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December 30, 2007

Why you don't get what you want?

No matter how hard we try, and no matter how many safeguards are put in place, once in a while things do go wrong. As part of being an IT consultant, and even just an on-site tech, it is frequent that I have been the contact for my clients, and the representative of the company I work for. I have also worked in the retail industry for a while, and while it is expected to have unhappy customers (you really can't please everyone) we still try our best to help those we can. But why is it that some people walk away happy, while others walk away feeling like they have been robbed? How can you make sure that you're one of the ones who walk away happy?

  • Don't lose your head: The most important thing to remember when something bad happens, whether it be a service you paid for was not what you expected, you were sold something you didn't actually need, or you bought something you needed only to find out that it didn't work, is to keep a cool head. 90% of the time when you go back to complain or try to get a resolution to the problem, the person you will work with to resolve the problem is not the one who caused it, so yelling at them is a really bad way to start a conversation. This is the person who can help you, so be nice to them, even if you are mad. It isn't their fault someone else messed up, and they can't change what already happened, so as hard as it can be at time, just be nice and start fresh, this will increase the chance of you walking away happy many times over.

  • Know what you want: You have to know what you want the end result to be. Screaming "JUST FIX IT!" won't work. Tell the representative you are working with exactly what you want. I hate people who say "what are you going to do for me?" I hear it a lot when people bought the wrong thing or bought something defective. I say "let you exchange it for the right thing". The ones who say "can you waive shipping" or "can you give me a small discount for the inconvenience" will usually get it. It gives me something to go to the manager with. If your request is reasonable, we do are best to fulfill it.

  • Be reasonable: You have to be reasonable. There is no way we can give you the product for free just becasue it was the wrong one. It just doesn't work that way. 10% off, yea probably but free...unlikely. We aren't going to take back a product against policy for a full refund becasue you realize it isn't what you really needed despite a description and the compatibility being on the box.(especially if you start yelling) And as big of a pain as it is, driving to the store to return something does not constitute such a huge inconvenience that it requires free services and a total refund (and the correct product). Sorry, it just isn't like that. Ask for something that is reasonable and will make you happy. if its a service with a monthly subscription, ask for a month or two free. If it's just a set price, ask for a discount and a refund for the difference. Ask for refunded delivery if they shipped you the wrong thing. Stuff like this is easy to get, and in most cases more than makes up for the small errors.

  • Do not make threats: Making threats (physical, legal, or other) is just a bad idea. I'll give you the outcome in advance.

    • Legal threat (i.e. I'm suing you): You get transfered to our corporate legal department, and any chance that the store can help you just went away. Once threatened with a lawsuit, if taken seriously, it is out of our hands. We can't help the customer.

    • Physical Threat(I'm going to come and kick you ass...blah blah blah): As rare as this is, I have gotten it a few times. When I was younger I was stupid and would laugh at the people threatening me. I was in high school, I was a football player, I lifted weights daily and it showed. I'm 6'3 and by no means little. Id welcome people to come pay me a visit, then laugh as they quickly changed their attitude when addressing me. Now I just remind them that they are breaking the law and that I have all of their contact information. Either way the customer comes out looking like an ass and I get a good chuckle. I have never had a customer try to hit me, or even get in my face. I have seen customers try to hit other employee's only to be tackled, and arrested when the police arrived. Then he got tazed for resisting arrest. Good stuff.

    • Other (I'm going to call the BBB, Attorney General, etc.): This will pan out different for different reps. For the most part, they are pointless for one reason; the employee you are talking too doesn't care. Nothing is going to happen to them if the company gets sued, and if they have been in the industry long (like I have) they will know when there is a legitimate claim and when the customer is full of it. When its a legitimate complaint, it rarely gets this far. That and the BBB has no legal standing to do anything. They are like a big complaint board for people to look at. I can find complaint about every major company on the BBB, and other than that they are useless.
So to sum it up. Be nice, Know what you want and be reasonable with your requests. If you are in the wrong and just want things to be fixed, you can ask but you are out of luck if they don't. The best way to deal with this stuff is to avoid it. Do your research so you don't have to deal with exchanges if you buy the wrong thing. There is no way around getting defective product, it just happens, and while it sucks, its part of life. Just deal with it using the tips above.

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December 29, 2007

Buying a Computer

Believe it or not, buying a computer is a lot like buying a car. There are dozens of different models, a nearly limitless supply of options you can add on, extended warranty's you can buy, and sleazy sales people who want you spend as much as possible and that will happily offer you a line of credit to do it.

And just like buying a car, a lot of research should be done before making your purchase. Today, computers range in price from around $300 to several thousand dollars, and with so many options it is easy to become overwhelmed and just get what ever a sales person tells you to. This can end either making you spend way more money than you originally planned or you could end up with a computer that doesn't fit your needs. To prevent this from happening, there some things you should do before you even go to an electronics store.

  • Asses you needs. The first thing you want to do, even before you go to a computer store, is assess and prioritize your needs. This is key in figuring out what computer will be right for you.

    • What software do you want to use? Software like Microsoft Word uses less system resources than photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop. So think about what you plan on using your computer for. Once you know what type of software you want to use, go to the manufacturer of that softwares website and look at the recommended system specifications for the software. It will tell you how much hard drive space, how much RAM, and what processor works best with the software. This will give you a good idea of how powerful the computer you are buying needs to be. This is a rough number, and it is always better to have more of a resource than not enough so use those specifications a s a minimum requirement, otherwise you will be disappointed in how your computer is preforming.

    • How much Storage space do you need? Computer storage is cheap, and most computers today are sold with way more storage than the average user will ever need, but it is still something you need to think about. Are you going to want to store movies? music? Digital photos? If you are just using your computer for basic text files (like in Microsoft word or excel) then you don't need much storage space, but if you start copying your CDs and DVDs to your computer, you will start running out of space pretty quickly and you will need a bigger hard drive.

  • Determine Your Budget: You need to be honest with yourself. Computers cost money, and like most things, the cheapest will never be the best. That is not to say, the cheapest wont fit your needs, but you can't walk into a retailer with 400 dollars and expect to walk out with a computer that is going to play the newest games and put together professional quality video. So determine how much you are willing to pend before you leave the house. Be reasonable and honest. If you can only afford 500 dollars but want a machine that you can do video editing on then just save up for a bit longer. that way you walk out with something you are happy with and you don't feel like you are just settling.

    • It is worth noting, that one really great part about computers is that there are several things you can upgrade at a later time. For instance, if you need a computer for school now, but think you want to do photo editing later, you can buy one suitable for you now, then upgrade the RAM or add a larger hard drive at a later date. So if this is one of your challenges, then check to see how many empty slots are available for RAM and other expansion cards, and how many open bays are available for hard drives.

  • Aesthetics: For many people, the aesthetics of the computer play a big part either becasue of limited space in their home or office, or becasue they don't want something that doesn't fit in being an eye sore.

    • Computers come in different shapes, sizes and colors. You can get All-in-one type computers like the iMac when the monitor and CPU are in a single fairly small unit (HP, Dell, and Sony all make all in one units as well). You can get a full size tower (typically used when you need several hard drives, or larger expansion cards) and mini tower (the most common). Vendors are now making Slimline form factors which are really small towers, but have almost no ability to be upgraded.

  • Laptop v. Desktop: Today's laptops are just as powerful as the desktops (although they are more expensive for the same power) so all you really need to consider is if you want to take your computer with you. If you want to take your computer to school, to work, to a coffee shop, then get a laptop. If you want something for home use, get a desktop. The only real advantage desktops have is the ability to upgrade and add components like the video card. (RAM and hard drive can be upgraded in a laptop without much trouble).

    • If you want a computer to take places, but also want a larger screen and regular keyboard, you can purchase a docking station for your laptop. What a docking station does is gives you a place to plug in a larger monitor, regular keyboard and mouse, printers, speakers and other peripherals that you don't need to take with you, then you just connect the docking station to your laptop when you get home and it connects everything else automatically.

  • Apple v. PC: This is the holy war of the computer world, and there is no real answer to which is better. Each has their place in the world, and both are quality products. Ill give you some details of each. This is the last thing you need to decide. Both can fill just about all needs, so in the end, it is a preference. Also, I am excluding any open source options becasue for the average user, they are not viable (due to lack of support and problems finding it)

    • Apple:
      • Cheaper Software (comes with free software for basic word processing, image editing, etc)
      • Fewer options, but all of them are good products and will work well for the average user.
      • Typically, the units are much more aesthetically pleasing
      • Equivalent pricing. Yes, the bottom of the line iMac is over 1000 dollars, BUT to get an EQUALLY powerful PC would cost about the same (after you buy the web cam, the software etc) so price comparison needs to be looked at from a total package point of view, not just the computer cost.
      • Fewer Virus (there are viruses for the Mac OS as well as the software that runs on it, but there are far fewer then on a PC)
      • Great technical support.
      • Software to suit just about any need
      • You can run windows on a Mac now (just in case you want a Mac most of the time but have a few windows only pieces of software)
    • PC:
      • If you are on a tight budget, you can get a cheap PC for around 300 dollars
      • TONS of different software titles available
      • TONS of hardware upgrades/options available
      • Because there are so many choices of hardware/software you can run into compatibility issues.
      • Support is mediocre
      • You can build your own and make it look exactly how you want
      • Software is expensive. from the operating system to the basic word processing and spreadsheet software.

  • Wait for the Deal: After you figure out everything above go to the stores and find the computer you want, then wait for a good deal. Computers, like cars, are always on sale...seriously, any day, any time, you can find someplace having a sale. It is only a matter of time until the one you want is on sale. And in all honestly, chances are, in 6 months the model you want will drop significantly in price becasue it will be marked as "discontinued" buy it then. You don't need the newest, you really don't. Computers aren't "out of date" or "obsolete" until they no longer fit your needs. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you follow the above tips, you will end up with a good computer, that fits your needs, and not end up destroying your wallet in the process.

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December 26, 2007

New Ideas for Blogging

One of the biggest problems I have encountered with blogging is being able to continuously come up with content that was worth writing about. The way I avoid this is by writing about things problems I have encountered and then writing the solution I found for them. In addition, I like to write about new products that I find and play with. Writing about new products and tools I find and use is one of my favorite things. I am a gadget and software fanatic, and have hard drives full of just random little pieces of software that I have come across and liked. Lately, one of the best places I have found to look for new software are sites like Smorty and PayPerPost blog network.

The nature of these sites are to get bloggers to look at and review the product. Bloggers pare paid to do it, but that is because it takes time to properly evaluate a piece of software. I have decided to use them as a source for new things to write about since they are filled with vendors of new software dying to have people review it. The pay just gives me an excuse to spend more time blogging instead of doing things like spending time with my wonderful girlfriend (joking…mostly)

Take a look at the site if you have some time, it is pretty cool, and from what I have seen so far, it will be a wealth of topics to write about as well.



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December 23, 2007

AVG Anti-Spyware Review

Recently Grisoft released AVG free anti-spyware application to go along with their free anti-virus and free root-kit remover Like most free versions it is limited in functionality compared to the full version, but compared to similar software it is a really great deal.

I have been running it for the last 2 weeks and it has picked up a couple small pieces of malware on my computer, I also ran it against a intentionally infected computer and it did a great job of cleaning it up. The complete scan takes some time to complete, which is fine, especially since you have multiple, highly customizable scans.

The complete scan will scan all files and folders, the registry, as well as active processes and memory. Other options include a quick scan and a scan for only the active processes and programs running in memory.

The paid for version of the software includes addition features like real time protection (it is always actively looking for malware rather than you having to run a scan every week) Automatic updates, commercial use license, and of course, technical support.

In addition to good performance and a small system footprint, the AVG interface is very user friendly. The only thing I didn't like about it was the software doesn't clearly indicate which features are not working due to it being free. I was able to configure many of the options that are only for the paid version, and they just don't work rather than letting the user know they should upgrade.

If you are looking for a good anti-malware solution, then definitely check out AVG, they have not disappointed me yet.

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December 17, 2007

Protect Your Identity


During the holiday season most people are running around in malls, or scourging the web for the best deals on gifts. It is a time of happiness, joy, consumer spending and identity theft. Nothing ruins a new year like a stolen identity, so here are some ways to protect yourself during this holiday season.

  1. If you are shopping online, try to stick with reputable vendors. Deals that look too good to be true, probably are, and while it is ok to buy from smaller companies, do some research on them if you aren't sure. Check sites like the BBB to see if the company has a good reputation before making your purchase.

  2. Use a temporary Credit Card number when making online orders. My credit cards all offer single use temporary numbers that I can use when making online orders. Every time I need one, I just go to their web site and get one. no problem.

  3. Use credit cards when shopping online instead of services that directly withdraw from your bank account. Using a credit card gives you protection against fraud and the backing of a large bank if you need assistance in resolving issues. It is much harder to get money back from companies once they have it, using a credit card means they have the credit companies money, not yours, and give you a better chance.

  4. Pay attention to your bank and credit card statements. Check your statements closely for charges you didn't make. During times when you are making a lot of purchases from multiple different places, it is easy to overlook a purchase you didn't make, especially if it is relatively small.

  5. Shred mail with personal information. Credit card offers, bank statements, and utility bills all have varying degrees of personal information. Shred them before you throw them away, and if you need to keep them, you should have a locking file cabinet to keep them in. (Locking file cabinets go on sale for as little as 30 dollars at Wal-Mart, and while they are not the best quality, they are much better than nothing)

  6. Don't leave your purse sitting in a shopping cart as you wander around. My Girlfriend does this when I am with her because she expects me to stay by the cart and if I wander off (which I do often since I HATE shopping) it gets left alone. Keep your bag within arms reach at all times.

  7. Don't leave valuables in your car. Why does this protect your identity? Because you also keep your registration in your car and that has your name and address on it. Don't tempt people to break in to your car, because once they are in they may decide to take a lot more than that new TV or stereo you just bought.

  8. Pay attention to your cashiers, and try to avoid handing your credit cards to people. Most stores no longer require you to give your card t a cashier to swipe, and have the equipment for you to do it on your own, but if you must hand over your card, pay attention to what they are doing. In a place I worked last Christmas, one of the cashiers stole some credit card numbers and was only caught because she was dumb enough to use them in the store we worked in and used her employee account to get her discount. So pay attention to the cashier or anyone handling your card, be sure they aren't copying any info down or taking a picture of it.

  9. Make sure you get your card back. Every day I get calls from people who leave their cards at the store I work in. We have dozens of these cards at any given time (we would have hundreds but company policy is to destroy them if not claimed within 48 hours) so make sure you get it back if you give it to a cashier to swipe.

  10. If you lose a credit/debit card, report it ASAP. Get the card suspended if you think you just misplaced it, cancel it if you think it got left behind or stolen. It just isn't worth the risk to wait a few days.
These tips can, and should be followed all year, but are especially important during the holidays. Have fun this holiday season, but please keep yourself and your identity safe.

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December 13, 2007

Where the Big Boxes Went Wrong

Any one who has been in the technology industry for a significant amount of time has seen several major changes. Changes in the way technology works, the speeds in which we can process data, and even the way we buy and sell technology. In the last 10 years we have seen the rise of the Big Box Technology Stores like CompUSA, Best Buy, and Circuit City, and now we are beginning to see the fall of them. But what is causing this fall? Why is it that stores that were like a geeks candy shop only a few year back are all of a sudden closing their doors?

Sales:

Sales is a fine balance of knowledge and personality. Someone who nows tons about computers and technology, but isn't very introverted and not a "people person" (basically me) is not a good sales person. Someone who is a smooth talker, a charmer, and is very personable but knows nothing about technology will be able to sell a lot, but will also get tons of returns because they don't know how to fill peoples needs. So to find the right person is very hard. Then trying to find this person and get them to work for a low pay and a low commission it becomes almost impossible, so the companies begin to settle on what they can get. During the "take what you can get" search, they go for the sales people who really don't know much about technology since teaching a person the basics of a computer is much easier than teaching how to be a good sales person. Now give that average sales guy with little knowledge of technology and offer him 8 bucks and hour and tell him to meet outrageous goals and if they don't, they get fired. Oh and the only way to make more than that 8 bucks an hour is to sell a warranty that statistically is not good for the customer.

What you end up getting is an unhappy person pushing sales of products they either know little about or don't believe in. In addition to that, they are trying to sell to a group of people who for the most part want to spend as little money as possible and get the absolute best. Sales is a tough game, and unless you are willing to pay a premium for good sales people, your customers get sub par service.

Some stores luck out and get some really smart people on their sales floor, but they aren't there long. Most are there while in school or while looking for a better job. Someone who is good at sales and knows about technology will find a better paying job then a big box store if they look, I promise you that.

Internet Sales:

As the internet becomes more and more wide spread, many people will turn to it for purchasing a computer (and everything else). Internet stores have lower overhead and because of this can offer much lower cots. Combine this with giving the customers as absolutely pressure free sales experience, and it really is a good environment for buying if you know what you are looking for. It is hard for stores to compete with this, and really the only thing brick and mortar stores offer now is convenience and customer service. Most fail at the customer service aspect, and fail miserably. And unless you are in a pinch, convenience really doesn't matter.


The Tech Shops:

The tech shops in these stores have a problem from the time computers get checked in to the time they leave.

Problem 1. The people checking the computers are not techs. They, for the most part, do not know how to trouble shoot issues, and because of this don't know the right questions to ask in order to determine what the real problem is. Since they can't determine the real problem, many times the tech who ends up getting the computer looks for the wrong thing to fix, and when they can't find what is broken (because they are looking for the wrong thing) they say it's fixed and move on. The customer comes back unhappy and the process starts again.

Problem 2. The techs they hire are either new to the game (fresh out of school or just read a book and decided they want to be a tech) and have little experience. And while this wouldn't be a problem in many cases, it becomes one because they don't yet have the experience to translate what a customer thinks is the problem to what the problem actually is so they only try and fix what the customer wrote down is the problem.

In addition to being "green", they are put under enormous amounts of pressure to get as many computers fixed as fast as possible. In some cases they are forced to out source their own jobs (Best Buy, I'm looking at you). This causes huge drops in moral for people who would ordinarily like their jobs, and because the store wants to be profitable, they keep pay really low and force these techs to sell product if they want to make any money.

Who loses in these situations? the customers do. All the good employees find better jobs, and customers are left with those who either don't care about their jobs, ore really aren't good enough to do better. (with the exception of those who are in the job while looking for a better job or in school, but these people are all temporary)

In Hawaii, some of the stores are lucky. Because cost of living here is so high, many people (techs especially) have their normal day jobs, and then need a second night job to keep up with bills and have some spending money. Because of this they get really good techs who just take the lower paying job for the extra money. CompUSA had a handful of these guys, but because of the bad processes in place and all the red tape and sales bullshit they had to deal with were never allowed to get the tech shop up t their full potential. It was sad to watch hundreds of customers walk away unhappy because the store was unwilling to invest to analyzing the problems in the processes and fix them. under the right managements and with the right training, the CompUSA Tech Shop would have been great. I just hope the other Big Boxes take what happened to CompUSA as a warning and shape up.

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December 10, 2007

How I keep it together

Todays business world is fast and furious. To get ahead you really need to be on the ball and just about never stop. I was reading an older article on CNN Money about how the big time executives handle the stresses. A lot of them rely heavily on assistants, and the ability to control their schedules because people wait for them. Most of us "normal" people don't have the luxury. Then again most of us aren't that busy either.

In the last year or two my time has been stretched thin, and it seems as I become more successful, the strain is just getting bigger. I have found the need to actually manage my time, when previously I could just go with the flow. As it stands, I manage 2 full time jobs, school (finishing my degree), freelance work, the gym, personal time, time with my girlfriend (who I live with) and time for friends and family. It really is hectic, but here are some tips on how I keep it going:


  1. Schedule Everything: Schedule as much as you can. There will always be things that just come up, but do you best to schedule the things you can control. Monday mornings, I spend about an hour planning out my week. I plan everything from meetings, trips to the store (grocery shopping etc), phone calls that will take a while, time to write in my blog, time to just relax with my girlfriend, time for the gym, everything. I have also found it useful to schedule "free time" where it is for me to just re-organize or spend on anything that I needed to spend more time on. The "free time" acts as a buffer for when things get off schedule. I am lucky, since in my line of work, many of the tasks are repetitive, so I can take a pretty good guess at how long each thing will take, so scheduling becomes easier.

  2. Stick to your schedule: Once you set your schedule, stick to it. Make sure your meetings stay on task, make sure you get everywhere on time. Good planning plays a part in this. If you know that the drive from your office to your client will take 25 minutes, give yourself 35. This way, if there is traffic, or you need to make a call, you will have a buffer.

  3. Meetings: I hate meetings. I used to love them because for the most part they could kill some time and they aren't much work. But as I become busier, they just wasted my time. Don't go to a meeting unless there is a clear agenda. It just isn't worth it. If you are in a meeting and you see it start to get off topic, get it back on topic, or politely excuse yourself.

  4. Know your limits: We are human, we are not built to run 24/7 and need rest and fuel. Find your limits, and while it is OK to push your self once in a while, try not to pull 4 over nighters in a row, you will regret it later.

  5. Speaking of Fuel: Eating right will keep you going stronger and longer. loading up with greasy fast food will eventually make you feel like crap, and make you want to just drop. not only does it lack the nutrients you need, it is high in oils and fats that just make you feel sluggish and slow.

  6. Disconnect: Everyone needs to disconnect from work and have some alone time. Some people choose to meditate, some go fishing, I lift weights at the gym while listening to heavy metal. It works for me. It centers me, and releases stress like nothing else. Find a way for you to disconnect from everything and center your self. (Dumb Little Man offers some tips on meditation)

  7. Feed off others: After working long hours nothing gets me recharged faster than the energy of my friends. I can go from dead tired to fully loaded quickly when I am around them. We just have a great vibe and it relaxes me then gets me going. So feed off others energy if it helps you.

  8. Take a Vacation: Disconnecting for an hour each day is like like taking your car for an oil change, it is great but sometimes you really need the complete tune up, so take a week off. You don't actually need to go anywhere, but you do need to make sure you aren't working. Do something you enjoy. Relax, and just escape from the day-to-day action for a bit.

Doing these things keeps me going. I am able to work 100+ hour weeks while going to school and hanging with my friends and family. I get to hit the gym and unwind and spend quality time with the ones I love. Balance in life is key, but at times can be very hard to find. Once you find that balance, try and keep with it. Humans are creatures of habit, so when you get a good rhythm going, try not to stop it.

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December 9, 2007

What to do when your company closes

In the last 5 years, I have been through company acquisitions and closings. It is a rough time for everyone, and it is hard to stay focused when you are worried about if you will have a job in a month. We all have bills to pay and many have family to take care of, but in times like this it is important to not lose your head.


The Role of a Manager:
The role of a manager in times like this is to keep all the other employees working. In many cases, when a company is bought, the first thing the new owner will typically do is take away the managers power. They wont remove them, becasue they want a familiar face their to keep the employees working. At this point, managers essentially become figure heads in the store, no real power, except for the respect they earned from their employees. If the manager doesn't have that respect, you can be sure they won't be around much longer. Managers are also pretty much "out of the loop" by this point. As we saw with CompUSA closing, the managers didn't find out the sale was final until after the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets. So please don't blame your managers for not telling you, it is very likely that they didn't even know.

Once the initial take over is done, the managers will be there to keep employee moral up and things moving like normal, even when things are all but normal. They have their own worries about losing their jobs so they will do what is needed to make sure their checks keep getting signed. They have bills and a family to take care of, remember that.



The Role of the Staff:
Depending on the company, the current staff may or may not be asked to leave. In the case of CompUSA everyone is out of a job. In my previous jobs, I was hired immediately (and into a better position with a raise) so the buy outs aren't always bad. Even if you are out of a job, don't do anything stupid to get "fired". If you start to steal things, or just doing anything to hurt the company, you have basically just said good buy to your benefits, your severance, and any good recommendation the company could have given you to future employers. I have also seen the purchasing company place the workers they did not keep into other jobs with companies they worked with.

Basically, you just need to keep your head. Being an asshole wont save your job, and you aren't going to change anything. The only thing you can do is hurt yourself. Keep doing your job, and take pride in your work. If you don't want to be there, then just quit, but there is no point in trying to hurt the company, they aren't out to get you and it is just business. Most companies understand what it is like for the employee's and many will offer a severance package for you, if you have medical, COBRA should kick in if you lose your job, you'll be paying for it, but you will be covered.

Positions of Confidential Information:
I worked as a tech during previous buy outs, and becasue of that, I had access to all client information, all contracts, basically everything the new owners needed and were paying for (companies buy clients...not operations) I could have been a real pain and not helped in the transition, I could have told my clients to leave, I could have trashed the buyer, but I would have lost my job, my clients would panic and not know what to do, and it would have made everything harder. The last company I left was basically a sinking ship. I knew it and I left before they went down. I was an administrator, so this is what I did.

  • Made a list of every client user name/password I had
  • Listed every daily/weekly/monthly task for each of the clients
  • Listed all of my contacts in each of our clients companies
  • Listed any quirks of the clients
  • Listed all work done in the last 6 months
  • Listed all pending work
  • Listed all proposals under review


Me leaving was business, they knew this. I got a months pay for handing over the info and not leaving them in a bad position. I also made my self available via telephone if they had questing in the next month. The company is now gone, but the former CEO (who was brought in to shut down the company) has offered me jobs in his other company (they were and are successful) but I've turned him down.

Other positions such as management, and sometimes security have similar information. Leave on a good note. Do not try and "screw" people, it will bite you in the ass. Jobs come and go, but your reputation and pride are with you forever. With a good reputation you will find a new job, with a bad one, people will avoid you like the plague.

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December 7, 2007

CompUSA Closing?

Nothing written below should be considered "on the record" I am not authorized to speak for CompUSA but feel I should provide as much info to customers (and other CompUSA employee's apparently) as I can, so I will share what I know and hear but don't hold it against me if I'm wrong. They are doing a good job of keeping all employees in the dark about this. If you have info you want me to post, use the contact me link on the blog and we will get in touch.


Most people have already heard the news of CompUSA being acquired by the Gordon Brothers. Well, some of you may also know that I work for CompUSA in their Business Sales department. The best part about all this news is until I emailed the Wall Street Journal article to my bosses, they didn't say anything about it to anyone, and at this point, there is still no "official" word internally.


Here is some info that I have been able to gather:

  • No official word on a time frame, although rumors indicate no inventory has been ordered beyond January
  • They MIGHT be keeping a few select stores becasue the markets make them profitable (Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are likely candidates for this)
  • Gordon Brothers did the first round of closings, so they are familiar with the store.

My Thoughts:

I doubt CompUSA will keep any stores open, it would not be profitable. Retailers stay profitable because they can buy in bulk at discounted rates. If you only have 1 or 2 stores, the "bulk" of your sales goes away and you can't buy for very cheap. This means you have to raise prices. In the Electronics Retail Industry, stores can't afford to raise prices, especially not CompUSA since Best Buy and Circuit City are bigger and can then sell for much cheaper. So even if they did keep the store open, it would be for a short time unless it gets bought by Best Buy or one of the other large competitors, otherwise CompUSA is as good as gone in my opinion.

The most disturbing part about all of this is how in the dark they are keeping their employee's. Most of CompUSA's staff are high school and college kids doing sales, but there are a few "career" sales men here and they are going to hurt the most. As of now, employees are still being told that we are not closing, but we know that isn't true.

Personally, I won't be effected much. I have a real full time job and just use CompUSA for some extra cash as well as the discount (OK I'll miss the discount). I'm going to use the extra time to build up more of my certifications (finally) and expand my consulting and freelance business.

I'm also hoping for a big closing sale. I assume we will be the last store closed since we are the most profitable, which means they send all the stuff they need to sell to us (like they did in the last round of closures) when this happens, and they finally close us, I'm hoping there will be some good deals.


About CompUSA Warranties:

CompUSA TAP plans are not backed by CompUSA, they are backed and honored by a larger firm, CompUSA just sells them like any other product. So for anyone who bought a TAP plan, it is still good AND WILL BE HONORED FOR THE LIFE OF THE PLAN.


**UPDATE**
  • Apparently the new owners don't trust the current employees. They have sent in private security to monitor the store until the news settles down. The stores will also be in lock down after hours. Typically we have overnight crew restocking, but until further notice anyone in the store after 11pm and before 7am will be arrested for trespassing. nice.

  • Someone asked me about gift cards. Because internally there has been no official "yes we are closing the store" announcement, there will be no refunds on gift cards yet. However, in the event something does happen, I have to believe they will accommodate the customers in some way.

  • Press may contact CompUSA via telephone: 214-551-1549 or via email for information about the purchase and potential closing.

  • We finally got "official" word that we got sold...only 24 hours after I read about it online. Our managers are still confident that this store won't be closing (they think it will be bought as we are one of the few profitable stores). The managers are pretty upset becasue corporate didn't tell them until right before the news got the info.

  • It is business as usual until we hear otherwise from the corporate office. Ill be updating as I hear more info.

  • From what I am seeing, it looks like they may not close all stores. They are going to try and sell off some of the individual stores and also the online store (which makes a good deal of money) and also the Tech Pro service (this will probably see to another retailer) the stores that can't be sold (and that will be a vast majority I'm sure) will be closed.

  • Here is a local article with statements from our general manager about the sale and closing.

  • I have been doing some thinking about the potential for selling the stores individually. The only company that I could see buying the store I work in is Fry's and here is why. Best Buy has two stores near us (and are not doing all that great) Circuit City has a store near us, but I don't think they are in a position to expand. Hawaii is a good market for electronics becasue it is so isolated, it is why the Honolulu Store has done so well in comparison to the rest of the company. Fry's has no presence in Hawaii, and would make a killing here. Our store is 40,000 Square feet so it has the size to be a Fry's and we are in a good location (right in the center of the business district) So if we get bought, my money is on Fry's and I for one would welcome our new computer retailer overlords :) (god I hope we get a Fry's here)

  • According to one of our commentors, some of the CompUSA stores already have teams in the store going through inventory preparing to clear it out and begin the liquidation. Other sources say liquidation teams are expected to be in a large number of stores early next week. And we should see the first stores close within the first half of January.

  • Looks like the Gordon Bros. have sent a rep to our store. They landed this afternoon and will be in at 9am. They move quick.

  • CompUSA will no longer be selling gift cards, and will be refunding them if you bring them to the store if they were purchased within the return period of 21 days.

  • All rebates in our printed ad will be honored as instant savings rather than mail in rebates until Wednesday, the only exception is rebates on software that require you to have a previous version. Products still within the price match period will also qualify for this as long as you have not already filed for the rebates.

  • Pro-Rated refunds for maintenance/repair plans on equipment MIGHT be available under certain circumstances (we haven't been told what those circumstances are) Call the number you were given with you plan for more information.

  • Contrary to out managers beliefs, it looks like our store will be shutting down by mid February, if not sooner.

  • I just wanted to say thanks to all of the customers calling and saying how much they hope we don't close. Every day we get calls with complaints, but yesterday and today we have had dozens of people calling and wishing us the best of luck and saying they hope we aren't gone for good. It's nice, and we appreciate it.

  • Ok, so the info you have all been waiting for. The liquidation sales. Here is the schedule thus far. Monday/Tuesday GMs are getting filled in on everything. Wednesday is the end of the currently running advertisement. Thursday liquidation starts. Target prices we have been getting are 10%-20% BELOW COST not off retail. Desktops are typically cost +10-15% so this is going to make it about 25 percent off. TVs are around cost + 20%-50% so these will be huge savings. Cables and other accessories can be as high as cost + 1000% (seriously) but can be fond on the cheap online anyway. Good luck everyone.

  • All sales as of today are final.We no longer take checks, and can no longer order product. All we can sell is what is in the store. Tomorrow the sales start. This is going to be like an auction with no bidders. They liquidator will start by taking 5-10 percent off things and if no one buys them they will lower the prices. The longer you wait, the lower the prices, but be careful not to wait so long that somone buys the product you want. DON"T BE AFRAID TO MAKE OFFERS

  • I walked into work today and was welcomed with these:


These signs are plastered all over the store. awesome.


  • We were given out pink slips today. Our last day is sometime between Feb 8 and Feb 22

  • Lot's of companies are starting to call offering jobs to the employees, it is really cool. our GM says he plans on having a mini Job fair type thing in January and inviting the companies to come over and recruit the employee's. Many people are giving their business cards to the sales people already saying they have job openings. I guess this is a perk of living in an area that is at 2% unemployment. Everyone needs more workers.

  • Today there was an announcement of an "Employee Appreciation Sale" we are getting prices which suck only a few days after taking away our employee purchase benefits. The response was not quite what corporate expected and included DOZENS of company wide email blasts in the form of "reply all" to the original email. Questions ranging from "Are we getting severance pay?" to "EVERY DAY IS A GREAT DAY AT GORDON BROTHERS!" a play on the mandatory employee slogan "everyday is a great day at CompUSA" see the screen shot below for just a sampling of the responses before they were cut off. It is obvious employee's want answers and aren't getting them. HR team members were trying to calm everyone but seemed to fail.


  • A new website for customer info has been posted by CompUSA so this will be the last of my updates unless something huge happens or I need to respond to a comment. Visit CompUSA Consumer Info for updates.

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How Hackers Get Your Data: (Part 3 of 3)

In Part One we talked about Hackers being able to crack or steal your passwords and using those to get to your information, in Part Two we discussed hackers exploiting flaws in infrastructure as well as software to gain access to places they shouldn't be. In part three we will talk about one of the most common elements of security, and one of the most over looked; the human element.

It doesn’t matter how much security you put in place, and how great your password is if a hacker can trick you into telling them what they want to know. One of the fastest growing ways to gain information about people and to steal information from people is just simply asking for it.

Social Engineering: When a hacker decides to contact a person to gather information rather than attacking a weakness in technology, it is called social engineering. How the attacker decides to contact you will vary depending on the situation, but one of the most common threats currently is called phishing. How phishing typically works is the attacker will send you an email that looks official (usually from a bank or large company you might do business with) and then give some almost believable reason why they need you to verify your personal information. Most people think nothing of it and just go ahead and verify the information, and without knowing, they have just given away their everything the attacker need to know to either steal your identity, or to get your password to access the other data he wants. Another variant of this attack sending you an email asking you to click on a link to go to their website and verify the information. They then point the link to a website they have built to look very similar to the real businesses website, but when you enter your information it just sends it to the attacker.

The best way to protect yourself against phishing is to educate yourself.

  • Banks and other large companies will NEVER ask you to send them your personal information via email. If they do, you should leave that bank and find one that cares about security.
  • When you click on links, pay attention to where they really go. At the top of your web browser, it gives you the address of the page you are on. If the link says it is going to Paypal then the address should be www.paypal.com/someotherwebinformation and not paypal.imgoingtostealyourdata.com notice the placement of the word Paypal. Web Sites names are called “domains”. Only one person can own a particular domain and have a website there. So in the first example, Paypal is the domain, you can tell because it is the part directly before the .com in the second example they are using what is called a sub-domain. The domain in the second example is Imgoingtostealyourdata (again you can tell because it is right before the .com) so pay attention.
  • If you are ever concerned or suspicious, you call the company that it says sent it and ask them. And if it’s a company you have never done business with, you can be sure it is indeed fake.

Other techniques used in social engineering include calling and just pretending to be someone else (usually someone high in the company or another figure of authority like the police). Pretending to be a new employee and just needing some help (people almost always want to help the new guy). Some social engineers are so confident that they will walk right into an office and claim they are a “computer repair guy” or some other professional there to fix something.

To guard against attacks like that, you just need to be very careful who you give information to. If you have never seen a particular repair guy before, ask for some type of ID, and ask who sent him, then verify that they sent him. When working with people on the phone, don’t just take their word for it when they say they are, have them prove it, or verify with someone that they can have access to the data they are requesting. And under NO CIRCUMSANCES should you be giving people your password, not even to your IT guys. NO ONE. The IT staff can reset your password if they need your account specifically, and then you can change it back to what you want later.

If you work in a company, be sure you have a way to verify who the people calling are. This is especially true if you are in a position where you are tasked with resetting passwords for people. Don’t just rest a password because “John Doe” called and said he needed his password reset. You need a way to verify who they are. Come up with a set of validating questions that your company has answers to so you can validate their identity. It might be personal information like date of birth or something business related like their supervisors name. Or better yet, have them select the questions upon hire and fill out a form that you reference when they call.

If you haven't noticed, the trend through out this series has been "knowing" is the best protection. That is what Think Smarter is about. I want to share as much information as possible so everyone is aware of what can happen, and is on the lookout for things that should be happening. Knowing the weaknesses is the best way to fix them.


More information:
Sonicwalls Phishing IQ Test (how well can you spot a phishing attempt)
The SEC has some tips on recognizing Phishing
List of current major phishing scams

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December 6, 2007

New Section to the blog:

Because I have work in the industry so long and I work in an electronics store part time I get sent tons of random special sales info. Ive decided to create a section on the side bar called "Current Deals" where I will post a link to anything I find to be a good deal. I want to share this info, but It seems like a waste to post an entire entry about some random deal I find.

so enjoy.

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Treo problems:

I don't think I have mentioned it here before, but I hate palm based cell phones. As PDAs they are great, as smart phone...not so much. Despite my hatred of them, I have to support them at work. Here is my latest problem which thus far has gone unresolved by both Sprint and Palm


Device Affected: Palm Treo 755p

Symptoms: Phone does a hard reset randomly. Clears all user settings, deletes all email, contacts, tasks, and calendar from the phone. No entries are left in the crash log.

Other info:

  • No third party software is installed.
  • The hardware has already been replaced once, so it is not likely a hardware issue. (happening on 2 of 3 phones, the one that it is not happening on does not use versamail)
  • Uses Exchange ActiveSync (comes pre-installed on Treo 755p)
  • Exchange Server enforces a pin policy so the device must have a pin
Suggestions from Palm and Sprint:
  • Hardware is defective (both palm and sprint said this so we replaced the hardware)
  • Too much email in in box, device is running out of memory (palm suggested this...the device only syncs the last 3 days of email so roughly 30-100 emails)
  • Too many reoccurring events with no end date in calendar (sprint rep said this is a known issue and that it causes memory errors, but shouldn't cause a hard reset)
  • Try changing the batter (no really...a different Sprint suggested this)
  • Third party software is causing it (they apparently didn't listen when I said WE ADDED NO SOFTWARE)
  • Could be a problem with versamail...but there are no updates available so... (thats what a palm rep said, he suggested it was a problem but said there was no solution..awesome)
  • Maybe it's a conflict with the pin policy on exchange (this was a guess I had so I turned off the policy for those users...despite it not giving any other phones problems...then again these are the only palm based phones)

So far none of these have fixed the problem. Any Ideas?

please don't suggest we swap to a better device. I have begged and pleaded that they do so before they even purchased these things 2 weeks ago. But they refuse.




The Solution:
Through trial and error I think I have pinpointed the problem. It looks like the issue is with how the palm device handles the user policy from the exchange server that mandates a device PIN be used. The way this typically works is the user must set a PIN for the device, and it locks after 5 minutes of non use. Then, if the wrong pin is entered 5 times the phone will wipe it self to prevent theft of data. My assumption is, the phone is mis handling the rule and just wiping the device. We made these phones exempt from the rule and the problems have stopped (although there are others)

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December 4, 2007

The Machines are Attacking!

OK, maybe the computers aren't attacking...yet. But below are some pictures of what happens when human interaction is cut out of the equation.



Milk that doesn't expire for 4 years?! Awesome...or are the machines trying to trick us?!



And apparently ancient milk. Cool.

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Cool Gift Card Idea

I received an email today, and thought it was cool. A company called Gift Card Lab is allowing people to make custom gift cards for the holidays. The gift cards are backed by Visa, so they are good at any store who accepts Visa, that way you don't need to guess which store the receiver wants something from.

The way the customization works is you can either pick a photo from their database or you can upload your own. I think it would be really cool if you took say a family Christmas photo (like the ones many people send out in cards) and then put that on the card and give them to people you would normally give a gift card too. It makes a normally unpersonalized gift personalized.

Or for the ultra security conscious, you can take a picture of yourself, edit in a note that says "I am the owner of this card" next to your picture, and never worry about someone stealing your card!

Pretty nifty. The link to the site is below.



Gift Card Lab - Create Photo Gift Cards Online

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December 3, 2007

Trust Thy Administrator

Law #6 of Microsoft's 10 Immutable Laws of Security states that a computer is only as a secure as it's administrator is trustworthy. But how can you trust someone you know nothing about? Here are some things you should know about system administrators.

  1. We put the good of the company over the good of an individual. Yes, I know you hate that "stupid policy" that locks your computer after 15 minutes of idle time, and I know that you hate having to change your password every 90 days, but it really is for the good of the company. We need to make sure that the companies data is secure, otherwise both you and I are out of a job.

  2. We are tasked with keeping the security and integrity of data secure, and to be able to keep things secure, we need access to them. But just because I have access to every file on the network share, doesn't mean I look at any of it. You can rest assure that the only reason I have access to your files is to make sure you have access to your files.

  3. The same goes with email. Yes, as an administrator I can read every email that comes and goes. Why do I have the ability to do this? It is so I can help trouble shoot problems when people say they are not getting email, or when they say their recipients aren't getting them. I'd much rather have a special account that can access everyones email than you tell me your password so I can check your account if I need to. Having a single account (which is not my account) makes it so I can disable that account when not needed and has access to any account I need it to when I need it to. You can trust, that a good administrator is not just sifting through your emails looking for dirt on you.

  4. We need to prioritize: We understand that you think that what you need us to do is urgent, but sometimes it isn't. I typically have a pretty full plate, so I have to prioritize and sometimes you just aren't the top priority. This is how I prioritize my work load:

    • Top Priority: Effects a significant amount of people, or halts a mission critical operation
    • Urgent: Effects senior management(yes, some people are just more important), or a department which has the closet deadline.
    • Standard: You have work that needs to get done, but something isn't working right (email delayed, computer not connecting to the network, etc)
    • I'll Get to it Eventually: You want a new mouse because your old one isn't as nice as the new ones, you want a new monitor, you think your computer is running slower than normal, etc. It isn't that these requests aren't important, it's just that other requests are more important. So I need to take care of the bigger issues first. The good news is, if it is 3:30 in the afternoon and I just finished one of the bigger tasks, I probably don't want to start another one so I go and look at this list and see what I can resolve in the next 30 minutes or so, and chances are if its a request like this...I'll pick it.

  5. We like other things aside from computers: I love computers, and gadgets and all the cool technology I get to work with, and I like my job as well, but I also have a home life, and enjoy non-work related things like going to concerts, playing pool, seeing movies, hanging out with friends. So if you see me in the non-work environment, feel free to say hello, but I would much rather prefer you don't as "so...when is my email going to be fixed?" Also, try not to look so shocked when you see me at a punk show smashing into people in a mosh pit...I need to get rid of some of the stress too.

    True Story: I was at the store with my girlfriend and we were grocery shopping. Out of no where a lady comes up and says "hey, when you get a chance can you look into randomProblem?" I look at her confused and say "I'm sorry, what?" She went on to explain the problem again. I realize she in an employee that works for the same company as me and she recognizes me from seeing me around their office previously. I ask her to submit a trouble ticket for the problem like they have instructed to do so, and she has the nerve to say "why I just told you the problem?" It went down hill from that point. I let her know that we were in a grocery store and if she wanted her issue addressed she would submit a trouble ticket and that I was going to walk away now and forget we had this conversation. As we walked away and my girlfriend asks "are they all like that?" I replied "No, but the ones who are make the rest look real bad"

  6. We want you to succeed: Really, we do. In the corporate world, IT is a support group. Unless we are working for an IT company, we aren't the money makers and the only way we can justify our existence is by making your jobs easier and increase your performance. I am happy when a department makes their deadlines and no one has any trouble with the equipment we maintain. I like being able to get you the software you need to give a kick ass presentation and close a huge deal. Technology is a tool, I'll do my best to make sure the best of that tool is available to you.

  7. We aren't out to get you: Getting people in trouble is extra work. If someone makes a mistake, we need to fix it whether they get in trouble or not, and whether it's their fault or not. So unless you are a total ass (and I mean huge) or what you did was intentional(which puts you in the "huge ass" category), I really have no drive to get you in trouble for it. It's easier for me to say "sorry...computer glitch" than it is to explain how you made a mistake, how I had to fix it, and the possibly explain it over and over again it is that will pretend to care and get you in trouble. I can also cause doubt if you are being blamed for something. It's easy for me to say "well...a virus could have caused that" or to look the other way at minor infractions of policy (again, if I rat on you, it means I need to do a full investigation and then write a report on it...blech)

  8. We will keep you in the loop: We don't have anything to hide, and the more you know about what we are doing, the easier it is for us to do it. Want to know why we decided to put a particular security policy in place, Ill tell you. Want to know when we will be doing system maintenance check you email...I send out messages so you can plan around them. Of course, there are somethings I can't tell you, and it's mostly because I don't know. For instance, if you ask me when you are getting a new computer, my answer will probably "ask your manager" because I have no idea when your manager will want to spend money to get you a new computer.
So there you have it. A good admin will do a lot of the above. These are the things I do, because these are what my administrators did and this is how I was taught to do my job. Get to know your administrator, they are usually good people, and for the most part, you will be able to trust them. And if you happen to come across a bad admin, don't hold it against the rest of us.

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December 2, 2007

How Bad Do you Want It?

Anybody who has been trying to get their hands on the Nintendo Wii or any other hot piece of electronics knows that it is a challenge. As a side job, I work for a large electronics retailer and have noticed a few things about getting your hands on these devices.

Why there is a shortage:

Before we start with tips on how to get the product we need to realize why these devices are hard to get. The primary reason is basic economics, demand for them is greater than the supply. In the case of the Wii, Nintendo simply can't produce them fast enough (or chooses not to becasue they like the hype high demand creates) So stores will have a limited quantity to begin with. Once the product gets to the store a few things happen.

First, favors are called in. If you do A LOT of business with an electronics store they want to make you happy. I'm not talking spending a few thousand a year, I'm talking about big money. The companies that spend 10k a month every month. The manager wants to keep his big customers happy and all of a sudden we have less of the product than got sent to the store. Then you have to deal with employees. As unfair as you think it is, and as hard as stores try to prevent it, employees will do their best to get the product they want. Employees will call their friends and family as soon as they know it's available, and if possible will buy them (this is how I got mine, I bought it launch day at the full price with a warranty attached) Its a perk of being an employee. Deal with it. Then you have to deal with the crowds of people, who just like you, want the product.


Now this is how you can get one:

  1. If you are calling to ask "do you have X" you probably aren't going to get it. I take calls a lot from people who are looking for these items, and I have never told a person "yes we have them" becasue by the time we get them, and advertise them, they are gone.

  2. You NEED to be ready to stand out in the cold. To get one of these devices, you'll need to be there before the store opens.

  3. Talk to friends who have access to "members only" type stores or the Exchange on military bases (the Navy Exchange here in Honolulu has been one of the easiest places to find them, but you need to be in the military or be the spouse/Dependant of someone in the military)

  4. Check all the stores online ad's the night before they open. Retailers like CompUSA, Best Buy, etc all put their ad's online at 12am EST. Look at the ads, find which stores are advertising, pick one, and head to that store before they open. Don't bother trying to call the morning they open, chances are by the time they can say "yes" you will have missed your chance.

  5. If you are really desperate (or just have money to burn) check out eBay, they will have them, but chances are its going to be at a 100% mark up if not more. As Christmas draws closer, it will get more expensive.

  6. Check out big chain stores that you wouldn't think would carry them. I bet you didn't know that The Home Depot has an electronics department did you? They do, and they sell the Wii. The problem is, becasue they are not the primary retailers for these devices, they are allocated a really small amount. But becasue of the huge popularity of these items, most places try to get some to draw customers in.

  7. Find a friend who works in these stores. "On the record" we don't give the delivery dates for products. Mostly becasue they are a pain to track and if there is a delay, customers get mad. But that doesn't mean we don't know. The department I work in is one of the first to know when product is on order, and when it's received. I know stuff in is the building before the computer does a lot of the time. And I know when we are holding it all in lockup for a big sale. And I tell my friends. None of my friends are still looking for a Wii or other fun toy. While I can't hold the product for them, I can give them an edge so they know when to show up and buy one.


If you follow these, you will probably get what you want. Also, if you get to the store, and wait in line, then still don't get one, don't get mad at the store. They typically have no power over the product they receive, and products like the Wii are in a national shortage.

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December 1, 2007

How Hackers Get Your Data: (Part 2 of 3)

In part one of this series we discussed two primary ways hackers can get to your data, so assuming you have a strong password, and a good anti virus, how else can hackers breach your security and get at the data you are trying to protect?

  1. Software Flaws: Every piece of software is composed of thousands if not millions of lines of code. Essentially what this code is, is a set of instructions for the computer to follow in order to preform what ever function the software is designed to. With so many individual instructions, usually written by teams rather than a single person, there are bound to be oversights and errors made by the people who write and design it, and despite multiple levels of quality control and testing, some of these oversights still make it into the production releases of the software. The problem is that sometimes these oversights exposes weaknesses in software, and when the piece of software is made to manage things like client information or financial data, these weaknesses become targets for hackers who try to exploit them. Depending on the exploit a hacker finds and the piece of software it is in, the problems experienced can range from data just being inaccurate or being deleted, to the hacker being able to take full control of your computer.

    The best way to protect your self from these types of exploitation techniques is to make sure you keep your software up to date. Once a manufacture releases software, they will typically release updates for it as well to fix the exploits once they are discovered. For pieces of software made by Microsoft, the updates can be downloaded from their website updates.microsoft.com. Most other manufactures also post the updates on their websites, and many even build a feature into their software to download the updates automatically, Microsoft builds this feature into Windows and it is called "Microsoft Automatic Updates" Be sure to check often for updates, becasue many times not only do they fix bugs in the software, but they add functionality as well.


  2. Infrastructure Flaws: Instead of trying to find exploits in the software you use, hackers may instead try to target the technology infrastructure of your company. A common weak point in a companies, and even in residential computer set ups are the wireless network connections. Unlike a wired connection, data transmitted via a wireless connection really can just be pulled out of thin air. With the proper equipment (a wireless antenna) it is possible for a computer to intercept and data you are sending or receiving on a wireless network as long as they are within range. In addition to being able to intercept your data, they can also connect directly to the computers on your network or servers that your company has, if they are able to do this, they can install viruses or use one of the other techniques describe previously to gain access to what ever data they need.

    The best way to protect against this type of attack is to use a strong encryption on your wireless network, and also limit how far you are broadcasting your wireless signals. I wrote an entire post dedicated to tips on securing wireless networks, and it can be found here.

    In addition to securing your wireless connection, you also want to make sure the wired connections to your network are secure. If you are in an office building, or just a large office, have your IT disable any extra network ports, otherwise an intruder can come in without you noticing and connect their laptop.

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20 Horrible Habits of Clients

Working in the IT field, we run into problem after problem, and many times the computers aren't the ones who cause it. Apparently our friends the web designers run into similar issues. You the Designer has posted a list of 20 Horrible Habits of Clients


1. Wanting Great Designs for Cheap Prices

Because everyone seems to have Photoshop and know a designer nowadays, many clients tend to have a bad idea of what design is worth. While it can be OK to have low prices when you are starting out, when you are confident enough and your work is good enough you should come up with prices that make it worth your time.

Many clients also try to outsource their projects to India and other places where designers work for rock bottom prices, but you need to stick behind your work and hold out for those clients who know what you are worth. Let them know why you are the best choice!

4. Not Planning out the Project Upfront

I find it extremely important to plan out a project as much as possible before starting work. Even if they have a tight deadline make it clear the project must be fully planned out before you begin. After all meetings and discussions are done write up an estimate listing all of the details of the project and your prices and terms.

19. Lack of Research & Planning

Sometimes clients want a website or some other project done, but they have absolutely no idea what’s going on. By this I mean they have done no research or planning before hand, but still want a complicated website that’s easy to update.

This makes things extremely difficult for designers because we have to explain every last detail several times for clients. While helping clients is our job there are some clients who really need to go back to the start and do more research on what they are getting themselves into.


Check out You the Designer for the rest of the 20 Horrible Habits of Clients

Also check out my Post on 10 things your IT guy wants you to know

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November 29, 2007

How Hackers Get Your Data: (Part 1 of 3)

It seems like every other day we are hearing about how a large company has lost their customers data, or how they are investigating a breach in their security. You would think that in this day and age it would be almost impossible for a company to just "lose" 100,000 customers names, social security numbers, and credit card info. So how does it happen? How are people still able to sneak in and steal hundred of thousands of records from private corporate records.

Here is how:

  1. Password Theft: if you have read this blog, you will see that I mention passwords being vital to security over and over again. Passwords are like the keys to your house, if someone else gets them, then they are as good as in. Stealing or cracking a persons password is without a doubt the most common way hackers are able to bypass a companies security and get at the data they crave. As computers become more and more powerful, it becomes easier for hackers to use software to crack a password. A password really is just a string of letters, numbers and special characters, and because there are a finite amount of choices, a computer can eventually crack any password you try, the stronger the password, the longer it takes, and the longer it takes for a hacker to crack a password, the greater the risk of them getting caught. So as computers get faster and are able to try more password combinations in a shorter amount of time, the faster passwords will get cracked. So when choosing a password your goal should be to keep it as strong as possible and as long as possible but not to the point where you need to write it down. Also, try not to use things like your name, birthday, address, or other things so easily associated with you, or if you do, make them more complex. For instance, if your Wifes name is Amber, you could make the password @Mb3r!. Notice the combination of Uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Because of this combination it will take a computer significantly longer to crack the password than just using Amber. Remember, the goal of security isn't to make things uncrackable (that is impossible) it is abut making them harder to crack than they are worth.

    In addition to that, people who use the same password for every site they visit cause a problem as well, because if one site has a security flaw and a hacker gets your password, they now have access to your accounts everywhere. Also, as tempting and convenient as it is, do not write down your password. writing your password on a post it and sticking in under your keyboard is like hiding a copy of your house key under your doormat. So please, don't do it.


  2. Viruses, Worms, and Trojan Horses: Have you ever gotten an email from someone you never new with the subject line of "Really cool picture!!!" and the attachment was named Awesome_Picture.jpg.exe or something similar? Of course you have, we all have. That my friends, is a virus. Viruses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and have many purposes. Some are written to simply delete your files, while others are written to just send out spam. Some of the worst how ever are written to collect information from the computer they get installed on, and these are called Trojan Horses. A Trojan Horse will typically install it self and run silently in the background, if it is a good one, you wont even notice that it is there. It will simply sit and silently collect data about everything you are doing, logging information like your user name and password for websites that you go to, credit card numbers and bank information. Then, it sends that information off to its creator. Without even noticing it, someone may have just stolen your identity.

    So how do we protect against things like this? The best way is to just use common sense. When going through your email, pay attention to what you are opening. If you aren't friends with a guy named John Doe, then you probably don't care about his vacation, so why open a picture from him? Just delete it and move on. When surfing the web, if something is big and bright and flashy, don't click on it, the old saying "if it seems to good to be true, it probably isn't" has never been truer than when surfing on internet. Also, if you see a pop up that says "you have a virus" then tries to sell you something, it's a lie.

    In addition to being careful, you can use technology to help you! Using anti-virus and anti-spyware software is a great way to not only keep your computer running smooth, but to keep you identity safe. This software is made to search of viruses not only on your computer, but in the emails your receive as well. There are a number of titles to choose from like Symantec Anti Virus and my personal favorite Kaspesrky Anti Virus, both sell for around $40, or you can go with a free option like AVG by Grisoft. The paid versions have a few more options, and typically have better support, but AVG is a great product as well.


See Part Two

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November 27, 2007

Securing Your Wireless Network

As more and more people buy laptops instead of desktop, or smart phones with wifi access we will begin to see a huge in crease in wireless networks being set up. I did a little experiment about a few years ago and set up my laptop to search out and log every wireless signal t saw while I was driving through various neighborhoods (this is called war driving) I expected to see maybe 100 wireless networks and knew about half were going to be insecure. What I found was astonishing. Over 700 wireless networks and less than 1/3 of them were secure. This was in an area of about 5 square miles. Not big at all. It amazed me that I could literally park anywhere and was able to get an internet connection. Because of this, I wrote a small guide on things you should do to secure your wireless network.

Setting Up Your Wireless Network:
Key words have been linked to their definitions so you can get a better understanding of each term.

  • The first thing you should do with any device you buy is change the default administrator password. This go for routers as well. Any security you put in place is useless if the person can just connect to your router and change the settings.

  • Change the default SSID to something familiar to you. The SSID is the name of your network, changing from the default helps you recognize your network and ensure you connect to it and not someone else's by mistake.

  • Do not broadcast your SSID. Although it is easy to see networks that don't broadcast the SSID, you can't connect to them unless you know their name. So by not broadcasting it, the SSID can kind of act like a user name, while your encryption will act like a password.

  • Turn on Wireless Encryption. If your router and wireless card support it (any made in the last 2-3 years should) use WPA or WPA2 (both are strong forms of wireless encryption) Older routers and wireless cards may not support those, in which case use WEP. (WEP is better than nothing, but is considered a weak encryption)

  • If you don't expect visitors using your network, use the MAC address filter built into most routers. MAC addresses are unique identifiers on all electronics. By enabling the filter, you can make sure your router only connects to devices you tell it to (you will need to enter the MAC address for each piece of equipment that will be connecting into the filter list)

  • If you live in a small house/apartment, turn down the power of the antennas so your wireless signal only reaches where you need it to. There is no reason to give your neighbors and people passing by free net access.


How to do each of these will vary from router to router, so consult your instruction manual, or give the manufacturer's technical support a call and they will happily assist you.




Microsoft has some tips on increasing performance of your wireless network:
http://www.microsoft.com/athome/moredone/wirelesstips.mspx

Original post I Worte: (read through the comments, anti-online has a lot of smart people)
http://antionline.com/showthread.php?t=264530

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November 26, 2007

Got Something to Sell?

In the age of the internet anyone can open their own store. Got an idea for a funny t-shirt? got a great idea for a cool new widget? With a little time, and a little help from some good shopping cart software you can have your own online store up in no time. Ashop Commerce has a really nice e-commerce software available for you to use. From an administration stand point, it is outstanding. It is very user friendly and easy to learn to use well.

From the Administrator Interface You Can:

  • Control user access (define who can make the changes in product and pricing)
  • Manage the types of payments your store will take (Which credit cards, etc)
  • Manage your inventory (Prices, sales, coupons, Brands, product reviews etc)
  • Manage your customers
  • Manage your marketing strategies
  • Track sales
And dozens of other tasks that would normally require several pieces of software. You have access to all of these tools in an easy to use web interface.

And the client front end is absolutely wonderful. Clean and easy to use, your customers will be able to easily look for every product you have to offer and then be able to pay and check on the status of their orders from the time they place them to the time their package arrives at their door.

Ashop Commerce has 2 demo sites up that you can take a look at, one is for a toy store the other for a Phone store. 2 very different products that have different requirements, but are set up very well with this software. The demos are each 2 parts, one for the administrative side of the software, the other is the customers side and both demos allow you to take control of the sites to modify the styles and the feel of each as well as to play with fake customer data so you can get a good feel for how powerful these tools are.

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Make Money Blogging

If you are online for any significant amount of time, you have probably seen dozens of "Make a million dollars from home!" type advertisements. You probably also know that they are pretty much a scam. There are ways to make money online, but the real ones will not make you rich over night, heck they probably wont even make you rich at all. But one of the ways to make some extra money is with a company called Smorty.

Smorty is a "Pay Per Post" type service that you can sign up with, and they will give you products to blog about, and then pay you for the post. They can do this because advertisers pay them for the exposure, and they in turn pay you. I think this concept is interesting because not only does it allow bloggers to make some extra cash, but it also feeds them ideas of things to blog about when they are having dry spells, so it really is win-win. The amount you are paid varies based on your blogs ranking (the higher the ranking the better the pay) and can range from $6.00 to $100.00 per post, so if you enjoy writing, and are ready to get paid to blog then follow the link and check Smorty out.

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November 25, 2007

Dear Viewers:

Please do not believe everything you see on TV. I am a huge fan of shows like CSI and Law and Order, but I pull my hair out when I see them using computers to do EVERYTHING. They make it seem like on a whim a random detective can "hack" a computer, look up every single email ever sent, get the IP address of the sender, then get a map to their house based on the IP address alone, then put a stop on their credit cards, order a pizza to be delivered to the house they are about to raid, and they do it software that has an amazing 3d interface and works in seconds.

Take this image from an episode of CSI: Miami



Lets look at what is wrong with it.

  1. It is not a real IP address. I'm sure they do this becasue they don't want people to do something with that info (same reason they use fake phone numbers) but there are IP addresses that are real and can be used like the 169.x.x.x series (which is the default private IP network) or the 192.X.x.x or 10.x.x.x network and of course 127.0.0.1 All are real IP addresses and are no risk to put online.

  2. You cannot take an IP address and translate that into a real address on the fly. You would have to take the IP, give it to the provider who it is assigned to, have them check their logs and see who it was assigned to at the time the incident. To do this, you need a warrant, and it will take days since ISPs work slow.
You also have random detective who are now expert hackers. They flip on a computer and "crack" the password on it in seconds with nothing more than the software on the computer. Cracking a password on a computer is not hard, but you do need software to do it. In addition to that, they seem to be able to do it on every computer they encounter. Who cares if computers run different operating systems, everyone knows everything.

In addition to that, the user interfaces on every computer are outstanding. I wish every piece of software I had included a nice 3d interface, and ran as smooth as theirs. No programmer is going to program nice interfaces on utilitarian software built for the government, its un-needed and a waste of system resources. There is no need for a great user interface if you are just typing in an IP address, and why would it just show you the physical address of the home(which isn't possible) instead of say the registered owner of the account? Software is designed first for functionality, then for how it looks. When dealing with people like the government, they don't pay for a great 3D design.

What about "enhancing" pictures. How often do we see them take this ultra grainy video or photo from an ATM machine a block away, then enhance it to be nearly High Definition quality. It just isn't possible. The way cameras work are they take a picture, and what is sees is all the data you have. as you blow that picture up, a computer can try and "enhance" it some by guessing what other data would be there, but you don't go from barely legible to perfect. Maybe from almost legible to barely legible.

They do the same thing with forensics. They make it seem like DNA is the end all and can be found anywhere and prove without a doubt who committed the crime. Not only can it be done, but it is done in seconds. Real labs take WEEKS to get DNA results, it isn't done in 10 seconds.

This stuff, as fun as it is to watch, is an insult to the people who do it for a living. Forensic Technicians work hard, they work long hours and spend years learning to properly gather forensic evidence (either digital or physical) and some random person does it in seconds.

It also spreads false information to viewers. In the picture above, it makes you believe an IP address is like a fingerprint and is rock solid proof a person identity. The truth is, it isn't. IP addresses are used by many people and are cycled through users. Sure they can be traced back to an account at a specific time, but there is still no way to tell who was using the computer. What if the jurors on the Jamie Thomas v. RIAA case thought that IP addresses were solid proof, like DNA. Then they were basing their decision on false facts. I wonder if any of the lawyers asked if any of them watch shows like CSI and know how digital evidence is gathered. Probably not, and becasue of that, the jurors have false knowledge of how things work.

What about if jurors in a murder case hear the defense talking about there being a lack of DNA evidence. What if they think "wow...no DNA must mean he is innocent because DNA is really easy to get. I saw it on CSI last night!"

So please, enjoy the TV shows and movies, but realize a lot of it is fiction. Just like your favorite action hero can't really take 5 shots to the chest, jump off a building and catch a helicopter that is taking off, while throwing a grenade into a window and destroying a building while rescuing a woman who is falling from the upper floors. Its all great to watch, but just isn't true.

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