How To Prepare Your Computer For Recycling Or Donation

computer-recycleIf you have old computers and cell phones lying around, you’re not alone. Many of us hang onto old devices because we don’t know what to do with them. Sure, we want to donate or recycle, but what about the data?

Here’s how to erase your computers, cell phones, and tablets prior to donation or recycling. Don’t forget printers, copiers, and fax machines too! You can find more details on e-waste and e-cycling on the EPA’s web site.

Warning: This article presumes that you’ve either backed up or don’t need the data on the device. Make sure you have everything you need before you do this!

Computers

If you’re recycling you can simply format the drive. Try DBAN for Windows to erase your hard drive thoroughly. Mac users can use their Apple system software utilities.

If you’re donating, presumably you want to present a usable computer with an operating system on it. In that case you’ll want to do a factory reinstall from the original disks or hard drive partition. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for details on how to restore to the original factory software. This turns your computer back into what it was when you bought it, without your personal data.

When in doubt, you can always remove the hard drive and smash it to pieces.

Smart phones and tablets

First, delete all contact, calendar, and other private data. For both tablets and smart phones, perform a factory reset to zap any remaining data. If it’s a phone, remove the SIM card (check your manufacturer’s instructions).

Printers, scanners, copiers, and fax machines

Computers and phones aren’t the only devices that keep a record of your data. Fax machines and copiers do too, and even some printers and scanners (usually the big fancy ones). Check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to perform a power reset or factory reset. Afterwards go into the printer’s configuration settings and make sure no private data remains.

Where can I donate or recycle?

The EPA has a web site with information on where you can recycle or donate your used equipment. Check with your local schools, libraries, and charitable organizations. You never know if your used computer might fill a need right in your own community.

Bear in mind that these techniques may still result in recoverable data, if someone tries hard enough. It’s always best to double-check. You can also reformat multiple times to reduce this risk.

Do you have questions about how to recycle or donate your computer? Ask in the comments, and subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Your Webcam Can Be Used Against You

webcamSmile! Your private life might be streaming live on the Internet!

Did you know hackers use viruses to commandeer the webcam on your computer, tablet, or smart phone? Makes you think about all the places you take these devices, and what they could be recording. In this month’s The Northwest Herald I talk about the dangers of unsecured webcams and microphones:

It’s not just your devices, but those of the people around you as well. Chances are, you’ve had a phone or tablet nearby during a private conversation with a lawyer, a doctor, a friend. What if someone else was watching and listening through that device?

Cameras can be hijacked in a number of ways. Cybercriminals can commandeer them with viruses, then extort you by demanding money for the deletion of potentially embarrassing photos and videos. Sometimes they have the nerve to imitate law enforcement, claiming that you have illegal content on your computer and will go to jail if you don’t pay their fee.

I’m fond of taping over the webcam unless you need to use it regularly – in which case a purse or pocket provides a lovely view of lint, should someone try to sneak a peek. That doesn’t help with microphones, of course, which is why it makes sense to store your mobile devices where they’re less likely to overhear private conversations.

I also strongly recommend to my fellow parents – get the computers and camera-equipped game consoles out of your kids’ bedrooms, NOW. There are some scary new statistics about the increase in predatory sexploitation which will make you want to take a hammer to every camera in the house.

Here are some articles about webcam security you might find interesting:

What are your concerns about webcam and microphone security? Share in the comments!

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

How To Learn Windows Phone 8

lumia-822I recently had the opportunity to test the Nokia Lumia 822 smart phone from Verizon. From my review in The Northwest Herald:

 At 5-by-2.7-by-0.44 inches, the Nokia Lumia 822 is a streamlined yet speedy device. The 4.3-inch, 800×480 WVGA AMOLED display may not be the fanciest, but it boasts sharp colors and good readability even in a brightly lit room. The Lumia 822 uses the 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, and it supports MicroSD cards as well as NFC.

I was particularly interested to find out how consumers are supposed to learn this brand-new version of Windows. Good news, everyone: there’s a convenient Help & Tips section in the menu, which is only a left-swipe away from the home screen. From here you’ll find simple instructions plus videos and other helpful links. Some quality time spent browsing here will save you frustration down the road. You may also find yourself making frequent use of the Back button, as the menus aren’t always intuitive.

In addition to the Help & Tips section on your phone, Microsoft has online resources to help you learn how to use Windows Phone 8. Here are a few to get you started, including Rooms and Groups which I mentioned in my review.

Whatever kind of phone you choose, let me remind you to enable your security settings. Passcode lock, remote data erasure, and Find My Phone are all included with your phone, but you need to set them. Microsoft has a nice primer on how to secure your phone: Microsoft: Tips to help keep my phone secure

Have you tried Windows Phone 8? What do you think? Share in the comments!

 

Hybrid Devices: You Got Smart Phone In My Tablet!

I recently had the opportunity to test-drive the Samsung Galaxy Note II, a hybrid device that lies somewhere between a smart phone and a tablet. Are these hybrid devices just a fad or will they stick around?

From the review I wrote for The Northwest Herald:

The Galaxy Note is a hybrid Android device. At approximately 3.17-by-5.95-by-0.3 inches and weighing 6.44 ounces, it’s large enough that it may feel awkward while making calls. But the 5.5-inch HD Super AMOLED display (1,280 x 720) is so gorgeous that you might not notice. (read more)

These hybrid devices are called by a variety of names, including phablet which I personally think sounds phabulous. They can be powerful devices. The Galaxy Note I tested has enough oomph to run some seriously resource-intensive apps. Hybrids also have larger screens but are still portable enough to fit in a pocket.

I can understand the attraction of a device like the Galaxy Note. There are a lot of things I would do with my smart phone if it were big enough for me to see what I’m doing, and it would be nice not having to schlep a full-sized tablet around.

I’ve seen a lot of tech gadgets flash then fizzle. I remember when everyone and their brother had a Palm Pilot, and I recall Microsoft’s original attempt at a tablet. But the technology’s gotten to the point where the things we wanted to do with those devices is both possible and affordable, like handwriting recognition and the ability to watch video or play games.

So I think phone/tablet hybrids or phablets or whatever you want to call them will stick with us a while. They may not be for everyone but there is a segment of the market that wants a single device to replace the cumbersome smart-phone-plus-tablet combo.

As I reiterated in the column, you need to secure your mobile devices as well. Here are some previous Tech Tips articles on mobile security and more:

Disclaimer: Galaxy Note II provided by Verizon; my opinions remain my own.

Have you tried a hybrid device? Which mobile devices do you prefer? Share in the comments and don’t forget to  subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Holiday Tech Gadgets: How To Choose A Mobile Device Platform

It’s an exciting time in mobile technology as three major vendors vie for our holiday shopping dollars. In this month’s The Northwest Herald I’m discussing the season’s hottest gadgets. From the article:

Mobile technology is hot this holiday season, and you’ll find gadgets to fit every interest and budget. I visited AT&T and Verizon to get the latest news. (read more)

Smart phones and tablets are this year’s top sellers, which begs the question: What’s the difference between the Big Three mobile platforms, iOS, Android, and Windows?

Apple iOS
Runs on: iPhone, iPad, iPod
You may not know iOS by name, but if you’re familiar with an iPhone screen, you know what it looks like. iOS is Apple’s proprietary system for its iDevices. iOS is known for its ease of use and its seamless compatibility across all your iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Google Android
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
When it comes to Android, Google makes the software and other manufacturers like Samsung make the hardware. Android is a powerful and flexible platform but may be too complex for the beginner. There’s also a rampant malware problem on Android because of lax standards in Google’s Marketplace plus a rash of lookalike app stores.

Windows Phone / Windows 8 / Windows RT
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
If you don’t know what to call Windows on mobile devices, you’re not alone. Windows Phone is simple enough; it’s Windows on a phone. Windows RT is Windows 8 on ARM-based tablets, notably Microsoft’s own Surface. However, WinRT is not as flexible as the full Windows 8 on a PC.

How do you know which mobile platform is right for you? It depends on what you’re currently using. If you have a Windows Phone and love it, then it makes sense to stay with Windows for your mobile devices. If you adore your Samsung Galaxy, you’re an Android fan. All platforms offer similar features as far as email, web, and social media. As far as ease of use, I would say iOS is the easiest, followed closely by Windows 8 with Android last because of its complexity

What about other mobile platforms like Blackberry or Symbian? At this point, Blackberry manufacturer RIM is having so many problems they can barely compete – they released Blackberry 10, but the universe barely blinked. Symbian is still around but has been largely supplanted by Windows Phone.

What tech gadgets are you considering for the holidays? Find anything fun and exciting? Share in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

 

 

Dear Microsoft: Why Your Customers Hate Windows 8

The computer industry gives short shrift to small business and home users. This has never been more clear to me than with the introduction of Windows 8, so I wrote this letter to Microsoft on behalf of the Nation of Windows Users.

Dear Microsoft,

We know you’re excited about Windows 8, and you want us to be excited too. And you can’t figure out why we’re all “meh” when you want us to be all “YEAH!”

The Look
We hate Windows 8. You’re forcing a new look on us, when it’s all we can do to keep up with our everyday tasks. Windows 8 may have all sorts of nifty improvements, but that’s no good if it takes us two hours just to figure out how we used to do something.

Don’t make fun of us if we aren’t computer-savvy. Not everybody is a tech guru. For some people, even moving an icon on the desktop is a major change. That’s not our fault. It’s YOUR fault if you don’t understand that some people want to concentrate on what they need to do, rather than trying to figure out how to go about getting it done on an unfamiliar system.

Don’t tell us we’ll learn to love it. We don’t have time. If we have to learn something new, we might as well go over to Apple and see what the fuss is about Macs.

No Start Menu
You spent the last 20 years teaching us the Start menu. Remember how angry we were when you yanked the old Office Toolbar and replaced it with the ugly Ribbon? You told us, “You’ll love it, it’s so much better.”

Well, we don’t, and it isn’t. Some people still haven’t gotten used to it, and haven’t upgraded as a result. You make it much harder for us to want to buy your stuff when you treat us like children who need to have decisions made for us.

Usability Over Security
And when you make us hang onto our old stuff because the new stuff takes too much time and effort to learn, you make it nearly impossible to secure our systems. We’re more concerned about usability than whether or not we’re running vulnerable software. That’s part of the reason there’s such a virus problem on Windows (that, and your sieve-like code).

The Hype
You keep telling us every version of Windows is the best yet. You said Vista was awesome and then you backpedaled because it sucked. Same for Windows ME. You used to tell us the Windows Vista & 7 interface was da bomb but now it’s “dated and cheesy”. Why should we believe you about Windows 8? We know today’s new program will be tomorrow’s garbage. Stop pretending otherwise.

The Tablet Craze
So you’re introducing the Surface tablet. Whoopee. We’ve already got iPads and Androids and other mobile devices. Your Windows Phone may be a technological marvel but it’s got minimal market share.

We know Windows 8 is more about you trying to break into the tablet market to compete with Google and Apple, and less about the people who rely on Windows *gasp* to get actual work done.

In short, we don’t care how fancy your new tablet is, nor how well Windows 8 works on it, if Windows 8 isn’t going to offer us benefits on the PCs we already own.

The Touchy-Swipey Thing
So Windows 8 is all touchy-swipey. No one, least of all you, has any idea how touchy-swipey is going to work with PCs that have keyboards and mice. It may be the wave of the future, but it doesn’t help us get work done. It’s just another annoying change on top of a lot of other annoying changes. Why do we want anything to do with Windows 8 if it’s going to be this much trouble?

No SP2 for Windows 7
And now you’re telling us that you’re not introducing another Service Pack for Windows 7. We’ve been around the block with you a few times and we know this is the death knell for a system you’re trying to obsolete in favor of new products and profits.

Maybe you’re right, Microsoft. Maybe Windows 8 really is the greatest thing in the history of creation… and maybe it’s not. We really want to like you, but we’re jaded after all the promises you’ve broken. You’re going to have to try harder than Windows 8 if you want to win us back.

Sincerely, Your (Former?) Customers

Other Tech Tips articles on Windows 8 you may enjoy:

Want to give Microsoft a piece of your mind over Windows 8? Share in the comments!

Tools To Protect Your Smartphone From Malware

Do you run antivirus on your smartphone? This month in The Northwest Herald, I talk about the exponential increase in malware on smartphones and what you can do to protect yourself. From the article:

Yet if I were to ask if you run antivirus on your phone, you would probably say no. Nobody mentions malware when you buy a phone, they’re too busy extolling the fancy features. All those cool apps are fine until you realize some virus has been silently snooping on your activities.

Here are links to the latest options for mobile antivirus. The available options are changing all the time as new devices and systems are introduced. I’ve also included links to some of my previous Tech Tips articles which can help you secure your smartphone.

Tech Tips articles on smartphone security

 Mobile Antivirus Options

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How To Avoid Malware On Mobile Devices

Android malware rose 1,200% last year. Android represents 59% of smartphones shipped in 2012 Q1. This does not bode well.

Mobile device security is not on the average person’s radar, yet we’re toting these devices everywhere and using them for just about everything. Clearly we can’t afford to be lax.

Here is an easy primer on how you can protect your mobile devices from malware, whether you use an Android, iPhone, iPad, or other device.

Only buy apps from approved stores
Android users in particular are getting kicked in the butt over installing apps from non-Google marketplaces. Perhaps you think you’d never do that, but poisoned search engine results and malicious web pages can trick you into thinking you’re using Google’s marketplace when you’re not. Be careful when installing apps.

Don’t jailbreak your phone
Jailbreaking means working around the manufacturer’s lockouts so you can have more freedom to play with the configuration. It also can brick your phone – as in, turn it into a useless brick – and opens a greater possibility of malware infection. So unless you are a professional geek, don’t do it.

Install antivirus
Mobile antivirus may be rudimentary, but you still want it. Here are some choices:

Apply computer security to mobile devices
You know all those things I keep saying about not clicking links in email, avoiding Facebook scams, and so forth? They apply to your mobile devices, too. That’s the other way mobile malware is spreading, via social media and drive-by download.

Tell your friends
Let the people around you know about the importance of securing their mobile devices. Why not start by forwarding them a link to this article?

How are you protecting your mobile devices? Share in the comments!

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net