Nasty Ransomware!! I surrender.

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My friend got a locked screen and a notice from “Microsoft Tech” asking to call a 1-800 number so that they could fix the problem…

Long story short, he was attacked by a ransomware, and the asking price to unlock was $200 cdn. The biggest mistake was that he gave the “Tech” permission to remotely access his computer. Microsoft should know and obviously do that – I would say – more than 80% of people using WinOS are not savvy and au courant of all the XXXwares that could attack their PCs: ransomwares, malwares, viruses, worms, trojans,… The worst of it all his system was “protected” by Norton, but it didn’t catch it…at all.

So I got a call to see if I could savage the carnage. When I got there, I was happy to see that the OS was still “functional”, but lurking behind the system and unbeknownst to me traps were set already, so I started with what I normally would do: a full scan with Norton. The second defence was to upload and install Malwarebytes and started cleaning adwares, and malwares, … And Success! So I thought.

A moment of blissfulness quickly descended into Dante’s Inferno literally: HELL. As common practice it is imperative to run Malwarebytes and Norton again in Safe Mode to totally eradicate any remnants of these nasties; however, with Win 8 and 10, you cannot boot into Safe Mode directly by pressing F8 key anymore. What?!! Instead WIN10 – in my case -required that I went through Startup Settings to get to Safe Mode boot. Of course some gremlins had disable the selection of Safe Mode  (I was sure the developer(s) of the ransomeware see through my defensive logic). So I shut down the computer and pressed On/Off Key to do a full reboot. Wrong again. I triggered more gremlins and additional levels of Dante’s Hell. At this point after rebooting in to WinOS it asked for a password, a syskey’s password to be specific (all those private key and public key that could make your head spins.) Sadly at this stage the computer was completely hijacked. I was reluctant to give up, so I did a quick search on Google- eureka- I cracked syskey’s problem, I was able to log-in to the OS again. Now I must be able to go into Safe Mode. Damn you!!!

As their last assault, they used an old school boot-time virus to control the computer entirely: blue screen of errors. In my time, it was called MBR virus; this current one affected the BCD to the same effect. In that era, I had to boot with a “FLOPPY” with an antivirus app loaded, F-Prot, to kill the MBR virus, but I had no idea how it worked now. with the BCD error. Nevertheless, I kept trying and searching for solutions. Although I was able to get into the Command Mode in C:/ prompt, none of the things I tried work. The only option left was to do a full reinstall. HaHa, you wish! The ransomware was so virile that I couldn’t complete a full re-install. Of course, it didn’t allow me to re-install using the recovery partition either.

The very very last thing I did was to install Ubuntu (a Linux OS), hoping I could check, at least, the disk with Linux OS running: Nope! It basically shut out any sort of installation to the hard drive.

After 8 hours struggling with this thing, it was time to surrender. My final thought, never get yourself in a pickle like my friend’s. Be vigilant, be skeptical, be aware!

P.S. my friend took his laptop to a local computer store and had it repaired; now it’s good as new. Thankfully he has made backups.

PC… who needs it, anymore?!

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I was at Costco yesterday, I was totally surprised to see that there was a desktop model on display, the others were All-in-One loaded with Windows 8.

I think owning an All-in-One is just silly. Imagine standing and swiping away like a restaurant waiter to get to the webpage you want, or worse try typing a letter in WORD using the screen-keyboard. Sure, you can sit and do the same, but I bet after 10 minutes, your arm will get tired. Besides, All-in-One is not new! If you have been following the evolution of Microsoft’s OS, Acer and HP had touch-screen all-in-One since Windows 7, just that no one was buying them. To be honest, even if an iMac 27″, I doubt I will get one, or salivate to get one; it’s just not practical. This will only make sense if you using the computer passively: watching videos, playing music and games, etc.: touch here, touch there…

If you connect the dots, iPad and tablets are doing exactly just that. Sure, you may also occasionally type an email, reply to text, post a picture, … but the difference is that tablets and iPad are lighter and totally mobile. I can type anywhere I want with a blue-tooth keyboard, and it is just as good, if not better.

Another point why PC is dead? Before you might need to bring work home, but laptop has become so cheap that you likely can use one of your offices’ to do real work. It means the days you had to use your home computer to finish a report was so yesteryear. Likely, you get a laptop on loan, and VPN into your office network to get the files you need, and work away. This also means even thumbdrive is another technology of the past; besides, your company probably never allows you to download stuff on a thumbdrive anymore for security reasons. Remember those thumbdrive-gates, where public servants lost drives with sensitive information on them, and worse they were un-encrypted?!

Of course, some will argue that they still need a home computer to edit their photos, home movies, and stuff like that. Seriously, how many people are really doing those?! Never mind some people still have a hard time understanding an OS! Besides, Photoshop, InDesign, iMovies, …are really meant for the pro.

So it became apparent last week when I decided to get the last few bucks out of my Netbook (remember those?!), I installed Lubuntu hoping to get more speed out of the thing: Gateway 11″ LT311h, WinXP. It did and I was happy that finally everything was working with this Ubuntu version 12.04. Its WIFI was working seamlessly (three years ago, I was still struggling with it to recognize my router, and it never did, I used ethernet …long story). My next dilemma was whether to get a new battery, so that I could use it at cafés, etc, and mostly for writing stuff like this. Gladly, I didn’t. I found an inexpensive ($14) blue-tooth keyboard, Logitech designed by ZAGG, to pair with my iPad2. In fact, with iOS7, it works even better.

Here is the deal, companies like CloudOn, Google, are offering workable version of Office derivatives (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) in the Cloud, and files created are sync-able with Dropbox, Google Drive, and the likes, which means as long as there is a WIFI connection, I can work on those files as I please. Of course, one caveat is that you may not want to work on anything confidential on an open Hotspot. But at home, it’s game!

So iPad and tablets are in and laptop will soon be out, but not entirely, students still need them. Commercial laptop will remain, unless we revert back to terminal.

Mind you, I still prefer to write my blogs using my 15.6″ laptop, but for simple outdoor writing with a café au lait, my iPad/Logitech duo is nothing but perfect: light, truly functional, and practical now!

P.S. I use iWriter (Apple’s App) for basic non-format writing.

What’s next?!

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Nothing came out lately was endearing, gadget-wise. Most manufacturers are just in an uncreative-none-risk taking phase now, i.e., tweeting or enhancing with what are already working. I mean even the iPad is a bit underwhelming now.

On the video side, blu-ray never took off. How many times people will upgrade their movies collection? The fact that blu-ray disc is averaging $20 Cdn does not help either. Yes, some are discounted at $10 each, but likely those movies that have already been seen multiple times. So, what manufacturers like Sony, Samsung, and the likes do? Package blu-ray disc players with wifi and steaming capabilities. New idea? NO! Think about PS3! BTW, still one of the top rated multi-players. Average WiFi ready and non dongle version player runs about $150 retail. PS3 $250!

What about TVs? LCD, LED, Plasma… Obviously, the barrier to purchase has long been eliminated. A 720p 32inch LCD tv can be had for about $350. I got my 42-inch projection 1080p tv for $3000 in 2001. A high-quality 50-inch tv is about $1,200-$1,600. I believe 50-inch is the ideal size, especially some movies are still shown in letterbox. Once again, manufacturers are integrating tv sets with WiFi to charge you more! If you are like me with different means or gadgets to tell weather conditions, having the ability to display it on the tv may not be that thrilling; besides, doesn’t every city have its own weather channel? C’mon, we can surf the web with the big-screen tv. Trust me, it’s nothing exciting to work a mouse on your couch handle, or on a foldable table you eat tv dinner on. What about getting e-mails? Facebook and twitter? If you want everyone in the living room read them too, then it’s a great idea! That’s why people are buying privacy screens for their laptops.

iPod = portable music, period.

Every game console has motion detection now, so it is just a matter of taste and loyalty. Same goes for portable game unit. I play simple games like Jewel, Sudoku, and Bowling, so my iPhone is fine.

Now that we have been using personal computers for over 30 years, truly there is nothing sexy or special about it anymore. Hence, when have you seen a software commercial lately? and I dare anyone will lineup overnight to get Windows8! Microsoft had its Windows 95 moment, but beyond that…. Zzzzzzzz.

Digital camera: what is old is new again!

I am not lying, there is no excitement out there!

Cheers.

Frozen Windows…

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Microsoft Windows wordmark

Microsoft Windows wordmark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, all people have experienced frozen screen when using Windows (whatever version), and it is the most frustrating experience, cause nothing moves, no sound, no hourglass, just nothing-less. Yes, you can try the three-finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Delete) to “Shutdown“properly,but sometime that does not even do anything. Well, the only thing to do is to shut your computer down with the actual on/off button, and hope for the best.

Wait, there is one thing you must do when you turn it on again, it saved my laptops many times, that is to do a “Safe Boot“! If you know about this, good for you. I bet some people have no idea. Essentially, “Safe Boot” is to boot up Windows with minimal components, and it is most useful with the above scenario. Here is the how: when you turn your laptop or computer on again, shortly after the brand prompt (HP,Acer,..), Press and Hold F8, until a blue screen shows up with Safe Boot choices. I usually pick without network connection. Use your up-down button to select a choice, I usually choose “1”. Windows will boot up, and once it finishes, use your Start menu like usual and Shutdown properly.

Whenever I suspect my laptop has virus, worms, malware, adware,… that causes problem, I will also do a Safe Boot and use my virus/malware scan at that level, if things are detected, it will be cleaned, which may be the reason your Windows having problem shutting down in the first place.

I wish Windows 8 would finally resolve all these issues, and I am a dreamer!

Cheers.

Headache: buying a computer?

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Nowadays it’s such a headache to buy anything, and honestly, there is just too much information. I don’t even want to use a supermarket trip as an example.

The first developers of IBM PC computers negle...

Image via Wikipedia

So a brief history of how 30 years ago it was kinda no-brainer regards to buying a personal computer(PC), cause there were few choices:

  1. IBM PC – expensive
  2. Apple MacIntosh IIe -expensive
  3. Commodore 64 (I still have one) or Commodore VIC 20 ($200 1982’s $ ??)
At that time, no one really cared what processor was in it, cause the “whoa” factor was a personal computer, in other words, it is unlike today’s marketing ambush of speed, cache, memory, and space, which in effect complicated the buying experience and turning it into sweat and indecision. It includes me, and I consider myself a tech-savvy guy.
So back to the question. One thing is for sure, desktop is mostly obsolete, unless you are a gamer who wants a cool-tower with LED lights and a dedicated HVAC inside the chassis to do some heavy duty cool 3D images rendering; otherwise, you are determining which laptop to buy, or, netbook. Tablet like iPad is still a niche, so I am not going to mix this in the decision tree.
As usual, Apple is switching the paradigm again when it upgraded the components of its latest line of MacBook Air, a netbook, and introduced iCloud, which means even laptop may sooner than later joins the obsolescence fade. WHY? the clear physical distinction between a laptop and netbook is really the absence of a DVD-ROM! Keep that in-mind. Beyond that, a netbook does everything a laptop will do, granted slower in a multi-task environment. So why 2 product lines ? Simple, revenue diversification! So a person like my mom might get talk into buying both… 1 to use at home and 1 on the road (not that she will ever need to).
Back to the paradigm shift or is it? Think about it, if your application is delivered from the “cloud” and movies, and music, and everything else, why do you need a DVD-ROM, or a laptop? In fact, Apple had done nothing but brought back the mainframe idea, so nothing is “really” new! (For those who remember the University computer terminal’s green screen with a white rectangular cursor? and remember it blinking while compiling… ) Yes, one difference, there is no lab technician dictates which applications are available. Otherwise, the future netbook like MacBook Air is really our old VAX terminal.
Are you still with me? So let’s get to the decision tree, shall we:
(for use in the next two years)
  1. Laptop or netbook? Value for money: get a laptop, unless your needs are strictly web-surfing, checking emails, occasionally use of Word, Excel, and the odd movies on Youtube, then get a netbook.
  2. Processor: look at your budget and pay for the best you can get, Intel i7 if not i5. i3 is really dual-core in disguise for marketing. If you are more advance check the differences among all the models, and what is the latest e.g., i5-2410m is now replaced by i5-2420m… (honestly, it has become the cereal aisle…read the fine print of their differences). Don’t overlook AMD processors! It’s really a debate of brands here.
  3. RAM: as much as possible, usually comes with 4GB (let’s not get into OS utilization efficiency, i.e., Windows 7 32 bit can’t address memory above 4GB, I believe, so 6GB is wasted of money, anyway… google if you may).
  4. Hard-drive: larger the better, and RevolutionPerMinute 7200 sightly better than 5400; the newest fashion is Solid State Drive (SSD) used in Macbook Air.
  5. Video card: I never like on-board stuff, i.e., Integrated Intel 3000 videochip shared memory, see if yours come with dedicated video card like Raedon or Nvdia, i.e., the card does it own processing and not relied on motherboard management.
  6. Apple or PC? Apple (check my APPLE page re: opinion), you will always pay a premium! PC, there are some bargains out there.
So if you only have $500 to spend, go to your favorite store and start comparing based on my list above.
My opinion on brands:
  1. Acer or Asus? Asus computers are better made.
  2. Sony has style but at premium, cause it’s SONY …
  3. Toshiba, Fujitsu, Samsung or LG: your personal taste.
  4. Dell: I am not a big fan, cause once you go through their ordering process, an advertised $399 machine becomes $599.
  5. Lenovo is my personal preference; it’s robust and well-built. especially the old IBM Thinkpad line, but a bit boring to look at or to carry (Lenovo, China, bought IBM PC operations)
  6. HP: I owned a few, and still have this laptop. HP really has quality control problems (once in a while, I have to blow dry this tx1110.ca to get it boot again, check my blog on this later)
  7. Apple: I love but can never justify in my head the extra that I have to pay.
So there you have it, I hope it helps a bit. I haven’t talked about the OS, cause really there are only two, Mac OS and Windows. (for Linux check my blog on this later), and obviously any decision made will first be based on your budget, so if you have a low one likely MacOS is automatically out the doors.