How are you? Staying during this heat wave? I am open for business and look forward to my sessions with you this week whether in person or virtual. Did you know that you might have $43 in Junk Fees on your cable bill? Read on to find out…..
Clearing Out Those Computer Gremlins
Here is some good and simple advice for you. While it’s very convenient to let the computer go to sleep, so that you get all of the updates and can wake it up quickly — SHUT IT DOWN COMPLETELY — ONCE A WEEK. It can be for a few minutes. It can be overnight, your choice. But just completely shut it down. I think that will just help to clear all the cobwebs and gremlins out. It’s good therapy for the device. You can even do this with your smartphones and tablets. Give them a complete shut down, at least once a week.
Comcast B.S. Fees
(And by B.S. — I mean big secret). In is unbelievable what they are allowed to get away with. I was explaining this to a customer recently, but if you have 3 services with Comcast / Xfinity (or even just TV + internet) you are probably paying about $43 in extra fees that they never tell you about up front. Here is a breakdown of those fees:
1) there is a $14.95 broadcast TV fee (this is the fee they charge for re-transmitting local channels like local CBS, local NBC, local FOX (which is different than FOX NEWS which a paid cable channel), local ABC, local PBS (CPTV), and a few others. In the past local stations did not get paid by the cable company, but if my brain serves me correctly there was a legal / regulatory decision about 10+ years ago that made this possible.
2) Whether you watch sports or not (and if you do there will be baseball, basketball and hockey starting in about 1 week) — there is a Regional Sports fee of $8.75 per month. They have a few packages that don’t have sports but if you type in the channel # or say “ESPN” to the voice remote, and it comes up, you have the sports channels
3) for your Xfinity Gateway — that is your modem / router / phone adapter , the white box…they charge a monthly rental of about $14
4) They also now charge about $5 per month for your primary cable box. It used to be free. They also charge about $10 each for additional digital outlets (TV’s) but I am not factoring that in here. For now you can save on that fee by using a Roku as your cable box. They are not charging for that YET.
The only one of these fees you can truly avoid is #3. You can buy your own modem. A decent one like the Netgear CM700 is about $110 give or take plus a router.. However, if you have phone services with Xfinity, you will need a modem that supports this. Those modems cost more. Those could be $200-250 with wireless router functionality built in. Or $100 for a modem plus voice (current Best Buy price) + a router of your choosing. Decent single routers are usually $100 to $200. If you do the math on $14 per month, you would generally see that owning your own equipment pays for itself in 2 years or less. However, if you are prone to a lot of electrical surges and cable outages (which I do not experience) – it may be worth paying that $14 a month. Personally speaking, I have owned my own modem / router since 2012 and I have never looked back. I replaced the equipment with a new modem and router in 2018.
If you have a different cable or home telecom company — check your bill. How many B.S. fees do you have?
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.
Learning About New (to me) Old Technologies During the Pandemic
I will never own a Rolex, or a Tudor, or an Omega. However, I was given a Seiko — made in Japan — watch for my big birthday last month that was roughly $160. It sparked an intense period of learning for me. I became fascinated in these tools for our wrists that are able to keep time and produce 21,000 + vibrations per hour WITHOUT a battery. I am referring to watches with a mechanical movement, whether they be automatic, hand wound or both. (Of course, there are wonderful quartz watches out there with batteries too.) Over the past 6 weeks, I think I have become quite knowledgeable on the sub-$500 watch market. There are awesome watches you can get out there for under $300 and in some cases under $200 as well. I haven’t found a way to incorporate this newfound love into my business as some kind of formal proposition, but I would definitely be willing to discuss this arena with you informally by e-mail or perhaps at the back end of an appointment.
Some insights I would be able to share with you include… There are many fine watches out there with Japanese movements. It is possible to get affordable Swiss made watches. I can help you understand the difference between a grey market watch and one from an authorized seller. (My Seiko came from a grey market store in NYC that also has an authorized division as well.) Sometimes the right strap can make all the difference on a watch, especially a nylon “NATO” strap. I don’t think we should think of watches by traditional gender distinctions. A lot of so-called ladies watches are very stylish but not functional. Why can’t a lady wear a nice man’s watch? Of course she can! There are so many possibilities if we think outside the watch box. There are a lot of garbage watches coming out of China, but I can let you know about the one Chinese made watch that “watch people” really admire.
Watch Out For Google Search Results
Over the past couple years, I have seen some clients come up with bad luck on Google search results. It often starts with Googling for a phone number for customer service for a particular company. While Google has improved this type of searching and can often provide you with an obvious and legitimate number, you have to deal with paid search listings. I have tried to install ad blockers for all of you on your browsers and shown you how to turn that ad blocker on and off. However, if you do not have an ad blocker installed you are going to see at least 3 search results from Google that are ads. They should be clearly identified. However, you may not notice what you are looking at. Please be careful. Unfortunately, scam companies have been buying up key word ads from Google. So that when you search for XYZ bank customer service or Frontier customer service (for example), those first few results may not be what you are looking for. You will have to scroll beyond the sponsored listings to truly find what you want. Goggler beware!
While many of my clients have incomes that are not necessarily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, investments have been drastically affected. I know that some of you are still working or are volunteering for organizations that are feeling some serious pressure right now. There is a natural inclination to want to save on costs. I have just a couple of ideas for you. T-Mobile, ATT, and Cricket (a subsidiary of ATT) are all offering plans that are $15 / mo for unlimited talk and text and 2 GB of data. I would say 70% of my clients use less than this much data in a month. Sick of paying $200 – $300 a month for a cable bill? If you are not a big TV watcher (so depressing these days, right?) why not consider going Internet only. In West Hartford, Go Netspeed is an awesome fiber optic option for $50 / month. If you can get solid speeds with the phone company (like 25 mbps or greater), you can usually get service for about $50 a month. Finally, you could go Internet only with a service like Comcast, you can get a plan for about $75 a month (and possibly less with a promo). If you are going to do Cable internet only, purchase your own modem and save the $15 / mo rental.
Best Moment of Oscars
Filmmaker Taika Watiti (short interview clip – via link), instead of talking about his work, took the opportunity to slam Apple on their awful keyboards in their recent Mac Books. Can you believe it? This event was supposed to be about the films, the actors, the great production staff — and it’s Apple’s keyboards that he really to speak of. Going back to early 2018, I have been really hard on Apple and I have let you know it. Some of you simply had to get new Macs over the past few years and I was very straight with you, even when Apple wasn’t. I let you know about the 4 year warranty from date of purchase on the keyboard replacements. I have also let you know that a Lenovo Thinkpad or Dell Latitude would be a much better investment, if you could see yourself switching from Mac to Windows. There will likely be some good news around the corner, however. Between March and June — I expect Apple to release new 13 inch Mac Air and Pro models with the “classic keyboard”. That would be a keyboard similar to the 2015 models, the last good Mac laptop keyboard. When those products launch, I will be telling you it’s time to buy.
The Cadillac of VPN’s
This is a message for the more privacy focused among us. You may travel a lot. You may use WiFi at coffee shops and hotels. You may just not like the idea of your internet service provider knows everywhere you go online. If you are one of those people, you need a VPN. A VPN is a little app that runs on your computer, smartphone or tablet that creates an encrypted tunnel for all your traffic to flow through. It’s simple to use, you turn it on and you turn it off. Your internet provider will never see any of the sites that you visit. A good VPN will cost $8 to $12 per month, give or take. The best of them will never keep any logs of your activity. I used to recommend 2 particular VPN services. I have refined my picks, due to experience. The Cadillac of VPN’s — the best you can get right now, Is a company called Express VPN. They are so easy to use. and they offer 24 hour technical support (via chat on their website). I know that older technology users like good customer service. Current pricing is $12.95 month to month and $100 if you paid for 12 months. My second choice, let’s call them the Volvo of VPN’s, is Private Internet Access — PIA. PIA’s commitment to privacy has held up in court. However, like Volvo, they were recently sold to a new company but have promised to keep their past commitments and maintain their legacy. PIA is cheaper than Express VPN. It remains to be seen, if there will be long term changes under the new management. If I could tell you to go with only one VPN — go with Express VPN.
Financial Safety Tip of the Week
This is a really simple tip, but very relevant to the scam calls that are going around today. You may get a message saying they are from your credit card. Do not call back or answer the call. Call the customer service number on the back of your card or on your statement. If you are the type that likes to throw everything out, always keep the last statement of all of your bills in a folder. That way you have a good number to call. Not everyone can see the numbers on the back of a credit card without a magnifier.
I wanted to issue a clarifying statement on the topic of “Mesh Routers” because someone had questioned whether I was against mesh routers and that I might want to reconsider my position.
Mesh routers are 2 and 3 unit + router systems that can help to bridge the gaps for WiFI in large homes or homes that may have trouble getting a signal in specific areas. Well known mesh router brands are Netgear Orbi and Eero. Xfinity also providers their own mesh solution called XFI pods, make for them by a company called Plume.
For the record, I am not nor have I ever been against mesh routers. I have been setting up mesh router systems for clients since 2017. I have worked with a precursor to the modern day mesh systems (ie. Netgear Powerline) for over 10 years. In my experience, the mesh systems work in some instances and do not work in others. If you are in a WiFi challenged situation, it may be worth it to buy a mesh system from a vendor with a good return policy (like Amazon) to try out. If they don’t work out, you can always go back to your old router system.
Also, keep in mind the cost. While a good single router is going to cost you approximately $200, a mesh system will cost you $300 to $400 for the Eero or Orbi. The Xfinity XFI pods are $119 for 3 pods and $199 for 6 pods, depending on the size of the house. You need to be renting a “modern” modem from them (approx $15 per month) to use these specific pods.
Be flexible. Be willing to try out a couple of solutions to find what works best for you.
One score and one miss.
I will start with miss first. I know that some of you are likely looking for a quality laptop this year. You know how I rave about the Lenovo Thinkpad (IBM’s old line) and the Dell Latitude systems. In fact they are better than the current crop of Mac Books. For what seemed like this weekend only, Lenovo was offering an unbelievable $629 price on a fully decked out Thinkpad T480. It was brand new, even though the T480 was the 2018 model. I wish I could have gotten this information out to you sooner but I just wasn’t able to. By Monday morning, the price had jumped back to $2029. This 14 inch laptop is every bit as high quality as a 13 / 15 inch Mac Book Pro and in my opinion better.
I am pleased to report that I was successful in helping a client save big money on their Comcast bill. I was able to get them an annualized savings of $576, with monthly pricing going from $268 to $220. The name of the Comcast package was called Select Triple Play. The particulars that influenced this deal included a phone modem rented from Comcast ($14 – 15 approx.) 2 cable boxes, and HD service was included in the deal. The Select Triple Play includes the Digital Preferred cable TV package, one level higher than the “standard” TV package, and Blast internet (300 mbps). This deal is apparently an everyday price, no strings had to be pulled and no arms had to be twisted. Fees can go up in the future, as always. Please see my last update. In this scenario, the client could save the modem rental charge by buying their own telephone capable modem (approx $200) but it would take about 1.5 years for the cost savings to equal out. Given that this particular client’s house is known for lightning strikes and modems have been replaced in the past — renting is likely the best option.
If you are wondering about the Standard Triple Play, pricing will be a little less. If you can get a promotion guaranteed for 12 or 24 months, pricing will be even lower but you will have to sign a contract on those promos. What I can say is this, if you are getting all 3 services from Comcast not including any extra packages – $175 to $225 is very normal these days. As with the computers, promotional packages can be here one week and gone the next.
Preview: Cell Phone Market is Changing
I am going to get into this more in a future update. However, I see the cell phone market changing a lot as we move to the end of 2020 and beyond. Old networks are being shut down and the carriers are going to rely exclusively on advanced networks like LTE and 5G. There have been a ton of layoffs and I think this has put a lot of strain on delivering positive customer experiences.
Based on personal experiences and helping clients, I would say my ranking of best providers in terms of customer service are
1. Consumer Cellular (ATT Network)
3. Xfinity Mobile (there will be some changes coming Feb 1, however)
*Verizon has really fallen in my opinion. I also don’t have a lot of data to go off of with ATT directly, that is why I did not mention them. A provider can have great service on technical merits, but I think what my typical client (age 60+) cares so much about is the level of customer care provided. No one wants to wait on the phone for 2 or 3 hours to be heard.
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.
As we come to the end of the year, we also come to the end of the 2010’s. (Whether or not it’s truly the end of the decade, may be a technicality. Some of my elementary school teachers would have said that the decade is 2011-2020), but for all intents and purposes many in the technology community are looking at how far we have come in the last 10 years.
I will just give you a few of my thoughts. I will also ask you, how has your use of technology changed in 10 years?
-The iPhone was not Apple’s bread and butter in 2010. In the USA, it was still an AT&T exclusive. Verizon users were being pushed to get a DROID, which was special branding put on Android phones made specifically for Verizon. Big iPhone competitors that year were the Motorola DROID, the DROID X, and the HTC DROID Incredible. As a Verizon customer, I could not get an iPhone. My first smartphone was the Incredible. Everything opened up in early 2011 when Verizon came to an agreement to sell the iPhone on their network. I got my first iPhone in the fall of 2013 and haven’t looked back.
-The 2010’s were also the decade of the iPad. I acquired my first iPad in 2010. To be honest, I didn’t see much use for it in the beginning and I sold it in about 6 months. Today, we see the iPad as the tablet done right. It does not run a full, traditional computer operating system (now called iPad OS) but it gets the job done well enough for quite a few folks as a primary computing device and nearly everyone else as a “secondary screen”. Want to use it in the hand? You can check email, shop, bank, read books, and watch TV / video. Want to use it with a keyboard? It is a near laptop. When Apple came out with the iPad Pro a few years back — they really blurred the lines between Mac and iPad. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, though I would still prefer a full Mac / Windows computer as my #1 device. There was a lull in the iPad market in 2015 and 2016. It seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere. But then, Apple lowered the price of the “standard iPad” (9.7 inch, now 10.2) to $329 in 2017 and sales have gone up like wild flowers.
-10 years ago — many people thought the PC (personal computer) would soon be dead. Remember when netbooks were a big thing? These were small – 9 or 10 inch — very underpowered Windows laptops that were meant for travel and quick browsing or e-mail. I fondly remember — hacking a Dell netbook and putting the Mac OS on it. It ran well for a while. The keyboard on that netbook was excellent, though cramped. Fast forward to 2019 and the PC is not dead. The industry has innovated. In late 2010, Apple released a timeless design with its 2nd generation Mac Book Air. This Ultrabook design helped change Windows PC’s for the better. No longer did a powerful machine have to be a big clunker. Microsoft also got into the market in 2012 by releasing its own line of tablet computers called Sufrace. The original Surface concept (which ran a limited version of Windows RT) was a flop, but the Surface Pro (which runs full Windows) has been a huge success. This 12 inch tablet, with keyboard has aged with conservative design changes and is really the gold standard for small, sub-13 inch computers. Consumers with simpler needs have moved to the smartphone and the iPad, in some instances – exclusively, but the PC market is still here. The premium PC market is strong.
-During the past 10 years — especially 2016-19 — Apple lost its perch in the laptop market. Beginning in 2016, they wanted to get so thin and light in order to shave a couple of millimeters that they released a horrible keyboard design. Many claims of defects were made and lots of warranty work had to be done. The problem became so bad that in 2018, Apple decided to give all owners of the new Mac Book Pros a 4 year warranty on the keyboards. This special warranty now covers the late 2016 to 2019 13 and 15 inch Mac Book Pros and the 2018 and 2019 Mac Book Airs. Good news! Apple has seen the error of its ways and recently came out with a new 16 inch laptop with the old 2015 style keyboard. Hallelujah! We can only hope that Apple will revise the 13 inch Mac Books (models my clients would be most likely to buy) accordingly next year.
-On a personal note, I just want to say that I have learned over the course of 10 years that not everything online is better. 10 years ago, I was actively pursuing my Bachelor’s degree online (with a few on campus courses mixed in). That evolved into an exclusively online Master’s for the academic portion, with some in-person internship or practicum experiences. It was a colossal $60,000 mistake. Some day, I should write an article or short guide about online college studies. Ultimately, what I learned is that online education is not appropriate for all learners and career objectives. Just because it’s more convenient or you are a technologically savvy person or you can express yourself more freely by typing — does not mean an online degree is appropriate. Online education would be appropriate for someone who is already established in an industry, even in an entry level way, and they are aiming for their degree (hopefully with the encouragement of management) in order to advance in that field. Online degrees are right for someone with an established network that is using that degree to get a bump in pay due to that accomplishment (ie. a teacher getting a salary increase for a Master’s). Online coursework would not be appropriate for someone looking to blaze a new path in a field where they have no relationships. That is where I got lost in the maze. I also believe formal college education is not right for everyone and that trade schools and apprenticeships are a very sustainable path for our young workers. It makes me think of a picture that you have problem seen passed around in chain e-mails depicting two “learners.” Jim — 4 year degree in Philosophy – $100K in debt, no job. Joe — 4 year paid apprenticeship. No debt. $80K a year salary. Today, Joe works for the electric company and cut off Jim’s lights for non-payment. Sad, but could be very true.
If I were to think of my customers’ cellular plans as a whole, I would say most are with Verizon or AT&T. Coming in 3rd place would be Consumer Cellular and 4th would probably be one of the Tracfone brands. Verizon and AT&T are increasingly trying to push their customers into Unlimited plans. I want you to be careful about what you are getting sold. Verizon and ATT offer multiple levels of Unlimited plans. Sorry to make this into a comedy sketch — but isn’t Unlimited – Unlimited? What’s going on here? Why do you need 4 plans called Unlimited, Verizon? Here is the problem, Verizon’s LTE network is very congested in many parts of the country. It’s getting better, but still jammed. The same could be said for ATT, but I think it’s not as bad. To compensate for this, Verizon and ATT have set “deprioritization limits” for their unlimited plans when network congestion occurs. So you have Unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited use of data. However, during those times of congestion — you will not be able to access data with the same priority / speed as other prioritized customers. This means when you really need to search something on Google or send an important e-mail out or other activity that uses data, you may struggle to surf the Internet. (Keep in mind no part of this discussion applies to use on your home WiFi.) The first level Unlimited plans with Verizon and ATT actually have a 0 deprioritization limit. This means you are subject to deprioritization at ANY TIME. You may never be affected by this, but I just want you to know the facts. If you are a heavy data user and like to watch video on cellular data – I would suggest at least the 2nd tier Unlimited plans. On the ATT Unlimited Extra plan, the first 50 GB of data is prioritized. On Verizon’s Play More Unlimited the first 25 GB of data is prioritized. Better unlimited plans exist with each carrier. If I needed Unlimited I would start with those plans. By comparison, T-Mobile’s base level Magenta unlimited plan (including the age 55 and over 2 for $70 plan discount option) comes with a 50 GB deprioritization limit.
The good thing is, many of my clients don’t use that much data. You are on “metered” data plans giving you 2 GB or 4 GB, etc. of data per month. If this is you; you are in the fast lane. These monthly billed, metered data plans from ATT and Verizon are prioritized. You will have priority over the fake-o Unlimited, always deprioritized plans.