Clean up Google Chrome, Reset Search Engine and More

If you use Google Chrome as your web browser of choice, you may wonder what you can do when it starts acting up. Here are a few tips on how to repair, reset or clean up some of the most common issues with the Chrome web browser including increasing the performance of slow loading tabs, resetting a hijacked search engine, blocking excess pop up notifications and more.

Clean Your Cache

Google Chrome stores your temporary internet data in a cache to make regularly visited sites load faster. Over time, the cache can become overloaded. This can slow down the opening of browser tabs and affect your overall browsing performance.

Cleaning the cache is a quick and easy process that only takes a few seconds to accomplish.

First, click the three dots menu button in the top-right corner of Google Chrome, then click Settings. On the left-hand side of the page, click Privacy and security, then choose Clear Browsing Data.

You can now select whether you’d like to clear your browser history, cookies or cached images and files. Check the box for “Cached images and files” and click Clear Data at the bottom right.

Note: Now that you have cleared the cache, sites will load slowly the first time you visit while they build new cached files. But overall browsing performance should be improved.

You can also clear your browser history and cookies by following the same steps. Keep in mind that clearing your cookies means you will have to log back in to any website that was ‘remembering” you, so have your usernames and passwords handy before you take this step!

Stop Notifications and Pop Ups

Some sites won’t work properly with pop ups disabled, but the pop up feature has been abused by advertisers. The most common way to end up with pop ups is to accidentally alow a site to send you updates.

I visit a large number of tech sites, and I often get pop ups asking me to allow them to notify me of new stories or features on their sites.

Clicking Allow means you’re going to get pop ups whenever they have something new they want you to see. To remove these annoying notifications, click the three dots menu button in the top-right corner of Google Chrome, then click Settings. On the left-hand side of the page, click Privacy and security, then choose Site Settings.

Scroll down to the Notifications option.

Here we can see which sites we have Allowed or Blocked for notifications, Scroll down to Allow and find the site or sites you’d like to block notifications from. In my case you can see I have allowed several Google sites like Google Docs, Google Drive, and Google calendar as well as Netflix to send me notifications. Underneath that are two sites I would like to remove- greenmangaming.coim and ibtimes.com.

Removing those pesky notifications is as as easy as clicking the three dots and choosing “Block”.

Reset Search Engine to Google Search

If your searches are suddenly redirecting you to a strange place, you can easily go in and change your default search engine back to Google.

Click the three dots menu button in the top-right corner of Google Chrome, then click Settings. On the left hand side click Search Engine.

Here, the search engine has been changed to eBay. I want to change it back to Google.

Click Manage search engines, find Google in your list, click on the three dots menu to the right and choose Make default. Your search engine should be reset to Google.

Disable Chrome Extensions

Extensions can add new features to Google Chrome but can sometimes dramatically slow down your browsing, especially if you’re running a bunch of them at once. You can disable extensions without uninstalling them to see if performance improves.

Click the three dots menu button in the top-right corner of Google Chrome, then click Settings. Near the bottom, click on Extensions.

You can toggle extensions on or off here. Disabling or removing extensions you don’t need or use anymore will free up memory and improve browser performance.

Reset and Cleanup

When all else fails, you can reset the browser to default settings. This will reset your startup home page and search engine,disable all extensions and clear temporary data like cookies. Your bookmarks, history and saved passwords will not be cleared.

To perform the reset, click the three dots menu button in the top-right corner of Google Chrome, then click Settings. Near the bottom on the left, click on Reset and clean up. then click Reset Settings.

From the same menu, you can also choose Clean up Computer.

Free Unlimited Photo and Video Cloud Storage From Google Photos

If you are like me, you take a lot of photos and videos and don’t have any idea where or how to back them up. In my house, we have two smartphones, two tablets, a Canon DSLR digital camera, a Sony digital video camera, and a GoPro, all creating thousands of digital photos and videos every year. Not to mention the years of old family photos and negatives we had scanned into digital format- gigabytes of photos and videos- that were scattered on different desktops, laptops and external hard drives. There was no easy way for us to backup and access all the photos to one place where we could access them from all our various devices. And the thought of possibly losing them someday due to a broken hard drive or a natural disaster is terrifying.

cloud-devices-pcoverhaul

Google has a complete photo management system that solved the problem for us. It’s easy to use and 100% free. Google Photos offers an unlimited amount of storage, although the file size and is slightly reduced (about 40% or so). The reduction in size does reduce the quality of the photos, but if this is only a backup and not your only copy of the photos it won’t matter much. Most people aren’t printing the vast majority of our digital photos anyway, and you’d have to blow them up larger than 8 x 10 to even notice a difference.

For smartphone users, the does reduce the quality of the photos app is very easy to install, and works equally well for both Android and iPhone. Install the app, and associate it with a Gmail account (or open a new one for free).  If you’re an iPhone user, Google will automatically back up all the photos in your Camera Roll, and all the new photos you take whenever you are in WiFi range. Android users will also be able to select any number or all of their other folders containing photos.

 

Google’s desktop app is now called Google Backup & Sync. Your Desktop, My Documents and My Pictures folders  (and subfolders) are selected by default. You can add as many additional folders as you’d like. The program will calculate how many files you have to back up and how much space they will take up on the server (but don’t worry, there is no size limit).

In my case, I have added two folders from an external drive that has all my photos on it. If you have a large number of photos on your computer and drives, the desktop loader may take days or even weeks to get them all uploaded the first time. 

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The Backup & Sync Desktop App will continue to run in the background until it catches up, and then it will automatically add new photos as you save them. Feel free to turn your computer off or restart it whenever you need- the app will continue where it left off whenever you turn the computer back on. 

In my case, I selected some very large folders and have over 46,000 pending uploads, so it’s bound to take a while.

By logging in to the same gmail account on the app on all your devices- Android phones, iPhones, iPads, Android tablets, Mac computers, Windows computers- the photos and videos from all those devices end up in one Google Photos account. You can access all the photos using the app on any device, anywhere in the world. Easily share individual photos or an entire album with a few clicks.

When sharing a photo or album in the mobile Google Photos App, these are my options. Yours may vary depending on which apps you have installed but clearly Google makes it easy to share your photos.

In my case, I created a new google account just for my family, installed the app on both my wife’s phone and mine and then installed the desktop app. She can now log in from work and see photos I have taken while I am home with the kids during the day. I can also see any photos she takes. And we can both access all those years of old photos that we took with our various digital cameras, as well as all the photos and documents I’ve scanned over the years. Everything backed up in one place, for free, accessible from any device, anywhere, anytime I have signal.

There is a built in photo editor that features a basic set of tools for enhancing your photos. For quick editing, there’s a one button do it all auto-fix setting for photos. Perfect for a quick correction before you post something online.

Using the auto-fix feature, I did a quick edit of this underexposed picture of my son.

In addition to the one click auto-fix, there are manual editing tools that give you more control over your editing.

Instagram style filters are included as well.

Changes you make when editing are applied to the version of the image that’s stored on Google Photos in the cloud, while the original on your device remains untouched. You can also choose to “save a copy” of photo.

Sharing the files is simple and easy.

Just select the file or files you want to share, click on the share icon, and choose how you want to share it. If you want to select a bunch in a row, you don’t have to do them one at a time. Choose the first one, then drag your finger to the last one and Google Photos selects them all.

Share your photos in dozens of ways. Copy the file link for pasting into a message, or share directly into email, app or upload to social media.

The Assistant feature in Google Photos is truly amazing. The app automatically chooses certain photos and works magic with them. The assistant gives you the option to save or delete them.

If photos are similar, the assistant may group them together into a collage.

Most phones have a panorama mode, but it can be tricky to do well and people rarely seem to use it. Google photos will automatically create Panoramas by stitching together individual shots if they line up correctly.

Google Photos created this panorama of Gillette Stadium from the individual shots I took above.

And if you have pictures taken close enough together in time, the Assistant will throw them all together into an animated GIF file. You can save any of these creations right to your account, or delete them with a swipe of your finger.

If the photos are taken a few seconds apart, the GIF may look like this-

 

If you took a series of photos in burst mode, the results are more like a mini movie.

Google Photos also gives you the option of searching by category. Here you can see it has displayed faces of some people it found in my photos. Clicking on a face shows all the other matching faces, and you can easily assign a name to any face you choose.

 

If your photos have names, or are in folders with names, those names are searchable.  But Google Photos goes further by using an algorithm to identify things in your pictures even if they aren’t named. A search for “cat” brought up hundreds of photos of both our current cat and our two previous cats.The search feature gives you several options to find your photos and videos.

The places category is based on location data in the photos themselves. If you don’t have location data turned on, Google will still try to figure out where a photo is taken and put it in your places file. Somewhere like Cinderella’s Castle at DisneyWorld or Times Square in New York would be easy for the system to identify, for example.

The “things” category is a sort of hodgepodge, and isn’t totally accurate, but can be helpful if you only want photos with the Christmas ornaments, for example, and don’t want to sort through every picture you’ve ever taken at Christmas to find them.

At the bottom you can search your videos, as well as recently added photos, your Google Drive, and any of the creations you have saved with the Assistant feature.

Search by a persons face, a pace where photos were taken, or search for “things” found in photos.

Deleted photos can be recovered for 30 days, then they are gone forever. You can also go into your trash and permanently delete them whenever you’d like.

You also have the option to hide files by archiving them, which keeps them from being seen when you scroll through the app without removing them from being backed up. You can view these files by searching ‘archive” .

Google Photos does all of that and more, and will probably continue to add more features over time.  If you only need to back up photos and videos, this may be the solution for you.

Boot Device Not Found Error or Hard Drive Not Detected

This series of error messages- Boot Device Not Found,  Hard Drive not Detected, No Boot Device Found, No Bootable Device,, No Boot Partition Found, Hard Disk Drive Failure, Data error Reading Drive, Blank screen with flashing Cursor, Seek error – Sector not found, Missing Operating System, Operating System Not Found, Primary Hard Disk Failure, Error Loading Operating System, Drive not Ready- all these messages are really saying the same thing. The computer can’t find your operating system so it can’t boot into Windows.

The easiest thing to check is whether the hard drive, or the cable running to the hard drive may have come loose from the motherboard. Connecting the drive or cable snugly to the motherboard will quickly resolve the problem.

The hard drive on the left has a loose cable, the one on the right shows the cable connected snugly.

Virus or malware infections can also damage or remove the Windows boot files, which would give you this message. Sometimes a Windows Update doesn’t install correctly or isn’t finished installing when you restart your computer, and that can prevent Windows from starting too.

Many times, the error results from some type of problem with the hard drive itself. You can read my post about some of those problems here.

The hard drive on the left has a loose cable, the one on the right shows the cable connected snugly.

If you receive any of these messages and want to get your computer working again and recover your data, contact me for an appointment.

Clicking Hard Drives

Probably the most common symptom of a failing hard drive is that distinct clicking noise – sometimes called the click of death.

If you have ever had this problem in the past, chances are it was diagnosed as a hardware failure. And in some cases it is. Unfortunately, I can’t fix this type of problem. Most technicians will ship a drive like this out of state to a lab that can open the drive to solve the problem. I have a local partner with the appropriate tools and experience to fix it for you, saving you lots of time.

How and why do hard drives start clicking?

Traditional IDE and SATA hard drives have lots of little moving parts inside. Your information is stored on magnetic discs arranged in a stack. Imagine a record player, with a big stack of records, and in between each record is a separate needle. That’s exactly how the platters that store your information work inside your hard drive. You ask the computer to read a file, and the platters spin to put the file under the correct head so it can be read. There are motors and other parts in there too, but the point is, any of these parts failing or breaking down is going to cause your hard drive to crash.

Opened hard disk drive, showing the Internal hard disk structure.

The clicking noise is usually caused when one of the heads can’t find the first sector on the drive and it goes into a loop looking for it. If you let the drive run and it clicks for a long period of time, the platter itself can get warped. Since the platters are where your data is, that’s not good. If your drive is clicking and you want to be able to possibly recover data from it, shut it down as soon as possible.

But sometimes, your hardware is functioning exactly the way it should, and the drive is clicking anyway. Newer, large capacity hard drives have a language they use to communicate called micro-code, which is stored on the green circuit board underneath your hard drive (called a PCB board).  If the firmware fails, the drive can do all kinds of strange things, including clicking.

The green circuit board seen on the underside of this hard drive is the PCB board. The little black chips contain the firmware.

If it’s a physical problem, you’re looking at an expensive repair, starting in the $1000 range and running to $1600. The drive needs to be shipped to a facility with a cleanroom so it can be opened without dust and debris damaging the platters. usually the process involves transferring good parts using a donor drive that’s the exact model of your hard drive. Once your drive is working, they can copy the data to a brand new hard drive that you can either purchase from them or ship to them. The donor parts are removed and your damaged hard drive is disposed of properly.

Examining the inside of a hard drive in clean room conditions.

Luckily, if the problem is with the PCB board or the chips that are on the outside board, no cleanroom should be required and the cost is usually less than $500. One place I recommend checking out is 300 Dollar Data Recovery. They can diagnose your drive for you and if the problem does require cleanroom facilities they can even forward it along to one of those companies if you are interested. If you’d be more comfortable, I can handle the arrangements and ship it off to 300 Dollar Data Recovery for you.

Proposal for Garry Landscape & Construction

I’m going to present a range of laptop and docking station options so you have an idea what the features and the pricing would be depending on which way you’d like to go.

Laptops

Laptop option 1 – This laptop has a fast CPU that should be able to handle multitasking like doing book keeping while using the internet and other tasks. The 16GB of RAM is double the recommended amount for Quickbooks 2020, so it should keep your programs running smoothly. For storage, the 1TB SSD hard drive will make booting up and running programs much faster. SSD memory is like the storage in a camera card or your smartphone, with no moving parts so it is incredibly fast. Windows 10 Professional pre-installed.

Laptop option 2 – This laptop has a faster CPU than the 1st laptop, and like the laptop above has 16GB of memory but half the storage with a 512GB SSD. Windows 10 Professional pre-installed.

Laptop option 3 – This is a “renewed” laptop, but it’s a bargain at this price. The CPU is middle of the road but meets the quickbook specs, and it has the same 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD hard drive for storage as the two above laptops. It is a bit smaller with only a 14″ screen, which may not matter if you are planning on connecting it to an external monitor anyway. This also has a DVD drive, which is rare in newer laptops.

Docking Stations

They no longer make the type of docking station that allows you to snap the laptop in- all the modern ones are basically USB hubs with network and video ports, and some of them also have other added functions (like camera card readers).

Here are some docking station options. They all have multiple USB ports and HDMI and DVI for video but you may prefer one style over another.

Monitors

All of these monitors will work for your laptop needs, it’s a matter of what size you prefer and if the style or color of the monitor makes a difference.

Keyboards

You could get an adapter like this, which lets you adjust the angle of the keyboard to 3 different heights and angles, and would allow you to use any keyboard you are comfortable with.

These are flat wireless mouse and keyboard combos you could use with the above adapter.

Or you can get one that is designed to be tilted.

Office

Office 2019 comes in two varieties- the standard desktop version that installs on your computers, which is here –

The other options is a subscription to Office 365, which is a web based version of all the office apps and also lets you install the desktop version. The web apps work by logging in online, similar to the way you will be using Quickbooks. All files created by the online office apps are stored in the cloud in Microsoft Onedrive, so they are accessible from anywhere on any computer by logging into your account. You can pay for the entire year in advance if you prefer. the software will always be up to date, so when office 2021 or 2022 comes out, your subscription is automatically updated.

I believe that handles all the hardware and Office, and I will be working on finding a replacement for the Cisco softphone and something to handle the payroll.

Help, My Hard Drive Failed!

Most of the time you will probably replace a computer before your hard drive stops working, but if you let them run long enough every hard drive will eventually crash, fail or die.

There are 3 types of hard drive failure you have to concerned about.

First, there’s a physical problem with the drive. The most common things that fail are the PCB board (the chips or power connector on the board), but there are dozens of moving parts in a typical IDE or SATA hard drive and they can all fail. I explain this kind of failure in more detail here. Symptoms vary. If there’s certain physical damage you may hear a loud clicking noise. Sometimes if the heads are stuck on the platter you’ll hear more of a buzzing or beeping noise. Or if the power connector is damaged, you may hear nothing- no spinning, no whirring- and the drive may not be seen by Windows at all.

The hard disk (HDD) from the computer lies on a white background

Your hard drive can also crash if it has too many bad sectors. Sectors are small clusters of storage space that hold your data. When a sector goes bad, software on the drive is supposed to try to move the data to a good sector, and mark the bad one so it never gets written to again. In some cases, sectors can become so damaged that the computer can have trouble reading the data, lock up, refuse to boot or crash.

In this example, the hard drive shows problems with the reallocated sectors count, the current pending sectors count and the uncomfortable sectors count. Each variable has exceeded the allowable threshold, so the data on this drive needs to be backed up right away.

CrystalDiskInfo has reported sector problems with this hard drive.

The second possibility is called logical failure. This is not a problem with the physical drive itself but with the file system on the drive.

Imagine your hard drive is a library, and your files are the books on the shelves. Your computer has its own version of a card catalog to find your files, called a File Allocation Table, or FAT. Saving changes to your FAT is one of the things Windows does when we shut down or restart the computer. If the FAT is corrupted, Windows can’t find the files it needs to run the Windows Operating System, and you will be unable to boot your computer.

Just like the books will still be on the shelves in a library without a card catalog, your files should remain intact on your hard drive even with a damaged FAT- your computer just doesn’t know how to find them. This can be caused from a virus infection, system driver conflicts, damaged Windows files, bad Windows updates and other software issues.

If this is the problem, in most cases I can perform a Level 1 data recovery to get your files back. The files can be backed up to a good hard drive or flash drive, then your hard drive can be wiped and reloaded with a fresh version of windows with a new FAT. Then I can transfer your files back over to your new Windows installation. I can backup any user created files (photos, documents, music, videos, etc) but not your programs – I would need the software and licensing information or serial numbers to reload your software.

One of the most common errors you may see when your hard drive has a logical error,

External hard drives are susceptible to physical and logical issues as well, but they also have a potential problem that doesn’t exist in internal hard drives.  External drives are really just an internal hard drive in a fancy enclosure so you can connect them with a cable and move them around from place to place. The enclosure has its own power supply and data connector and sometimes these connectors die or break after dropping the drive. In that case, the hard drive inside may work perfectly and the enclosure may be the issue.

Two different external drives. The one on the left has a larger desktop hard drive inside which requires a dedicated power adapter. The smaller external hard drive on the right contains a laptop drive inside and can be powered through the USB cable.

With all the different ways your hard drive can fail, this is a good time to remind you to always keep an updated backup of your files. Spending $100 on an external hard drive or a cloud backup service can save  $1000 in data recovery fees, so backup, backup and then backup again.

Whatever issue you may be having with your hard drive, or if you need to create a backup plan for your data, feel free to contact me for help.

Malware & Ransomware Facts For 2018

Malware infections are on the rise again. 350,000 new malware samples are produced every day and that number is expected to grow.

43 percent of cyber attacks are aimed at small businessesIt takes most businesses about 197 days to detect a breach on their network.

Small businesses are a major target of malware attacks

Ransomware attacks increased by 36 percent in 2018, totaling more than 6,000 attacks every day. 64 percent of Americans are willing to pay a ransom after becoming victims of ransomware attack, which encourages new attacks. The average amount demanded after a ransomware attack is $1,077, which means ransomware has become a billion dollar business.

If you suspect your computer has a malware infection, please contact me today.

 

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