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Staff Changes

Tech Lab has had some recent staff changes.

In April, Michelle left Tech Lab after two years of service. We thank her for her dedication and helping to move our company forward. She has been greatly missed and we wish her the best in her future endeavors.

It is with a heavy heart that Tech Lab says farewell to Amanda. She has been with the company almost 9 years and has determined that it is time to make a change. She has invested countless hours in helping Tech Lab establish itself as a premiere technology company in the Milwaukee area and we are sad to see her leave. We wish Amanda the best as she pursues her other passion as a Mary Kay consultant! Thank you for 9 years of service and dedication to our growing company!

Gregg was recently hired as the new Operations Manager. He comes with experience in operations at a previous IT company. He is a great addition and will help us move into the next chapter at Tech Lab.

Smart Home Automation

What is smart home automation? Smart home automation uses technology in your house to automate tasks. As part of how that is set up, you can also control remotely whatever technology is hooked up to it. 

How does it work? Some of the devices connect directly to the Internet, and some of the devices are controlled with infrared or radio frequencies over WiFi. In this way, you can use a tablet or a phone or your voice to control all the devices wired into your smart home. 

What kinds of devices can I hook up to my smart home? Many appliances have now have smart features integrated or you can purchase devices to integrated them. Ideas include: a faucet in a sink, a bathtub, thermostat, oven, microwave, blinds, washers & dryers, garage door, doorbell, lights, door locks, phones, security systems, entertainment systems, sound systems, etc. 

If it has a remote, it can be hooked up.  If it plugs into the wall, it can be hooked up.  Nonetheless, you will often have more options and simpler controls if you purchase smart devices. 

For example, if you have a fan that you plug into the wall with a smart plug, the most that the plug is going to be able to do is turn the fan off and on, even if you have different speed options on the fan.  On the other hand, if you buy a smart fan, you can integrate the fan with the rest of your climate control system, in addition to being able to control the speed. 

What can Tech Lab do for me? 

At Tech Lab, we specialize in interconnecting all of these devices.  Many different companies provide different products for smart home automation.  No one company provides all of the options that are out there.  Each has a different interface that we consolidate into one device. 

We are also an IT company that specializes in network environments. When you have a smart home, you have an in-home Internet network with many smart devices hooked up to it. That can very quickly slow your Internet down to the point that you have a lag when you want something done. It can also be a tempting target for hackers, and we provide security and monitoring to prevent bottlenecks and attacks. If you have these devices installed but are having problems or want more security call Tech Lab at 414-208-4682.

We can install many of these devices, but for some, such as the smart bathroom and the smart kitchen, you will want a specialist to install them. Contact us at Tech Lab to discuss your project to help determine the best plan of action for you at 414-208-4682.

How to Protect Yourself Online

So many options are available to you just to use the internet. Which browser should I use? Do I need an adblocker? What are cookies?

First of all, what browser do you choose? Google Chrome is the most secure and Tech Lab’s recommended browser. Mozilla Firefox and Safari are other reasonably secure options. Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer are less secure. That being said, if you can’t get to a site on Chrome, try Edge or Internet Explorer, though beware because the site is probably sketchy.

Additionally, in each browser you can add extensions to make your Internet experience safer: 

  1. Safe search: If you choose a safe search extension, you will be prevented from clicking on bad links. Odds are, your antivirus adds this to your browser for you, but you can also search extensions to add this.
  2. Ad blocker: This blocks popups. It is less necessary than it once was, but it’s still useful. Be careful of which one you choose, as the wrong one can expose you to risks you don’t want. We recommend uBlock Origin no matter what browser you prefer. 

Your browser itself will warn you sometimes of the security of a site. Sometimes, even without any extensions, it will recommend that you not go to the website. This is your computer trying to protect you. Sometimes it will tell you that a site is not secure. If it tells you that a site is not secure, we recommend not putting in any important information like passwords or bank information. You will also know if a website is secure if you see the lock icon in the left corner of your address bar.

Many browsers will ask to save your information, including your email and address, your credit card information, and passwords. This prevents you from having to type in and remember all this information. This can be a great way to remember a lot of different passwords, but we recommend having another copy somewhere of the passwords as well. That way, if you lose your device, you still have all your passwords. You also need to be sure that if you are saving your credit card information you are using a secure website which you can trust.

A new feature that has been recently added to many browsers is syncing. This feature allows you to see the same websites you were surfing on one device to show up exactly the same on another device like your phone or tablet. If you have saved any passwords or credit card information on that browser, they will also show up on that other device. If you take advantage of this feature (e.g., to save passwords or financial information), make sure that your account has a password on it that you don’t use anywhere else.

If you are experiencing problems connecting to certain websites you can also clear your browsing history, temporary Internet files, saved passwords, and cookies. Deleting cookies prevents companies’ websites from tracking you. You can find these settings in Chrome under More Tools. Be aware that when you delete these items they are gone forever and you cannot get this information back without accessing it another way. If you are not sure how to clear this data, call Tech Lab to help at 414-208-4682.

How to Find Lost Files

Everyone has been there. You are working on a document and then either you forget to save it or can’t find where you saved it to. What do you then? Here are some ideas to consider as you look for your file.

  1. Were you on this computer/device when you saved it?  Generally, if you were not on this device, then it won’t be there.  Consider also if you saved it to a USB or external drive, or the Cloud because these show up differently on a computer.  
  2. Second of all, what program did you save it from?  If you open up that program, file> open, sometimes you will see Open Recent, and you will see it.  If not, just hit open, and it’ll probably show you the file and where you saved it.  Most of these will show you where it last saved to.  Some just show you where it typically saves to.  
  3. If it doesn’t appear there, are you sure you saved it?  A lot of programs will give you a notification, are you sure you want to quit without saving?  Assuming you hit yes, no problem, it should be there.  If you hit no, it won’t be there.  There are some programs, usually older like Notepad that won’t prompt you.  
  4. Let’s talk about where the program tends to save things.  This is all the files that are in your user profile.  If you did this logged in as someone else, you should log in as the other person.  Most programs save in here, though not all.  If you downloaded something from the Internet, it will usually save to Downloads.  If you have a Word document, it will usually save to Documents.  If you are working with pictures, it will usually save to Pictures in this folder.  Sometimes you have to go further into the folder, like iTunes makes a folder in Music.  Be warned, however, that some programs don’t want you to be able to find the files, and so will scramble them so you can’t find them in this way or the following way.  If that’s the case, you should find it in the program though.   
  5. I don’t know what the file is called…  Well, when files are renamed, it should tell you.  But if you know roughly the time you last saved it, then you can sort the files by saved date.  This means that you have to know where it would be saved to, and you have to know about when you saved it.  
  6. If you have no idea where it is, you can run many searches in a variety of places.  You have to come up with a starting place.  On the computer, C: drive searches everywhere on the computer you might have saved it.  If you have additional drives where you might have saved it, you’ll need to run an additional search for each of these.  Network location, mobile devices, various places on the Cloud – all of these will require their own search if you think your file could be hiding out somewhere there.  Be sure to click on Search Tools and make sure that it searches all the subfolders as well.  
  7. Searches usually require some fragment of the name, which means that if you are having trouble finding it, it can be useful to change the title of the search to something else you might have called it or to type the name of the file extension (e.g., .docx for a Microsoft Word file).  Instead of name, you can also search by type of file, date you last saved it, or size.  Another way to widen the search is to search the file contents.  To do this, in Search Tools, click on Advanced Options, and then click on File Contents under In Non-Indexed Locations.  
  8. Doing a search of file contents on the entire computer can be extremely slow, and it often comes up with many, many results.  It’s better to choose a smaller part of the computer if you can and to narrow the results by type of file and modified date as much as you can.  If you are still unable to find it with those parameters, consider widening it a bit or rephrasing.  Consider also looking elsewhere.  
  9. The principle of search works on pretty much every platform.  Your mobile devices and Cloud storage will also have searches, but those searches are unlikely to have the advanced features that search on a computer does.  Still, you can look for advanced search features.  You will still be able to search by name and if you know it, by file extension.  

Still can’t find what you need? TL can find it for you. Call us at 414-208-4682 or contact us here and a technician will reach out to you.

Making a Wish Come True

Tech Lab strives to give back to the community. Several of our staff enjoy working with kids as well. When a partnership formed with Make-A-Wish Wisconsin, Tech Lab was able to fulfill a teenager’s wish which allowed us to achieve both of these goals.

On June 18, Tech Lab employees started their morning with the final preparations to help fulfill a wish of a teenager. Balloons, banners, and spirals were hung and canopy tents were put up in the back. Computer parts were put on display. After a couple of months of planning and purchasing equipment, everything came down to this day.

Nicolas had a wish to be able to build his own computer and Tech Lab worked with him to accomplish this dream of his in partnership with Make-A-Wish Wisconsin.

Just after 10am, Nicolas and his family came to our office. He was greeted by Make-A-Wish volunteers and staff and Tech Lab’s staff. Additionally, three news crews came to capture Nicolas’ big day. After his arrival, Nicolas enjoyed his favorite dessert of a homemade pumpkin pie. He then looked closer at all the components of his new computer and opened them. Nicolas and his family also spoke to the news crews. Finally, he was able to work with Coty to build his own computer from scratch. Nicolas helped put in the graphics card, processor, and other components. Just after lunch, the computer was built and then Windows was installed along with all of the accessories. After 5 hours of working at Tech Lab’s office, everything was packed up and the family went home. Roger ensured everything was set for Nicolas in his home with his brand new computer and completed the fulfillment of his dream. Nicolas told our staff the first game he would play would be Fortnight.

This day was a very special experience for all of our staff. We were honored to give back to the local community in such a way that directly impacted a family and Nicolas’s future goals. Coty said he enjoyed sharing the same interests as Nicolas. He also enjoyed “facilitating an experience that your average person doesn’t get to experience.” Tech Lab’s staff was excited to bring joy to Nicolas on his special day and looks forward to the joy he will bring to others.

Tech Lab plans to partner with Make-A-Wish in the future and fulfill the dreams of more children. If you would like to help fulfill a child’s wish Make-A-Wish Wisconsin is always looking for donations and has a Walk event coming up in August as well.

If you would like to experience building your own computer, this experience is open to the public. Anyone can book one of our technicians to help them build their own computer. Tech Lab will purchase the parts based on the type of computer you would like to have. After the parts arrive, you spend half a day with our technician to learn how computer parts go together and how a computer works. At the end of the half day, you take your brand new computer home. You also have the option of having a technician come to your home afterwards to fully customize your computer with your programs and peripherals. To learn more information about TechKids, click here.

If you didn’t catch the news stories live, you can view them here.

Fox 6

TMJ4

CBS 58

Slow Computer?

Is your computer getting slow? Here are some ideas to help you improve your computer speed.

My computer is slow to start up…

  1. Review your computer for any unwanted startup programs. Be careful when doing this because you don’t want to get rid of needed system files; otherwise, your computer won’t work right. If there are any programs that you know that you don’t need, you can get rid of them. Right click on the bottom right corner and choose Task Manager to help you remove a program from startup.
  2. We recommend running your computer at least once a week. If you do that, the updates won’t all pile up at once but will (usually) be smaller chunks that your computer can run faster. You also need to allow updates to happen and can’t keep it on all the time.
  3. Clean your computer of viruses and malware. Run your antivirus program for a full scan. Make sure your computer is running apps to rid yourself of these things. These things can cause your computer to be slow to start up.
  4. Consider an upgrade. Solid state drives are 2.5 times faster than typical hard drives in startup. Some older computers can’t handle everything that’s needed to start up fast, but an upgrade of RAM will serve them well.

Still having issues?  Rather have someone else do it?  Bring your computer to Tech Lab, and our techs will look into what’s going on with your computer at a deeper level. Call us at 414-208-4682 or contact us.

Your Vision & Screens

May is Healthy Vision Month and we want to address eye problems related to screens.  

According to the American Optometric Association, symptoms of computer vision syndrome are eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. This can be caused by poor lighting, glare on a digital screen, being too close or too far away from the screen, poor posture, air moving past the eyes, and uncorrected vision problems. Most of these problems stop when people stop looking at devices, but some people continue to experience problems. Continuing screen use despite problems can lead to worsening of symptoms.

The American Optometric Association recommends taking a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes in order to protect your eyes.  They additionally recommend resting your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use.  They make apps and programs to remind you to do this.  

To prevent dry eyes, you can blink frequently.  If your eyes feel dry, you can use artificial tears.  You can also use a humidifier.  Contact lens users are more likely to experience these problems.  If you wear contact lens, giving your eyes a break, cleaning your contact lens regularly, and not sleeping in your contact lens will help as well.  

You may also want to get your eyes checked for vision problems.  Yearly eye exams are recommended.  Some glasses and contact lenses filter out the blue light of computer screens that heavily contributes to eye strain.  Even if you don’t need glasses, glasses are made which filter out blue light from screens.  There are additional apps or settings to filter out the blue light on mobile devices and the monitor of your computer may also be able to be adjusted to filter out blue light. 

In order to reduce glare on the screen, you can move the computer screen or use curtains on windows or use lower watt lamps.  Or you can use a screen glare filter.  Also, keep your computer screen clean, as dust and dirt can increase glare.   

Optimally, the computer should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level and 20-28 inches from the eyes.  Keep any work that you have as close to the computer so that your eyes don’t have to switch focus as much.  As a rule of thumb, the larger the monitor, the farther away from the screen you should be.  If you find yourself leaning forward to read, move your face closer to the screen.  If you find yourself leaning backward, move your chair farther away from the screen.  If you find yourself craning or slumping to see the computer, you will want to adjust your viewing angle.   

Finally, blue light exposure can make it difficult to sleep at night. It disrupts our bodies’ natural sleep-wake cycle. It is recommended to turn off screens at least two hours before bed. If you absolutely have to use the screen before bed, turning on night mode (or high contrast mode) and lowering the brightness of the screen will help. These days, many phones automatically adjust the brightness of the screen, so you may have to turn this off, or you may find that the brightness of your screen is already adjusted. Many browsers have extensions that will do this also. Doing these things during the day may also help with eyestrain, but you may find that you have difficulty seeing the screen in the sunlight.

If you need assistance setting up blue light filters on your devices or need other things made accessible on your device, contact Tech Lab at 414-208-4682 or fill out our contact form. If you experience computer vision syndrome, consult your eye doctor.

(The American Optometric Association website was consulted to write this blog post.)

Cloud Storage Solutions

So many options are available for Cloud storage options. How do you choose which one to use? Here are some of the most popular options and their pros and cons.

  • Google Drive: 
    • Size availability: 15GB free with a free Gmail account but paid accounts give greater amounts of space
      • Space is determined by where the document is housed and not by what has been shared with you
      • 15GB free is shared among Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos
    • Resources needed: The Google Drive was traditionally based on the Internet. Now mobile apps exist to access Google Drive. Backup and Sync from Google app allows you to access and use the Google Drive as if it were a drive on your computer and keep your files up to date.
  • Microsoft OneDrive: 
    • Size availability: 5GB free, but paid accounts give greater space, and you can buy more.
    • Resources needed: Windows 10 computers come preloaded with Microsoft OneDrive that you can access as if it were a drive on your computer. Each Microsoft account has its own access to OneDrive. OneDrive is also the default location for any files saved in Microsoft Office. Mobile apps also exist to access OneDrive on other devices.
  • Apple iCloud: 
    • Size availability: 5GB free but can pay for more & plans can be shared with family
    • Resources needed: iPhones and iPads automatically back up to the iCloud through the Apple ID that you used to access them. You can access the iCloud by going to the Settings and then Manage Storage or iCloud Storage directly on your iPhone or iPad. If you access the iCloud through this drive, it acts much like a typical drive on a computer.
  • Dropbox: 
    • Size availability: 2GB free but can pay for or otherwise get access to more when you initially sign up
    • Resources needed: There is a Dropbox app available for mobile devices and for computers. This program acts more like a folder than a drive. You will need a Dropbox account to use it.
  • Amazon Drive: 
    • Size availability: free photo storage for Prime Members, plus 5GB, but you can pay for more space
    • Resources needed: There is an Amazon Photos app and an Amazon Drive app available for mobile devices and for computers. The Amazon Drive app acts much like a folder. The Photos app is more customized for photos.

Before choosing any of these solutions, we highly recommend reading the license agreement.  Dropbox owns anything that is put onto it.  This may make it not the best place to store confidential documents.  

Note on sharing files: When you share a file with someone else, generally this does not count against their space. Users have the ability to download a copy of files or to save a copy to their own account, in which case it would count against their computer’s space. File sharing is a great way to keep access to something you fear you might lose. However, when you save a copy locally the changes are no longer synced in the document.

Internet required 

Because these are Cloud solutions, these generally require the Internet to work properly. It is possible to make the programs available for use offline, but when you make changes offline, these changes will not be reflected in the files online until the device where you have made the changes goes back online.

It is also possible to download the documents from the Cloud as files to your computer. However, if you do this, changes will no longer be synced with the Cloud. You will need to resync them to have your changes saved with others.

If you have questions about which service is best for you and your company call Tech Lab at 414-208-4682 or fill our our contact form and we can work with you to pick the best solution for you.

Cloud Versus Server

What is the purpose of using the Cloud or a server?

First, let’s talk about why you’d want to use the Cloud or servers. The reason is because you want to share information in a secure way across your company or across your employees. E-mail works for this when you have few people and few documents, but the more documents you have and the more employees you have, the more you’ll find out its limitations. Another reason is cloud services or a server give you a place to store your backups.

Why a server?

Servers serve multiple functions in IT.  If you already have one, it’s not difficult to store information on it.  If you need to work off-location and access information stored there, you’ll need a VPN in order to do so.  

If you don’t already have a server however and don’t need it for other IT reasons, I would only use a server for company data storage for security reasons.  A server is much more secure than the Cloud.  It’s a lot harder to get into a server than it is a Cloud account.  If you intend to store a huge amount of data or have many users, you may also find that it’s cheaper to do so on a server.  You can also customize a server much more than you can the Cloud.  

Why the Cloud?

If you have a Microsoft account (e.g., an Office 365 subscription) or a Gmail account, you have access to Cloud storage. It’s called Microsoft OneDrive in Microsoft, and Google Drive in Google. It’s more secure to use team paid accounts – that is, business Office 365 accounts and GSuite accounts – than it is to use unrelated accounts, but you can use either. However, the amount of storage you get with your account is typically limited. Many businesses also don’t have accounts for every one of their employees, which limits its usability.

The Cloud tends to be more reliable than an on-site server. If you don’t have a dedicated IT staff and you need to be up as much as you can, you will find that the Cloud better meets your needs. If you are not doing off-site backups and a natural disaster happens to your location, having your files in the Cloud will be better. The Cloud also allows for real-time file collaboration. 

Could I use both the Cloud and a server?

Absolutely! Often Tech Lab prefers a hybrid approach where both Cloud solutions and onsite solutions are used.

No matter which option you prefer, Tech Lab can work with you to assess your needs and set you up so you can work on documents seamlessly with your team and so you have adequate backups. Call us at 414-208-4682 to schedule your consultation.

What can an IT provider do for Me?

IT providers can offer a wide range of services. Not every provider is going to work for every company. Consider these areas to see which are important to you as you look for your next IT provider.

  1. IT Consulting

This is one of the most important aspects for a business.  IT Consulting is the area where business and IT meet.  An IT consultant will align IT priorities with business needs.  Examples of this may include meeting industry-specific requirements for IT systems, planning for future IT which is customized to your niche and where you want to go with your business, and alerting you of opportunities for IT to advance your business.  A recent example would be how to help you move your business remote when the pandemic hit.

2. Technical Support

This is what most people look for in an IT provider – someone that you can call when you have a problem with your technology.  Problems look different depending on the company but often include fixing broken computers, getting new people set up on computers, and helping individuals with any specific issue they may have with their IT equipment.  A common thing to look at is when is the IT provider available to help and when you need them to be available. 

3. Cybersecurity

When you have your own computer, you are vulnerable to viruses, malware, and hacking.  Most people are familiar with antivirus software for home computers.  In a business, because there is more to lose and more moving pieces, an IT provider will usually put more protections in place.  This includes making sure that there are protections in place on all computers, making sure that employees are using IT systems safely, doing security updates on all systems, and planning systems to avoid problems. 

4. Crisis Planning

Most businesses call their IT provider when there is a problem, as they should.  However, having a plan for what to do when there is a problem will enable you to get back to working sooner.  Planning for problems can help you avoid the problems in the first place and give you more warning about them.  Examples of crisis planning include setting up backups so that you’ll still have your data if your computer dies and what to do when the Internet goes out along with disaster planning recovery as well.

5. IT Architecture

Before you have an IT provider, you make your IT work however you can.  An IT provider, on the other hand, knows all the ways to set up and transform an IT system.  Planning your IT architecture is one of the first tasks a good IT provider will do to make it easier and faster for them to manage your IT systems.  How you collaborate on and share files are things you’ll plan for as well. 

6. IT Administration

IT administration is the day-to-day running of a business IT system.  Making sure that everyone has what they need to do their job on an IT system while keeping the system safe is one of the things that an administrator provides.  IT service providers also plan and execute the changes that are decided to be best for the system in as seamless and painless a way for the company including planning timelines, doing training, and convincing people to be on board.  They will also know who to call if there is a problem and how to talk to them. 

7. IT Asset Management

The longer a company exists, the more technology you will have – and the harder it can be to keep track of.  Some of it may be old and no longer used; what do you do with it?  An IT provider will keep track of all your systems.  They will get rid of old ones for you in a way that protects your data and can help the environment.  They will let you know when systems need upgrades and when to get new equipment and help you source new equipment that fits your needs.

In a company with on-site IT, often these areas are what your IT is doing for you already if you are allowing it.  In a smaller company, your IT provider can fulfill these roles.  IT can span many technologies, and it will depend on the provider what technologies they are able to service (e.g., computers, Internet network, mobile devices, website, phones, printers, etc.). 

If you are currently missing any of these areas from your IT provider or you are in the market for an IT provider for your small business, call Tech Lab at 414-208-4682 to discuss your options of how Tech Lab can work with you.