Category: Computers

The Value Of Anti Virus and Defensive Computing Strategies

(A couple of definitions before we start. I have talked about VPN’s before, with the VPN being a piece of software that runs on your computer (or computing device) that runs your internet traffic through a private tunnel. This can be done for privacy, security or both. DNS is the “phone book” through which you look things up on the internet (domain name system). By default you use the DNS of your internet service provider. If you own your own router, you can set a custom DNS (free option) that blocks most malware.)

The best anti virus is a strategy built around defensive computing practices defensive computing practices

– If I could only choose 2 of the following 3:  (#1) VPN that has a malware block option, (#2) using Quad 9 or similar as the alternate DNS in my router (which blocks about 99 % of known malware domains) for those situations when I don’t have my VPN on or I have browser bypassing my VPN, or (#3) traditional anti virus software…..

…. I would choose the first 2. 

however since it seems like many clients want to have the additional protection of antivirus software…..  you have to remember that the typical clients I serve are older adults either at home or in their businesses who are not very technologically savvy and like a lot of customer service and handholding.   I don’t necessarily put a lot of weight on antivirus rankings and publications that claim to do those rankings because a lot of them are just paid advertisements.

Traditionally — my go to recommendation for Mac AV has been Intego.  They are a French company with local phone support based in Texas. They’ve actually removed viruses from my clients’ computers so that’s why I trust them. The phone support has been excellent when my clients have needed them.

I’ve had good experiences with ESET on the Windows side – and based on my dealings their customer support was located in Southern California even though they are also a European company. I’ve never tried them out on the Mac but I wouldn’t doubt that they are an outstanding product.

Bit Defender has a legendary reputation but I don’t have a lot of real world experience with them. However, it should be known that they provide support by chat, E-mail and phone – so another senior friendly option.   Another Mac Anti-virus that I have found valuable in the past — though they are not necessarily known for providing great customer support for seniors is Avast antivirus. I don’t know if they still do this but they had a habit of scanning websites before you visited them which I thought was great. One time a Mac client was going to upload some sensitive information to his accountants website and avast detected that it was compromised. It led to a startling revelation for the accounting firm.

An antivirus that I would like to try out but haven’t is PC Matic. You may have seen a lot of their ads on TV. They’ve recently expanded to support the Mac and they use a very different strategy than traditional antivirus by blocking you from ever accessing tons of harmful websites.

In conclusion…

1.  Use defensive computing practices, do not click on links or open attachments from people you did not expect to receive them from. Do not re-use passwords. Use an ad blocker in your browsers.

2.  If desired, use a VPN that offers malware blocking meaning they block malware domains as one of the filter options. Personally, I use Windscribe VPN but there are others that do this as well.

3.  It’s impractical to use the VPN 100% of the time. Frankly, some of my clients just won’t use one period. I actually keep mine on pretty much 100% of the time but I’m allowed to exempt certain browsers so I always exempt one browser and therefore my activity in it is outside the VPN. For those situations that is why I have Quad 9 as the DNS in my router because it blocks 99% of malware domains.  Quad 9 is free to use.

4.   Antivirus is great for when strategies one through three fail or when you’re dealing with attachments or files on the computer. I would just make sure that the antivirus that you’re using scans all files opened, and ideally that they do a little scan of websites before you visit them. If customer support matters to you, I have given you a couple options that are better in that area. 90% of my Windows clients just use the built in Microsoft Defender. This anti-virus also features Smart Screen but it really only works if you are using the Edge browser. If you are on Windows and you are not paying for a 3rd party anti-virus – consider making Edge your primary browser. It is Chrome based these days and works very much like Google Chrome.

Microsoft Word Secret Revealed

I’ve been using Microsoft Word for how long — 30 years almost!  You might think you know all the ins and outs of Word.  Today, I confirmed something that has always been true but I think a lot of Word users don’t know and would be shocked by.   Here is the big TRUTH BOMB:   With one exception ** Microsoft Word does not  — absolutely does not — auto save your document.   What?  But — I have always gone into the Word Options (File menu >> Options >> Save and set it to 5 minutes or 10 minutes).    @Look again Word users @   Even I did a double take.   You are saving Auto-Recover information to a certain location on your computer.   That is not the same as auto saving the file every 10 minutes.  Bottom line:  Word does not auto save your file — with one exception.  This Auto-Recover business is about if you were to lose power or Word was to freakishly quit in some sort of computer error — you MIGHT be able to go to the Auto-Recover folder on your computer and retrieve a recent version of your file.  MIGHT is the key word, because I have seen many instances where this does not not happen for my clients. 

Alright, alright.  So I have to keep pressing the save button on my file?  Generally, yes.  What is the exception?    The exception comes if you are saving your files in Microsoft One Drive.   One Drive is a service and a folder on your computer that synchronizes with the cloud.  It is a direct competitor of Dropbox.  It shouldn’t surprise you that it integrates very neatly with Microsoft Word and other Office programs.   One Drive works on Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android.   Don’t want to pay anything?   Don’t have to.  The free tier of One Drive gives you 5 GB of free space — that is good for potentially thousands of Word documents.   When you pay the $6 or $8 a month for Microsoft Office 365 the annual subscription to Office that I set up for many of my clients — you get 1 TB of One Drive space or 1000 GB.   That is more than enough space to likely save your whole digital lives. 

So what I am trying to say here is — if you are doing important work in Word — you should be doing one of 2 things

1) Regularly clicking Save

2) Save your documents in the One Drive folder (One Drive is built into Windows. It has to be installed on a Mac from the App Store.)

I tried looking at alternatives and here is what I found.  In the Pages word processing app on a Mac — files do auto save.   Using Google Docs in the browser — files also auto save.     You may or may not want to use One Drive.  Some of you probably should.   But now you know the truth about Microsoft Word.   One way or another — save your files!!    Utilize a backup system as well.

05/18/22 – What Is The Apple Card?

I paid $4.59 for gas yesterday.  According to a major bank, the average may be $6.20 by summer.  A discount grocer I shop at used to sell eggs for $1.19.  They are now $2.45.  I don’t think these issues are going away any time soon.  The valleys of life sometimes entail living with the consequences of others’ (poor) decisions.  2022 is going to be one of those times.

but there are — Stories of Hope

My 89 year old great aunt and 94 year old grandmother recently have recovered from Covid 19 after getting infected about 1 month ago.  Recovery is possible, common, and likely.  Both took the new anti-viral medications.  I believe early treatment is essential, whether you take conventional or unconventional paths.  Once again you are able to order 8 free tests for your household. It takes a minute to fill out the form.  Here is another tool for your tool bag.  

COVID.gov/tests – Free at-home COVID-19 tests

Computer Speed Up Specialist

Do you have a 3 to 7 year old Windows computer that is starting to get a little slow?   Are you put off by the supply shortages and the cost of buying a new computer?   I think I may have an answer for you.   Unlike modern Macs, that have all soldered in unremovable parts — most Windows systems have a replaceable hard drive.  If your system seems that slow, you can likely benefit from a replacement with a solid state drive (SSD).  I make sure your files are backed up and then re-install Windows and your essential programs and copy your files back on to the computer.  This is a real jolt in the arm for your PC and it likely feels faster than when the computer was new.  These jobs can take as  little as 2 hours.  I just did one last week for a client that was 3 hours.   When choosing your next computer, only get one with an SSD in the future.  The Windows and Mac operating systems are meant for SSDs, in fact it is not possible to buy a Mac without one. 

Apple Card

Welcome to the world of high tech finance, I suppose.  For years, customers have always been able to finance an Apple product and get a certain number of interest free payments, at least on their first purchase.  Most recently, shoppers were offered a Barclays Apple Rewards Visa.  However, in 2019 Apple decided to take things in house and offer their own Mastercard called the Apple Card.  Apple is putting their name on it and demanding certain standards, but the banking back end is provided by the consumer division of Goldman Sachs. 

Why might someone want the Apple Card?

Well you get a card made out of titanium that is heavy and makes you feel important.  (Come on, that’s not a valid reason!) OK, getting serious here — the Apple Card seems like a valid choice for customers that regularly shop from Apple.  There is 3% cash back on all Apple purchases.  Interest free financing can also be used with all Apple purchases.  Furthermore, the card is automatically added to the Wallet app on the iPhone.   For any “tap to pay” situation, there is 2% cash back.   (There is also 1% cash back whenever you use the physical card).  The card can be used wherever Mastercard is accepted.  The full card number is not printed on your card.  It can be looked up in the Wallet app and a new number can be issued in the event of a security issue.

How to apply?

You apply using the Wallet app on your iPhone.  It’s very simple and takes about 5 minutes.

Who is this not for?

The Apple Card is not for someone who wants paper statements or to send in a check every month.  You really need an iPhone to be a card member.  You will make your payments through the Wallet app or by logging on to a website on the computer with your Apple ID and password. 

Windoze 11? Putting Computer Shopping In Perspective

I’m still trying to keep an open mind about Windows 11.  At best I think it will be the most secure operating system Microsoft has ever offered. At worst, it could be another Vista or Windows 8.   For Chrome, Word, shopping, paying bills, and banking Windows 11 is just fine.  Many new computers sold today come with Windows 11.  However, if you still want a new computer with Windows 10 — I can find one for you.  Quantities may be limited and you have to be ready to order now.  My general guidance is as follows — a  passable / average / perhaps above average system — $900 or so,   good to great system $1500, and top of the line $2000-2200.  (Keep in mind that a Mac Book Air with 512 GB hard drive costs $1249 and a Mac Book Pro 14 costs $1999).   I just ordered one of those top tier models, a Thinkpad X1 Yoga touchscreen laptop, with a client.  It came to $2257 with tax and we are super excited about setting it up.

Mac Mini vs iMac

I just wanted to take a moment to discuss the two desktop choices that consumers or home workers such as yourself are going to consider:  the iMac and the Mac Mini.  I have shared this info in shorter form before but I wanted to unpack these possibilities a bit more.   The current M1 Mac Mini was released in the fall of 2020 and the current M1 iMac was released in the spring of 2021.  Despite their different shapes and set ups — INTERNALLY SPEAKING — the logic board, the chips, the hard drive, and the memory — they are the same performance wise.  I’m going to have you look at the configurations for the Mini https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-mac/mac-mini and in the red trunks in the other corner, I’m going to have you look at the iMac  https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-mac/imac

This email is going to compare the $899 Mini and the $1699 iMac.  Both systems have the 512 GB SSD hard drive and the 8 core CPU.   One is not double the cost of the other, but you may certainly perceive one as the better value or the more attractive option after reading the following.   It’s your choice.

Mac Mini — Apple has sold the Mac Mini since 2005. I remember ordering the first one.   The Mini is about the size of a small cigar box, but it packs a punch.  It is the computer “tower” only.  You must provide your own keyboard, mouse, speakers, monitor – and if desired webcam.  Those accessories need not and probably should not be Apple branded if you are going for the value proposition.  A decent 21 to 24 inch monitor can be purchased for about $150 to $180.    Next I would recommend a USB keyboard / mouse – MacAlly brand on Amazon is Mac compatible — $30 to $40.  These are good for initial use and as a backup, even if you plan to use wireless later.  Decent Amazon brand speakers are $30.  Next comes a webcam if you plan to use Zoom.  The C922 Logitech is $85 and known to be compatible with the current Mac OS.  The total cost of those accessories  is $295 – $335.   With the cost of the Mac Mini being $899 –you are looking at a little less than $1299, in line with what I’ve said previously.  Note: you will have wires all over your desk, just like with a traditional desktop computer.

iMac — the new iMac has a 24 inch screen.  Everything is built into the screen.  The monitor, the speakers, the computer tower:  it’s all there.  Apple includes a wireless keyboard and mouse too.  The webcam is built in.   It’s slim, colorful, even sexy if a computer could be. There is one wire for the power cord.  Unlike the Mac Mini which has 2 traditional USB A ports, the iMac has none, which means you will probably need an Anker USB hub to plug things in. That will run you about $30 on Amazon — so your cost is about $1729.  

The choice is yours, not mine.  Do you want to save about $400 and pick your own accessories?  Or do you want to pay $400 more for style, compactness and visual appeal? Both computers are equally as fast or “good” inside. Hope you appreciated the review.  It might not be as good as Consumer Reports but I think I made a compelling case for EITHER system – if you want a Mac to begin with.

PS.  If you didn’t have hardly any photos or files you could get a slightly cheaper iMac or Mac Mini.  There is one model of each that is $200 cheaper.  You can do that math.  The same price differential and logic of this post would be true.

Lets Get Down To Business

Starting Light — Beverage Pick Of The Week

I probably have 2 alcoholic drinks a year, so my beverage pick is going to be something else.  Diet soda can be taboo, but some people just prefer it or can’t handle a regular cola.  I don’t drink a lot of soda, but I am a big fan of Polar beverages based in Worcester.  I just happened to see a liter of their Diet Cherry Soda at the grocery store.  I’m so glad I took a chance.  Its the best tasting soda I’ve ever had.  Moxie would be #2 for me. 

Tech Tips You Can Use

I think it’s a great idea to Restart or Shut Down your computer every week or at least every two weeks.   Macs and Windows PCs can be restarted.  iPhones and iPads must be Shut Down, by either going to Settings >> General >> Shut Down or by pressing the the correct buttons (hope I’ve shown you this already).   Some Android phones have a Restart feature, some will also need to be shut down.  The shut down should just be temporary.   I do not believe in shutting down the computer every night.  Repeated on and offs will shorten its life.  Just let your computer go to sleep.  This way it will get its updates.


Deal of the Day (and in General)

Fifty dollars off on a Mac computer is a deal, even in these times, but the $699 Mac Mini is priced to sell from the get go.  This model has the 256 GB SSD hard drive  and is really targeted to those  users who are doing email, shopping, browsing, and banking with small collections of photos and music (not tons of files).  Amazon often has this model for $650 which is great but while supplies last they are selling it for an amazing $570.  A steal!   Keep in mind with the Mac Mini you provide your own keyboard mouse and monitor and speakers but you can buy these economically.  Apple brand is not required.  Under $1000 for a Mac desktop all in sounds like a winner to me.  Amazon link https://amzn.to/3sxYvxs

Coming Soon To A Theater Near You

Well — it should be a live streaming event and not a theater, but I expect Apple to release a new iPhone SE as soon as this month.  It is expected to feature 5G radios for the first time.   With ATT, Verizon, and T-Mobile operating only on 4G and 5G signals by the end of the year – I’ll be curious to see if Apple can include 5G for the past $399 price.  Anyway, the SE is the winner winner chicken dinner of the low cost iPhone options.  Get the 13 if you need the better cameras, but the the SE is still a fine phone. 

Song of the Week

On this back to business theme, how could I not close with a song with the chorus line of “let’s get down to business.”   Put on your dancing shoes, get up and move.  Here is a techno song from your tech guy.  “The Business” by Tiesto. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PO_d169ibZ8

Shopping For Computers Summer 2021

Weekly Humor

I may be wound up tight, but my mainspring is not going to break.  (That’s a watch joke, if you didn’t get it.)

Work Wisdom – Rideshare, Door Dash, Etc. 

This is not going to apply to you, but it may be relevant to one of your kids, grandkids, a friend or a neighbor.  In this “new economy” people are working for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Door Dash to make some extra cash or possibly even as a full time gig.  While working for these outfits, they are a 1099 contractor.   Expenses can be deducted but good records (like mileage) must be kept.  Taxes are not withheld.  Drivers should be saving part of every check to cover the Self Employment Tax at a bare minimum.  Additionally, these workers should purchase extra car insurance to cover  what the company won’t.  There is often a gap in coverage.  Finally, they should ask if this kind of work voids their car’s warranty.

Shopping For Computers – Summer 2021

I just want to set the expectations so that now one is surprised later on.  For the most part, prices are going up.  Discounts are few.  I’m sitting here in front of a Thinkpad T series — $2000 MSRP, that I got for $650 (new) in January 2020.  I also have a Dell Latitude 5450 that was about $1100 that I picked up almost 6 years ago for under $400 with some extreme couponing on Dell(dot)com.   Complete fairy tales in 2021!  Fiction! Most of you are buying laptops.  I still like all of my old picks — MacBooks, Dell Latitude 5000 series or 7000 series, and Thinkpad T or X series.   However, for a solid laptop (I’m not even talking about top of the line or luxury), you are looking at $1500 to 2000 for a brand new unit.   The Mac Book Air starts at $999.  However to get the 500 GB SSD hard drive its + 200.  These new Macs have such a brand new unique architecture and everything is built in, with no replaceable parts. I would seriously consider getting the 3 year Apple Care warranty for $250.  That puts your right around $1500 considering taxes.  For one of the better Windows laptops, you’ll be paying the same or more.  A client was recently considering a Thinkpad T15.  The price dropped to $1274 for a very well equipped system.  I said — TAKE IT; that’s a buy price!   In terms of iMacs, the $1699 model is the one you’ll really want.   So where can you save these days?  Well, the Thinkpad E and L series are not bad as long as they are properly outfitted.   The Mac Mini is still Apple’s bargain desktop.  With a $150 monitor, your own non-Apple mouse and keyboard, + $25 speakers, I think you could have it out the door for $1250.  (With these new M1 Macs, always buy a larger hard drive than you need (one step up).  Don’t say, I’ll never use that much space.   The larger hard drive you get, the longer the system will last.  Remember, that internal hard drive can’t be replaced.)  Finally, you could always try the Dell or Lenovo Outlets.  You have to think fast, but bargains exist.  

Conclusion and Song of the Week

It was a rough week.  You have the right to feel confused and even angry. They are your sincere emotions.  Monday through Saturday – I watched ZERO TV.  I don’t use Facebook.  I don’t use Google other than for e-mail and to look up local businesses.  Personally, I’m seeking calm in the storm while fully acknowledging that sometimes one has to hit the punching bag and let off some steam.  I thought this piano interpretation of “On My Way” by Peter Buka really fits the mood this time around.  He may not have a mainstream style, but he is doing something right with 7.5+ million views on this song alone. Enjoy!  https://youtu.be/w2IH69pFsI0

The End of June Is Upon Us

Life Hacks

I started doing something in January that I don’t regret — I began shopping at “off price” or “generic” grocery stores. I don’t know how else to describe them.  I think in other parts of the country — California perhaps — these are much more common.   Around here, I have been shopping at Aldi and Price Rite.  I feel like I have saved at least a couple hundred $$.  The food tastes the same.  Sometimes the brands are the same. There’s less markup.  I am over the pretense of thinking I have to shop at certain stores. 

Your Favorite Masked Man

Mask wearing might become popular once again.  I’ve received a lot of compliments on the masks I’ve worn and I have typically ordered from 3 places.  Whether you want N95,  KN95 (Chinese / Asian equivalent), or KF94 (Korean standard) – I would be happy to order for you.  I prefer the KN95 or KF94 because of the ear loops.  N95’s have straps that wrap around the head.  The choice is yours.  Black masks are available.  Spice it up.  Let me help you get dressed for success.

Clients Improve My Practice

I become better at my craft by learning from clients and observing how they use technology.  I did some work recently for a client who had an extensive collection of bookmarks in her browser.  Not many of you do a lot of bookmarking.  I think I have well over 1000 pages saved.  This client had over 900.  Ideally they should all be all sorted into folders, but that takes time and not everyone is that organized.  My client wanted them on the screen all the time so they can easily be scrolled through and selected — the way they were in Internet Explorer (there’s a name from the past) in Windows 7 and earlier.  It turns out that this is not possible in Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.   It is only possible in Safari (Mac) or Firefox (Mac and Windows).   A Firefox user she will be!

Alternate Methods

You may need to do something right away and can’t get the help you need that hour or even that day.  I’ll try to get there as soon as I can.  However, we all have situations where it just can’t wait.  I want to let you know that there isn’t only one way to surf the Internet, check your email, or type a document on your computer.  You must understand — and perhaps this is new learning territory for you than we can cover in depth in our next session — that there are at least 2 ways to skin a cat.  Exploring the options can get you out of a jam and open mental pathways.    Here are just a few scenarios……

– Comcast or Gmail e-mail:  Your account can be set up in the Mail app (or Outlook) but you can also visit Gmail.com or My.xfinity.com to access a fully functional mail system in your web browser.

-You prefer to go on the Internet with Safari or Chrome:  What do you do when they don’t work or become corrupted?  You need a second browser at your disposal!! This could be Firefox, Edge, Vivaldi, or Brave.  Chances are that the second browser is going to work.  Get familiar with it.

-Time to type a document — Oh no!  Microsoft Word is not working.  Did you know that you can type and save basic documents in Text Edit (Mac) and Word Pad (Windows).  For letters and basic writing with paragraphs they are just fine.

Treating Referrals Right and Importance of Backups

I want to thank those of you who have sung my praises on the Nextdoor website for your neighborhood.  A new client contacted me on Friday.  I did a bit of phone triage with her and allowed her to thoroughly explain her issue with a series of follow up questions on my end.  It seemed like this client was working from home and regularly typed up Word documents which were carefully saved on the Desktop and another location.  All of a sudden these 2 documents that were there day after day (seemed like a continuing work routine) were gone.   Not in the Recycle Bin (or Trash as a Mac user would call it).  Gone!  They seemed like really important files.  By asking some very specific questions – I determined that there were no backup copies of these files online or on external media.   When I charge clients for a session — I don’t promise a guaranteed outcome.  Clients pay for my time, for the consultation.  However, I want to operate with the utmost integrity.  When I go to see a client I want to make sure there is a likelihood of success.  I told this new client that I don’t think I can help her and I’m not one to make false promises just to earn a sale.  She thanked me for my honesty and said she would certainly call back when other technology needs arose.   Thanks how I do business folks. A straight shooter.


I don’t know if the caller recently had a Windows update, but I will note that I recently dealt with a client that had a major update (or what I like to call an upgrade) to their operating system and lost all of their applications, but not their files.  Major updates are a potential peril.   Whatever the danger — if you have files you can’t afford to lose on your computer — you need a backup system and ideally more than one.  You may want to employ a cloud based backup system such as Carbonite or Backblaze.   A lot of you incorporate cloud based storage such as iCloud Drive (very popular with my Mac users), Microsoft One Drive or Dropbox.  One thing I like about One Drive is that it will save multiple versions of a Word document you are working on and they can later be restored.  Keep in mind that the iCloud, Dropbox, and One Drive are more accurately described as “file synchronization services” rather than bakcups — even though they do backup your files.  I say this because if you delete the file from one device it will be deleted on the others.   Finally, a physical backup is very important as well.  With my clients, this takes the form of an external hard drive plugged into the computer.  Using Time Machine on the Mac and File History (or Macrium) in Windows, you can have a physical backup that can be restored from in times of crisis. 

What is your backup plan?  Let me know if you need help coming up with one.