Category: Software

Trusting First Instinct and The Complete Menu

Happy rainy Friday.  Just want to let everyone know that I don’t have any classified documents in my garage, in the trunk of my old Camry or otherwise.  I didn’t tell anyone to lie about it [wagging finger] not even one time.

Biz Briefing:  Trusting My First Instinct

I got involved with a new (business) client over the past 2 months.  One of my business advisors told me not to get involved.  I didn’t listen.  I knew from the get go it was going to be a combative, if not hostile situation.  I then thought I am going to ask for a $1500 non refundable retainer and a few other conditions.  I didn’t listen to myself.  I got talked out of it.  99% of my client interactions are wonderful and warm situations.  My loose, warm, no hard line policies have worked for me for years.  However, the hard core business world isn’t always meant for teddy bears.  I don’t have contracts or service agreements. I don’t even think I would have the resources to pay someone to draw them up.  I ended up getting $burned$ by this situation. Lesson learned  I have got to stick to those warm and friendly encounters and trust my instinct on negative vibes that I get. Not every potential client is a match.

The Complete Menu

So now I want to talk about many of the services I can offer for you….

1. Comprehensive pre-purchase consultations for computers, iPhones, iPads — I will provide these services at no charge, including help with ordering if a client is going to have me set up their device for them.   If the client wants to set it up themselves or just wants a report to contemplate for later — I simply bill for my time.

2. Set up of computers, smartphones, tablets, printers.

3. Set up of TV’s that don’t need to be mounted — including setting up streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV +) and streaming players (Fire Stick, Roku,  Google TV, Apple TV)

4.  Virus / Malware / Adware — computer security mitigation — including reports for your bank when required

5.  Freeze Credit Reports  – give yourself the ultimate protection

6. General computer / technology troubleshooting  (note – I do not personally replace screens on iPhones or laptops, but I can take your devices and get this done for you)

7.  Back Up —  backing up your data and establishing a backup plan

8.  Computer / Technology Training — Whether you are staying for extra-credit or sitting in the back of the class — I believe you have the power to learn

9. Set up new WiFi routers — especially the newer mesh WiFi systems (ie. Eero)

10.  Computer updates and resets — upgrade an existing operating system or wipe and reinstall

11.  New E-mail address / custom private email address — Whether you want to start fresh with a new free address or you want a custom e-mail like you@yorudomain(dot).com — I can help you get this done.

Best Tip I Could Give On AOL Mail

(The 1990s is calling and they want their e-mail back.  HA HA.)

All kidding aside for some reason — you may still be using AOL for email.  I had a client last week who got scammed by a bogus e-mail that got through to his AOL account.  3/4 of his messages are SPAM.   His computer ended up being taken over by hackers.  It required a 3 hour appointment with me (and 1 hour follow up today), a complete erasing of the computer and setting it up again.

AOL Mail does not have customizable Spam settings where you could tell it for example to be Stricter about filtering spam.   However…….. we discovered there is a VERY powerful feature in the Options / Mail Settings.    If you are highly bothered by Spam in your AOL account — I strongly suggest turning it on. 

The name of this feature is

Block All Senders Except Contacts

It does exactly that.  Senders who are not in your Contacts will not be able to email you.   If you want to receive email from a particular person — add them to the Contacts.  People whom you’ve previously e-mailed are already in your contacts. 

This feature is in

Options  >> Mail Settings>> Block Senders

*My client is thrilled now as his Spam volume will be cut down by 90% or more.  This will save him from costly mistakes and the hassle of having to close his checking account and re-open a new one. 

Solid Steel Real Deal

Biz Briefing:  Quick Note about Quick Books

Several of my clients are in business for themselves. You may know someone in the same boat whether they run a small office or are more of a self-employed consultant.  Quick Books basically has a monopoly on the market for small business accounting software.  I use it and you probably do too.  Quick Books has grown increasingly unfriendly in recent years.  Business owners used to upgrade their Quick Books about every 4 years.  However, their real goal over the past couple of years has been to push customers into their new Quick Books Online offering.  A functional subscription is about $60 a month (and pricing has gone up on that too).  The desktop or regular Quick Books program (Mac and Windows) was $200-300.  In 2020, it went up to $349 per year.  Next year — wow [ouch] Quick Books desktop is going to be  $799 / year.  I know people holding on to Quick Book Pro 2016 for dear life.   Hold on if you can.  That version of Quick Books (any prior 2020) is considered insecure.  PROTECT THE COMPUTER IT’S ON LIKE FORT KNOX.  The future is QB Online. It’s been great for their bottom line, not ours!

Sad ending to the season for the Mets.   Yankees and Dodgers World Series anyone?

30 Second Tip

When you are having an issue or quick with your devices, try a Restart.  You probably know how to  restart your computer.  However, there is not true restart on the iPhone / iPad.  So, you must Shut Down and then turn it back on.  Settings >> General >> Shut Down.   Then hold the big button on the right side of the iPhone (or top for iPads) for 5 seconds to turn it back on. 

Solid Steel Real Deal

I’ve begun setting up iPhone 14 Pro models for my clients.  So far the ratio is all iPhone 14 Pro and no regular 14’s (but remember I am not down on the plain old 14, having just at 13 myself).  However, there is something special in the hand when I hold the 14 Pro.  The weight and the feel of the stainless steel case is so apparent.  It reminds me of when I hold one of the cheaper Timex watches.  It’s light and made out of brass.  An aluminum watch would feel the same way. However, then think back to the feeling of a watch made out of all stainless steel (or mixed with some gold).  Think of that bracelet with all solid links.  There is precision engineering at work.  It feels like a significant object.  That is my tactile perception of the iPhone 14 Pro.  I haven’t even addressed the camera yet.   The difference between the 14 and the 14 Pro is like really good vs. a knockout. It’s still a bit shocking to me that the price difference is only +$200 for the Pro.  I see value in the $999 price point, especially when the carriers or Apple are willing to give interest free financing. 

Song of the Week

I haven’t done one in a while, so how about a tune you probably haven’t heard, from my favorites.  “More to Life” by Stacie Orrico.   Stacie was a known pop singer in that late 90’s early 2000’s era when Brittney and Christina were the MTV stars.  However, she had a marketing problem.  She wasn’t Christian enough for Christian music, but she was too squeaky clean for the predators of the pop music industry.  So — she ended up becoming a big hit in Japan and Malaysia around 2003 where they valued a singer with high morals.   Sadly, Stacie quit the business.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mRLkwwNb9js

There is a happy ending though.  Today, Stacie is living her dream playing in clubs as a blues singer in the Atlanta area. 

There’s got to be more to life…. than wanting more,

Microsoft Word Secret Revealed

I’ve been using Microsoft Word for how long — 30 years almost!  You might think you know all the ins and outs of Word.  Today, I confirmed something that has always been true but I think a lot of Word users don’t know and would be shocked by.   Here is the big TRUTH BOMB:   With one exception ** Microsoft Word does not  — absolutely does not — auto save your document.   What?  But — I have always gone into the Word Options (File menu >> Options >> Save and set it to 5 minutes or 10 minutes).    @Look again Word users @   Even I did a double take.   You are saving Auto-Recover information to a certain location on your computer.   That is not the same as auto saving the file every 10 minutes.  Bottom line:  Word does not auto save your file — with one exception.  This Auto-Recover business is about if you were to lose power or Word was to freakishly quit in some sort of computer error — you MIGHT be able to go to the Auto-Recover folder on your computer and retrieve a recent version of your file.  MIGHT is the key word, because I have seen many instances where this does not not happen for my clients. 

Alright, alright.  So I have to keep pressing the save button on my file?  Generally, yes.  What is the exception?    The exception comes if you are saving your files in Microsoft One Drive.   One Drive is a service and a folder on your computer that synchronizes with the cloud.  It is a direct competitor of Dropbox.  It shouldn’t surprise you that it integrates very neatly with Microsoft Word and other Office programs.   One Drive works on Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android.   Don’t want to pay anything?   Don’t have to.  The free tier of One Drive gives you 5 GB of free space — that is good for potentially thousands of Word documents.   When you pay the $6 or $8 a month for Microsoft Office 365 the annual subscription to Office that I set up for many of my clients — you get 1 TB of One Drive space or 1000 GB.   That is more than enough space to likely save your whole digital lives. 

So what I am trying to say here is — if you are doing important work in Word — you should be doing one of 2 things

1) Regularly clicking Save

2) Save your documents in the One Drive folder (One Drive is built into Windows. It has to be installed on a Mac from the App Store.)

I tried looking at alternatives and here is what I found.  In the Pages word processing app on a Mac — files do auto save.   Using Google Docs in the browser — files also auto save.     You may or may not want to use One Drive.  Some of you probably should.   But now you know the truth about Microsoft Word.   One way or another — save your files!!    Utilize a backup system as well.

Microsoft Office Options

Everyone has used Microsoft Word over the years. You’ve likely used Excel too.  You may have even used Power Point (or at least viewed a presentation), Outlook, or even Publisher.  All of these applications are part of a suite of programs known as Microsoft Office.  Office is truly a cross platform offering, being available on Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Android.  In the recent past Office was an expensive package.  Around 2007 or 2008, I recall going to Staples with a client and buying Microsoft Office Professional for $400 to $500.  For a typical consumer or home office user, there are 3 distinct Microsoft Office options:

1)  FREE —   Office.com — In what may come as a surprise to many — you can use basic versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on your computer’s web browser for free.  These web apps do not have all of the features or perhaps the ease of use as the full featured desktop apps, but they get the job done for many.   Documents can be printed, downloaded to the computer, and even emailed out directly or indirectly.  These documents will be stored in Microsoft’s cloud storage known as One Drive.  You get 5 GB for free.  That allotment can hold thousands of text based documents.

2) The License / One Off Purchase — Microsoft sells Office for Mac and Windows as a license for one computer. It is truly one computer only.   Home and Student (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) will run you $149.99.  Home and Business (all of the previous apps plus Outlook) will cost $249.99.  These are one time costs.  The licensed versions will receive security updates from Microsoft for 5 years from release of that version of Office (not 5 years from your purchase date).  However, if you were to buy Office 2021 now — you would pretty much be getting 5 years because it was just released.  Microsoft used to offer 10 years of updates for the licenses.  This is all happening because Microsoft wants to push you into……

3) Microsoft 365 — Personal or Family — This is the ongoing subscription version of Microsoft Office and is how most of my clients are buying Office these days.  It’s hard to argue they are not offering a lot for the price of admission.  In addition to Word, Power Point, Excel, and Outlook — Windows users will also get Publisher and Access (sorry those do not exist for the Mac).  The Personal edition($69.99 / year) will allow you to install Office on a total of 5 devices that you control (all under your Microsoft account).  Mix and match Windows, Mac, and iPad — no problem!  You will also get 1 TB of cloud storage space.  That is huge.  Honestly, other services could literally charge you $70 a year for just that cloud storage.   The Family offering casts its net even further.  It allows you to have 6 people in your family (all with their own Microsoft account) install Office on up to 5 devices each.  That is a potential of 30 devices for $99.99 per year.  How can you beat that?   Additionally, each of the 6 people will get 1 TB of cloud storage space.  That can cover tens of thousands of pictures, videos, documents and such.  Finally, with Microsoft 365, you never have to worry about updates.  You will always have the latest version of Office.  Some family members and I have been subscribers to Microsoft 365 since it was released for consumers in 2013.

The commercial real estate market is tough right now, so I will let you choose which Office you want to move into.  In a future Update, I will also cover some non-Microsoft office alternatives.

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.

Windows 10 Users–You Need A Backup

(If you don’t have important files on your PC — if you use it to surf the Internet and check email only — this doesn’t apply to you.  Perhaps you could forward it to another Windows user). 

However, I know that most of you have important files on your Windows PC.  They could be work files, documents, proposals, and photos.

I’m giving you a true report from the field here and let you know that the recent BIG UPDATE to Windows 10 (version 2004) that has been installing on your computers over the past couple months has created A FEW problems.  Well over 90% have been smooth sailing.  But — there are 2 that I can think of — that were a big problem.   In both cases — the computers needed to be erased and have Windows 10 reinstalled.   In one situation — it didn’t matter.  In the other situation, the client was in a tough spot because there were important work documents and no backup. 

You can avoid this all together — by having a backup system in place.  This might be an external hard drive.  It might be an online file storage service like One Drive or Dropbox.  Or you may even want to consider an all encompassing online backup service like Carbonite or Backblaze for about $6 per month. 

Updates and Upgrades do fail from time to time.   Windows may have to be reinstalled.  You may need several hours of help from someone like me when this happens.   Having a backup of important files makes your life SO MUCH easier.

Fax Is Back and T-Mobile Update

Here are a couple of Bonus Features for you today.

Fax Is Back

With one company in particular and actually a couple of parties, I have been doing a lot of faxing lately.  I haven’t had a true home phone with the phone company since 2012.  From 2012-2016, I had a service called VOIPo for my home phone.  Basically I plugged an adapter into my router and then positioned a couple of cordless phones throughout the home.  At some point in my time as a customer, they allowed me to upload scanned documents (or computer created documents) and they would fax them out for me.  In mid-2016, I decided that I didn’t really need the fax perk anymore and changed to a well known internet based home phone called Magic Jack.  As I have shared before, I pay a whopping $40 per year for my home phone and use it for all of 5 minutes a month.  Ultimately, I cannot fax with Magic Jack.  So what did I do?   I signed up with Humble Fax for $10 / month and no long term contract.   This service gave me a local fax number.  It allows me to scan documents to the computer and upload them to my Humble Fax portal.  I can then compose a little cover page and send the fax out.  It’s awesome.  I can also receive faxes and get them delivered to my e-mail. 

Still Rockin’ With T-Mobile

The subject of T-Mobile came up with a client recently and I just wanted to say that I am pleased to report that my wife and I still love them, 14 months later.  They are the best big tech / telecom company I have ever dealt with.  We are on the 2 for $70 / unlimited age 55+ plan.  Only one person on the plan needs to be 55 or older.  Our price includes all taxes and junk fees.  As for the promises delivered on, here are the major ones.  When we ported in from Verizon, they promised to pay off our phones.  We each had a year remaining and about $600 total left on our phone loans.  Within 14 days, I got a virtual Mastercard with the exact payoff amount loaded so that I could pay off Verizon.   My wife is a big fan of the Samsung Galaxy phones and not an iPhone user.  When the Galaxy S20 orders started in February, she was all in.  The prices went up this year and the S20 was $999.  However, it became more palatable when T-Mobile (through some kind of arrangement with Samsung) promised to give my wife $500 for her 2 year old Galaxy S9+.  That phone only has a street value of about $150, approximately.   About 3 weeks after receiving the phone in early March, T-Mobile delivered.  $95 was given to us as a Bill Credit.  $405 was put on a pre-paid Mastercard.  I was then able to take that Mastercard and pay it all on my wife’s phone loan, knocking it down by 40%.  Promises made, promises kept!   If you are interested in that 2 for $70 plan, I can talk with you about it.  It may not be for everyone and if you have the right iPhone (2018 models and later), I think I can set you up with a “bridge the gap” strategy to make this work optimally. 

Control of Technology in the Hands of Too Few?

I am concerned about this issue and I know many of you are too.   An increasing amount of space in both traditional and online media has been given to the great power that so few companies have.  There was a big NY Times article on the subject not long ago.   We are talking about it at work.  We bemoan the technological giants with friends.  I could write a ton on the matter at hand, but I want to keep it simple, give you something to nibble on, and invite your thoughts.

As great as Google Assistant is, this story gave me cause for concern.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/05/google-gmail-purchase-history-cant-be-deleted.html

When you delete an item, it should be gone.  However, Google still has access to it in this instance. 

So who I am I really talking about when I say the “technological giants” ?   Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter,  Apple and Microsoft. 

Consider Facebook’s power in social media and messaging.   Facebook.com, Facebook Messenger, What’s App, and Instagram!  Wow.   With the exception of traditional text messages, and Apple’s iMessage (blue messages on your iPhone) platform, that is such as large chunk of our digital experience.   Facebook owns all of it.

I like to put Apple and Microsoft in a different sub group within the powers that be.  They primarily sell stuff that we use.  Yes they engage in some data collection an analysis, but Facebook, Google, and Twitter feast off of user information.  (With the exception of some Google business services), you don’t really pay for anything from these three.  They are in the business of harvesting information for the purpose of selling ads.      Amazon is the most well known online retailer.  They also have a massive division that provides paid data management services to businesses.   Yet, they know everything about our shopping habits.  I’m sure they can share some data with manufacturers.  Their control of merchandise can make or break a new product or upstart company. 

Consider this hypothetical.  You really are a big advocate for this one diet.  And there are a couple of books that are like “the bible” for your program of eating.  However, this diet is controversial.  You don’t have any local bookstores you can go to.  Amazon is the place to buy the books for this program.  You often shop there to buy new copies for the support group you run.  Some food lobby starts putting pressure on Amazon to stop carrying these books.  A health association chimes in.  Amazon decides to stop carrying the books.  It becomes much harder to easily disseminate the required information. 

Ultimately, Amazon is a private bookstore. They can choose to carry the volumes they want.  The problem is — for some Amazon is the only choice.  They have put so many of our cherished local bookstores out of business. 

Just something to think about!   What are you going to do to combat THEIR power?  Use a VPN?   Use paid e-mail service?  What about searching on DuckDuckGo.com instead of Google? 

Simple Security Stuff–February 2019

I realize that the last two weeks of update were truly “honors class” material.   The take home points are — 1) I always install ad blockers for my clients.  2) You should have a second (or 3rd) browser installed should there be issues with your primary browser.  3) The ability to use my preferred ad blocker in Google Chrome may change by the end of the year.  4) I can help you with this issue should the time come.

Let’s go remedial this week.


Simple Security Stuff – February 2019

When sending out group e-mails:  put yourself in the To field, put everyone else in the Bcc field.

-Never make your password out of revealing or obvious information (Birth date, maiden name, password123, etc.).

-One trend in password creation that I like is to create a sentence (ex.  ILiketheYankeesin19).

-You need to be using a separate password for each website.  You can start with the same base and add a unique suffix for each particular website.

-Ideally, you should use a software password manager.  I set up either Last Pass or 1Password for my clients.  They are secure and they work.

-If you are not ready to use a password manager: Never ever ever store your passwords in a Word document on the computer.  If you are going to store them this way, we need to put them on a flash drive that you can plug into your computer when you need to look at them.  (Please contact me if you are in this situation).

-If you still aren’t ready to use a password manager (hint), I don’t mind you using a paper based “notebook”.