The Old Desktop Computer May Have Bit The Dust

I’ve always been a pretty savvy tech guy.  My career has been IT.  One thing I learned, though, is that no technology, especially in the PC world, ever stays current.  Thus, I pretty much have gotten in the pattern of keeping computers until they die or are basically unusable.

Around 2004 was the last time I purchased a desktop computer.  At the time, it was a pretty state of the art machine.  It was a Dell Precision 370 workstation,  and it had a really cool graphics card, additional memory, and SATA hard drives, which were pretty fast back then.

It was a great computer and very fast, but as computers do, it started to slow down over time.  I think that happens because the computer does actually slow down as you use it and install more stuff on it, as well as appearing slower simply because the new computers coming out are faster.

I re-installed everything once a few years later, and a couple of years later I added more memory, an upgraded hard drive, and a few other improvements to basically max it out.

We have since inherited a couple of laptops from my parents, the latest of which we use as our primary computer.  Still, the desktop computer was one I used for browsing, random game playing, and as a hookup to all of our external hard drives where we keep multiple copies of any picture, music, document, spreadsheet or other files, and it also acted as a central print server so we could print from other computers we had.

Recently, I was using it and suddenly it freaked out.  The video got crazy.  That’s the only word I can use to describe it.  It got into a weird test pattern.  Powering down and back up got it into a state where it would start up but not really boot up.  It actually did boot up one time and I used it for a couple of hours, but since then, it hasn’t booted up once.  I’ve reseated all the power connections, memory modules, and external cards, but so far that hasn’t worked.  One time it did boot up and the fan started running so fast I thought it was going to blow a hole in the wall behind the computer.

The diagnostic lights on the back of the computer aren’t giving me any really good information.  I may try another video card but I’m not too hopeful.

I think it may be lost.  But eight years for a computer has to be like 120 years old, right?  If it is gone, it definitely had a good life.

It really wouldn’t change anything if we lost it.  I’m pretty sure the hard drives are fine, and I don’t think that we have anything on them anyways of importance.

I guess time will tell what we do.  Right now, we’ll do nothing, but down the line do I:

  • Get another desktop computer, which could probably be had for a couple hundred bucks?
  • Get a laptop computer?  We already have two of those plus I can use the one from work for stuff as well
  • Get one of the latest trends in technology, a tablet device
  • Just scrap it and do nothing.

I guess time will tell if we actually miss the computer in any way that would warrant us having a new one.  For now, we have an older laptop that I’ve started using.  If that were to die as well, we would definitely need to do something, but since that was probably from 2005 or 2006, we hopefully have another year or two where we could scrape by with what we have.

What are your computer habits?  Do you get new computers regularly?  Do you use your computers mainly for browsing?

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Go Look It Up In The Encyclopedia

When you were a kid, did you ever ask a question, only to be told, “Go look it up in the encyclopedia?”

Well, moving forward, that will take a whole new meaning.  After 244 years of publishing, the Encyclopedia Britannica will stop producing their volumes in paper edition.  Instead, their wealth of information will be available electronically. I’m guessing this means via website subscription or other digital media.

When I was a kid, I never had a full set of encyclopedias, though I do remember having a sort of encyclopedia-lite set of three volumes, which would provide an overview of most topics.  If I needed the additional detail that the encyclopedia would require, I had to use whatever was available in our school or city library.

Kind of sad, when you think about it.  I’m sure for many, that set of 26 volumes, or however many it actually ended up being, was an institution in their homes.  Kids today will never have that, unless of course, they want to access an old set with potentially outdated information.

As for me, I remember asking a lot of questions about what certain words meant, so what I remember hearing most often was “Go look it up in the dictionary.”

So far as I can tell, Webster is still publishing those in paper form, so as long as that holds, I’ll at least get to pass that one along to my kids!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

What I Learned From Being Hacked

A few weeks ago, my wife and I both found ourselves on the bad end of some outgoing e-mails.

Both of our primary personal accounts had been hacked.

It was about as mild of a hack as you could ask for.  Everybody on our address lists received a spammy type email from us.

The e-mails actually came from the account as they were in our sent folder.  We both got alerted as we saw messages from each other arrive, followed by a slew of ‘undeliverable’ messages for address book entries that were out of date.

by dampeebe, on Flickr

I think one of our home machines had been compromised somehow, which I’ve since corrected and ensured shouldn’t happen again by making sure to do regular scans, but it taught me a few things:

  • Yahoo stinks – Even though the messages originated from my actual account, the message content and volume should have, in my opinion, triggered something to prevent the outflow of e-mails or at the very least, alerted me to a potential problem.  Outside of a few people e-mailing me back saying “Um, I think you have a problem” nothing ever got done.
  • Hotmail does too – My wife used Hotmail and ditto goes for that.
  • Gmail is pretty awesome – I had a Gmail account that it also happened to, and the reason I think that Yahoo and Hotmail should have prevented the flow of emails and locked the account is because Gmail did exactly that.  They also have a link on all Gmail pages (bottom right) where you can see exactly where and when your account was accessed.  Turns out that someone in Jamaica was the one having fun.  I was able to verify that this was in fact not a welcome login, which hopefully allowed them to flag the location and IP address to avoid other attacks.  After all this, my wife and I both ceased use of our Yahoo and Hotmail accounts, and moved to Gmail
  • Computer security is key – I had gotten lax on making sure that the computers were up to date.  From out of date virus definition files to spyware sensing software that hadn’t been run in over a year, we were not in good shape.  Every machine now updates and scans automatically, and I do a forced scan on every machine monthly.
  • Password updates are key – We hadn’t changed our passwords on e-mail accounts in a long time.  I’m talking years.  I now change all my e-mail and other key passwords monthly.
  • Password differentiation is key – We got lucky in that nothing worse happened.  It could have.  After all this happened, I realized that my password on my e-mail was the same as it was on my credit card account as it was on my bank account.  The usernames were different but only slightly.  This means that a more determined hacker could have likely done some serious damage if they did indeed have actual credentials.  Lucky they didn’t, but I now make sure my passwords are different across sites so that if someone gets their hand on one password, it doesn’t open the door to other access.

Have you been on the wrong end of a hack?  Was your hacker determined or was the damage minimal?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

What Are The Alternatives To Netflix?

I was talking to my wife about Netflix and told her about last weeks announcement that included the statistic that over 800,000 subscribers quit last quarter and how their stock has fallen around 75% since they started messing with their pricing and other ill-advised strategies that have riled up their customers and sent investors panicking.

She asked me “What are people using instead?”

Good question.

Here are some of the Netflix alternatives I can come up with off the top of my head.

  1. Redbox – The kiosks are at many grocery stores and other common shopping places around town.  They’re cheap (though I heard they just raised prices too?) but you’re limited as to whether they have a movie in stock that is of interest to you.  We’ve never used Redbox.
  2. Video store – You could still go to your corner video store.  If this even exists.  Most of the video stores within a five mile radius of our house have closed within the last two years, with the latest victim a Blockbuster.  We haven’t rented a movie from a video store in years.
  3. Cable – We get Starz as part of our Digital cable package.  They have movies On Demand that we sometimes watch reguarly.  You can also ‘rent’ movies from the ‘On Demand’ service as well as Pay-Per-View.  We’ve never done that but many movies are $2.99 so it could be well worth it.
  4. The internet – I’ve watched a few things streaming but only on a laptop or desktop monitor, which is admittedly a step backward if you ask me.  We don’t have our TV hooked up to the Internet, but I know Roku boxes these days are dirt cheap, and you can find shows to watch for free or for a low cost subscription (such as Amazon Prime).  I’ve been tempted but haven’t gone down this path yet.
  5. Library – Our library gets a good selection of videos.  Renting movies from the library has been our main source of substitution since we put our Netflix subscription on hold at the beginning of the year.

I think Netflix blew it because they assumed that once they ‘beat’ Blockbuster, they had cornered the market on video services.  Except, as it turns out, there are more options turning up that customers are happy to deal with.

What options do you use alongside or in place of Netflix?  Did I miss any big ones off my list?

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