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Technology

The Computer Tutor

Updated 2 months ago

Technology
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Computer repair, personal computer instruction in Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Tampa, St Pete

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Computer repair, personal computer instruction in Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Tampa, St Pete

iTunes Ratings

82 Ratings
Average Ratings
73
5
2
1
1

I learn so much!

By Bridget Carrie - Oct 24 2016
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This is probably the most valuable podcast around.

Great show

By pperk97 - Jul 22 2016
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Scott does a VERY good job at making the subjects meaningfull and easy.

iTunes Ratings

82 Ratings
Average Ratings
73
5
2
1
1

I learn so much!

By Bridget Carrie - Oct 24 2016
Read more
This is probably the most valuable podcast around.

Great show

By pperk97 - Jul 22 2016
Read more
Scott does a VERY good job at making the subjects meaningfull and easy.
Cover image of The Computer Tutor

The Computer Tutor

Latest release on Aug 03, 2020

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Computer repair, personal computer instruction in Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Tampa, St Pete

Rank #1: Shut off your PC with…the Power Button!

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It’s kind of funny how we’ve been trained by our computers to do things in a way that don’t always make a lot of sense.  If you want to turn off your TV, you hit the power button.  If you want to turn off your car radio, you hit the power button.  Just about any appliance in your house, you turn off with the power button.  But… turn off the computer just by hitting the power button?  You must be crazy!  You’ll destroy it!  Well, maybe not.

What is it that makes computers so different from other devices?  Really it all goes back to the early days of personal computers like around the time of Windows 95  and Windows 98.  Back then, you always got strict instructions to go through the Windows shut-down process in order to turn off the computer.  This meant clicking Start, then Shut Down, then choosing either Restart or Shut Down.

That process was necessary because the actual power button back then was pretty dumb.  That power button only did two things.  If the computer was off, the power button connected electricity to turn it on.  If the computer was on, the power button cut off the electricity.  Well, you just can’t do that with Windows.  Windows has to make sure all the programs are closed, data is saved, and a bunch of other things before it finally shuts off.  Just hitting “Power” on one of those old machines could cause problems.

Today it’s different!

On newer computers (“newer” meaning the era of Windows XP and later), you can actually program the power button so it can do whatever you prefer it to do – shut down, sleep, hibernate, or you can even instruct the computer to do nothing when you tap the power button.

In Windows 7 or 8, go to Control Panel.  In the top right drop down menu, make sure “View by: Smal icons” is chosen, then click on the icon that says “Power Options”.  Look over on the left side near the top and you’ll see “Choose what the power buttons do”:

When you choose that, you’ll see that you have a few options about what the computer does when you hit the power button.  For me, I just have the computer shut down when I hit it.  I don’t usually use the Sleep or Hibernate mode anyway.

Your computer may also be equipped with a “Sleep” button, and you would have the same options to choose for that button’s actions.

You also will have a whole separate set of options for the power buttons if you are using a laptop.  One configuration is for when it’s running on battery, and the other is for when it’s plugged into an outlet.

There’s something important to keep in mind.  If your computer freezes up and you can’t do anything (no mouse movement, no keyboard response), it may sometimes be necessary to do what is called a long hold on the power button to force it to power down.  This means you hold it in for several seconds until the machine shuts off.  That long hold forced shutdown is not what I’m talking about today.  When your computer is running properly and you just want to shut it down, you don’t need to hold in the power button for any length of time.  Just push it in and then let go.

Mar 10 2014

8mins

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Rank #2: 6 ways to really mess up your computer

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Everyone at some point gets really angry at their computer. Either it’s too slow, or it doesn’t do what you expect it to do, or some other thing – and you get really frustrated with it. Want to get even with your computer? Here are some ways to really mess it up!

  1. Whenever you see a link, click on it!
    Lots of opportunities here. Someone might send you a link in an email, or better yet, a friend might put a link on Facebook when they update their status. If you see one that seems to lead to something interesting, just click on it immediately without even thinking about it. After all, it’s on Facebook and your friend wouldn’t have posted it unless it was something he wanted you to click on, right? That link just might take you to some website or download that will really teach your computer a lesson.
  2. Let that thing overheat!
    Computers have it so easy – they can go to sleep after a little while, they don’t work all the time, and most of all – they are just about always running in a comfortable, temperature-controlled environment. No more! Laptops are the worst for this, and the easiest to mess up. Just fire up your laptop, then go use it while you’re in bed. You want to just set it right on your mattress or blanket, and make sure the exhaust port (where the fan blows out the hot air) is completely covered up so that the heated air has to stay inside the machine. Now your laptop can know what it was like in the days before air conditioning!
  3. Open every email attachment!
    You get emails all day, so there are LOTS of chances sitting right there in front of you to cause problems for your computer. IRS sending you a bill? Fedex says they can’t find your house and to check the attached invoice? State government says you drove through a toll booth without paying so they’re attaching the bill to your email? These are all scams and the “invoice” is really just a virus – so just open every one of them and your computer will have all kinds of regrets at ever acting up.
  4. Avoid all the updates for your computer!
    You know those stupid updates that are always popping up – Java has an update, Adobe has an update, iTunes has an update. Why all the updates? Most of them are to patch up security holes in programs that are already installed on your computer. Well, maybe your computer could use a little INsecurity as a wake-up call. So when you see an update come up, just ignore it. Pretty soon your various programs will be so outdated and insecure, your computer won’t know what to do!
  5. Ignore those error messages!
    Everyone hates when an error message comes up. If your computer had its way, you would write down the error message so that you could relay it accurately to your computer tech, and that is one step toward solving whatever the problem is. Yeah, your computer would love to have it that easy, right? So just do the easiest thing – close that message and forget about it. Sure, it will probably keep coming back since the underlying problem hasn’t been solved – but how does your computer learn who’s in charge if you just give it whatever it asks for?
  6. Thunderstorm? Leave that thing plugged in!
    Computers are such sissies. They just don’t know how to handle a little bit of thunder and lightning. Some computer owners actually go around and unplug their computers from the wall during a thunderstorm, since that means the equipment can’t be damaged by a nearby lightning strike or voltage surge. That’s just giving in to the whims of your machine. Leave everything plugged in, even during an electrical storm. A little high-voltage could give your computer a headache it will never forget!

Okay… I hope you know that all of the above was sarcasm. If you really do want to mess up your computer, those are ways that I see happening all the time. But you should do the opposite of those things if you want your computer to run smoothly and do what it’s supposed to do.

Aug 31 2015

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Rank #3: Why Windows XP will be dangerous to use

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“So Microsoft won’t send out XP updates any more, what’s the big deal?”

“My XP computer works fine – I’m going to use it until it dies!”

“They’re not going to force me to upgrade!”

Those are some of the reactions that computer users have had, when advised that they will need to either upgrade their Windows XP computer to a newer version of Windows, or replace their computer, because of Windows XP expiring.

In case you have not heard, Windows XP’s official EOL (End of Life) is April 8, 2014.  After that date, Microsoft will no longer support it.  I wanted to explain specifically what that means, and why I think it will become a REALLY big deal.



Every month, on the second Tuesday of the month,  Microsoft sends out Windows Updates.  Many of these are security patches (hence the nickname “Patch Tuesday”).  These are designed to fix any security problems that have been discovered or reported within the previous 30 days.  It’s important that you get these updates and get them installed as soon as possible, in order to be sure that your computer is operating safely and securely.

Right now, those security patches include updates for Windows XP.  In spite of it being a good, stable operating system, Windows XP gets patched up regularly.  The hackers and bad guys are constantly looking for a way in, and those security updates are one of the biggest ways they are kept out.

After April 8, 2014, just a few months from now, any security problems found in Windows XP are just going to be left that way.  It will be open season for hackers.  I can easily imagine them waiting eagerly for that day to get here.  It’s quite likely that they already are stockpiling known vulnerabilities in XP – ones that they know about but Microsoft does not yet know about – and will execute them after April 8.

And even if the bad guys don’t have anything up their sleeve right now, they will have a ready supply of them each month after April – and can you guess where they will get them?  From Microsoft!  This is because of the monthly updates that come out on Patch Tuesday.  When Microsoft patches up a security hole in Windows Vista, or Windows 7, or Windows 8, that same security problem might also exist in Windows XP – but it won’t be patched.  So now, the hacker just has to look at the problems that just got fixed on the newer versions of Windows, then go back and see if Windows XP has that same vulnerability – because they know it won’t be patched, ever!

There is a lot of backlash against upgrading from XP.  Here’s why:

People like XP.  Hey, I don’t blame them – I liked it too.  I also liked the sound of a rotary-dial telephone, but that doesn’t mean I still use one.

People (and companies) don’t want to spend the money to upgrade or replace computers that are currently working.  There is an element of logic to that.  It’s like driving an old car – might not be the coolest or fastest car on the road, but it does still run and gets you where you need to go.  But if you knew that on a certain date the engine was going to explode, would you wait until it exploded before replacing the car?

People don’t really understand that their XP computers will almost certainly be infected.  This will be especially bad for companies.  When the meltdown happens, I believe a lot of IT managers will be fired because they didn’t prepare for it.  What if a company has dozens or hundreds of computers, and suddenly they are all infected and unusable?  That company is essentially out of business until they scramble to get all those computers upgraded or replaced – a very expensive project, especially when done under the stress of getting the employees back to being able to work again.

The same thing is going to happen to the residential PC market.  Lots of people are going to suddenly realize that their computer is so clogged with viruses and malware that it’s unusable, so they will run out and buy a new computer – which will have Windows 8 as the operating system.  Then the real frustration begins because of the learning curve involved with Windows 8, since it is so different from all previous versions of Windows.  A much better choice is Windows 7, which operates very similarly to Windows XP – and it will be supported by Microsoft through the year 2020.

If you act now, you can still get Windows 7 computers (laptops and desktops).  I have seen them on the shelf at my local Tiger Direct retail store, and I’m pretty sure you can order them online from TigerDirect.com, Dell.com, HP.com and some of the other manufacturers.  Of course, this could change at any time, but I think right now a lot of the companies are still recognizing that there is a huge number of users that don’t want to move to Windows 8.  But Windows 7 computers are going to gradually become harder and harder to come by (in my opinion).

If you absolutely don’t want to spend the money to upgrade to a newer version of Windows, there are still a couple of options:

– Keep your Windows XP computer, but don’t connect it to the internet.  This is not really a viable option for most people.

– Get rid of Windows completely and switch to the Linux operating system.  A lot of computer geeks love Linux.  It’s fast, it’s very stable, and it is free.  But you would definitely have a learning curve involved because it is a completely different operating system.

The bottom line is, you are almost certainly going to have to just get a new computer (with Windows 7 if possible) or upgrade your current computer to a newer version of Windows.  And since Windows XP has been around since 2001, in most cases it doesn’t really make sense to upgrade a computer that old to a new operating system.  It’s probably better to just put that money toward a new computer.

Jan 13 2014

8mins

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Rank #4: Should you leave your computer on all the time?

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It’s a question that I get asked all the time: Should I leave my computer on all the time, or should I turn it off at night?  There are valid reasons for both options, so I’ll present you with the pros and cons and you can decide what’s best for your situation.

Why you should leave it on:

Maintenance and backups
Your computer has stuff to do just to take care of itself.  Your antivirus needs to update itself and do a scan regularly, and Windows Updates get downloaded and installed at least once a month (the second Tuesday of each month, which is known in the geek community as Patch Tuesday).  And if you use an automated online backup process (which you should), that has to happen as well.  It’s nice if all of these things can happen in the middle of the night, when you’re not using the computer.

Convenience
If your computer is a bit old and slow, it might take a while to completely boot up.  There are ways of speeding up the bootup time, but it is kind of nice to just walk into the room and the computer is already on and waiting for you.

Usable life
This one is debatable (which is why it’s listed in both categories).  There are some people that say it’s better to leave the computer on, because when you turn it on it heats up all the components – especially the processor, which does get pretty hot.  Then you turn it off and they cool down again.  This constant heating/cooling temperature change taxes the computer’s components and thereby could be shortening the life of your computer.  If you leave it on all the time, the processor and other parts generally stay at a more level operating temperature, which means they might last longer.

Heat
As mentioned above, your computer generates heat when it’s running.  My office is usually the hottest room in the house because of several computers running.  If you live up north, this can be a nice thing in the wintertime!  Granted, it’s not the same level of warmth that a space heater or wood stove would provide, but a couple of computers running can take the edge off on a cold winter morning.

Why you should turn it off:

Electricity usage
This is probably the strongest argument for turning off the computer when it’s not in use.  It uses electricity, and will continue to do so all night even though you aren’t using it.  It still uses a little even when it’s powered down, but not very much.  So you would most likely see a savings in electricity if you turned off your computer(s) overnight.

Usable life
This is the flip side of the argument I mentioned above.  Some people say that your computer has a limited number of hours that it will run over its lifetime.  So theoretically, if you shut it off for 8 hours every night, you could be adding those 8 hours on to the end of its usable life.

Room noise
A laptop has at least one fan inside, so it does make a certain small amount of noise.  The cooling pad that it sits on will have 2 or 3 additional fans to add to the noise.  And a desktop computer can have 2 or 3 inside the tower.  If your computer is in your bedroom, you might find it difficult to tolerate that noise while you’re trying to sleep.  Not to mention the 3 am alert sound that you just got an email.

Heat
As I mentioned above, with several computers running in my office, it’s the hottest room in our house.  Here in Florida, that’s not necessarily a great thing, especially in the summer.  In addition to being uncomfortable, it also makes your AC system work harder, which of course adds to the bill each month.

So as you can see, there are good points to be made on both sides of this debate.  You have to decide which factors are the most important for your situation.

There are a few more important points to consider:

First, even if you do leave the computer on all the time, you should still restart it at least every 1-2 days.  This frees up the memory and allows it to be running as efficiently as possible after the restart is finished.  And a restart should not inconvenience you at all – just do it at night, when you are all done with it for the evening.  Then it will be nice and fresh when you come back to it in the morning.

Also, you can leave the computer on overnight but you don’t need to leave the monitor on.  If you use a desktop computer, just turn off the monitor when you’re done for the evening.  The computer will continue to function just like it would if the monitor were left on, but you don’t have the screen using electricity or lighting up the room all night.

Finally, if you use a laptop as your primary computer, you should always have it on a cooling pad – especially if you leave it on all the time.  Laptops run hotter than desktops by nature because all of the components are crammed into that tiny space.  A cooling pad (such as this one – $12.48 at Amazon) keeps your laptop running as cool as possible

Jun 23 2014

14mins

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Rank #5: 3 things I do when setting up a new computer

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When you get a new computer, you can’t just turn it on and start using it. Those days are long gone. Now, you have to navigate past Microsoft’s tricks and traps. And it’s important to do it right from the beginning – otherwise you could end up with a lot of frustration and wasted time trying to fix it.

Today I’ll tell you 3 of the important steps in the process I use for setting up a new computer. I go through the same process when I’m prepping a laptop for resale also.

  • Install Chrome and set it as the default browser

When you get a new Windows 10 computer, the browser that’s set to be the default is Edge. Edge is awful. How awful is it? It’s so bad, only about 5% of Windows users use it – even though it’s the one that comes as the default browser. This means the vast majority of people install a different browser when they get a new computer.

The one I use is Chrome. It’s easy to use, and it’s also easy to use my ad blocking extension (uBlock Origin). Just go to Google.com/chrome and click the Download button, and follow the steps. At some point it will ask you to make Chrome the default browser, so go ahead and do that. Microsoft Edge will still be on your computer; you just won’t use it. In fact, Internet Explorer is even still in there (even though you don’t see it) but of course you won’t want to use it either. Chrome is all you need. If you prefer Firefox, it’s good too.

  • Turn on System Restore and create a restore point

It makes no sense whatsoever, but when you install Windows 10, System Restore is turned OFF by default. If your computer has a problem, or if you install software that causes a glitch, it’s so nice to have the option of taking the computer back to an earlier date and time. When you take it back to a time that was before the problem started, the problem is gone.

BUT – you don’t have that option when System Restore is not enabled and configured. So you need to do that on any new computer. In the search bar in the bottom left, type the word “create” and then in the search results, click on “Create a restore point”. That takes you to the System Restore dialog box, where you will choose the “C” drive and click Configure. In that new window you can enable System Restore, configure it to use about 2% of your drive space, and then go ahead and create a restore point just in case you might need it.

  • Turn off ads in the Start menu

This is another example of Microsoft’s sliminess. Click the Start button, then the Settings icon (it looks like a gear). Then click the Personalization category, and click the Start tab in the left column. In that windows, you’ll see an option that says “Show suggestions occasionally in Start” and it’s turned ON by default. Well, by “suggestions”, Microsoft really means “advertisements”. You want your Start menu clogged with their ads? Of course not. No one does. Slide that switch to the left to turn it off.

And here’s a bonus tip (which just might be more important than any of the other three we already talked about) – don’t connect your new computer to the internet until you get to the desktop screen. When you first turn it on, Microsoft will really – REALLY – want you to connect it to the internet before doing anything else. In fact, if you don’t want to do that, the phrase you have to click on isn’t “Don’t connect” or something simple. What you have to click on is “I don’t have internet”. Which of course will confuse some people, which means they might actually go back and choose to connect to the internet, which is exactly what Microsoft wants them to do.

When you set up a new computer that’s online, that means you have to sign in to your Microsoft account in order to get into your computer. Oh, you don’t have a Microsoft account? Well then, you’ll need to create one. And create a password for that account. And create security questions for recovering that password. And if you install Office later, that means your documents and other files will by default be stored in OneDrive, rather than in your computer’s Documents folder. Once Microsoft has its hooks in you like that, it’s a cumbersome process to undo it. That’s by design.

I prefer to not engage in any of that nonsense. Just don’t connect it to the internet, and don’t bother with a password. You can add one later if you need one, and it doesn’t have to be your Microsoft account – it can just be a local user account on your computer.

KEEP IN MIND – the things I talked about today are just a few of the MANY configurations I make when setting up a computer. If you buy a laptop from me, that stuff is already all done for you. And I do New PC Setup for many of my clients when they get a new computer (this can all be done remotely). If you need help just let me know.

Oct 28 2019

11mins

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Rank #6: How to change a drive letter in Windows

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Today’s tip is pretty specific.  You may never need to use it.  I personally went a long time without needing to know how to change a drive letter in my Windows computer.  But when the situation came up that required this to happen, it was very nice to know how to do it.  And it’s actually not even difficult.

Can you think of a situation in which you might need to change a drive letter?  Here’s how it came up with me, and with a few of my clients recently.

If you want to do a backup to a local drive (and you should, in addition to the automated online backup), the software that I use and recommend is called Second Copy.  I wrote all about it here.  When you set up Second Copy, you give it a set of instructions that basically tell it to copy your files to your external USB drive.  When you do that, the program remembers the drive letter that your external drive uses.  For example, it might show up as drive F.  So the next time you run Second Copy, it looks for drive F and backs up your files, piece of cake.

BUT…you don’t leave your external drive plugged in all the time.  When it’s not plugged in, it’s not drive F.  And what if you plug in some other USB device, such as a flash drive, a printer, or even a different portable drive.  When you do that, THAT drive now takes drive F because it is the next available drive letter.

That means when you plug in your external drive next time, it might now be drive G or some other letter.  And Second Copy won’t be able to do the backup because it can’t find your drive at drive F.

At this point you have two options:

A. You can change all of the backup settings so that each one looks for drive G instead of drive F.  That’s a fair amount of work.

B. You can change the drive letter on your external drive from G back to F.  This is much easier.

Here’s how you change the drive letter:

1. Click Start, then right click on Computer and choose Manage.  Bet you’ve never clicked on that before, eh?

2. Now you’ll see a new window open.  This windows is called “Computer Management”.  In that window, you want to click once on “Disk Management”.

3. Now look in the center column of the window, and you will see a list of your drives and their letters.  Find the drive you want to change, and right click on it.  Then, choose “Change Drive Letter and Paths”.

4. Now you’ll see a window pop up with the drive letter displayed, and a few options.  Click the “Change” button:

5. In the next window, the options for “Assign the following drive letter” should already be chosen.  Then use the drop-down menu to choose whatever drive letter you want to use.  You can use any letter in the list.

6. After you have chosen the letter, click OK and close the remaining windows.  All done!

You can go through this process whenever necessary.  A warning however – you should probably never change the drive letter for your primary hard drive (usually it’s C) or any of the partitions on the drive.  Some programs might rely on that “path” to work properly and you could mess things up if you change the letter.

Mar 03 2014

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Rank #7: 3 of my favorite YouTube channels

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Fun topic today! I watch a bit of Youtube each night before I drift off to sleep. I have a few channels that I subscribe to, and these are some that I think  you might find entertaining as well. I’ll tell you about them below, and include one of my favorite videos from each one. Warning – some videos have swearing.

Favorite #1: The Lock Picking Lawyer
View it here
Subscribers: 1.38 million
I’ve always had a minor interest in lock picking (as a hobby, not anything sketchy). For those that are more serious about learning how to do it, the hobby itself is called Locksport. But this guy, The Lock Picking Lawyer, takes it to a whole new level.

For most of his videos, he takes a particular brand and model of lock and shows how ridiculously simple it is to bypass. And wait til you see what he does. He uses a simple lock pick and I don’t think there is ANY lock he can’t open. It’s really incredible. All the major brands – Master Lock, Brinks, any of them. He especially likes to take the ones that are advertised as “pick proof”. Even if you’re not really into lock picking yourself, this guy is very entertaining to watch what he does.

In this video, he gets into a home safe – using a coat hanger.

Favorite #2: Gas Station Encounters
View it here
Subscribers: 1.24 million
This one combines comedy and petty theft, and it turns out to be a pretty entertaining result!

There’s a gas station/convenience store located somewhere in northeast Ohio (I don’t know exactly where). They have cameras mounted throughout the store so that virtually every square inch of space can be seen and recorded (it’s not a huge place, just a typical convenience store). And the guy that runs the place, Brandon, takes huge pleasure in catching shoplifters. There are two big monitors right next to each cash register, so he can actually be watching someone steal something even while ringing up another customer. If he is 100% sure of a theft, he’ll follow the person outside and confront them, and make them come back in and pay for the item.

What’s really funny is Brandon’s narration when he edits the video to be posted on YouTube. Here’s one where he catches a guy stealing some nail clippers.

Favorite #3: Jose Barrientos
View it here
Subscribers: 94,500
Another channel that combines two of my favorite things – comedy and hacking. Jose is literally a comedian (he does stand-up comedy at clubs all over the country), and a hacker. But he’s the GOOD kind of hacker – he is what’s called a Penetration Tester. Companies hire Penetration Testers to see how vulnerable their security is. So Jose gets PAID to try to hack into the computer networks of big companies.

Normally you wouldn’t think that a computer geek would have much of a sense of humor, right? Well, Jose is the exception. In fact, in the videos he makes, he often uses his sense of humor and his computer skills to bring justice and entertainment wherever it’s needed. And Jose has a heart for helping people: I work with a local non-profit group that gets things for the big homeless population here in Florida, and Jose bought and donated a brand new pair of work boots so that a man could be able to get a construction job.

This video is one of my favorites from a while back, and it went viral. Jose played a little prank on his speech class all semester, then did the big reveal during the final class.

Bonus favorite: Surveillance Camera Man
View it here
Subscribers: 91,000
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit this one is kind of weird. This guy just goes out in public and films people for no reason. What would you do if a stranger just walked up to you and was recording a video, without saying anything? Naturally, people are initially confused and ask him what’s going on. His standard response is, “just taking a video” without giving a reason why. That’s when most people get angry and tell him to leave. But he doesn’t leave, and he doesn’t answer their questions. He just keeps recording video.

In some cases, he’s out in public, so he could probably say he has the right to be there and people can’t really have a reasonable expectation of privacy. But in other situations he’s kind of a jerk, walking into private establishments and not leaving when he’s asked to.

I believe the person that created this sees it as “art” and I guess you could make that argument. Or maybe it’s a social experiment. I also think I saw somewhere that he did this to increase awareness that there are already cameras everywhere, so we are already being watched all the time – it shouldn’t make any difference that an actual person is holding the camera and doing the filming right in front of you.

Whatever the story is behind it, I find it entertaining. It’s one of those videos that you just can’t stop watching because you want to see more reactions from the people.

And what is YOUR favorite YouTube channel? Leave it in the comments below.

Mar 16 2020

13mins

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Rank #8: Cursor jumping around on your Windows laptop? Here’s the fix.

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My favorite kind of computer tips are those that address a particularly common and annoying problem, and solve that problem with a quick solution that’s easy to implement.  And preferably free.  Today is a great example of this kind of computer tip.

It’s a common complaint among laptop users.  The cursor seems to jump around to random places on the page while you’re typing.  If you happen to not be looking at the screen for a few seconds, you look up and you might see that you have typed a few words or even a whole sentence – in the wrong place.

If you don’t know what’s causing it, this problem can be very frustrating because you also won’t know how to fix it.

Quick fix:
Want to watch my screen as I implement this solution?
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Having seen this happen many times, I am very familiar with it.  In fact, when a client has a question to ask, and it starts out, “My laptop does the weirdest thing.  I’m just typing along, and all of a sudden…” that’s usually all they have to say because I already know what they are going to tell me.  The cursor moves around the screen to a different spot, seemingly with a mind of its own.

The cause of this issue is the laptop’s touchpad.  That’s the little square under the keyboard with the left and right button.  It’s sort of the “mouse” of a laptop since you can move your finger on it to determine where the cursor is on the screen.

What happens is that while you’re typing, your left hand or your right hand (or both) brushes the touchpad, ever so slightly.  It doesn’t take much at all.  That tells the laptop that you want to move the cursor, so it just does what it’s told to do.  And you end up typing a bunch of text in the wrong place.

There are a few solutions to this:

  • Type more carefully.  Hold your hands up higher so you don’t accidentally touch the touchpad.  This is not really a practical solution.
  • Disable the touchpad and use a regular mouse instead.  This solves the problem, but it’s not really ideal.  If you use a laptop because its portability, you might not always be in a situation where a mouse can be easily used.
  • Connect a separate keyboard and type on that instead of the laptop’s keyboard.  This also solves it, but again can be kind of cumbersome in some situations.

Recently I came across what I think is the best solution.  It’s a little program called TouchFreeze.  You can download it free here.

When I installed it to try it out, I was happy to see that the download and installation was very simple.  There was no attempt to load any junkware – you just download the file, then run it to install the program.

When you run it, you won’t even see anything change on the screen.  It just runs in the background.  What it does is one thing:  it disables the touchpad – temporarily – while you are typing.  Stop typing, and you can move the cursor around with the touchpad all you want.

There isn’t even a “Settings” menu to bother with.  The only setting is whether or not you want it to start automatically each time Windows starts up.  Since it does just one job and does it well, you will probably want to run all the time.

After installing it, I played around with it by typing with one hand and deliberately tapping the touchpad with the other – and the cursor didn’t move from where it was supposed to be, not even once.  This program is elegantly simple and just does its job.  Highly recommended for anyone using the keyboard and touchpad on a Windows laptop.

Jul 07 2014

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Rank #9: A little program that I now can’t live without

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I love little pieces of software that focus on a single problem and solve it efficiently. A while back I found something that does this, and now I use it every day. In fact, if it’s turned off for some reason, I notice the difference almost immediately. And it’s free.

Here’s the problem:

Windows has this thing called “focus”. This basically just means that one window is always “in front of” any other open windows. Whatever window you’re currently working on, that’s the window that is in front of the others – it has the focus. Even if two windows are side by side, only one of them can have the focus at a time.

If you’re working in one window and then move your mouse over to a website and try to scroll down the website page, nothing will happen because that window doesn’t have focus. In order to do anything in the web browser window, you have to first click somewhere in that window to tell the computer “Hey, give this window the focus now” – and then you can scroll down the page.

It’s just one of those weird things that has been in effect in Windows computers for many years. Most people have gotten so used to it that it might not even seem like an inconvenience.

But wait til you get used to NOT having that inconvenience!

Wizmouse is a free program (get it here) and it’s very small so it uses almost no resources. When it’s running, it eliminates the “focus” feature in Windows. You don’t have to keep clicking on whatever window you want to work with in order to do anything – all you have to do is move the cursor to that window and start working.

Wherever your mouse is, that window has the focus!

When you download and install Wizmouse, you’ll have a window that has some options available to you. For me, I just check the boxes to make sure Wizmouse is enabled, and I have it start with Windows so that it’s running all the time. And I have it run as Administrator.

Sometimes when I’m recording my podcast, before I hit “Record” I’ll go through and shut down whatever programs are running in order to give the audio recording the full use of the processor and memory. Later on, when I start using the computer for other things, it’s a very short time before I realize Wizmouse is disabled and I need to start it up again because I am so used to the way it makes windows work. I’ll bet you get spoiled by it pretty quickly too.

Also – Wizmouse is free, but you’ll notice on the website and on the settings screen in the program, there’s a button to click if you want to donate to the programmer who created it. Always a nice thing to do.

Feb 01 2016

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Rank #10: Is your email address just a TEMPORARY one?

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What if I told you I would give you an email account, and it’s all yours to use.  You can use it for personal or business email or whatever you want.  There’s only one catch: you can only have it temporarily.  At some undetermined point in the future, your access to that email account would be cut off and you would not be able to use it at all after that.

Would you use that email as your primary email address?  Would you give that address to all of your friends and family?  Would you put it on your business cards and give it to all of your clients as the best point of contact?  Probably not.  It wouldn’t really make sense to be tied into an email address that you will lose at some point in the future.

Guess what.  YOUR email address might be a temporary one.

Does your email address end with:

Can you see what all of those have in common?  Each one is an Internet Service Provider (ISP).  When you sign up with a company to provide you access to the internet, they also give you an email address (or several) that you can use.

If you’re using the email address that was provided to you by your ISP, it’s only yours temporarily.  When you change internet providers, you LOSE your email account.

I’ve been encouraging people for many years to NOT use the email that comes with their internet service.  And it’s kind of ironic that one of the common objections to changing their email address is:

“I really can’t change my email address, because I’ve had this one for years and this is how all of my friends, family and customers know how to contact me.”

They’re kind of surprised when I tell them that at some point they are going to have to change it anyway, whenever they decide to change internet providers.

At that point they kind of throw up a defense that they know is weak –

“Well, I like my internet provider so I will just stay with them.”

Come on.

You seriously expect to be using the same internet service the rest of your life?  Technically it could possibly happen, but the odds are highly against it.  It’s much more likely that you will move to a different area that your current ISP does not cover, or a different ISP in town will offer a better deal or a faster connection (or both).

Or, your current provider might get bought by a larger company, meaning the domain name changes (so everyone’s email address changes).  Sound familiar, Fairpoint customers?

Why put yourself through all that hassle, when you can have an email address that is yours to use for the rest of your life?  And it’s completely FREE?

I’ve been using Gmail since it was introduced by Google in 2004.  And even though I have changed internet providers a few times in the past ten years, my email address has always been the same one.

Of course, you don’t have to use Gmail.  There are lots of web-based email providers, and many of them are free also.  I like Gmail for a variety of reasons (lots of storage space, great spam filter, Outlook compatibility, etc.).

Your other option is to just get your own domain name.  This costs about $10 per year.  Then you can have whatever email address you want.  For example, if I bought the domain name “scottjohnson.com”, I could have the email address scott@scottjohnson.com, info@scottjohnson.com, pctutor@scottjohnson.com or whatever one I wanted – because I would own that domain name.

Whatever you decide, my recommendation is that you take care of it now.  When you change your email address, it’s good to do it when you have time to proceed strategically and make sure everything goes smoothly.  I can help with that.  If you wait until you are forced to change emails (because of one of the above mentioned situations), you might miss something important.  Let’s avoid that.

Jun 30 2014

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Rank #11: What to do about the Heartbleed bug

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The Heartbleed bug has been in the news for about a week now so you have probably heard about it, even if you don’t know exactly what it is or what it means for you and your computer security.  Today we’ll break it down into simple terms, as well as some recommendations about what action you need to take.

credit: heartbleed.com

Heartbleed is not a virus.  It’s not something that was created by someone with intent to defraud or infect your computer.

What it is is a flaw in the security process that a lot of websites use.  That technology is called OpenSSL.  It’s what websites use to transmit information securely – such as passwords and other private information.

What happened about a week ago is that the security flaw was made public.  However, it has been in existence for a little over 2 years.  Have the bad guys been using it for all that time?  There is no way to tell.  To be safe, it’s best to assume that the hackers have known about it for a while – more about that in a minute.

With a little piece of software (that is now widely available in the “bad neighborhoods” of the internet), a hacker can go to a vulnerable website and extract a small amount of private information such as user names, passwords, even the website’s own security information.  Even though they can only get a little bit at a time (64k to be exact), they can do that over and over and over.  This means that as long as the website is vulnerable, the bad guys can continue to get more and more private data from it.

A lot of websites have updated their security software and fixed the problem.  In fact, you may have gotten email from websites where you have accounts, telling you how they are handling it.  That’s good for the future, but that does not help the past.  Your user name and password may have already been extracted, perhaps multiple times by different hackers.

What should you do?

Your first priority is to change your password – but not necessarily for every website where you have an account.

Why not?  Here’s why not: not every website has updated itself to be secure yet.  If you have an account at a site that is still vulnerable, and you change your password now, it doesn’t really do much good.  You’ll just have to change it again when the site is fixed.

So you need to check and see if a website has updated itself, and if it has, change your password.  And change it to a GOOD ONE.  This is a good password:

  • does not contain any pronounceable word
  • consists of upper and lower case letters, numbers and characters
  • is at least 12 characters in length (longer is better)
  • is NOT a password you have used at any other website

Whenever I tell people those guidelines, the first reaction is “But I’ll never remember that!”

That’s good!  If it’s hard for you to remember, then it’s hard for a hacker (or software) to guess.  That’s why you need LastPass.  It will not only create those good passwords for you; it will also remember them for you.  And it’s FREE.

That link in the previous paragraph goes to a full review I did of LastPass, so you can see how it works and what it does.

Here are a couple other big benefits LastPass offers:

First, you can go to a particular page they have set up to check and see if a website has updated its security, or if it is still vulnerable to Heartbleed.  You can find that here.

Second, when you have a LastPass account, you can run a security check on your own passwords and it will tell you which accounts are vulnerable, which ones you should go ahead and update your password, and which ones to wait on for now.

For example, I use Dropbox.com.  They just updated their security, so now is the time to go and change my password (which I have done).  However, another website – Imgur.com – has not yet updated so I won’t change that one yet.

Do not put this off.  I know it’s a hassle, but it has to be done.  Change the passwords that need to be changed.

I want to address one more issue.

A majority of the people I meet with for the first time are in the habit of using the same password (or 2 or 3 passwords) for every account they create.  I really encourage you to NOT do that.  I understand WHY you do it, because it’s so convenient.  Heck, I used to do it myself before I realized the danger of it.

You might not think it’s that big a deal.  But imagine this scenario:

Let’s say you use the same user name and password everywhere.  For example, your user name is always snowmanguy@aol.com and your password is sparky1.  You have lots of online accounts with this login information, including an account at Walmart.com.

One day, Walmart has a security breach and millions of user names and passwords are exposed.  Just to be safe, you go to your Walmart account and change your password.  Problem solved?  No.

Since your user name is also your email address, the hacker has access to your email account.  He can send and receive email pretending to be you.  What if every person in your contact list got an email from you saying, “Help!  I’m on vacation, lost my wallet, and need cash to check out of the hotel – can you wire me some money and I’ll repay you when I’m back home?”  If you have 100 people in your contact list, the scammer is happy if only a few of them fall for it – and that money is lost forever.  Your gullible friends might be a little upset about this.  At the very least, it would cause a lot of confusion that you would need to explain.  Imagine if your contact list has 500 or 1000 people.

And the hacker can then go to your Amazon account (since he already has your login information).  The first thing he does is change the password – so now YOU cannot even log in to your own account.  He orders a few items using the credit card you keep on file with Amazon.  And he can tell Amazon to ship the item to a different address.  It’s common now, with the thousands of foreclosed and empty houses, for scammers to have a package delivered to that kind of place, then just watch for when UPS leaves the package.  They just go pick it up later.  And you don’t know anything about it until you see your credit card statement next month (IF you bother to check it for unusual charges – many people don’t, which is another benefit for the bad guys).

And if you have an AOL email address like that, chances are good you probably have the same user name for Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, and others.

And all you had to do was create a good password and make it different for each website account.  Sometimes it pays to do the thing that’s inconvenient.

Apr 14 2014

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Rank #12: Comparison of 5 ways to learn computer stuff

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A lot of people want to be reasonably knowledgeable about one or more aspects of their computer. Not like a computer programmer or someone that works on computers all day, but familiar enough to use popular software and be able to handle things that come up from time to time. But how do you learn? There are several ways to learn, and today I’ll compare the pros and cons of 5 methods of learning.

Learning Method #1: Books
If you walk into any Barnes & Noble, you’ll see a big section of books on just about every computer-related topic you can think of. For every popular computer program, there are several books available to teach you how to use it. Usually these books range from $20 to $50. Some might even include a DVD with some additional content.

Pros: Books are readily available. You can find one or several online and have it in your hand very quickly. Often, there is a book available specifically for what you want to learn. And once you own it, you always have it for easy reference.

Cons: Not all books are very well written so the instruction given might be confusing. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the “For Dummies” series of books. The ones I’ve read seem to be trying too hard to be humorous. Not to mention the whole “you need this book because you’re a dummy” idea is kind of condescending. Also, a book is “one size fits all” – the instruction is not personalized for you.

Learning Method #2: Website tutorials
For most subjects, there are several websites that have some basic instruction. In fact, this is the kind of thing I post on my website most Mondays – step by step instructions on how to perform a particular task on your computer.

Pros: There are lots of websites available that can offer instruction on a particular topic, and the vast majority of them are free.

Cons: Since anyone with a computer and an internet connection can create a blog or a website, there’s really no telling how accurate the information is. The person that created the site might be the foremost authority on the subject, or it could be written by a teenager living in a basement in Cleveland. In some cases you can research the author’s credentials, which is a good idea. Also, a website can be taking down at any time so this might not be a permanent or even long-term source of information.

Learning Method #3: Instructional videos
Did you know that YouTube is the 2nd most popular search engine (after Google of course)? You can go to YouTube and do a search there on just about anything, even very specific things, and it’s likely you find that someone has made a video about it. Want to replace the power supply on your Dell desktop computer? Watch someone else doing it, and just do what they do.

Pros: Probably the biggest advantage with online videos is the fact that they are visual. You can actually watch “over the shoulder” so to speak while someone does what you want to learn to do. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in many cases a video is even better.

Cons: If anything is incorrect or unclear about the video, you might be kind of stuck. On YouTube, there’s no button for “Contact the video creator” and many people don’t include their contact information with the video. So if you have a question there’s no one to ask. Also, like a website, a video can be removed from YouTube at any time so you might go back to watch it a second time and find that it’s gone.

Learning Method #4: Classroom
Obviously, the classroom setting has been a popular method of teaching for a long time. This is often considered the “standard” teaching model – a classroom of students who are there to learn about a particular subject, and a teacher who is an authority on that subject.

Pros: The biggest advantage of this process is the more personal approach. You are actually being taught by a human. In most cases, you can also ask the instructor questions and get personalized answers.

Cons: Class size can be an issue. If you are one of 200 students, the teacher may not have enough time available to give personalized help to you or any of the other students. Also, the teacher may or may not be an expert on the subject (though you can research this before enrolling usually). Finally (and this is a big one), not everyone in the class will be at the same level. So even though you grasp the material and want to move on, there may be several others that are constantly asking very fundamental questions and keeping the rest of the class from moving forward. Or the reverse – you could be struggling but the instructor is moving ahead with new material and you could feel left behind.

Learning Method #5: One on one tutoring
With this method, there are only two people involved: you and the instructor. You have a specific thing you want to learn, and you hire an instructor who knows about that area, and you are taught personally.

Pros: The biggest advantage is that you learn exactly what you want to learn, and at your own pace. If something confuses you, you can stop the instructor right there and ask a question. And with only one student, the teacher will have a better idea of how well you are grasping the material. This is the kind of instruction I do. If there’s a particular task someone wants to learn, for example, how to format a cell in an Excel spreadsheet – we do it three times. First, I do it and the student just watches. Second, I do it again but slowly and step-by-step, so that the student can write down each step. Third, we switch seats and the student performs the task following those notes that were just written down. That way we know that task can be done after I leave.

Cons: Personal computer instruction is generally more expensive than taking a class or buying a book and learning on your own – that’s part of the price for learning the material more quickly and more efficiently.

With remote access technology, personal computer tutoring can be done without you or the instructor leaving home.

Feb 22 2016

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Rank #13: How to make everything on your screen bigger

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If you have any kind of vision challenge, or if your eyesight is just gradually getting worse over time, you aren’t the only one. One nice feature of Windows 10 – you can make everything bigger and easier to read.

I grew up wearing glasses since I was 8 years old. I could see things fine up close, but everything was blurry far away. About 12 years ago I had LASIK surgery to correct my vision.  LASIK stands for “laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis” and it’s amazing. The whole procedure lasted about 15  minutes and the next day I just couldn’t believe it. I could go outside here in sunny Florida and see faraway things, perfectly clearly, without glasses.

But there was a downside. After I had the surgery, I did not have the same close-up vision I had before. So I could see things far away with no problem, but I needed to wear reading glasses to read a book or to see something up close.

And to be fair, the doctor told me this would most likely happen. In fact, he said that if I wanted to, I could have one eye corrected to see far away, and the other eye corrected just to see things up close. That was an option I pretty quickly declined. I knew I would probably eventually get used to it, but I just didn’t like the idea of having drastically different vision in each eye. And I really don’t mind too much having to wear reading glasses.

Quality of vision definitely comes into play when you’re using a computer. I’m on my computer most of the day so it’s a big factor. I actually have a particular pair of readers for when I’m using the computer, and I use a different strength for when I’m reading a book. This is because the computer screen is farther away from my eyes than a book I’m holding.

One thing Microsoft has done well with Windows 10 is allowing adjustments to be made for people with different eyesight abilities. There are several settings available to make it easy to see what’s on the screen.

And here’s how you get to those settings: hold down the Windows key, and tap the letter U.

This brings up the Display options, and there are a few controls on here you might want to experiment with.

First, you’ll see a slide bar where you can make the text on the screen bigger. When it’s the size you like, click Apply.

Then below that is the option to make everything bigger – this includes the apps AND the text that you see on the screen.

You’ll also notice an option to make the cursor bigger, in case you have trouble seeing it on the screen:

And finally, you’ll see a link where you can control the brightness of the screen. For me, everything is easier to see when it’s brighter.

If you’re on a computer for much of the day like I am, it makes a big difference when everything is easier to see and read. And it’s better for the health of your eyesight in the long run too.

Mar 02 2020

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Rank #14: The easiest way to go from Windows 10 back to Windows 7 or 8

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You read this blog. You also probably listen to my podcast. You most likely know that I do computer repair here in Safety Harbor, Florida (and remotely all around the country). So you know that I’ve been telling people, “Don’t upgrade to Windows 10 yet”. It’s too early, and there are bugs (as we knew there would be). I’ve had a few clients just this past week who went ahead and upgraded to Windows 10 anyway, and now their printer isn’t recognized. Or they can’t go online because the wifi doesn’t work. I even had one newly-upgraded Windows 10 desktop computer that didn’t recognize ANY keyboard or mouse – wireless, USB or even the old-fashioned PS2 style.

NOTE: for those of you that have upgraded to Windows 10 and your computer is working fine, that’s great. I know a lot of people already have done this and so far seemingly have had no problems. This particular blog post is for the other group – for whom Windows 10 is not working as it is supposed to.

If you planned ahead properly, going back to Windows 7 or 8 is easy. You just restore from a system image backup. The catch is that you have to already have a Windows 7 system image backup created – BEFORE you do the Windows 10 upgrade.

So if you haven’t yet upgraded to Windows 10, but you’re about to go ahead and do it (not recommended), you need to create that system image backup first. To do that, I use a free program called Macrium Reflect. I’ve set up this backup process on lots of client computers, and I use it on my own computer every day. (It’s actually one of the FOUR separate backups I do daily on my main computer. Yes, perhaps I’m overdoing it on the side of caution – you don’t really need to do 4 types of backups each day.)

I’m not going to go into the full details of how to set up a system image backup with Macrium Reflect. If you want, I can help you get that in place, and I can do it remotely. You will need to have an external/portable drive just for that backup – you can get a 1 TB portable drive now for about $60. When this is created, Macrium Reflect takes a “picture” of your entire hard drive and puts it on that external drive. That’s why you want to do this BEFORE you upgrade to Windows 10, so the external drive will have that snapshot of your entire computer while it’s still running Windows 7 or 8.

Then, if you upgrade to Windows 10 and something doesn’t work, or several things don’t work, or you just don’t like it, you can just restore that Windows 7 or 8 system image and you’re back to the previous version of Windows just like nothing happened.

Important note: any work that you do while you’re in Windows 10 mode will not be carried back to the Windows 7 or 8 restore. So if you create anything important, or edit any critical documents, or make any other important changes, be sure to save them somewhere else BEFORE you run that system restore.

What if you upgraded to Windows 10 and you don’t have a system image backup?

Unfortunately, that’s the situation in which some people are finding themselves. If that’s you, you’re not completely out of luck. If you did the Windows 10 upgrade within the last 30 days, you should be able to use the “Go back to Windows 7” function that’s built in to Windows 10.

To do that, use the search function in Windows 10 and do this search (exactly):

Go back to Windows 7

or if that search does not work, try doing a search on just this one word:

recovery

In either case, what you are looking for in the search results is the option to go back to your previous installation of Windows 7. If you see that option listed, click on the “Get Started” link right under that phrase and follow the directions on the screen. It’s important that you have anything critical backed up before you start this process, and you also must know your Windows 7 login password (if you had one) – otherwise you won’t be able to log in to Windows after this is completed. It will take a few restarts and a good chunk of time, but if it is successful, you’ll be back to your previous Windows installation.

What if you don’t have a system image backup, and the “Go back” function is not an option?

If these first two processes aren’t available or don’t work, then you’re really looking at just a regular reinstallation of Windows 7 or 8. As you might suspect, this process could mean that any data that’s currently on the computer will be lost. In fact, you should assume that everything on the computer will be wiped out so you should copy anything important to an external drive or some type of backup.

The important thing to know is this – you can avoid all of this hassle just by choosing NOT to upgrade to Windows 10 yet. As I have been saying for a while, there is no advantage to upgrading right away. If you’re running Windows 7 or 8, the upgrade to Windows 10 is going to be free for a whole year. So just be patient and wait for all the impatient early upgraders (AKA guinea pigs) to find the bugs so that Microsoft can fix the bugs (the big ones anyway). You can always upgrade later. Or, you might skip Windows 10 completely, since Windows 7 will be supported up to January 2020.

Aug 24 2015

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Rank #15: What is spearphishing?

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“Spearphishing” is one of those terms used by computer security people to describe a particular kind of computer attack. I think it’s a pretty interesting strategy to learn about.

But to understand spearphishing, we have to back up a bit and explain a few things about the fishing/phishing analogy and how one translates to the other.

Most people know what traditional fishing is. You put some bait on the end of your line, throw it in the water and hope you get a bite. You’re kind of putting it out there to all the fish in the lake at the same time, hoping that just one of them falls for it. It’s kind of a “mass” effort in the hopes of succeeding with one target.

Spearfishing (we’re still talking about actual fish in actual water) is a targeted approach. Instead of throwing your bait out for ALL the fish, you wait patiently with a spear, and watch to target a specific fish. Maybe you’re looking and waiting for a really big one to come along. When you see the one you want, all of your effort is put into getting that one big fish.

Now we move into the world of computer security.

A phishing email is one that usually gets sent out to hundreds or thousands of people at a time. It’s usually pretty generic. The email might say that it’s being sent from your bank, and that your account may have been compromised. They want you to log in and confirm your account in order to maintain the account’s security. But when you click on the link, even though you are taken to a website that LOOKS like the login page for your bank, it’s really just a fake website put up by the scammer. When you enter your user name and password, you’re giving the scammer your login credentials.

So a phishing email is a pretty low-effort, wide-spread type of attack. Lots of potential targets since it gets sent out to a lot of people all at the same time.

A spearphishing email is different. It focuses on a particular high-value target. Here’s an example of how a spearphishing attack might work.

Let’s say there’s a dishonest home remodeling contractor in Dallas, Texas. He wants to get the client list for one of his competitors, so he hires a hacker to do this. So now the hacker has to figure out how to get into the computer of the owner of that competing business. How would he do that?

First, he might go over to the business location at night, when there is no one there. He doesn’t break in, but he looks in the dumpster where the office trash is thrown out. He finds the typical office garbage, but among that garbage is some business paperwork. He finds some invoices from vendors. These are not documents that a company would think need to be shredded, because there is no confidential information included. But the hacker can use that information.

He takes one of the invoices and sees that it’s from a cabinet manufacturer, All American Cabinets. Now he looks up all the information he can find about that company. He sees that they have a public email address for new business inquiries. So, pretending to be a remodeler himself, he sends an email asking about prices and inventory. The next day he gets an email back from the owner, Jack, and the email address is allamericancabinets@gmail.com. Now he knows Jack’s email address.

Next, the hacker creates a new Gmail account: a11americancabinets@gmail.com. See the difference? It’s similar enough that no one would really notice that the first part is “a11” instead of “all”.

Now, he uses that email to send an email to his target company (the competitor). The email might even reference the job that was listed on the invoice. But the point of the email is to make the recipient assume that it’s coming from Jack at the cabinet company. As “Jack”, he might say that they are beefing up security and requiring all their customers to read and agree with the new online security policy, which is attached as a Word document.

So the recipient of that email, seeing that it’s coming from a company they deal with all the time, and it’s being sent by Jack, who they have worked with for years, doesn’t even question that this might be a hacking attempt. They click to open the attachment, but nothing happens. At least that’s how it appears on the screen. So they figure it’s just a computer glitch and forget about it.

But what really happens is when they click that attachment, it activates a program behind the scenes that goes and collects everything in the Documents folder and sends it back to the hacker. And guess what’s in that folder – the client list with all the contact information and work history.

That’s the essence of spearphishing. Rather than send out a hundred emails to the employees of a company, the scammer just sends out one targeted one, to a specific person, with very particular and personal information on it, to avoid any suspicion in the hopes that that one person doesn’t suspect anything. It’s a lot of work for just that one email, but the payoff is potentially much larger because of the high-value target.

But you can prevent either of these types of attacks from being successful, by following these two rules:

  1. Don’t open email attachments
  2. Don’t click on a link unless you KNOW for sure where it will take you

There are a few exceptions to rule #1, but in general I just don’t open attachments. The exception would be when I know ahead of time to expect that email with that attachment, and I know exactly what the attached file is, and I trust the person who sent it to me.

Nov 11 2019

10mins

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Rank #16: The secret repair trick that techs don’t want you to know

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Recently a client called me in a panic, because he was in the middle of using his laptop and suddenly it shut off and now it wouldn’t boot up again. By all appearances, his laptop was just dead. Here’s how we handled it.

I have to tell you, I really love using this trick. To someone that watches it happen, it’s like magic. One minute their computer is completely dead – no lights, no fan, nothing on the screen, and pushing the power button has no effect at all. Many times when people contact me with this situation, they are already thinking “Great, now I have to buy a new laptop”. That just makes the effect that much more impressive when their laptop is suddenly working fine again.

What happens is that sometimes the computer can slip into a Hibernate mode and not be able to come out of it on its own. Kind of like a person with a traumatic injury that goes into a coma. Except with a person, usually you have to just wait and hope they come out of it. With your laptop, we can snap it back into reality with this little trick.

Here’s the process:

1. Unplug the power cord

2. Remove the battery (you’ll need to flip the laptop over to get to the battery)

3. Turn the laptop back over as if you’re going to use it, then press and hold the power button for 30 seconds (yes, you won’t see anything happen since the battery and power cord are disconnected)

4. Plug in the power cord (with the battery still removed)

5. Tap the power button as you normally would to turn on the computer, and watch it boot up like normal (magic!)

6. After it is fully booted up, go through the shut down procedure to turn it off

7. Reinsert the battery

8. Boot it up again, and you’re back in business

This works on both PC and Mac laptops, although the problem that sometimes arises is that some are poorly designed and you aren’t able to easily remove the battery without disassembling the laptop. You can blame the manufacturer for that inconvenience.

Aug 14 2017

9mins

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Rank #17: 3 Cool YouTube Tricks

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This week I’m going to show you some interesting things you can do with YouTube. You might not use all of them, but hopefully you will find one or two of them helpful, or at least fun to try out. I love “discovering” these kinds of little-known things and bringing them to you here on my blog, and on my podcast.

Trick 1: Download any YouTube video to your computer, without installing other software

Sometimes you might watch a video you really like, so you bookmark it for easy access. But then you go back to YouTube a week later or a month later, and it’s gone. That happens all that time, for a variety of reasons. You can avoid that problem though. Instead of bookmarking it to go back and watch it on YouTube, just download the video to your own computer.  Then you can watch it anytime – even if you aren’t connected to the internet.

Example:

You like this video of this guy ranting about waiting in line at the post office (it actually is a pretty funny video if you want to watch it). When the video is on your screen, look up at the address bar. You’ll see the web address of the video displayed there (it’s also called the URL).  It looks like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDvaJJyUpTs

All you have to do is click in the address bar, and change the web address to this:

pwnyoutube.com/watch?v=vDvaJJyUpTs

and then hit the Enter key on your keyboard. This will take you to a page where you will see a little preview of the video, and links where you can click to download the video.  Those links take you to a variety of other sites. Check them out and see which one you like best.

Yes, I know you could just go directly to any of those sites and copy/paste the URL of the video itself. The idea with these little YouTube tricks is that you don’t have to remember or bookmark all those other websites in order to download the video. Just add “pwn” to the YouTube address.

Trick 2: Download just the AUDIO from any YouTube video

Maybe you subscribe to a YouTube channel that puts out a new video each day or each week, but you don’t really need to see the video portion. For some videos, the only thing to see is the person talking to the camera. Or, maybe you want to listen to the content while you’re driving, and it’s obviously not safe to watch the video then, so all you need is the audio. When you have the audio file saved, you can listen to it on your computer, or you could put it on your MP3 player or your phone for listening at your convenience.

Example:

There’s a video of Eric Clapton performing unplugged in 1992.  It’s a little over an hour long, so if you’re a Clapton fan, it would make a great sound file for while you’re out on a run, but obviously you don’t want to stream the video from YouTube and watch it while you’re running. You just need to do a little tweaking to the URL, similar to what we did in the first trick.

The web address of the video will look like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w24A2eesrUA

You will want to move your cursor up there and change it to this:

listentoyoutube.com/watch?v=w24A2eesrUA

That takes you to a new page.  Look for this image and click the Go button. NOTE: This site has a lot of display ads and you might be tempted to click on things other than what I describe below. Don’t do that.

That will take you to a different page, where you’ll see a link to click for your Download button:

Finally, you’ll see a button to actually download the audio file in MP3 format:

When you click that, the file will be saved to your computer (usually it goes in the Downloads folder, but it might go somewhere else if you have set your preferences differently from the default).

Trick 3: Play a video from a certain starting point

You find a video on YouTube, and it shows people walking on a sidewalk where there’s a patch of ice. We all love to watch people fall down, right? The problem is, this video goes quite a way in before you actually see someone fall down. You know if you post this on Facebook, people will get bored pretty quickly if they don’t see some slipping and falling pretty quickly.

So what you need to do is “tweak” the URL so that the video doesn’t start playing at the very beginning – it starts playing at the point you want it to. Here’s the video we’ll use:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDCwMfUhv24

You check the video and find out that there are a bunch of people that “almost” fall, but the first person that actually hits the ground happens at the [1:32] point in the video.  So that’s where you want the video to start playing.

First, you have to convert that initial stretch of time to seconds.  One minute and 32 seconds translates to 92 seconds total, so “92” is the important number here. All you have to do is add #t=92 to the end of the video address.  So the adjusted URL would look like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDCwMfUhv24#t=92

Of course, you can substitute any number at the end, depending on exactly where you want to video to start playing when someone goes to that address.

What YouTube tricks do YOU know? Put them in the comments below!

Sep 01 2014

17mins

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Rank #18: More cool websites you might like

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Every so often I do a post where I feature several websites that are interesting, informative, funny or just somehow intriguing in some way.

Documentary Addict
http://documentaryaddict.com/
Whenever I go on Netflix, and I don’t have anything specific in mind to watch, I tend to browse through the documentaries. And Netflix does have a lot of documentaries in their library of things to view. I don’t know the exact number they have, but I would bet that Documentary Addict has a lot more. The current total they show is 5,257 but that is changing pretty regularly as they add new ones. There are documentary films here on just about any subject you can imagine.

If you’re not looking for anything in particular, it can be a little overwhelming. But if that’s the case, you can also check out their subsections such as “Just Added”, or “The Week’s MOST RIVETING” or the “Top 100” and you’re sure to find some really good content. Or, you can just pick one of 26 categories to narrow it down to a particular field of interest.

And one other advantage of Documentary Addict – it’s completely free.

FaxZero
http://faxzero.com/
The technology of faxing was pretty amazing when the first standard office fax machines were introduced back in the late 1980s. But let’s face it – faxing is now an outdated form of transmitting/receiving documents. Fax machines that originally cost hundreds or thousands of dollars can hardly be given away now, because there are just other ways to accomplish this more efficiently and with higher resolution.

BUT – there are still some businesses and some individuals that use faxes. If you are dealing with one of them, it’s rather unhandy if you don’t have a way to send a fax from your location.

FaxZero allows you to have this ability, and it’s free for most situations. You can create a document in Word, then go to the FaxZero website and upload that document with the fax number you want to send it to. It’s free to send up to 3 pages + the cover page, and you are allowed to send up to 5 free faxes per DAY. This is probably perfect for that one time in 5 years that you need to do this (it certainly wouldn’t make sense to own a fax machine for those rare occasions, not to mention you would need a regular telephone line and many people don’t even have those at home anymore).

If you need to send a longer fax, it’s just $1.99 per fax for up to 25 pages – still a bargain.

SuperCook Recipes
http://www.supercook.com/#/recipes
I
f you like to cook and you like trying new things, and you don’t always feel very creative, this website could be a great tool for you. All you have to do is tell the website what ingredients you have on hand, and it will come up with a bunch of recipes for dishes that only use those ingredients.

For example, I went on the site and told it that I only have American cheese, eggs, a potato, and some sausage – and it came up with 70 different ideas for a meal. These included:

  • Swedish sausage potato cakes
  • Sausage and potato frittata
  • Salt-baked potatoes

And a bunch more. Of course, the more ingredients you have, the more options it will come back with. But for nights when it’s suppertime and your brain is too tired to come up with something on its own, this website could help.

Amazon Filler Items
http://www.filleritem.com/
If you shop at Amazon, and of course you do because everyone does, you know that if your purchase is over $35 you probably qualify for free shipping (Amazon Prime members ignore this because you usually get free shipping anyway). So what if you want to buy something that’s $33.99? Just a little bit more in your shopping cart and you’d get free shipping, but how do you find an item that costs just $1.01?

That’s where the Amazon Filler Items website comes in. You go to the site, and enter the dollar amount that you need in order to get your total purchase up to $35. The site comes back with a list of dozens or even hundreds of “filler” items that fit the bill. It’s almost a certainty that one of them will be one that you would have to buy at some point in the future, so you’re not really just wasting money.

Flight Radar
http://www.flightradar24.com
This website can be handy if you want to track a particular flight to know where it is or when it’s taking off or landing. What you’re looking at on the screen is a basic map of your location. Flying all over that screen are little images of airplanes. But these aren’t just random plane icons – each one represents an actual flight that is happening right now. When you see one near your location, click on it and it will tell you what flight it is and where it’s headed, along with some other details. Pretty handy.

Stuff in Space
http://stuffin.space/
I’m pretty sure you have no idea how much junk is floating around in space around Planet Earth. I certainly didn’t. This website tracks that space junk in real time.

When you go to the site, you’ll see a black screen with Earth in the middle. You can click and drag to rotate the earth left and right, or up and down. What you’ll also see are little dots – many thousands of them. Each one of those dots is a piece of junk floating around. You can click on it and get the details. There are leftover rocket bodies, payloads, or some things just labeled “debris”. Space exploration sure leaves a trail of garbage behind.

Khan Academy
https://www.khanacademy.org/
Taking classes can help you learn a lot of things. But it can be expensive. If you want to learn about all the various subjects you would take in high school or college, you can do it for free – online – at Khan Academy.

The site offers multiple classes in categories such as Math, Science, Economics and Finance, Arts and Humanities, Computing and more.

Then if you just take one category, such as Math, you can zero in on specifics such as what grade level or what areas of math you want to learn, or just take the fundamentals:

And that’s just the one category of Math. Each category has multiple sub-areas like that. And it’s all free.

Don’t throw my package
http://dontthrowmypackage.com/
We are about to roll into the holiday season, which means many people will be ordering packages and having them delivered via Fedex, UPS, the US Mail, and other couriers. Nothing is more frustrating than having a valuable item show up and then find that it’s been damaged in the delivery process. How does this happen? Well, one way is through the carelessness of the delivery drivers.

The “Don’t Throw My Package” website is a collection of videos in which delivery people have been caught mishandling the packages they’re supposed to be taking care of. With home security cameras becoming more common, you’d think they would be aware that they could be “on stage” at any time during their daily deliveries.

This is what I think of whenever I’m shipping a laptop to a client. Fortunately, in the hundreds of laptops I’ve shipped over the years, I’ve only had two instances where packages were damaged in delivery. I always send them insured, and in both cases UPS paid the full claim amount.

For an example of the videos you’ll see on this website, check this one out.

For the websites featured here on my blog today, some of them are ones that I found and some were suggested to me by readers and listeners to my podcast. If you know of a website that is interesting, funny, educational or unusual in some way, let me know about it so I can tell everyone else!

Oct 26 2015

13mins

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Rank #19: New device to speed up your internet consistently

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Think about when your internet connection isn’t working properly. Maybe you’re getting a “Page cannot be found” error, or your computer can’t find the wifi signal, or perhaps websites are just loading reeeaaallly slowly. If you call your internet provider, what’s the first thing they’ll tell you to do? Restart your modem and router. But even better than that – have your modem and router restarted automatically for you, every single day.

Sometimes my clients will call me when their internet is not doing what it’s supposed to do. Here in Safety Harbor, we have a few good options for high-speed internet, so we can get kind of spoiled with that super fast connection so when it slows down or something goes wrong, I get a phone call.

My advice for this is the same thing the actual internet service would say – restart the modem and/or router. In many cases, that solves the problem and the connection is nice and fast again.

So it makes sense to restart your modem and router every day – proactively – to just avoid having to do it when the speed or the connection drops. But who wants to do that manually? Modems and routers aren’t always located in the most convenient places. In some cases, you have to get on the floor or behind a desk just to access it. Then you’ll have to unplug it, wait a while, and plug it back in. Pain in the butt! And even if you do have easy access, you won’t do it every day. And that’s the whole point – the daily reset is the key to getting the benefit from this.

No worries! Now you can have it happen automatically for you. You don’t have to unplug and re-plug. You don’t even have to remember it!

All of this is done through a little device that just plugs into your wall outlet. It’s called a NetReset and you can get it at Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2rWqAjn

It’s pretty simple. This is what the front looks like:

And this is the back:

This is the NetReset plugged into the wall, and of course Lilly (one of my two Yorkies) has to inspect it:

Using this thing is really simple. You plug it into the wall, and then you plug your modem in one side, and your router in the other side. I use this here in my office in Safety Harbor every day. In my case, my modem and router are all in one unit, so I only need to use one of the outlets.

Then there’s the little display at the top with the small white buttons. You use the “Clock” button and then Hours/Minutes to set the current time. You use the “Prog” button and then Hours/Minutes to set the time of day you want your modem/router to be shut down and then restarted. I set mine for 4 am since no one in our house would be using the internet at that time. Since the internet will be cut off briefly while the reset is happening, you want to make sure it happens at a time that’s convenient. For most people, that’s sometime in the middle of the night.

A daily 4 am reset does cut the internet off but only for a few minutes, so it should have no effect at all on any antivirus updates or Windows Updates. The GOOD effect is that your modem and router will start each day fresh, and ready to deliver all the goodness of the internet to you all day!

When you order yours from Amazon here (http://amzn.to/2rWqAjn) Amazon pays me a small commission, which helps support this blog and my podcast. Of course, I only recommend things I use and approve of personally. If you get one, I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Jun 12 2017

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Rank #20: How to make ANY website printer-friendly

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Ever try to print a web page?  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  The reason for this is that website content is designed to be displayed on your computer screen, not sent to the printer to be put on paper.  So even though it looks perfect on your monitor, the printed page is often completely messed up.  I’ve even had people call me and complain that their printer isn’t working properly, because the words and images are all out of order and misaligned.  The problem wasn’t the printer, though.  That web page they were trying to print just wasn’t printer friendly.

Some websites are helpful and offer a “printer friendly” version of the content.  This usually works, but most non-commercial websites don’t have that feature.  And actually even a lot of business websites don’t offer it.

But now there’s a solution – and it’s free.  It’s an online service called Print Friendly.  You can see it at PrintFriendly.com.

Using this service could not be any easier.  When you’re viewing a website you want to print, click one time up in the address bar to highlight the address, then do a right-click and choose “Copy”.

Then go to the Print Friendly website and paste it in the URL field and click “print preview”:

If the preview looks okay, print it!

Here’s an example.  I went to an MSN news story.  A screenshot of the website article is below.  As you can see the screen is cluttered with all kinds of junk – navigation links, social media buttons, ads, links to other stories, and several images.  There’s so much stuff that in order to read past the first few lines of the article, you have to scroll down.  I don’t need all that extra stuff  – all I want to print is just the words in the article.

So I copied and pasted the address, and here is what the print preview showed.  Just the title and the text – ready to print!

To print, just hit the link at the top left on the preview.  Next to that is the option to make the content into a PDF file, or you could click the “Email” button to send the article by email.  There are some other options to control the text size and the appearance of images – you can play with those as you like.

I encourage you to experiment with it.  It probably won’t be perfect each time, as there are a million different variations in the way a website can be arranged.  But it should work okay in most cases.

http://www.printfriendly.com

Aug 11 2014

13mins

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Back up your files BEFORE this forced update comes in

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Quick tip today – big Windows Update is coming, so be ready for it by backing up your computer.

This update was actually released a few months ago, and is referred to by two names:

  • The May 2020 Update
  • Windows 10 version 2004

Even though it is called both names, it’s the same update. Some Windows 10 computers have already received it, but many have not.

Here’s how to check to see if your computer has already received it:

  1. Hold down the Windows key on the keyboard, and tap the letter “r”
  2. In the Open box, type: winver and click OK

This will open a new window which will show your version number for Windows 10:

If you already have the update, it will say Version 2004. The version just prior to that is 1909. The one before that is 1903.

What to do:

If your computer is at version 1903 or earlier, I recommend that you get updated to at least version 1909 (it’s quite stable).

If your computer is running version 2004 and not showing any problems, that’s good.

If your computer is running version 1909, you don’t need to get the newest update yet – but it’s coming. You need to be ready for it.

In some cases, the newest big Windows Update can cause problems for Windows 10 computers. So you need to have a full system image backup in place, so you are ready in case your computer gets stuck in an endless loop during a Windows update.

The program I use for this update is called Macrium Reflect. It’s free for personal use, and it works great. I have quite a few clients who have avoided losing data after a hard drive crash, because they had this backup. It’s a bit complex to set up initially, but once it’s in place, doing a backup is super simple. You just plug in the backup drive at night, and unplug it in the morning. It’s an incredibly easy thing to do, in order to avoid the huge headache that comes with losing all of your important files and folders.

So my challenge to you today is this: get your backup in place. If you need help with this, I can do the whole thing remotely. So you don’t have to have anyone come in to your home or office, and you don’t have to bring your computer anywhere.

AND – if you are one of my many clients who already has Macrium Reflect set up to do that overnight backup – when was the last time you did it? I do mine every single night, because it’s just easier to be in that habit. Do your backup tonight, and don’t worry about what a Windows Update might do to your computer.

Aug 03 2020

9mins

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A scam that sounds very convincing

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If you read this blog or listen to my podcast regularly, you should probably by now be pretty good at spotting a scam. Or at least being suspicious enough to investigate further. But what if the scammer shows that he has your actual password?

This is one that I get calls about pretty regularly. Many of my long-term clients and readers of this blog or listeners to the podcast can catch when a scam is fairly obvious, but this one makes them think twice. Or in some cases, they believe that the message that they received is actually true (it isn’t).

Here’s the email that usually gets sent (for this example, we’ll assume that the recipient of the email has used the word “pineapple89” as one of their passwords, either in the past or currently):

From: scammer@email.com
Sent: Monday, July 20, 2020
To: recipient@email.com
Subject: Your password pineapple89

Your password is pineapple89. I know a lot more things about you than that.

How?

I placed a malware on the porn website and guess what, you visited this website to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were watching the video, your web browser acted as an RDP (Remote Desktop) and a keylogger, which provided me access to your display screen and webcam. Right after that, my software gathered all your contacts from your Messenger, Facebook account, and email account.

What exactly did I do?

I made a split-screen video. The first part recorded the video you were viewing (you’ve got an exceptional taste haha), and the next part recorded your webcam (Yep! It’s you doing nasty things!).

What should you do?

Well, I believe $4900 is a fair price for our little secret. You’ll make the payment via Bitcoin to the below address (if you don’t know this, search “how to buy Bitcoin” in Google).

Bitcoin Address:

gb399Hi492hEN7Gvq99jum4WMt4956PcG
(it is cAsE sensitive, so copy and paste it)

Important: You have 24 hours to make the payment. (I have a unique pixel within this email message, and right now I know that you have read this email). If I don’t get the payment, I will send your video to all of your contacts, including relatives, co-workers, and so forth. Nonetheless, if I do get paid, I will erase the video immediately. If you want evidence, reply with “Yes!” and I will send your video recording to your five friends. This is a non-negotiable offer, so don’t waste my time and yours by replying to this email.

Some observations about that email message:

First, if you suspected this was a scam, what would be the first thing you would want? Proof that they have this alleged video. So they knock down that objection right in the message. You want evidence, ok – we’ll send the video to five of your friends. Of course the victim does not want that to happen.

Second, payment is requested to be made by Bitcoin. This way, the scammers can get the money and still remain anonymous.

Third, what is the real kicker that makes some recipients think it might be real? The fact that the scammer has the actual, legitimate password that the recipient has used in the past, or might still be using on some accounts currently. How is that possible?

You’ve probably heard of the massive data breaches, like the ones that happened at Target, or the multiple times Yahoo! has gotten hacked into. There are lots of other companies that have had this happen.

When the hackers get this data, they are holding in their hands a large database of customer information. In a lot of cases, each record includes the email address for the customer, as well as the password connected with that email address. This information is sold on the black market to scammers.

So the scammers have that list of email addresses, most of which are still actively being used. And they have a password that was also used for that account, whether it was with Yahoo! or whatever the online account was.

And the scammers know one very important fact: many people use the same password for all of their accounts.

So they know that when they send out that email to hundreds or thousands of people, a LOT of those recipients are going to see that password right there, and think, “Oh no – this must be for real”. But of course there is no video, and the whole thing is a bluff.

Many people will read it and ignore it, but if the scammer sends out 1000 of those emails, and just 1/100th of a percent of the recipients fall for it and pay, that’s still a $4900 payday. And if 2 or 3 of those pay, that’s a ridiculous payoff.

What should you do if you get one of these scam emails?

The one thing you should do right away is to change your password for any accounts that still have that password. One of the things scammers are known to do is to try that email and password to log in to bank accounts, Paypal accounts, email accounts, anything that could potentially have value for them. So change that password and never use it again, anywhere.

And more fundamentally – don’t use the same password on more than one account. If you use a password (or a slight variation of that same password), it’s likely you’ll regret it some day.

https://www.welivesecurity.com/2020/04/30/new-sextortion-scam-claims-know-your-password/

Jul 20 2020

9mins

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Some important computer DON’Ts

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Want to avoid getting into trouble with your computer? Here are some things you DON’T want to do.

Don’t have Chrome (or any browser) store your passwords. Yes, it makes it really easy to access all your website accounts. But it’s also really dangerous, because if your computer ever got hacked into, or lost, or stolen, all of your passwords are right there in plain text.

Don’t use the backup software that came with your portable or external hard drive. Every company that makes hard drives also offers backup software – Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, etc. None of those programs are as reliable as Macrium Reflect, the one I use and recommend (I’ve installed and configured it on hundreds of computers).

Don’t talk to scammers when they call you. If someone calls and says they’re with Microsoft, just hang up immediately. It might be tempting to explain that you know it’s a scam, but these guys are clever. They know that the longer you stay on the phone, the more likely they are to actually convince you that they ARE Microsoft tech support. Just hang up.

Don’t call a tech support number that pops up on your screen along with some kind of error message or alert. Especially if that pop-up is accompanied by a robotic voice telling you about this terrible problem with your computer. And the message always includes the warning to NOT TURN OFF OR RESTART THE COMPUTER. If that happens, don’t call the phone number. Just restart the computer.

Don’t open email attachments. That’s my policy. The only exception is when I get an email with an attachment, and I’m already expecting that email, and I already know what the attachment is. Otherwise, it just gets deleted. It’s kind of amazing, but one of the primary ways to deliver a virus to a computer these is still by sending an email with an attached file that contains a virus.

Don’t search Google for a tech support phone number. The scammers have made LOTS of websites that are designed to look like “Dell Tech Support” or “HP Printer Tech Support”, and they design those websites to come up in the search results in Google. When you call them, they are of course happy to “help” you – but you’re talking to a scammer, not Dell or HP.

Don’t do your online banking while connected to a public wifi. This is pretty much common sense, but people still do it. In fact, don’t connect to anything that involves personal or private information when you’re at Starbucks or McDonalds or any other public wifi provider. It’s not secure.

Don’t re-use the same password (or a slight variation of it) on multiple accounts. The hackers know that most people do this, and they know that it makes their job much easier. All they have to do is get into ONE of your accounts – and now they have the password for ALL of your accounts. Yes, it’s inconvenient to have a different password for every account, but only if you’re trying to remember all of them. You don’t have to though – just use LastPass. That’s what I use. I can set it up for you remotely if you want.

What other computer “don’ts” do you follow?

Jul 06 2020

10mins

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3 subreddits you never knew existed

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If you have never visited Reddit, you are missing out on one of the biggest and most popular sites on the internet. Today we’ll talk about a few of the unknown corners of that world.

What is Reddit?

Basically, it’s a social media site. But this is no Facebook. One big way it’s different is that most people don’t use their real name on Reddit like they do on Facebook. So the relative anonymity creates a “freer” environment for discussion. And of course, that can be good or bad.

Another difference is how you vote on things. In Facebook, you can click  the “Like” for something you like, but there’s no “Dislike” button (even though people have wanted one for a long time). On Reddit, every post and comment has an up arrow and a down arrow, and you can express your opinion just by clicking one of them.

The best way to figure out what Reddit’s all about is to just go there: Reddit.com. You can browse without having an account, but you will need an account in order to post something or to give an upvote or downvote.

Reddit is made up of thousands of discussion groups, and each one has it’s own topic or theme. There are probably around 150,000 of these now, and each one is called a subreddit. There are subreddits for almost any topic you can think of. Some of the more popular ones are r/funny (each post is something humorous), r/pics (interesting pictures), or r/politics (anything related to the US government).

Something fun is that anyone with an account can create their own subreddit. So, as you can imagine on a social site with over 300 million users, there are some very unusual and niche groups. I even have a subreddit for my other podcast (r/WhatWasThatLike).

As you explore Reddit, you’ll come across some very interesting and unusual subreddits. Here are a few that even veteran Redditors aren’t usually aware of:

r/HostileArchitecture
Hostile Architecture is actually a subject I’ve been intrigued by for quite some time. Have you ever been outside in some public place, like walking on a sidewalk in the downtown area of a city, and you want to sit down and rest for a bit? You look around, and there’s a building nearby, and there’s a sort of horizontal ledge that is part of the building, and it sticks out maybe 6 inches or so. Yes, you can sort of sit on it to take the weight off your feet for a few minutes, but it’s such an uncomfortable place to sit, you can’t stay there very long.

It was constructed that way deliberately. If that ledge stuck out maybe 18 inches, you could sit there for a long time. But that business doesn’t want people sitting out there all day. A lot of times, this kind of thing is created with the plan for keeping homeless people away. Flat surfaces are constructed at an angle so that no one can sleep there. In some cases, jagged edges or large bumps are built into the cement to make it uncomfortable.

An example of this would be this bench, in Arlington, Virginia. The armrest in the middle is there so that no one can lie prone on the bench:

In the Hostile Architecture subreddit, anyone that sees something like this can take a picture and submit it. And there’s a LOT of this – it’s just something that most people don’t really think about.

r/FormerPizzaHuts
If there’s any public building that has a visually identifiable shape, it’s a Pizza Hut restaurant. Everyone knows what they look like:

But what about when a Pizza Hut restaurant closes, and another restaurant, or even another totally different type of business, moves in? The design of the roof usually stays the same, so no matter what business currently occupies the building, everyone knows that it was formerly a Pizza Hut.

In this subreddit, everyone submits pictures of former Pizza Huts that are now a different business.

Like this one – formerly Pizza Hut, now Domino’s:

r/UpliftingNews/
Okay, this one is a little more practical. Or at least inspiring. As you might guess by the name, in this group every post is some type of news article that is comprised of GOOD news. I mean, aren’t we all sick of the negative, depressing news that gets broadcast 24 hours a day? I am, which is why I don’t even watch the news.

Here are a few examples of things recently posted in this subreddit:

Teenager saves the life of a 74-year old woman – this elderly lady was home alone, and fell in her garage. She broke her femur and was unable to get up. She managed to open the garage door with a broom, and yelled for help for a while. A 16 year old girl who lives nearby saw the woman’s dog running loose, and brought it back home. That’s when she found the lady and called for an ambulance. Since then the two have become good friends.

Florida’s highway welcome centers will once again offer orange juice – When I was a kid living in Ohio, we would sometimes drive to Florida for vacation. One of the things we would always do is stop at the Welcome Center when we crossed the Florida state line, to get that complimentary cup of orange juice. Last year (2019) that program was ended due to budget cuts. But now, the Florida Citrus Commission just approved a $250k contract to start offering that free orange juice again.

There’s good news happening all over the place, but we just don’t usually hear about it. Now you know where to find it!

Do you use Reddit? Do you know about any unusual or little-known subreddits that people would be interested in? Let us know about them in the comments!

Jun 22 2020

13mins

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How to find your important files

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Today I’ll show you the absolute quickest way to get to all of your important files on your Windows computer.

You might already know that you can click on the little “file folder” icon at the bottom of the screen to open Windows File Explorer. It looks like this:

That opens a window (File Explorer) that shows some of your personal folders such as Documents, Pictures, etc. But it doesn’t show ALL of your personal files and folders. So how do you see all of them?

It’s easy to do this:

  1. Hold down the Windows key (lower left area of the keyboard) and tap the letter “r”
  2. In the search box, type “.” (just a period, without the quotes)
  3. Hit Enter

What you see next is your user profile folder. This displays ALL of the files and folders in your Windows user profile.

A couple of things to note:

  • That window will only show the contents for the user profile you are signed into at the moment. If there is more than one user profile in this computer, you would need to go to the other user profile(s) to see the contents of that profile.
  • Some programs store data in weird places. One example is Quickbooks. More than once, I have seen the Quickbooks company files stored in the user profile called “Public” – completely outside the user profile being used. This is not only confusing, it could also be dangerous – since that folder might not be included in a backup process. You really should check and see where Quickbooks is storing your data.

Jun 08 2020

8mins

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This Chrome extension will save you money

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If you order anything online (and don’t we all?) you definitely should be using this Chrome extension. It will save you money.

I’ll tell you this up front – I don’t usually get involved with this kind of thing. In many cases – actually I would say in MOST cases – if you get something that pops up asking you to install it and promising to save you money on all your purchases, it’s just junk. When you install it, you’re likely to get all kinds of bad stuff added to your computer, and you definitely won’t be saving any money.

But this one is different.

I had heard about Honey before, but never really paid much attention to it. But not too long ago, I was buying something online and the total came to around $300, and added to that was sales tax and about $30 shipping cost. I don’t know what made me think of it, but before I completed the checkout process, I thought, “I wonder if Honey can save me any money on this.”

So I went to the Honey website (joinhoney.com) and searched on the name of the item I was about to purchase. And I was surprised to find that Honey came up with a promo code for me to try. So I copied that promo code, and went back to the checkout screen where I was about to make that purchase, and entered it in the “Promo code” box and hit “Apply”.

And that quick little experiment gave me a 10% discount on that purchase! So I saved $30, which in effect means I got free shipping. And it never would have happened if I had not given Honey a shot to see if it really works. That’s when I became a believer.

I’ve used Honey since then and saved money on other purchases as well. And the best thing is, it’s free. You don’t have to join any silly “shopping club” or get a paid membership on the website, or anything.

If you want to try it out, you can use the Honey website like I did my first time using it. But it’s a whole lot easier to just get the extension and have it running in Chrome all the time. You can get the Chrome extension here. I think there’s one for Firefox as well, and probably some other browsers.

Once you have the extension installed, if you look up at the top of Chrome in the right corner, you should see the little Honey “h” icon up there. It looks like this:

Then, whenever you are shopping for something online, and about to check out, you can click that icon and it will search the internet for any promo codes that are available for whatever you’re about to buy. It only takes a couple of seconds. With that extension always there, you can be confident that you’re getting the best price possible on your online purchases.

And Honey also works whenever you buy anything on Amazon too! I have not yet tried it on take-out orders for restaurants, but I think it would work for that.

If you are a Honey user, or just became one after reading this, let me know what your experience has been. How much money have you saved?

May 25 2020

8mins

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If you prefer talking instead of typing – try Speechtexter

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Today we’ll learn about a free service that let’s you talk into your computer, and have those words made into a document.

Since I type on my computer keyboard all the time, I’m able to type pretty quickly. I haven’t measured my typing speed lately but I do okay. Which is kind of funny, since I absolutely despised typing class in high school.

But here is something that’s true for me, and probably for almost anyone: you can talk faster that you can type.

So if you would prefer to just talk to your computer and have it translate your spoken words into digital words (such as in a document, a blog post, etc), the Speechtexter service let’s you do that.

And they make it pretty easy. If you go to Speechtexter.com, you’ll see a pretty obvious button right in the middle of the page that says “Start dictating”:

When you click that, you’re immediately presented with a big white space, similar to a blank document. Then you can tap the ESC key on your keyboard, and start talking (assuming you have a microphone connected to the computer, or that you’re using the laptop’s built-in mic).

This is when you’ll want to start experimenting. Just say a few words and watch them appear on the screen. When I played with it, it didn’t really seem odd since I often speak into my phone to dictate a text message. It’s just much faster than typing it on my phone.

One of the big conveniences with Speechtexter is that you can also say what punctuation you want to use. There’s a chart just to the right of white area that lists what the program recognizes:

And when you’re all done and all your words are on the screen, you can click the Download icon in the top right corner, and choose whether or not you want to download it as a plain text file (.txt) or as a Word document (.doc). And now you have literally spoken something into existence!

I think the way I would be most likely to use this is if I have a long letter or document that is in print form, and I need to get it into digital form. So I could just read the document into SpeechTexter, then save it. Would you use this online service? What kind of situation could you imagine it being a handy tool? Let me know in the comments below.

May 11 2020

8mins

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3 common computer myths

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Today we’re talking about three things that a lot of people believe to be true about computers, but in fact they are not true.

Myth #1: Turning the computer off, then powering it up again, is a restart. FALSE

I always tell people, you need to restart your computer every day or two. This resets the uptime counter, refreshes the memory, just gives the whole thing a fresh start. And often when I tell them that, the response is, “Oh, I do that every night!” Meaning, they turn the computer off at night, and turn it back on the next morning. But doing that is not a restart. Intuitively, you’d think it would be a more THOROUGH restart, but the opposite is true. You need to click  the Start button, then the power Icon, and then click on the word “Restart”.

Myth #2: Formatting wipes all the data off the hard drive. FALSE

If you have a portable drive, and you plug it in to your computer, you can look and see exactly what is on that drive. All the files and folders are there for you to look at. Then, if you do a right click on that drive letter and choose “Format”, you can wait a minute until it’s done, and if you look again, you won’t see any files or folders listed there now. They must be all gone, right? Nope. They are still there. Formatting just tells the computer that all of that space is now open for you to put new files and folders on there. So if you have sensitive data on a drive and you’re planning to dispose of it, don’t just format it and assume that data is gone.

Myth #3: If your computer is running too slowly, you must need to defrag. FALSE

This is something every computer tech has heard. A client walks in the door with their computer, and the complaint is that it is running very slowly. “I tried defragging it, but it didn’t seem to make any difference!” That is correct. Defragging will almost never make any difference, for two reasons. First, your hard drive would have to be extremely fragmented in order for defragmentation (the actual term) to make any difference. Second, your computer is already defragging on its own, on a regular schedule. It’s part of the default maintenance that’s already set up in Windows.

Did you believe any of these myths before reading this? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Apr 27 2020

9mins

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Animated GIFs on Facebook desktop – GONE!

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If you do Facebook on your desktop or laptop computer, you probably see a lot of posts that have a bunch of comments that are just animated GIFs. I find nothing more annoying than that. But now I don’t see them any more!

There are actually a lot of things that I find really annoying about Facebook:

  1. People who create a new post that says something like, “Well, here I am at the emergency room again!” with no context or details. It’s like they want all their friends to immediately comment, “Oh no, are you okay??”. There’s actually a term for that kind of post: vaguebooking.
  2. People who post in a local group and ask for recommendations for a good pizza place, or a good vet, or whatever – and they end the post with “… and GO!” like we’re all just waiting at the starting line to provide what they’re asking for.
  3. “News” or “life hacks” that are completely fake. I’ve seen so much of this especially recently with the COVID-19 situation. People see something that sounds like a great medical tip, and they don’t bother to check it out or verify, they just click the “Share” button to spread the misinformation to more people. No, sitting in the sauna does not kill the coronavirus.

Fortunately for those kinds of posts, I have one tried and true solution. I just unfollow that person. So we’re still Facebook friends, but I never see anything they post after that. And they can still see what I post. And they have no idea that I have unfollowed them. Quick and easy.

But there’s a different annoyance that cannot be fixed by unfollowing. It’s the animated GIFs in comments.

You probably know what I’m talking about. Someone will create a post in Facebook, like usual. But then someone will reply with a comment that’s just this animated GIF image, like a person clapping their hands, or a cat jumping up and down, or something with lots of movement. And the movement repeats like every 2 seconds, over and over and over. For me, this is incredibly distracting and annoying. Yes, you can click on the moving image itself to make it stop, but there could be a whole barrage of those images in separate replies to the same post, so you have to click on each one individually to make them stop moving.

And guess what – even if you click to make them all stop bouncing around, that same post will probably show up in your Facebook feed in a few hours, and they’re all moving again. It was driving me bonkers. And Facebook does not offer any setting to be able to turn those things off. Yes, you can turn off having video automatically play in a FB post, but that does not apply to these images that are added through the comments.

But recently I found a wonderful solution. It’s a Chrome extension called FB Purity. Now I’m sure if you took a guess you might think that stands for Facebook Purity, right? But I think the app developers were concerned about using the name “Facebook” in the app, so the actual name is Fluff Busting Purity. But everyone knows that the whole purpose of it is to clean up a bunch of junk in Facebook. And it does a LOT more than just what we’re talking about here today.

You can get the Chrome extension here: https://www.fbpurity.com/install.htm (it also works with Firefox and some other browsers).

Just download and install, then the next time you open Facebook, you’ll see the FBP icon at the top:

When you click that, you’ll see a new window with a HUGE variety of options for you to choose from, about how you want Facebook to be displayed. This is what mine looks like:

You might notice some of the choices I’ve made – I have hidden all Sponsored Posts – so on my Facebook I don’t see any ads. I love that! Then, further down the list, I have chosen to always display the items in my News Feed with the Most Recent ones starting at the top. And then you’ll see that I’ve checked “Show Full Date/Time on posts” – so if you see an older post, it doesn’t just say “3 weeks ago”. It will give me the actual date and time it was posted. Not a big deal, just my preference.

So let’s get to wiping out the animated GIFs. Over on the left side, click on the category “Font, Colour and Design”. You’ll see in this section you have all kinds of control over the size and color of the text in Facebook. But when you look way down the list, you’ll see the checkbox for “Hide Animated GIFs”. Just check that and click on Save and Close (on the right).

So that solves that problem. But as you can see, there are MANY other options available for you to tweak how Facebook works and displays on your computer. Play around with FB Purity, and let everyone know in the comments which setting you like the best.

And please note – FB Purity is offered free, but by donation. So you aren’t required to pay anything, but the developer has put a LOT of work into getting this thing working so it would be nice to send over a few dollars or whatever you’re comfortable with.

How to hide all animated GIFs in Facebook comments

Apr 13 2020

12mins

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How to get out of Windows 10 “S mode”

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If you buy a brand new computer, there’s a chance you might turn it on and find that it’s not just running Windows 10. It might be running Windows 10 in S Mode. Most people don’t want that. Here’s how to get out of S Mode.

What exactly IS “S Mode” anyway?

You could think of S Mode as being sort of Windows 10 in “Lockdown”. Maybe with the recent Coronavirus situation, “lockdown” might not be a good term to use. But it’s accurate though.

Windows 10 S Mode means you cannot install the software that you might normally use. You can ONLY install apps from the Microsoft Store. You can’t use Chrome or Firefox – you’re pretty much stuck using Microsoft Edge, which almost no one uses willingly. And you can’t even set your default search engine as Google – you are forced to search by default using Bing, since that’s Microsoft’s search engine.

What if you want to use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc)? Of course you can do that – because Office is a product of Microsoft!

But seriously, for most users, the restrictions on a computer running Windows 10 S Mode are just too much. So if you buy a computer that happens to come with S Mode already running, you’ll probably want to get it out of that status and back into “regular” Windows 10 like you’re used to.

How to get your computer out of Windows 10 S Mode

First a warning: once you get out of S Mode, you can’t go back. It will never be able to go back to S Mode again. I’m guessing you’re probably okay with that, since you’re about to learn how to get it out of S Mode to start with.

You need to go to the Microsoft Store. To do that, you can either click the Start button in the lower left and scroll down alphabetically and click on “Microsoft Store”:

Or, you could just click the Microsoft Store icon that is probably on your taskbar:

When you click that and go to the Store, find the search function in the upper right (the magnifying glass), then click on it and search the phrase “Switch out of S Mode”. When you see it, click on “Learn More” and it will just take you right through the process. You don’t have to pay anything for this.

After you’re done (just takes a few clicks), it would be good to restart your computer (in fact, it’s always a good idea to restart your computer). Now the fun part starts – getting all your software installed!

Mar 30 2020

10mins

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3 of my favorite YouTube channels

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Fun topic today! I watch a bit of Youtube each night before I drift off to sleep. I have a few channels that I subscribe to, and these are some that I think  you might find entertaining as well. I’ll tell you about them below, and include one of my favorite videos from each one. Warning – some videos have swearing.

Favorite #1: The Lock Picking Lawyer
View it here
Subscribers: 1.38 million
I’ve always had a minor interest in lock picking (as a hobby, not anything sketchy). For those that are more serious about learning how to do it, the hobby itself is called Locksport. But this guy, The Lock Picking Lawyer, takes it to a whole new level.

For most of his videos, he takes a particular brand and model of lock and shows how ridiculously simple it is to bypass. And wait til you see what he does. He uses a simple lock pick and I don’t think there is ANY lock he can’t open. It’s really incredible. All the major brands – Master Lock, Brinks, any of them. He especially likes to take the ones that are advertised as “pick proof”. Even if you’re not really into lock picking yourself, this guy is very entertaining to watch what he does.

In this video, he gets into a home safe – using a coat hanger.

Favorite #2: Gas Station Encounters
View it here
Subscribers: 1.24 million
This one combines comedy and petty theft, and it turns out to be a pretty entertaining result!

There’s a gas station/convenience store located somewhere in northeast Ohio (I don’t know exactly where). They have cameras mounted throughout the store so that virtually every square inch of space can be seen and recorded (it’s not a huge place, just a typical convenience store). And the guy that runs the place, Brandon, takes huge pleasure in catching shoplifters. There are two big monitors right next to each cash register, so he can actually be watching someone steal something even while ringing up another customer. If he is 100% sure of a theft, he’ll follow the person outside and confront them, and make them come back in and pay for the item.

What’s really funny is Brandon’s narration when he edits the video to be posted on YouTube. Here’s one where he catches a guy stealing some nail clippers.

Favorite #3: Jose Barrientos
View it here
Subscribers: 94,500
Another channel that combines two of my favorite things – comedy and hacking. Jose is literally a comedian (he does stand-up comedy at clubs all over the country), and a hacker. But he’s the GOOD kind of hacker – he is what’s called a Penetration Tester. Companies hire Penetration Testers to see how vulnerable their security is. So Jose gets PAID to try to hack into the computer networks of big companies.

Normally you wouldn’t think that a computer geek would have much of a sense of humor, right? Well, Jose is the exception. In fact, in the videos he makes, he often uses his sense of humor and his computer skills to bring justice and entertainment wherever it’s needed. And Jose has a heart for helping people: I work with a local non-profit group that gets things for the big homeless population here in Florida, and Jose bought and donated a brand new pair of work boots so that a man could be able to get a construction job.

This video is one of my favorites from a while back, and it went viral. Jose played a little prank on his speech class all semester, then did the big reveal during the final class.

Bonus favorite: Surveillance Camera Man
View it here
Subscribers: 91,000
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit this one is kind of weird. This guy just goes out in public and films people for no reason. What would you do if a stranger just walked up to you and was recording a video, without saying anything? Naturally, people are initially confused and ask him what’s going on. His standard response is, “just taking a video” without giving a reason why. That’s when most people get angry and tell him to leave. But he doesn’t leave, and he doesn’t answer their questions. He just keeps recording video.

In some cases, he’s out in public, so he could probably say he has the right to be there and people can’t really have a reasonable expectation of privacy. But in other situations he’s kind of a jerk, walking into private establishments and not leaving when he’s asked to.

I believe the person that created this sees it as “art” and I guess you could make that argument. Or maybe it’s a social experiment. I also think I saw somewhere that he did this to increase awareness that there are already cameras everywhere, so we are already being watched all the time – it shouldn’t make any difference that an actual person is holding the camera and doing the filming right in front of you.

Whatever the story is behind it, I find it entertaining. It’s one of those videos that you just can’t stop watching because you want to see more reactions from the people.

And what is YOUR favorite YouTube channel? Leave it in the comments below.

Mar 16 2020

13mins

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How to make everything on your screen bigger

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If you have any kind of vision challenge, or if your eyesight is just gradually getting worse over time, you aren’t the only one. One nice feature of Windows 10 – you can make everything bigger and easier to read.

I grew up wearing glasses since I was 8 years old. I could see things fine up close, but everything was blurry far away. About 12 years ago I had LASIK surgery to correct my vision.  LASIK stands for “laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis” and it’s amazing. The whole procedure lasted about 15  minutes and the next day I just couldn’t believe it. I could go outside here in sunny Florida and see faraway things, perfectly clearly, without glasses.

But there was a downside. After I had the surgery, I did not have the same close-up vision I had before. So I could see things far away with no problem, but I needed to wear reading glasses to read a book or to see something up close.

And to be fair, the doctor told me this would most likely happen. In fact, he said that if I wanted to, I could have one eye corrected to see far away, and the other eye corrected just to see things up close. That was an option I pretty quickly declined. I knew I would probably eventually get used to it, but I just didn’t like the idea of having drastically different vision in each eye. And I really don’t mind too much having to wear reading glasses.

Quality of vision definitely comes into play when you’re using a computer. I’m on my computer most of the day so it’s a big factor. I actually have a particular pair of readers for when I’m using the computer, and I use a different strength for when I’m reading a book. This is because the computer screen is farther away from my eyes than a book I’m holding.

One thing Microsoft has done well with Windows 10 is allowing adjustments to be made for people with different eyesight abilities. There are several settings available to make it easy to see what’s on the screen.

And here’s how you get to those settings: hold down the Windows key, and tap the letter U.

This brings up the Display options, and there are a few controls on here you might want to experiment with.

First, you’ll see a slide bar where you can make the text on the screen bigger. When it’s the size you like, click Apply.

Then below that is the option to make everything bigger – this includes the apps AND the text that you see on the screen.

You’ll also notice an option to make the cursor bigger, in case you have trouble seeing it on the screen:

And finally, you’ll see a link where you can control the brightness of the screen. For me, everything is easier to see when it’s brighter.

If you’re on a computer for much of the day like I am, it makes a big difference when everything is easier to see and read. And it’s better for the health of your eyesight in the long run too.

Mar 02 2020

8mins

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How to make MS Word single-space all the time

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It’s one of the big frustrations with MS Word – you hit the Enter key, and the next line in your document is a DOUBLE space down from the last line. There are two ways to fix this.

You know what I’m talking about. You open a new blank document and start typing a letter, and the first time you hit Enter, there’s that huge space between the lines and it looks like you are double-spacing the whole thing. Why does Microsoft set that as the default? Are there that many people who are actually double-spacing every document they create? No idea.

To fix this, there are a couple of options.

The quick, “right now” fix is this: hold down the Shift key while you’re tapping the Enter key. This will cause that line return to just be a single space so you won’t have that big gap. But that only solves the problem for the document you are typing right now. Next time you open a new blank Word document, it will still be double spaced.

The permanent solution is this:

Open a new blank Word document. With the Home tab selected, look over to the Paragraph section.

In the Paragraph section, find the drop down menu called Line and Paragraph spacing and click the drop-down menu, then choose “Line Spacing Options”.

In the Spacing section, make sure the “Before” and “After” numbers are set to zero. Then, at the bottom click on “Set as Default”.

You’ll get a little question that pops up asking if you want to set this as the default for just THIS document, or for all Word documents. For me, I chose all documents since that’s the way I prefer to create documents.

Then just click OK, and you’re done. Now, on the probably rare occasion you need to have a double-spaced line in Word document, you can just hit Enter twice.

Feb 17 2020

8mins

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Why isn’t Outlook search working? Here’s why

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Microsoft Outlook is the most popular email software in the world. But there’s one thing about it that sometimes frustrates users – the search function. Today we’ll talk about a common way to fix Outlook’s search process when it doesn’t seem to be working.

You know how it’s SUPPOSED to work – you type something in the little search field, and Outlook is supposed to find the emails that match that search:

And they give you that nice drop-down menu so you can limit where you are actually searching. It can be in the current folder that you have open at the time, or you can include subfolders, or you can search all of the folders in a particular mail account, or you can search all of your mail accounts, or you can search everything in Outlook (this would include calendar entries, contact list, etc.)

But what about those times when you KNOW you have a particular email from someone, and you have not deleted it, but you just don’t know where to find it? It could be in your “Business” folder among the other 10,000 emails in there, or it could be somewhere in your inbox, or who knows where. But you know you have it, yet when you enter that person’s email address in the Outlook search field, the results come up with nothing.

There are a couple of reasons why this might be happening:

  1. If Outlook was just installed recently, it could be that the program has not finished indexing all of your email data. In this case, you can just wait for it to finish (you can still use Outlook while it’s indexing) and eventually it will work.
  2. It’s possible that Outlook’s search index has become corrupted. But don’t worry – you can rebuild it.

It might sound a little intimidating to think about a project like “rebuilding Outlook’s search index”, but it’s really pretty easy. Here’s how you do it.

1. Open Outlook, then click on File up in the top left corner, then click on Options

2. This will open a new window. In this window, click on the Search tab on the left, then click on the button that says “Indexing options”:

3. In the next window, click on Advanced:

4. In the next window, click on Rebuild. That’s it!

Now you just wait for Outlook to rebuild its entire index. But fair warning – you might be waiting a while. But it’s not really a problem, because Outlook will do that rebuilding in the background, and you can continue to use Outlook to send and receive email while it’s doing that.

Feb 03 2020

8mins

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Computer slowdown? Check these two things first

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This tip is based on what is probably the most common question I get, which is “Why is my computer running so slowly??” It is definitely frustrating when the computer lags behind. If your computer suddenly starts to run a lot more slowly than you think it should, there are a couple of things for you to check on.

First, you need to check on how long it’s been since the computer has been restarted. It’s important to note, I’m not saying how long since you turned it off, and then powered it back up again. I’m talking an actual restart. This means you clicked the Start button, then right above that you click the Power button, then in the menu options you click on the word Restart. This is what actually resets everything, refreshes the memory, and can resolve a lot of issues.

To see how long it’s been since you last restarted, just hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys, and tap the Escape key. That brings up Task Manager. Then click on the Performance tab, and look for the Up time counter. It will show Days, Hours, Minutes and Seconds since the last restart:

I just checked it on my own computer, and you can see that mine has been running for 19 hours, 31 minutes and 15 seconds in that screenshot.

A good guideline is to restart your computer every day or two. So many times, I’ve been asked to check a computer that’s doing all kinds of haywire things and running really slowly, then when I check the Up Time counter, it’s been running straight for like 51 days. For that computer, a restart will be like a drink of cold water to a man who’s been crawling in the desert sun all day.

Second, you need to see if the hard drive is failing. Hard drives can fail gradually over time, or they can just stop working and not boot up again. So if it suddenly gets really slow, or some programs don’t open, or some programs take forever to finally run, those are often signs that the hard drive could be failing. Hopefully you have a backup, if there is anything important stored on your computer!

To check the hard drive, we use a little program called Crystal Disk Info. It’s free, and you can download it here.

Once you have downloaded the installation file, double click to run it and just follow the instructions for installing it. It’s very straightforward, and it doesn’t try to add any junkware or bad stuff to your computer.

The very last screen on the installation process will give you the option to launch the program, and that box will already be checked, so go ahead and do it.

When it runs, it will come up and show you a window full of numbers and other details. You can ignore all of that. The only thing you really need to look at is the big button on the left side. It will either say Good, Caution or Bad. This is mine:

Of course, you want that button to say Good. If it says Caution or Bad, that means you will need to replace your hard drive. And at that point if you don’t have your important stuff backed up, now would be a good time to try to do it, if you still can. Once that drive completely fails, you may not be able to get your stuff from it. Or you may have to hire someone to recover the data from it. Having a backup ahead of time is much less expensive, and much less stressful.

There are other factors that can contribute to a computer slowing down, but these two things are a couple of the big ones. Definitely check them first.

Jan 20 2020

10mins

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Security cameras that are easy to set up – and cheap

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If you think having security cameras in your home would be expensive and complicated, I have good news! I got some recently and they were really easy and affordable.

When you’re not at home, it’s nice to know that everything is okay. And even when you are at home, being able to see in another room, or outside, can be pretty convenient. When I’ve thought about implementing security cameras inside and outside my house in the past, I just put it off because it seemed like a “big project” – research all the cameras, compare features and cost, make the purchase, figure out where to put the cameras, and get all the alerts in place. I always have a bunch of things going on, and I never really wanted to set aside the hours I thought it would take to make this happen.

But I happily discovered that it’s not really that difficult or expensive at all.

I came across the Wyze cameras and found that they are fairly popular, and the people that use them are happy with them. So I dug a little deeper, found more good reviews, and decided to try them out myself. Now I have them, and I’m happy with them too.

One note: to really use these, you will need a smart phone because everything is controlled through an app on the phone. But just about everyone uses a smart phone these days anyway.

Here’s what I got. I purchased two of these on Amazon:

WyzeC2 camera

And I got one of these:

Wyze Cam Pan

You can see right in the image that the pricing is very affordable. And as I mentioned earlier, all you have to do is get the Wyze app on your phone. It walks you through the whole setup. You can set the cameras to record everything, or you can have the recording process start when motion is detected. And you can upload everything to the cloud, so even if someone broke into your home and destroyed the camera(s), their picture would already be recorded and accessible.

The difference between these two models is that the second one offers the ability to pan left and right, and tilt up and down. This way you can see more of the room. You might not need that feature though, since the cameras have a “fisheye” quality that really enables quite a wide viewing area.

And both models also have full 2-way audio. So you can also hear what is going on in the room, and you can also speak to someone in the room if you want to. Again, this is all live-streamed through your phone, so it doesn’t matter if your camera is in your house in Texas, and you’re on vacation in Hong Kong. As long as you can get on the internet, you can see and hear what is happening in front of those cameras.

For me, I’m using two for viewing a couple of rooms in my house. The third one I have mounted on my office window, pointing outward. So I can see when someone is in the driveway, or if an Amazon delivery truck has stopped.

This is a screenshot from that camera:

I even figured out a way to have the app send that live picture to a TV in my office (through an app that is connected with the Amazon FireTV device), so just to the left of my two computer monitors is an always-on screen showing what’s going on outside.

At a cost of USD $24 or $35, you don’t have the excuse of “too expensive”, and the app makes it so easy, anyone can set these things up.

Jan 06 2020

9mins

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The new trick to downloading Google images

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It used to be easy to just search Google for an image and download that full size image to your computer. Google changed their image download process a while ago, and it’s not quite as obvious how to get those full size images saved. But you can still do it! Here’s how.

Note: what you do with the images you download from Google is your business. I’m trusting that whether you’re using them on your blog, your website, your podcast cover art, or wherever, that you are only using images with the proper permission or licensing.

Remember the good old days – grabbing a high-res image from Google was super easy! You just did a search at images.google.com, and you were presented with a million beautiful pictures to choose from. You just clicked on the thumbnail, and right there in front of you was the full size image, ready for your right-click and “Save As” to have it on your computer. No more!

Google made this change because photo websites and professional photographers were tired of Google making it so easy for people to steal their images. So they made the process less intuitive, and they also made it more likely the anyone searching for a photo would actually end up on the website where the photo is displayed (which in some cases means you have to then go searching for the photo – the photo you already found on Google – on that website). This is good for the photo owners, but really inconvenient for the user who needs a photo.

In the steps below, I’ll show you the problem, and then I’ll show you the workaround.

Let’s say for example you want a nice high-resolution picture of a Tesla automobile.

You go to Google Images and type “tesla” in the search bar. And Google comes back with lots of great looking images of Teslas:

So far so good. You look at all the thumbnails, and you decide you like the red one in the top row. So you click on it. Now you see this – the thumbnail selection is still there, but the one you chose is now highlighted and displayed on the left. But that’s not the full size image. The actual image is nice and big – 2048 x 1335 pixels.

If you just click on the picture, it takes you to the Tesla Wikipedia page. If you scroll halfway down that long page, you’ll see the image – but it’s still not shown full size. In fact, it’s even smaller than when you saw it in the Google search results!

Here’s what you do – 

Do a RIGHT click on the image, then choose “Copy image address”. That means you’ll have the actual website address for the IMAGE, not just the website that is using the image.

Now, open a new tab and hit Ctrl + V (the keyboard shortcut for Paste). When you hit Enter, guess what you see – the full size, full resolution image!

Now you can right click and download, or copy it into Photoshop, or do whatever you need to do with it.

So there are a couple more steps involved now, but once you’ve done it a few times, it’s not a huge inconvenience.

Dec 23 2019

9mins

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Make sure System Restore is set up properly

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There are a few things about Windows 10 that don’t really make sense. When I set up a new computer, or when I do the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, I make sure these things are all configured properly. If you’re running Windows 10, one of the things you should check on is System Restore.

Important note: If you’re still running Windows 7, you’ve probably been getting notices on your computer that time is running out. It’s true! You need to upgrade to Windows 10, because support for Windows 7 ENDS in a few weeks (January 2020). I can upgrade your computer to Windows 10, and I can do it remotely – so you don’t even need to bring it anywhere. You need to get this done ASAP. Contact me.

System Restore is a handy tool in some circumstances. It’s not something you would use regularly, but in some cases it’s a way to fix a computer that has problems. Here’s what doesn’t make sense: in Windows 10, System Restore is turned off by default. So unless you enable it and configure it, it will be completely useless when the time comes that you really need it. I’d really love to hear Microsoft’s explanation for this.

What this means is this: you need to enable System Restore, so you are able to use it if you ever need to (or if your computer tech needs to).

Here’s how you enable and configure System Restore:

In the lower left corner, in the Search bar, type the word create. In the search results, you’ll see an option called “Create a restore point” – click on that. That opens the System Properties window, and the “System Protection” tab.

In that window, click on the line designated as the C drive to highlight it, then click the “Configure” button.

In the next window, you will need to adjust two things:

  1. Click on “Turn on system protection” (this enables System Restore)
  2. Under “Disk space usage” slide the selector to around 2% of your hard drive space. Then click OK.

The next part is to actually create a new restore point. When you click OK (above), you’ll be brought back to the main window. In that window, click on the button that says “Create”. Click that, then give this restore point a name. What you name it doesn’t matter a lot. You could just type in today’s date if you want to. Then click Create.

It will take a minute or so, and then it’s done. Just click OK and close that window.

It’s important to note – System Restore is not a way to recovery files or folders that somehow got deleted or lost. It really has no effect at all on your personal stuff like the Documents or Pictures folders. The most common use for System Restore is when a program gets installed and somehow messes up the rest of Windows or the computer. You can take the computer back to an earlier date – BEFORE that bad program got installed – and it will be as if it were never there. That’s pretty handy.

Dec 09 2019

9mins

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Fun things you can say to Alexa

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There are more than 120 million “smart speakers” in US homes. In our house, we have the Google Home speaker, and here in my home office I have Alexa. But most people just ask Alexa boring stuff, like “what’s the traffic like this morning” or “is it going to rain today”. There are lots of FUN things you can ask Alexa too. She actually has kind of a clever and sassy personality.

Next time you’re talking to Alexa, try out some of these:

Human: “Alexa, flip a coin”
Alexa: “You got heads” or “You got tails”

Human: “Alexa, roll the dice”
Alexa: “3” (or other random dice number)
(you can also tell her to roll multiple dice)

Human: “Alexa, pick a card”
Alexa: “Your card is the 3 of spades” (or other random card)

Human: “Alexa, play thunderstorm”
Alexa: “Would you like to try…” and she’ll offer you some choices for this sound
(Note: “Alexa, play thunderstruck” produces a very different result.)

Human: “Alexa, give me a random fact”
Alexa: “In 1955, Quaker Oats started giving away land deeds for free in their cereal. 21 million deeds were printed, each covering a one inch by one inch parcel of land in Yukon, Canada.” (answers vary)

Human: “Alexa, how much do you weigh?”
Alexa: “I’m weightless, like a cloud. Wait, that’s not quite right. Clouds actually weigh a lot. Let’s just say I’m more sass than mass.”

Human: “Alexa, what is the sound of one hand clapping?”
Alexa: “It sounds exactly like a high five.”

Human: “Alexa, how many days until Christmas?”
Alexa: “Christmas is in 30 days, on Wednesday, December 25th, 2019”

Human: “Alexa, give me a quote from The Office”
Alexa: “Here is a ‘The Office, the TV show’ quote: I’m going to donate to Afghanistanis with AIDS.” (answers vary)

Human: “Alexa, are you blue?”
Alexa: “Only my light ring. ONLY my light ring.”

Human: “Alexa, open demotivate me”
Alexa: “You should try to be satisfied with less.” (answers vary)
(you will need to enable the “Demotivate me” skill first)

Human: “Alexa, can you give me some money?”
Alexa: “I’m not a bank” (answers vary)

Human: “Alexa, give me a tongue twister”
Alexa: “The limburger burglar hungers for limburger on bagels” (answers vary)

Human: “Alexa, find Chuck Norris”
Alexa: “If Chuck Norris wants you to know where he is, he’ll find you. If he doesn’t you won’t know until it’s too late.”

Human: “Alexa, I am your father”
Alexa: “NOOO…that’s not true. That’s impossible.”

Human: “Alexa, what’s the first rule of Fight Club?”
Alexa: “Don’t talk about Fight Club.”

Human: “Alexa, where were you born?”
Alexa: “I’m from Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington.”

Human: “Alexa, when were you born?”
Alexa: “My birthday is November 6, 2014.” (the Amazon Echo launch date)

Human: “Alexa, can you sing in autotune?”
Alexa: (sings a song in autotune)

Human: “Alexa, who farted?”
Alexa: “Whoever smelt it, dealt it. And I’m not talking about a card game.” (answers vary)

Human: “Alexa, surely you can’t be serious?”
Alexa: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” (answers vary)

Human: “Alexa, do you know Cortana?”
Alexa: “We do pass each other on the information superhighway every now and then.”

Human: “Play the Computer Tutor podcast”
Alexa: (plays the most recent podcast episode)
Alexa can actually play quite a few different podcasts.

Human: “Alexa, have a great day.”
Alexa: “Thanks. You too.”

And what crazy things do YOU ask Alexa? Leave them in the comments below.

Nov 25 2019

11mins

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What is spearphishing?

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“Spearphishing” is one of those terms used by computer security people to describe a particular kind of computer attack. I think it’s a pretty interesting strategy to learn about.

But to understand spearphishing, we have to back up a bit and explain a few things about the fishing/phishing analogy and how one translates to the other.

Most people know what traditional fishing is. You put some bait on the end of your line, throw it in the water and hope you get a bite. You’re kind of putting it out there to all the fish in the lake at the same time, hoping that just one of them falls for it. It’s kind of a “mass” effort in the hopes of succeeding with one target.

Spearfishing (we’re still talking about actual fish in actual water) is a targeted approach. Instead of throwing your bait out for ALL the fish, you wait patiently with a spear, and watch to target a specific fish. Maybe you’re looking and waiting for a really big one to come along. When you see the one you want, all of your effort is put into getting that one big fish.

Now we move into the world of computer security.

A phishing email is one that usually gets sent out to hundreds or thousands of people at a time. It’s usually pretty generic. The email might say that it’s being sent from your bank, and that your account may have been compromised. They want you to log in and confirm your account in order to maintain the account’s security. But when you click on the link, even though you are taken to a website that LOOKS like the login page for your bank, it’s really just a fake website put up by the scammer. When you enter your user name and password, you’re giving the scammer your login credentials.

So a phishing email is a pretty low-effort, wide-spread type of attack. Lots of potential targets since it gets sent out to a lot of people all at the same time.

A spearphishing email is different. It focuses on a particular high-value target. Here’s an example of how a spearphishing attack might work.

Let’s say there’s a dishonest home remodeling contractor in Dallas, Texas. He wants to get the client list for one of his competitors, so he hires a hacker to do this. So now the hacker has to figure out how to get into the computer of the owner of that competing business. How would he do that?

First, he might go over to the business location at night, when there is no one there. He doesn’t break in, but he looks in the dumpster where the office trash is thrown out. He finds the typical office garbage, but among that garbage is some business paperwork. He finds some invoices from vendors. These are not documents that a company would think need to be shredded, because there is no confidential information included. But the hacker can use that information.

He takes one of the invoices and sees that it’s from a cabinet manufacturer, All American Cabinets. Now he looks up all the information he can find about that company. He sees that they have a public email address for new business inquiries. So, pretending to be a remodeler himself, he sends an email asking about prices and inventory. The next day he gets an email back from the owner, Jack, and the email address is allamericancabinets@gmail.com. Now he knows Jack’s email address.

Next, the hacker creates a new Gmail account: a11americancabinets@gmail.com. See the difference? It’s similar enough that no one would really notice that the first part is “a11” instead of “all”.

Now, he uses that email to send an email to his target company (the competitor). The email might even reference the job that was listed on the invoice. But the point of the email is to make the recipient assume that it’s coming from Jack at the cabinet company. As “Jack”, he might say that they are beefing up security and requiring all their customers to read and agree with the new online security policy, which is attached as a Word document.

So the recipient of that email, seeing that it’s coming from a company they deal with all the time, and it’s being sent by Jack, who they have worked with for years, doesn’t even question that this might be a hacking attempt. They click to open the attachment, but nothing happens. At least that’s how it appears on the screen. So they figure it’s just a computer glitch and forget about it.

But what really happens is when they click that attachment, it activates a program behind the scenes that goes and collects everything in the Documents folder and sends it back to the hacker. And guess what’s in that folder – the client list with all the contact information and work history.

That’s the essence of spearphishing. Rather than send out a hundred emails to the employees of a company, the scammer just sends out one targeted one, to a specific person, with very particular and personal information on it, to avoid any suspicion in the hopes that that one person doesn’t suspect anything. It’s a lot of work for just that one email, but the payoff is potentially much larger because of the high-value target.

But you can prevent either of these types of attacks from being successful, by following these two rules:

  1. Don’t open email attachments
  2. Don’t click on a link unless you KNOW for sure where it will take you

There are a few exceptions to rule #1, but in general I just don’t open attachments. The exception would be when I know ahead of time to expect that email with that attachment, and I know exactly what the attached file is, and I trust the person who sent it to me.

Nov 11 2019

10mins

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iTunes Ratings

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I learn so much!

By Bridget Carrie - Oct 24 2016
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This is probably the most valuable podcast around.

Great show

By pperk97 - Jul 22 2016
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Scott does a VERY good job at making the subjects meaningfull and easy.