Power Outages, Spikes and Surprises – 5 things you need to know about your technology!


Recently, we had a city wide power outage which yet again, affected technology across the board. During the Christmas break, we had a power outage through out the city for a significant amount of time. Due to the ice storm that swept southern Ontario at that time, many systems not only powered off but had a hard time coming back on. It put UPS systems to the test and many older and faulty systems were immediately identified and put in the queue for replacement.

Here is a quick list of things to remember when dealing with power fluctuations and your computer technology.

#5 – Protect against failure. A power fluctuation, whether it is an outage or a spike, can cause damage to any electronic system. Having a surge protection power bar and/or a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) will minimize any effect the power will have on your equipment. Though a UPS will only last a short period of time, sometimes only a few minutes is needed for proper shutdown of a system. More advanced systems can alert users and properly shutdown automatically. Obviously a spike is worse than an outage in terms of electrocution however that leads us to #4.

#4 - Sudden Reboot or Restart can lead to damaged software. After a power outage, computers generally can be turned back on or are set to turn back on automatically, however if they were in the process of doing something when they lost power, those processes can affect the operating system. It is common for a “dirty” shutdown to causes errors during boot up. In most cases, the systems will recover and repair themselves but occasionally, repair may be needed by an IT technician. That is why we always recommend UPS systems for servers and critical systems.

#3 – Don’t open a PC without proper caution. – During a power spike or outage, computers can build up and discharge stored electricity from their internal capacitors. This means that there may only be a “static” charge running through the circuits of a computer even if the main power is out. There have been incidents where users have taken it upon themselves to open computer cases and fiddle around with connectors and plugs internally. If the power does not get disconnected properly, it can be very hazardous to the safety of the person and to the computer itself.

#2 - Power Transformers for laptops or devices are NOT swappable - Sometimes a power supply sometimes known as a “transformer” for laptops, tablets or smartphones will become damaged from a power surge or outage. A common mistake it to take another supply from a device that “looks” similar and use it. All power supplies are NOT the same even if they look the same. Each power supply has its own voltage and amps listed on the Output sticker and should not be used for another device if they are not rated equally.

#1 – Do not power any device on after a liquid spill! – Many people believe that if they spill liquid on their laptop or drop a smartphone into their coffee, that as long as they wipe it off, they can turn it back on. This can be extremely dangerous to the device. It is true that electronics usually can be dried off and will operate normally HOWEVER that assumes a few things.
a) was the device on when it got wet? If so, it will most likely electrocute itself or at best, turn itself off.
b) Is there still moisture inside the device? Liquids can seep into nooks and crannies and can create conductive junctions between circuits which can result in electrocution.
c)Was the liquid just water or was it a solution? Solutions of soda, coffee or tea have sugar, cream or any combination there of which can not be easily removed.
In any case, a properly trained technician should look at it BEFORE it is powered up to maximize its survival. If the unit didn’t fry itself initially upon contact with the liquid, then there is a good chance for recovery.

For questions about this, please contact us anytime.

If this article was of interest, you may find this one useful too: Why backing up your data is more important than worrying about your anti-virus software.

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MailChimp and the new Canadian Spam laws! Unsubscribe NOW if you don’t want this!


I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about MailChimp and the new laws coming into effect as of July 2014.

Previously, we used newsletter software that we purchased several years ago to give us a tool to send out our newsletters. Even though it had good tracking and subscription features, since it was downloaded software it had to continuously be online in order to get updates or reach out to see if anybody had subscribed or unsubscribed.

As of March we ditched the software and tried MailChimp (Mailchimp.com). It turned out to be a great decision.

MailChimp provides a very comprehensive subscription system which includes instant updating of contacts and provides the checks and balances necessary to comply with the new Canadian laws.

Specifically, the new laws dictate how electronic messages require consent to send from any computer in Canada. It is a good news/bad news situation.

Good news is you should not receive unsolicited email that has nothing to do with you or your business. This does not include mail from outside Canada unfortunately. So those foreign spam emails will still come through.

Bad news, if you are one of those companies that rely on email marketing, you now have to comply with ensuring that your emails are related to the receiver’s interests (business or personal), that your target receiver is specific and not generic and that whatever you send has an unsubscribe option (at no cost) to the receiver which will opt them out from the future mailings.

Good news, there are some exceptions to that – it breaks down to express and implied consent as follows:

Express consent is when you a) clearly describe the purposes of getting consent, b) provide the name of the sender seeking consent, c) provide contact info, and d) indicate that they can unsubscribe.

In this case MailChimp is great because it has a check box that covers all these things when you subscribe. Of course, if a contact emails you directly saying they would like to subscribe, you can still enter them into the system but I would recommend keeping all emails about that in a folder in case there is any confusion.

Implied consent is when you a) have an existing business relationship within the last 2 years with the receiver b) the sender and receiver have an existing non-business relationship c) the recipient has conspicuously published their electronic address (e.g., on a website), has not expressly stated that they do not wish to receive unsolicited messages, and the message is related to the recipient’s professional capacity; or, d) the recipient has disclosed their electronic address directly to the sender, has not expressly stated that they do not wish to receive unsolicited messages, and the message is related to the recipient’s business.

This implied consent covers most genuine business contacts which means if you are dealing with existing clients, unless they unsubscribe, you should be good to go.

This also means that if you are sending out stuff for new contacts and prospects, as long as their website has their contact info, and the website does not expressly state otherwise that they do not wish unsolicited messages, you would most likely be ok.

However, the unsubscribe option ALWAYS has to be there and available and it is up to the sender to maintain that list and make sure it is followed.

Again, MailChimp comes in for the win. Since it is web based, the contact list you manage is always up to date and will let you block, review, delete and change your list according to every mailing you send out. It reports back any dead emails and reports on who has unsubscribed and automatically flags those out of the next mailout.

There are also some exemptions with regards to employees, family or personal mail, legal, political and charitible scenarios but for those details you can visit the government website at:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=3832885&File=29&Language=e&Mode=1#1

or for an easier read, you can visit Nnovation LLP who put a really simple summary at:

http://www.nnovation.com/practice-expertise/canadas-anti-spam-legislation/

Another note, as part of the same law, unwanted computer software will also be banned. The new law establishes rules for the installation of computer programs onto a system. You now require express consent from the owners.

For us, as IT providers that means we have to make sure that when we install software for a client, even though they engaged us to do so, it is still our responsibility to inform them of the details especially if the software we are installing affects settings, data, storage or remote access.

It does not apply to upgrades and updates where the original program is already there.

Finally, they have also ruled that unauthorized alteration of transmission data is illegal. This is specifically for software that redirects your activities on your computer to a 3rd party website (fraudulant or not) that you did not originally consent too. This is usually done by software that is free or not legitimately created and ends up infecting your computer. We called it “Hijackware” or “pharming”.

For further details on the technical side of things, feel free to contact us anytime.

So remember, if you don’t want our newsletter, you have until July to unsubscribe below or we will assume consent. ;-)

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What does the new Windows 8.1 update mean for you?


Microsoft released the new Windows 8.1 update for all devices as a mandatory update. This means that in order to get any future updates or patches, you must install this one first.

This release has improved a few things especially for non-touch users.

The Modern UI (User Interface) has been tweaked to make it a lot easier for desktop users specifically for right-click context menus and activating edge of screen functions like menus and the taskbar.

The context menus have been modified to include extra functions for pinning and unpinning items to and from the desktop, start menu and taskbar.

You will also notice a title bar for active windows giving us the feel of “windows” again.

They have a power down button and search button to the top right now as shortcuts for those features.

Finally there is a lot of background changes which the users will not necessarily notice.

For more details and examples please visit Windows 8.1 update

For any questions, contact us any time.

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Windows XP end of life is NOT the only problem!


Microsoft-Windows-XP

The announcement from Microsoft to end support and the life of XP as an active operating system has been buzzing through the internet for more than 2 years now.

The reality is that XP EOL(end of life) is not the biggest problem.

XP will not STOP working on April 8, 2014.

XP will NOT suddenly crash on April 8, 2014.

XP will NOT uninstall itself or delete your data on April 8, 2014.

As far as Microsoft is concerned, it WILL continue to operate. You just don’t get any more updates, fixes or security patches going forward.

The biggest problem is that most 3rd party software companies will simultaneously make XP a non-compliant operating system for their own software needs. This means that if you use 3rd party software for accounting, contact management(CRM), legal transactions, banking transactions etc, those companies may not only discontinue support for XP but may FORCE you to discontinue use because it no longer complies with national or industry related standards.

A good example is for HIPAA and PIPEDA here in Canada where for medical practitioners, XP will no longer be accepted as a secure operating system which puts doctors and medical professionals in jeopardy of violating the law.

Exactly how this will be enforced, transitioned or distributed is still up in the air but if you are still on XP as your primary source, you may want contact your software providers for details on their requirements moving forward from April 8, 2014.

For help with this issue and to discuss technological options, feel free to contact us anytime.

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Top 10 things your IT contractor IS or IS NOT responsible for.


“Exactly what does IT do?” A question we have heard hundreds if not thousands of times during the last 20 years.

Each IT company provides a variety of technology related services. Some are generalists, some are specialists, some are “boutique” and “niche” providers but generally there are some basic foundations that all companies who class themselves in Information Technology provide.

Of course as technology changes and evolves so has the services and abilities of the IT provider. The biggest surprise for most who ask the question is that not all the items on this list are technology based. Let’s review:

10)Your computers – the basic foundation of all IT is the computer. The primary hardware is usually a pc, mac, tablet, smartphone, console, servers or kiosks. In most cases IT is required to acquire, manage, maintain and support your hardware.

9)Your software – in most cases, IT supports your operating system, your general applications and in some cases specific software. This is where some IT companies can specialize by software suite, or by industry or by skill set. You can expect and IT person with experience in the world of Optometrists will be of more value and charge a premium over an IT person who is doing virus removals at a budget store.

8)Your accessories – generally IT is also responsible for things like printers, scanners, integrated faxes and any device or additional technology that work in conjunction with your primary hardware.

7)Your networking equipment – This includes internet connections, switches, routers, wifi and all the connective gear to make your network operate. This is also an area where you can get some specialization and certain skill set requirements depending on the size of the network and the demand. Also things like cabling and provisioning may or may not be provided by your IT contractor. (though in most cases this is par for the course)

From here on, it gets a little less techy….

6)Training – Some IT providers do train the client on the equipment they provide and install. It depends on if they are an exclusive rep or reseller of a certain technology and/or have a specific employee in their resources who can offer this service. Generally, IT providers do not train as part of their offering.

5)Software design/fix/repair – This one is usually taken for granted as people assume that somebody in IT is also familiar with programming code able to repair, redesign, rebuild or generally “fix” software problems whether it is a custom application or an operating system issue. In 99% of cases, this is NOT true.

4)Web design – During the early 2000′s, when small business IT and home based IT were just in their infancy, many IT people supplemented their income with web design, web hosting or web programming. Very similar to programming regular software, in today’s market IT doesn’t usually include web offerings. If your IT guy is pulling cable and setting up your internet connection, most likely he will not be the ideal candidate to create an e-commerce website for you.

3)Phone systems and Photocopiers- In a lot of cases, with technology advancing in leaps and bounds when it comes to VOIP and wireless phone services, the lines between what is IT related and what is phone related are disappearing. Generally IT companies will refer out large projects like phone system integration and large photocopier/MFP devices but some IT companies are now handling small scale VOIP or virtual phone services as part of their offering because the technology is as simple as installing a router, some cabling and a phoneset.

2)Electrical work – IT contractors are NOT electricians. Though in terms of communication cabling, we have to work closely with electricians to provide power to our equipment, the misnomer is that if we are IT and running data cable, we are qualified, educated or licensed to be an electrician. To this I say… “NOPE”. Conversely, electricians get the same treatment when it comes to communication cabling. See my previous article for more on that end: Why you should NOT let your electrician run your data cabling!

1)Business planning/consulting – the most effective way you can utilize your IT contractor is to use them like a fully fledged department of your company. This means including them in company decisions like moving, infrastructure changes, renovations, major software changes (when they are from a 3rd party) etc. If you keep your IT in the loop and make them part of your business planning, they can help you with proactive decisions that can save money and time. There is nothing more frustrating for the client than to have to call IT in to fix or correct a problem that arose from poor planning for a move a renovation. I urge all of our customers to use us to bounce ideas off of, help in the needs analysis of the business plan, even help in providing resources that may have a working relationship with the IT provider to work in the client’s best interest.

Here are a couple of related articles that touch on the topics in a little more detail:

Considerations for your network cabling needs BEFORE moving…

10 Things to consider about IT when starting a new business.

Why replace my PC BEFORE it dies?

Why backing up your data is more important than worrying about your anti-virus software.

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Review: Seagate BlackArmor NAS (Network Attached Storage)


seagate nas_resize

Today’s review is of the Seagate BlackArmor NAS, specifically the Business Storage 4Bay NAS 4TB model#stbp4000100.

We recently installed this unit for our offices to expand our storage needs instead of changing and upgrading our existing server configuration.

Our primary concern was redundancy so we opted for the 4-bay drive with full Raid 10 configuration and utilizing 4 x 1TB Western Digital hard drives. The NAS does offer Raid 0,1,5,10 and Jbod for other configurations. It comes with 2 GB Ethernet ports, 2 Usb 3.0 ports, 1 USM port and the bays are hot swappable meaning we can change one on the fly without powering down the unit. The unit has a very small footprint which comes in at about 10″x6″x8″ and fully loaded weighs in at around 13lbs.

The first thing we noticed was that the installation was very simple. The unit is very sleek and easily pops open to insert the hard drives into the bays. It took only minutes and we didn’t have to fuss with tools or a multitude of clips or screws like some other models.

The second thing we noticed was how easy the web console was to use. Once it got an IP from our switch, we loaded the DVD and it detected everything, let us configure the unit and get the RAID setup in less than 15 minutes. Since we had 4 x 1TB drives and we wanted to make sure it had a proper format, it did take about 4 hours to prep the drives but we knew that would be the case based on our RAID choice.

Once the unit was prepped, we easily dropped our files into the new share and we were up and online as soon as the copy process finished.

Another feature we were looking for was the USB backup which allows you to plug a external usb drive into the unit and have it perform automated backups. The built in controls also allow for NAS to NAS backup or even NAS to PC backup just in case you want other options.

File transfers from the NAS are super fast, we can stream video and audio files without lag and setting up file permissions and different shared folders is easy with the web console.

The only flaw we found so far is that the backup works but every month or so, the backup fails and will not reset itself so we have to re-configure the job. We currently have a ticket open with Seagate about this specific issue but overall the unit is great.

We have had this unit for 8 months without failure and would highly recommend it for anybody in the market for a reliable NAS device.

For the money, this unit is a good deal. Coming in around $400 empty it is competitively priced versus the Netgear and Dlink offerings.

To find out more, go to Seagate BlackArmor NAS

As always, if you have any questions about this article feel free to contact us anytime.

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FMCN March Newsletter – Microsoft Office 365


Microsoft’s Office 365 Small Business solution has been a hot topic of late for small business users who now can have one centralized suite of products and features for an affordable monthly fee.

Included in the $15 premium package is:
* Office Professional Plus which includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Publisher and One Note.
* Activesync for Outlook allowing for full synchronization of email, calendar, contacts and tasks across Blackberry, IOS and android smartphones, tablets and devices.
* One drive (formerly Skydrive) for file sharing
* Lync and Skype for Instant Messaging, conferencing and worldwide calling

Since last year when Windows 8 became more prevalent and the smartphone wars heated up with intense competition between Blackberry and android, our clients have been demanding more from their productivity suites.

Our initial draw to the Office 365 package was the integration of Activesync allowing for all smartphones to synchronize data wirelessly. For Blackberry users, the only options were BES or desktop sync since the previous versions Activesync were server heavy and required a lot of support. For IOS and android users, using Gmail sync or other 3rd party apps was sometimes confusing and not always reliable.

Since moving ourselves and our clients to the Office365 platform, stability and speed have been reported across the board.

Having the newest Office suite immediately available to be installed on up to 5 devices made our clients very happy to get rid of scores of cd, dvds and volume licensing material from the past. Also, knowing that as long as they keep up the subscription, future updates and upgrades to Office will be included for all licenses.

For those users who collaborate online, the one drive service allows shared files in the cloud to be accessed by all users on the same plan. This is great for documents, revisions, commenting and general file storage. However, One drive isn’t designed as a backup solution so a separate backup should still be in place.

One drive also integrates with Outlook for web only access which means even if you are not at a computer but want to login to the Outlook web client, you will still have access to all your info in real time.

Finally to round out the communication side of things, Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype now means integration of your calls, chats and profiles can be combined with Lync, the new IM of the Office suite.

As a whole package, the Microsoft Office 365 business package is now one of our favorites and we have been converting as many clients who meet the criteria as possible.

Since the package works across PC, Mac, tablets and smartphones there are a lot of advantages and convenience to having it all centralized through one account.

For more info, contact us anytime.

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Another Scam for Google Docs users


Hi All,

another more intrusive scam is out there where a fake email with somebody you know will appear asking you to login to your Google docs account to open a document.

We have heard that these are actively monitored and people have been getting responses from hackers who are posing as the sender after the scam is activated.

Remember, never enter your password and account information for anything from within an email. You should always go to the website itself to login.
Also, complex passwords help prevent against hacking in the first place. A complex password should be minimum of 7 digits, include a capital, a number, and a symbol.

Here is a link from the Huffington Post to explain a little more: Google Docs Scam by Huffington Post

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If you’ve got Netflix be aware of this scam!


By now most people have heard of the Microsoft Tech Support scam. You get a random phone call to inform you that your computer has been infected and that they can remote in to fix it for a fee. We’ve discussed this in the past and there are a lot of reports about how sophisticated this scam is, where it originates from and how it catches people.

Now though there is a new variation you need to be aware of, especially if you are a Netflix user. Take a read of the link below, the Malwarebytes blogger of this report did a fantastic job playing along with the scam to investigate it. This Netflix scam is VERY advanced and could fool a lot of people who you’d think would know better.

http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/03/watch-out-for-this-netflix-tech-support-scam/

Remember that antivirus technologies can only protect you so much. It’s your own habits and education that are your best defense from viruses, scam, hacks and identity theft.

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Apple’s reputation for software security a ‘myth’: expert – Technology & Science – CBC News


Once again Apple’s marketing about never having viruses or vulnerabilities is challenged by market share statistics and reality.

“People in general feel, ‘It’s Apple, so it’s secure’,” says Brian Bourne, co-founder of Toronto’s annual SecTor cybersecurity conference.

“Whereas the truth is that Apple operates within the same bounds as every other software provider, so they’re just as likely to have security vulnerabilities as anybody else.”

Apple’s reputation for software security a 'myth': expert – Technology & Science – CBC News.

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