FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

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Computer related:

What do you think of BITLOCKER and FILEVAULT

Actually PRECIOUS LITTLE!   Both are terribly designed, and have huge drawbacks.
Let me explain – both systems are full disk encryption (Bitlocker is Windows FileVault is Mac) and their purpose is if someone swipes your computer they cant login. But they have HUGE down sides. In a PC laptop, if you have a liquid spill and the motherboard is destroyed, replacing it with an identical motherboard will TRIP BITLOCKER which thinks you are on a different computer and you have to enter the 48 digit key to get access to the drive.  And – if you dont have the key – or it was attached to a Microsoft Account you’ve long quit using, your data is gone PERMANENTLY.  Microsoft is unable to help you and your data is gone. Also – if the drive gets a couple of bytes scrambled (power glitch anyone) and those bytes are in the bitlocker unlock/lock code segment – now even with the RIGHT bitlocker 48 digit code it tells you ‘Key has failed to unlock drive’ – and your data is – you guessed it – GONE.  Microsoft when asked confirmed it WAS the right key and their comment was ‘Ooops it should not have done that’.  You satisifed with the response? Neither was the customer.

SOO Get rid of them.  Here is how:

Windows: Click Start, click Control Panel, click System and Security, and then click BitLocker Drive Encryption. Look for the drive on which you want BitLocker Drive Encryption turned off, and click Turn Off BitLocker. A message will be displayed, stating that the drive will be decrypted and that decryption may take some time.   You can keep using the system.  Eventually the status will update to unencrypted.

On Macs: On your Mac, choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click Security & Privacy , then click FileVault. If the lock at the bottom left is locked , click it to unlock the preference pane. Click Turn Off FileVault.

There you go.  Your lives will be much improved with these poor ideas GONE.

Which is better a Mac or a PC?

I get asked this ALL the time – and the truth is – NEITHER.

They are DIFFERENT.  Some better in one case some worse in another.

Macs tend to be ‘easier’ to use.  Thats a plus.  They cost more!  Thats a minus.
PCs tend to run a much wider range of programs (software) Thats a plus!

Do you do Linux Computers?

Absolutely!  We build them all the time.
And a new distro – Kodachi – is VERY much geared to a SECURE PRIVATE linux system – all communications are via VPN and browsing is secure.

Do you purchase computers?

All the time! bring it down I’ll have a look!

Do you run your OWN servers? Why?

Many years ago I was paying $3000 per month for multiple DEDICATED servers in BIG server farms (the second-biggest purveyor of such in the country!) – These were MY servers, unshared with any other customers!
Well, along I went and one day, one of my dedicated servers failed – and all the information was lost!  It was fortunately just a test server – and the loss was unimportant.  But they told me even though I had RAID-5 drives (can lose one drive without data loss!) – all my information was indeed gone.  Well, I said, my OTHER server with you is VERY important – and I need assurance that no such loss can happen to me again!  I paid extra for ‘Bare Metal Disaster Recovery’ for my main server – so that even if the server melted into a puddle the company could replace it and restore my data.

We bumped along for about 9 months or so – and then my MAIN server failed.  They said my drives had failed.  ‘Well, said craig, I’m Happy I paid extra for Bare Metal Disaster Recovery!’ – ‘Mr Baker, they said, it seems the fellow we paid to set that up for you didnt do it right!

AND ALL my data on a main server was lost.  Now – not being an idiot I had over the prior 9 months COPIED all my data off the main server – just in case – and now I told them what I thought of their services and demanded a considerable refund!

EVER SINCE THEN – I have hosted my OWN servers, at the shop, at home, with good HIGH speed internet connections – and I have ever since arranged it so if anything goes wrong I KNOW WHO TO TALK TO (and can look in the mirror to find them!)

S0 – thats why I no longer TRUST those ‘big’ server farms!

Once bit, twice bit.  Third time – no chance!

Do you take interns?

Want to come work with us?  Give me a call at 7034013806.

Whats the dirty little secret about Macbook computers?

They make GREAT Windows computers as well?

Why you ask?  Because much of the problems you run into in the PC world are from driver issues. The wrong driver, or one with bugs in it.
Apple however when you bootcamp Windows on a Macbook CONTROLS COMPLETELY what drivers you receive and therefore eliminates the ‘wrong driver’ or ‘bad driver’ problem!

What do you thnk of the newest Windows?

Windows 11?  Dont touch it.  I’ve been telling folks for 30 years about the Iron Law of Microsoft:

“Any time Microsoft comes up with a New version of their Operating System wait at least ONE year or until the FIRST service pack – where they fix the really HORRIBLE bugs they should never have shipped it with!

What do you think of the Newest Mac OS

Read my comments above about Windows.  It did not used to be this way, and alas, I blame the DEATH of Steve Jobs.  He was a real perfectionist and I don’t think he would have PERMITTED a MacOS release with horrible bugs! But after he passed away, a date on the calendar arrives, and OFF a new MacOS version goes – ready or not!  And the apple customers get to be the guinea pigs!

What do you think of the newest M1 Macbooks?

Well, I’ve played with several. And sold them.  But the 2020 and newer Macs have a REAL limitation – they are ONLY REPAIRABLE BY APPLE!!
If you bring me an older mac (2019 say) and you break the screen, I can swap on another screen from ebay and have you out the door for half apple’s charge!  But on a 2020 the T2 chip recognizes its NOT the screen that shipped originally and simply does not turn on!

The customers are being screwed – and they have not discovered it yet!

What was the first computer you owned?

One of the VERY first computers I ever owned was a NorthStar Horizon – an S100 bus computer and the only one (ever) that came in a walnut wood case! That was in 1977 – and I paid $4000 for the computer -and another $7000 for a Control Data CDC Lark hard drive and SMD controller to talk to it.

The NorthStar was an S100 bus computer.  Pop off the top and there were a number of S100 slots.  You inserted a CPU card, Memory card(s), Peripheral cards (for serial parallel ports) and fancy things like a Battery-backed Clock Chip board that would read the time and date when the computer booted!

The operating system was CP/M (stood for Control Program / Microprocessor) from Digital Research Inc – which was the Microsoft of the 8 bit CPU world!

In the bottom picture at bottom right is the little CDC Lark drive – what I had for years (lost it in a move!) it came with an 8 megabyte FIXED PLATTER and an 8 mb removable cartridge!  Slicker than heck!

In the pic on the right you see inside – with our various slots! and a HUGE LINEAR power supply! That weighed a ton!

How long have you been a programmer?

50 YEARS.  I started very young, programming a Control Data Corporation 6600 supercomputer (for its time!) at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado.

Who have you met in the Computer World? Anyone Famous?

Well actually several.

I had occasion to talk personally to Bill Gates – before he got too big to take phone calls!
I had called Microsoft to complain about the Bugs I was finding in their C compiler – and I asked to talk to ‘someone in Management’  I was put on eterna-hold all set to give up then Bill Gates picked up the line!
Well – you think they fixed the problems I told him about?  you kidding?

I new Phil Katz, who died broke in a hotel room in 2000 at the age of 37.  Important?  Well he invented something you are using EVERY day – and made very little off it.  He invented the ZIP algorithm.  In fact the first ZIPPing software was called PKZIP.EXE  (and you can guess what PK stood for).  Now it is used everywhere in every operating system, and – well – folks helped themselves.  He never believed in Windows – which is why WinZip took off (nothing to do with Phil). Then Zip was incorporated in Windows.  and MacOS.  and Linux.

Jerry Pournelle was a man I met exactly once, and who greatly impacted my life.  He was a very well known Science Fiction author, both in his own right and as part of the Larry Niven- Jerry Pournelle writing team.
I met him at the IBECC conference (the Online Networking Expostion) He made a real impression on me (and shared that he like myself suffered from a nervous stammer when younger).  We talked a lot that evening, and he really got to me! I kept up correspondence for quite a while.  Pournelle was the writer of the ONLY column in Byte magazine worth reading – Chaos Manor where he would expound, dissect, report on new hardware and software (everyone and I mean EVERYONE sent him their new products for review!) This was actually the FIRST Blog – and went on from the 1970’s to the 1990’s.
We emailed on many subjects over the years.  He died on Sept 8, 2017.  Just a few days short of my birthday from a brain tumor. I miss him to this day.
I named my Iron Law of Microsoft after him – it goes “when Microsoft brings out a new version of their operating system you wait at least ONE year or until the first big Service Pack – where they fix the really horrific bugs they should NEVER have shipped it out with!

Ward Christensen — the inventor of Xmodem – which was a packet file transmission system used in all bulletin board systems – and was a mechanism for transferring files between computers – with error detection and correction to handle poor phone line quality!

What is a BBS (Bulletin Board System)

Well – before the WorldWideWeb – many enthusiasts had BBS systems with phone modems attached.
We were organized into Networks and shared files and messages with each other.
One of the best known networks was FidoNet – and yours truly had node 104/28 as Pinecliffe BBS.
I ran it for over 20 years!

From one of the old lists:

303-642-7463
Pinecliffe, CO Pinecliffe, Pinecliffe bbs 1.2gb!, PINECLIFFE BBS, Pinecliffe BBS, CDB Systems, Inc
(1980-1996) Craig Baker Opus , UltraBBS 2.09 Beta, UltraBBS 3.01c
PINECLIFFE BBS, (303)642-7463, Pinecliffe, Colorado since 01/82. Sysop: Craig Baker. Using UltraBBS 2.09 Beta with 14 lines on MS-DOS 80386 with 9500 MB storage. USRobotics at 14400 pbs. No fee. Largest BBS in RockyMtn area. FREE ($20/yr gets 2hrs/day. $100/Lifetime membership.) 60,000 zips. CD-Roms online. Games. Home of CDBREG allows immediate upgrades with credit card. Sysop also a computer store. NightOwl Rom $59. Help us grow. – from BBS Magazine November, 1994

Decoding this – I had a BBS system with 14 phone lines (at the time it was the biggest in Colorado – at least – and one of the earliest.  I also ran my OWN BBS Software – UltraBBS.

I did quite a few seriously NEW things with UltraBBS – I had a chatroom ability so the people on the 14 lines could chat with each other (with each line being its own color). I had a HUGE file storage with almost 10 GIGABYTES!  Can you believe it?  Back then many didnt either.  I had a bit SCSI CD Tower with many Shareware disks installed so you could access a vast array of free or donation based programs and files!
And I had a computer store, CDB Systems!
Later inits development, I tied Pinecliffe BBS to the Unix Usenet network – and I offered my members (membership was free!) access to things like a live UPI newswire.  Various Unix Newsgroups  (where you could read messages from around the planet on various subject?)  One of my favorites was the discussion group regarding Star Trek TNG’s character Wesley Crusher.  It was titled (and accessed) under its unix name ‘alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die’.   you get the idea.
During the first gulf war, communicating with your family members in Kuwait was a real problem and FidoNet created a link between a Kuwaiti BBS system, and a system in Texas – and we all batched up messages, send them to the Fidonet system in Texas and they communicated via a donated phone line to the system in Kuwait that printed out all the messages – one per page – and gave them to the army for distribution!  I had a LOT of feedback from members greatly appreciating this feature!

Can you fix Orphaned Hardware (particularly Macs) and are you Apple Authorized?

Answers YES and NO.  Technically we CANNOT be Apple Authorized because apple does not permit dealers to REPAIR a logic board (by replacing just the few chips that died) they only want you to SWAP the boards!
And if your mac is older than 2012, Apple CANNOT repair it at any price because they have thrown away all the parts they had!
WE can fix such systems.  And we can repair liquid spills, locked logic boards, broken screens, pretty much ANYTHING to do with Macs.  In fact remember our motto – Any problem – ANY computer – Doesn’t matter!


Common computer symptoms and advice:

Symptom – The System CANT BOOT! HELP!!!

Your system gives the dreaded SYSTEM NOT FOUND error

(there are several variations, including with a grinding or clicking sound 🙂

BAD ADVICE: Use your system restore disks or buy a new hard drive!
This is bad advice as above. Best case it works and you lose all your data.
Worst case, it does not work and you lose all your data needlessly.

GOOD ADVICE:There are several things that will lead to the system-cannot-boot.
CMOS messed up or not even set to detect your hard drive.
A failing hard drive – some critical file that used to be readable is no longer so.
A hard drive corrupted by viruses or spyware – your data may be recoverable or not.
Note – that in cases b or c, the system restore disks are GUARANTEED NOT to help you!
We can correct ANY of the above problems of course, and if your data can be saved (and under case (b) or (c) you may be in danger of losing some or all of it – we can do so!
This does NOT mean ‘your hard drive has failed’ – it may simply be scrambled

Symptom – The System IS SLOW!!! What can be causing it?

If your system has slowed down, or if you want to go to one website and wind up at another, or new buttons and new favorites appear that you dont remember adding, or you get constant pop-ups on your desktop, your system is ALMOST CERTAINLY infected with viruses and spyware! Also, if you used to be able to get on the internet, but cannot now, spyware can often do this! You can spend hours talking to your ISP only to be told ‘we dont know whats wrong’

What to do? Most folks get BAD ADVICE at this point:

Bad Advice #1: They are told to reformat their drive, or use the system restore disks that came with the computer
The problem with this (HORRIBLE) advice – is that you lose ALL the information on your computer – the system restore disks usually reset the system to the state it left their factory in. And when the computer left the factory, it did NOT have your word documents, email address books and the like on it. This information is (almost always) much more valuable than the computer itself!

Bad Advice #2: Some screen pops up on your desktop and says “Your computer is infected – click HERE for a free virus/spyware scan” or something similar.
THIS ADVICE is coming to you FROM a spyware or virus program – and if you follow it you will be letting spyware come and live with you. In the words of the Capitol One ad – ‘THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS NO!’

Bad Advice #3: GO OUT AND BUY ANTI-VIRUS/ANTI-SPYWARE SOFTWARE. Or even worse – GO OUT AND BUY A NEW COMPUTER!
Problem is that the BEST anti-virus and anti-spyware software – is FREE! – and folks spend perfectly good $$$$ on inferior products.
ALSO – there is an increasing class of spyware nasties out there that can be detected by various of the anti-virus/spyware programs – and which even offer to delete the nasty for you – but simply cannot do so. It so SO embedded in the Windows architecture that any attempt to delete it by ANY automated program is doomed to failure.
I’ve been cleaning these off for years manually – and it involves literally scrolling through directories and locating suspicious files by eye. NOTHING can automatically take care of this class of critters.
Further, often getting infected with viruses/spyware is a result of what YOU are doing – what websites you visit, what emails you open and the like. I cannot tell you how many times folks have said they bought a new computer then a few months later it was running slow as well!!

GOOD ADVICE: Bring the system on down and we will put it back in good working order. And we will install the best antivirus/antispyware tools out there on your computer to try and protect you from these headaches. AND – if any unusual behaviour continues – we will revisit the issue and if we missed anything we will take care of it as part of THIS repair!

Symptom – The System gives the dreaded BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH- What should I do?

Your system gives the dreaded BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH: (you will recognize it – well heck, you will know it when you see it 🙂

BAD ADVICE: Use your system restore disks
This is bad advice as above. Best case it works and you lose all your data.Worst case, it does not work and you lose all your data needlessly.

GOOD ADVICE: There are several things that will lead to the blue screen of death.a) A messed up device driver – one that has been corrupted or is wrong for your system.b) A failing hard drive – some critical file that used to be readable is no longer so.c) Faulty memory or an overheating CPU or similar hardware issue.d) A spyware or virus that has corrupted a system file.
Note – that in cases b or c, the system restore disks are GUARANTEED NOT to help you!
We can correct ANY of the above problems of course, and if your data can be saved (and under case (b) you may be in danger of losing some or all of it – we can do so!

Symptom – The FBI has found me! What should I do?

FBI
BAD ADVICE: ‘Just pay them and you will be good’
GOOD ADVICE: The FBI Virus is just a BLUFF – in fact do you really think the FBI takes payment through Walmart? Didnt think so!

Symptom – CRYPTOLOCKER/CRYPTOWALL – RANSOMWARE – What can I do?

CRYPTOLOCKERThere are several variants of the CRYPTOLOCKER and CRYPTOWALL: These are BAD NEWS!

BAD ADVICE: ‘Just clean off the virus and you will be good’
GOOD ADVICE: Bring us your system.  Quite a few of the Ransomware strains have been broken – BitLocker, CoinVault, TeslaCrypt to name a few – and we can decrypt them without paying the ransom!
If we determine it IS currently unbreakable, you need to decide what your files are worth. THEY ARE INDEED ENCRYPTED (unlike the FBI Virus above which is just a bluff! You need to pay them in BitCoin to get the decrypter tool to get your files back.  We can do this for you – entirely – and get the BitCoin and handle the decryption – but there is NO WAY to get the files back without paying alas!
Bring it by the shop and we will assess the situation!

Symptom – THE CLICK OF DEATH! What should I do?

Your system cant boot and you hear CLICK CLICK CLICK. And see messages like ‘NO BOOT DEVICE’
Or – you attach your external hard drive to back up and hear CLICK CLICK CLICK!

BAD ADVICE: Put the drive in the Freezer. Maybe you get lucky!
GOOD ADVICE:
Alas this is a serious problem. Your drive has suffered an internal failure – and needs to visit a clean room.

By the way there ARE no clean rooms in the DC Area. This stunned me when I moved out here originally – as there are three of them within 15 minutes of my Longmont Colorado store!

What is a clean room?
Its a special super clean environment where it is safe to disassemble and reassemble hard drives. They cost about a million dollars to build one – special micron filters to trap dust, and negative air flow to ensure that air from the outside does NOT enter the clean room.

This is because opening your disk drive to the outside exposes it to dust particles that will contaminate the drive and within about 30 seconds ensure your data is lost forever!

What are the costs?
Its not cheap. It is usually in the 800-1000 price range. But I have a deal with the folks I ship drives to – if there is NO data recovered, there is NO charge! And they are able to recover the data about 95% of the time!


Not so computer related:

How long have you been in computers. REALLY??

I’ve owned my computer stores for almost 50 years. I started out in Colorado where I was for about 35 years having 3 computer stores – before moving to the DC Area.

Originally I was running and  fixing minicomputers – the DEC PDP 11 series. DEC OWNED the minicomputer market for many years and many government agencies used them!

DEC-4A brand name that was HUGE in its time – From 1957 to 1992 it was headquartered in Maynard, Mass

 

db_decPDP11-343This what an 11/34 setup looked like – with tape drive on the left

 

 

 

 

RK07-plattersAn RK-7 Disk storage cartridge!  The heart of any PDP.
It held a whopping 5 MEGABYTES of information an was 14inches across!

 

Ibm_pc_5150Well – then along came the IBM PC.  I sold these NEW for $2500 a unit.  I did no work.  NO hard drive to load (it had only two floppy drives!).
Just dropped a copy of DOS 2.1 on it and off it went.  I made $800 profit PER COMPUTER – and I had the BEST price in town.
Naturally these days – nothing like it!

Then came the PC-XT.  and the PC-AT.  and then the PS2 (huge mistake).  the 386.  the 486.  the Pentium Chip (wow what a leap!)

I’ve been there for them all.  Sold them, fixed them.  From the late 1970s to today.  And believe it or not I still love them!

In the early PC years I had my brother Keith as a partner (were were called CDB Systems – Keith did the orginal logo).
We were knicknamed the Baker Brothers.

Check out my site www.cdbsystems.com

GEEZ I hear you say. That looks CRAPPY.  Well – I created it 35 YEARS GO.  There WERE no web development tool back then!

I keep it alive for historical interest.

Whats your strangest computer sale?

One day, MANY years ago – just before Christmas – a new customer appeared, and ordered a $10,000 computer system.
These days you cannot do that. Just try. Back then you could order a 23in CRT Tube monitor (took two people to move it) as well
as a spanking fast 80486 computer.
He gave me a check. Check cleared.
Then a year went by.

… did I mention he NEVER PICKED UP the computer?

My employees and I were mystified as the months went past. Phone calls went unanswered. Messages were not returned. Was he in jail? Dead? what do we do with the nice pile of computer parts that is collection dust – not to mention depreciating – in the corner?

Then – out of the blue a lady called.
“Is the computer ready?”

I was trying to place the customer and the computer then it hit me like a ton of bricks – THAT computer! And we had used various of its parts in the intervening months – so it was no longer complete!
Well – I said – tap dancing as best I could – I have some of it in storage it will take a week or so to get it all back out and hooked up and tested!
“Fine” she said -and off she went.
When she came back a few weeks later and I was helping her load it in the car – I just had to ask. “Why did we never hear anything for a year???”

Now I have to stop the story and ask if you have watched the Jurassic Park films. Yes? Well in the middle film there is a Paleontologist who wears a floppy hat – who gets eaten by a dinosaur.

THAT was my customer.

He was the paleontological consultant to Spielberg on all 3 films and they liked him so much they got a character actor that kind of looked like him dressed him up the same way – and had him get eaten. A mark of affection I believe!

He purchased the computer because his accountant told him he needed a $10000 tax write off by the end of the year – and as soon as he bought the computer he headed off to Outer Mongolia to hunt dinosaur eggs. Oddly the phone service out there is not so hot!

An Early Project – involvng CDs! Did I mention it cost $10,000 to create 10 CDs?

I had a professor Dr Azmi come to me with a project in the 80s – to take magnetic tapes and punch cards – and create a CD based program that indexed the Hadith.

These are early stories, from about 600-800AD that were passed down orally at first.  They concern the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

The form was similar to this – ‘my father told me his uncle told him that he had heard the Prophet say …….’

Islamic scholars were trying to computerize these and analyze them.  Each story had a chain of tellers at the beginning.  Some of these tellers were regarded as truthful, others prone to errors.  So that stories could be judged on the relative likelihood that it was basically an accurate retelling.

No software existed.  I created with a wonderful long dead package called TurboC – a program called P1 (I know not very original).  P1 had a stroked font library feature, and used an EGA Grapics card (later VGA when we got fancy!) – and could – WELL before the days of Windows 95.  or even Windows 3.1.  I mean this was in DOS days –

present a page of text.  IN ARABIC FONT.  With all the proper forms of each character.  (the fontwork was done by Aqil, Dr Azmi’s son who was working on his Ph.D at the University of Colorado at the tiime).
And the text was presented like two pages of an open book.
You could enter IN ARABIC (right to left as well) keywords and the program would display all the documents containing your key words!

Boolean operators!  you could search (in arabic) for names or places and up would pop the list of hits.
And did I mention that P1 also had English characters and fonts?  and Cyrillic?  and Hindi? and Bengali with the wonder little balls?

You could hit E and see the English Translation of a page.  or F for the French.  R for Russian.  etc.

then you could search in English.  Or Russian.  And the proper hadiths would be displayed.

We had originally 1 book then 2 then 7 including the largest one (Bukhari if I remember the typing properly).

The data required a CD rom for storage. So we created (on a hard drive) a program directory and mailed off the hard drive to a CD Mastering facility

and back came a Glass master and 10 CDs – for $10,000.

This by the way was when a CD Burner cost $50,000 – and the Software to master and burn the CD was licensed at $5000 per year.

But – Dr Azmi had something ENTIRELY UNIQUE.  I added pictures to it so you could have images tied to pages. I had MOVING pictures so you could play a clip showing the Black Stone in Mecca and the Hadj.  ALL IN DOS.  NO WINDOWS AT ALL.

Truly unique. He took it to Islamic Scholar conferences – and he KNOCKED THEIR SOCKS OFF.  NO ONE had ever seen anything like it!

BUT — he NEVER sold a single copy.  Each time he came back with more things for me to incorporate (playing sound files, storing Maps of the area so Cities could link to their positions).

But in Dr Azmi’s eyes it was never done.  There was always more to do.  I begged him to let us sell it and call it Version 0.99 (so it was not perfect) – I knew people at the Saudi Embassy who were very interested – as the uses for this technology were vast at this time.  Driver Licenses.  Goverment agencies through the Middle East would have loved it.

But – no.  This was done as a religious task – not to make money – and one day Dr Azmi and Aqil simply went back home to Saudi Arabia. And that was the last I saw of them!