Thank You for a Great 2012!

As the first year of The Practical Computer comes to a close, I want to thank everyone who visited and read an article or browsed through our blog. As we approach a new year, we are encouraged by the success we had this past year.

Our mission hasn't changed - We want to help everyday computer users with practical advice and help you get more from your technology. Please help us do it better! Knowing which articles you read the most helps us understand a little about the kinds of information you like, but we love to hear from you directly! Please let us know how we are doing with your comments.

Our goal for 2013 is to make The Practical Computer even more helpful. Thank you for helping us get off to a great start in 2012. We hope you will stay and help us get better in 2013!

Happy New Year!

Windows 8 Start Menu from Pokki

Microsoft has never done anything quite so puzzling as deciding to omit the start menu from their new version of Windows. After enterprises leapfrogged Vista, Microsoft made amends by delivering their best and most widely acclaimed operating system - Windows 7. Why would they risk enterprise adoption of their new OS, Windows 8, by making a such a radical change to the user interface?

Microsoft needed a UI suitable for the touch screens of tablets and smartphones. But why force desktop and laptop computer users to use a UI designed for small touchscreens?

Pokki to the rescue

Twitter Profiles - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Widely accepted Twitter etiquette deems that you follow back those that follow you but, I am not always perfectly polite. 

When you just can't keep up, or you start to reach Twitter's limits for following, you have to be more choosy about who you follow. If you are curating content for your followers, you may want to put the big guys on a list and unfollow them. Don't worry, they probably won't miss you, and you can still see their tweets (I'll explain later). 

The Facebook Rodeo - How to Corral Your News Feed

If you have been adding friends and "Liking" fan pages for a while, it may be getting harder to stay on top of your news feed. Have you ever wondered if your friends' news feeds are as full as yours, and if they even see your posts?

No one can keep up with a busy news feed unless it is organized. Divide and conquer your feed using lists. Once you group your feed into manageable chunks, you can quickly choose the posts you want to see, when you want to see them.

No Excuses! Backup Your Windows Server

There have been many statistics quoted about business continuity and data loss for small businesses, mostly from companies that want to "help" you prevent the tragedy of going out of business.

Mark Twain said, "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Regardless of the percentage quoted for business failures, the fact is: many small businesses will not survive long after the the loss of all of their contracts, orders, invoices, and other records.

Customer Service Is Going Social

Many businesses put up Facebook fan pages to reach out to customers. Most were not prepared for their customers to use Facebook to reach out to them. They saw Facebook as a big billboard on the Internet highway - just another way to advertise. What part of  "social" did they not understand?

A post to  Facebook or other social media has potential to be multiplied. If a customer "Likes" a fan page, their Facebook friends may see those fan page posts too. Businesses were giddy with the idea of their posts going viral, but complaints can go viral too. Indeed, complaints are much more likely to go viral than the "spam" being thrown at customers from poorly managed fan pages.

9 Steps for Managing Small Business IT

Information Technology has never been more affordable. Small businesses can now take advantage of technology that will help them level the playing field and compete with larger companies, even on a global scale. Yet, the costs for small businesses that compete with you have come down too. How do you use IT to gain a competitive advantage?

The Best Predictor, The Jetsons or Star Trek?

Both television shows debuted in the sixties. The Jetsons first aired in 1962. In fact, they celebrated their 50'th anniversary on September 23, 2012. Star Trek began in 1966. Which show was the best prognosticator of life in the new millennium?

In the sixties, most of adult America preferred going back in time for their entertainment and watched shows like Wagon Train, Gunsmoke and Bonanza. But the future is what grabbed young people like me. Our president was talking of sending a man to the moon. We believed in the future!

The Christmas Truce

During World War I, over 20 million human beings were killed. Man had invented the machines and weapons to kill other men on a massive scale. In the middle that horrible carnage, around Christmas 1914, widespread unofficial ceasefires took place along the Western Front. Throughout the week leading up to Christmas, German and British soldiers began to exchange greetings and songs between trenches. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, soldiers from both sides ventured into “no man’s land”, where they exchanged food, souvenirs and other small gifts. They played games and sang carols. They helped one another bury their dead.

The Christmas truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. After Christmas that year, the war resumed and men began killing each other again. Today, as we approach this Holy Season, violence and fear are once again making their mark on human history. The Middle East is at a dangerous precipice. What it will take to make us ashamed of our history enough to stop repeating the atrocities of war?

This Holy Season, pray that we stop fearing others just because they are different. Pray for courage to learn about and understand one another. Pray for Peace. 


The First Twitter Election

Over 31 million tweets clogged the Internet on Election Day 2012. In the moments following President Obama's win, Twitter peaked with a rate of 327,000 tweets a minute.

On November 6, 2012, at 11:14 PM, before he took the stage at McCormick Center in Chicago, President Barack Hussein Obama's 22,562,518 Twitter followers got the scoop before the big TV networks:

Facebook Addiction is Affecting Your Brain

As much as I tell myself that I am in control, I am always losing track of time when I am online. Then I have to finish my work in a mad rush. It takes concentrated effort to focus on tasks I must get done.

If you are like me, and your job requires you to be online most of the day, it is especially difficult to restrain yourself from social media like Facebook and Twitter. I don't know of any easy solutions to this dilemma, but at least we can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone. This Infographic helps to explain why it is so hard to control our behavior...

Twitter marketing - What results should you expect?

The term "drive traffic" is often used to describe how to increase visits to websites. This always reminds me of the traveling circus "barkers" that stood on a platform and shouted, while other circus workers worked the crowd toward the attraction's entrance by pushing from the back. Unlike the circus, your website is not just passing through town.

There is nothing wrong with trying to get attention for your website or blog, but you need to deliver on your "barked" promises with quality content. You need to provide information that is interesting, useful, and relevant to your audience if you want them to come back. Letting your audience know that quality information is available, and delivering on that promise is pulling visitors, not driving or pushing them.

Statistics like those shown in this Infographic will vary according to your reputation for quality content! Create great content first, then learn how to best use the tools to share information with your audience.

Hype, The Cloud, and Why Small Business Should Move Now

Hype cycle
Just a little over 3 years ago (July 2009), Cloud computing was at a stage of the Gartner, Inc. Hype cycle called "Peak of Inflated Expectations." Gartner has since segmented Cloud technology into several components, most of which they now (October 2012) show on the "Slope of Enlightenment."

I believe several components of Cloud computing are now at the "Plateau of Productivity," especially for Small Business.

A History of Social Media [Infographic]

First things first - I would like to thank the good folks at copyblogger for sharing this infographic. They are definitely among the best honey bees on social media today. Although their audience is mostly made up of people like me, who are trying to get better at blogging and content marketing, they knew my audience would appreciate this too.

I started studying "data processing" in 1982, long before the Internet existed. Back then, email was rarely used outside of proprietary mainframe computer systems. Getting email systems to talk to one another became one of my specialties. My online community was Compuserve.

Are You a Social Butterfly, Stink Bug, or Honey Bee?

You can find all types of people on social networks. The diversity is amazing. I have engaged with people from many cultures all over the world. I have come across butterflies, honey bees, and unfortunately, plenty of stink bugs. You can find all three on almost every social network, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

When I first started using social media, I was pleasantly surprised to find people in other countries that had the same goals as many here in my country. They want to meet interesting people, learn about other cultures, and improve their lot by promoting their businesses. I am no longer surprised by this, but I am still fascinated with how others in places with cultures so different than mine, can be so similar to me.

Moving and Shaking - Social Media Marketing [Infographic]

From small local business to Fortune 500, businesses of all types are embracing social media marketing today. There is no escape. If you want your brand to be seen, you must have a significant presence on social media. And if you do, you better engage your customers there, because they expect it. It is why they are there!

The social media marketing industry is all grown up and is here to stay. Now, all focus is on proven strategies and measuring results. If you are not already using social media as part of your marketing strategy, it is time to get on board!

What is Google+ And Do I Need It?

I thought I had no time for another social network, but I love Google+! It has the best tools and flexibility of all the social networks. It works like you wish Facebook would. It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but it is more intuitive and easier to learn than I thought it was going to be.

Because of my initial experience with Facebook, I also thought it would take forever to build a group of people to share and socialize with. But there are many Googlers (plussers) there, and they want you to enjoy Google+. They were very gracious to go out of their way to involve me, "+1" my comments, and comment on my posts. And, they shared Circles with me! Many in those Circles added me to theirs. I have never built connections on any other social network as fast.

Steve Jobs (1955--2011) Timeline Infographic

I am sure I don't have any prose of great value to add to the discussion about Steve Jobs since his death, especially since so much has already been written. Indeed, I find myself ignoring new articles and blog posts about him, but this caught my attention. It is an Infographic timeline of Apple's and Steve Job's big moments.

If a single picture can be worth one thousand words, then infographics are visual books. They can convey a lot of information quickly with the impact of color, charts and photos. So, this is a quick "read."  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Yes! Your Business IS Ready for the Cloud

Not only is your business ready for cloud computing but, you should be moving or planning your move to the cloud now. Large corporations and companies of all sizes are moving the bulk of their information technology and data to cloud computing services. It no longer makes sense to manage data centers and IT infrastructure in-house. Cloud vendors have advantages of scale and expertise. Now, their security and quality of service is as good or better than any large corporation's.

Build A Platform Using Only a Swiss Army Knife

If you thought this was going to be a how-to article, I am sorry. It is a "How I am going to" article. This is how I am going to build a platform for my voice using social media.

Social media is like a Swiss army knife. You can use it for a lot of different stuff. You can use Facebook to help improve your relationships with friends and family. Twitter can help you make new friends. Some use social media to promote their business. Others use it to promote themselves. You can use social media for all these reasons.

Unplug Already! - Sight and iDisorders

Why do we find it so hard to disconnect from technology? We know from ample research and first hand experience, we are not good at multitasking. Our attention cannot be focused on multiple targets if we want to absorb the most information from any one of them. So, why do continue trying to be everywhere and do everything, all at once?

My sister likes to chat while we are online using Facebook and that's ok. But, I can't help wondering how many conversations she is juggling or how much of her attention I really have. I know that she often doesn't have my full attention. Many times I am just writing a new blog post or reading another page while I am waiting for "ding..." to look up and see she is continuing our chat. Even so, I'm glad to chat with her because at least, we communicate more than we used to.

Social Media Crisis Management

Many businesses are recognizing the potential of social networks to market their products and services. Using social media is a great way to reach new customers and keep existing customers engaged. Small businesses especially, can engage their local markets very effectively.

A successful social networking campaign can increase the exposure of your brand exponentially through the social multiplier effect. But just as social networking has the awesome ability to increase awareness for your products, it can also  multiply your missteps in the same way. Businesses must be thoughtful, careful and deliberate in their use of social media if they want to avoid mistakes and protect their reputations.

Where In The World Are Your Twitter Followers?

It wasn't until I began to use Twitter that I really started to appreciate the potential of technology to bring people from all around the world closer together. The Internet truly is making the world smaller. Almost immediately after I began using Twitter, I had people from other countries following me.

I never was a social butterfly when it came to online social networking. I was more an advocate of pragmatic business technology. I couldn't understand all the hoopla over Facebook. And I just didn't get Twitter at all. I didn't see how business could benefit from either. Now, it seems like I spend most of my time using Twitter and Facebook to build relationships and promote my business.

Placing Missing Children Alerts on 404 Error Pages

The Not Found Project is a European initiative to make use of “404 – Not Found” error web pages by placing missing child alerts on them. Participating websites install a module that converts their 404 error pages to missing child alerts from a constantly updated database. The project is by Missing Children Europe in cooperation with Child Focus. It is currently only for children reported missing in the European Union.

Please visit their website to learn more about this remarkable idea:

NotFound Project, Making better user of your 404 page.  

When I saw this story, I first thought: "What a great idea! I could do that on my website!"

As I read further and visited the Not Found Project website, I was disappointed to learn this program was only available in Europe. So, I began searching for a program like this, here in the United States. After stumbling around a bit on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website, I found what I was looking for, kind of...

The Best Times to Tweet - Automatically

Wouldn't it be great if you could schedule a day's worth of tweets to post at the best times, automatically throughout the day? You can!  By using Tweriod and Buffer together, you can tweet automatically when your followers are most likely to be online.

The best time to tweet is when your followers are listening. Tweriod can tell you when they are! Tweriod will analyze your follower's tweets and tell you when they are tweeting throughout the day. These are the times when they are most likely to see your tweets. They are online and using twitter.

9 Ways to Rock Twitter

You can be an awesome tweeter! It won't happen overnight but, with a little time and patience, anyone can grow an audience and build rewarding relationships with mentors, peers and followers.

I learned a lot by trial and error but you don't have to do it the hard way. Here are nine of the most useful lessons I learned from my stumbles and from Tweeps that rock twitter.

Twitter - Getting Started

I Tweet You Follow
Like most things I attempt to learn, I dived into the deep end of the Twitter pool and hoped I would start swimming. After swallowing a lot of water, I finally made it to the side of the pool, climbed out, coughed a while and dived back in.

What Is A Browser?

Tech, "Can you open your browser for me?"

User, "My what?"

Tech, "You know,  the big blue e on your desktop."

User, "On my desk?"

Tech, "No. On your computer screen."

The Battle for Smartphone Supremacy

Consumers are relying more on their smartphones to engage with brands, consume content, and make purchases. Find out who’s winning the battle between Android and iPhone, and discover some of the most popular mobile marketing tactics.

Chrome Extensions – 9 More Favorites

As promised, here are another nine great extensions for Google Chrome. Six are tools that should make everyone’s web browsing easier and more productive. Three address a more narrow set of needs, but can be a huge benefit if they address one of yours. Four of them now occupy prime real estate on my toolbar.

Be sure to comment and tell me about your favorites!

RSS - How Simple is Really Simple Syndication?

RSS is really simple! You know what is not simple? Keeping track of all the things you see on the web that you want to read. Using a RSS reader or “aggregator” can simplify your information gathering and help you organize your favorite websites.

Most blogs and websites also publish their posts, articles, and other updates in a standard data format that can be read by RSS readers. This allows anyone to “aggregate” or assemble the news and information they want to read into their own personal “newspaper” or web page.

Down the Rabbit Hole with IE9

"How cheerfully it seems to grin!
      How neatly spreads its claws!
    And welcomes little fishes in
      With gently-smiling jaws!"

~  "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", Lewis Carroll

I am sure my adventures with Internet Explorer 9 have only begun. They all started when a new Twitter follower tweeted that my website looked a little wacky when he opened it with IE9. Of course, I wanted to fix it fast! Well, at least I fixed it. This is a story about how I went about troubleshooting my blog’s wackiness in IE9.

The 9 Most Important Rules for Anti-virus Software

Using multiple layers of security is the best way to protect your computer and information while online. In previous articles we discussed passwords, Internet routers and firewalls as layers of protection. In this article I would like to  talk about another layer that is a critical part of the layered approach to computer security, anti-virus software.

My 9 Favorite Chrome Extensions

Send to Kindle
Sometimes I think a Chrome extension is going to be really useful but after some time on my tool bar, I realize that I am not using it very often .My favorite extensions for Google's browser are the the ones that percolate up to my tool bar and stay. I am always trying out new extensions. Of course, I like the ones that help me finish everyday tasks faster!

Circles of Trust

     Jack, "I mean, can you ever really trust another human being, Greg? "

     Greg, "Sure, I think so."

     Jack, "No. The answer is you cannot. Some people can never be in the circle of trust."
Jack Byrnes to Greg Focker in "Meet The Parents."

The Circles of Trust
Circles of Trust

Your Internet safety and security has several circles of trust. Be careful who you let into your circles. This is the final post for my series, "Cirlces of Trust?"  The final layer of  Internet safety and security - you.

Layering security isn't a new concept. It is a tried and true method of protection. If they scale the cliffs and reach the castle moat, you're still ok. If they get through the alligators in the moat and reach the draw bridge, you're ok. If they get accross the draw bridge and reach the castle gate, your still ok.

If they reach you... On guard! Grab your weapons! Put up your Dukes! Lock up your Princess! Defend your castle!

Prepare and maintain your defenses well. Post many guards around your walls. Be proactive.

  • Be aware. 
  • Learn the risks. 
  • Read about threats. 
  • Don't steal media or software.  
  • Scan your downloaded files.
  • Check out URLs and website certificates. 
  • Don't Email secrets. 
  • Keep your AV, OS and other software updated. 
  • Check your FW and Router configurations.


Sign up with email to get updates from The Practical Computer
and subscriber-only tips and giveaways.

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults

From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)

Advice about common security issues for
non-technical computer users


Circles of Trust - Social Engineering

“Social engineering” is a broad term used to describe many types of confidence fraud on the Internet. There are many social engineering techniques, including phishing and impersonating persons or websites. Learning about social engineering will help you stay alert for threats to your security.

Phishing is using email, instant messaging or other electronic communications in an attempt to trick you into divulging information the scammer can use to further their attack. Never divulge a password, PIN, credit card or Social Security number in an email. Your bank will never ask you to. Most reputable companies follow the best practice for recovering a forgotten password. They will provide you a link to a page on their site that will allow you to reset your password. You should make sure the link connects you to their website by verifying the URL and the website’s security certificate.

Another con involves calling people at work and  claiming to be from IT support or their company’s help desk, to ask you for your password. Don’t give anyone your password over the phone. If they are really from your company’s IT staff they don’t need it, or they can reset it themselves. Some IT departments will call and ask employees for their passwords just to see how may employees fall for this common social engineering con, as part of a security audit, or so that they can determine if they need to do additional security training.

Websites can be impersonated too. A web page can easily be made to look like your bank’s login page. My previous article about website security certificates explains how to verify a sites authenticity and why encryption and certificates are important for transmitting credit card and other sensitive information.

We are all busy nowadays but, it is important to pay attention to what we are doing and not let our impatience rush us into bad decisions. I don’t know how many times I wish that I would have slowed down a little before I hit “send” or “submit!”  Take time to investigate the company, person, webpage, email address or link you are being asked to trust.

Finally, use common sense and continue to stay informed about the risks and best practices for protecting yourself on the Internet. As new security technology and safety measures are being developed, so are new viruses, cons and other threats. One good source of information is your antivirus software company’s website. If you would like to dive a little deeper, there are many blogs dedicated to the subject of security. Veracode Blog’s list of 20 top security blogs is a good place to start.  I am also beginning a new section of The Practical Computer, dedicated to security, but written more for (you guessed it!) the average everyday computer user.  Look for it within the next week or so.


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and subscriber-only tips and giveaways.

For more on Internet Security:

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults

From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)

Advice about common security issues for
non-technical computer users


Circles of Trust - Website Security Certificates

We have warmed up to the ideas of banking and shopping online because we understand the technology a little better and we tend to trust big institutions. But mostly, more and more of us are trusting websites with our financial data because more and more brave pioneers began using this new technology without being eaten or suffering other terrible consequences.

We can feel even better about trusting online banking and shopping if we understand the Internet’s definition of trust. On the Internet, trust is established by an organization’s reputation but, more importantly by their web site’s security certificate.

Do you remember Ralphie’s Ovaltine secret decoder ring? He really, really, really had to have it so he could understand the secret radio message! Of course, Internet encryption is vastly more complex but the basic idea is the same.


HTTP is the default protocol that your browser uses to communicate with web servers. You have probably seen a web address or URL (uniform resource locater) look like this:

You don't have to type the http:// part in your browser's address bar, because it is assumed. Your browser fills this part in for you automatically.

SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer, it does two things:
  1. Encrypts your data, which means no one can see what the website sends to your browser or what your browser sends to the website.
  2. It authenticates the web site. In other words it certifies that the web site is actually owned by the entity that claims to own it.
HTTPS is HTTP plus SSL. It means the web page at that address uses SSL to encrypt data and authenticate the website. Usually the link you use to get to a secured site is programmed with the https:// prefix. Otherwise, you would need to type this part of the address yourself because it is not the browsers default protocol.

When you see the little lock next to a web site’s address in your browser’s address bar, or you see “https” at the beginning of the address, this means that you are using encrypted communications.


A Certificate is a document that a website shows a browser to authenticate its identity. It “certifies” that the website is who it says it is. They are issued by a “Certificate Authority” (CA), a company who will verify for the browser that a particular website’s certificate can be trusted. All web browsers (IE, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) come pre-loaded with security files for CAs whose opinion they will trust.

The website owner must generate a Certificate Signing Request and send it to a trusted CA. The CA then verifies the website’s ownership and “signs” the security certificate. Once issued the web site owner installs the certificate on their web server. It includes owner information like organization name, address, etc. and public and private encryption keys.

Public and Private Keys

A private key is a secret password that is known by only the website and the CA. This is how the CA can vouch for the website. When a web browser requests an encrypted page from the website, it can be certain the website belongs to who it says it belongs to. Otherwise an unscrupulous entity could pose as the site and fool you into revealing your logon credentials to the real site.

Included in the Certificate is a public key. It uses a different password for encryption. The private and public keys are unique to that Certificate. Data encrypted with the private key can only be decrypted with the public key, and vice versa. Only the private key can encrypt data for a particular public key.  That is how you know the website is who it claims to be.

You can view information about a website’s certificate by either clicking on the little lock in your browser’s address bar, or clicking on the CA’s “seal” emblem usually located on the secured web page. Common CA seals will be from companies like Verisign, Thawte and GoDaddy. You can also see what Certificate Authorities your browser trusts by going to your browser’s settings, options or tools menu.

Circles of  Trust

Website security certificates are only one of the Circles of Trust. If we understand each circle a little better, we will feel better about exploring and learning.


Sign up with email to get updates from The Practical Computer
and subscriber-only tips and giveaways.

For more on Internet Security:

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults

From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)

Advice about common security issues for
non-technical computer users


The American Dream

I read an article recently about a study concluding the United States is no longer the leader in upward social mobility. In other words, citizens of a few other countries have better odds of moving from the social and economic class of their parents’ generation into a higher one. Many people were very disappointed to hear this, including myself.

We have seen our jobs leave for cheaper labor overseas. Low wage jobs are no longer the only ones “off shored”. More and more, higher skilled jobs are being moved to other countries as well. Everyone knows our economy is suffering and many Americans are struggling to provide for their families.

Some have proclaimed the American Dream is either dead or on life support. Maybe so, if you believe the American Dream is about driving a Mercedes when your father only drove an Oldsmobile. 

We have seen hundreds of thousands die from AIDS in Africa. Genocide still exists. Despotic rulers and tyrants still exist. Famine is real and found all over the world today. 

Who does the world look to, even plead with, to step up and lead in the good fight? 

Where do parents from all over the world want to send their children to attend college?

How many people around the world have better lives because the United States of America stood up and stepped up?

Generations of Americans have sacrificed to fight tyranny. The American people always believed that, to whom much is given, much is expected. Yes, we need to stand up for each other now, but we also need to do what we have always done - work hard, and reach out to others. Let's not begrudge the success of others around the world. We have given the lives of our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, so that others can have it. Their success IS our success! 

If there is a chance that my son will live to see less hunger and agony in this world and, America had anything to do with it, the real American Dream is alive! I am more proud to be an American today than I have ever been. God Bless America!


Social Networking for Business – 9 Tips for Managing Your Brand and Reputation

Many businesses are recognizing the potential of social networks to market their products and services. They can be an effective way to reach new customers and keep existing customers engaged. Small businesses especially, can engage their local markets very effectively.

A successful social networking campaign can increase the exposure of your brand exponentially through the social multiplier effect.

Each Facebook fan has  "friends" that will see their "likes" and their "friends" have "friends", and so on.

But just as social networking has the awesome ability to increase awareness for your products, it can also  multiply your missteps in the same way. Businesses must be thoughtful, careful and deliberate in their use of social media if they want to avoid mistakes and manage their reputations well.

Following these guidelines will help your business establish and maintain a good reputation while using social networking:

1.)  Post new messages from your a business account, not from your personal account. A separate account for your business will allow you to be yourself with your friends and help you to be more professional with your potential customers.

2.)  If you want to sell products and services to people regardless of their political views, don’t express yours.

3.)  Do not be crude or rude!  Why risk alienating anyone?  Be very careful with attempts at humor. Words on a page, or in an email, cannot convey inflection, body language or facial expressions.

4.)  Do not post to Facebook or Twitter several times a day. You can post to Twitter a little more often than Facebook but, be considerate or your posts will only be annoying.

5.)  If you do not have a blog, start one. A blog article's longer form will give you better ability to define the value of your offerings. A blog can help establish you as an authority in your area of business. A blog will also give you more opportunities to connect with customers on other social networks.

6.)  Keep posts professional and on subject. Your customers will appreciate getting the information they expect from you.

7.)  Do use multiple channels of social networking but, be careful and do not cross business and personal lines between channels. Start and maintain each channel professionally.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and blogging each have unique individual strengths but, when used together in a well planned social media marketing campaign, they can become a powerful advertising strategy. If your professionalism slips on any of them, it may be noticed by your customers that use the others.

8.)  Study how successful businesses similar to yours use social media. If they are using it effectively, they are most likely using several channels in a well orchestrated strategy.

9.)  Engage with your customers. Answer comments and questions. Be social!  After all, that is what your customers expect on a social website. Many business experts believe the opportunity to engage with customers is the real power of social media.

Many of your potential customers may have more experience with social networking than you. They will immediately compare your marketing methods and messages with those of other businesses and judge yours accordingly.

Be professional. 
Well designed and executed social media marketing campaigns will improve your website’s search rankings and bring you more customers.


Circles of Trust - Antivirus Software

Using multiple layers of security is the best way to protect your computer and information while online. In the previous articles of my series "Who Do You Trust?", I have talked about passwords, Internet routers and firewalls as layers of protection. In this article I will talk about another layer that is a critical part of the layered approach to computer security, anti-virus software.

"Antivirus or anti-virus software is software used to prevent, detect and remove malware, such as: computer viruses, adware, backdoors, malicious BHOs, dialers, fraudtools, hijackers, keyloggers, malicious LSPs, rootkits, spyware, trojan horses and worms." - Wikipedia

Are you scared yet? You do want to prevent all this, right? Credit card numbers, bank account numbers,  passwords, and social security numbers are things that everyone should guard carefully for obvious reasons. But, even as they take reasonable precautions to keep their personal information and valuables protected in many ways, some will let their guard down where they are most vulnerable, online.

Even the least damaging virus infections are costly but, the worst case can be devastating! If you are lucky and none of your financial or personal information is stolen, you may lose the use of your computer, your documents, pictures, music or other media and software you have purchased. Time without your computer and time to recreate or restore documents have real costs. Virus removal by a reputable professional can be costly as well. I will save virus removal for a future article but, suffice it to say here, you should get professional help to remove viruses.

One of the more insidious effects of a virus infection is the fear that you didn't get all of them removed or, that you removed them too late and someone already has your info. Yes, I have experienced this fear first hand. I remove viruses and spyware from computers as a professional, and I have removed viruses from my own computers. Believe me when I say, I know it is important to be thorough when cleaning viruses from a computer!

Here are the most important considerations for the antivirus software security layer:

  • Update your computer software often.
  • Use reputable antivirus software that also protects you from spyware.
  • Update your antivirus software automatically and daily
  • Configure your antivirus software for real time protection and scheduled file scanning.
  • Don’t open attachments in email unless you know that they are from a trusted source.
  • Don’t download files from the Internet unless you know that they are from a trusted source.
  • Use your antivirus software to scan email attachments and files downloaded from the Internet before you open them, regardless of the source.
  • Do not use peer to peer file sharing programs. These include programs such as Limewire, Bearshare, Gnutella, Morpheus, Torrents, etc.
  • Don’t download software from Warez , pirate or cracked software websites.

In upcoming articles in the "Who Do You Trust" series, we will discuss social engineering, phishing, and website security certificates.


Sign up with email to get updates from The Practical Computer
and subscriber-only tips and giveaways.

For more on Internet Security:

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults

From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)

Advice about common security issues for
non-technical computer users


9 Tips for Designing a Small Business Network

1:  Plan for the software you will require.

The most important consideration for designing a small business network is the software the business will use. Many businesses use vertical market software that has been developed for and customized to a specific industry's needs. For example: A retail business may need point-of-sale software, or a doctor's office may need medical practice management software. If you want to use a particular software package for your specific industry, you will need to plan your hardware and networking to meet the software's requirements.  The cost of the systems required to support any software package should always be considered when selecting software.

Some vertical market software packages will require a database server and may only work with certain ones. If it will work with different databse servers, you will need to decide which one will fit your budget for hardware, software, and ongoing support and maintenance costs.

2:  Plan for people.

You will need to know how many people need to use which software. You will have to plan for user licenses, storage requirements, network cabling and the devices each employee will require.  You will also need to consider your customer requirements. Will they need to access your website or wireless network? Software licensing can be per server, per user, per device, for a number of concurrent users, or any combination of these.

3:  Plan for devices.

How many desktops will you need to support now and in the near future? Will you support smart phones, tablets or wireless laptops? Will you need network printers, scanners, or fax?  You will need to consider all of these questions in order to plan for network cabling, wireless access points or routers, and network switches.

4:  Plan for remote access and telecommuting.

If you plan on hosting your website on your network or you have employees that will need to securely access sensitive resources on your network remotely, you will want to use a business class firewall and/or VPN access device.

Most small businesses do not host their own websites but, it can be done securely and may be a good solution for integrating a customer service or business application portal website with other locally stored data. This is an area where you will definitely need the help of  an experienced professional! You will need to design for additional layers of security, use a business class firewall and set up alerts and monitoring.

5:  Avoid consumer class hardware and software whenever possible.

Equipment and software designed for consumers is often used by businesses but can have limitations that will end up costing you more than if you started with business class products. Never use Home editions of Windows. They do not offer the security of Windows Professional editions and cannot join Microsoft Network Domains. A good 16 or 24 port, business class network switch will offer more performance and reliability than a hodgepodge of small home networking switches. Business class server hardware can be configured with auto-failover and hot pluggable disks, an important consideration for the next topic, #6.

6: Determine your requirements for systems availability.

Zero downtime will never exist for any system! The dream of many IT executives is 5 nines, or 99.999% systems availability. That only allows for 5.26 minutes of downtime per year! A worthy goal rarely achieved.  High availability is also expensive. However, there are many cost effective ways you can build fault tolerance into your network. To design your systems for the availability you need, you will first need to weigh the cost of downtime, with the cost of preventing it. You will need to plan downtime for maintenance as well.  Maintenance will most likely be performed during non business hours, and you should be able to schedule for most of it. But expect the occasional need for unscheduled maintenance.

It will probably not be feasible to eliminate every single point of failure in your network but, you can plan for recovering all parts of your systems. Hardware is very reliable today but, it does fail. If you centralize all of your data storage onto one computer and require employees to store all business data there, a single employee’s computer going down should not be a catastrophe, especially if you have a spare computer. If you have 10 desktop computers, a fully configured spare would only cause your desktop costs to increase by 10%. That’s less than the cost of many extended warranties and maintenance agreements. PC warranties only cover the hardware. After the failed hardware is repaired, you will be responsible for re-installing all of the software and recovering the data. A spare PC is smart planning. I would also recommend you create disk images for all of your PC workstations and update them regularly. An image can be restored to a new or repaired PC quickly if needed.

Most systems problems are caused by software issues, viruses and accidents.  Regular software updates and virus protection are vital for systems availability.  Accidents will happen.  Backup your data daily. Another good reason to centralize your data storage is that it will enable you to centralize your data backup system as well. This will increase your backup reliability and lower your costs for protecting your business' data.

7: Document document document!

Can you tell I think documenting is important? It will save you money, time and perhaps even your business!  It will also increase your systems availability by reducing maintenance time and the time it takes to recover systems. Did you ever hear that you shouldn't write passwords anywhere? I have and it is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. You cannot repair, troubleshoot or operate any system without knowing or somehow recovering the password. You can reset some things to the "factory default", but "factory default" means no configuration and no data! Document your passwords! Just don't store them on the fridge door in the employee lounge.

Document all of the configuration information you can and always update it when system and configuration changes are made. Documentation should include, IP addresses, computer names, user names, software versions, configuration files, screen shots of configurations, vendor maintenance agreements, warranty information, support phone numbers,  support customer and PIN numbers, software licensing documents and any thing else you can think of that you may possibly need.

I always tell my customers that I want to make it easy for them to fire me! Well, I really don't want it to be too easy but, if they can call a professional who has never seen their systems and they have access to thorough documentation, they can get their systems back up in running in the shortest time possible.

8: Use at least one professional!

You need to find someone who knows networking and business software to help you plan and design your network. A pro can help design a system that will meet your needs today and be able to grow with your business. When I say, use at least one professional, I mean that you may also need a specialist to help you configure your financial or specific business software and train your employees. They may be technology savvy, but they will probably not have the experience needed to plan, design, install and configure your network systems. Hiring an experienced networking professional to help you with your planning, network design and configuration, will help you to keep your IT costs down and your systems up.

9: Business requirements always come first!

Technology professionals can get wrapped up in a lot of detail while planning and designing systems. It is up to the business to ensure that the needs and requirements of the business are considered throughout the planning process. A seasoned technology professional, will prompt, prod, and perhaps even aggravate you, to help them with capacity planning and growth estimates. They will want you to document your business processes and requirements. There is that documentation word again! They will schedule planning and project status meetings, and insist on reviewing plans with you. The technology supports the business effort.  The business always leads the technology effort!


Keep IT Simple: The Small Business Guide to Computers and Networks

Network Know-How: An Essential Guide for the Accidental Admin

Risk-Free Technology: How Small to Medium Businesses Can Stem Huge Losses From Poorly Performing IT Systems

Circles of Trust - Firewalls

After you ensure your passwords are strong and known only to you, you need to ensure your router is properly configured. I discussed these steps in my two previous posts of this series. In this article, we will talk about firewalls, what they are, where and how to use them.

As I have said before, Internet security should be implemented in layers. No one layer offers sufficient protection. Another layer you should always use is a firewall. A firewall is a guard at the door between two networks. It decides who and what goes through the door in both directions. If you have a door connecting your private network or computer with the Internet, you NEED a good door guard!

I will not try and describe how they work in detail. I began to, then realized after typing three paragraphs, that most people don’t need to understand the detail and, there is way too much of it! Technical types can argue about the nuances and exceptions to my explanation, but for most people, it is enough to understand firewalls at a basic level.

Firewalls control which applications on one computer can talk to which applications on another computer. Think of a firewall as a filter that can be configured to block or allow traffic to and from the Internet. You can filter traffic based upon the type (applications, i.e.: ftp, file sharing, etc.), and the source (particular computers or networks). Firewall configurations usually begin by blocking everything. Then exceptions are added as they are required. All firewalls can be configured to allow exceptions, including the firewall that comes with Windows.

Most personal firewalls like the one that comes with Windows, are already configured for the most common uses and block many applications that you do not normally use. The default configuration of Windows Firewall is a great place to start. Just make sure it is turned on! You can access Windows Firewall from Control Panel.

Consider the following list of rules. Traffic coming from the Internet must meet each requirement starting with the first, before it is allowed through to your computer.

Windows Firewall is configured by entering exceptions to its rules for blocking traffic. Most of the time, Windows will configure these exceptions as you require them. For example, if you were to configure Remote Desktop to allow computers to connect to your computer, Windows will add the required exception to its firewall.

You should be protected from computers on the Internet attempting to connect to your computer to use Remote Desktop, by your router. Your computer’s private address is not accessible from the internet directly unless you configure your router to allow it. However, if you want an added layer of security, you can configure the exception rule in Windows Firewall to only allow Remote Desktop from computers on your home network. Remote Desktop will also require your computer’s administrator's user name and password to connect, or another user's credentials that you specifically configured Remote Desktop to allow. I will talk about configuring routers to allow Remote Desktop and other applications from the Internet in a later post.

Even though your router can protect your computer by "hiding" its address from the Internet, you should always use a firewall. You may have a laptop you take with you to another network, or you may need to change your router configuration at some time.

The different layers of security work together to protect you. It is important that each layer is configured and secured properly. Passwords, routers, firewalls, anti-virus anti-spyware software, operating system and software patches and updates, common sense and vigilance are all important layers of security. So far, in the series “Who Do You Trust” we have talked about passwords, routers and firewalls. In my next article, I will write about anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and how you can protect yourself from viruses, spyware and other malware.


Sign up with email to get updates from The Practical Computer
and subscriber-only tips and giveaways.

For more on Internet Security:

From The USA Educational Foundation: Internet Safety For Adults

From Family Online Safety Institute:
Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents (PDF)

Advice about common security issues for
non-technical computer users