Top Tips For Working From Home

As increasing numbers of people work from home because of the Coronavirus, MPMIT provides top tips to help you maintain your professional poise and manage your time so you can keep your balance and avoid burning out.

Will it be tea (or coffee) and biscuits, the sofa and Netflix or fevered squirrelling away at the computer? Clearly, there are distractions at home but many people actually tend to work harder than when in the office, simply because there are fewer interruptions.

You don’t have to travel, which can save a few hours, and you don’t have the distractions of office life such as loud co-workers, endless meetings, chatter, answering the phone for colleagues and so on. As a result, you can concentrate solely on work if you can successfully navigate the pitfalls of working from home.
So how can you best manage your workload, maintain your professional poise and still work like a champion from home?

Your very own space

If you’ve got a dedicated workspace at home, that’s great. You can use it as an office. If you don’t you need to carve out a workspace that’s off-limits to other family members. You don’t have to set landmines and roll out barbed wire but there need to be some clear boundaries. There’s nothing worse than being on a work call, in a virtual meeting or trying to get something finished than being plagued by children’s endless waves of screaming, a yapping dog, mewing cat or doorbell ringing.

Always there

Be responsive. Get in the habit of sending a prompt reply whenever you get an email, even if it’s just to say, “Got it,” or, “I’ll get back to soon.” If you don’t, your colleagues might assume that you’re slumped on the sofa, tea and biscuits in hand, and binge-watching Netflix. And it goes without saying that you need to do your best to be available for conference calls or other collaborations, even if you don’t have strict work hours and other participants are in a time zone from hell.

Virtual dress code

Virtual meetings will surely play a part in your home-based work and may even require your video presence. Is there a dress code for video calls? Common sense dictates that you look reasonably polished, from the waist up at least. Pyjamas, vests and bed hair are probably best avoided.

Present and able

When your presence is required in a virtual work meeting but you don’t need to speak, it’s a good idea to be present rather than doing the ironing, putting the kettle on or tickling the baby, even if you are on mute. You never know when somebody is going to say; “What do you think…?” and you suddenly have to be ‘creative’ because while you were listening in you were also not listening at all.

Be equipped

Who was it who said, “Be Prepared”? It doesn’t really matter but it’s a handy motto for working from home.  In practical terms, this means ensuring your computing equipment is in tip top shape and loaded with the latest in protection and privacy. Working from home sometimes translates to working where ever you are, which sometimes may not necessarily be at home. It goes without saying that antivirus protection is essential but have you ever considered a VPN (virtual private network)?  A VPN keeps all your communications with the office private, whether you’re at home, visiting a client or travelling. For secure communications between you and your clients, colleagues, boss it’s just as essential as antivirus software.

Sharing docs and backing up

You may have some monster-sized docs to work on from home which are too heavy for email even when compressed. Or there might just be a lot of docs flying back and forth. As such it’s a good idea to have cloud-based storage service that can be shared between colleagues. It’s simpler than sending and receiving docs and makes it easier to work on documents that other people are contributing to, so you’re always working from the latest version. And of course, it goes without saying that back-ups at the end of the day are essential to safeguard against loss.

Keep it clean

Here’s an odd thought; every minute of the day we lose about 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells from the surface of our skin. In practice, this means lots and lots of dust on your computers on top of the accrued detritus that’s already there. Cleaning your computers, including your smartphone, is important so it’s a good idea to use a proper cleansing agent. Computers are generally not amenable to water. Alcohol wipes are a good alternative and also keep your devices free of bugs when you’re out and about.

Nail down time management

When working from home time can blur and it’s easy to find yourself working without taking a break, which of course, will backfire at some point with mistakes, over tiredness and a creeping reluctance to drag yourself back to the computer. This is why breaks are important. Think of your work from home as a day in the office and don’t deprive yourself of breaks. You’ll find that you can work consistently well rather than go through the peaks and troughs of unstructured working days.

The MPMIT Team, offering local IT support in byte sized chunks to Micro businesses and Sole Traders in the Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and the surrounding areas.

How To Safely Scan Your PC For Malware

safely scan your PC for malware

Look out for malware

Is your PC running at a snail’s pace? Are you experiencing frequent pop-ups and weird goings on?

If so, it’s more than likely that your system has been infected by a virus, spyware or other nasty.

But I have antivirus; I hear you cry. OK, but that doesn’t mean your PC is entirely immune to the ‘bad guys’. It could be playing up because you have a hardware issue.

Either way, the following steps will help you discover if the cause is something more sinister.

Enter safe mode

First up, disconnect your PC from the internet.

Then boot into safe mode.

In most versions of Windows this is relatively straightforward, but if you’re using Windows 10, select you’re going to need a bit of help.

  1. Click the Start button, select the Power button but don’t click anything
  2. Hold down the Shift key and click Reboot
  3. When the full-screen menu appears chooseTroubleshooting, then Advanced Options, then Start-up Settings
  4. On the next window click Restart and wait for the next screen to appear
  5. Next, you will see a menu with numbered start-up options, select number 4 which is safe mode

If your PC runs faster in safe mode is could be a sign your system has a malware infection, or that you have a lot of legitimate programs that start up with Windows.

Get rid of temporary files

Once in safe mode, and before running a virus scan, delete your temporary files using the Disk Cleanup utility.

Download malware scanners

If you have an active antivirus program on your computer, use a different scanner for this malware check.

Remember, no antivirus program can detect 100% of malware.

If you think your PC is infected, use an on-demand scanner (e.g. BitDefender Free Edition, Malwarebytes, Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool etc.,) first and then follow up with a full scan by your real-time antivirus program.

Reconnect to the internet to download the on-demand scanner, but make sure your disconnect again before you start the scanning.

Run the setup file and follow the wizard to install the program. Once it has run, you’ll get a report on the start of your PC. If anything shows up, follow the program’s removal process. Then run a full scan with your real-time antivirus program to make sure it’s gone.

New Computer? Here’s Our Security Advice

Don't fall for viruses

 

Getting a new computer is exciting.

Come on, admit it. It doesn’t matter how many you’ve owned in the past; you always get a buzz when unpacking a new one.

You look forward to a long and happy life together. However, the only way you can make sure that happens is to protect it from all the cyber nasties that are out there just waiting for their chance to bring your online world crashing down.

Whether you’re an old hand at owning computers, or this is your first foray into the world of the internet, here are a few gentle reminders to help you stay safe:

  • Your computer is sturdy but not indestructible
  • It likes to be clean
  • It doesn’t like liquids or food of any kind
  • Nothing is forever; just because you save a document doesn’t mean it’s there for posterity
  • Start off not trusting anything that comes from the internet until it’s proven safe
  • Saving is NOT automatic. If in doubt, save it again
  • The internet is public, and anything you put on it should be treated as though it were broadcast to the world
  • If in doubt, HANDS OFF and call someone who understands computer stuff
  • If “Microsoft” call you, hang up (it’s not them)
  • Get paid antivirus
  • Set a strong admin password (not ‘password’) and use a normal user (non-admin) account for everyday use
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is
  • IF IN DOUBT ABOUT ANYTHING SPEAK TO SOMEONE BEFORE ACTING

 MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

 

Why You Should Run Regular Computer Check-ups: 2 case studies

As a team of IT specialists, we get all sorts of weird and wonderful issues presented to us Computer problemsby our clients.

Here are a couple of our latest cases – see if anything sounds familiar.

We were presented with a couple of laptops that had slightly different issues but the outcome was the same.

The first laptop was not connecting to the internet using Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox.  The PC would just bring up the blue circle of death then it would disappear after a couple of seconds.

We uninstalled Internet Explorer and reverted back to an older version.  This worked and opened successfully, then we tidied up the temp files, removed all the add-ons and toolbars and thought we’d cracked it.

After a reboot we were back to square one – no internet access.  So we started the system up in safe mode to check what was starting up and also to run a anti-virus check – after an hour and a half we had 183 problems reported on the laptop – 3 of these were serious.

Three scans later the system was ‘clean’ so we thought we’d try the same thing again by uninstalling Internet explorer. But the same thing happened; it ran OK until there was a reboot of the system.  So the virus’ on this occasion won and we ended up backing up the data (checking this was clean) rebuilding the laptop with the operating system then restoring the data.  All now works well.

The second laptop was slightly different in that the user wasn’t running any AV software.  They were receiving an error message when using any social media software.  After running a malware scan we found 28 issues with the laptop, one of these was deemed serious.  After loading the laptop in safe mode, we installed an AV product and selected the evaluation period and ran another scan, this found another two problems, one serious. After running a System File Checker scan we found no end of windows files that could not be repaired.  So we decided to backup the customer data rebuild the laptop with the operating system, then restore the data back.  All now works well.

This advocates regular check-ups of machines, spring clean them occasionally and also run a recommended anti-virus application such as Bullguard and make sure it is kept up to date and scan regularly.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

IT Troubleshooting – The Case of the Fuzzy PC Screen

As IT consultants, we’re frequently presented with bizarre PC ailments.

One case in particular was that of a fuzzy PC screen.

When we arrived at the client’s office, the PC’s screen looked more like of those magic pictures. You know, the ones you have to stare at to find the hidden image. The only problem here was no amount of staring was going to help.

On top of that, the PC was running very slowly and would frequently freeze.

Our first step was to open up  the PC to see what was going on. In a word – dust. The CPU fan and graphics card fan was choked with it. After giving them a good clean, we closed up and restarted it. It was a slow process and after about 15 minutes the PC froze once more.

So, it was back to the operating table, a quick change of graphics card and then another restart. This time  the screen was OK and although slow, it was up and running (well, more of a walk really).

Next was try and speed things up by clearing out unwanted software. Unfortunately, the PC froze once more and complained bitterly about low disc space.

After running various tests on the hardware components, the fault presented itself – a faulty motherboard.

The moral of this tale? Make sure you regularly spring clean your PC to prevent a suffocating build up of dust.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders
and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

The IT Troubleshooting Detectives – A Case Study

For many IT issues the old adage of ‘switch it off and then switch it back on again’ seems to IT Detectivework. But every now and then a problem will arise that foxes and frustrates you. When that happens, it’s time to call in the IT detectives.

Here’s a case in point:

The case of the beeping and rebooting PC

It was a normal day in the office. The window perfectly framed the balmy blue sky outside and if we listened really carefully, we could just make out the gentle twitter of the birds.

But then the phone rang and everything changed.

The disembodied voice recounted the story of their PC that constantly rebooted, beeped and then rebooted again. Nothing they’d tried worked and they were losing productivity.

We leapt into action and dashed round to help.

While standing in front of the offending PC, they demonstrated the problem. Sure enough it rebooted, bleeped and rebooted again. We put our client’s mind at rest by informing them that the beep was a good sign: it meant the PC was OK. The issue was to discover what was preventing it from staying up.

Our first move was to unplug all the peripheral equipment, just leaving the monitor, keyboard and mouse plugged in.

The PC started up no problem – had we found the problem?

We reconnected the LAN, but as we did so the whole system failed: black screen, rebooting and bleeping. Back to square one.

Upon starting it up again, it loaded OK, the internet was working, but after plugging in the printer the whole system failed again.

We took a moment to look around their office and noticed that the system was running through an old unlimited power supply unit – could that be the culprit?

After unplugging everything and re-plugging it all into the wall sockets, no system start-up.

So there it was, the culprit was the faulty power supply unit.

After the client had this refitted all the problems vanished.

The result: a happy client and productivity restored.

All in a days work for the IT detectives.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders
and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Are You Aware of the Dangers Lurking in Your Office?

Antivirus software – great, install it, forget it and continue to work in blissful harmony safe in the knowledge you are protected.

But are you?

To highlight the case that, especially in the business world, you may not be as protected as might like to think you are, we would like to draw your attention to an article that appeared in PC Pro called Why Antivirus is Fighting a Losing Battle in Your Office.

Antivirus software is hamstrung by poorly coded business apps and daft users, says Steve Cassidy

Whenever I’m called upon to deal with a virus infection inside a business network, I find myself having to swim desperately against a gigantic wave of sheer user incredulity.

Occasionally, I wonder whether I encounter this effect so often because I manage to explain myself more clearly in writing than I do face to face (despite always going into such meetings equipped with the most sophisticated visual aids, such as my Cross fountain pen and a sheet of A4 paper). So here is a handy summary of what happens to your business PC when a virus comes to call, and how this differs from what happens when a similar misfortune befalls your home PC.

Badly behaved business apps want all their users to have admin rights to their local PC, and require all sorts of hacking about

The first and most obviously incredulous reaction I encounter is always “we have antivirus, so that isn’t possible”. I shudder to imagine how many businesses are sitting there wide open as a result of accepting this fallacy (and as for home users, I refuse to imagine at all). If our antivirus program didn’t put up an alert, they say, then there can’t have been a virus attack.

I suspect that where my explanations really run onto the rocks is when I’m groping around for real-world metaphors to illustrate this appalling error of logic, which deludes so many management minds. That old joke about a guy falling off a skyscraper and exclaiming “so far, so good!” to the people he passes on each floor implies a suitable specific degree of complicity in the situation, but clashes with other observations about the nature of infectious processes.

Talking about biological infections doesn’t work very well either, because animals have immune systems and computers don’t, and whoever first thought of deploying such a metaphor clearly didn’t understand much about the nature of the immune response, the crucial role of pain and inflammation, and so on. If I make reference to Carl Zimmer’s utterly fantastic book Parasite Rex – which provides an in-depth look at a vast area of biology that actually makes a better metaphor – then people tend to look a bit uncomfortable and freaked out. “Parasites! Yuck! Guinea worms! Liver flukes! Ewww!”

The devils you know

So let’s go bare and brutally literal about this subject. Certainly your antivirus software knows about existing viruses, and it knows how to prevent certain types of virus infection that arise from files downloaded via your browser, or from traffic over your LAN, or from attachments to emails. There may be a few other types of presentation or infection that various different antivirus products manage to catch too, but I’m sorry to have to tell you that the products most favoured by businesses tend to be rather less all-encompassing with the protection they offer. I’m not intending to blacken the reputation of any particular antivirus software company by saying this, since quite apart from any other factors, the “rule of rubbish applications” trumps all other cards inside a business network.

That’s the rule that says businesses have to put up with incredibly badly coded applications, which would send home users running for a refund. Generally speaking, the more general purpose a piece of software is, the better coded it is likely to be. When did you last hear of an incompatibility or a crash in a zip compression utility? But how about the application that runs your business’ accounts, or operates your stock control system, or the parts-ordering interface to your supplier or manufacturer?

Those are all more specialist applications, so they tend not to suffer many competitors in their sectors, which means they’re insulated from the bracing forces of natural selection, and tend not to evolve very far or fast. One common consequence of this overall flakiness and indifference to progress is that these accursed programs are inclined to ignore all the layers of OS-level user security that Windows has been adding for the last half a dozen revisions.

Badly behaved business apps want all their users to have admin rights to their local PC, and require all sorts of hacking about – time-consuming, annoying and often repetitive hacking about – if this level of access is denied to them. This design decision (although it’s stretching a point to dignify it with the name “decision” at all) is so widespread and so continually rediscovered, because it’s useful and saves coding effort. But unfortunately, it wipes away swathes of sensible and elegant anti-infection measures, and puts antivirus software writers (who by contrast are intensely competitive, massively technical, and by definition must occupy the cutting-edge of their business) at a huge disadvantage.

In the home PC sector they can rely on the presence of fairly basic but highly effective OS-level precautions, but in the business arena these features are sometimes bypassed by various workarounds. Okay, let’s upgrade that “sometimes” to an “almost always”.

Admin rights

This notion, that badly behaved software can be fixed by granting admin rights to everybody, has attained the status of Professional Sacred Cow in the world of corporate IT, and I’m sorry to have to report that nowadays, I find people doing it almost as a reflex action, part of a body of false knowledge that shouldn’t be applied in such an unquestioning way.

The crucial ability that having admin rights confers, the one that fixes so many flaky applications, is the ability to write to directories in the Program Files folder tree. If only this single right were to be conferred, instead of the whole great package of other permissions that go with full “administrator” status, life would become much less tough for the antivirus software that has to keep out the bad guys.

Source: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/realworld/373726/why-antivirus-is-fighting-a-losing-battle-in-your-office

 MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Make Your Laptop Battery Work Longer

batteryHow many times have you been out and about with your laptop and the battery gives out? Normally it happens at a crucial moment during a meeting, half way through a document or when you need to send out an important email.

To help you get the most out of your laptop battery, here are a few suggestions to help you wring the most out of each charge.

Flat as a pancake

If you have a laptop with either NiCD or NiMH batteries fitted, allow them to go completely flat before recharging them.

If, like many people, you use your laptop for long periods of time on mains power rather than on the battery you will be shortening its life. If you want to work from the mains, remove your battery altogether and store it in a discharged state.

Li-ion batteries are usually unaffected but if you leave your laptop on mains power without cycling them then their useful life time is reduced substantially.

Screen

Bright screens use up a lot of battery power so turning the brightness and contrast-control down as far as you can will help your battery life.

If you’re not using it, turn it off

You won’t need every component on your laptop all the time so make sure you turn off internal/external modems when not in use. Plus, leaving your PC card modem plugged in can reduce your effective battery time by up to 25%.

You should also remove PCMCIA cards when not in use.

Turn off AutoSave

This one is for the brave. It’s a bit of a risk, but if you’re careful to monitor your battery’s power level, you can avoid unnecessary disk accesses.

Say farewell to helpers, wizards & other automatic features

Your laptop has numerous software functions that automatically format text, check spelling, and recalculate your spreadsheet and they all draw down power. If you can do without them, turn them off.

Use a disk-caching utility

If you install a utility program like Norton Utilities or SmartDrive you can cut down on disk-accessing time.

Your laptop’s cache saves the most-often used or most recently used information to a special virtual memory cache. So, rather than battery-depleting hard-drive accesses, the computer uses the information in the cache instead.

Clean Leads

Here’s one you may not have thought of before.

Every month, clean your leads (silver or gold metal strips on end of battery) with rubbing alcohol to make sure your battery is making a good clean contact with the leads in your system.

These are simple things to do which can make a big different to your batteries life span. So if you want to minimise the risk of an embarrassing premature battery switch off, follow these tips.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Windows Updates–The Why, How and Are They Safe?

microsoft

It’s something that you just accept as a PC owner (of the Windows variety).

Every now and then your computer will begin to download Windows updates.

But why does that happen? How does it happen? And is it safe for your computer to be downloading stuff under its own steam like that?

Well this post is going to lead you through those questions to put your mind at rest.

Why updates happen

In an ideal world, software would be created to the offer the optimum package of services you’ll ever need. But it’s not an ideal world and things change.

New ideas are created, glitches happen, hackers come up with new ways to violate your computer etc. All of these incidences mean your software has to be regularly updated to make sure it runs smoothly and offers you the best possible protection.

How they happen

Your PC will already be preloaded with software and it’s this that initialises a connection with the internet to check for and download updates.

Even though you’ll have firewalls and security packages on your PC the connection won’t be blocked because it’s the software you already have that’s making the connection. Your Firewall is there to keep intruders out and not there to prevent you (or your software) from downloading the updates your systems needs to work properly.

Are they safe?

The thought of your PC doing this for you may leave you feeling a bit nervous.

What if one of the updates isn’t real and is really from a malicious third party who has hacked into your update service?

First off, updates only come from particular internet addresses (e.g. http://update.microsoft.com). As this is under Microsoft’s control you can be pretty sure their security is as tight as…well, the tightest thing you can imagine, so the chances of anyone getting in there are extremely unlikely.

For arguments sake, say a hacker managed to get their own software into an official update channel, what then? Well, your PC will only accept data if it’s signed with a valid cryptographic key – and making a fake code is impossible.

So, if your PC starts to download a Windows Update don’t worry.

There are bad guys out there

Even though Windows updates are OK, there are still a lot of bad guys out there.

One of the most popular ways to try and infect your PC is through phishing email scams. Your security software should protect you from  these but it pays to remain vigilant at all times. If you don’t recognise the email sender, never open the attachment and delete the email straight away.

Common sense with a healthy dose of scepticism will help you stay safe on and off line. But if you do experience any problems get in touch with your local IT support company immediately.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Inkjet Cartridge Refilling–Avoiding Problems

printer

Everyone wants to be a bit greener these days and refilling your inkjet cartridges is one way of doing just that.

But refilling them can lead to problems with print quality and cartridge life.

This post talks you through some of the most common problems and tells you how to get round them so you and your inkjet cartridges can live a long and happy life together.

Don’t let the cartridge dry out

Inside inkjet cartridges (with a built-in print head) is a foam sponge. If wait too long to refill your cartridge you run the risk of this drying out. The sponge will go hard and ink dries and clogs the micro holes of the printer head.

This will result in inconsistent light and dark print and a reduced number of prints per refill.

To avoid this, refill your cartridge as soon as it’s out of ink or, preferably, top it up after every 200-250 sheets to make sure it always has ink and that the sponge can’t dry out.

It is possible to unblock a cartridge should the worse happen:

  • Place half a cup of hot tap water and bleach (50/50) in a saucer or shallow dish.
  • Hold the print head of the cartridge in the solution for 2 –3 minutes to hydrate and loosen any dried ink and allow the ink to flow through the print head nozzles.
  • Once cleared you should see ink bleed out (gently wipe it dry) – repeat if necessary.

It’s best to do this with an empty cartridge. Once cleaned add a small amount of ink to the cartridge to test the print quality. Then insert the cartridge into the printer and run it through its print head cleaning cycle.

Keep the print head clean

By keeping the print head clean you will increase the possible number of successful refills.

Gently clean the print head with a soft cotton cloth or cotton bud (don’t use tissues) dipped in water. Then snap the cartridge in and out a few times to get a good connection.

How to avoid ‘colour mixing’

When you’re filling a tri-colour cartridge the last thing you want to do is put the wrong colour in the wrong chamber.

To avoid this, get 3 tooth picks and dip them into the chambers – deep enough to pick up some of the ink. Then when you know which chamber holds which colour, mark the cartridge accordingly so you don’t make a mistake.

No back to back cleaning cycles

It is important to give your cartridge chance to get some ink flow after cleaning. So, once you’ve completed a cleaning cycle print 3 or 4 pages of a colour image. If it’s still not looking great repeat the cleaning cycle and then print a few more pages. Keep doing this until you get a good quality print.

Purge

The purging cycle isn’t the same as the cleaning cycle (if you don’t know how to do it read your printer manual). Basically during  the purge cycle, all the jets in the cartridge are heated and then cleaned from the inside out.

Watch the resistors

Resistors (they control the current to each outlet jet) are the reason behind a cartridge’s limited refill life.

If your cartridge runs out of ink, the resistors can overheat and then they’ll burn out and fail. The result is wavy, slanted print. If this does happen the only thing you can do is ditch that cartridge and buy a new one.

The pressure’s on

Refilling ink cartridges can change the equilibrium inside them and may therefore need time to adjust.

Some require you to re-pressurise them using a plastic squeeze bottle which blows air into an air hole. Others just need to be allowed to sit for a while before they can be re-inserted into the printer.

Air pockets

Some sponge filled cartridges can develop air pockets at the bottom of the cartridge block the flow of ink. Centrifugal force is the answer.

All  you have to do is:

  • Wrap the cartridge in a cloth
  • Place it in a plastic bag, head or exit ports pointing down
  • Swing the cartridge down towards the floor rapidly several times
  • A spot of ink should be visible from each chamber. If not do it again.

General maintenance, such as the steps above, will help extend the life of your refillable inkjet cartridges.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.