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”.
PSA: All of you with a Google account have probably gotten an e-mail from Google recently about the closing of some of their services. I have already advised a couple of clients in a panic over this issue. Please go back and read the e-mail carefully. Your Google account is NOT closing. Your Google + account is closing (Google Plus). Google what? Yeah, most of you probably never knew that Google launched a half baked social network several years back in an attempt to take on Facebook. By default, you also had a Google + account. I thought it was good for sharing photos and longer text posts than were typically the norm on Facebook. It seemed like a great tool for groups. Unfortunately, it never caught fire. Google + is shutting down on April 2nd. Your Google account and Gmail functionality will be just fine.
Browsers and Ad Blockers – Part 2
Taking all Mac and Windows computers into consideration, the Google Chrome browser is by far the most used in the world. Among my Mac using clients, I would say that 50 to 60% of them use Safari as their primary browser. However, even with them, Chrome is still popular. No matter what your browser of choice is, remember that its critical to have a second browser installed on your computer. Your regular browser may become corrupted, infected, or just not work well on certain sites. That second (or even third) browser can be a lifeline.
On your Safari browser, I had no choice but to install the Ad Block Plus ad blocker. On your Firefox or Chrome browsers, I have installed either Ad Block Plus or uBlock Origin. In recent years I have favored uBlock Origin. It was developed by a Canadian programmer named Raymond Hill. It is open source, provided free of charge, with no donations sought. Unfortunately, in recent years, Ad Block Plus has gone on the take — accepting revenue by allowing “acceptable ads”. This option can be turned off, but it left a lot of users with a bad taste in their mouths.
As with the other major browsers, Google Chrome puts out several updates a year which are delivered to you automatically. You have to remember that Google’s primary business is advertising. Frankly, I am surprised that they did not block the ability to limit ads in Chrome a long time ago. That could be changing. In a new version of Chrome, coming out later this year, changes will be made “under the hood” that render uBlock Origin useless. You will either have to stick with the ads or switch to using Ad Block Plus, which may also be rendered less functional but still operational.
These changes to Google Chrome are proposed at this time and not set in stone. Should they become reality, the Firefox browser will remain unaffected in terms of uBlock Origin. It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that you have a browser other than Chrome installed on your computer. After all, having alternate browsers is about more than just one issue. Having options gives you independence and computing stability. Here are links to options beyond Chrome:
Firefox — Firefox.com
Brave (started by former Firefox CEO) — https://brave.com/
Vivaldi (started by the founders of Opera) — https://vivaldi.com/
Find the browser that fits you.
Apple really messed this one up. I know you iPhone, iPad and Mac users out there really like Facetime. It means a lot in your business and family communications. It’s built into all of those 3 devices I just mentioned. You don’t need a separate Skype account for it to work. Apple got this one right. However, there is a hiccup. A Facetime flaw was found in group Facetime calls that allowed you to be secretly recorded even if you don’t answer the call. Cupertino — we have a problem!! Apple is taking this so seriously that they have disabled the group Facetime feature until they can roll out a fix later this week. Please be checking your iPhone once a day over the next week. I am expecting an update by the end of the week. If you really want to be safe, you could turn off Facetime entirely as a short term precaution. Settings >> Facetime >> Flip the switch. I won’t be doing that, but I don’t blame you if you want to. Just be sure to turn it on the next time you want to do a Facetime chat with your brother in St. Louis.
Browsers and Ad Blockers – Part 1
I wrote several Updates on ad blockers back in 2015 and 2016. Those posts can be found on my blog theacronym.com by searching for the term “ad blocker”. I have used an ad blocker in my browsers for at least 10 years. I have used an ad blocker on my iPhone since they were allowed back in 2015. I install ad blockers on nearly every single client computer I work on. I think I have only been told one time to remove the ad blocker entirely. (Hint: it may end up being a mistake.) Of course, I show my clients how to turn off the ad blocker for a particular website should it be requested. I described the notion of ad blocking as a dilemma we face as Internet users. Much of the web that we use is free. Those websites pay their bills with ads. If everyone blocks ads, these sites can’t pay their bills. They will either need to come up with new revenue models or cease to exist. The vast majority of Internet users are not blocking ads, so you are in a rare group.
I don’t feel bad about blocking ads. Why? Many of my clients computers have been infected with annoying adware and malware due to bad ads. Why are there bad ads? Most website do not manage their ads. They turn them over to a 3rd party service. Every so often those ad networks do not properly screen the code behind particular ads or the websites they link to. Your computer is adversely affected, likely resulting in an expensive service call to someone like me. Either because I have to (ie. to watch a TV show on a network’s website) or because I want to support a particular site, I do unblock ads on a case by case basis. I am less offended by websites that serve up their own ads and don’t rely on an outside company. These sites are few and far between, unfortunately. I am very willing to unblock these “1st party” ads.
My go to ad blockers on the computer are Ad Block Plus or uBlock Origin, and I tend to favor the second one. You likely have one of the 2 installed by me. On iOS devices I like Ad Guard, though there are other choices. For some clients, I have taken the notion of blocking one step further and gone with a “sledgehammer approach” blocking all advertising servers at the network level of the computer before they even get the the browser. This may be the right call if you have had serious security problems due to ads in the past or are very averse to ads.
Coming next week — Part 2 — How the most popular browser may try to limit your ability to block ads later this year. Stay tuned.
Most “Mac-like” Windows Laptops
I had this conversation with a client lately. We were trying to come up with Windows based alternatives to the Mac Book Air. While there may be others worth of mention, here is my list, in no particular order.
Microsoft Surface 2 Laptop (currently available at a bargain holiday price)
And if you want an alternative to the $2700 15 inch Mac Book Pro, check out the Dell XPS 15 ($1500-ish models are worthy alternatives).
Saving on Services
For a couple of years, I’ve told you that it is possible to save big on your home communications package (ie. with the cable company) if you know how to do it. If you just have one service with them or signed a new agreement 2 months ago — there is not much hope I can offer you at the moment. However, I have been at peace with my cable company (Comcast) since 2014 by making some sacrifices and making 2 year agreements. The package I have with Comcast is called Internet Pro Plus. I get a very fast Internet package, digital economy TV (which includes all local channels, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, CNBC, Bloomberg, A+E, USA, History channel, Food Network, and others), plus HBO. My TV package does not include regional sports networks, ESPN or Fox Sports. Home phone does not matter in my household, although we do pay for that with a separate provider at $40 per year (WOW!!!). I do not pay a modem rental fee with Comcast. I have my own modem and router. With 3 TV’s, I pay a total, including taxes of $112.xx per month. If only 1 or 2 TV’s were involved, the price would be less. If your bill makes smoke come out of your ears, there may be something you can do about it.
I have a real client example of serious savings. I recently met with a client who was receiving TV, phone, and Internet from Cox (generally a fine company in my opinion). However, their bill almost made me fall over. It was about $323 a month. Unbelievable!! That’s a car payment. While my best success has always been negotiating with Comcast, I suggest we give it a try. I was able to get them savings of $36 per month. That comes out to about $432 per year. They were thrilled.
If you think I may be able to help you in this area, let me know about your current package.