Digital TV Converter Box Scams

The FCC has ordered all local over-the-air broadcasts be digital by February 17, 2009. Taking advantage of this, scammers are putting up ads and commercials claiming to offer free digital converter boxes. The FTC should shut down these misleading ads. One ad says:

The United States Deptartment of Commerce is preparing everyone for the switch to digital television by authorizing payment coupons for certified brands of these special TV boxes.

But the government process has us all tied up.

That’s why Universal TechTronics is providing these Miracle ClearView TV boxes immediately to the general public for free for everyone who gets the 5yr. warranty.

There are two problems with this. First, the device is only “free” if you don’t consider the mandatory warranty and shipping of $100.

But the main reason this is bogus is that most Americans don’t need to do anything. If you have satellite or cable TV, you are not affected. And if you are one of the rare Americans that uses a rabbit-ear antenna for over-the-air broadcasts, your TV could have a digital tuner built-in if it was purchased recently.

If you do need a digital converter box, it should cost about $60. You can get a $40 coupon from the federal government that lowers your cost to around $20.

For more on the Digital TV Transition, see the FCC site:

Russian Gang Hijacking PCs

This NY Times article talks about how a gang in a Russian town is using Microsoft administrative tools to infect private and government computers. A few excerpts:

The gang was identified publicly in May by Joe Stewart, director of malware research at SecureWorks, a computer security firm in Atlanta. Mr. Stewart, who has determined that the gang is based in Russia, was able to locate a central program controlling as many as 100,000 infected computers across the Internet.

The system infects PCs with a program known as Coreflood that records keystrokes and steals other information.

“The great thing about this system is that from one computer it is possible to push out updates to all machines in a corporate network at once,” Mr. Stewart said. “This is a useful tool that Microsoft has provided. However, the bad guys said, ‘We’ll just use it to roll out our Trojan to every machine in the network.’ ”

The gang then uses the passwords to access your bank account and transfer out money. Scary stuff.

This only affects Microsoft operating systems, so Macs are safe. In order to protect PCs, I suggest using:

  • hardware firewall (included in routers)
  • Windows Vista or XP with Service Pack 3 (latest)
  • Anti-virus software such as AVG Free or Avast.

If you get infected by something like this Coreflood virus, you should do a complete re-install of your system.

Add RAM for better performance

Adding RAM to a computer can be a cheap and easy way to improve performance.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is the active memory that your computer uses to think about what it is doing. The memory is lost when your computer shuts down. If you don’t have enough memory, the computer will have to also use a swap file on your hard drive which is slower.

Modern computers typically benefit from at least 1GB of RAM. Windows Vista 32-bit version will recognize up to 3.5GB of RAM, while Vista 64-bit and Mac OS X will support virtually as much RAM as you can afford. Adding RAM will especially help if you are running several programs at once or if you are working with large files such as photos and videos.

Recent Install

I just got a Virginia client this Acer laptop from NewEgg on special for $400. The CPU is a decent dual-core, so the real bottleneck on this system is the included 1GB of RAM. Windows Vista needs more RAM than XP. Additional RAM also helps because this laptop shares its RAM for use with the video card. This replacement 2 GB RAM from NewEgg only cost $38. That gives this laptop a noticeable speed boost, making the whole purchase just $455 (with shipping) for an awesome laptop.

SyncBack Backup Software for Windows

Data backups should be done regularly and automatically. SyncBack for Windows does that.

Look for the version SyncBack Freeware V3.2.18.0, which provides everything you should need for free. It can backup to an attached drive, a network drive, or to a remote server via FTP. By backing up to a remote server, you have the added benefit of protecting your data against your local computer system being stolen or destroyed.

SyncBack can be scheduled to run in the background. There are lots of options for backup and directory synronization. SyncBack can even email you if there is a problem.

Be Proactive

People call Tech DC to help after they have lost their data. Often this is because they had a hard drive failure.  We can sometimes recover the data using software such as SpinRite from Steve Gibson. But if you use SyncBack, you can rest easier that you have a backup.

Murky Coffee incident

Murky Coffee here in Arlington, Virginia, has great coffee and is a relaxing place to work on your laptop with free WiFi.

They were recently a small internet sensation when an angry cusomer was denied espresso over ice. The customer blogged about it.  Boing Boing and the Washington Post picked up on the funny story and Murky Coffee has responded on their site here and then here.  It seems that the customer considered espresso over ice to be a god-given right in a coffee shop. Whatever the case, they make good coffee and are worth visiting.