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27
Apr
2010

7 Tips to Better Tech Support

by Administrator

Network Operation Center - NationalNet Customer ServiceYou’re working on your web site and then for some strange reason FTP stops working. You stop and start your client. You reboot your computer. You make sure you haven’t done anything stupid like forget to put in your password. The more you look, the more you realize that nothing has changed on your end. It is at this point you decide to call tech support but after 15 minutes on the phone, you’re more frustrated than when you started and the problem is nowhere near being solved.

This is an all too often scenario that many times can be avoided by following some simple steps. Below is a list of 7 things you can do to make your support experience not only more successful but maybe…just maybe, more enjoyable.

 

  1. Make sure you’re dealing with a company that provides real support

    Take the time to investigate. Look on their web site. Do they have a support phone number or is it all by email or a web form? What are their hours of support? Is it 8-5 EST M-F or 24/7? If they advertise 24/7 support call the number at 1 AM to see if someone actually answers the phone. If someone does answer the phone, is it just an answering service? If it’s only email support, send an email to see how long it takes them to respond. Google the company to see if you can find reviews on the company as well as trying to find out what other customer’s support experiences have been.

    All of this may seem obvious but many people purchase a product or service without taking support into account. Remember, while you may never have a need to contact support, there may be a time where you need to, and dealing with a company that has decent support is going to be worth its weight in gold at that time.

  2. Have your information ready

    When you call support, they’re going to ask you for information about you to verify that you are the customer (if they do NOT ask you for information, you should be concerned – you don’t want to deal with a company that doesn’t confirm who they are talking to because then anyone could call and do things to your account!). They will ask for your account number as well as other things to confirm your identity, so make sure you have all of that in front of you and ready. By being prepared, you make things go that much quicker.

  3. Be patient

    You’re frustrated because something isn’t working as expected and now you have to stop what you’re doing to get it fixed…but remember, the tech support person is just doing a job. He is going to have to ask questions to determine your issue and how best to solve it. Getting impatient during this verification and question phase doesn’t help anyone. While some of the questions may seem stupid to you (“So, your monitor is black – can you please confirm that it is plugged in”) remember that tech support deals with all sorts of people and not everyone is as intelligent as you, so tech support cannot make any assumptions. At some point, someone has called about his or her monitor having a black screen…only to find out it’s unplugged.

  4. Provide a way to duplicate the problem

    This is especially true when you’re submitting a ticket or email for support. In order for a tech support person to see the problem as well as know they have corrected the problem, they need to duplicate the problem, so always provide the steps required to duplicate the issue. If the issue only happens when you do certain things, then detail those steps in the email or ticket. Provide log in information or any other information that is pertinent.

  5. Provide valid contact information

    This also applies to email or ticket support requests. Don’t assume that the information the company has on file is correct. They may wish to call you to discuss the issue so you should provide a phone number as well as the best time to call so that they can contact you. A good tech support person wants to resolve this as quickly as you do and calling you to discuss helps them do that.

  6. Include pertinent information

    If it’s a software or hardware issue (ie, you’re having a problem with your printer or particular piece of software) be sure to include model numbers and software names and versions as well as any modifications/patches you may have installed. Also include what operating system you are using. Again, don’t assume that the tech support people know exactly what software or hardware you have.

  7. Don’t be afraid to be ignorant

    While you may think you have a good idea what the problem is, if you were positive about what was wrong, you wouldn’t be calling tech support. Explain the issue as detailed above and let them do their job. This is what they do for a living and you should let them do it. There’s no shame in not knowing something (nobody knows everything). Don’t try to impress them with your command of tech terms or try to tell them what you think it is. In fact, by playing a bit dumb, you may learn something as well

Of course, there are never any guarantees that your tech support experience will always be great. After all, these are people just doing a job, and like any company, some employees are better than others. Not all companies have the extreme level of great support that NationalNet prides itself on, but by following a few simple rules and being nice and pleasant, you will find that your issues will be solved much faster with a lower frustration level.

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16
Apr
2010

So, Just How DO I Stream Video On My Website?

by Administrator

Streaming Video IconWe’ve all watched videos on the internet, but what is it that you really need in order to put videos on your website?

Lets start by explaining the difference between the two prevalent ways to serve up video – streaming video and HTTP download video (there is also “progressive downloading” which is a hybrid of streaming and HTTP download, but I see no compelling reason to use or discuss it).

HTTP download requires you to download a fair amount of the video before it will start playing and in some instances depending on the video format, the entire video has to be downloaded before it will play. HTTP download will generally have a certain amount of buffering even on a high-speed internet connection. With HTTP download, the video player can’t fast-forward to parts of the video that haven’t been downloaded yet. We’ve all seen the buffering bar when watching a video (The darker grey line that shows you how much you’ve actually downloaded). Without streaming you can skip ahead in that grey line, but if you go past the end of the grey line, you are forced to wait for the download to catch up. Like most people, including your surfers, I don’t like waiting.

 

Streaming video gives you the ability to view a video starting at a point other than at the beginning as well as skipping around in the video without having to wait. Streaming video will also start playing much faster, usually almost immediately. The obvious advantage is the lack of waiting required to view a video. Another advantage to streaming is the ability to stream live events, or webcast. So, given the obvious advantages to streaming video, we’re going to focus on that in this article

There are three components to streaming a video. First, you must have a server deliver the video. Next, there is the player that receives the video and displays it to the viewer and, of course, you have the video itself. All three of these components need to be set up properly in order to stream the video.

So let’s start with video formats. They are, in no particular order:

     

  1. Windows Media Video
  2. RealMedia
  3. Quicktime
  4. Adobe Flash
  5. H.264

 

Windows Media Video
Advantages:

  • Good compression and quality
  • Wide compatibility with Windows PCs

Disadvantages:

  • Certain older versions of Windows Media Player may experience playback issues
  • Not widely compatible with Mac and Linux
  • WMV doesn’t support user interactivity well

Top

 

 

RealMedia:
Advantages:

  • None that I can think of

Disadvantages:

  • Hardly anyone uses RealPlayer anymore, so you would have a very limited audience.

Top

 

Quicktime:
Advantages:

  • Excellent compression and quality
  • Compatible with all Macs and many PCs

Disadvantages:

  • Cannot contain interactive objects like buttons and textboxes
  • Quicktime Player is not installed by default on PCs

Top

 

Adobe Flash:
Advantages:

  • High Quality
  • Can contain interactive objects
  • Smaller file sizes
  • Most computers have the flash plugin by default

Disadvantages:

  • SWF files are limited to 16,000 frames

Top

 

H.264:
Advantages:

  • Higher quality with smaller file size due to compression

Disadvantages:

  • End user must have Flash Player 9 or higher (which the majority do)

Top

 

The leading contender of video formats currently is flash video (although H.264 is quickly overtaking Flash due to the DVD level quality it can display). The main reason is that the files it creates are smaller then many of the other video codecs like mpeg or divx. It also supports indexing. Indexing is putting fixed points in the video during the encoding process so you can skip around. This is required for streaming so you actually have a place to start later in the file. Some common tools for encoding a file to flash video are ffmpeg and mencoder (both free). Flvtool2 is usually used to add the indexes after the flash file is created. National Net supports all of these tools and can install them at your request. You can also use on2 which is a company that will encode videos for you or a product like Sony Vegas, which is PC based software that allows you to encode your own videos.

Next comes the server. There are two main protocols for delivering the video. HTTP, which is the traditional delivery method of the internet (if you have a website, you’re using HTTP already) and RTMP which was designed specifically for streaming videos. Both are valid ways to stream, but the difference is that HTTP is usually free while RTMP software tends to be more commercialized and sold by companies like Adobe. Some people claim that the RTMP servers function better but I’m not sure I agree. HTTP servers include apache, nginx and lighttpd. They all require that specific modules be installed in order to read the indexes in the file. Wowza and Adobe Flash Server are just two of many choices for setting up an RMTP server. National Net supports all of these servers as well.

Last we have the players themselves. Web pages, despite our best efforts are still primarily static places. One of the few technologies to come out that allows us to interact dynamically in a web page is shockwave flash. It was making flash be able to play video that gave us the players we see today. Once you embed the flash file in your web page, it becomes a video player and most of them understand how to stream a video. This allows you to skip ahead and watch videos until your heart’s content. A few popular players are jwplayer , flvplayer , flowplayer and Adobe’s own flash player. These are all embedded in your pages and the web browser runs them. Setting up the flash player in your web site is not extremely difficult and each of the players mentioned above come with adequate documentation to assist you in setting up the player in your web site.

Remember, if you don’t like waiting for a movie to play, neither do your surfers, so do them a favor and always be sure to use streaming videos where possible.

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29
Mar
2010

How Secure Are You? Tips for Better PC Security

by Administrator

How Secure Are You? Tips For better PC security

The internet is arguably one of the greatest inventions of all time. Literally millions of web sites exist for the purpose of research, entertainment, news and information, socializing and everything in between. It’s made the world a smaller place, and while some might argue the fact, I think a better place. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have the internet at our fingertips.

According to the Internet World Stats that collects its data from Nielson//NetRatings and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as of August 2009 there are 1,733,993,740 people on the Internet world-wide and 227,719,000 people in the United States on the Internet with that number increasing daily. With the boom of the internet, there has been a boom in the number of hackers and bad guys looking for ways to exploit the internet for various reasons. Some hack for profit by taking over web sites and redirecting the traffic. Some create phishing sites to try to steal your identity or credit card information while some hackers hack just for the challenge and the thrill of it. What this means to you is that you have to always be vigilant in your cyber-travels. This article will try to educate you on what you should be on the lookout for and things you can do to ensure you don’t become a victim to these “ne’er do wells” out there.

In today’s article, we’re going to examine this from the desktop level. A future article will examine server security, so stay tuned.

 

Phishing, Spam and other Email Scams

One of the most prevalent hacker schemes is called phishing (pronounced “fishing”). In a phishing scam a hacker will create a copy of a well known site, such as a bank, BestBuy, Ebay or PayPal…it could be any site that takes credit cards or contains credit card or other personal/sensitive information. Once they have created this fake and very authentic looking site, they will send out a mass email that appears to come from that site. That email will try to convince you to either enter your username and password or credit card information under the guise of “we’re updating our records”, “you’ve won a contest” or “there has been a security breach and we need to verify your information to ensure your safety”. Be aware that the real company would never ask you to divulge that information. Should you receive an email like this and you have doubts about its authenticity, you should contact the company via phone to confirm, but under no circumstances should you enter your username/password or any other sensitive information into a web site that you have clicked a link in an email to get to unless you are absolutely sure of the emails origin.

Another prevalent scam is called the 419 or Nigerian scam. This is a variation of the old “Spanish prisoner” scam. The way this works is that you’ll be contacted by someone you never heard of who claims that you either inherited a large sum of money or that this person has a large sum of money to move out of their country and requires your assistance. In exchange for your assistance, they will give you a large cut of this sum of money. Of course, “your assistance” is in paying the scammer a sum of money up front to assist the scammer in getting the money out of the country (claiming he has to bribe officials, pay for transport, etc). The bottom line is that if you are legitimately owed money, you will be contacted via more traditional methods such as a certified letter. Never trust an email from someone promising you a large fortune. The old adage of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” holds true here

PC Security

PC security starts with one of the most simple but often overlooked aspects – a password. I am always surprised at the number of people with a PC that have no password required to log into it. What I usually hear is “I’m the only one that ever uses this PC”…but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If your PC doesn’t have a password, I can almost guarantee that you are NOT the only person using it – you just think you are. The easiest computer in the world to hack is one without a password. Hackers will easily gain access to your PC and use it for all sorts of evil, such as using it to attack web sites or other computers, spreading viruses, sending out spam and more. ALWAYS…ALWAYS (did I mention ALWAYS?) have a password for your PC…the stronger the better. So, what is a strong password and how do you make a strong password? I’m glad you asked. First, it should never be a name or a dictionary word. Hackers use scripts called brute force scripts to try to guess passwords. A brute force script will try literally thousands of username/password combinations from a database to see if one works and if your password is “abcd1234″ I can guarantee you this script will find it, so you might as well not even have a password. You should always use a combination of UPPER case and lower case letters as well as numbers and special characters. One good way to create a very strong password but is easy to remember is to take a 7-8 word phrase (or two shorter phrases) and use the first character from each phrase. Capitalize the first four letters then add one special character to the end. So, for example “how much is that doggy in the window” could be “HMITditw?” No one would ever guess that password but you would easily remember it. You can also substitute numbers and characters for letters – @ could be “a”, $ could be “S”, 3 could be “E” and so on.

Also, don’t write your password and stick it to the bottom of your keyboard. If I were a hacker (fellow office worker, “friend”, etc) who somehow gained physical access to your PC, the FIRST place I would look would be for a postit note with your password on it.

Next, protect your PC from viruses. Make sure you have virus protection installed. AVG offers a free version that has actually worked quite well for me and checks your email and downloads for potential viruses. It also automatically updates itself with the latest virus library. Norton and McAfee are two other companies that offer protection software but there is a fee associated with their products.

Because email is the one application where your permission is not required to send you something, it is the most abused application on your PC. Of course, it’s also the one application you really cannot live without. So, here are some basic rules to help protect your email.

1. Never open an attachment from a sender you do not know. Attachments can contain viruses and all sorts of bad things.

2. You should have at least two email addresses. One that is private for friends, family and business associates. Instruct them to never give this email to anyone. The second one would be used for things that you purchase online or forms you fill out. This allows you to do a couple of things. First, if you receive an email to your “private” email, you can trust it more. Secondly, you can set up more aggressive spam filtering on the secondary email.

3. Never put sensitive information (passwords, credit card numbers, etc) in an email as email is not encrypted and can be intercepted as well. Should you need to provide this information to someone, it’s best to use the old-fashioned method and call them on the phone. Think of it as sending a postcard written in pencil. As the card is delivered it makes numerous stops and can be altered or read by various people.

4. Never reply to a spam email, even to “unsubscribe”. Any sort of response acknowledges that the email address is legitimate and you open yourself up to additional spam. Simply hit the delete button – it takes less than 1 second to hit that delete button.

5. Just like your PC password, always create a strong password for your email accounts.

PC security requires some basic steps and some basic common sense. You lock your house at night and when you leave. You lock your car when you go into the store. Be sure to do everything you can to “lock your PC” and you greatly increase your chances of not falling prey to the hackers of the world.

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16
Mar
2010

When Disaster Strikes

by Administrator

When Disaster Strikes

You’re working along on your desktop when you hear a loud whirring noise and your computer crashes. No big deal, you think to yourself, I’ll just reboot it. You hit the good old reset button and see the BIOS screen flash by but instead of booting up into your operating system, you see a “disk not found” error. Now, the panic starts to set in as you realize that your hard drive has crashed, taking all of your critical data with it…but wait, you DID have a backup, right? No? Well, guess what…say goodbye to your data. All your pictures, music, videos, documents…gone, may they rest in peace.

I’m a bit of a “backup fanatic”.  I actually back up my backups at my home office and I am always surprised at the number of people that will purchase the Binford 9000 PC with 16G RAM, fast DVD, giant drive, state-of-the-art color photo printer and a $200 surge protector but don’t have a single backup of anything.

From external drives to backup services, there are many options for backups so there really isn’t any good reason to NOT back up your computer.  Let’s take a look at some of them.

External Drives.

Go to amazon.com and search for “backup drive” and you’ll be presented with a plethora (yes, I said plethora) of external backup drives from 160 GB to 2 TB and even larger if you have the budget.  Drive pricing is at an all time low and a typical 1 TB external drive can be purchased for less than $100.  Backing up your PC is as simple as plugging in the USB cable to your PC, plugging in the power on the drive and you’re ready to go.  If you’re using Windows 7, you can use the built in backup software under control panel.  If you’re using Mac, you can use Time Machine (my personal favorite) but make sure you purchase a drive that is compatible with a Mac.  Some external drives even come with backup software, but be sure to read the reviews as some of this backup software is quite clunky and not easy to use.  It’s usually best to schedule backups to run when you’re not working on the PC as you may find your PC performance affected when backing up

Online Backup Services

There are many online backup services such as mozy.com or carbonite.com (google “backup services” and you’ll be overwhelmed by the choices) and most are simple to use and inexpensive.  Most of them will provide you with a certain amount of disk space at no charge so you can test them out.  To begin, you sign up for an account, download their client and use that client to determine what to back up.  You pay a small monthly fee that is either flat-rate or  based on the amount of disk space you consume.  While these services work great for the most part, you may find that if you have 500G of data you wish to back up, they may not be best for you.  It’s also a good idea to only use these if you have a good high-speed internet connection, and be aware that the first backup you perform is probably going to take days.  Of course, this means that if you have a disaster and have to restore from this service, it’s going to take days for the restore.

Now, I hear some of you saying “but my PC has a RAID drive array so I’m protected”, but that is false security, as that RAID can fail as well.  Yes, it’s less likely to totally fail but in my 11 years of working with RAIDs, I HAVE seen them totally fail, so even if you have an exotic RAID set up, you should still have backups.

As a webmaster with web sites, you’re counting on your hosting company to back up your server files.  While many hosts do provide backups (as do we), you should always have your own local backup as well.  Even the best backup system can have problems.  Also, what happens when your host goes out of business in the middle of the night, or for some other reason you need your data but don’t wish to get it from your host?  If your web sites are your livelihood, then you owe it to yourself and your business to be taking the proper steps to make sure that you’re not only relying on the hosting company for the backups.

Finally, even the best backup system is ineffective if it’s not working.  Clients fail.  Connections to online services may not connect.  At the very least, you should confirm your backups on a monthly if not weekly basis.  There’s nothing worse than needing to do a restoration only to find out your well designed backup system hasn’t been doing its job.

So, take the time to set up a backup system, as well as ensuring that it’s working correctly.  Test it occasionally by moving some files then restoring them from backups.  When disaster strikes, a well thought-out backup plan can mean the difference between a ruined day OR a ruined business, to just a minor hiccup.

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