Recuva – Remarkable

What a day. In front of me was a computer that was booting to nowhere. It was just a continual loop back to the statement that there were not boot files available. Then, as I got closer, I heard the tell-tale clicking of the hard drive. The good news was that it was still spinning. The bad news was that there were some critically important files on the drive that hadn’t been backed up (no, it wasn’t my drive). Option #1 – call in a data recovery company to recover the data, at a cost of about $1000. Option #2, plug it into an external enclosure and hope. The first couple of computers I plugged the drive into didn’t see it at all. Not looking good. Finally found one that recognized the drive. Looking better. Looked at the properties of the drive. 120 GB drive, 120 GB available. Really not looking good.

Enter Recuva. Recuva is software from the same company that puts out ccleaner, one of my favorite clean-up programs. So, I downloaded Recuva and ran it against the drive. Well, lo and behold, after a couple of hours, I was able to recover the critical files. Not all files were recoverable, but it did a great job, was easy to use, and did I mention that it is free? Some the features of Recua:

Undelete files on your computer

Deleted a file by mistake? Recuva brings lost files on your computer, USB drive, camera or iPod.

Recovery from damaged or formatted disks

Even if you’ve formatted a drive so that it looks blank, Recuva can still find your files on it.

Recover deleted E-Mails

Emptied your email trash and need it back? Recuva’s got you covered with full support for Microsoft Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Windows Live Mail.

Recover deleted iPod music

Deleted music from your iPod or MP3 player? No problem, Recuva will get this back for you along with any additional track data.

Restore unsaved Word documents

Did Microsoft Word crash or did you forget to save that important Word document. No problem with Recuva! As it can intelligently rebuild Word documents from their temporary files.

Quick-start Wizard

If you need your files back right away without fiddling with options, Recuva’s Quick-Start Wizard is the answer.

Deep Scan

Recuva can find most files within a minute. Or, set the Deep Scan to look for more deeply-buried results.

Securely delete files you want to erase forever

Want to protect your deleted files? Recuva also allows you to permanently erase any traces of deleted files.

Portable Version

Take Recuva with you wherever you go with the portable version.

Full OS support and many languages

Recuva has support for every modern version of Windows and 37+ languages.
Download it here –

Mozy vs Carbonite – Off-site Backup Thoughts

In the past, I’ve recommended options for backing up your important files, since we all know that at some point in time, your computer or hard drive is going to die. One of the options I’ve mentioned is backing up your data to an off-site location. The reason for this is that in the event of catastrophe, your files will be available to you from where ever you might be.

Two off-site companies are Mozy and Carbonite. Recently I’ve had to experience the restore capabilities of both companies and I found out that there is a world of difference between the two.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, who was using Carbonite, had to restore her files from the vendor. Several days after the restore started, she was still having problems getting her files. Many calls and e-mails to tech support later, her files were finally recovered. Not having experienced Carbonite before, I wasn’t sure whether this was an isolated incident or not. Well, come to find out that it wasn’t. A couple of months ago, another friend, also a Carbonite user, had to purchase a new computer and went to restore her files from the vendor. Several days later, she was still trying to recover her files from the vendor. Many calls and e-mails later, she had her files but the frustration felt by both individuals was incredible.

Just recently, I lost my hard drive. I use Mozy for backup needs and when I needed to restore my files, I logged onto the site, chose the files/folders to restore, waited an hour while Mozy processed the request, clicked the download button and within a couple of hours, my files were on my new hard drive. It was incredibly easy, pretty quick, and very painless. Additionally, Mozy allows you to duplicate the off-site backup to an external hard drive that is attached to your computer so restoring your files would be even easier.

Having backups of your critical files is extremely important. Being able to restore those files in a timely manner is also important. Before my most recent experience with the restore functions of these two vendors, I’d say that they were pretty comparable. After experiencing the restore functions, I’d say Mozy is the better program hands down. My recommendation – Mozy. If you’re using Carbonite, switch.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your HDTV, Phone, and Camera

One of the things I’m asked quite frequently is how to clean the screens of computers and laptops. There are specials cleaning materials you can purchase at office supply stores that will clean both your computer screens and your TV screens. You can also make your own cleaning solution by mixing distilled water (make sure it’s distilled) and white vinegar in equal proportions into a spray bottle.

To clean your screen, start with a dry, microfiber cloth. Move it in circular motions. Be gentle, but apply slight pressure on particularly stubborn spots.

If that doesn’t clean the screen, use your cleaning solution. Turn off your laptop. Spray the cleaner lightly onto the, not onto the monitor. Wipe as described above, then wait ten minutes before booting up.

You can find additional tips on cleaning your other electronics by clicking on the following link.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your HDTV, Phone, and Camera.

Many Microsoft Products Going Off Support Soon – Security Watch

In the coming months Microsoft will be ending support—including security updates—for a number of important products. If you’ve avoided updating so far, you might want to get moving.

The first event will be April 13, 2010 (like all end-of-support days, a patch Tuesday), when support will end for 2 important configurations: Windows Vista with no service packs a.k.a. Vista RTM and Vista SP0, and Windows XP SP2. If you are running these versions after that April 13 you will no longer receive updates or support. In each case, the answer is obvious: Apply the latest service pack SP2 for Vista, SP3 for XP. Better yet, if you’re running XP, go get a new PC running a secure operating system, such as Windows 7.

On July 13, 2010, Windows 2000 in all service packs will reach the end of its “Extended Support Phase,” meaning no updates anymore. Its not in any of the announcements, but I presume that this implies the end of all support for Internet Explorer 5, currently only supported on Windows 2000.

On the same July date, all editions of Windows Server 2003 will be moving from the Mainstream Support phase to the Extended Support phase. This wont matter to many, perhaps most users, but it signals the end of “no charge” support and Microsoft will no longer be providing new non-security hotfixes. So you’ll need to open a paid support case in order to get support from Microsoft.

via Many Microsoft Products Going Off Support Soon – Security Watch.

Lesson Learned

I went against a few of my computer “thou-shalt-not” rules the other day and, well, I remembered why they are rules. I was reading a newsletter from a very trusted security site and came across an ad they had posted from a company that claims it’s software can:
Clear malware. Fix PC errors. Restore speed & performance. Prevent crashes & stability issues. Enjoy a ‘just like new’ computer – starting now. More Than 1 Million PCs Fixed.

My home computer is a Media Center PC and I’ve had a cable box plugged into it so that I can watch TV shows on it when the other TVs are being used. For several months, I hadn’t been able to run the media program as one of the drivers was bad and I had to disable the program. The only fix seemed to be reformatting the computer and restoring it back to its original state. I really didn’t want to do that since I’d then have to reinstall programs, etc. so I’d just delayed in doing anything at all. That is until I saw this ad, posted on this reliable newsletter…

So, I went to the site, saw what it claimed to be able to do, downloaded the program and ran the free scan. Sure enough, there in the results was what I was hoping to find. Among the listed items that needed to be repaired was the one dealing with the Media Center program. Well, let’s get to it then. First was that minimal $50 charge to run the fix. If it said it could fix my computer issues without me having to reformat and reinstall then that was okay by me. Then, instead of the 30 minute estimate for repair, it was actually closer to 2 hours, but it was going to fix my computer problem.Then, came the reboot and the test. Sure enough, my Media Center program ran great and I was able to watch TV programs again on my computer, and it did seem to be running a little faster. Cool, no harm no foul.

But wait…why won’t my anti-virus program and firewall program start up? Why is my e-mail program not logging in? What’s going on? I placed a call to the anti-virus company and the tech support mentioned that yes, they had someone else call in with the same problem after running this program and there was probably a fix out there someplace for it but they couldn’t help. So, I went online to the website of the company (Reimage) to contact their tech support and found out that tech support was available by e-mail only but have a look at the FAQ section of the website to see if anything there can help with my issue. Of course, there was nothing that did so I sent an e-mail to the company about my problem. Then, I did a little more searching online and found that this company was pretty bad in getting back to people for help. And, when fixes are done with this software, it rolls back a large majority of Microsoft Updates that need to be reinstalled. And, there were a few other things there that probably would have been nice to know before I had run the fix.

While I was waiting for the e-mail reply from tech support that I wasn’t even sure I was going to get, I was able to fix my anti-virus and firewall programs and downloaded and installed the Microsoft updates I needed, and somehow managed to keep my Media Center program running so all is well that ends well. And I did get a reply back from the company the next day with a supposed fix for my new problems but since I had already fixed those problems I didn’t run their fix.

The lesson learned? If I had done my homework before running Reimage’s fix I most likely wouldn’t have purchased it. I always check user reviews before purchasing hardware but for some reason didn’t even think of it before running this software. Actually, I know why I didn’t. I respected the newsletter that had the ad and believed that they too endorsed that company. Turns out they didn’t and the next newsletter stated that they were not going to be putting ads in their newsletters any longer because they don’t want their readers to think they endorse these companies. My recommendation before purchasing anything is to google the item with the word “reviews” after the item name. Read the user reviews since they are mostly honest. Go to the support page of the manufacturer of the item and see what’s posted there. Usually the FAQ’s will have answers to most common questions about the item but if there’s a blog of any sort, check that out as well. Weigh the positives and the minuses of the user reviews and then make a decision on whether the item is for you or not. My lesson re-learned.

Never forget to back up your files ever again. Now it’s easy and automatic.

Seagate® Replica™

* Back up your entire computer automatically.
* Take the work and maintenance out of backup.
* Have easy, instant access to accidentally deleted files.
* Effortless, automatic backup for everything on your PC, including the operating system, programs, and settings.
* No tedious installation, nothing to configure.
* Up to 250GB capacity for single PC and 500 GB for multiple PCs.
* USB 2.0.

Every file is perfectly safe.

From a little mistake to a major catastrophe, your files will always come back.

* Easily retrieve accidentally deleted files.
* Restore your entire system in the event of a PC crash.

No maintenance. No hassle.

There’s nothing to forget to do. So everything is always safe.

* Password protection ensures that only you have access to your computer’s backed up files.
* Replica automatically removes the oldest versions of files to free space.
* Five-year limited warranty.
* Multi-PC version includes a convenient vertically standing dock.

Weighing in at less than a pound and only slightly larger than a pack of cards, this featherweight device manages to pack quite a punch.

The Replica comes with bare-bones software and strikes a good balance between peace of mind and individual-user control. Seagate provides a USB 2.0 cable, recovery guide and recovery CD.

After the hard drive is plugged in, it checks for updates to the Replica software, downloads the most current version and starts mirroring your computer’s content. The startup process is short, taking only a couple of minutes, though the actual backup is a time-gobbling endeavor taking about 4 hours to transfer 130 GB of data. A blue light on the top of the Replica’s case blinks continuously while data is being transferred, making it easy for you to go about your other business while it works in the background. It’s also stealthy for a hard drive, emitting only a quiet whir when working at full speed.


Apple voids warranties over cigarette smoke, users say • The Register

Apple voids warranties over cigarette smoke, users say

No repairs for “biohazard” Macs

By Cade Metz in San Francisco

Posted in PCs & Chips, 22nd November 2009 06:13 GMT

A Mac user claims that Apple voided her warranty and refused to repair her machine because it was “contaminated” with cigarette smoke.

The claim mirrors a similar report from last year, when another user complained that the Jobsian cult wouldn't service a system due to the “health risks of secondhand smoke.”

Both complaints arrive by way of The Consumerist, a site obsessed with consumer empowerment. According to the site, the claims come from separate parts of the country and were reported more than a year apart.

In each case, the site says, an Apple service center agreed to repair a machine before telling the owner repairs were not possible because the system contained some sort of smoke residue. “They informed me that his computer can't be worked on because it’s contaminated,” wrote one woman in a complaint about Apple’s treatment of the iMac her son used.

“When I asked for an explanation, she said he’s a smoker and it’s contaminated with cigarette smoke which they consider a bio-hazard! I checked my Applecare warranty and it says nothing about not honoring warranties if the owner is a smoker. The Applecare representative said they defer to the technician and my son’s computer cannot be fixed at any Apple Service Center due to being listed a bio-hazard.”

Indeed, the warranty does not include mention of either secondhand smoke or biohazards. It does say that the plan does not cover “damage to the covered equipment caused by…extreme environment,” but both Consumerist claims indicate systems failures weren’t necessarily related to smoke residue. One user even says that smoke residue was falsely identified.

Both users appealed directly to the office of Steve Jobs. According to one, the office confirmed that the cult would not repair machines showing signs of smoke residue. “[A person from Jobs’ office] did advise me that nicotine is on OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]’s list of hazardous substances and Apple would not require an employee to repair anything deemed hazardous to their health,” the user said.

Apparently, the Jobsian office worker contacted the Apple Store in question to see about a possible repair – before calling back to say it was out of the question. “[The worker] called me earlier this week to deliver the ‘bad news.’ She said that the computer is beyond economical repair due to tar from cigarette smoke! She said the hard drive is about to fail, the optical drive has failed and it isn’t feasible to repair the computer under the warranty.

“This computer is less than 2 years old! Only one person in my household smokes – one 21 year old college student. She said that I can get it repaired elsewhere at my expense. I asked why my warranty didn’t cover the repair and was told it’s an OSHA violation.”

via Apple voids warranties over cigarette smoke, users say • The Register.

So What Is It Good For? Flash Drives v. External HD

I had someone call me the other day saying that they had plugged their USB thumb drive into their computer and it wasn’t recognized. When they plugged it into another computer, it came back saying that it wasn’t formatted and need to be. They had been storing files on it and it had failed.

I recommended that for backing up files, the better option would be an external USB hard drive. They have much more capacity for storage, have a small footprint, easily fits into the computer bag, and hold up better than thumb drives do.

I’m not knocking flash drives. I have several that I use but for me there is a convenience in having something I can put in my pocket as I’m repairing computers. For most people, who need something to backup and store files on, I wouldn’t recommend it.

External USB drives are very inexpensive, have enough capacity to back up your entire hard disk, often times come with backup software to automate the task and most of the time will last for several years.

Flash drives have a purpose, it’s just not as a backup device. Use an external hard drive.

Exposed: the PC repair shops that rifle through your photos and passwords

Although this took place in the U.K., it happens in the U.S.  as well. It’s very important that before you take your computer to a repair facility, always back up sensitive data and remove it from your laptop before taking it to be repaired (if you can). Clear the cache of log-in details and passwords and always get more than one quote. If you can’t access your files, get referrals from friends or family and only take your computer to a trusted source.

When Sky News launched an undercover investigation into PC repair shops, it turned to PC Pro readers for help with identifying rogue traders. As a result, Sky’s cameras caught technicians scouring through private photos, stealing passwords and over-charging for basic repairs. Here is what they found

How many technicians does it take to fix a laptop? Just one, but if you know where to find him, please let us know.

We’d heard there were serious problems with computer repair shops: faults misdiagnosed, overcharging for work and data deleted. So we put them to the test in order to find out why customers were getting such a raw deal and who the culprits were.

The exercise was simple. Create a simple fault on a laptop, load it with spy software, take it into several repair shops, then sit back and see what happened. Would they arrive at the same diagnosis and charge us a fair price to fix it?

First, Sky News engineers installed professional spy software on a new laptop. Spector Pro was programmed to load on start-up and silently record every ‘event’ that took place. If the mouse was moved, a folder opened or a file looked at, we would know about it. Every event would also trigger a screen snapshot to be taken.

We also installed Digiwatcher. This devious little tool auto-runs on start-up and quietly tells any connected webcam to secretly film whoever is at the machine. The process is invisible and the video file is hidden on the hard drive and password protected.

We then filled the hard drive with the sort of data anyone might have on their PC: holiday photos, curriculum vitae, MP3s, Word documents and log-in details. Our laptop now looked just like any other.

To create the fault, we simply loosened one of the memory chips so Windows wouldn’t load. To get things working again, one needs only push the chip back into the slot and reboot the machine. Any half-way competent engineers should fix it in minutes.

All we needed now was our targets. We teamed up with PC Pro readers to track down shops with the worst reputation and took our laptop into be repaired. We expected poor customer service, but nothing prepared us for the first shop we visited.

Snooping on holiday snaps

Laptop Revival in Hammersmith initially offered us a free diagnosis when we dropped our laptop off. Yet the spy software later revealed something extraordinary. The webcam shows that almost immediately the technician discovers our loose memory chip and clicks it back into position [based on recorded boot and shut down times]. The machine is rebooted and the problem solved.

Yet he then begins browsing through our hard drive. A folder marked ‘Private’ is opened and he flicks through our researcher’s holiday photographs.

He then picks up the phone and calls our researcher. He tells her our motherboard is faulty and will need to be replaced. Usually it costs £130 but he’ll do it for £100. We tell him we’ll think about it and call him tomorrow.

After more snooping, he logs off. But a few hours later, another technician boots our machine. He also begins searching our hard drive until he finds log-in details for our Facebook and Hotmail accounts. With a cackle he removes a memory stick from around his neck, plugs it in and then copies them across.

Most worryingly, when he discovers log-in details for our online bank account, he logs onto the bank’s website and attempts to break into the account. He only fails because the details we created were false.

There were also difficulties with PC World in Brentford. The technician triumphantly diagnosed a faulty motherboard and insisted we needed a new one. We were told unless we paid £230 in advance, we couldn’t have it repaired. We agreed. But when we collected the laptop and got it home, we discovered only a memory chip had been replaced and not the motherboard.

Prepare for repairs

So a word of warning. Always back up sensitive data and remove it from your laptop before taking it to be repaired (if you can). Clear the cache of log-in details and passwords and always get more than one quote.

And bear in mind technicians often place all objects in the world into one of two categories: things that need to be fixed and things that will need to be fixed after they’ve had a few minutes to play with them.

Windows Updates – Were They Installed Without Permission?

I’ve been reading recently that on some computers Microsoft’s updates are happening automatically, even though the user has  set the update settings to download but notify before updating, or even set to check for updates but not download or install without prompting.  Microsoft has mentioned on their blog “Update Notifications and Install-at-Shutdown Behavior” that they “are investigating the reports and trying to clarify with the community exactly what people are experiencing.” They then go on to clarify how the update notifications work.

As I’ve written in the past, certain updates cause more harm than good on some computers so the ability and choose which updates to install and when is important. Certain updates could conflict with programs or hardware and cause computer instability.

A more comprehensive article from on this issue can be found here. In this article, it is mentioned that “One theory to explain the forced installs is that the large number of patches Microsoft released on June 9 overwhelmed the Redmond company’s download servers…The extra demand may have caused some downloads to be incomplete. Incomplete downloads are known to disable the notification icon and possibly the approval dialog that’s supposed to appear during shutdown.”

Something to be aware of if your computer has been giving you problems over the past couple of weeks, it may be because of some unwanted updates.