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.
Comcast Sticking It To Us
I don’t know if you noticed this with your December Comcast bill, but I wasn’t too pleased to see what they are doing effective 12/20/2019. Although I am under an existing contract for a guaranteed price for my internet and TV through May 2020 — my fees will be going up. I believe they can raise the fees portion of the bill even if you are in a contract. If you are not in a contract, your fees will definitely be going up. So here is the damage — Broadcast TV fee (designed to capture what local stations charge Comcast for transmitting their feeds to us) $10 to $14.95, TV box fee (charge for that 1st cable box) $2.50 to $4.60, and the remote fee is going up from $0.18 to $0.40. So this looks like an additional $7.27 if I did the math correctly. Are the retransmission fees that Comcast is charged by the local stations going up? I don’t know. I also know that prices of most internet packages are going up $3 per month, however, I don’t think this applies to me as I am in a bundled promotion. More and more people are cutting the cord and going with internet only. Comcast is looking to make up for their loss in subscribers one way or another. For a lot of customers in Connecticut, there isn’t much choice outside of areas where Frontier has fiber optic service. The non-Fiber frontier service is pathetic. There really is no alternative but Comcast. Some of you have the ability to choose Go Net Speed. They are available in limited parts of West Hartford and the New Haven area. Hopefully they will be rolling out beyond their existing footprint soon. A great choice for Internet only!
Best of 2019
I used to write this up in more of a newsletter format, but I just wanted to give you a brief sampling of some of the best products and services I worked with all year.
Best Premium Smartphone: iPhone 11 — Apple really got this one right and they lowered the starting price by $50. It’s an easy choice for iPhone owners
Best Mid-Range Smartphone: Google Pixel 3a — Google brought out these phones mid-year that were in the same spirit as their old Nexus phones. They are under $400 with a lot of premium features and they still have a headphone jack. I hope we see a Pixel 4a in 2020. We may also see an iPhone SE 2 or iPhone 9 sold in this price range next year.
Best Laptops: Unfortunately — I can’t say that any Apple laptops are among the best of 2019. However I really like 2 product lines the Lenovo Thinkpads and the Dell Latitudes. Specifically I am a fan of the Thinkpad T490, E490, and X1 Carbon 7. In terms of the Latitudes, I favor the 5000 and 7000 series. They are solid, have great keyboards, and are built for the long haul.
Best Desktops: I still like the 2018 Mac Mini and hope Apple keeps it updated for years to come. I am also partial to Dell’s Optiplex and Lenovo’s Think Centre desktops, properly equipped of course.
Best Backup Service: Keep in mind that iCloud, Dropbox, or One Drive are not true backup services. They are online file synchronization services. This means that if you delete a file it will be deleted in other places. You should have an opportunity to restore the deleted file within a period of time. I still love all of those services but they are not true backups. If you have a lot of data that you can’t afford to lose, I highly recommend Backblaze or Carbonite. Either service is $6 / month for personal use.
Do I need to do the updates? is a common question I get from clients. Well, they are pretty hard to avoid in many instances. Software updates to our devices bring us feature improvements (or new features), security and stability fixes. Due to the fact that I deal primarily with an older client base, new features don’t tend to WOW “Bobby from Southington” that much. However, one new feature that I think is pretty cool is that iOS 13 now offers a light mode and a dark mode. It can even automatically switch between the 2 at night which is very easy on my eyes. The Mac and Windows operating systems had a dark mode previously. Primarily, I think updates are important because they patch holes that attackers can use to penetrate your system. I try to be consistent in the language I use with you. Updates are the little fixes that come out all the time, for example 13.1.2 that just came out for iOS and iPad. Upgrades are the major new versions of the operating system. For Macs and iOS devices — these come out once a year. Windows has been rolling out 2 new versions of Windows per year since 2017 — which is one version too many. I usually put my Windows clients on a delay when possible. In general, I like the idea of setting devices to update automatically. Set it and forget it (no I did not pay for the trademark!).
Updates Can Wreak Havoc
Though Windows 10 has generally been very stable for my clients since it launched in July 2015, there have been more than half dozen new upgrades / new versions of Windows 10 released since then — all called Windows 10. HOW CONFUSING RIGHT? I think that a Windows 10 upgrade has only trashed a client’s computer three times and two of those times were with the same client. Sad, but true. I think their PC was never really meant to be supported by the manufacturer for Windows 10 in the long haul. I am not a commissioned salesperson, but that is why I always recommend letting me order a business class Windows computer for you. My wife has been using a Dell Optiplex desktop — purchased in 2008 — with upgrades to hardware over the years — to this day. It has gotten all the new versions of Windows 10 since 2015. Minor updates can cause problems too. On October 4th, Microsoft pushed out an update for Windows 10 that was supposed to improve Internet Explorer (who uses that anymore?) and printing functions. Unfortunately, it blocked printing for a small but ticked off percentage of Windows users including one of my clients. An update to the update was put out on October 7th to fix this. Are you keeping score at home? Good, because I’m not. 🙂
Be Careful About the New Version of Mac OS Released Yesterday
Mac OS 10.15 – code named Catalina – was released yesterday. I often tell my Mac clients, with compatible Macs (2012 and newer in this case) to upgrade. It doesn’t have to be right away but within the first couple months is fine. I also make myself available to clients to manage the upgrade for them and make a backup of the installer. Things can go wrong and most feel that a 2 hour appointment for this is well worth it. However, for 10.15 I am pumping the brakes and telling you to do the same — IF — you have a lot of software on your computer dating back years. Mac OS 10.15 does not support 32-bit Mac apps. These are usually apps that are more than 5 years old that have not been updated recently. Those apps may be very important to you. If so, hold off on 10.15. Microsoft Office 2016 will be fine. All current Apple apps are fine. However, your case may be the exception. Reach out and ask for help if you think you may have an issue. OS 10.15 will be great, but you may want to give yourself time to work out alternatives.
My advice for you this week is to be very careful about clicking links or attachments that come in an email or other form of electronic message. If you are expected these items, that is one thing. But if the attachments or links seem out of the blue — this is a red flag! They can easily create a malware infection on your device. In terms of links, one thing that you can often to depending on the email program or devices is point to the link or press and hold on it (iOS) to reveal the true websites. You may be able to right click on the link (computer) and copy the link address. Then you could paste the address in Word or another word processor so that you can see it in print before clicking on it. Not a bad idea. If the true address doesn’t match what you are looking for — steer clear.
Additionally, decide very carefully whether you want to click on ads you see in your browser. You shouldn’t really see that many of them because I have installed an ad blocker in the browser for nearly all of you. Go to a well known technology news site — cnet.com . Unfortunately, they are known for displaying a ton of ads. If you see a lot of ads on their page, it means that you do not have an ad blocker installed. Being properly protected against malicious ads should be something to add to your list for our next visit.
Mac Security Woes
I didn’t want to bother all of my Windows clients with this update that I sent out late last week, but I thought you would be interested to know that all of the malware, browser hijacks, or whatever you want to call these intrusions I have dealt with this year have been on Macs (and in one case on a Chromebook). None have been on Windows PC’s. Here is a link to the blog post I wrote. https://theacronym.com/2019/09/06/a-note-on-mac-security/
You know you can get objective advice from me. I got a good response to my “best computers” segment awhile back. I think the best desktop for the kind of consumer that I serve is the 2018 Mac Mini, with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor (which need not cost more than $150), of your choosing. The better Dell Optiplex and Lenovo Think Centre Desktops are close seconds. The best laptops are the Thinkpad T490 and the Thinkpad X1 Carbon, with the Dell Latitude 7000 series being right up there too. The Latitude 5000 series (which I am typing this on), Thinkpad L and E series are just a degree under that. The 2016 – 2019 Mac Book laptops have not been up to Apple’s past standards even if failures are happening in 10% of cases or less. The main problem is the keyboard. I can type on it just fine. I have grown warm toward the sound, but the concern is dust and debris getting underneath. Apple has put out a warranty on these keyboards for 4 years including the 2019 models. The Apple store will not tell you this. I am being straight with you. I am telling no one to junk their computers or switch, though I help Windows to Mac and Mac to Windows switchers all the time. Apple is expected to go back to the old style of keyboards next year (and possibly with a high end laptop model by the end of this year).
Still Going Good With T-Mobile
My wife and I have now been with T-Mobile for 6+ months. I have never had a major complaint. I did take one trip into Litchfield County where I lost service for about 1.5 miles several months ago. If I spent a lot of time in rural areas I may have more of a problem, but that is not representative of my travel patterns. T-Mobile will be adding many band 71 (600 mhz) towers to the Hartford area which will help increase coverage, especially in buildings. iPhone XR and later and the latest Androids support band 71. Pricing was “a little better” than Verizon when I first reported to you on the transition but there were added benefits like higher data limits than the plan we had previously. Earlier this summer, we scored a major coup. Due to my wife being age 55+, we were able to change our plan to the Magenta Unlimited 55. We got the same unlimited data at $70 per month, inclusive of taxes and fees, for 2 lines. Wow! The coverage from Verizon might be a little better, but it is not 2x the price better. They are in our rear view mirror. T-Mobile also offers Veterans’ plans, as do some of the other carriers.
I haven’t shared one of these in a while — but I wanted to let you know what I think are the best devices out there. I am thinking of my typical client — not a video gamer or a professional video editor. I think these would work well for most of you out there.
* 1st choice – Mac Mini — Apple FINALLY revised the Mac Mini last year after not refreshing the Mac Mini since late 2014. It’s full of ports to plug things into in the back and comes with the FAST hard drive by default (unlike the iMac). You do need to provide your own keyboard, mouse, and monitor, but these won’t cost a fortune. A $100 to $150 monitor on Amazon will be just fine, as will a 3rd party Apple compatible keyboard.
* Close 2nd – Dell Optiplex 5000 or 7000 series, Lenovo Think Centre desktops — when custom ordered and appropriately equipped — these systems are rock solid and will stand the test of time
* Lenovo Thinkpad T series or X1 Carbon (current models) – These laptops have the best typing experience imaginable. They are business class systems and you get to deal with Lenovo’s US based support
* Close 2nd – Dell Latitude 5000 or 7000 series — These business class systems will not disappoint. They are plain looking but packed with power and durability. You may even be able to snag a super price from the Dell Outlet.
* Close 3rd – Lenovo Thinkpad L or E series (current models) – They offer the same keyboards as their more expensive siblings, but they are slightly heavier and are a little bit lower grade in terms of the materials. For a decent laptop under $1000, I highly recommend them.
(Leaving Apple out was not an oversight on my part!)
* Premium – iPhone XR — I think there is no comparison for a premium smartphone. Most of my clients do not need the advanced features of the XS or XS Max. It is Apple’s best selling smartphone.
* Budget – Google Pixel 3a – At under $400 – You can’t go wrong with this model. It is probably better than the significantly more expensive Pixel 3.
– iPad (2018) or iPad Air (2019) — No explanation needed. There are no significant Android tablets to speak of. iPad Pro is only necessary if you really plan to use it as your primary computer.
Official Announcement: Verizon Delays Shutdown of CDMA Calling Network
This is an update to the announcement I have shared with you before. Verizon has been relying on an older calling network called CDMA for at least 20 years. About 5 years ago, they sought to supplement this with a more advanced calling network known as LTE. If you look at the top of your smartphones, you often see the letters “LTE” when you are not on your home based WIFI. Verizon first announced sometime in 2017 that they were shutting down the CDMA network at the end of 2019. I first started making you aware of this earlier this year. Notable phones like the iPhone 5s and older do not support LTE calling, likewise with older flip phones. As of a few months ago, Verizon stopped activating phones that do not support the newer technology. I helped several of you upgrade to newer phones on the Verizon network (be it with Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, or even Great Call / Jitterbug). I don’t regret that for one minute because you are all set for the future. In light of the fact that they have many customers with older phones, especially businesses, Verizon has delayed the shutdown of the old network by 1 year — to the end of 2020. You still cannot activate a new CDMA calling only device should your device die. It is definitely time to upgrade if you are on an older device. You just have a bit longer to do it. LTE calling capable iPhones, Android phones, and yes — flip phones, are widely available.
I don’t have any major product or service announcements to tell you about other than…
-An update came out for both the iPad and iPhone last week. Even if the FEATURES don’t interest you, the update contains many security and stability fixes that are essential. With your device plugged into power, please go to to Settings >> General >> Software Update. Follow the prompts to complete your update, if you haven’t already.
-Windows 10 version 1809 is being fully deployed to just about all computers right now. This is the major new version of Windows that was finalized in the Fall of 2018. If you are prompted to install it, make sure you are closed out of all of your work. Go for it. Eek! The next new version of Windows 10 is right around the corner.
I would like to take this opportunity to let you know about some services that I offer that may be new to you.
Shopping Assistant – I can research product options for you before our appointment, during, or we can even go shopping for gear together. Can you say — technology field trip? There are many instances where I can order products for you (ie. Amazon, Best Buy) and bring them to our next appointment. I do not charge a markup on the items themselves, but I will bill you for my time to go to the store, etc. Unless it’s multiple shopping destinations involved – usually this amounts to a half hour charge added on to the appointment billing.
Collages – I started making photo collages when some family members wanted to create a framed poster (20 x 30) for my sister’s bridal shower last summer. I found a program that allowed me to create the perfect memory. You may want a collage for your own digital collection, perhaps to create a record of multiple people or items, moments in time, or to give as a gift. I can create a collage for you with anywhere from 2 to 16 photos. The collage will be saved as a normal picture file. Then you can take it and order prints of an appropriate size (with my help or by yourself). I have attached a sample of my work to this e-mail. Your collage need not have words on it, if that is your preference. Note: this collage was a challenge because not all of the photos were from the digital era. None the less, all were quite happy with the result.
Cellular Services – Here is another niche service that may be just what the doctor ordered in your time of need. Do you need a temporary cell phone number? Do you need a US # for an international visitor or just a local number for someone staying with you for a while? Do you know someone going through a divorce or who is looking to branch off from the family plan in some way? I have the answer. I have SIM cards for cellular providers that operate on all of the major networks — Verizon, ATT and T-Mobile. In short order, I can generate a new # for you or convert (port) your existing number to the new service. I will pop the SIM card in your phone, you will pay for the first month of service (typically $30 to $50 depending on the plan) and you will be good to go. For light use cases or an emergency phone, I also have per minute rate options I could set you up with.
News Flash: I read an article recently about a major big box store (that rhymes with “Sophus Repo”) having to pay the federal government $30 million in a settlement because they were running a tech support scam on their customers. They were luring them in with a “free malware check,” and then telling almost everyone they needed an expensive malware cleaning whether they truly needed it or not. You won’t get those scams with me. Thank you for supporting small business — the HEARTBEAT OF AMERICA.
You might be surprised but I still have an handful of clients that rely on AOL as their primary email account. “Hello 1999. I Miss you.” Some of these clients actually PAY for their AOL accounts. Yikes. To the best of my recollection, back in 2006 or so AOL allowed you to “cancel billing” and just use it as a free webmail account, much like Yahoo Mail or Gmail. That is truly the best way to go because they don’t care about you. AOL doesn’t want a residential consumer’s paid account. AOL is an advertising and information portal these days. They own Huffington Post; they sell advertising services; they would liked it if AOL.com is your homepage; and oh yeah by the way they provide e-mail as a free add-on. Over the past 2 months, I encountered two clients that were still paying “full boat” to AOL @28.95, as if they still had a dial up connection. I didn’t want to upset the apple cart too much, so I changed them to their $6.95 per month a month plan, which still allows phone support (and very poor phone support I might add). Nevertheless, I helped save each of these clients $264 per year — liberating them from a company who could care less.
Do you want to know another company that really doesn’t want your business? The electric company. They don’t mind if you get a solar system. They openly encourage and even facilitate green energy upgrades, which reduce your usage. They really won’t even fuss that much if you choose “alternate electric suppliers” (which usually result in you getting ripped off). Why? The less energy you use, the less chance there is that their capacity has to be upgraded or new plants have to be built. Even if rates might be on the incline, they certainly don’t mind if you use less and less kilowatt hours.
I check out a lot of companies and products so that I can be on top of my game for you. Want to know a company that really wants your business? T-Mobile. They have grown by leaps and bounds since they started their “Un-Carrier” philosophy several years ago. They have also expanded their network significantly in the past 4 years. No longer are they a “big city” cell phone company only. Their price plan might not be the right move for everyone. Also, if you live in a very rural area like northwestern Connecticut — they still may not be the best choice. However, they are an option worth of consideration if you want to keep your # and are looking for a change. T-Mobile will pay off your device payment plan with another carrier and if you switch from Verizon (with a late model iPhone for example) – they will pay off your phone and let you keep it as a T-Mobile customer. T-Mobile also gives customers with 2 lines or more free Netflix, and to all customers — a better standard unlimited plan than Verizon, and free international service (no need to pay $10 / day with the big guys).
Other companies that I know to really value your business are
Backblaze — have files that you can’t afford to lose? want a true backup (not cloud sync) service that isn’t subject to the quirks of iCloud or One Drive? $5 a month, gets the job done. They are always willing to answer questions.
I realize that the last two weeks of update were truly “honors class” material. The take home points are — 1) I always install ad blockers for my clients. 2) You should have a second (or 3rd) browser installed should there be issues with your primary browser. 3) The ability to use my preferred ad blocker in Google Chrome may change by the end of the year. 4) I can help you with this issue should the time come.
Let’s go remedial this week.
Simple Security Stuff – February 2019
–When sending out group e-mails: put yourself in the To field, put everyone else in the Bcc field.
-Never make your password out of revealing or obvious information (Birth date, maiden name, password123, etc.).
-One trend in password creation that I like is to create a sentence (ex. ILiketheYankeesin19).
-You need to be using a separate password for each website. You can start with the same base and add a unique suffix for each particular website.
-Ideally, you should use a software password manager. I set up either Last Pass or 1Password for my clients. They are secure and they work.
-If you are not ready to use a password manager: Never ever ever store your passwords in a Word document on the computer. If you are going to store them this way, we need to put them on a flash drive that you can plug into your computer when you need to look at them. (Please contact me if you are in this situation).
-If you still aren’t ready to use a password manager (hint), I don’t mind you using a paper based “notebook”.