Category: Macs

Not As Good As They Used To Be

A lot of things right now might not be as good as they used to be — perhaps it’s taxes due, the cost of a trip to the Red Sox game, or the tolls going over the Bronx Whitestone Bridge.   This sad tale also extends to the technology services and products we use.

The starting price of an iPhone is now $749.  It used to be $649 not that long ago.   The starting price of the Mac Book Air is $1199, but used to be $999 for the 2017 model.   Verizon and ATT are charging more for cell phone service, but they are giving you “unlimited,” right? Are prices going up because there are fewer sales or is the technology incorporated simply better, justifying an increase in cost?  It may be a little of both.

Most of my clients are Comcast / Xfinity customers.  One thing is for sure — the deals they are offering are not as good as they used to be.  They are feeling the crunch by having more and more of us cancel services and go with Internet only.  However they want to keep ARPU (average revenue per user) the same.   Therefore, the price of Internet only has increased (as a standard price — new customer offers are still low) and the cable company is clinging for dear life for those who have 2 or 3 services.  Once the $10 broadcast TV fee (local channels) and $8 sports channel fee (for those of you who have them) are tacked on — it becomes a losing battle.   The phone company can be good in certain areas where they have fiber or VDSL internet, but you can be certain that they aren’t eager to maintain the old copper lines anymore.  Watch out!  Some experiences I have had with Frontier, on behalf of clients lately, have been “teeth pulling” ordeals.   Overseas “customer service”?  I don’t even want to get started with that today.

Another thing that won’t be as good as it used to be is Uconn Women’s Basketball.   A new deal between their conference, the AAC, and ESPN was signed recently.  As of the start of the 2020 season, you will not be able to watch the games on the SNY channel anymore.  And if you have Frontier TV, you wont even be able to watch the Mets or Uconn on SNY effective right now (4/16, per Hartford Courant).  Frontier said they don’t want to carry the channel anymore.  Content is too expensive. I hope it gets resolved.  Starting with the 2020 season, many of the Uconn women’s games will be on the ESPN + app.  It’s a reasonable $5 per month, but you will need some help to set it up.  I am ready when you are ready.  You will be able to watch the games on a computer or iPad, but the best way to watch them will be via a streaming box hooked up to your TV (Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Apple TV).   I tend to prefer the Roku because it’s cheap.  Once you get get the hang of it, it will be easy to switch between your streaming box and regular TV.  However, you will have to learn something new.

And I know something from working with a lot of individuals in the 65+ age bracket — seniors don’t always like change.  

It’s not as good as it used to be.

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.  ūüôā

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. 

New iPads and Macs – The Product Matrix

*For expert technology consultations in the Hartford, CT area — specializing in age 55+ (residential consumers, their businesses, and non-profits) – contact VIP Computer Care today 860-656-6439.¬† Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, and Android.¬† We transform lives through technology!¬† Prepare to be excited and encouraged.*
New Stuff From Apple
Apple launched a silent refresh of some major products this week.¬† There was no big event, no streaming video broadcast.¬† It really makes me wonder what they will reveal at their March 25th event.¬† Hmm. TV Service?¬† Well on to the sure things —
For the first time since the fall of 2015, Apple has updated the iPad Mini and they want it to be known as just the iPad Mini, but some are calling it the iPad Mini 5.  This is the perfect iPad for those of you who want to use it as more of a reader, to check emails, maybe do some surfing and messaging or who just otherwise think that the 9.7 inch iPad is too large.  In a bit of a surprise, Apple is keeping the price the same at $399 for the 7.9 inch device, while the regular 9.7 inch iPad is still $329.  Very interesting, but I think it will be well received.
Apple also brought back a name from the past — and released an updated iPad Air (aka. iPad Air 3).¬† The iPad Air name has not been used on a new product since the iPad Air 2 came out in the fall of 2014.¬† At that time, it was seen as Apple’s standard 9.7 inch iPad.¬† This time around, the 2019 iPad Air is positioned as a mid-tier iPad and starts at $499.¬† It sports a 10.5 inch screen.¬† It has a more powerful processor than the regular $329 iPad and also can be used with the Smart Keyboard.¬† Old name, new parts, and the previous $499 price.¬† Got that on your scorecard?
iPad Product Matrix
With these new iPads, it’s really important to have the cheat sheet for this current family of iPads.¬† Here is how I keep them straight:
* iPad – 9.7 inch – starts at $329
* iPad Mini – 7.9 inch – starts at $399
* iPad Air – 10.5 inch – starts at $499
* iPad Pro – 11 inch and 12.9 inch – starts at $799
My thoughts¬†— I think the iPad progresses from being more of a tablet to a computer as you go up in the various price levels.¬† I have clients that are using their iPads as their primary computers.¬† As long as you can live within their limitations, they can be a fine option, but for many will still be a secondary computing device.¬† iPads are simpler than a Windows or Mac computer.¬† They are safer.¬† On the models that allow for the Smart Keyboard, they are more laptop like than ever.¬† I memorably stated a little over a year ago that an iPad Pro with a keyboard is the “best Mac” offered.¬† ¬†I said this as we were just coming off of horrific 2016-17 Mac Books.¬† Apple redeemed themselves with strong 2018 Mac Book Pro and Mac Book Air offerings.¬† However, it’s clear that they are offering us a competing computer universe called the iPad.¬† ¬†If it’s calling you, make the most of it. I would like to help.
New Macs
Apple also put out a refresh of their beloved iMac desktops.¬† ¬†We hadn’t seen new models since 2017.¬† The 2019 all-in-ones certainly do not reinvent the wheel but offer the current generation of Intel processors.¬† I will always tell it to you as I see it with technology.¬† The iMacs are the only Macs that are still sold with traditional spinning hard drives as the base option.¬† These are hard drives are QUITE SLOW.¬† I refuse to let you get stuck with them.¬† If you are an iPhone or iPad user and are accustomed to how responsive they are,¬† you need an iMac with at least the Fusion hard drive or ideally, the SSD hard drive.¬† ¬† So here is the rundown:
*The entry level  21.5 inch, $1099 iMac is not the one you want because it has the bad screen, the slow hard drive, and the 2017 processors.
*The next level of the 21.5 inch iMac comes with the gorgeous 4K screen and new processors (check!) but comes with the criminally slow hard drive @ $1299.
How to overcome this?
-Do a custom order from Apple with the fusion 1 TB hard drive ($100) or the 256 GB ($200) SSD drive.  Among these choices are where you should focus your vision.  Stay away from store bought iMacs!
-Of course, Apple still sells a VERY LARGE 27 inch iMac, fully updated as well, but I think the sweet spot lies in that mid-level 21.5 inch model with the upgraded hard drive — for my typical client.

Browsers and Ad Blockers 2019–Part 2

PSA:   All of you with a Google account have probably gotten an e-mail from Google recently about the closing of some of their services.   I have already advised a couple of clients in a panic over this issue.   Please go back and read the e-mail carefully.  Your Google account is NOT closing.  Your Google + account is closing (Google Plus).    Google what? Yeah, most of you probably never knew that Google launched a half baked social network several years back in an attempt to take on Facebook.  By default, you also had a Google + account.   I thought it was good for sharing photos and longer text posts than were typically the norm on Facebook.  It seemed like a great tool for groups.  Unfortunately, it never caught fire.  Google + is shutting down on April 2nd.  Your Google account and Gmail functionality will be just fine.

Browsers and Ad Blockers – Part 2


Taking all Mac and Windows computers into consideration, the Google Chrome browser is by far the most used in the world.  Among my Mac using clients, I would say that 50 to 60% of them use Safari as their primary browser.  However, even with them, Chrome is still popular.   No matter what your browser of choice is, remember that its critical to have a second browser installed on your computer.   Your regular browser may become corrupted, infected, or just not work well on certain sites.  That second (or even third) browser can be a lifeline. 

On your Safari browser, I had no choice but to install the Ad Block Plus ad blocker.  On your Firefox or Chrome browsers, I have installed either Ad Block Plus or uBlock Origin.  In recent years I have favored uBlock Origin.  It was developed by a Canadian programmer named Raymond Hill.  It is open source, provided free of charge, with no donations sought.  Unfortunately, in recent years, Ad Block Plus has gone on the take — accepting revenue by allowing “acceptable ads”.   This option can be turned off, but it left a lot of users with a bad taste in their mouths. 

As with the other major browsers, Google Chrome puts out several updates a year which are delivered to you automatically.   You have to remember that Google’s primary business is advertising.  Frankly, I am surprised that they did not block the ability to limit ads in Chrome a long time ago.  That could be changing.   In a new version of Chrome, coming out later this year, changes will be made “under the hood” that render uBlock Origin useless.   You will either have to stick with the ads or switch to using Ad Block Plus, which may also be rendered less functional but still operational.

These changes to Google Chrome are proposed at this time and not set in stone.  Should they become reality, the Firefox browser will remain unaffected in terms of uBlock Origin.    It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that you have a browser other than Chrome installed on your computer.  After all, having alternate browsers is about more than just one issue.  Having options gives you independence and computing stability.   Here are links to options beyond Chrome:

Firefox — Firefox.com

Brave (started by former Firefox CEO) —  https://brave.com/

Vivaldi (started by the founders of Opera) —  https://vivaldi.com/

Find the browser that fits you.

Technology Shopping Realities

Apple in the News

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

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

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

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

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

50 inch Westinghouse TV 4K with HDR – $199

Amazon Fire HD8 tablet – $50

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

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

Always Black Friday at Stub Hub

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

Technology Update 11/12/18: Resisting Technology

1.¬† Although I covered the new Mac computers and iPad Pro at length in a blog post for my Apple clients on 11/1 (https://theacronym.com/2018/11/01/recap-of-apples-brooklyn-event/) I wanted to make everyone aware of these new models.¬† ¬†Apple has a new Mac Mini desktop that starts at $799, a Mac Book Air laptop that starts at $1199. If you’re frustrated with Windows and want to go Mac, these are your points of entry.¬† The iPad Pro is an interesting device.¬† It has as much or even more raw power than almost any personal computer out there.¬† It’s extremely portable.¬† Apple even sells a magnetic keyboard that makes it like a laptop.¬† With the keyboard, it will cost at least $1000.¬† For some it could become a primary computer.¬† For others, the iPad Pro may represent a strong secondary device.¬† ¬†If you can learn to play within its rules, it’s a much simpler device than a desktop Windows or Mac environment.¬† Don’t forget the regular iPad¬†@ $329.¬† It is the best value in the Apple family.
2.¬† With all of this Apple excitement, I don’t want to leave out the Windows world.¬† New models are out as well.¬† If you want something like an iPad Pro, that still runs a full version of Windows¬† — look no further than the new Microsoft Surface 6.¬† ¬†With Windows systems, I will always go back to my clubhouse leaders.¬† ¬†For a premium product, you can’t go wrong with the Dell Latitude 5000/7000 laptop, Lenovo Thinkpad T480, or Thinkpad X1 Carbon.¬† These are systems built to last.¬† In terms of desktops, I am still a fan of the Dell Optiplex and Lenovo Think Centre systems.¬† ¬†Most of these computers are custom orders and not found in stores.¬† Occasionally, I do go on a shopping trip with a client at a big box store and last week there was such an occasion that arose.¬† I didn’t want to pull just anything off the shelf.¬† At about $500, this HP desktop met my standards.¬† It looks good on the desk and there was only one junk program that I had to remove.¬† It is a great option for the budget conscious.¬†¬†https://www.bestbuy.com/site/hp-pavilion-desktop-intel-core-i3-8gb-memory-1tb-hard-drive-128gb-solid-state-drive-hp-finish-in-natural-silver/6290502.p?skuId=6290502
3. Resisting Technology
I know that some of you are hesitant to embrace new technologies offered by the devices you own.¬† One that I don’t think you should avoid is Apple Pay (or for those of you with Android phones that support it, Android Pay).¬† Adding your credit or debit card to the Wallet on your iPhone costs you nothing and takes only about 5 minutes to set up for one card, if that.¬† Stores like Panera, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Stop and Shop, Best Buy, Costco, Macy’s and thousands more will allow you to pay by tapping your phone.¬† Why should you do it?¬† If you would already pay with a card, using Apple Pay helps prevent identity theft.¬† The store never gets your 16 digit card number. It gets a very long, randomized string of numbers.¬† If a particular store suffers a massive breach, like Target or Home Depot did a few years back, you will be in the driver seat.¬† The super secure card number you used via Apple Pay cannot come back to zap you.¬† Your Apple Pay device generates a dynamic security code for each transaction. I use Apple Pay whenever I can.¬† Check out the Wallet app on your iPhone if you’ve never looked at it.

Recap of Apple’s Brooklyn Event

So — after months of me telling you that new Macs, with more “consumer” oriented pricing, would be coming that day finally arrived on Tuesday.¬† I have been very critical of Apple’s 2016 and 2017 laptops, but I am a firm believer in what they did with the new Mac Book Pro laptops released over the summer and also this week’s releases.
The event opened with a tribute to what Tim Cook called the most beloved laptop of all time — the Mac Book Air.¬† The crowd got really excited.¬† Apple pundits had doubts over whether they would keep the Mac Book Air line going.¬† It lives on!¬† ¬†Let me give you a run down of the 3 major product announcements.
Mac Book Air
This 13 inch customer favorite is all new with a high resolution Retina display screen.¬† It has 2018, 8th generation, Core i5 Intel processors.¬† There are two USB-C ports on the laptop, both of which could be used for charging.¬† As these are ports of a new shape, you will need a $10 to $20 adapter to plug in your hard drives, printers, etc.¬† ¬†8 GB of RAM is standard.¬† Apple claims the Air is made from 100% recycled aluminum.¬† For the smallest hard drive, 128 GB SSD, the cost is $1199.¬† I just want to caution you about this size hard drive.¬† ¬†If you are only dealing with documents, this model may work for you.¬† However, if you are keeping a measurable collection of photos, music, and videos on your internal hard drive — please opt for the 256 GB model (same speed, just more storage) which goes for $1399.¬† ¬†Another option that some of my clients utilize is to put photo and music libraries on a separate external hard drive.¬† ¬† You may wonder, what is the difference between the $1399 Mac Book Air and the $1799 13 inch Mac Book Pro?¬† The Pro has a faster processor and 4 ports to plug things into instead of two.¬† ¬† I think the Mac Book Air would serve many of my Mac clients well.
Mac Mini
Wow!¬† They finally did it.¬† Apple updated their entry level desktop for the first time in 4 years.¬† ¬† For those of you in need of a primer — the Mac Mini is simply a small computer that is about the same size as a cigar box.¬† You can plug it into a monitor of your choosing ($100-150 model at Best Buy, Amazon works fine) and any USB mouse / keyboard ($30 Macally set from Amazon is A-OK).¬† ¬†Fortunately, the 2018 base model is not the stripped down, sluggish configuration from 2014.¬† It comes with 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD hard drive, and a Core i3 CPU.¬† ¬†It rings up at $799.¬† This would be a very adequate model for my typical client.¬† ¬†However once again, if you have a significant collection of pictures or music, you will want to get the 256 GB model for $999 (or should possibly upgrade to the faster i5 processor for $1099).¬† ¬†Should you ever need to add more RAM, the memory (not hard drive) is actually up-gradable.¬† Thanks Apple!¬† ¬† ¬†The Mac Mini has plenty of ports to connect all of your devices — including an HDMI port, 4 USB C / Thunderbolt 3 ports,¬† 2 traditional USB-A ports, and an Ethernet port for hard wired internet.¬† ¬† If you want a reasonably priced Mac desktop, this is your baby.
iPad Pro (A True Computer?)
The iPad Pro was refreshed with all new models that push the screen edge to edge like the iPhone X models.¬† The smaller model is now 11 inches and the larger model is still 12.9 inches.¬† The home button has been removed and replaced by Face ID, just like the iPhone X models as well.¬† ¬†Apple claims that the new iPad Pro is more powerful than 92% of personal computers on the market today.¬† ¬†With all of the language used, Apple is really promoting the iPad Pro as a computer.¬† They showed a graph during the event that showed that more iPads were sold than any other brand of computer over the past year.¬† One of my clients has already started to use her iPad Pro as her primary personal computer.¬† ¬†Pricing starts at $799 for the 11 inch model (64 GB hard drive), and $999 for the 12.9 inch model.¬† ¬†If you are going Pro, you will probably want to get Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio for $179-199.¬† ¬† For those of you with more basic iPad needs, like occasional e-mail reading, news reading, and media consumption — the $329 iPad is perfect.