Category: E-Mail

Ripped from the Customer Files

A popular TV show used to run promotional spots saying this week’s episode is “ripped from the headlines.”  This update is chock full of valuable info.  You may want to print it out for digestion in small bites.

Ripped from the Customer Files

Not Selling Window Dressing

A new client recently approached me and inquired if I could do any maintenance procedures to make the computer a little faster.  I DID NOT rush out with little care, acting in an overconfident manner, simply to generate a 1 hour appointment for myself.   I gave the client a proper “triage” over the phone.   We talked for a half hour.  I took a mental note of key facts, the most important being that it was a Toshiba laptop.   Toshiba was a big name in the history of laptops and consumer electronics in general.  In fact, they were a big seller at Best Buy up until about 6 or 7 years ago.  Since that time, I don’t know any clients that have bought them.  I don’t see them at the stores.  I knew the computer had to be at least 6 years old.  In fact it is and possibly a little older.  I really put the CARE in VIP Computer Care.   On a slow computer, you could certainly back up the data and reinstall the operating system (Windows or Mac).  You could replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive).  Both of those would likely be at least 3 hour jobs.  I explained how I thought those would be reasonable on a 3 or 4 year old computer, but I don’t think I would want those done on my 6+ year old computer.  A software only solution doesn’t make up for bad or degrading hardware.  Solid State Drives have been wonderful for many of my clients but they don’t negate the fact that the rest of the computer is subject to failure.   I emphasized that the best thing to do would be to buy a new computer and that in the $500s to $600s, the safest bet is a business class system from the Dell or Lenovo outlet (not sold in stores).   At the right time, the client will have me set up this new computer for them. 

Rather than try to gain a customer for one visit, I established what I believe can be a long term relationship.  It’s my nature; it’s who I am.  🙂

Group Emails

But I was just sending e-mails to a church prayer group!!  I worked with a client recently that literally had their Google account temporarily suspended for inappropriate activity.  The client is 80 years old!!  What were they doing?  How bad could it really be?   Here are some lessons.  A lot of us send group e-mails.   You are receiving this message as a part of a group email.    With personal accounts especially, inappropriate composition of the message could trigger some red flags.   Here are some good tips.   With a group e-mail…

1. Put yourself in the To field

2.  Put your recipients in the CC or BCC field.  (CC if you want everyone to see each other’s addresses, BCC if you want the list of recipients to remain private.)  I always send my messages out via BCC. 

3.  If your list of recipients approaches 50, sent out 2 (or more) emails with distinct groups of contacts

4.  Even with these precautions, you may still have an issue with e-mail going into the SPAM folder of the recipients

4a. You may want to consider a paid e-mail address for your business, club, or group (i.e Microsoft / Google) for about $5 per month

4b.  You may want to consider an easy to use newsletter e-mailing service like Mail Chimp.  Mail Chimp has a free option for small businesses, groups, and non profits.


The Simplicity of the Chromebook

I was with a client recently who uses a Chromebook as her primary computer.   Chromebooks are amazing (along with their desktop sister -Chromebox).  A Chromebook is a limited computer but the safest one you can buy.   Think of what you can do in your computer’s browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).   I am pondering online banking, shopping, e-mailing, searching Google, letter writing, and other tasks.  You can do all of those things on a Chromebook.  You can’t do anything else.  There are no programs. It runs the Chrome browser — that’s it.  It’s operating system is called Chrome OS, not Windows or Mac.  The Chromebook has graduated beyond those 11 inch $200 devices you may have seen 5 years ago.  There are mid range ($500’s) and even high end Chromebooks available now.  A Chromebook is a great secondary computer, for example to take some stress off or extend the life of your primary computer.  It may be a primary computer for some.   There are lots of options out there, but if you are looking to dip your toes, I think this Lenovo model makes an excellent starter Chromebook (amazon link)  https://amzn.to/2UN3RoK

So the real story here was that the client’s Chromebook was corrupted.   After entering the login password — a wheel on the screen kept spinning and spinning.   In plain, English the operating system was messed up.  On a Windows or Mac system, resetting the operating system and copying the files back might be a 2 to 3 hour ordeal (or longer if lots of files were involved).   How long did resetting the Chromebook take?   5 minutes.  No joke!


Free Credit Reports and Credit Freezes

I meet clients all the time who are worried about their credit reports being jeopardized because of security breaches with department stores, utilities local governments, and other entities.   You have worked a lifetime of building up that near perfect credit score — why leave anything to chance?   I think I mentioned it about a year and a half ago but I can help you obtain your free credit reports (via the only site authorized by the U.S. government) and if need be, place security freeze on all 3 of your credit reports.  We can typically accomplish this in a 1 hour session.   Please be advised that should you need to apply for credit in the future, you will have to log onto the website of the bureau being checked and unfreeze that credit report for a few days or however long is needed (your lender may also be willing to do this for you also).   That process takes all of 5 minutes.   I will make sure you have all of the passwords and user names needed to successfully manage your credit freezes.  Remember, I do not hold onto customer passwords. 

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. 

ATT E-Mail Account Support Scam

I’ve dealt with this a couple of times now so I wanted to bring it to your attention again. 

The AT&T support “scam” is not new to me. I am going to use quotation marks around that word because I can’t say whether it was true fraud or just deceptive business practices. The story goes something like this. A local internet customer (either with Frontier or now the cable company) has an old @att.net, @sbcglobal.net, or @snet.net e-mail address. They have problems with the account. These e-mails were provided through a partnership of ATT and Yahoo in the past. Frontier did not take over the e-mail accounts and legitimately, they are not servicing them. So, the customer such as calls ATT for support after searching for the phone number on the internet.  I have to stop right there and say that they may not have truly reached ATT.  Therefore, “ATT” doesn’t really want to deal with it so they recommend an outside firm that charges anywhere from $200 to $800 for support with the ATT e-mail account and perhaps other computer issues. In my opinion, the ATT employee that made this referral may have been doing this unofficially, without the blessing of ATT. Either way, it is shady to me. The calls may be routed to India. The customer gives them access to their computer.

If it were me, I would want a professional to examine my computer to see if there were any traces of access that “ATT” or the other firm still had to my computer. I would back up my data and then I would do a “clean install” of Windows or mac OS for security purposes to truly eliminate all threats. This procedure takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

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.

E-mail authenticity

Was that e-mail really from you?
I got asked this question by a client recently.  And it makes me think about trust in e-mails. We all have the right to question whether e-mails are authentic. I seek the same answers. I take the security of my e-mails and client contact information very seriously.
I guess I could start by saying that my business e-mail account has never been hacked.  With that said, this fact would not stop a bad actor from an account pretending to be me.  With the right e-mail program you can make the “From” address anything you want.  However, they would need my address book.  I send all of my group e-mail out as BCC (which means that you don’t see all of the recipients).  That address book is stored in the cloud in an account protected by two factor authentication (something you should have enabled on your iCloud, Google, and Microsoft accounts used with e-mail / contacts).  Further enhancing security, my second factor is not my phone number, meaning I authenticate by something more secure than a text message.  My contacts are locally stored on 3 devices – a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet.  All three of those are locked with encryption.  Considering all of this, it would be pretty hard for a bad actor to send an e-mail to all of my clients.   I should also add that I almost always use one of three salutations in my e-mail updates:   Dear Clients and Computer Students (for all clients), Dear Mac Family, and Dear Windows Clients, depending on the group I am addressing.  Great question!  Thanks for asking.

Technology Update 8/15/18

Preview
It’s the middle of August already and the busy season in the world of technology is almost upon us.  In short snippets let me cover everything that we can expect to see over the next couple of months:  new iPhones, new Pixel phones from Google, new iPads, new Macs, new Surface computers from Microsoft, a new version of macOS, a new version of iOS, a new version of Android, and a new version of Windows.  It will be a busy time for us.
Small Laptops
I admire small, highly functional laptops. Back in the day, I fondly recall owning both a 12 inch PowerBook and 12 inch iBook laptop.  Ten years ago “netbooks” were a thing.  Do you remember these $300-ish Windows laptops in 9 or 10 inch flavors?  The problem was, they were very under-powered and after a year we got tired of them.  Apple basically killed the netbook when they released the iPad in 2010 and updated the Mac Book Air later that year, with a design that in my mind became one of the greatest laptops of all time.  Apple offered 11 inch and 13 inch Mac Book Airs until the 11 was killed off in 2016.  I have clients who still love their 11 inch Mac Book Airs.  The best sub 13 inch Windows laptop in my eyes is the Thinkpad X280 (12.5 inch). However, it is a $1300 machine.  Microsoft has just come out with a small portable, the Surface Go, that aims to bridge the gap between premium portable and the netbooks.  It’s $650 for a usable configuration, which includes the keyboard.  It may not be a primary computer for all, but it’s worth checking out if you want to go small.  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/surface-go/8v9dp4lnknsz
Privacy Package
Google isn’t making a lot of friends lately.  They are facing a huge fine in the EU for their practices.  This week we found out that even if you had “Location Tracking” set to off in your Google apps and services, THEY ARE STILL TRACKING YOUR LOCATION.  This is true even on Apple devices.  Another setting has to be turned off called “Web & App Activity”.  This is really shameful.  I’m not trying to single Google out for punishment either.   These concerns and others I have shared in the past have prompted me to offer a Privacy Package to clients for the first time.  At a bare minimum I will
– Install a VPN for you ($40 to $60 per year), so that all of your internet activity is hidden from your internet service provider and  your internet location is hidden the websites you visit.  It can be automatic, no complex configuration for you to mess around with.  It will work on smartphones and tablets as well.
-Set you up with a private search engine that does not collect and sell your personal information (Don’t worry, you can still use Google occasionally if needed).
Optional Services
– Another option I can set you up with is a “as private as possible” cell phone service.  You can use your existing iPhone or Android.  I will set you up on ATT.  You will have to take a new number.  However, they will not know your name or address.  $45 a month for service.
-For Gmail users only:  I can make sure you are checking your e-mail in a e-mail program instead of Gmail.com in your browser.  After all, when you are signed into Google services in your browser — who knows what they are collecting on you.  I think as pure e-mail they are fine, but can’t be trusted beyond that.
Support the Free Software You Use
My final thought for today is, we need to support the small time developers who provide free software that we use all the time and take for granted.  It would be terrible if these small operations were gobbled up large entities (and radically altered) or ceased to exist because the developer didn’t feel like the project was worth continuing.  I would suggested donating at least $5-10 once or twice year to the developers of this software that you rely on so they can stay in the game for years to come.  Most of you use one of these apps that is freely provided, but please ask me if you are not sure.   A few common apps that come to mind are
NAPS 2 – scanning software for Windows (https://www.naps2.com/)
VLC – media player for Mac and Windows – (https://www.videolan.org/)
Libre Office – alternative to Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows (https://www.libreoffice.org/)
Maintenance – system cleanup utility for Mac (https://www.titanium-software.fr/en/maintenance.html)

ATT Yahoo Account Changes

For those of you who have ATT Yahoo accounts, you should take note that your ATT Yahoo account (including snet.net, sbcglobal.net, and att.net) will not work with most Yahoo services after June 30, 2017.  With some of these services, the ATT Yahoo account will need to be converted to a regular Yahoo ID.  In other situation, it will be necessary to create or use a different Yahoo ID.  Take a deep breath, the one major exception is Yahoo Mail.  There will be no changes to how you access e-mail at this time.  Please read this update from ATT

https://www.att.com/esupport/article.html#!/email-support/KM1181338

Connecticut residential internet customers should keep in mind that they have no connection with ATT anymore.  The ATT e-mail accounts were not absorbed by Frontier.   I want to reiterate my plea for ATT Yahoo e-mail customers to migrate to a Gmail or independently owned e-mail account.   Yahoo is now owned by Verizon, a major ATT competitor.   Further restrictions on Yahoo services, including mail, may be around the corner.  Be proactive.