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Articles written by Paul Vaccarelli at PC-911 Colorado

A New Kind of Threat

By Paul Vaccarelli

We are all aware of malware, adware, and spyware. Recently a new kind of threat has hit some computers. It is called, “Ransomware”

In the occurrences I have seen, the victim gets an email with what appears to be a fax attachment in pdf form. When the attachment is opened nothing appears to happen right away. The next time the machine is booted, however, a webpage opens immediately telling the victim the data on their hard drive has been encrypted. If they want the data decrypted, they must click a link and pay a “fee” of a few hundred dollars in order to get the decryption code. All files in the documents directory are no longer accessible. Microsoft Word, for example, will no longer recognize Word files and cannot open them. Unfortunately, the only way to view your data again, is to pay the ransom. Anti-virus programs cannot repair the damage.

Your best protection against ransomware is to not open any email attachment unless you are absolutely sure of its source. In addition, make sure all your important data are backed up regularly and your application program disks or activation keys are readily available. In case you do get hit with ransomware, you or a technician can reload your machine with windows and your backed up data.

Paul Vaccarelli is general manager of PC-911, LLC. He can be reached at 303 807 2911. Phone consultations are free.

By Paul Vaccarelli

As personal computers age they appear to slow down. Sometimes even newer computers will seem to take a long time to boot and then operate in slow motion. This can be frustrating and baffling to the person using the computer.

In reality, computers always operate as fast as they are designed to.  What slows them down are programs monopolizing their resources. When RAM memory runs low, the computer uses disk memory to compensate. Disk memory is hundreds of times slower than RAM memory, thus the slow performance. There can also be programs running in the background that take up CPU usage. These programs can be anything from malware, to over-zealous anti-virus programs.

To get to the bottom of what is slowing down your computer, do the following while the computer is slow:

•    Press the CTRL, ALT, and DELete keys simultaneously. This will bring up the Task Manager. On Vista you will see a menu, then click on Task Manager.
•    Click on the Performance tab. You will see a graphical representation of CPU and Memory usage. The CPU usage should be at 10% or lower when the computer is idle.  The memory usage number, (the graph will say PF usage,) multiplied by 1000, should be less than physical memory total shown at the bottom. If it is not, you may need to add more RAM or find the program that is using it up.
•    To find programs using an over abundance of resources, while in task manager, click the Processes tab. It will show you a real time list of all programs running in real time.
•    Click on the memory column to sort by memory usage, or the CPU column to sort by CPU usage. You can then see what is using the most of these resources. In XP, the System Idle Process should be showing 90% or above in CPU usage.

Once you find the culprit, you can deal with it yourself, or call a computer service professional for advice.  Other issues can slow a computer like a failing hard drive, or a poorly fragmented hard drive, but most of the time it is an errant program that can easily be dealt with.

Paul Vaccarelli is general manager of PC-911, LLC. He can be reached at 303 807 2911. Phone consultations are free.

What If You Lost Your Mouse?

By Paul Vaccarelli

The computer tool we take most for granted is the mouse. Whether you are a Mac or PC user, the mouse is an integral part of your computer interface. In fact, we rely on it so much we sometimes abandon the keyboard and use the mouse even it is more efficient not to do so. For example, we have all logged on to our email by keying in our user name, then reached for the mouse, clicked on the password field, then keyed in our password. A much faster way is to key in your user name, press the TAB key, which will put the curser on the password field, then key in the password.

Here are a few more short cuts that might come in handy:

  • If you are finished with a program, such as MS Word or Excel, rather than reach for the mouse and click on the X in the upper right of the screen, simply press the ALT key and, while holding it down, press the F4 key (denoted by ALT + F4.)
  • If your mouse fails and you want to shut down, don’t power off the computer. Press CNTRL + ESC. Then use the up, down, left and right arrows to move the curser to the Turn Off Computer button. An even quicker way is to press the key with the Windows logo on it. It is in the lower left of the keyboard.
  • If you have a number of programs and folders minimized and you need to alternate between them, instead of reaching for the mouse and clicking on them, you can press ALT + TAB. While holding the ALT key down, keep pressing the TAB key until you come to the program you need, and let go.

You can find more of these useful shortcuts by Googling “Keyboard shortcuts for Windows.”

Paul Vaccarelli is general manager of PC-911, LLC. He can be reached at 303 807 2911. Phone consultations for computer service  problems are free.

                                                         By Paul Vaccarelli      

Let’s say you turn on your computer and instead of the normal startup whirring, you hear something that sounds like your neighbor using his snow blower. As the computer continues its start-up routine, the noise changes pitch, then settles down to a constant drone.

Although a noise like this is scary, it probably is not anything serious. Your PC has a number of cooling fans that keep the temperature of the computer at an operable level.

Over time the bearings in a fan can wear and cause the sound described above. You could hear this noise for months or even years without the fan failing outright, but it is a good idea to have it replaced as soon as possible.

If it is the cooling fan for the processor chip that is failing, the processor could overheat and cause the machine to shut down without warning. This is a safety feature that prevents serious damage to the motherboard, but damage to your operating system could result from the shutdown. If it is the computer’s case cooling fan causing the noise, the whole unit could run hot. Finally, there is a small fan on some video cards that make a really loud buzzing sound when they are ready to fail. They are harder to fix because they are not standard. However, they are available on-line.

So, if you hear a loud buzzing noise coming from your computer, there is no need to panic, but get help sooner rather than later. Cooling fans are usually inexpensive, but the damage that can be caused by overheating a computer is not.

Paul Vaccarelli is general manager of PC-911, LLC. He can be reached at 303 807 2911. Phone consultations are free.

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PC-911 Managing Member Paul Vaccarelli

Paul Vaccarelli
Managing Member
Established 2003

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