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. 🙂
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.
I don’t have any major product or service announcements to tell you about other than…
-An update came out for both the iPad and iPhone last week. Even if the FEATURES don’t interest you, the update contains many security and stability fixes that are essential. With your device plugged into power, please go to to Settings >> General >> Software Update. Follow the prompts to complete your update, if you haven’t already.
-Windows 10 version 1809 is being fully deployed to just about all computers right now. This is the major new version of Windows that was finalized in the Fall of 2018. If you are prompted to install it, make sure you are closed out of all of your work. Go for it. Eek! The next new version of Windows 10 is right around the corner.
I would like to take this opportunity to let you know about some services that I offer that may be new to you.
Shopping Assistant – I can research product options for you before our appointment, during, or we can even go shopping for gear together. Can you say — technology field trip? There are many instances where I can order products for you (ie. Amazon, Best Buy) and bring them to our next appointment. I do not charge a markup on the items themselves, but I will bill you for my time to go to the store, etc. Unless it’s multiple shopping destinations involved – usually this amounts to a half hour charge added on to the appointment billing.
Collages – I started making photo collages when some family members wanted to create a framed poster (20 x 30) for my sister’s bridal shower last summer. I found a program that allowed me to create the perfect memory. You may want a collage for your own digital collection, perhaps to create a record of multiple people or items, moments in time, or to give as a gift. I can create a collage for you with anywhere from 2 to 16 photos. The collage will be saved as a normal picture file. Then you can take it and order prints of an appropriate size (with my help or by yourself). I have attached a sample of my work to this e-mail. Your collage need not have words on it, if that is your preference. Note: this collage was a challenge because not all of the photos were from the digital era. None the less, all were quite happy with the result.
Cellular Services – Here is another niche service that may be just what the doctor ordered in your time of need. Do you need a temporary cell phone number? Do you need a US # for an international visitor or just a local number for someone staying with you for a while? Do you know someone going through a divorce or who is looking to branch off from the family plan in some way? I have the answer. I have SIM cards for cellular providers that operate on all of the major networks — Verizon, ATT and T-Mobile. In short order, I can generate a new # for you or convert (port) your existing number to the new service. I will pop the SIM card in your phone, you will pay for the first month of service (typically $30 to $50 depending on the plan) and you will be good to go. For light use cases or an emergency phone, I also have per minute rate options I could set you up with.
News Flash: I read an article recently about a major big box store (that rhymes with “Sophus Repo”) having to pay the federal government $30 million in a settlement because they were running a tech support scam on their customers. They were luring them in with a “free malware check,” and then telling almost everyone they needed an expensive malware cleaning whether they truly needed it or not. You won’t get those scams with me. Thank you for supporting small business — the HEARTBEAT OF AMERICA.
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.
New Version of Windows is Here
With all of the tech news and concerns of the fall, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the NEWEST VERSION OF WINDOWS 10. Microsoft released its second, completely new version of Windows 10 for 2018 back in November. The version # 1809 refers to the fact that it was finalized in the 9th month of 2018. It did not come out right away because a small portion of Windows users had bugs with the new release. The “kinks in the hose” have been worked out and Windows 10 – 1809 is ready to go. I updated my 2015 era Dell laptop last night. My computer didn’t skip a beat. All is well.
Those of you who could, per my past instructions, likely have your Windows Update settings configured for a 3 month delay on “feature updates” (new versions of Windows). So, you should expect 1809 to be pushed out to your computer beginning in February. You should simply let your computer go to sleep at night. Keep it plugged into power. Do not shut it down. This strategy insures that you get all of the ordinary Windows security updates as well. Make sure you have a backup system in place and it is working (I think I have set one up for most of you, but please ask).
With that said, about 4 GB of data will be thrown at your computer during this process. In rare cases, these upgrades go south. By letting me manage the installation for you, I will make sure that you have the necessary precautions in place and will update related software after the new version of Windows is installed. With a typical customer, this process takes about 2 hours per computer.
Consider A Faster Hard Drive for Your PC
Since the summer, I have helped many Windows clients replace the original SLOW hard drive in their computers with a fast solid state drive (SSD). The performance is literally about 4 times or more faster. On a 1 to 4 year old computer, I think this is a very wise move. Windows is truly optimized for SSDs at this time. Prices on SSDs have never been better — usually running from $65 to $100 for a typical customer based on current Amazon pricing. I can easily upgrade your hard drive at the time I upgrade your Windows installation. You will say — “wow this seems like a new computer.”
Most “Mac-like” Windows Laptops
I had this conversation with a client lately. We were trying to come up with Windows based alternatives to the Mac Book Air. While there may be others worth of mention, here is my list, in no particular order.
Microsoft Surface 2 Laptop (currently available at a bargain holiday price)
And if you want an alternative to the $2700 15 inch Mac Book Pro, check out the Dell XPS 15 ($1500-ish models are worthy alternatives).
Saving on Services
For a couple of years, I’ve told you that it is possible to save big on your home communications package (ie. with the cable company) if you know how to do it. If you just have one service with them or signed a new agreement 2 months ago — there is not much hope I can offer you at the moment. However, I have been at peace with my cable company (Comcast) since 2014 by making some sacrifices and making 2 year agreements. The package I have with Comcast is called Internet Pro Plus. I get a very fast Internet package, digital economy TV (which includes all local channels, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, CNBC, Bloomberg, A+E, USA, History channel, Food Network, and others), plus HBO. My TV package does not include regional sports networks, ESPN or Fox Sports. Home phone does not matter in my household, although we do pay for that with a separate provider at $40 per year (WOW!!!). I do not pay a modem rental fee with Comcast. I have my own modem and router. With 3 TV’s, I pay a total, including taxes of $112.xx per month. If only 1 or 2 TV’s were involved, the price would be less. If your bill makes smoke come out of your ears, there may be something you can do about it.
I have a real client example of serious savings. I recently met with a client who was receiving TV, phone, and Internet from Cox (generally a fine company in my opinion). However, their bill almost made me fall over. It was about $323 a month. Unbelievable!! That’s a car payment. While my best success has always been negotiating with Comcast, I suggest we give it a try. I was able to get them savings of $36 per month. That comes out to about $432 per year. They were thrilled.
If you think I may be able to help you in this area, let me know about your current package.
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.