Critical Password Practices

I had to deal with another security breach last week. It could happen to anyone.  Accounts get hacked.  Passwords are guessed.  Bad guys keep trying until they get it right.  These scammers will even try to make up fake email accounts and impersonate you if they have extra motivation to deceive.  In this one instance I got called out to deal with, the hacker was probably in China but they were clever enough to make it seem like they were hacking from the USA.   You don’t want this to happen to you right?


You cannot MUST NOT reuse passwords for multiple websites / services.   Each account needs a separate password.  A password should be easy for you to remember and hard for others to guess.  It should not contain family members’ names.  It should not contain your street name, street number, or year of birth.  Do a Google Search on yourself.  Your password should not contain any key words that come up in that search.  You could use a password manager like 1Password or Last Pass.  However, this requires learning a new tool and I know not all of you are prepared to do this.  You could use a random password generator tool, creating passwords of 12 characters or longer.   https://www.random.org/passwords/  is a tool I have used with clients repeatedly over the years.  If you are still saying this isn’t for you, OK, so at the very least you should do the following.  Create a memorable base that you will use over and over again, then put a unique ending that helps you identify each site.  Record everything in a password notebook at the very least.   For example, let’s say you attended Camp Redwoods as a child and no one else knows that.  Your password for Microsoft could be   — ILoveCampRedwoods20msft — and then you could repeat this formula  over and over again.  That would be a bare minimum, but acceptable strategy.   Each password should ideally be 12 to 14+ characters long.  Personally speaking, I have started making my passwords 25 – 30 characters long whenever possible. ( This is very easy with a password manager.) 

How to check for suspicious logins to Comcast Xfinity email account

I have now had 2 clients in the past year who’ve had their Comcast email accounts broken into.  Scams were attempted and some damage was done. 

They have now put out a tool so you can see all of the login attempts on your Comcast account with the past 30 days.  If you suspect anything or are just curious — you should sign into this website with your Comcast e-mail address and password.


https://security-console.identity.xfinity.com/

It worked very well for me with a client yesterday.  We determined that her account was hacked by someone accessing the internet through a server in Seattle, WA. 

One more tip — make sure that your Comcast email password is not the same as ANY OTHER password you use.

Clearing Out Those Computer Gremlins

How are you? Staying during this heat wave?    I am open for business and look forward to my sessions with you this week whether in person or virtual.  Did you know that you might have $43 in Junk Fees on your cable bill?  Read on to find out…..

Clearing Out Those Computer Gremlins

Here is some good and simple advice for you.  While it’s very convenient to let the computer go to sleep, so that you get all of the updates and can wake it up quickly — SHUT IT DOWN COMPLETELY — ONCE A WEEK.   It can be for a few minutes. It can be overnight, your choice.   But just completely shut it down.  I think that will just help to clear all the cobwebs and gremlins out.   It’s good therapy for the device.   You can even do this with your smartphones and tablets.  Give them a complete shut down, at least once a week.

Comcast B.S. Fees

(And by B.S. — I mean big secret).  In is unbelievable what they are allowed to get away with. I was explaining this to a customer recently, but if you have 3 services with Comcast / Xfinity (or even just TV + internet) you are probably paying about $43 in extra  fees that they never tell you about up front.   Here is a breakdown of those fees:

1) there is a $14.95 broadcast TV fee (this is the fee they charge for re-transmitting local channels like local CBS, local NBC, local FOX (which is different than FOX NEWS which a paid cable channel), local ABC, local PBS (CPTV), and a few others.  In the past local stations did not get paid by the cable company, but if my brain serves me correctly there  was a legal / regulatory decision about 10+ years ago that made this possible.

2) Whether you watch sports or not (and if you do there will be baseball, basketball and hockey starting in about 1 week) — there is a Regional Sports fee of $8.75 per month.   They have a few packages that don’t have sports but if you type in the channel # or say “ESPN” to the voice remote, and it comes up, you have the sports channels

3) for your Xfinity Gateway — that is your modem / router / phone adapter , the white box…they charge a monthly rental of about $14

4)  They also now charge about $5 per month for your primary cable box.  It used to be free.   They also charge about $10 each for additional digital outlets (TV’s) but I am not factoring that in here.  For now you can save on that fee by using a Roku as your cable box.  They are not charging for that YET. 

The only one of these fees you can truly avoid is #3.  You can buy your own modem.  A decent one like the Netgear CM700 is about $110 give or take plus a router..  However, if you have phone services with Xfinity, you will need a modem that supports this.  Those modems cost more.    Those could be $200-250 with wireless router functionality built in.  Or $100 for a modem plus voice (current Best Buy price)  + a router of your choosing.   Decent single routers are usually $100 to $200.   If you do the math on $14 per month, you would generally see that owning your own equipment pays for itself in 2 years or less.  However, if you are prone to a lot of electrical surges and cable outages (which I do not experience) – it may be worth paying that $14 a month.  Personally speaking, I have owned my own modem / router since 2012 and I have never looked back.  I replaced the equipment with a new modem and router in 2018. 

If you have a different cable or home telecom company — check your bill.  How many B.S. fees do you have?

Not Everyone Gets The Same Priority

Computer Picks

I represent about an equal number of Windows vs. Mac clients.  A few are iPad or Chromebook only.  I just wanted to say that if you are not absolutely locked in to particular apps on the Mac or you might be turned off by some of Apple’s decisions with the Mac or leery of the upcoming processor transition — you could probably do really well with a solid business class Windows desktop or laptop.   Excluding any possible discounts or outlet purchases, I think you can get a nice system for $800 to $900.  These computers cannot be purchased in stores. I know how to order them and have been doing so for years.   The kind of computers I have in mind are often repairable and upgradable — serviceable is the word I am looking for.  There is a reason why the State, the big hospital systems, and big insurance companies buy these computers by the hundreds (if not thousands) — they stand the test of time.  They’re not buying Macs.  It’s just something to keep in mind.    With that said, I have helped Mac clients switch to Windows and Windows clients switch to Mac.  I am a versatile provider of technology consulting services, with no preconceived notion that one platform is best for all clients. 

Not Everyone Gets The Same Priority

I am talking about data prioritization with your cell phone plan.  I have touched on this in the past, but I wanted to revisit it.  Did you know that some of you might have prioritized data with your carrier and some of you may not?   There is an order of data — when on a congested tower — where some users will be given preferred access and others may be slowed down or get slowed down to a crawl.   (Prioritization is different than being capped or throttled.   A cap would be — you get 5 GB of total data per month and you are totally cut off after that. A throttle would be — we limit all traffic to 5 mb/s even if you can get a faster speed in theory.  Some plans are throttled to a very slow speed after reaching the cap.)   But what I really wanted to address here is the idea of prioritization.   You might be out and about trying to book a restaurant order or launch the Maps app or even buy some clothing for quick online pickup — then your phone just slows to a crawl.  It’s possible that  you are being deprioritized.   There may be a lot of other users on that tower with priority over you.  There is a good chance that it won’t happen to you.  It might be congestion, however you just might not have the “top banana” priority.   I haven’t heard of it happening a lot locally, but there are definitely parts of the country that are oversaturated on Verizon towers, ATT towers, etc.   They have no choice but to route traffic with a certain order. 

Let me just state a couple examples to help you clear up the confusion.  If you get a monthly bill and you are on an older Verizon / ATT plan and you get like 2 GB of data per month, 4 GB, 8 GB — you are prioritized.    If you have the first tier of Verizon’s new unlimited plans known as Start or Go unlimited – you are always deprioritized.   Again, it may never be a problem for you. I just want you to know.   The next level of Verizon’s unlimited plans tells customers they can be deprioritized after 25 GB of use (which is probably a lot more than most of you would use in a given month).   Prepaid plans are generally always deprioritized, although ATT Prepaid has some exceptions. 

Is Cord Cutting No Longer A Value Proposition?

(I am sending this to my special sub group of clients that cut traditional pay TV about 18 months ago and went with Hulu’ Live TV offering; I am also sending this message to a few others who have talked about cutting the cord or found other ways of doing so). 

So the one thing I wanted to say is — THE COST OF CONTENT IS GOING UP.  There are very few power brokers in control of all of this content.  A layman’s explanation of it would be something like this.   CBS:   Viacom / Paramount (and all of their channels),   Comcast:  NBC, NBC Sports, USA Network, etc.,  then don’t forget Disney — ABC / ESPN, and of course ATT — Time Warner / HBO.   There is also the Fox kingdom as well and all of their outlets. 

So let’s say you are the cable company, the satellite company, Hulu Live TV, You Tube TV — you have to make deals for all of that content.  And if you are the content provider, you cut  your deals with each service.   Do you think the prices are going down?  Of course not.   With more people staying  home perhaps for a very long time or forever, with sports being held without spectators, could those prices be going down?  NEVER.   Content deals are often described as $ per customer.   It would not surprise me if with some services that ESPN is getting paid $5 per customer.  You can see how this all adds up. 

Comcast / Xfinity is less likely to cut deals with their customers, except for brand new customers.   Hulu Live TV raised its prices to $55 last year.  You Tube TV raised its prices to $50 last year, and they admitted based on all of their content deals that at that rate they were only making $1 per customer per month.   You might ask why would they even bother being in business for a $1 profit per month?  The reason is Google owns You Tube and they can afford to be a disruptor.   Well, now it’s the customers who are feeling a little disruption.  You Tube TV announced that they are raising prices to $65 per month.  The good and bad thing about no contracts is — the price can go up any time, but the customer is free to leave at any time.   I would not be surprised if Hulu Live TV raises their prices soon, but maybe not.  We’ll see. 

As you can see the value proposition of the live TV replacement services isn’t quite what it used to be.  There are other choices besides Hulu + You Tube TV — although those 2 are widely praised for being the best.    There is ATT TV Now ( formerly DirecTV now).  Their base package is $55 per month.  Then there is Sling TV.  You may have seen their corny TV ads.  They are priced lower, but offer fewer channels. 

Now I know some of you have chosen to go with an antenna for free TV and other free options like CBS News Network (which is a free streaming channel).  Those may work out.  The price is right. 

Then you have to factor in all of the on demand streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Disney Plus.   This could all get very expensive, but it could all be very meaningful as we are enjoying our content at home more.  Amazon Prime Video just launched a new feature where you can watch their stuff with other people in a “party” format at different locations.  I think that’s really cool.

So ultimately, I just want you to be aware   — 1) content isn’t cheap,  2)  the streaming services are disruptors to the entrenched cable companies and they can’t operate in the red forever if they want to stay with us, and 3)  you are likely not tied down by long contracts, so be free to hop around and try different options. 

Microsoft Does It To Us Again–Forced Updates

I have some bad news  again on Windows.  Last time I emailed you about printers.  Not its FORCED UPDATES.   This time it’s for my Windows Pro users.  Of course you should know by now that when I order a client’s computer that I try to order Windows 10 Pro whenever possible.  Usually this about $30 to $50 more at the time of ordering the computer ($99 if you upgrade after the fact).   I have been big on the Pro version for 3 reasons.

1)  Bit Locker included:  This is a Microsoft technology that encrypts all  your files.  If someone steals your hard drive, they aren’t going to get access to your files.

2) Better security w/ activation of the password prompt:  When major changes are being made to your computer, you will get prompted with a request to type in your password – not just a YES / NO prompt.  This really makes you think – do I want to do this?

3) (And probably the best one) – the ability to delay new versions of Windows by up to 365 days – called Feature Updates.   Microsoft comes out with 2 new versions of Windows 10 per year.  This is crazy, but we are not going to change their behavior at this point.   I have consistently told you to set the delay on Feature Update to 3 to 4 months (at least).

As reported on the great Windows commentary website, Thurrott.com, you can cross #3 off the list.   Now Microsoft is hellbent on forcing new versions of Windows on us, even if we paid extra for Windows Pro.  Shame on them!!  This change will take effect when the latest version of Windows hits your computer – Windows 10 2004 (no not year 2004, “2004” here refers to year and month or 04 of 2020. 

So now, you can only delay the new versions by 7 day – 5 times – for a total of 35 days.  What a drag!   I am beginning to wonder who is getting worse on Updates – Microsoft or Apple?   Now you know why people are buying and doing a lot of their computing on Chromebooks.   You might not be able to do as much on Chrome OS – but it is a no B.S. operating system. 

Now of course – you are probably asking – it’s there something you can do for us?  Well actually – yes!  I have a solution.  I found some quick, deep level programming I can do on your Windows computer to bring the delays back and even possibly extend them.  I will try to do this for you at our next appointment and yes, I think I can do it virtually.

As I said to my Mac clients earlier today – why can’t we just get one version of the operating system and stick with it for 5 years – just getting minor security updates?    Life would be so perfect.  Windows 7: we miss you.

PS.  If you bought your Windows computer on your either before meeting me or on your own, none of this applies to you.  You are going to get the SLOP when Microsoft dishes it out.  Lately it has been slop!

Zoom–Buggy On The Mac? Yes.

I know a lot of you are Zooming these days.


Unfortunately I’ve received reports and also personally participated in troubleshooting zoom problems with multiple clients.


I don’t have all the answers right now, but I think Mac OS 10.15 (which is hard to avoid, as previously mentioned) may be a common vortex.  I’ve had clients with video and audio problems in zoom  with BOTH built in audio / video (a la Mac Book and iMac)  and separate audio and video — such as using a plug-in Webcam, microphone or headphones.


And the other quirk in this whole process is, what if the updates we do fix some problems but then create others?  I think both the Mac operating system and the windows operating system have gone the wrong way on updates in the past few years.   it’s this forced updating that is just killing us, in a metaphorical sense of course.


Why can’t we just have one version of the operating system for five years and get just minor security updates from time to time?. We don’t need features, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.


now with this all said, there is apparently a new update for Zoom on the Mac coming out today. If you use them regularly, make sure you get this update because it may fix some of the bugs you were experiencing.   if you are not prompted to update automatically when opening zoom, you can click on the zoom.us  menu at the top and check for updates.  


We are learning and growing together. Sometimes there’s going to be some growing pains.

Your iPhone Records Everywhere You Go–How To Turn Off

Just wanted to give you all a mid-week blast. This came across my desk today and I thought some of you would want to flip the switch to turn it off.

I learned something new today — there is a fairly hidden setting in (Settings > Privacy> Location Services >>  then down to the bottom, System Services) — called Significant Locations.   It is a record of EVERYWHERE you have visited with your phone.    Kind of creepy!

Anyway, you can turn this off.   If you like the iPhone intelligently learning your patterns and making suggestions based on that — by all means leave it on. 

I think I’ll be turning Significant Locations off.

Microsoft–Do It To Me One More Time?

Unfortunately, this is not a Lionel Richie love song.

Here is the reading material — https://www.engadget.com/microsofts-windows-10-updates-printer-bugs-000112943.html

Unfortunately, June’s monthly Windows update (began rolling out 6/9) is messing up printing on what is likely a small but significant number of computers.  The same exact thing happened, including to several of you, back in October.

I remember all that I had to go through with my clients.  I had to come out for a bunch of appointments because of these printing woes caused by Updates.  In numerous instances, I had to delete and re-add your printer in Windows.   In one case, a client had to buy a new printer (which did solve the problem).  In the most extreme scenario, nothing was working for me.  I was ready to give up!   I literally had to back up all the files, erase the computer, and then “clean install” Windows 10 1909 which was the latest version of Windows in December 2019.  That fixed it.

These monthly updates are supposed to mitigate security concerns.   They should not break essential functions like printing.

I hope it doesn’t happen to you now — either again or for the first time.  If you purchased your Windows computer on your own, outside of my guidance, you probably have Windows 10 Home.  You are going to be forced to take the Updates when Microsoft dishes them out.

On all computers I had a hand in ordering — I made sure you have Windows 10 Pro.   With the Pro version — updates can be delayed.   I have likely delayed or instructed you to delay Feature Updates (new versions of Windows) by at least 3 months.  We have never touched Security Updates which are the monthly updates that are screwing with printing right now.   I think that Security Updates should be delayed by 7 days.  I could see doing 14 days, but I wouldn’t want you to go beyond that.  These monthly and “odd times” updates address pressing security matters. 

If you remember how to change these options — you go to — Start Menu >> Settings >> Update & Security   > Advanced Options.   The delay for Feature Updates should be 90 to 120 days.  The delay for quality (aka security) updates should be 7 to 14 days.      If you don’t see these choices in Advanced Options — you have Windows 10 Home.

One good thing is — if you have Windows 10 Home — you can upgrade to Pro for a one time cost of $99.  It’s pretty painless.