Tech – for Everyone

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

Troubleshooting the Blue Screen Of Death

BSOD’s, spontaneous reboots, freezing, and “incorrect password” lockouts. Bad computer. Bad.

bsod.jpg

Ah yes, the Blue Screen of Death. I sincerely hope you never see this rascal. The BSOD, or more properly, the Windows Stop Message, occurs when Windows detects a problem from which it cannot recover. The operating system halts and ‘diagnostic information’ is displayed on a blue screen as a series of hexadecimal numbers (there actually are a few humans capable of understanding, and using this information to effect repairs…but as far as I know, they all live in Seattle) which, frankly, will be of little use to the average user. Usually, a simple reboot resolves the issue. But sometimes it doesn’t–you reboot, Windows loads, you get the Welcome screen, and bingo! BSOD. Wash/rinse/repeat. Aargh!!!

If this happens to you, the odds are pretty good that you have (quite recently) added a new device (or card) or memory module to your machine, or installed a program that your machine just doesn’t like.
If it was a module, device, or card, try removing it and restoring your machine to the way it was before the install. If you run for a day or so with no BSOD’s, then you can be fairly sure you’ve found the culprit. It may be that the device is defective. It may be that you didn’t install it exactly correctly [maybe it didn’t “seat” all the way into its slot?], or maybe your machine was being fussy the day you installed? Don’t give up on your new card/device/module just yet. Go to the manufacturer’s Website and download the latest device driver for your version of Windows, and “unzip” and install it (by double-clicking on the downloaded file). Then reinstall your card/device/module–taking extra care to fully seat it, and double check your wires and cables–and reboot. If it is a defective unit, it will not be long before our friend the BSOD revisits…return the unit to the seller (or manufacturer) for exchange or refund.

If you suspect a recently installed application (or…Microsoft Update) is the cause, then use the Add/Remove Programs tool to uninstall it. (XP+older: Start> Control Panel> Add/Remove Programs, Vista: Start> Control Panel> Uninstall a program.) [Note: in Vista, uninstalling Updates is done through Windows Update itself, not Add/Remove.]
If you are unable to get into Windows, reboot and start hitting the F8 key to get into Safe Mode. [For more info, click here] Again, run for a day or two, and if you do not experience any BSOD’s, you’ve (most likely) found the perp. Again, you need not despair and abandon the program. It may have simply been an incomplete or corrupted install that was causing the stop errors. Try reinstalling it, but first make sure that there are no other applications running–turn off your AV, your IM, and close IE. You will soon know whether it is simply an incompatible or poorly written application.

I am going to stop here, but I want to acknowledge that this is far from a complete discussion on all the possible causes (nor cures) for BSOD’s and the other woes mentioned at the top of this post. I will return to this topic again, and I invite your comments and critiques, and suggestions. I close by suggesting you also read my article on the Windows System Restore tool (click here) and reminding you that — should all your efforts fail, my services are available at http://aplusca.com.

Today’s free link: Sandra Lite from SiSoft. This is a benchmarking and system analysis tool that shows you a wealth of information about the workings of your computer, and detects areas that aren’t working as well as they should.

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

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May 3, 2008 Posted by | advice, BSOD, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, Plug and Play, removing Updates, Safe Mode, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Get these Vista updates

Tip of the day: Improve your Vista’s performance and reliability by downloading and installing a few “optional” updates. (Gamers take note.)

I have mentioned the soon-to-be-released Service Pack 1 for Vista (and, why you want it) in previous articles, and yesterday I mentioned that bits and pieces of it are already available, or being installed, through Windows Update. As I mentioned then, a primary purpose of a Service Pack is to fix bugz and glitchez, which has the nice benefit of reducing (eliminating?) blue screens, and making your computer more “stable”– in geek speak, that’s called Performance & Reliability (versus “downtime”.)

Now I, for one, am all for taking steps that improve my PC’s performance. I have been known to “tweak” a setting or two in the hopes of gaining a modest gain in speed. I confess, I have even played around with (gasp!) over-clocking. (Though I also confess, I must have done something wrong.. or been too timid, because I found it unsatisfying.) If you, too, want to improve Vista’s speed (at certain tasks) and improve your machine’s P&R, read on.

Microsoft has available a couple of updates that you must actively seek out and install yourself (or, you can wait for SP1) that fix specific bugs and improve performance. I suggest, if you haven’t done so already, to get them; and, I will provide the direct links.

The first is a “compatibility and reliability” update called KB938194, which is available here. (The specific issues it resolves are listed, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.)

And the second one is the one for you if you have any “waking from sleep/hibernation” issues (it fixes several memory issues as well): it is KB938979 and you can get it here.

If you are a Gamer: you will definitely want to grab KB940105, which resolves some serious memory issues, and smooths the DirectX 9 > 10 transition. It is available here.
(Please note, this will not quite be as effective as remaining on XP if you are serious about your games/framerates, but the improvement is worthy of note. As more DirectX 10 titles arrive… )

* And if you are a gamer, and you have DirectX 10-compatible graphics cards in either SLI or Crossfire, you simply must get the fix that turns on Vista’s use of the second GPU: KB936710, available here.

To install these updates, simply click on the appropriate download link, located toward the bottom of the KB pages, and then “Run” the package. For the vast majority of you, that will be the “32 bit” version (the 64-bit version is typically a special order, and you’ll know if you’ve requested it), but if you’re unsure if you are running a 32-bit, or a 64-bit, version of Vista, you can quickly check by clicking Start, right-click on the “Computer” button, and selecting “Properties”.

Today’s free link: As you (probably) know, I talk about “phishing” e-mails quite frequently, and warn you against clicking the links, etc. A great tool for helping determine if an e-mail really came from who it claims is eMail ID from Iconix. From site: “Iconix eMail ID works with your current email service such as Yahoo! mail, Windows Live Hotmail, Gmail, Earthlink, Outlook Express (all on IE or FireFox). Iconix eMail ID double checks the source of a message to make sure it’s not a spoof. It then uses a simple visual indicator in your inbox–a gold lock with a checkmark to show that a message is real. E-mail from over 300 major senders is currently identified–companies such as eBay, PayPal, Citibank, Amazon.com, Expedia, MySpace…(more)”

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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March 7, 2008 Posted by | advice, BSOD, computers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick Time Zero-Day Monday

Ah, there’s nothing like the Monday morning after a long holiday weekend, and this one is bright, brisk and clear. Makes this fella want to stay in bed.
But like you, I’m up-and-at-’em. Re-invigorated, and ready to face the week.

You may have noticed that today’s title is a little strange-looking. But when I break it down, it should make more sense. Those of you who are regular readers of this series already know that I am an advocate of secure computing and that I am always providing tips, advice, and downloads to help you keep away the digital Evil Doers (aka “cyber criminals”). Today’s article follows in that proud tradition.

Regular readers also know that during holidays, I often re-post past articles– which I did, twice, this week. However, I did post one original article which (if you’ll forgive me a little vanity) may be one of the most important of all of the articles I have posted so far. (It is certainly my current soapbox ‘hot topic’.) Please, if you missed it, click here and read it. It is relevant to all computer users and discusses your first line of defense against hackers– software patches.

Now, to explain today’s title: The first two words are Quick Time, which is a media viewer (and format) from Apple which comes packaged with the iTunes software. quicktimeicon.jpgQuick Time sort of competes with Macromedia’s Flash format, and is used as a way of presenting animations and short ‘films’ on the Internet. You may have been asked to install Quick Time as a browser “plug in”, to view certain material, by a website.

The second two words are “zero day“. Zero-day is a security term used to describe the period [I mentioned in the prior article] between when an exploit has been discovered– and the hackers are using it to attack, and take control of machines — and when a patch has been found and is available to the public. During this period, there is no (ready) defense against the hacker’s attack code.

There is currently an attack underway targeting a vulnerability in Quick Time, and there is as of yet no patch. In other words, a “zero-day attack” is travelling the Internet and people with Quick Time installed have no defense against having their machines turned into spam-launching zombies, or having malware installed.. or whatever else the cyber criminals want to use their machines for.
This “buffer-overflow” attack affects any machine with Quick Time installed, whether it be Apple OS X, or Windows Vista/XP.

Tip of the day: Don’t be vulnerable to this nasty zero-day attack. Since there is no patch (or, “update”) yet, for the time being, you must be particularly vigilant about clicking on links to websites you receive in emails, avoid visiting websites you haven’t been to before (practice “safe browsing”), and make sure your antivirus is up-to-date.

I don’t use Quick Time (nor do I use iTunes), preferring to miss out on that content (if a website uses it) than to have another media player on my machines. And I suggest that you may want to uninstall it if you have it.. particularly if you rarely use it.. as you can always re-install it once Apple releases a patch (at this time, there is no announced “expected release date”). I also recommend uninstalling the browser add-in version (to read how to remove/manage browser plug-ins, click here).
More advanced users should go into their router’s and/or firewall’s settings and block outbound TCP port 554.

As a fella used to say, let’s be careful out there.

[updated: Apple has released a fixed (updated) version of QuickTime that closes this critical flaw. Windows users can either answer “yes” to the autoupdate alert, or click here, and download the updated version, while Mac users will need to find the appropriate OS version download.]

Today’s free link: I have mentioned that I am a gamer and that I like flight simulators. YS Flight Simulation System 2000 is a free simulator that works even on Linux, and is highly adaptable with “mods” and additional planes (comes with 50) and not-too-stringent graphics needs.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 26, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, firewall, how to, networking, PC, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learn to love the pop up

I understand. Really I do. It seems like every time you try to get something done on your computer, some little window opens and tells you that there’s an update available. You tell it not to bother you, but the persistent little devil keeps coming back.
But, listen. People. And please hear me. If you learn just one thing from me.. please learn this– those “there is an update available” pop ups are your friends. Learn to welcome them. Stop what you’re doing long enough to click on “Yes”.
I repeat: Just Say Yes.

Tip of the day: Thwart hackers, crackers, and ID thieves and let your software close its holes– let it download the patch. Answer those pop ups with the button-click, “Yes, download the update” and do so the first moment you see it.

It does not matter which IT security expert or professional source you ask (and loyal readers will have read this here, also), they will all tell you the same thing: the number one way hackers attack (networks and computers) is through unpatched holes in common software — like IE, or Adobe Reader, or Real Player, or Word, or the operating system itself, or you name it.

The way the software industry protects itself –and us– is to issue “patches” of these holes (called “vulnerabilities”), so that when an Evil Doer launches the string of code that would “exploit” the hole (and give him command access to your machine), it no longer works like his vile buddies in the hacker forum said it would.
Patches are your machine’s best friend. (And so it kinda follows that patches are your identity’s and your privacy’s best friends too. Right?) When you see “update”, mentally substitute the word “patch”.

When I explain this “patches stop hacker exploits of vulnerabilities in your code” principle to folks, more than one has come back with the reply/thought, “So… CoolProgram 6.0 isn’t any good, then.” When I ask, why do you say that? They answer that it seems to ask to be patched quite often, while some of their other programs never ask to be updated. “It must have a lot of holes”.

This seemingly logical conclusion (on their part) is not usually the correct one. In fact, more often than not it is the wrong one; though it is true that some programmers (or more typically, team of programmers) make more of an effort than others. Let me explain.
Let us say there really is a little program called “CoolProgram”; and let us say that it is a slideshow widget; and let us say that it has sold about 50,000 copies. And let us also say that it was written in five minutes by a first-year computer programming student, with absolutely no aptitude for programming, as a class project (he/she received a B-) and let us further imagine that it contains more vulnerabilities (holes) than any other program on the market. With me?
CoolProgram would never be hacked. (And thus, never need an “update”.)

Why? How could that be? If it is so poorly written? Because of the number of sales. It’s much too low to interest a hacker. Also, the odds that “CoolProgram” is installed on a computer somewhere inside CitiBank, Pay Pal, the Pentagon, or on a website’s server, are next to none.
All you have to do is think like a criminal to understand– they want to hit the most targets, in the most places. This increases the odds of hitting paydirt, or makes for a larger botnet [to read my article about botnets, click here].
This is why Windows is hacked more often than Apple — Apple is on only about 5% of the world’s computers — and why IE is hacked more often than Firefox.

I’ve run longer than I intended, so I’ll wrap up with a recap of how it works: 1) Some criminal with programming skills finds a way to inject altered code into a program which gives him “rights” on a remote machine. 2) He posts his find on a hacker forum, or/and sells it to other hackers. 3) These hackers then start using this code to attack machines. 4) Security experts take note of this new attack and notify the authors of the program being exploited. 5) The programmers of the affected program examine the way the exploit works, and try to rewrite their code to stop it. [PLEASE NOTE: they are “playing catch up” with the hackers.] 6) When they finally find the counter-code, they have to get it onto your machine, so they release a patch, or “update”. 7) A pop up window opens on your machine saying “here’s the fix; please install me”.
All this while the hackers are reaping the rewards.

So don’t delay. Don’t dally. Just Say Yes. Besides.. if you answer “later”, the pop up window will come back again.

Today’s free link: Keeping your programs patched and up-to-date is the most effective method we have of keeping the hackers at bay. The best tool I have found for evaluating your currently installed programs, and helping you get them patched, is a ‘scan’ I have posted here before, but the Software Inspector at Secunia is just too important, too good, and too easy not to mention again.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 23, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, PC, privacy, security, tech | , , , , | Leave a comment