Resetting Passwords and Deleting Voicemails

You need to be wary of password reset notifications sent to your email. Online services go through their records to match lists of compromised passwords at other sites with what might be stored on their own systems. In some cases, they force a password reset and email users that request. Scammers take advantage of this by sending their own emails that ask you to click a link to reset your password. Here’s how to avoid these attacks (or any alert-based scam): Always go directly to the website and log in. If your password needs to be reset, click the “I forgot my password” link and follow the instructions.

Radically changing your Windows 10 desktop can mean more than just setting a custom desktop image or slideshow of images from one of your Pictures folders. Rainmeter (rainmeter.net) lets you display all sorts of information about your computer on the desktop background, using “skins” or “… a movable, dynamic, sometimes-interactive window that appears over the Windows desktop, and usually gathers and displays information of some kind.” In other words, you can make your Windows 10 look very unlike the basic setup. Although it is a programming environment, the rather large Rainmeter community has made many skins available; check out the Discover tab on the website. For a Mac variation, check GeekTool (tynsoe.org/v2/geektool).

There is an interesting emergency responder use of an app call What3Words, whose developers have divided the world into 10-foot squares, each named with three random words. If you are lost in the woods and have a cell signal and this app, you can provide emergency responders with an amazingly accurate location in just three words. For example, I am typing this at snips.estimates.plead but I watch TV at punky.lambs.understanding. (That’s roughly the back and front of my house, respectively.) Get started at what3words.com. Download the app before you need it; it might be off by a few feet, but could come in really handy for a rescue.

Set unique ring tones for people whose calls you must answer and ask them to only call if it’s an emergency; it will make your driving safer.

You need to be wary of password reset notifications sent to your email. Online services go through their records to match lists of compromised passwords at other sites with what might be stored on their own systems. In some cases, they force a password reset and email users that request. Scammers take advantage of this by sending their own emails that ask you to click a link to reset your password. Here’s how to avoid these attacks (or any alert-based scam): Always go directly to the website and log in. If your password needs to be reset, click the “I forgot my password” link and follow the instructions.

Radically changing your Windows 10 desktop can mean more than just setting a custom desktop image or slideshow of images from one of your Pictures folders. Rainmeter (rainmeter.net) lets you display all sorts of information about your computer on the desktop background, using “skins” or “… a movable, dynamic, sometimes-interactive window that appears over the Windows desktop, and usually gathers and displays information of some kind.” In other words, you can make your Windows 10 look very unlike the basic setup. Although it is a programming environment, the rather large Rainmeter community has made many skins available; check out the Discover tab on the website. For a Mac variation, check GeekTool (tynsoe.org/v2/geektool).

There is an interesting emergency responder use of an app call What3Words, whose developers have divided the world into 10-foot squares, each named with three random words. If you are lost in the woods and have a cell signal and this app, you can provide emergency responders with an amazingly accurate location in just three words. For example, I am typing this at snips.estimates.plead but I watch TV at punky.lambs.understanding. (That’s roughly the back and front of my house, respectively.) Get started at what3words.com. Download the app before you need it; it might be off by a few feet, but could come in really handy for a rescue.

Set unique ring tones for people whose calls you must answer and ask them to only call if it’s an emergency; it will make your driving safer.

Voice mail, that wonderful ability for people to leave you phone messages, is something that fills up or, even worse, prevents you from using your own answering machine, where you can hear and screen calls by listening to the message as it is being left. Answering machines used to sit next to landline phones. Now all phone service providers—land and cell—offer their own voice mail service as part of a service package. This means that the messages are stored at their end, and you no longer need to have an answering machine by your phone. None of these phone services have unlimited message storage, so your voice mail box can fill up. If that happens, people can no longer leave messages and you might think that no one is trying to call you. Ask your telephone company how to use your voice mail service, or ask them to turn it off, letting your callers leave messages the “old-fashioned” way—on an answering machine where you can hear them as they leave the message.

Windows Security and Updates

One of the top antivirus programs for Windows 10 is Microsoft’s free Windows Defender, which is surprising to many who feel that free programs are less capable. The independent IT security institute AV-TEST found that Windows Defender was one of a few programs to attain top scores across its testing criteria. One of the least capable was Webroot’s SecureAnywhere 9.0.

Signs of a scam computer support call will often include the following:

• The caller paints a dire picture of all the bad things that will happen to your computer if you don’t immediately pay quickly to resolve the issue. They often want you to pay with gift cards.

• Often, they will ask to gain control of your computer to help you “fix” the problem and then show you the very scary-looking Event Viewer. Even on a brand new computer, Event Viewer (which tracks all sorts of results from tasks/events happening in the background) can show many errors but they are not at all critical.

The more they threaten you, the sooner you should hang up.

With more Windows 10 computers trying to update to the latest version, numbered 1903 and called the Spring or May 2019 version, some people are having problems. Make sure you have the latest updates from Check for Windows Updates, and ensure you have at least 20 to 30 GB of free space. Then double-check at the support website for the latest drivers for your computer, especially graphics drivers and BIOS updates. The update is not critical yet, as even version 1803 will still get security updates until November. You can check your version by clicking on the Windows logo/icon in the lower left corner of your screen and typing “about” in the search box to find and click on “About your PC.” Scroll down to find the version number. If you have version 1809, don’t worry until May 2020.

“Confirm your Unsubscribe” emails are a great way for email spammers to find if you really read your email. You should only trust such emails if you have just initiated an unsubscribe at a website—and even then, most of those don’t require a confirmation.

One of the top antivirus programs for Windows 10 is Microsoft’s free Windows Defender, which is surprising to many who feel that free programs are less capable. The independent IT security institute AV-TEST found that Windows Defender was one of a few programs to attain top scores across its testing criteria. One of the least capable was Webroot’s SecureAnywhere 9.0.

Signs of a scam computer support call will often include the following:

• The caller paints a dire picture of all the bad things that will happen to your computer if you don’t immediately pay quickly to resolve the issue. They often want you to pay with gift cards.

• Often, they will ask to gain control of your computer to help you “fix” the problem and then show you the very scary-looking Event Viewer. Even on a brand new computer, Event Viewer (which tracks all sorts of results from tasks/events happening in the background) can show many errors but they are not at all critical.

The more they threaten you, the sooner you should hang up.

With more Windows 10 computers trying to update to the latest version, numbered 1903 and called the Spring or May 2019 version, some people are having problems. Make sure you have the latest updates from Check for Windows Updates, and ensure you have at least 20 to 30 GB of free space. Then double-check at the support website for the latest drivers for your computer, especially graphics drivers and BIOS updates. The update is not critical yet, as even version 1803 will still get security updates until November. You can check your version by clicking on the Windows logo/icon in the lower left corner of your screen and typing “about” in the search box to find and click on “About your PC.” Scroll down to find the version number. If you have version 1809, don’t worry until May 2020.

“Confirm your Unsubscribe” emails are a great way for email spammers to find if you really read your email. You should only trust such emails if you have just initiated an unsubscribe at a website—and even then, most of those don’t require a confirmation.

If you are worried about a human listening to your smart speaker or smart phone voice commands, do a web search for how to disable companies from occasionally passing your voice commands onto humans to improve their recognition accuracy. It is not hard, but the instructions vary by device.

Speeding Things Up

Copying many files in Windows can be time-consuming, but there are tools that make the process go faster than using File Explorer. One of these dedicated apps is called TeraCopy (codesector.com/teracopy), which uses special algorithms to speed up the copying process with the option to verify those copied files.

Various things that you might be doing that slow down your computer include running too many applications at the same time, not rebooting regularly, clicking around on most anything on the web, not installing updates, and confusing slow Internet with your computer being slow.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a wonderful tool for protecting your internet access when you are using someone else’s Wi-Fi in public spaces. Their privacy is only as good as what the companies do with the traffic going through their system, and recent research from VPNpro hints that nearly 30% of the most popular VPN services are secretly owned by a handful of Chinese companies. The concern is with laws in China that won’t protect your data if their government insists on it being handed over. This isn’t to say that other countries have tighter privacy protections, but at least European Union-based companies have to abide by the union’s data protection rules.

Bluetooth beacons in retail spaces let apps track your movement in stores so you can get ads. If you like ads for saving money, then skip ahead, but if you have ever wondered why the store you are in seems to pop open ads on your phone, then welcome to the increased use of Bluetooth tracking. If you don’t need Bluetooth on, turn it off, and if you don’t need a store’s specific app, uninstall it.

It might shock you to know how much air quality can change between different parts of a city, so check out AirVisual, a smartphone app available for both Android and iOS devices, which will show you the Air Quality Index for most any city. I did have to search for Fairview, as the app thought I was in Biltmore Park. That probably had something to do with my cell phone provider.

Copying many files in Windows can be time-consuming, but there are tools that make the process go faster than using File Explorer. One of these dedicated apps is called TeraCopy (codesector.com/teracopy), which uses special algorithms to speed up the copying process with the option to verify those copied files.

Various things that you might be doing that slow down your computer include running too many applications at the same time, not rebooting regularly, clicking around on most anything on the web, not installing updates, and confusing slow Internet with your computer being slow.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a wonderful tool for protecting your internet access when you are using someone else’s Wi-Fi in public spaces. Their privacy is only as good as what the companies do with the traffic going through their system, and recent research from VPNpro hints that nearly 30% of the most popular VPN services are secretly owned by a handful of Chinese companies. The concern is with laws in China that won’t protect your data if their government insists on it being handed over. This isn’t to say that other countries have tighter privacy protections, but at least European Union-based companies have to abide by the union’s data protection rules.

Bluetooth beacons in retail spaces let apps track your movement in stores so you can get ads. If you like ads for saving money, then skip ahead, but if you have ever wondered why the store you are in seems to pop open ads on your phone, then welcome to the increased use of Bluetooth tracking. If you don’t need Bluetooth on, turn it off, and if you don’t need a store’s specific app, uninstall it.

It might shock you to know how much air quality can change between different parts of a city, so check out AirVisual, a smartphone app available for both Android and iOS devices, which will show you the Air Quality Index for most any city. I did have to search for Fairview, as the app thought I was in Biltmore Park. That probably had something to do with my cell phone provider.

Finally, learn how to clear out your phone’s voicemail box. You may not know it, but when others return your call and get a “mailbox full” message, you’ll be left thinking that no one calls you back. Your cell phone or landline phone provider can help you learn how to access and manage those messages.

What to Do When Tech Gets Wet

Whether you get caught in the rain or spill a glass of water, it’s good to review what to do if your phone or laptop gets wet.

The first thing to do, as soon as possible, is power off your device. Hold the power button down on a laptop for 10 seconds or hold it in on a smartphone until you get the prompt to turn off your device. If you are comfortable with popping out the SIM card and micro SD card on your phone (if you have one), do so. Dry and shake out all the water you can, then point a hairdryer on a low-temperature setting at your device. (See article linked to here about using isopropyl alcohol—and not rice—to displace water.) Now comes the hard part: Wait for at least 24 hours. Fight that urge to check every few hours.

Other things that gunk up smartphones include the charging port gathering lint (use tweezers or a plastic toothpick to get it out), dirt in the speakers or microphone holes (blast it with compressed air), and dirt and food on the screen (use eyeglass cleaning cloth and spray). Unidentified sticky stuff might come off with rubbing alcohol and finger action.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) don’t give you that same audible steady clicking of impending failure that traditional spinning hard drives do. But there are good free apps to check the health of an SSD. You can run either CrystalDiskMark for Windows or Smart Reporter Lite for macOS (see links at fairviewtowncrier.com/links). Both will run in the background and let you know of flaws before they totally eat your hard drive.

Don’t get stuck just on YouTube or Vimeo. There are many videos on Metacafe, Dailymotion, Veoh, The Open Video Project, 9GAG, TED Talks, or even The Internet Archive.

Digital photos can rot, meaning that those old external drives containing family photos do need to be recopied to newer drives every three to six years. The really important or valued photos should be stored in multiple places, maybe including online.   

Whether you get caught in the rain or spill a glass of water, it’s good to review what to do if your phone or laptop gets wet.

The first thing to do, as soon as possible, is power off your device. Hold the power button down on a laptop for 10 seconds or hold it in on a smartphone until you get the prompt to turn off your device. If you are comfortable with popping out the SIM card and micro SD card on your phone (if you have one), do so. Dry and shake out all the water you can, then point a hairdryer on a low-temperature setting at your device. (See article linked to here about using isopropyl alcohol—and not rice—to displace water.) Now comes the hard part: Wait for at least 24 hours. Fight that urge to check every few hours.

Other things that gunk up smartphones include the charging port gathering lint (use tweezers or a plastic toothpick to get it out), dirt in the speakers or microphone holes (blast it with compressed air), and dirt and food on the screen (use eyeglass cleaning cloth and spray). Unidentified sticky stuff might come off with rubbing alcohol and finger action.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) don’t give you that same audible steady clicking of impending failure that traditional spinning hard drives do. But there are good free apps to check the health of an SSD. You can run either CrystalDiskMark for Windows or Smart Reporter Lite for macOS (see links at fairviewtowncrier.com/links). Both will run in the background and let you know of flaws before they totally eat your hard drive.

Don’t get stuck just on YouTube or Vimeo. There are many videos on Metacafe, Dailymotion, Veoh, The Open Video Project, 9GAG, TED Talks, or even The Internet Archive.

Digital photos can rot, meaning that those old external drives containing family photos do need to be recopied to newer drives every three to six years. The really important or valued photos should be stored in multiple places, maybe including online.   

With all the hoopla over top commonly used search engines marketing what you look for, you should know that there are search sites out there that don’t. Wolfram Alpha (wolframalpha.com) is an example of a browser that doesn’t show ads and provides a different level of information than you might be used to.

How to Survive the End of Windows 7

On January 14, 2020, security updates will end for Windows 7. If you are still using this system, there are many questions to consider. How much will it cost to update to Windows 10? How old is your computer? Do you still need Windows, or are you thinking of switching to tablets, phones, Chromebooks or Macs?

Your computer will not suddenly die in January. You could hope that your antivirus and security software will continue to update, likely for another year, and that your web browser also stays up to date (which is more likely if you are using Chrome or Firefox.) The retail version of Windows 10 Home costs $140. If your computer is over five years old, you might do better to buy a new one. Or, alternatively, you could decide a tablet would meet your basic web and email needs and choose to switch to something simpler.

Private web browser mode, such as “Incognito” and “Private Windows,” seems to keep your surfing private from advertisers and marketers. But all it really does is reduce the amount of information stored on your computer about where you have visited online. If you use two or more different browsers, like Chrome, Firefox and Edge, you can dedicate one to random information searching, another to financial sites, and a third for Facebook or Gmail.

Fear is the best tool a phone support scammer can use to get your money. The best defense is to hang up, even if you think they are speaking the truth. Scammers will insist that others don’t know anything or that you can’t call the police if you value your computer or privacy. If you can break away from that call, you may find your common sense kicking back.

On January 14, 2020, security updates will end for Windows 7. If you are still using this system, there are many questions to consider. How much will it cost to update to Windows 10? How old is your computer? Do you still need Windows, or are you thinking of switching to tablets, phones, Chromebooks or Macs?

Your computer will not suddenly die in January. You could hope that your antivirus and security software will continue to update, likely for another year, and that your web browser also stays up to date (which is more likely if you are using Chrome or Firefox.) The retail version of Windows 10 Home costs $140. If your computer is over five years old, you might do better to buy a new one. Or, alternatively, you could decide a tablet would meet your basic web and email needs and choose to switch to something simpler.

Private web browser mode, such as “Incognito” and “Private Windows,” seems to keep your surfing private from advertisers and marketers. But all it really does is reduce the amount of information stored on your computer about where you have visited online. If you use two or more different browsers, like Chrome, Firefox and Edge, you can dedicate one to random information searching, another to financial sites, and a third for Facebook or Gmail.

Fear is the best tool a phone support scammer can use to get your money. The best defense is to hang up, even if you think they are speaking the truth. Scammers will insist that others don’t know anything or that you can’t call the police if you value your computer or privacy. If you can break away from that call, you may find your common sense kicking back.

Use Facebook Friends Lists to limit who sees you online, as well as to let you filter the content you share, create custom news feeds, and easily invite groups of relevant people to events. First, make different lists of some or all of your friends. Make sure you think of the different groups you want to share different information with and those you don’t want to see your activity. After logging in to Facebook, look on the left column for Friends Lists and make a custom list; then you can use that to change Facebook Chat. Open the chat window in the right-hand column of Facebook, click the settings icon (a gear) where you can turn off active status, and pick “Turn off active status for only some contacts…” Then pick the list of those you don’t want to see you.

How to Help Older Computer Users

Providing computer help for older friends or someone in your family can be a challenge. The biggest issue is that older people may not have the knowledge base you have or may not want to learn all of the tricks you think they would benefit from. I find it best to have them give me a basic and common task they want to do frequently and then simplify the steps. Sometimes, teaching them the power of the right button on the mouse to bring up that little contextual menu often lets them find the command for what they want to do. And let them repeat what you are showing them. I find that I often have to say, “I won’t say a thing unless you directly ask me what to do.” If they want to write down all the steps, let them, and then ask them to go through them so they can clarify and amplify those parts that seem to trip them up.

Might it be time to clean up your bookmarks? Delete the old and dead ones with AM-DeadLink (aignes.com/deadlink.htm). Then consider putting the more frequently used one in your browser’s bookmark bar. When this option is turned on, your most used bookmarks will be located just below the URL field. You can organize your bookmarks, and even tag them if your browser offers that option, so you can more easily find them in the future. Or embrace Google and search for all that you want when you want it, never worry about bookmarking again.

A sudden change to the free Dropbox account has limited the number of devices you can sync to three. To avoid paying for the commercial accounts, you should know that you can’t add any new devices. (Dropbox is not yet penalizing you if you already have more than three linked devices). If you add a new device, you will have to delink other devices (if you have three). It is not difficult. For help, visit help.dropbox.com/mobile/unlink-relink-computer-mobile.

Ethical.net can provide you with alternatives to many online services and apps that you might feel are too large or too costly. By no means is it exhaustive but you can get an idea of some of the alternatives available.

Providing computer help for older friends or someone in your family can be a challenge. The biggest issue is that older people may not have the knowledge base you have or may not want to learn all of the tricks you think they would benefit from. I find it best to have them give me a basic and common task they want to do frequently and then simplify the steps. Sometimes, teaching them the power of the right button on the mouse to bring up that little contextual menu often lets them find the command for what they want to do. And let them repeat what you are showing them. I find that I often have to say, “I won’t say a thing unless you directly ask me what to do.” If they want to write down all the steps, let them, and then ask them to go through them so they can clarify and amplify those parts that seem to trip them up.

Might it be time to clean up your bookmarks? Delete the old and dead ones with AM-DeadLink (aignes.com/deadlink.htm). Then consider putting the more frequently used one in your browser’s bookmark bar. When this option is turned on, your most used bookmarks will be located just below the URL field. You can organize your bookmarks, and even tag them if your browser offers that option, so you can more easily find them in the future. Or embrace Google and search for all that you want when you want it, never worry about bookmarking again.

A sudden change to the free Dropbox account has limited the number of devices you can sync to three. To avoid paying for the commercial accounts, you should know that you can’t add any new devices. (Dropbox is not yet penalizing you if you already have more than three linked devices). If you add a new device, you will have to delink other devices (if you have three). It is not difficult. For help, visit help.dropbox.com/mobile/unlink-relink-computer-mobile.

Ethical.net can provide you with alternatives to many online services and apps that you might feel are too large or too costly. By no means is it exhaustive but you can get an idea of some of the alternatives available.

Just as you might put tape over your laptop’s camera, think of covering the PIN pad at your bank or when using your debit card at any checkout place. I am amazed at how many places don’t have something to help me hide what I am keying in, so I have learned to use my other hand to hide when I type in my PIN.