heck, they even offer a Amazon gift card just to see if FreedomVoice is a fit.

You’ve got nothing to lose to check it out, unless of course, you like people having trouble reaching you!  If you rely on your phone systems to interact with clients, lets talk!

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