Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Windows 7 Owners, You Want To Do This…

Congratulations! You bought yourself a new multi-core PC and it has the new Windows 7. Or, you just purchased a specially-discounted Win7 upgrade “pack” (see, Super Discounted Windows 7 – Limited Time) and brought your older computer(s) up to date with Microsoft’s latest, and arguably best, operating system.

I know you are probably busy exploring Windows 7’s features, customizing this, and tweaking that, installing your favorite games (um.. er.. I mean “programs“. Ahem) etc., etc., but please, before you do anything else, do this:

1) Find the discs that came with the computer.

Do you see a “Windows 7” or “System Recovery” disc? No? Not surprising. Most manufacturers are using a recovery partition these days (saving maybe 4¢ on the cost of a disc.. more like 1/2¢). Well the plain and simple fact is — you want a disc.

Why? Because the discs are “bootable”, and can allow you to repair machines that will not otherwise boot (aka “start up”). If you ever run into such trouble, you can boot to the disc; which includes an automated boot-repair tool, some repair/diagnostic tools, and the ability to access a System Restore point and revert your system to an earlier (working) time. (see, My favorite Life Saver flavor? System Restore).
[note: The “recovery partition” option wipes your hard drive, and reverts the machine to the factory-condition state –> total data loss. All your updates and installed programs — gone. Thanks, manufacturers! *]

So you have a partition and not a disc. Remedy that now. All you need is a blank CD or DVD.

2) Click the Start button and type repair into the Search box. The top result is what you want to click – “Create a System Repair Disc”.

repair

3) Your optical drive should be detected (if not, use the ‘drop-down arrow’ to select your CD/DVD drive). Click “Create disc”.

repair2

The drive tray should open, so put in your blank disc…

repair3

After a few moments, the tray should open (“eject”) and you will now have a “bootable” System Recovery disc…

repair4

.. and a powerful tool for repairing your computer in the event of serious errors. You need to make this disc BEFORE you need it.. though I hope you never will.

In case I wasn’t clear: do it now.

Kudos to Microsoft for making this tool a part of Windows.

* Utter, snide, facetiousness. A terrible move; and whoever decided that should be ashamed. And fired. IMHO.

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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November 9, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, Microsoft, PC, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Time Travel Fights Infection

The Windows’ System Restore tool (see, My favorite Life Saver flavor? System Restore) gives us the ability to try to undo unhappy changes by reverting our computers’ system files to an earlier (pre-damage) point in time. This can, and often does, “save our bacon”

This cool ability to go back in time – and undo bad changes – has many people believing that they can undo a malware infection by simply going back to a time point before the infection happened.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

But the idea is a good one.

Many people are trying to create just such a type of anti-malware “system restore” – and virtualization technology seems to be the way this might be accomplished. The idea being, by running a virtual machine, if/when you get attacked and infected, it’s only the fake (“virtual”) machine that’s infected — your real machine is safe. This concept is the current wave of thinking, and development trend. It’s somewhat new.
But let’s face it: modern malware is military grade, and our current antivirus technologies are woefully behind the curve. Some new method of defense is needed.

Aside from going fully virtual, there are currently three main “virtual time machines” available to us consumers, and by great good fortune, two of my favorite tech writers each reviewed one this week, and I have been testing the third.

* Please see, Download Shadow Defender – Virtualized Intrusion Prevention
“Shadow Defender is an intrusion prevention system that is non-intrusive, and after initial setup, requires a minimum of user intervention – perfect for the average user.

Simply put, Shadow Defender, when active, creates a virtual environment on your computer by redirecting all changes to your system to an unused location on your Hard Drive.”

* Please see, Comodo Time Machine – A Powerful System Restore Utility
“If you are looking for an utility that will literally save your PC’s butt, then Comodo Time Machine may be the answer you are looking for. What this innovative utility does is take snapshots of your PC and archives those snapshots so that if you experience a computer problem (like a malware or virus attack), you simply revert back in time to one of the snapshots you had previously taken.”

I have been experimenting with  the third such program, Returnil.
Returnil virtualization technology clones a computer’s System Partition and boots the PC into this system rather than native Windows, allowing you run your applications in a completely isolated and secure environment. All activity is then performed within the virtual environment, ensuring that the operating system itself cannot be compromised by viruses, other malicious software, bad installations or user error. A simple reboot is all that is required to return the PC to its original state.”

About Returnil, I will say this: if you are interested in this program, download – and read – the User Manual. It is absolutely essential. [update: review, Download Free Returnil Virtual System 2010 Home]

About these programs in general, I will offer my humble opinion — I don’t think they are the silver bullet we’re looking for; are not quite ready for Prime Time; and are no substitute for a full backup (kept elsewhere, such as on an external drive or DVD’s). But I do think they may very well be the best defense currently available to us, and I certainly think you should be aware of them .. so why not click the links provided above and read these excellent reviews.

[note: System Restore is limited to only system files. A more “robust” answer is needed for your personal files – such as a true backup program/system, and/or Shadow Copy (see, Enable ShadowCopy On Home Editions / XP), and/or a “snapshot” backup program like Norton’s GoBack.]

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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March 16, 2010 Posted by | advice, antivirus, computers, hackers, how to, PC, security, software, System Restore, tech, Virtual Machine | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

More Answers: System Restore, Startup Programs, and Address Spoofing

“System Restore won’t work”, “I’m worried about ID Theft, how do I know if an email is legit?”, “I can’t get this #$*& program out of my Startup folder” — these are examples of some of the questions I have received since posting my articles on these happy-halloween-pumpkin topics. Today I’m going to review, and provide more solutions and answers.

Tip of the day: Since I’m going to cover the questions above, there is not going to be a single “Tip of the day” today. Instead, there will be “Today’s three questions”…

More on System Restore: What to do when System Restore just refuses to work. As I mentioned in my first System Restore post, SR simply is not a failsafe miracle worker. There are troubles that can occur that it simply does not repair — such as a corrupted SAM database. It is however a good place to start. It does undo a lot of the damage you can accidentally do to your machine. This fact is why you should always make a back up of your system — either a “disk image” made with a 3rd-party utility like Acronis True Image, or Norton Ghost, and/or Windows Backup Utility (Start >Programs >Accessories >System tools >Backup).
** My illustrated tutorial for that is here.**

I stated in the prior article, and will repeat here, that you may have to repeat the System Restore process several times before one “snapshot” finally takes. When you use SR, you will see a calendar with available snapshots in bold dates. You should see several. Start with the most recent date and time, and work your way backwards. If you have done this with no luck, you probably have one of those troubles System Restore is not designed for. Either look elsewhere for solutions, or call for some Tech Support (we Tech Support folks need to make a living too, you know).

Legit vs. Phishing: “how do I know if an email is legit?” In my post about the rocket scientist, I discussed phishing and recommended an anti-phishing site toolbar, which combats a form of phishing called “pharming“.
I suggest you take no chances with emails.

* Simply do not click on links in emails.
* Also, realize that your bank will not send you links. They know about phishing, and they figure you already know their url (you should have it bookmarked, so use that…or call them directly).
* Also be aware that just because an email claims to be from a friend or relative, doesn’t mean that it is. If you are not expecting an “executable” (application) or “you gotta see this!” .jpeg from Uncle Fred, by all means don’t open it! Contact him and ask him, “did you send me a..?” It is an easy thing for an Evil Doer to ‘spoof’ an address.
* And finally, make sure your antivirus definitions are up to date. If it is not already on by default, open your antivirus’ Options and look in “Update Options” for “Download and install new definitions automatically” (or words to that effect) and make sure it’s selected. If available, have it set to scan email and email attachments as well. (And, if your AV cannot scan incoming e-mail.. think about switching to one that does!)

Removing stubborn start up programs: If the methods I described in “My Startup folder is a clown car” proved insufficient for getting rid of a really determined program, there are more methods you can try. The first is using the msconfig tool.

Start by opening the msconfig utility. Click Start >Run and type in “msconfig” (no quotes), and then click on the Startup tab. Here you will see a list of the programs scheduled to start when Windows boots. Uncheck the checkbox next to the program you are having the troubles with. You will need to restart your system for the changes to take effect.
**Vista users: Manage Startup programs in Vista**

If you have already tried the aforementioned methods and simply cannot kill the autolaunch, please consider simply using Add/Remove Programs to “retire” the troublesome program altogether…or install a startup manager program like StartUp Cop.

Today’s free link:  GIMP Open Source digital image manipulating tool. This completely free application is a bit tricky to install but is well worth it as it offers a full range of tools for adjusting your digital images, and it does that in an interface that’s comfortable to folks with Photoshop experience.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

October 31, 2008 Posted by | advice, antivirus, Backups, computers, e-mail, how to, PC, Phishing, phraud, security, software, System Restore, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 1 Comment

Will System Recovery Delete My Programs?

Most computers today come with manufacturer software and a partition on the hard-drive to provide the ability to do a “System Recovery”, oftentimes accessed through a program called “Recovery Center”.

hard-drives progs

I have received several inquiries recently as to whether or not running a “recovery” will remove (“delete”) installed programs and files.

A: Well.. Yes and no. It will “delete” your installed programs, and no, it probably won’t “delete” your files.

Huh?

What the recovery software — when launched — will do is offer to copy the files on your machine to a backup location,{usually, it depends on the manufacturer, but most do} and them restore them again after it wipes out your C:\ drive and re-Installs Windows.
(Actually, a factory “image” of your machine taken right before it left for market.)

[note: you already have a copy of your files.. right? You do make backups.. right?!? If you answered, “uh.. no, not yet..” please read this.]

Your computer will basically be “restored” to factory defaults, and you’ll have to reinstall all your programs, and visit Windows Update, and tweak your Desktop.. deja vu all over again. But, the contents of your Documents folder will be copied back.

Because of this, you should consider this type of recovery a method of last resort, not to be tried until other methods — such as the built-in Windows’ System Restore — have been tried first. https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/how-to-use-system-restore-to-fix-windows/
Maybe.. call a Pro first?

Today’s free download: Digsby helps you manage all your IM, e-mail, and social network accounts from one easy-to-use application.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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October 6, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, software, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How To Use System Restore To Fix Windows

Have you ever wished you could go back in time…and un-do something you did? Windows’ built-in recovery tool, System Restore allows your computer to do what you and I cannot do, jump back in history to a time when everything was working properly, and that’s a pretty neat trick!

Tip of the day: I should caution you that System Restore is not a panacea– there are some things it copies and restores and some things it doesn’t.
* It does not recover data once the Recycle bin has been emptied — you need to use Shadow Copy or an undelete utility for that.
* It doesn’t recover lost or corrupted User passwords.

It is, however, “user friendly” and simple to use. It does, automatically, take “snapshots” of the Registry and some dynamic system files, and is a good way to get an unstable and/or non-booting system back on its feet again without losing your files and user settings.

To get started, you need to make sure that System Restore is turned on, and that it has at least 200 megabytes of free hard-drive space to store snapshots on.

Turn on System Restore by clicking Start and right-click My Computer >Properties >System Restore tab and make sure there’s no check in the box next to “Turn off System Restore on all drives.”

While you’re there, select the drive, or partition, where you want to store the snapshots and click the Settings button. Now you can use the slider to denote the amount of memory you want to devote to System Restore. I set mine to about 500 MB’s, which gives me a good selection of Restore Points (snapshots) without losing too much storage. And now you are set: Windows will start taking snapshots whenever you make a ‘major’ change, like installing a program or device driver.

There are a couple of different ways to use System Restore to go back in time. In the first scenario, Windows still functions, and boots, but is unstable and crashes or freezes frequently.

1) Use System Restore by clicking Start >Programs >Accessories >Sytem Tools >System Restore. This will launch the System Restore Wizard. By default, the radio button “Restore my computer to an earlier time” is already selected so hit the Next button.

Now you will see a calendar, which has the available snapshots/times in bold.

2) Start with the most recent one first, and click “Next”, and then “OK”. Your system will reboot, take a while to load, and then a message saying “Your system has been successfully restored to date selected” will appear.

If this doesn’t happen, you will see an error message– retry using the next most recent Restore Point. You may have to try several.

The next scenario is when you’re in a bad situation where Windows just BSOD’s (“blue screens”), or won’t even boot. Boot your machine and hit, repeatedly, the F8 key as if you were trying to get into Safe Mode.

When the white-on-black Advanced Start Up screen appears do not hit any key(s) just yet. Before too long a dialogue will open asking whether you want to continue on into Safe Mode…Y/N? Type an “N” for “no”. This will launch the System Restore Wizard and you follow the steps as outlined above.

Should this dialogue not open after a suitable wait, use your up/down arrow keys to highlight (select) “Safe Mode” and hit Enter. You will now be in the funny-looking, petite version of Windows called, you guessed it, “Safe Mode”. It’s easy to know that you are, because it clearly says Safe Mode in all four corners of your desktop. Now you can access System Restore through the Start >Programs menu. Again, follow the steps as outlined above.

Occasionally System Restore cannot undo all the damage and it doesn’t work as we’d hoped. If the damage was done by malware such as a virus that also infected your snapshots, it may not work at all. But it is a powerful tool and has saved me many times over the years. It is quick, simple, and usually very effective– and it’s free!

[For more answers on System Restore, see my two follow-up posts; “A quick System Restore addenda“, and “questions answered”.]

Today’s free link: I mentioned undelete utilities, and there are many out there for you to try. Try to recover files by starting with a scan using Softperfect File Recovery. “…a free and useful tool to restore accidentally deleted files from hard and floppy disks, USB flash drives, CF and SD cards and other storage media. It supports the popular file systems such as FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS and NTFS5 with compression and encryption. If your important files disappeared and you can’t find them in the recycle bin, try this software product and get the files back to life. Easy to use, no installation is required.”

Copyright 2007-8 ©  Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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September 4, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, performance, Safe Mode, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

IE’s Favorites are missing– quick tip

Bookmarks (called “Favorites” in Internet Explorer) make returning to our favorite Websites an easy task, and I — for one — rely on mine. The other day I got a call from someone whose Favorites had disappeared. Quite naturally, I think, they wanted to get them back, and came to me for aid.

An important thing to understand is that Favorites and Bookmarks are shortcuts.. just like the icons on your Desktop are shortcuts to programs (.exe’s) located in your c:\Program Files folder.
Your Favorites are simply a list of shortcuts to URL’s, and when you click on the gold star Favorites icon, this list is displayed. You can “export” this list to other browsers, a comma-separated-values (.csv) file, or a HTML file.. And you can add and delete items from this list as your heart desires.

Tip of the day IE is a integral component to Windows, and Windows stores your custom configurations in your User Account– your Desktop icons, Theme, Settings, etc.. Windows allows for multiple users, and each person who uses the machine should have their own user account– it also has some built-in accounts, like Administrator, and Guest.

If your Favorites is empty, and not displaying any shortcuts, the first thing you should check is that you’re logged into your User Account. Click the Start button, and then choose “Log off” (or “Switch User”, depending) and verify that you are indeed logged into your user profile (and not Guest or Admin..).

If this is not the issue, navigate to the folder that contains the shortcuts list– this is called “Favorites”, and it’s located in your User folder. In XP, your User folder is in the Documents and Setting folder, so your path is c:\Documents and Settings\User*.
In Vista, it’s c:\Users\user.
Fav's

Open the Favorites folder and see if your bookmarks are there. If they’re not, well, something’s happened to them somehow, and this might be a cause for concern (has a hacker been playing on your machine?) or it might not.
To restore the shortcuts, you can “import” a .csv, or .html ‘export’ you made earlier (hint, hint).. or copy the contents from a backup copy of your Favorites folder (which, because you follow my advice, you have on CD/DVD and another drive).

Or, you have never exported and haven’t backed up your files and folders.. (ahem), well, here is where you can try System Restore to revert your computer to an earlier date. System Restore does not restore deleted files, but it does store User Account information, and so you may have luck this way.
My article on using System Restore is here.

Today’s free link: PowerISO is a powerful CD/DVD image file processing tool, which allows you to open, extract, create, edit, burn, compress, encrypt, split and convert ISO files, and mount these files with internal virtual drive. It can process almost all CD-ROM image files including ISO and BIN.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 8, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, missing files, PC, software, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Windows | , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

System Restore/ID Theft/Startup programs

“System Restore won’t work”, “I’m worried about ID Theft, how do I know if an email is legit?”, “I can’t get this #$*& program out of my Startup folder” — these are examples of some of the questions I have received since posting my articles on these topics. Today I’m going to review, and provide more solutions and answers.

Tip of the day: Since I’m going to cover the questions above, there is not going to be a single “Tip of the day” today. Instead, there will be “Today’s three questions”…
More on System Restore: What to do when System Restore just refuses to work. As I mentioned in my first System Restore post, SR simply is not a failsafe miracle worker. There are troubles that can occur that it simply does not repair — such as a corrupted SAM database. It is however a good place to start. It does undo a lot of the damage you can accidentally do to your machine. This fact is why you should always make a back up of your system — either a “disk image” made with a 3rd-party utility like Acronis True Image, or Norton Ghost, and/or Windows Backup Utility (Start >Programs >Accessories >System tools >Backup).
I stated in the prior article, and will repeat here, that you may have to repeat the System Restore process several times before one “snapshot” finally takes. When you use SR, you will see a calendar with available snapshots in bold dates. You should see several. Start with the most recent date and time, and work your way backwards. If you have done this with no luck, you probably have one of those troubles System Restore is not designed for. Either look elsewhere for solutions, or call for some Tech Support (we Tech Support folks need to make a living too, you know).

Legit vs. Phishing: “how do I know if an email is legit?” In my post about the rocket scientist, I discussed phishing and recommended an anti-phishing site toolbar, which combats a form of phishing called “pharming“.
I suggest you take no chances with emails. Simply do not click on links in emails. Also, realize that your bank will not send you links. They know about phishing, and they figure you already know their URL (you should have it bookmarked, so use that…or call them directly). Also be aware that just because an email claims to be from a friend or relative, doesn’t mean that it is. If you are not expecting an attachment.exe “executable” (application) or “you gotta see this!” .jpg from Uncle Fred, by all means don’t open it! Email him and ask him, “did you send me a..?” It is an easy thing for an Evil Doer to spoof a Sender address.
And finally, make sure your antivirus definitions are up to date. If it is not already on by default, open your antivirus’ Options and look in “Update Options” for “Download and install new definitions automatically” (or words to that effect) and make sure it’s selected. If available, have it set to scan email and email attachments as well. (If it’s not, consider switching to the free Avast! or AVG antivirus programs..)

Removing stubborn start up programs: If the methods I described in “My Startup folder is a clown car” proved insufficient for getting rid of a really determined program, there are three more methods you can try. The first is to read my Manage your Startup programs; second is msconfig, and the last is editing the Registry.
If these easy methods in the article didn’t do the trick, start by opening the msconfig utility. Click Start >Run and type in “msconfig” (no quotes), and then click on the Startup tab. Here you will see a list of the programs scheduled to start when Windows boots. Uncheck the checkbox next to the program you are having the troubles with. You will need to restart your system for the changes to take effect.

The second method, editing the Registry, is for advanced users who are comfortable treading in such risky waters. Changes made to the Registry are immediate, and there’s no “undo” feature. If you feel you are determined to dive in, please create a Restore Point before starting and back up the Registry to a .txt file first. Please read (or re-familiarize yourself with) Microsoft’s detailed how-to here. They Key you’ll be working with is HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\CurrentVersion\Run.
But please: this is not for the inexperienced. Do not try this without reading and understanding what editing the Registry is about, and what damage one mistake can do. First use the aforementioned methods and please consider simply using Add/Remove Programs to “retire” the troublesome program altogether…or try a program like StartUp Cop.

Today’s free link(s): I am satisfied with this freeware Startup manager: Ashampoo StartUp Tuner 2.

If you have been a victim of a phish, have been clicking unsolicited links willy-nilly, or let a window that magically popped open one day “scan your computer to remove infections”.. or just want to know your scores — get a free credit report , and find out if you’re the only “you” accessing your credit.
[Note: I believe it is worth it to have your credit reports monitored.. which is not a free service. For $5/month, I use , which monitors the big three report companies.]

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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June 9, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, security, software, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment