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Repeat Street System Setup

We thought we’d keep a mini-series going, documenting the systems we configure for consignment stores.  We help consignment store owners get the most out of their consignment software, by configuring stable computers and industry-standard point of sale hardware.

This installment shows a brief glimpse into the system setup for…

Repeat Street Women’s and Children’s Resale Boutique (Gurnee, IL)

http://www.repeatstreet.com

Julie Jablonowski @ Repeat Street is such a pleasure to work with.  She runs Liberty at her store and has a two-computer setup.  She was experiencing an increasing amount of computer issues with her older systems.  It was time to look into reformatting and upgrading or replacing the systems.  Since each of her systems were well past their time, investing in newer technology was the most cost-effective approach.

Repeat Street Dell Computers for Liberty Consignment Software
Repeat Street Point of Sale and Server

We configured two Dell systems to manage her consignment software + Microsoft SQL Server.  A consignment store is a hi-demand operation and both point of sale as well as new consignment intake must be operational at all times.  There just isn’t time for system lockups, errors, etc.

We professionally configure our systems in-house.  It’s not enough to just “go get a Dell, dude.”  Building up your own systems isn’t as cost-effective as it used to be either.  Dell’s business-class systems offer hi-end technology plus next business day hardware replacement.  The Computer Peeps are a preferred partner through Dell.

Since your database is everything – e.g. your consignors, items, sales, payout history, etc. – you want to do everything possible to protect your systems.  These Dell systems include a Seagate Barracuda SATA II hard drive @ 7200 RPMs.  Not only is this drive fast, it’s reliable.

The Dells also include RAM inspected by Kingston.  Since only a few chip companies actually manufacture memory, companies such as Kingston test and verify RAM before it’s sold to consumers and vendors.  This ensures the RAM is stable, reliable and free of errors.

Repeat Street Dell Computers with Core 2 Duo Processor
Repeat Street Dell Computers w/ Core 2 Duo Processor

Since Julie is running Liberty on two systems and based on how frequently the systems are utilized, we configured a stronger set of computers for her.  Liberty is consignment software that utilizes Microsoft SQL Server to manage its database. All databases grow over time and that means a heavier “weight” to lift.  Even with compression and purging, a database is always growing.  You always want to avoid Celeron processors and in this case, we wanted to step things up even more.  We utilized Intel’s Core 2 Duo line and combined with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit + 4 GB of RAM in each system, Repeat Street’s systems are ready for everything they can throw at them.

Consignment Software Database Backup Drive
Consignment Software Database Backup Drive

We also want to protect the database and ensure we have daily, redundant backups.  While we can’t force our clients to utilize an external hard drive + an automated backup system, we highly encourage it.  Repeat Street made the best decision by opting for a complete backup system.  We utilize an online backup solution that also manages an additional, local copy to an external hard drive.

Now Repeat Street’s consignment software is sending a database backup to both her external drive and her off-site, online account.  This gives the ultimate in redundancy.  There is a local copy of the consignment software database, to help recover in an instant.  There’s also an off-site backup, should a catastrophic event occur.

We don’t just “buy Dell computers and ship them out.”  No, no, no.  First of all, you have to select the right hardware, the right motherboard/RAM/CPU combination and the right version of Windows.  Once these systems arrive, we go through a 4-page configuration sheet.  Everything from NTFS permissions and advanced networking to Windows Updates and complete system tuning is performed in-house.

Repeat Street also added a Zebra thermal tag printer, bar code scanner and cash drawer to the system setup.  All hardware that ships with the system or that will be utilized with the systems (if the store already owns printers, etc.) is pre-installed and configured here.  We color-code our systems so that everything is “plug and play” when the systems arrive.  Add to that, we’re there for you the day the systems arrive.  We ensure there’s a smooth game plan for getting the final consignment software backup + any additional files backed-up and moved to a safe place.  Once the systems are online, we remote-in and do a white glove inspection to ensure everything is still running perfectly.

For consignment stores who purchase systems from us, all they have to do is purchase the systems and unpack them when they arrive – that’s it.  No installing, fussing, waiting, configuring or cussing.  There’s far more to this than just buying a computer and slapping some software on it.

With these new systems in place, Repeat Street can continue to be Gurnee, IL’s favorite consignment shop!

Why You Should NOT Use WiFi

WiFi does not help your consignment softwareWiFi does not help your consignment software one bit.  At home it seems like a great idea.  No wires, no mess and it’s just very convenient to be able to move around freely.  Your consignment software is different.  Consignment software is “high-demand” software in that, it relies on a connection/path to the database.  That connection must be there 100% of the time while the application is running.  Any network drops or disconnects can and will cause your consignment software to generate program errors.

Depending on the portions of the program/database in-use at that time, you could even end up damaging your database.  This is true with each and every consignment software program on the market.  You want to do everything you can to protect your database from a disaster.  When on WiFi at home, you might not notice the intermittent drops/slow-downs.  In addition to intermittent drops, WiFi has a greater “cost” to getting traffic across the network.  Each packet has to be encrypted/decrypted and WiFi in general has a greater overhead than traditional, wired Ethernet.

So for your home computers, WiFi makes it easy to keep things nice and neat.  You can check your email, Facebook, etc.  For your business computers though, it’s a completely different story.  Your consignment software needs to be connected to the database 100% of the time.  You can imagine a line of customers standing their as your POS station goes down because it lost its network connection.  You don’t always get to close out of the program gracefully either.  Sometimes you just have to ctrl + alt + delete it.

Think of WiFi like taking a shortcut.  You might get their a little bit quicker, but you might have to take some bumpy back roads.  There simply is no replacement for hard-wired Ethernet.  It’s faster, it’s stable and that translates into reliable consignment software.  Wired network connections are like the smooth Interstate highways that let you travel much faster.

There was a great article on Gizmodo recently that compared hard-wired Ethernet vs. WiFi.

How to Ditch Slow Wireless Speeds and Go Completely Wired in Your Home (and Why You Should)

They even brought in a third variable – Power Line connections.  Companies such as Netgear have released a device that lets network traffic flow through the electrical wiring within your building.  There’s a great video that shows very real-world testing of the three network technologies mentioned above…

For those that aren’t interested in watching that enthralling video on network speed comparisons, it boils down to this – wired network is a faster, more reliable network connection.  For people such as gamers, they need their applications to be responsive and available 100% of the time.  The same is true with consignment software.  Not only that, but as I mentioned earlier you can damage your database if the connection drops.

Are you saying it is completely impossible to use WiFi for business applications?

No, I am not.  So-called techs that have read books or who like to do this for a hobby tend to overlook TCO.  When you have to support customers, software, hardware and networks for a living AND when you have clients that rely on their systems, you get a real-world level of experience that reveals some truths.  You realize what actually works and what doesn’t.  You realize what helps a business and what hurts it.

Some clients have tried using WiFi in situations where it’s just not possible to use wired Ethernet.  You can sort of get away with it and if it’s not a hi-demand system and you understand the risks, it can be done.  Seeing what it’s done to databases though, I just can’t recommend that – not as an IT professional.  It would be reckless to encourage anyone to use WiFi when a database connection/path is involved.  Add to that the security issues wireless connections introduce and you have a mix of cost increasing stresses.

You’ll find each of the consignment software vendors on the market do not support WiFi.  It’s for good reason.  If you like to gamble, then place your bets on WiFi.  If you rely on your consignment software to help keep your business running smoothly (and profitably), then opt for wired Ethernet.

Facebook Social Engineering – You’re Getting “Had”

People, please keep an eye on what you click.  There are more and more scam links floating around on Facebook these days.  Consignment stores, if you’re using Facebook for your business, you need to make sure you know about this sort of stuff.  Especially if you have employees that access your Business page to post images, etc.  Here’s an example of one of the latest scams…

OMG - Fake Facebook Link
OMG - Fake Facebook Link

Chances are, if the post/link starts out with “OMG,” you might not want to click it.  Just sayin’.  If you’ve already clicked on the Facebook scam link from your Feed, go and delete the post right away.  Also, make sure your system is not infected as many of these links download Trojans and malware to your hard drive.  Lastly, since many of these links attempt to “phish” your username and password from you, it might not be a bad idea to change your Facebook password right away.

We’re doing our best to help as many consignment stores as possible.  Facebook and Twitter have their benefits, but you should know what’s out there before you or your employees run into one of these scams.

Bogus Facebook App – “See Your Future”

There’s a new – and bogus – Facebook App floating through the Feed.  It claims to let you “See what your face will look like in 20 years!”  Here’s what it looks like within the Facebook Feed…

Bogus Facebook App
Bogus Facebook App

Here are the first things that tipped me off:

  • It starts out with “omg”
  • The link is actually masked using the bit.ly URL shortening service.  While bit.ly isn’t bad (it’s actually a fantastic service!), combined with the “omg” and the following, it doesn’t look good.

The apps wants complete access to your contacts, Facebook Pages (e.g. your Business page), to post to your Wall and here’s the doozy – it wants access to Facebook Chat…

Facebook App Permissions
Facebook App Permissions

If you installed this app (or if you think you did), you should remove this app right away.  In Facebook, head to Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites > Edit Your Settings.  Click Remove unwanted or spammy apps

Remove Unwanted or Spammy Apps
Remove Unwanted or Spammy Apps

Find the See Your Future app and click the X to the right of it…

Uninstall Facebook App
Uninstall Facebook App

This is also a good opportunity to inspect the rest of the apps you have installed.  See which ones you really need.  If you don’t need it, uninstall it.  Really the only apps you would need would be obvious – e.g. HootSuite, Twitter, etc.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!

Software You Can’t Live Without?

Do you have a program you simply can’t live without?  Whether it’s your consignment software, accounting software, photo editing software, etc. you probably have a few programs you utilize day in and day out.  I’m sure you’re familiar with backing up your database and important files, but what about software?  What happens if your computer dies or gets infected so badly, the system has to be reformatted?

Software is what makes your computer be more than just a pile of metal and plastic.  Without software (yes, even Windows, Mac OS, etc. are software), a computer is pretty much useless.  If you have to start over again, due to a system crash or system replacement, getting your files, database backups, etc. copied over is only half the battle.  You need the software that generated those files, in order to use them again.

When you purchased your consignment software, you should’ve received either a CD or a download link.  Also, once you started using your consignment software, chances are, new updates came out.  So if you installed “version 6” initially, but then upgraded to “version 7,” you would be faced with a challenge.  Typically, the first installer/CD you received was a “full installer” – e.g. it installed the entire program, database, additional files and Services, etc.  An “update” though, isn’t a full installation program.  It simply updates an existing software installation.  So if I had a version 6 installer and a version 7 update, the following would have to transpire in order to get the software up and running on my computer:

  1. Install version 6
  2. Restore my database backup
  3. Install the version 7 update

The reason we restore the database before the update is to ensure both our database and software are the same version.  Each time you install an update, it not only updates the software, but other files, including your database.  It’s just a safe measure to install the most-recent update last.  Now, if you kept each of the new full installers – e.g. version 6 and version 7 – you would probably be safe installing version 7, then restoring your database.  In our experience though, it is usually best to install the most-recent update last, ensuring both data and software are the same version.

What you don’t want to happen, is getting stuck with an old version.  If you only have the original software from when you first purchased and you install that on a new computer, you’re just running an old version of the software.  What about the updates?  That’s why it’s important to keep each and every update, patch, etc. from your consignment software vendor.  If you’re not on their support plan and you don’t have access to the latest downloads, you could be stuck.  The software vendor might give you the last update you were entitled too, but now you’re dealing with more time spent.  All of this can be avoided.

Here’s what The Computer Peeps recommend:

  • Keep your original installation CD or download in a safe place – e.g. a safe, at home, etc.
  • If you are sent any new updates, copy those to a CD or USB drive (or both)
  • Of course, make sure your database (or other files) are backed-up

Now you’re “protected” from getting stuck with no software or outdated software.  The key is, you need to keep your original software installation discs or downloads.  There are other technologies out there that let you make a “backup” of your entire computer or even transfer “everything” to a new computer.  Well, the former isn’t going to help you if the system backup contains damaged files.  Sometimes, you truly do just need to start from scratch – i.e. reinstall Windows.  The latter just truly doesn’t work 100%.  These “movers” that transfer information from one system to another, don’t always leave you with completely functional software on your new computer.  There truly is no comparison to having your original software installation discs or downloads.

What you don’t want to happen is, you being left with a bunch of data or files that you can’t access (because you don’t have the original software installer).  If I buy Adobe PhotoShop, I need to keep that disc or the downloaded installer.  If I have accounting software, word processing software, etc. I need to keep those original installation discs or installers.

It’s An Appliance, Not A Computer

RefrigeratorI know it looks like a computer.  It has a mouse, keyboard…all the tell-tale signs of a computer.  Your business systems are not computers though – they are appliances.  Computers are things you sit at home with, install programs on, browse the Web from, etc.  Your kids use them, they get viruses…problems ensue.

How do you utilize the appliances in your home?  Do you install new stuff in your refrigerator?  I’m not talking about food.  🙂  Have you ever installed a different compressor, just to see if it will cool faster?  Have you installed new doors on the front, because they look nice?

What about your stove?  Done any customization to it?  Installed new burners, put some sweet flames on the side (’cause, you know, ovens get hot) and really “pimped it out”?

I’m guessing you’re looking at me like, “um, Dean, I would never “hack” or modify my refrigerator.”  Of course you wouldn’t.  You purchase the refrigerator based on features, appearance and price.  Someone delivers and installs it and it just works.  Each and every day, the doors open smoothly, the contents within stay cool and everyone’s happy.

When’s the last time your refrigerator crashed?  Exactly.

It’s this very approach that has to be taken with your business systems.  Take for example restaurants and bars.  You see the waiters walk up to their terminals, punch in your order, etc.  Do they install new stuff on those systems?  No.  Are they browsing Facebook and installing every app under the sun?  No.  Are they tinkering with the printers, trying out different drivers, etc.?  No.

Unfortunately, we still look at our business systems like their computers.  This leads to increased TCO and ultimately, frustration.

Your business systems should be utilized for your consignment software, period.  Your entire infrastructure stems from your consignment software.  The computers…excuse me, appliances, are there to run your consignment software, that’s it.  Systems that have clean installations of Windows, proper antivirus software and that are properly utilized, just work.

If you’re looking to test out new consignment software or try different printer drivers, it should not be done on your business systems.  Each of the consignment software programs have different requirements – and I’m not just talking about hardware.  How Windows runs, the common files applications use, etc. all work in concert to make your consignment software run properly.  If you install a bunch of different programs or different printer drivers, they’re going to step on one another.  Save the testing and experimenting for your home systems or a dedicated test machine.

To recap:

  • Think of your business computers as appliances – you don’t modify or “tamper” with appliances
  • Do not install different consignment programs – they can step on one another.  If you’re testing out a new program, do so on a dedicated system.
  • Do not adjust, install or edit your printer drivers.  Consignment programs are designed to work with certain printers + certain printer settings.
  • Set it and forget it – your systems will just work.

Latest Facebook Scam Link – “Tsunami/Whirlpool”

I just saw a new scam link floating through the Facebook feed.  One of my friends clicked it and it shared itself into his Feed…

Facebook Tsunami Scam Link
Facebook Tsunami Scam Link

This is a malicious link that downloads a Trojan (virus) to your hard drive.  If you’re fortunate enough to be running ESET Nod32, you won’t feel a thing.  🙂  ESET is nice enough to keep track of known-malicious URLs so when you click one, nothing happens and you get a nice little notification…

ESET Nod32 blocks malicious URLs
ESET Nod32 blocks malicious URLs

For a split second, a fake video player is displayed…just before the Trojan is downloaded…

Fake Video
Fake Video actually downloads Trojan (virus/malware)

A few key signs reveal this is a bogus site, before you even click it.  First, there is no Title info in the post, just a glimpse of the URL.  Typically, you’ll see additional content from a news site, blog, etc.  That’s not enough though.  It’s really the domain name itself.  If you’re looking for the latest, breaking news, chances are it isn’t going to come from a “.info” site named “japan earthquake update.”  For Pete’s sake, the domain was just created yesterday…

Domain Registration Date
Domain Registration Date

The point is, there are a lot of bogus sites out there.  Think before you click.  Switching to a Mac isn’t going to enhance your awareness and increase your experience.  If you’re going to use Facebook, avoid links, period.  Go directly to news sites if you need legitimate news.  If you’re a consignment store and rely on your consignment software, clicking a link on Facebook could bring that to a screeching halt.  We’re trying to help consignment store owners navigate the Facebook terrain.

If you were one of the unfortunate people that did click that link, please contact The Computer Peeps immediately.  The first thing is to change your passwords, but once you have a Trojan that has infected the system, keyloggers are typically involved.  The virus/Trojan will have to be eradicated before you can even think about using the system again.

======================================================

I did some digging via DomainTools and found some handy bits of info.  First, it appears the owner of this site runs his/her own name servers…

Domain Tools - Name Server Info
Domain Tools - Name Server Info

Do not visit the domain for the Name Servers above.  As of 3/15/2011, the domain is still active and if you access that URL, it attempts to run a JS exploit and then re-post the URL back to the Facebook Feed via Facebook Connect…

JS Exploit + Facebook Connect
JS Exploit + Facebook Connect

Ultimately, the site’s IP appears to stem from a host out of Dallas, TX…

Reverse IP / IP Info
Reverse IP / IP Info

For what it’s worth, I’ve reported the offending domains + the malicious activity to the host.

Facebook & Twitter Spam

Facebook spamAccording to thinq UK, Facebook was recently hit by the biggest wave of spam in its history.  What is Facebook spam?  You’ve probably clicked on one of the links that show up in the Feed.  You’ve seen them before – e.g. “OMG!  Look at what this babysitter did to this baby!” or “Guy takes a pic of his face everyday for 8 years!”  It grows exponentially.  One person clicks it, another person sees their friend clicked it (it shows up in the Feed) and so on and so on.

The thing with Facebook is, it’s a Website.  It makes no difference if you’re running a Mac, Windows or Ubuntu.  You could have the best, most-expensive antivirus software – it doesn’t matter.  With Websites, it’s all about trickery and deception.

The only defense against it is user awareness and thinking before clicking.

The bad guys know the keywords you’re searching for.  Take for example the recent Charlie Sheen activity.  Users click links to what appear to be stores about Charlie Sheen.  They’re then greeted with pop-ups asking them to install a malware remover.  This is actually malware trying to trick you into letting you install it.

Everyone should be aware that malware writers have become very adept at search engine optimization to ensure their malicious links get placed on top image results returned from Google searches.

With Facebook and Twitter, it’s so easy to quickly spread a link.  If someone isn’t paying attention or is “lured” in by a thrilling tag line, they end up getting scammed.  Just the other day, an inconspicuous link started appearing in the feed.  It was supposedly an article about how a guy took a picture of his face once per day for 8 years.  Seemingly harmless, right?  Well the link led to a fake YouTube site…

Fake YouTube

The most important point for consumers is to not agree to download or run any software they do not intend to install on their machines — and to not be scared or intimidated into doing so.

The one that everyone seems to fall for is the, “see who’s viewing your profile” scam.  That’s just it, it’s a scam.  Here’s a great article on TechCrunch that details the scam.  These used to show-up on MySpace and now they’re all over Twitter and Facebook.

So how do you stop it?  The Computer Peeps recommend Firefox with NoScript.  This will prevent any malicious Javascript (such as the ones launched in the Facebook feed) from being launched.

This isn’t something software absolutely prevent.  The key is, awareness.  Be aware that the bad guys know what you’re searching for.  Be aware that people spread links unintentionally.  Unless it’s a trusted news site or authority on the topic, watch what you click.  I’m sure it would be more exciting to have some geeky way around this but honestly, it really does come down to awareness.

To recap:

  • Think before you click.  Is that enticing headline truly what it appears to be?  Is it worth clicking on to find out?
  • Know that no software can protect you from social engineering.  Much like in life, it’s all about experience an knowledge.
  • Make sure Windows is up to date and getting the security patches that come out on an almost-daily basis.
  • Make sure you’re running ESET Nod32 antivirus.

Sources:

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