Category: Consumers

Lightning Crashes

How are you doing this week?  Are you sick of the lightning and risk of damaged equipment?   I hope you at least have some decent surge protectors (not just power strips). 

 

Comcast Business Class

I had a very good experience recently with a client that had Comcast Business Class Internet.   A modem was destroyed by lightning and they came out to replace it within a couple hours.  I don’t know if it is still their policy, but I read once that on business days, they make it a point to come out within 4 hours.  If you have a business (even at home) or work from home and need that kind of reliability, you too can get Comcast business level service.  FYI, it costs more and a contract is usually required. 

Faith Restored in the Mac

I helped a client recently who had the unfortunate experience of a hacked email account (which I had seen before), but with all of the emails deleted.  Tragic!  Fortunately, this client had a Mac and had been using the Apple Mail app.  My client had also been using an external hard drive with Time Machine (built into the macOS) to back up the computer.   I was able to restore years worth of Inbox and Sent messages.   Apple Mail and Time Machine are a great combo for archival purposes.  

Summer Fun

I don’t talk about it too much in this newsletter, but I have a completely separate e-mailing each each week where I talk about the joys of watch collecting.  It’s called “Watch Out”. E-mail me to sign up. My goal for the summer was to find a summer watch.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money so I decided to modify an existing watch.   I took my blue Casio Duro (IMHO the best large watch under $75 – Amazon link https://amzn.to/3BCfqRX), and put a lively orange rubber strap on it, also from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Premium-Quality-Waterproof-Silicone-Release/dp/B07XPFDHK5/).

Song of the Week:  Lightning Crashes

In the early morning hours of Sunday 7/18, I saw the worst lightning storm of my life.  Many of you have shared the same.  It seemed that every few minutes I would look out a different window of my  house and see blue almost down to ground level.   It was scary.  Although this song is about metaphorical lightning it is the only song I know about the topic.  Its intensity fits the bill.   If you don’t remember the band Live, they are a great example of 1990s modern rock.   https://youtu.be/7uNdUi0Yf1Q

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!

My Thoughts On Life Lock and Identity Theft Protection

I remember when Life Lock first started out — they used to take out big ads in the WSJ (circa 2007).  Their CEO was a bold man — Todd Davis.  He would put his full social security number in those ads and say — go ahead and try me.     I remember there were some years after that when  people sued Life Lock, said they were a scam.  Then the credit bureaus stopped wanting to partner with Life Lock.   Life Lock did not give up but they evolved (several years back).  They ended up buying into one of the largest credit card processing companies so they could see all the transactions flowing through and this would give them a mechanism to protect you.   However, you have to give them all your credit card #’s and bank account #’s — so they can protect you.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing — for people who really want the service.  My bullet points on them are

-Life Lock is legit – despite some of their past controversies. 

-But customers should not be fooled by their $7.99 a month price they have on lifelock.com right now.  If you look at the cost of the REAL membership with the $1 million protection “Option 3”   — its $42 a month for a husband and wife ($35 / month paid annually)  and $25 / $30 a month if for individuals.  Those are just the first year introductory prices for year 1.  The “true price” for the 2nd year kicks in and is much higher.  I think someone has to really want the protection to want to pay that kind of $$ and you have to want the Norton services, which cannot be separated out.

-Again, you have to give them all account #’s for the protection to work.

-They are now partnered with Norton Anti-Virus — one and the same company and say that this is one of their key benefits.  It might be a great for a Windows computer — but in my personal experience with Mac clients — Norton is awful.  so this isn’t much of a selling point. 

What I do instead…

– I get free copies of my 3 credit reports each  year by the only site authorized by the federal government per a law that was passed about 15+ years ago.   https://www.annualcreditreport.com/   (During this Covid 19 era– they are actually allowing for free WEEKLY credit reports)

– I regularly keep all 3 of my credit reports frozen — and this can be done for free on each of the 3 bureau’s websites.  If i need to apply for credit — I go in and unfreeze the report the bank wants unfrozen.     (By comparison Life Lock only offers locking for one bureau)

-With my approach, I don’t have an “insurance” policy protecting me or monitoring of all my credit card purchases.  I check all of my banks online regularly. 

So bottom line — I think Life Lock can be great if you want all the hand holding or if you think you need all of the hand holding.  However, it can be very expensive.  Check around for other identity theft insurance without all the software if you think you need this.   More affordable options are Zander Insurance and Identity Guard.  These two companies and Life Lock offer US based phone support when needed.

Using A VPN–Privacy and Security Factors

I have previously written generally about why VPNs are important, even for consumers and small business owners.   Here I am going to get specific, covering two many reasons for use (privacy and security) and the scenarios where they come into play.

Rewind:  If I were to rewind just a step, a VPN is an application you run on your computer, smartphone and tablet to give you a private tunnel out to the internet.  I’m not going to endorse one over the others — but the three I like are Express VPN, Windscribe, and Private Internet Access (PIA).  Costs range from $2 to $10 per month.   I have explored Mozilla VPN (put out by the Firefox people) with some clients and it lacks a key feature at the moment so I am not going to put it on the same level as the other three. 

So today I am talking about “John the consumer” and “Jane the plumber.”   John uses computers and other devices at home.  Jane owns a plumbing company and has an office on Main Street that she controls.  (I’m going to leave working in an office under some big corporation out of the discussion because they often tell you what you can and can’t do with your computer).    John and Jane have two factors to consider when using a VPN — Privacy and Security depending on where they are using the internet

1.  At home or their office — Here the reason to use a VPN is PRIVACY.  John and Jane have routers with up to date firmware, computers with antivirus software, and computers and smartphones with the proper security updates.  Their internet connections are secure.   Speaking for myself, my home / home office Internet is totally secure even if I never use a VPN.  If you meet all of these parameters I laid out — there is like a 99% chance no one is going to infiltrate your internet connection.  John, Jane, and I use a VPN in the confines of our homes and offices because we don’t want our internet providers to know every website we visit.  We don’t want news or other shopping or informational websites recording our IP address (which ultimately links back to us).  It’s an issue of principle and privacy — not primarily for security. 

2. On Public WiFi –  I’m talking about the mall, the library, the hotel,and the coffee shop now.  People are going out a lot more and traveling.  You do not have control over these public internet connections.  It should not be presumed to be secure as in #1.   This is a different ballgame.   Here John and Jane use their VPNs for security.  Even though you are on that public WiFi connection, you are doing so through your VPN tunnel.  You will be protected from bad actors on that network.  Snoops on that network are not going to be able to do harm to your devices.   You are still getting that private connection,  but the security of the VPN is the biggest factor here. 

2a.  I should add this section here to say — I have found limited situations over the years where public WiFi connections refuse to play nicely with a VPN even after the settings are adjusted.   In these scenarios, if I am just using my smartphone, I turn WiFi off and just use the cellular connection.  At least I have a secure connection.  If I needed to use a laptop and couldn’t use a VPN, I would set up my smartphone as a hotspot. 

When Not To Use A VPN

– With Express VPN, Windscribe, and PIA — a split tunnel can be set up to allow certain apps to bypass the VPN.   Some bank websites do not work properly with a VPN on.  John, Jane, and I set up one browser to split off from our VPNs so that we can access any website that does not play nicely with the VPN.  This split tunnel feature does not work on iPhones.  It may work on some Android phones.

– When downloading operating system updates:  These happen outside of any browser and are typically very large files.  As long as John and Jane are on a secure connection in the home or the office, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to turn the VPN off solely for the purposes of the updates.

In conclusion, after digesting these two installments I’ve sent you, you may decide a VPN is not for you or it is right up your alley.  The choice is yours.  VPN use in on the rise among people like John and Jane.  They keep theirs on automatically, whenever their devices are in use.  Surfing the internet through a VPN tunnel is a pathway to freedom.

Do Not Buy Apple Watch 3

Dear Clients and Computer Students:

I wanted to send this update now — just in case you are thinking of buying an Apple Watch over this holiday weekend. 

Consider this a PSA with direct language that Apple is never going to deliver to you.  Please feel free to forward to anyone you know that has an Apple Watch.

People are getting out more.  They want to exercise and breathe in the fresh air.   I recall sitting in on a training class in 2018 about the Apple Watch and everyone other than me in the class was a senior.  I’m not surprised by this now, but I truly was at the time. 

Here is the problem — the Apple Watch is not cheap.  It is a fitness oriented computer on your hand.   The best Apple Watch sold right now is the Apple Watch 6.  With  one of the sport bands and the standard aluminum case, it starts at $399.  That is what you should expect. It’s a $400 watch!  You have to really want to use it.  It’s not a fashion watch.  Once you get into the stainless steel case and better bands — the price goes up by several hundred $.    It’s a computer.  And you still have to charge it up every night.   The Apple Watch 6 has the senior friendly fall detection feature, tracks your heart rate, but also can measure your blood oxygen and does a basic ECG (not as good as the doctor’s office but has been very helpful for some).  

If you want most of the fitness features including heart rate, steps, and fall detection but a more modest price point – Apple started selling the Apple Watch SE in 2020 for $279.  It’s a reasonable offering for the price.

However, here is where the crimes start!!

In order to say they can sell you an Apple Watch for $199 — Apple has continued to sell the Apple Watch 3.    It is a 4 year old Apple Watch.  Those early models were not meant to go for 4 years.  Apple is fooling their customers.

DO NOT BUY AN APPLE WATCH 3!   IF YOU HAVE ONE, AND WANT CONTINUED ENJOYABLE USE — YOU WILL PROBABLY HAVE TO GET A BETTER ONE. APPLE SHOULD APOLOGIZE TO YOU IF YOU RECENTLY BOUGHT ONE.

Sitting back down at my seat, rather than standing on it, I will say that due to a recent update of the iPhone, the next update of the Apple Watch (which gets updated via the Watch app on the iPhone) will require a complete erasure of the Apple Watch 3 and a reinstallation of the operating system.  This may take hours.  The Apple Watch 3 has a hard drive that is too small to handle the new software versions as a simple update.   Apple needs to stop selling it.

So the the Bottom Line is — The Apple Watch 6 is a $400 + investment, definitely geared toward older / active adults and has the most features.  You may be able to get away with the Apple Watch SE at $279 if you don’t care about the O2 monitoring and ECG.   Do not buy  the Apple Watch 3.  You are throwing money away.  If you have one, you’ll need to upgrade sooner than later.  If you want a fitness tracker in the $100’s with heart rate and steps — The Fit Bit Charge 4 provides a great cost / function proposition.

Odds and Ends

TV Time:  Blue Bloods

Up until a year ago, I regularly watched four TV shows.  Unfortunately, one of them got cancelled for reasons I’m not going to get into here.  For the last few TV seasons (usually running from Sept to May), Blue Bloods has been my favorite show.  There is just something wholesome about watching Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) and his family run integral parts of fictional New York City.  On Friday May 14th, the Season 11 finale aired.   It spanned 2 hours.  I don’t want to spoil it for any of you.   It is available On Demand as Episode 15 (The End) and 16 (Justifies the Means).  It’s a great mini-movie of sorts and it would be perfect for you to jump right in if you haven’t watched Blue Bloods in a while.  To set the table for you, all you need to know is that Frank has a grandson in the NYPD and he has been “missing” for several months.  It was very emotional viewing for me and I loved it.

Additional Thoughts on Car Buying

I just wanted to add a couple more notes to my last newsletter…

-People buy used cars all the time.  Maybe you like the deal or it is a discontinued model.  Please get the car inspected by an independent mechanic.  If the dealer or seller won’t let you get it inspected, move on.

-This might be more for your kids than you — but if you have an unstable income / career prospects, buy rather than lease.  I helped someone last year on a car deal.  She made all of her lease payments, but the rest of her credit got trashed over the 3 years of the lease.  I had to put on my A-Game just to negotiate with the dealer to get an 8.7% loan rate to buy out the lease.  We could have easily been looking at 15%. 

YouTube Premium

I don’t know about you but my family watches way more You Tube than TV.  It is still my sincere goal to be done with traditional cable TV by the end of the year.   If you like You Tube and you like music, you may want to consider You Tube Premium for $12 a month.   It gives you ad-free You Tube viewing and also unlimited music from the You Tube Music app.  You Tube Music is very similar to Apple Music.  You can download your music to the app, listen offline, stream in the house or play in the car.  It’s on my radar to check out.  One thing I have noticed recently is that my ad blockers on the iPhone and computer no longer block You Tube ads. 

New  M1 Macs — Truly Are That Fast

I have finally set up some M1 Macs for clients.   They are night and day better than even recent Intel Macs.    The Mac Book Air starts at $999 and the Mac Book Pro is $1299 (if you need more than 256 GB hard drive you will pay a little more).  Need a desktop?  Apple’s got you covered.  You can select either the Mac Mini or the brand new M1 iMac.  I sent out an update a few weeks ago on these Macs.  I want to mention that the upgrade in price for the iMac is not just the beautiful design but you are also getting a Retina Display.   If it were me, I think I would probably still choose a “business quality” monitor with the Mini but if you want to most pop in the picture, then the iMac is for you.

T-Mobile 23 Months and Counting

It was right around this time in 2019 when my wife and I moved our personal cell phone lines to T-Mobile.  I wanted to give you an update as to how it is going nearly 2 years later.  The summary version is — we have no regrets.  I will explain some potential pitfalls, however.  As you know I have never tried to oversell T-Mobile to clients.  I’ve always said — the choice is yours.  When we first signed up with them, we got in on their standard 2 line plan — $120 / mo — no taxes.  This was a small savings over Verizon (which would have been $150 per month plus tax). The other key factor was that their international plan was $5 / day vs. $10 / day for “Big Red.”    T-Mobile paid off our phones as well.  I have shared all of this before.   A few months into the whole deal, we realized that we could sign up for their Magenta 55 plan by putting my wife’s name on the account (she is over 55 y.o.). At that point it became a steal — 2 unlimited lines for $70 and no taxes.  I do think there have been situations where Verizon or ATT would have had better cellular internet, but I don’t think it’s 2x the price better. 

I can’t say that there have been few instances where T-Mobile calling was lacking.  In October 2019, I made a trip out to the airport via the local roads.  There was a cellular dead zone at the state border for about a mile.  I remember on the way back I made a phone call while I was traveling for about 25 minutes on a state road through rural and sparsely populated areas.  There were no issues.  There have been numerous instances such as on side streets, in large big box stores, or other random areas when my cellular internet seemed slow.  I may not have been able to do a Google search, check or send email, or download a podcast — which is something I do regularly.  These are typically just momentary inconveniences. 

The 2018 and later iPhone models allow for a second phone line.  On my iPhone 11, I also have my business line.  I have made sure to have it set up with a provider that is not T-Mobile.  This way I have the best of both worlds.  Trouble calling with T-Mobile?  No problem, call with the other line.  Trouble accessing cellular internet on T-Mobile?  I just switch the cellular data to my other line in the Settings.  I rarely have to do this, but I am glad I have the second line a backup.

Bogus Comcast Email Warning

Just wanted to send this out to you my Comcast / Xfinity clients:

I have gotten a couple of reports of an email making the rounds telling my clients that they need to update their Comcast email from version 9 to version 12 or something like that.

It is totally fake!  This isn’t AOL from 2001.  Comcast does not publicize a version number of their email system.

Remember the things I always taught you about examining fake emails.  Look at the sender.  In this case — the sender was using a Gmail address.   Would real Comcast do that?   No way!

Secondly check out the link they want to send you to.   Just point to it, don’t click it.  In this case it was a mysterious foreign website — not a Comcast(dot)net or xfinity(dot)com or anything like that.   

I don’t want you to make an expensive mistake.

Dealing With Comcast Anger

I remember having an open ticket with Xfinity support reps from late December 2019.  After months and months, I did not hear back.  I contacted @ Comcast Cares on Twitter and got prompt feedback.   I know a lot of people have gripes with this company.  The biggest thing I have to remind myself and others is — the days of big deals are over.   Get real familiar with that price list that comes out twice a year (check your online billing if you don’t get a paper bill).  Get familiar with THAT price for your service or services, add on the necessary fees (ugh) and that is what you should expect to pay.  Promotions aren’t what they used to be.  That era of deal making is fading.  Consider other options if they exist.  Slowly I am coming to a place of peace with it.  I seriously think this company should go with a one price model like TMobile.  I think that would help to alleviate a lot of the anger.

Comcast Hammering Us In A Pandemic

I hear that 80’s rock song that goes  “we’re not gonna take it anymore” playing in the background.    Where is the breaking point folks?   What is your limit to how much you are willing to pay this company? 

I could have written a book (or at least an e-book) about all of the deals I negotiated for myself and clients with Comcast / aka Xfinity between 2014 and 2019. I had the method down to a science.  Just like LL Bean (a far more reputable company), Comcast has caught on to customers exploiting the system.  2020 has been the year of the crackdown.  Most of you probably have electronic billing with them.  However it’s really important to log onto my.xfinity.com with your email and password at least a few times a year because they will post the Price List at least once or twice.  Get real familiar with those prices because once these promotions get completely eliminated, which is the direction they are going in, you will pay THAT price.  Don’t forget to add in all of the JUNK FEES, like broadcast fee, sports fee, cable box fee and about 13% in taxes on the TV (not internet) portion of the bill. 

There are two key points that I want to make here, one that is reflected on the price list and one that isn’t.  1)  Effective 1/1, Comcast is imposing a “data cap” for its New England customers for the first time.  They have had these caps for the internet across the country for years.  You can also look at this as — you will not get truly Unlimited internet for the price you were promised.  Comcast claims this will only impact the 5% heaviest internet users (by data use, not your weight on the scale LOL).  I don’t know if I believe them.  The cap is going to be set at 1.2 TB (terabytes) or 1200 GB a month.  That is a lot of data.   However for a family of four that is Zooming all day during the work day, streaming TV / Netflix / Amazon Prime in their free time, and playing online video games – it is an easy threshold to exceed.   If you are by yourself and just do basic internet and email most of the time, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  However, you will probably want to check your data usage and it can easily be done by going to this page, https://customer.xfinity.com/#/services/internet    and scroll down to the bottom.   In my household, we consistently use about 450 GB of data per month or 0.45 TB.  We should be all set, but I have seen many reports of Comcast rigging the meter against customers when the data caps are in place.  What is their end game?  Well, they are going to charge big overage charges for violators.  However, they will gladly allow you to remedy the problem BY PAYING MORE.  How kind of them.  If other markets are any indicator, you can now get “truly unlimited” internet by paying $30 more.  However if you rent a (lousy) modem from them, you can beat the caps for about $25 (modem rental plus $10 upcharge).  It’s a money grab…… because they can.

2) This one really got to me yesterday.  I received an email with a link to a price list saying that my bill would be going up effective 12/20/2020.  Since my bill came out on the 18th, the increases will take effect on my next bill.  If you are Internet only (and not under a contract), you may be seeing a price increase of $3 per month.   Sadly, TV customers are in for the real gouge!   Broadcast TV Fee (what they collect to offset what local stations charge them to transmit the channels) is going up by $5.   Regional Sports channel fee?  Going up by $2.  (Again, Comcast would say that they are simply collecting more to reflect the increase in costs of what they pay out to these networks).   The cost of your cable box will also be going up by more than $2.  So that is $9 increases right there.   However, if you have a 2nd (or 3rd) cable box in the house, that charge is dropping by $2, so the box charges may even out.   These companies can charge whatever they want, but the same fees just went up 2 years ago.  Now they are hitting us again.

What I think is so wrong is that Comcast thinks they have the right to increase the fees on customers ALREADY UNDER CONTRACT.   I agreed to a contract that expires in June 2021. I am bound to it.  There are penalties if I cancel early.  Yet they think they can change the price.  Comcast would say —  that fees can always be increased and they are not part of the contract.  This is my biggest gripe.   In January, I talked to a lawyer from Comcast about big picture issues and legislative concerns.  He gave me his personal cell phone number and said I could call him any time.  Perhaps I should do this.  Some of you are lawyers, you might be married to a lawyer, or you may just be ticked off like I am.   

How much is too much for cable services?   In areas where the phone company has fiber optic service or there is an independent  fiber choice, you may have an alternative.  Call the lawyers, call Executive Relations, and call the Retentions department.  

Give them that line that Dee Snider sang so well “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”