Category: Laptops

Weekly Technology Update

A. Privacy:  GDPR and Oath.   You may have received a bunch of notices recently detailing the updated privacy policies of various services that you use.  The European Union’s new privacy laws take effect on May 25th.  These regulations are known as GDPR.   They are taking customers’ data a lot more seriously than we are on this side of the pond.  International companies such as Facebook and Google are adhering to these standards even for their American customers.  It’s a solid business practice.  Did you know that you can download all of your Facebook (or Google) data in a single file?  Did you know that you can control how Facebook advertises to you?   GDPR = Good.   To find out more

Additionally, some of you who have a Yahoo or AOL account may have received notices about policies from an organization known as Oath.  (My joke is — “zero authorization to violate your privacy,” but I’ll get back on topic.).  Oath is a division of Verizon that oversees both Yahoo and AOL.   Yahoo users may have even been asked to accept the new terms.  You really don’t have a choice if you want to keep using the account.   As a quick primer for those new to the VIP Computer Care family — my favorite free e-mail accounts are Google and   Customers may choose a paid e-mail account if they want to get actual customer support.  My favorite choices  here are Fastmail ($20 per year), G (G Suite a paid Google account, $5 per month), or Office 365 (a paid e-mail account from Microsoft, $5 per month).

B.  Windows:   I’m still compiling reports of horror stories from users that had bad experiences with the latest version of Windows 10 (version 1803), released on April 30th.  Whenever possible, I have set your Windows computers to a 120 day delay schedule.   Unfortunately, I had to help a customer last weekend who couldn’t delay Windows version upgrades.  He purchased a consumer grade Windows desktop.  I offered the next best thing.  I managed the upgrade for him.  It took 2 hours, which is about what I expected.  With fingers crossed, there were no hiccups.  I am not recommending that I do this proactively for others, at this time, if you have already been set up for a delay.  Ultimately, Microsoft will iron out the wrinkles.  After all, hundreds of millions of business customers rely on Windows.   Version 1803 should be ready for prime time in a few months.  In August, lets talk about upgrading your computer. 

C.  Mac:  Apple’s big annual event, the WWDC, is happening on June 4th.  While it’s not specifically a new hardware event, Apple has been known to release new Macs at this event.   We can only hope that they offer a mea culpa on the Mac Book Pro and their awful keyboards.  At the very least, they could update the Mac Book Air with 2018 innards.  (The 2017 Air, while still my #1 choice at this date and time, features 2015-era parts.)   Additionally, the Mac Mini needs a major refresh.  It has not been updated since October 2014.  Apple needs to keep a $500-600 Mac on the market to welcome new customers into the family. 


Mac Books and Their Keyboards

I wanted to revisit a subject that I covered in the near past — current Mac Book Pros and their “wonderful” keyboards.

Apple came out with a substantial redesign of the Mac Book Pro in 2016. These new systems featured a radically different keyboard than the one that Mac laptop users had come to love in the 2015 and many prior generations.  The keyboards were panned by reviewers and users had their troubles as well.  They suffered from an unusually high failure rate.  For what reason?  Apple wanted to shave a couple of millimeters off of the overall thickness!  Apple rushed out an updated model that looked identical in June 2017.  Customers are still having issues with the keyboards in the 2017 models and they cost close to $600 to replace out of warranty. 

I have some Mac clients who will likely be looking for a new laptop this year.  If using an iPad with a keyboard as a laptop is not the right solution, I want to share some honest thoughts. 

I spent more time with a 2017 MacBook Pro and I really wanted to give it an objective try.  The keys do not travel like they do on the laptops that are known for better typing experiences.  However, Apple has offered up a trick and it seems to work. The keys make an unusual clicking sound when I pressed them, giving the allusion that there is more depth than there is in reality.  So, the truth is, I could likely live with the keyboard on a long term basis.  I still have serious doubts about their reliability. 

I think the 2017 Mac Book Air is a better laptop for consumer use than the 2017 Mac Book Pro.  Best Buy was recently selling it for as low as $699.  If you are not married to specific Mac applications, I can think of a couple other Windows laptops that are better than the Mac Book Pro.   

-Lenovo Thinkpad T, Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

-Dell XPS 13, Dell XPS 15

-Dell Latitude 5000 series, Latitude 7000 series

With all of this cold water being thrown at Mac portables, I still think a custom ordered iMac is one of the best desktops on the market.

Ultimately, I know there are some clients who are joined at the hip with certain Mac apps or have a massive library that has already been organized in Photos.  The Mac Book Air may be discontinued later this year, so the Mac Book Pro could be the only option. You’ll live with the keyboard, but If you buy it, you must get the 3 year, Apple Care warranty.  It is your firewall against expensive repairs due to design flaws. 

Technology Update 12/12/17

As the year draws to a close, I start thinking about best and worst experiences with technology.

Laptop Mag is a website that puts out in depth reviews of laptops all year.  Just this week, they published an article on the best laptop keyboards of 2017.  Some of you need to type a lot of documents or emails on your laptop.  You may not use your laptop so much for media consumption, but see it as a productivity device.  For you the keyboard is going to be very important.   Laptop Mag did not try all of the laptops on the market, but they have seen enough of them to make some serious recommendations at various price points should the keyboard be a deciding factor.  It’s no surprise that Lenovo’s Thinkpad T series comes in at #1.  The Thinkpad line is put out by IBM’s former business computer division which is based in North Carolina.  Their keyboards are a typist’s dream.    A $299 Chromebook also makes the list.   While Dell’s business class Latitude 5000 and 7000 series laptops are not included, I would definitely move them to the front row of the class.   Interestingly enough, Apple’s 2017 Mac Book Pros are not on here.  Apple did make minor improvements to the keyboards this year compared to their pitiful 2016 cousins, but they cannot compare to the typing experience of the 2009 – 2015 Mac Book Pros or even the Mac Book Air — which is still being sold.  Check out the article for yourself for the complete survey.

It is going to be a “worst experience” for you if your computer crashes and you don’t have a proper backup of your data.  In addition to online backup and sync services that you may use, an external hard drive is an essential component of your backup scheme.  How usable is your data if your backup drive is no good?   Therefore, if your drive is more than 3 years old, you need to buy a new one.  While there are other brands I can recommend, you really can’t go wrong with a WD My Passport.  They are easy to buy and priced right.   A 1 or 2 TB model should serve most of your needs.  Here are the Amazon links for easy purchasing. 

Windows formatted:

Mac formatted:

No long longer recommending Apple computers

This may be something you never thought you’d hear from me.   I’ve used a Mac since 2004, recommended them to you since 2005.  I will recommend them no more!  I will still support customers with them and all makes – of course.  Granted, I only make money by providing services.  My clients / computer students are free to buy whatever computer systems they want.   When I recommend Windows based computer systems — I recommend those that are of equal build quality and similar (though usually slightly less) in price to Apple’s products.  What customers have been the best clients (meaning repeat visits) over the years?   Those buying deeply discounted, poorly made computers from big box stores.  They run well for about 2 years.   If I was really about drumming up as much business as I could for myself  — I would tell everyone to buy Best Buy’s $429 weekly deal all the time.  I don’t.

In full objectivity — I am typing this statement now prior to Apple’s decision to act or not to act on my proposed resolution to a pending technical support matter I have with them.  Even if they resolve this matter to my full satisfaction — that does not change my message here.  I am not including Apple’s iOS devices in this bulletin (iPhone + iPad) so long as a local Verizon or ATT store can provide repair services on them independent of Apple – inside THEIR stores.  I cannot confirm at this time that this is true.  To be fair, I cannot easily say there is better customer service from other phone brands.

I just want to lay out general points here, without bringing up my personal situation:

– Nearly all of us are buying laptops as our primary computers.  They’re portable, just as powerful as traditional desktops.   Costs are not that much more.   Need to plug into a keyboard mouse and monitor for desk use?  Super easy.
– Laptops generate a lot of heat.  When using your laptop on a desk or table for any length of time — you should be using it on an elevated stand to promote air circulation.  It would be nice if this stand had cooling fans built into it.   If you use a lap desk — ideally it should elevate / cool your laptop as well.
– I’m not trying to dig up computing dinosaurs here, but since 2006, Apple’s laptops have had major problems with heat.  Except for that small strip adjacent to the screen hinge — there are no air vents built into the body of the laptop.  Quite commonly — the better Windows laptops have 3 or 4 and also better air intake and fans.
– The cooler your laptop runs, the longer its battery will last and the longer the laptop will last in general.
– Computer manufacturers require that in-warranty laptop repair be done by them or their authorized representatives.  You’ll never find an independent technician like me attempting REPAIR on a laptop under warranty.  However, items like RAM or hard drive upgrades / replacement are not considered repairs and can be replaced by the customer or an independent tech without voiding the warranty.
– Truth be told:  the Apple Stores in Connecticut (WestFarms, New Haven, Stamford, Greenwich, and Danbury) and around the country are becoming the primary places where Apple computers are repaired under warranty.  3rd party shops that do warranty work for Apple are becoming scarce.
– There is no warranty option — where you can pay $100 extra and have someone come to you and do the repair for in-warranty Macs.  By and large, you are at the mercy of the Apple Store, when they get to it, per their secretive culture, and circus environment.
– I’ve stated before that the Dell Latitude E6430 and Lenovo Thinkpad T430 are outstanding business class laptops.   They are not sold in stores.   They are generally built as well or better than Apple’s MacBooks and cost about the same or slightly less.
With either the Lenovo or the Dell, you can choose a warranty option at the time of purchase for on-site service.  This means at your home, business, hotel room, etc.   This service is provided next business day and covers hardware issues.
– There is no mall crowd, no being made to feel like some tool with a number.
– Lenovo, Dell, and Apple laptops are made in China.  A lot of people like to criticize Lenovo for being a Chinese company.  They purchased IBM’s PC business in 2005, though Big Blue continued to provide design insight to them for several more years.  However, Lenovo has its U.S. support operations in North Carolina.  Last week they announced they would start building some of their laptops and desktops in N.C. next year.

I’m going to rest my case there.  I have not gotten into the in-warranty repair nightmare I have experienced with Apple over the past week.  It really doesn’t matter at this point.   I’m putting myself in your shoes when you might need hardware repair on a computer system.  When you have a hardware failure on a computer under warranty — I want someone to come to you and fix it.  This person won’t be me, but they will be good, and that visit will be covered.  You can’t get THAT level of service from Apple.

Your Questions Answered

1.  Capturing a screen shot:   sometimes you’ll want to do this.   Perhaps you want to show me whats on your screen in the process of getting help.  You might want to take a screen shot to compare notes with another person, for example if you both have the same program open and they claim you are not seeing the same thing.   Perhaps you want to capture what is on your screen exactly as it looks for some type of evidentiary or archival reason.   This is easy.   I will cover both Windows and Mac scenarios.

Windows:     traditionally on most Windows computers — there has been a Print Screen button on your keyboard.    Press it.  Then open up a program like Microsoft Word (or equivalent) and then   Paste from the Edit menu (or Paste Special).   Your screen image will appear in the document.   You may want to print in Landscape mode (wide) to get the screen shoot to appear all on one page.     In Windows 7, there is a an additional way to capture a screen shot.  On your start menu — look for Snipping Tool.   If it isn’t obviously its in All Programs >> Accessories.    This allows you to drag a window around what you want to capture.  It then saves the image as a picture file on your screen.   You can then save that image and do what you want with it.


Mac:   There is a great utility baked into the Mac called Grab.  I use it often; in fact I keep it in my dock for easy access.    To open Grab for the first time, open Finder >> Utilities >> Grab.    Click on the Capture menu at the top and then chose whether you want to capture just a selection (of your choosing), a window (a particular program’s window), or the whole screen.    After the screen shot is taken, a picture file opens on your screen.  From there you can save it, e-mail it or print it.


2.   Dealing with a troubling spam e-mail message:    it happens.   Someone told me they received an e-mail telling them they had ordered something and a tracking number was even provided in the e-mail.  It wasn’t even a valid tracking number with the shipper.    So what’s the deal?    The senders of this message are likely located in Jamaica, Nigeria, or perhaps an eastern european country.  They would like nothing more  than for you to engage them in discussion.   DON’T.   Doing so will expose you to financial harm and possibly harassment.    Just as there is troubling postal mail from time to time or chain letters asking for money to be sent to the next link, there are even more sophisticated e-mail scams.   It isn’t a good idea to respond to the postal mail and it isn’t a good idea to respond to the junk e-mail.


A couple of tips:   Use one e-mail address for real correspondence and another e-mail address for online shopping, newsletter subscriptions, and other things you sign up for.     It would be wise to use the personal correspondence e-mail for secure things like banking as well.      Your real e-mail account should be one that you pay for or have a high degree of control over.   This could include one connected to your internet service or one that you pay for separately.  If you are looking to establish a new personal (or business) e-mail address that has some accountability associated with it, consider Google Apps ($5 a month / $50 per year) or @ $50 per year.


3.    I believe I’ve touched on this once before — but it bears repeating because at different times we are all shopping for something.    THERE IS NO MORE WHITE APPLE MAC BOOK LAPTOP FOR $999.  It’s been off the market for one year.  It came in a “standard” screen size of 13.3 inches and was not some cut rate starter model.  It was a great deal.    Apple phased that out and replaced it with the 11.6 inch Mac Book Air  for $999.       In my opinion, this is more of a toy than any thing else.  It might be a laptop for OCCASIONAL USE but not for getting work done on.   The screen is too small and without a laptop stand there will be some serious neck strain.    So you really have 2 choices for a standard sized Mac laptop — at 13.3 inches:


Mac Book Pro   13  – $1199 to $1499

Mac Book Air 13  –  same pricing


4.   Apple vs. Samsung lawsuit:     Apple scored a major victory against Samsung on Friday for patent infringement.    Interestingly enough Samsung’s tablets were judged not to have violated patents related to the iPad.     For those of you who are out of the loop on this — Samsung is the #1 seller of Android phones — an iPhone rival.     The lawsuit did not cover Samsung’s latest blockbuster phone – the Galaxy S III  which has sold over 10 million units since it was released in June.    Again for those of you who do not know — Android is the software on the phone and was designed by Google.    The software on an iPhone is called iOS.   Why didn’t Apple sue Google (yet) ?    Google actually provides the software to companies that make Android phones like Motorola, Samsung, and HTC — for FREE.  However, Google does profit from it in other ways.  If you have an older Samsung Android phone — Samsung may be pushing a software update out to you to ensure compliance with patent law.    Do I still think some people should consider an Android phone?   Yes.   Especially if you are connected with many Google services — you will probably like a GOOD Android phone better.   Keep in mind there are many bad Android phones on the market.   If you were the type that liked to tinker with a car in your younger days — you’ll like an Android.   If you want the best deal out of the box with no tinkering — you’ll prefer an iPhone.  If you want a phone with a physical keyboard — you’ll want an Android phone.

Real Life Tech Support Story: Part 1 of 2

**  When experiencing multiple problems at one time — it’s critical to take a moment to think about the following.   Are both of my problems related or are they entirely separate?   It’s also fine to ask yourself am I just imagining things?  You’re not crazy.   Simply stated, the two issues I was having were 1)  slowness and apparent overheating from my MacBook (my primary computer) and 2)  internet connectivity issues.  Audio and video would start and stop or about every 3rd or 4th website that I loaded would not open.  I really thought they were interrelated.  However, one factored caused me to firmly believe that they were distinct problems:   ALL OF OUR COMPUTERS WERE HAVING INTERNET CONNECTIVITY ISSUES.

1)  Problems with the MacBook….
There is a reason why I only recommend the MacBooks, Lenovo T series, or Dell Latitude E64xx / 65xx series.  When problems arise and the customer has a valid warranty — these companies stand behind their products!!   Does this mean I won’t help a customer who has a different laptop?  No of course not.  However, if you say to me — I’m going to buy what you recommend –then  those are the 3 product lines I would steer you toward.  It should be noted that the Dell Latitudes come with the a 3 year warranty standard, but on the Lenovo and MacBook models the 3 year warranty requires you to purchase an upgrade — an upgrade that is well worth it.   On the Dell and Lenovo laptops — their warranties — offer you the option of sending a technician to you.  The MacBook’s warranty (known as Apple Care) – requires you to bring the computer to an Apple Store or authorized service center.   If you had a full sized desktop, like a big tower, I’m not totally sure an extended warranty is necessary.  For specialty desktops like the iMac, the Mac Mini, and all laptops that you expect to get 3 to 4 years out of please buy the appropriate manufacturer warranty (not 3rd party) with onsite or local service.     Why?   Laptops have little parts.  These parts may be soldered on inside and may not be something that I could easily replace for you.   Failure of one of these parts may require the entire motherboard to be replaced which could cost $500 or  more!!   However, your warranty would cover that.   Hardware issues I deal with on laptops (especially out of warranty and abused  laptops) include hard drive upgrades / replacements, memory upgrades / replacements, many keyboard replacements, and most battery replacements.  I also deal with software issues on laptops, which typically ARE NOT covered by the warranty.

You should be aware that Apple as well as Lenovo, Dell, and others include some type of hardware testing tools with their laptops (and probably desktops as well).   These tools may come in the form of a CD or software already installed on your computer.  Apple’s included tools are called Apple Hardware Test.     I ran these tests and came up with two error codes.  Apple doesn’t give an explanation of the codes, however I was able to figure our the general nature of the codes by doing a Google search.  They were related to FAILING TEMPERATURE SENSORS.  People who had similar problems were advised on various websites to bring their laptops in for repair.

I felt confident because I bought this laptop in April 2010 and DID get the 3 year AppleCare warranty.  Upon doing just some basic tests on my computer, the Apple Store technician found out something that suspected but was not the cause of my problems.  — I had a failing battery.  Laptop batteries are NOT cheap.  They typically cost $100 or more.  Apple’s extended warranty will cover the battery, with Dell and Lenovo I believe you need to purchase additional coverage for this.  I saved $168 by having my warranty.  Unlike many other laptops, Apple’s batteries are NOT user replaceable.   The technician could not diagnose the temperature sensor issues on the fly, but he said their technicians would run an extensive hardware test 3x and replace whatever needed replacing.   All of these repairs would be covered.  It may take them 24 hours (or possibly longer) to finish this but I left being a VERY happy customer.