Alien Skin's Surprise Spring Present: Alien Skin has just released an update to Exposure X2 and despite the many new features it's a free update for those who have Exposure X2 installed. The key new feature is the ability to add non-destructive layers to images, but we'll consider the other enhancements, too.
Reboot or Shut Down Windows with One Click: Some people make fun of Microsoft for putting the shutdown command on the Start button. It's really not a goofy idea. When you shut down your car, you use the ignition key -- the same thing used to start the car. So Microsoft gets a break for doing essentially the same thing. Still, some improvement is possible.
Short Circuits: Shadow Brokers Exploits May Fall Flat: Shadow Brokers, a group of hackers, apparently attempted to stun the world by releasing 300 MB of exploits aimed at Windows PCs and servers. Microsoft, though, says that most of the exploits had already been patched, some of them several years ago.
The End of the Mouse Tale: Remember the misbehaving mouse? The one that ran around as if being pursued by a large, hungry cat. After several attempts to get the mouse to behave, I finally found the source of the problem and -- as with most cases like this -- in retrospect, the cause should have been obvious.
Spare Parts (only on the website): A survey shows what information we're willing to share with companies to gain access to bargains or better customer support, and now it's possible to order a Sandwich from Subway using Facebook.
Security, Privacy, and Windows 10: The Creators Edition of Windows 10 that Microsoft began pushing out to computers last Tuesday clarifies some security and privacy issues. It also gives users better controls over what information Microsoft collects. We'll discuss it with Microsoft's Nic Fillingham, who heads the small and mid size business division.
That Makes Sensei: Adobe unveiled some new technology at last November's Adobe Max. The company does this each year to tease users by demonstrating yet-to-come features. One of these is called Sensei and, although it's not yet complete, it's closer and we can see how it might be used.
Short Circuits: Vista is Officially Toast: Speaking of Windows updates, and I was in the top part of this week's program, support for Microsoft's second-worst-ever operating system has ended. Vista is no longer supported. Why anyone would still be using Vista is a puzzle, but apparently some people still are even though its much better replacement, Windows 7, was released on July 22, 2009.
Patchety, Patchety, Patch: In addition to starting the Creators Edition roll out on Tuesday, it was also the monthly Patch Tuesday for Microsoft, but the prize for the largest number of patches goes to Adobe with patches to fix 59 vulnerabilities in 5 products.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Battling ransomware on Macs. Laptop Magazine has released ratings for the best laptops and, after 7 years in first place, Apple is now fifth. And where to go if your computer develops a problem in Ayr, Scotland.
Looking at Google's Project Fi: Fe Fi Fo Fum. Google skipped over Fe and launched Project Fi, a different kind of mobile service. So different that it's associated with 3 mobile carrier networks, uses Wi-Fi when it can, and will probably require you to buy a new phone. The week I started using Google Fi, I mentioned it here and said that I'd have a more complete evaluation later. After nearly 3 months, it's time.
Delay Creators Update if You Want To: Microsoft will start pushing the Creators Update out to users on April 11th. This is a major update and maybe you want to delay it for a while. Enterprise users won't receive the update for 4 months and if your computer runs Windows 10 Pro (not the Home edition), you can enable the same delay if you wish. Or you can make sure that you're among the first to receive the update.
Short Circuits: Hackers Say They Have 300 Million ICloud Accounts: Hackers say they have access to 300 million ICloud user accounts and they say they'll delete the data if Apple doesn't pay $100,000. The so-called "Turkish Crime Family" made the claim, but the number of accounts varies. They've also claimed more than 500 million accounts. The claims are dubious.
Intel Spins off McAfee: McAfee, the formerly independent anti-virus maker that was acquired by Intel, is once again an independent company after Intel completed the spin off of the company it bought 6 years ago for more than 7 and a half billion dollars.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Lithium-ion batteries pack more power than their predecessors, but they can burst into flame. Researchers are looking for a better option. Ratings firm Nielsen says it will be using artificial intelligence to give on-line advertisers clearer pictures of internet users. Would you buy your next car from a chatbot? One might be involved in the deal and you might not even notice.
CyberLink Power Director Kicks into High Gear: The last time I looked at Power Director from CyberLink, I was impressed by what it could do but distressed by relatively frequent crashes. The latest version is still impressive and the crashes seem to have disappeared and an already good program has been improved significantly.
House & Senate Vote to Eliminate Internet Privacy: oth the House and the Senate have now passed astoundingly great pieces of legislation -- if you're an internet service provider. If you're a customer of an internet service provider, it's not so good. The Senate passed the law last week, the House followed this week, and the president says he'll sign it. If you value what little privacy you have on the internet, you're not going to like this law.
Short Circuits: Ready for the Windows 10 Creators Update? Microsoft's Patch Tuesday for April (the 11th) will push the Creators Update out to users, but you might be able to download it earlier if you'd like to. Windows Insider members in the Slow Ring received updates this week. The update is, of course, free for any device that's already running Windows 10.
Alien Skin Updates Exposure X2: A new version of Alien Skin's Exposure X2 is free to existing users. Expect a more detailed report in a few weeks. It's called the Advanced Layers Update. In the past Alien Skin and other developers created plug-ins for Photoshop, but now most of these applications work both as plug-ins and as free-standing applications. This puts the developers in a position of being both partners and competitors for Adobe.
The Mouse that Ran Away: Last week I titled an item "How to Fix a Misbehaving Mouse (Maybe)". It's still very much a maybe situation.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Don't even think about the crash jokes that could come from Microsoft's licensing of technology to Toyota, chat-bots appear to be the future of customer service, and GoDaddy has acquired a provider of website security services.
$50 Affinity Designer Battles Adobe Illustrator: Can a relatively new $50 vector editor beat the well established Adobe Illustrator? Probably not, but it might be just right for some users. Affinity is a new brand name from Serif, a company that's been in business since 1987. Serif PagePlus was the company's first application, a low cost desktop typesetting program. Development is underway for a Affinity Publisher, which will take the place of the older application. In addition to Affinity Designer, the company offers Affiity Photo, which was reviewed on an earlier program.
Here's an Unwelcome Sight! The drive was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. Three years. That's how long one of the 4TB HGST disk drives in my system lasted. Whether the drive had a 3-year warranty or a 5-year warranty wasn't as important as whether I could recover the files that were on it.
Short Circuits: Making the "New" Tab in Your Browser More Useful: Click Control-N to open a new browser or Control-T to open a new tab in your browser and you'll see a screen that's probably little more than useless. There's an option for Chrome that may interest you, though. It's called Infinity New Tab and we'll take a look at it.
How to Fix a Misbehaving Mouse (Maybe): Previously I mentioned that I bought a Microsoft Sculpt keyboard and mouse. The mouse behaved badly from the start, but it wasn't Microsoft's fault. Let's start with the symptoms; then I'll explain what was going on and how I fixed it.
Smart Appliances Might Be Dumb Choices: Do you use a smart phone to control things in your house? Thermostats, TVs, maybe the light switches? Just issuing a voice command can turn on the music, turn off the lights, and change the HVAC system from heating to cooling. But they can also create some nasty problems. We'll look at some ways to safeguard your network.
Happy 25th Anniversary to Adobe Premiere: Once upon a time, a very long time ago, video editing required a large room full of high-priced equipment. Then, in December of 1991, version 1.0 of Adobe Premiere was released to compete with Avid's Media Composer that had been released a couple of years earlier. Apple's Final Cut Pro and EditDV by Radius (both have been discontinued) were also on the market. These applications changed everything.
Short Circuits: The Inventor of the Web Says We Could do Better: This week the Guardian newspaper published an article by the guy who invented the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee says that in many ways the web has lived up to his vision, but troubling trends have arisen and they need to be addressed now.
Smart Phones Will Soon Outperform Humans: If the headline "Smart Phones Will Read and Write Better Than 32 Million American Adults in Next Decade" doesn't frighten (or at least concern) you, it should. Software like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana are getting better while American literacy rates remain stagnant. Are we headed for a real-life Idiocracy?
Spare Parts (only on the website): The Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) represents a global network of more than 230 hardware, software, computer, display, and component manufacturers who seem to be making changes faster than we can deal with them, and thousands of people are bitten by snakes every year, even though snakes generally choose to flee rather than fight. A new IOS and Android app might help.
What You Need to Know about Windows Updates: Windows as a service. You knew this was coming, right? When Windows 10 was released, the upgrade was free to qualified users -- specifically those with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 who upgraded within a year. But then what? Future upgrades were announced as being free forever on the upgraded computer. And what about new computers -- the ones that came with Windows 10 -- do users of those computers get free upgrades forever?
Worth Reading: How to Defend Net Neutrality: Writing in the San Jose Mercury News, Troy Wolverton says "Net neutrality is under threat, but you can do something to defend it." Naturally, that caught my attention because Net Neutrality has been mis-characterized as a political issue, mainly by the telecoms and internet service providers who want to increase their profits. The key, Wolverton says, is communicating with the Federal Communications Commission.
Short Circuits: RadioShack is Bankrupt Again: You might be surprised to learn that RadioShack still exists. The century-old company filed for bankruptcy protection more than 2 years ago and now it has filed again for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company used to be where hobbyists went to find parts, where batteries were available in every conceivable size, and where calculators or other electronics filled the shelves.
Facebook's Battle Against Fake News: A lot of information shared on Facebook is demonstrably false and the company has promised to do something to combat the lies. One part of the solution is warning labels and another is providing more information, not less.
Spare Parts (only on the website): The latest version of the Raspberry Pi is being sold in the US only at Micro Center and the pricing is unusual. Also, the National Institute of Standards and Technology hopes to be able to measure something that has been known, but unmeasurable, for centuries.
It's Unwise to Skimp on Keyboards, Mice, or Screens: It's surprising how may people who carefully select a computer based on an extensive review of the specifications sometimes pair that computer with substandard peripherals. It's a false economy. Let's take a look at Microsoft's new ergonomic keyboard and mouse -- and how to fix the keyboard.
Designing Outstanding User Experience Just Got Easier: User experience design has become a big thing in the past few years. You may think that this is a topic for website designers, and it is. But it's also a topic for anyone who designs anything that will be used by people. Adobe XD is still a beta application, but it shows great promise.
Short Circuits: What's More Fun than Resetting a Password? You can probably think of any number of things that are more fun, but more than half of mobile device users, according to a survey, forgot a password in the past two months and had to reset it. This is one more reason why you need a password manager.
Worse than Spam Email: Spam Phone Calls: Some days it feels like I receive every spam phone call made in the nation. Figures for January show that at least 2.3 billion robocalls were made, but the volume is down slightly.
Spare Parts (only on the website): The US Department of Justice and police in several other countries have charged 19 people with fraud that cost victims more than $13 million, someday in the future you might be able to visit a virtual amusement park in the past, and with phones getting larger, LG has just released some of the smallest and lightest notebook computers.
What's All the Hoopla About? As I'm writing this, The Contract is playing on my second monitor. It's a film with Morgan Freeman and John Cuscak. I've borrowed it from the library and I can watch another 10 movies this month for free. It's not Netflix, but it's the kind of inventive services that libraries are offering these days, the kinds of things that might grind to a halt if the Federal Communications Commission kills net neutrality.
More Joy from the Makers of Malware: Macs continue to become more appealing targets for those who create malware, even as some Mac owners hang on to the outdated belief that Macs are immune. No matter who you are or what operating system you have, you're probably somebody's target.
Google-Fi is a New Kind of Cellular Service: A bit more than a week ago, I ported my cellular number out of T-Mobile to Google-Fi. It wasn't because of T-Mobile's service, which has always been pretty good or its support, which has always been adequate. It was mainly a cost issue. You may need a new phone to use Google's service; even so, it might save money.
Short Circuits: The Breach that Wasn't: When you buy a car, new or used, you give the dealership a lot of information. NPR once quoted someone in the industry as saying once they sold cars, but now they're a bank that just happens to also sell cars. You'll sit with the finance and insurance person at the dealership and that person will try to sell you gap insurance, life insurance, mechanical breakdown insurance, rustproofing, and about three dozen other things. What happens to all the data that's collected?
Yahoo Price Drop on Aisle Three: Verizon requested a discount on the purchase price for Yahoo. You might think that $350 million is a lot of money, but the entire deal is still worth a little less than 4 and a half billion dollars. The deal will continue, but there are still issues to resolve.
Hey, Cortana, Give Me a Little Help Here: Whether you've ever asked her to do anything or not, Cortana is on your Windows 10 computer. If you're one of the 12 people worldwide who own a Microsoft phone, she's there, too. But Cortana is available on Android devices and even on Apple phones. This week we'll talk with Cortana.
Looking for Help in All the Wrong Places: Google is an excellent resource for support. Ask it a question and it will point you to several (and perhaps several dozen) answers. Some of the answers will be exactly right, some will be totally wrong, and a few will be dangerous. When you're looking for something that doesn't exist, most of the "answers" will be dangerous.
Short Circuits: Microsoft Keeps Telling Me to Use Edge, But I Don't Want To: Edge is the new browser that Microsoft included with Windows 10. It's a better browser than Internet Explorer, but I prefer to use Chrome, Firefox, or (occasionally) another browser such as Vivaldi or Maxthon. Use one of those other browsers and occasionally Microsoft pops up a message that tells you Edge is a better choice. This is annoying, but it can be turned off.
Open Source is the Future (And It Always Will Be): Ten years ago, supporters of the open source movement were optimistic because Munich, Germany, had fully endorsed a version of Ubuntu Linux and Open Office for municipal government workers. This week Munich's city council started the process of returning to Microsoft applications by 2021.
Spare Parts (only on the website): According to Ars Technica: Malware comes to Macs, thanks to the same Russian hackers who meddled in the US presidential election and if you can spare a little blood, a company says it can make recommendations that might improve your health.
A New Approach from Affinity Photo: Affinity Photo is a new product from a company that used to be known as Serif. The company still is Serif and the old Serif applications are still available, but the development effort is now focused on the Affinity products. Previously available for Mac users, they now have corresponding Windows versions. The interface is immediately both reassuringly familiar and startlingly different.
Frustrations When a Hard Drive Seems to Fail: My wife's notebook computer started having problems. The Firefox settings file was damaged and I had to create a new instance of Firefox. The boot process was taking far too long -- sometimes half an hour, and sometimes it just failed. Occasional blue-screen errors didn't point directly to the disk, so I ran some diagnostics. The rest of the story involves false leads and confusion. You may be amused by this tale.
Short Circuits: Google Plans to Drop Big Hammer on Bad Actors: Nearly any website can be infected with malware. When that happens and Google notices, search results can display a warning. Google also notifies the site owner. What they've seen though, are sites the clean up for long enough to get the warning removed and then suddenly become infected again. Google wants that to stop.
Who Is Trying to Make Net Neutrality a Political Issue? Somebody is trying to make net neutrality a political issue and I think I know who it is. Assuming you're not in favor of slower service, blocked sites, and higher prices, net neutrality is what you want. Be skeptical, ask questions, and follow the money.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Finding legitimate news can be a challenge, but there are many reliable sources on the internet and Forbes Magazine has some suggestions. A start-up company wants restaurants to get rid of their laminated floor plans and grease pencils because there's a better way to seat people.
Fractional Increase Brings Big Changes to SnagIt: When SnagIt 13/4 was released in mid 2016, I was impressed with a number of things, not the least of which was that the feature set was nearly identical between the Windows version (13) and the Mac version (4). Now what looks, based on the numbering scheme, to be a small step upgrade brings several new outstanding features.
ANTHOLOGY: Because it Sounds Better than A Big Bag Full of Little Things: There's a place where I store random thoughts and small stories that show up and have some promise, but aren't big enough for their own segment. When the collection grows large enough, I upend the box on the desk (figuratively), pick up each article and shake the dust off it (figuratively), and see if there's anything worth talking about. Some of the scraps get tossed into the trash as I mutter to myself "What was I thinking?" and others find their way to a collection like the one you'll find this week.
Short Circuits: Don't Let Popcorn Take a Bite of Your Data: Popcorn Time Ransomware takes an unusual approach for ransomware: It apologizes. Then it offers you a choice: Pay about $1000 to get your data back or help to infect other users' computers. A better choice: Tell them to bug off, clear the malware from the computer, and restore from backup. But let's take a look at this unusual approach anyway.
Exposing Fake News With Text Analytics: Finding and exposing fake news is becoming big business. A new startup company, Zetta Cloud, claims to trace back news articles and identify those that have been contaminated by deliberately false reports. The company is headquartered in Romania. We'll take a look at this company that has received a grant from Google's Digital News Initiative.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Most companies seem to concentrate more on the loss of customers than on the loss of data if their systems are breached; if you're a Facebook advertiser, you might want to take a look at an app from ConsumerAcquisition.com; and maybe you remember when computers were fragile, but some of today's computers can survive a misadventure at a construction site.
Crooks Want Your Google Credentials: A listener sent me a link that he had recently received. It claimed to be a link to a file that he needed, but when he hovered the mouse cursor over the link, he saw that it went to a site in Greece. It was an attempt to trick him into revealing his login credentials so the crook could use them. We'll consider defenses.
Enabling Google's Two-Factor Authentication: Using Google's two-factor authentication makes using the service slightly more cumbersome, but it can stop crooks dead in their tracks. Google accounts have a user name and a password. As described in the previous article, thieves have clever ways to get you to reveal your password to them. Setting this up is cumbersome, but it's good protection.
Short Circuits: New World Record for Data Breaches: It should be a surprise to nobody that 2016 was another record year for data theft. More than 4000 breeches were reported during the year and 4.2 billion records were exposed. The previous high was 1 billion in 2013.
Possibly the Least Exciting Computer Application Ever: Shopping for tires? Well, now there's an app for that. Sears Auto Center is piloting a "Digital Tire Journey" web app that may not be the most exciting one ever, but it might be helpful.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Better late that never, Facebook finally tries to take on the scourge of fake news and there are efforts to design ways to give remote employees and third parties an easy-to-use method for secure access to corporate resourses.
Serious Threats Are Aimed at Your Data Right Now: Whether Russia’s tampering had any effect on the election or not, it’s clear that computers are at risk from Russia and China, but also from Israel, England, other allies, and criminals that are snooping. It’s the crooks that pose the greatest danger to most of us because they encrypt your data and then offer to sell you the key needed to decrypt the files.
This week's episode is unusual. Instead of the normal 2 or 3 items in the main section, there's just this one. It's that important. This week's episode is also nearly a word-for-word copy from the January 2017 issue of nLightened Thoughts, my monthly newsletter for clients. That's something I've never done before and it further illustrates the importance of the topic.
Short Circuits: Bogus Warnings in Your Browser: My wife walked into the office this week with her laptop computer. "This just popped up," she said. The message she showed me displayed a blue screen of death, a warning about malware on the computer, and instructions to call a toll free number instead of shutting the computer down. Clearly it was a fraud and we both knew it. But what to do about it? The first thing not to do is panic.
Unexpected Directories Filled With Odd Files: I have my File Transfer Protocol application set to show hidden directories and when I used FTP to transfer some files this week, I found two hidden directories on the drive. Then I looked at the other drives. Each had directories with odd names and the directories were filled with strange files. Was I dealing with an advanced persistent threat that hadn't yet begun its attack? As it turns out, it wasn't malware. I'll explain.
Spare Parts (only on the website): The Economist magazine and Kaspersky Lab ran a competition that challenged college students to find a way to use blockchain technology to make on-line voting safe and tablet computers continue to evolve even though the market segment is becoming mature.
The Essential Password Manager: Next week's program will describe some of the serious threats arrayed against data on your computer, whether the computer is located in a home and has little more than tax records and photos stored on it or whether it's in a corporate office and is filled with proprietary information. This week, though, we'll consider passwords and how you can keep track of them.
Hang Up on Scammers: Security consultant Frank Abagnale has an interesting background. When he was 15, he became a famous impostor and by the time he was 21 he had assumed the identities of an airline pilot, a physician, a US Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer. Eventually caught, he served less than 5 years in prison, then went to work for the federal government, and now runs Abagnale & Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company. He also advises the AARP on how to avoid the many scams that may arrive by phone, email, and sometimes even postal mail. You can avoid the scams and Abagnale explains how.
Short Circuits: Yahoo Will Be Altaba: First question: How is that pronounced? Is it ALT-aba or AL-taba? Verizon is proceeding with its plans to acquire Yahoo's core internet business and a regulatory filing says Yahoo's name will change to Altaba (however you say it).
Using the Universal Computer Fix: A significant amount of tech support time could be saved if users would take one simple step before calling tech support. Nobody expects users to be able to figure out that sector 12,557 on a hard drive has just done bad or that memory chip 2 is about to fail, but sometimes users might find that there's really no problem at all.
Spare Parts (only on the website): Translating websites into multiple languages is time consuming, expensive, and difficult. A new service aims to change that. It's likely that we'll hear the terms "Microsoft" and "Linux" together more frequently in the future.
What's Next if You Got a New Computer for Christmas: Ah, the joys of a new computer. Many manufacturers install lots of junk applications on their computers and possibly the first order of business should be to get rid of the junk that you don't want and that can slow the computer's operation. I mean, one of the reasons you got a new computer was to have a faster computer wasn't it? So let's find a way to rid the computer of the crapware and then let's poke around the internet to find some useful programs that the manufacturer didn't include.
Microsoft Might Try Listening to Users: That headline is somewhat unfair. Microsoft has led the way in analyzing how people use the company's software and making modifications. But the company sometimes also seems to ignore input from those who are most able to provide it. Maybe some changes are in the works.
Short Circuits: A Windows 10 Computer for $150? Yes, there is a Windows 10 computer that costs less than $150. It's unclear how the company that makes these little machines does so. The computers are underpowered and certainly don't have the power needed to run resource-hungry applications. But if you need email, web browsing, and not much else, the NextBook series from E Fun might be worth looking at.
The PC Is Not Dead: When Apple CEO Tim Cook said, in 2015, that the PC was dead, he probably knew that the statement was more intended for shock value and marketing than to describe reality. Cook was using the term "PC" to mean any personal computer -- desktop or laptop made by anyone. In other words, it wasn't a Mac versus Microsoft jibe. PC sales are expected to start rising again after several years of decline.
Spare Parts (only on the website): As you add more Wi-Fi enabled devices to every corner of your home, you'll need a Wi-Fi signal that reaches every corner, and an Irish on-line training center will provide training for Adobe applications and student discounts for Adobe software.
Changes Made for 2017: The shortest list of changes ever!
Who Needs a Chromebook? A little more than 2 years ago, I bought a Chromebook. I haven't used it as much as I expected, but it's still a handy little computer. It won't replace a desktop, notebook, or even a tablet but it's just right in some circumstances.
Saying Farewell to Evernote: Many articles have been written in praise of Evernote, an information organizer that looks like a plain-text version of Microsoft's OneNote. I've used OneNote for a long time and have tried to make Evernote my friend several times. Something that I bought in April or May gave me the pro version free for a year, so I committed to using it instead of OneNote. That experiment ended abruptly just before Christmas and I'll explain why.
Short Circuits: Internet Wild West Unlikely to Improve: Crooks who use technology continue to innovate and find better ways to steal identities and money from consumers and far too many consumers continue to be victimized when they repeat unsafe behavior.
Police, Connected Devices, and Access to Data: How much access should police agencies be given to data on personal devices? This seems not to be a one-solution-fits-all situation, but both technology companies and police agencies seem to be trying to make it one. Might there be a middle way?
Spare Parts (only on the website): An attempt to train emergency responders using virtual reality to make the exercises both more realistic and more safe, and Microsoft Teams has been released in test mode for enterprise customers.