TechByter Worldwide

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2017 Program Index

23 Jul 2017

How to Find the Best Camera in 2017: If you're thinking about buying a camera this year, you have more choices than at any time in the past. Photography is my primary hobby, although for more than a decade it was my profession, so before we even get started I have a confession to make: There is no one best camera. What's best for me might not be best for you. And beyond that, what's best for me today at noon might be completely wrong for me at 3pm. I'll try to explain that and make some sense of it.

Questionable Offers from "Camera Sellers": If you've ever priced a camera using the internet, you'll find that all of the sellers' prices will be within a few dollars of each other -- and then you'll see one price that's unbelievably low. "Unbelievably" is the key word here. If everybody else has priced a given camera model at $1100 and one store lists it for $850, one thing is clear: You will not be able to purchase the camera for $850.

Short Circuits: Other Camera Considerations: When choosing a camera, other factors deserve some consideration. I'll mention a few that I think about when trying to determine which camera might be right for a particular task.

It's Not Just Pixels: A camera that has 80 gazillion 300 billion 435 thousand megapixels won't necessarily create a better image than one with 12 megapixels. Or 10. Or even 3. There's a lot more to the image than the number of pixels. One important consideration is the size that you want the resulting image to be.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Yes, the camera theme continues here with a camera comparison chart and then we'll move on after I mention a special deal from Alien Skin and some improvements from Adobe for mobile editing. Research suggests that blockchain technology will save financial institutions lots of money. And if you buy snacks from food kiosks that are found in many corporate locations, crooks may have your credit card information and more.

16 Jul 2017

Your Car's Built-In GPS is Obsolete: Your car may have a built-in GPS unit, but you probably don't need it if you have a smart phone. The GPS unit in my car is significantly out of date because I haven't bought an update disc for several years. There are few reasons I'd want to. Google Maps and Waze are the two most popular apps.

Pondering "Net Neutrality": Net Neutrality is a topic I've touched on before. It's perceived by some as being a political issue, but -- as a technology guy -- I can't see any justification for making it political. It's a high-stakes money issue and it appears to me that the heads of some big internet service providers see a way to get to a big financial payoff by dividing internet users. Consumer Reports, the Wall Street Journal, and nearly every tech company you can name (except the ISPs) are in favor of net neutrality. Let's see why that is.

Short Circuits: Maybe It's Time to Upgrade to a Solid State Drive": Solid state disk drives have been around for a while and, despite their significant advantages, some people are still wary of them. Too wary. Early on there were some downsides but those have been reduced to the point that SSDs are a good choice for a lot of people.

Nuclear Power Plants + Malware = Not a Good Thought: Let's start with this: The systems that operate nuclear power stations are "air gapped", meaning that they're not connected to any network that's connected to the public internet. That makes them considerably safer than they would be otherwise. But it doesn't mean that they're secure. Some are vulnerable because they are "insecure by design", but there's a deeper problem.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Wi-Fi will be present on more than half of all commercial airliners within 5 years. 4D printing is the future even if you have no idea how something could be printed in 4 dimensions. This may sound like a repeat (and maybe it is) but we are facing the final showdown on net neutrality and it's time to speak up.

09 Jul 2017

Helping Students Cope with School: What happens when students start middle school and find that the more complicated schedule is confusing? How do they deal with changing classrooms several times a day instead of being with one teacher all day? And, unlike in elementary school, they may find that teachers don't check homework every day, expecting the students to keep up on their own. It's part of growing up, but some students never quite figure it out. These are students who will not succeed in school. Then there's Carlos Mayers, a student in New York City, who not only learned to cope but decided to find a way to help other students succeed. We'll talk with him about what he did.

XP, The Operating System that Would not Die: Windows 7 is the most commonly used version of Windows, but Windows 10 is gaining ground. What's odd, though is that Windows XP just won't lie down and die. XP hasn't been supported for a while now and 16 years is an enormous life span for a version of an operating system. You'll still find XP in banks and in hospitals. You'll also find it in a brand new British warship. That's not as dangerous as it might sound.

Short Circuits: Your Domain Name Will Be Registered in China? If you have registered a domain name (like techbyter.com or blinn.com), you may have received a message saying that "someone" is trying to register the name in China. To prevent this, you need to act fast and register it yourself. Maybe you haven't yet received a message like that, but you will someday. It's a con, so let's see how it works.

Cities that are Positioned Well for the Future: A report by accounting firm PwC (formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers) in Moscow rates some of the world's largest cities in terms of their readiness to adapt to new technology. Most of the cities are not in the United States, but the Pacific Rim is well represented.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Technology could save fuel, money, and time for airlines. Destroying some myths about cyber-bullying. And Angry Birds seem to be been multiplying with abandon.

02 Jul 2017

Petya or NotPetya — What We Think We Know: This week's malware attack was something new, or maybe something old -- recycled. Some of the earliest malware, back in the 1990s, was intended to damage hardware. Damaging hardware doesn't have any monetary value, though, and crooks moved on to creating applications they could monetize. Not this time, though.

The Power Outage in Our Future: The US electric grid is struggling and most of us encounter at least occasional power outages. We're all at risk of more substantial outages -- ones that might not be easy to fix -- because of malware that attacks industrial control systems.

Short Circuits: Watching the Avalanche: We seem to be standing at the base of a mountain, watching an avalanche start near the top. We know what's going to happen, but we're powerless to stop it. No, this isn't a story about climate change. It's about malware.

Protecting Your Computer from Ransomware and Other Malware: One of the primary protections, other than being extremely careful about clicking links and being attuned to signs of danger, is keeping the operating system and the applications on the computer up to date. But there's one other key backstop.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Two big graphics providers are merging. Shutterstock will acquire Flashstock. And will we ever fully embrace paperless money? Some nations are moving faster than others.

25 Jun 2017

Google Drive and Google Apps Fill a Need: In the past month or so I've developed a new respect for Google drive and the office-like apps (Sheets, Docs, and Slides). Two events drove my re-evaluation: First, the ability to store full-resolution images from my Google Project Fi smart phone. Then, following my older daughter's liver transplant in mid May, the need to maintain post-transplant information where members of the family could access it. We'll take a look at both use cases.

Why Zero-Day Exploits Matter: Occasionally I mention a new (and usually nasty) zero-day exploit that Microsoft or a security firm is warning about. You're told that you should update something or patch something or change your password. Maybe you're wondering why and what this is all about.

Short Circuits: Amazon + Whole Foods = Disruption: Wired Magazine has an insightful account regarding the implications of Amazon's proposed acquisition of Whole Foods. One thing is certain and that is the fact that this is going to disrupt the grocery industry.

Net Neutrality: Have You Contacted the FCC? The Communications Act of 1934 defined "common carriers" in Title II of the legislation. That is what the Federal Communications Commission used to define internet service, making it essentially like telephone service and other utilities. The concept is that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally and that internet service providers (ISPs) should be prevented from taking any action to give precedence to any provider. The FCC is planning to eliminate Net Neutrality.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Sony says it has sold more than 60 million Play Station units worldwide. And this week I have an update on my older daughter's recent medical emergency, along with a lot of gratitude for the Ohio State University Medical Center.

18 Jun 2017

The Importance of Panic: Well, maybe not exactly panic. Maybe just extreme caution. I have a pretty good backup system, but still I always worry a lot when a disk drive problem pokes its ugly head around a corner. One did just that this week. The SMART monitor raised caution flags. No warnings of imminent failure, but noting that trouble was coming. Mild panic ensued.

Adobe Stock — No Longer Just for Graphics Professionals: Adobe Stock is moving forward on several fronts, one of them somewhat surprising given the service's concentration to date on providng stock images for users of Creative Cloud, which limited its appeal to professionals. In addition to providing an entire new class of images, Adobe Stock is enhancing its search function and providing access to office workers via a Microsoft Powerpoint plug-in.

Short Circuits: Microsoft Patches XP Again: Despite the fact that Windows XP no longer qualifies for any support from Microsoft, the company has once again issued security patches for machines that still use it, but Microsoft says users should still upgrade to supported systems as soon as they can.

More Attacks Aimed at Macs: The Malwarebytes blog discusses a couple of new approaches intended infect MacOS computers with malware. As with many other such exploits, these are being offered in a way that anyone can use it -- malware as a service. It turned out that these were primarily toothless, but they reveal the future of malware.

Short Circuits (only on the website): Security and ease of use. JD Power says their survey shows we want both even though they're generally considered to be opposites. And Microsoft is proudly promoting its new X-Box One X, even though it won't be available to buy until November.

11 Jun 2017

Linux Is the Future and Probably Always Will Be: As much as I want Linux to succeed because it's inexpensive and open source (two things that I like), it seems always to be in the future. There are good reasons for this. Among them are resistance to change, the inability to run (easily) common Windows and MacOS applications, and the dizzying array of Linux distributions. Let's look at a few of the more popular distros.

Every Photograph Needs to Be Edited: One thing every professional photographer and serious amateur photographer knows is this: What comes out of the camera can be improved. That's not a new concept that came about because of digital photo editing. The old professionals often spent as much time in the darkroom as they did in the field. Today it's just a lot easier and anybody can do it. My favorite is Adobe Lightroom for organization and overall image correction, but there are other choices.

Short Circuits: Why Is My Wi-Fi Signal so Wimpy? Have you ever bought a brand new Wi-Fi router expecting it to outperform the old router in every possible way only to be disappointed when you got it home and installed it? As with real estate, location is critical. A mediocre Wi-Fi router positioned well will outperform a higher-quality router positioned poorly. But there's more.

Now That's an Apple! The IMac Pro introduced this week is clearly intended to win back some graphics professionals, who have expressed dismay at some of the company's recent offerings. Entry price for the IMac Pro is $1800, but if you're a graphics pro, you'll need more. So then you'll be starting with the $2300 model and you'll probably double that by the time you're done.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Waze, a highway information sharing application is partnering with an emergency call clearinghouse to provide more timely information to motorists and emergency personnel. Talent Unleashed is looking for outstanding technology start-ups. Microsoft has announced the winners and finalists for its enormous annual partner of the year program.

04 Jun 2017

Evernote: Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Maybe the proverb started as "necessity is a mother----", but the day of reckoning for me occurred when one of my favorite programs, Microsoft OneNote, turned every computer I own into a sludge-infested brick. Really. And based on my research, it's not an uncommon problem. I needed both synchronization and good performance, which Microsoft apparently cannot provide.

Somebody's Looking Over Your Shoulder: When you visit a website, you'll probably be loading one or more additional components, usually in the form of Javascript. These small bits of code may provide useful functions such as ShareIt, which is one that I use for TechByter Worldwide. I have also enabled StatCounter because it provides information about how many visitors the site receives each week. But some sites load dozens of these things and some of them are not in your best interest.

Short Circuits: Dumping Protocols You Don't Need: Microsoft automatically activates numerous protocols that most people don't need within the operating system. In some cases, these can open the door to security threats. We'll look at how to turn one of them off.

Former National Security Agency Head Blasts Russians & Snowden: Retired General Michael Hayden, who headed the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005 and the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 until 2009, says that there are only two presidents in the world who doubt Russian involvement in the 2016 election: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and he said that Edward Snowden's leaking of information about the NSA has caused many problems. He's also calling for the private sector to do more about fighting malware and cyber attacks.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Some hardware and software manufacturers install annoying pop-up reminders, but these can be turned off. An examination of how Twitter is used to distribute disinformation. Kmart suffers another credit card breach, but mainly involving old-style credit cards. The story of a defense contractor that accidentally posted Top Secret information on a publicly accessible site.

28 May 2017

We Have Been Warned (Again): Apparently Britain's National Health Service hasn't kept its computers updated and patched. They weren't alone as a massive ransomware attack crippled some 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries. An anonymous investigator posting as "MalwareTech" found a way to shut down the attack temporarily and the expected second round never materialized, but security is up to you.

Large or Small, Libraries Still Matter: Maybe you don't think of libraries as high-tech operations, but they are. Many have high-speed internet access that patrons can use for free. E-books are commonly available. On-line database searches. Some libraries even run classes to help people use their tablet computers and smart phones. So libraries definitely fit the high-tech classification and they are essential.

Short Circuits: Last Week's Unexpected Absence: Ironically, on Monday of last week, the program was well ahead of the normal writing schedule. The second item was complete and the first item needed only to be updated late in the week. Because of a medical emergency, there wasn't time to complete even the small remaining amount. You may be interested in what that emergency was. If not, this is the last item and you can skip it.

Spare Parts (only on the website): The Weather Channel adds lots of non-weather components to its app and mindfulness is helpful for adults; maybe it can help children, too.

21 May 2017

No Program This Week: Because of a medical emergency that has consumed all available time this week, there is no progam or podcast. I apologize for the absence of information, but there was simply no other choice that I could make.

1 4 May 2017

Windows, MacOS, Linux, or Something Else? Microsoft may still own the desktop market, but Apple continues to make slow progress beyond its graphic design user base. There’s also Linux and maybe even Chrome OS. If you're thinking of buying a new computer, you may also be thinking about operating systems and wondering which is best. Short answer: None of them.

Short Circuits: Removing the Windows "Shake" Feature: Have you ever moved a window slightly in one direction and then decided that you wanted to move it the other way? Perhaps Windows then "helped" you by minimizing all other windows on the screen or screens. This annoying feature can be eliminated.

Fingerprint Authentication: Biometric identifications are supposed to be totally secure, right? So you may think that the fingerprint scanner on your smart phone is the most secure method you can use. Maybe it's time to rethink that.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Data as a service claims to improve business resiliency. A Dutch philosopher would like us to understand that we have entered what he calls a new evolutionary phase. And your smart phone can help when the weather turns nasty.

07 May 2017

Audition Magic Rarely Heard on TechByter: When television was still relatively new, programs occasionally turned their cameras around and let viewers see what was going on behind the scenes. On the rare occasions when this was done, I was fascinated. Today we'll consider some of what happens behind the scenes here. Fortunately, there's no video. The primary tool used to create the TechByter Worldwide podcast is Adobe Audition so going behind the scenes isn't at all daunting and no heavy lifting is involved.

Short Circuits: Fraud Watch: Fraudsters continue to fine-tune their tricks and this week I found two efforts that probably fooled quite a few people. Late in the week, a third example appeared. Let's take a look at them and see what reveals their fraudulent nature.

Microsoft Competes with Everybody: Remember when Microsoft was a software company? Starting with DOS as an operating system and thenWindows. Remember MultiPlan, the spreadsheet program that was a competitor for VisiCalc in the early 1980s? Then came Excel, Word, Access, Powerpoint, and others. But now Microsoft is concentrating on hardware.

Spare Parts (only on the website): Microsoft says that the Windows 10 browser, Edge, is the best browser ever, but some security experts disagree. IBM says that it accidentally sent USB drives that were infected with malware to StoreWize customers. The adoption rate for Windows 10 is increasing in enterprises, but many IT departments are still dragging their heels.

30 Apr 2017

Xara Pro X 365 for 2017 Leaps to the Web: A year ago, Xara released a subscription version of its software -- Xara 365. Now, in addition to updates for the computer-based application, the company has released a web-based application that brings Xara design functions to portable devices. We'll look at both.

Lots of Credit Card Rewards Go Unclaimed: This isn't strictly a technology story, although technology is involved. Mainly it's research that surprised me because so many people seem to be leaving cash on the table -- in effect, giving money to their bank.

Short Circuits: Mounting an ISO File Without a Utility: I've used Virtual Clone Drive from Elaborate Bytes for so long that I somehow missed the fact that it's no longer needed with Windows 10. The free utility has been helpful because it allows the user to mount a image file (ISO) without burning the image to a CD or DVD. But now image files can be mounted by Windows Explorer.

An Easy Solution to an Old Annoyance: This seems to be my week for discovering things that have been around for years. One of my major annoyances with Photoshop files is that they don't appear as thumbnail images in the File-Open dialog. It's a mystery to me why either Microsoft or Adobe didn't do something about this years ago, but it seems that a couple of independent developers saw the need and fixed the problem. Seven years ago!

Spare Parts: Might Wells Fargo have spared its reputation and millions in fines if the company had paid more attention to what people were saying about it on-line? The Asus Tinker Board looks like it will be popular with hobbyists. Retailers are turning to bots and artificial intelligence to give customers a more personalized experience.

23 Apr 2017

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.

16 Apr 2017

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.

09 Apr 2017

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.

02 Apr 2017

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.

26 Mar 2017

$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.

19 Mar 2017

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.

12 Mar 2017

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.

05 Mar 2017

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.

26 Feb 2017

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.

19 Feb 2017

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.

12 Feb 2017

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.

05 Feb 2017

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.

29 Jan 2017

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.

22 Jan 2017

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.

15 Jan 2017

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.

08 Jan 2017

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.

01 Jan 2017

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.