Category: Computers

Companies That Want Your Business

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

Fastmail  or XYZ Mail— a paid e-mail providers that offer real customer support for consumers or businesses (and a great web mail interface by the way)

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. 

Simple Security Stuff–February 2019

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”.  

Browsers and Ad Blockers 2019–Part 2

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.

Browsers and Ad Blockers 2019–Part 1

Face Time

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. 

Saving on Services

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)

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

Dell XPS 13

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. 

Technology Shopping Realities

Apple in the News

I just wanted to touch on this briefly because there has been a lot of negative financial news lately.  Some of you have probably taken a hit ($$) with AAPL.  Financial reports and consumer reality don’t always match.  There is nothing substandard about Apple’s latest products.  Their quality is among the best on the market.   A certain segment of the population is upset because Apple is not going to report unit sales of iPhones anymore.  It also seems like the starting prices of iPhones, iPad Pros, Mac Minis, Mac Book Airs, and even Mac Book Pros are going up.   Sell less at higher prices and you still do as well on the bottom line may have been their thinking.  Multiple reports have said that Apple has cut orders for the iPhone X product line.  I saw one source that stated that iPhone 8 orders were being increased.  Could there be a rebellion  against removing the home button?  A desire for a sub $600 premium phone (not $750 or $999)?  Weakness in China and India?  All of these could be true. However, my clients who have iPhone X models love them.  They got used to the slightly different user experience in days or within one day.  They certainly appreciate the camera.  I’ll end on this note — If you stack the Mac Mini against a premium Windows desktop like the Dell XPS – it is priced appropriately for its features.  The Mac Book Air 2018 is also a pound for pound match with its closest Windows contenders in the ring — the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

I saw some amazing deals on Black Friday at Best Buy on Thursday night.   There were 50 inch Samsung and LG 4K HDR TVs for $327.  55 inch models were $397. These were not top of the line models, but when paired with a soundbar (a must for most new TVs), they represented an awesome value.  Best Buy also had Microsoft’s premium Surface Pro 6 tablet computer with a keyboard for $799 or $999 depending on hard drive size.  The popular Instant Pot 6 quart slow cooker extraordinaire was priced at $60-$70 by multiple outlets.  Macy’s had Martha Stewart bedding priced at 65% off.   Lord and Taylor offered some low cost but very stylish ladies handbags at 60% off.  In some cases, but not always, orders could be placed online to avoid the retail experience.  Now that Cyber Monday is upon us here are some deals of note:

Amazon Fire Stick (watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on your TV) – $25

Amazon Echo Dot (small “Hey Alexa” speaker) 3rd generation + Ring Video Doorbell – $139

50 inch Westinghouse TV 4K with HDR – $199

Amazon Fire HD8 tablet – $50

(Items found on Amazon.com or BestBuy.com)

I am sure you can find many more great deals on these and other websites throughout the day on Monday.

Always Black Friday at Stub Hub

I had the joy of going to a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert this weekend.  I have never been to a major rock or metal show in my life, although I have seen Jimmy Buffet on multiple occasions. All I can say is WOW!  They left it all on the stage and performed for 2.5 hours.  The best part of the experience was that I saved 2/3 off the regular price using StubHub.com.   It is a very reputable site (and app) where ticket holders go to sell their unneeded tickets.  I’ve used this service in the past with much success.  The key to big savings is, have a desire to attend an event  but also be OK with not going, be in close proximity, and make a decision at the last minute.  We were less than 1 hour from the site of the show and we purchased our tickets with 2 hours to go.  The regular price for two tickets would have been $180 and we paid $60.08, including fees.  

The Importance of Local Copies

A TV show that I enjoyed watching used to advertise new episodes by saying “ripped from the headlines.”  For this update, I will start with  — ripped from the customer files…

Your computer files can be so valuable.  You may need documents for legal purposes.  You may require samples of your work for future career endeavors or to get a deal completed.  Important photos can help you create promotional materials for or commemorate an event.  Your files are evidence — possibly of something exemplary or even wrongdoing. 

My point here is that separations happen.  Employment ends.  You may be forced off of the board of your HOA or community organization.  Business partners become entangled in disputes. Friendships and marriages terminate.  Hard drives fail.  Fires destroy homes. 

Cloud based backup services like Carbonite or Backblaze, even iCloud, are useful tools.  If you are running a computer with a desktop operating system like Windows or mac OS, and have important files on there, you should also have an external hard drive that backs up your entire system automatically.  Services like Dropbox and One Drive that allow you to store and synchronize selected folders can also play a key role in your technology scheme.   Today’s modern cloud based e-mail services can hold messages and attachments spanning many years worth of communications. 

However, if this data really matters to you, you should think about manually making physical copies of certain items on a periodic basis.  If your life, career, or project depends on it — protect yourself.  iPhones and iPads can be plugged into a Mac or Windows computer and backed up locally to that machine through Apple’s free iTunes software.  Love it or hate it, Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program (Windows or Mac) can be used to back up all of your e-mail into a single file.  Again, if it’s critical to you, a periodic archive may be a good idea.  Who could forget floppy disks from 25 years ago?   Today, we use flash disks (or thumb drives) to copy smaller batches of files and folders.  These disks are cheap.  It would not hurt to have a few on hand (or an additional external hard drive) to copy specific items when the situation arises.   Here are Samsung 32 GB flash drives on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-BAR-Plus-32GB-Champagne/dp/B07BPHML28/ref=dp_ob_title_ce

Multiple copies never hurt. There are potential dangers with living our technological lives on autopilot.