Cover image of The Computer Tutor
(73)
Technology

The Computer Tutor

Updated 9 days ago

Technology
Read more

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

Read more

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

iTunes Ratings

73 Ratings
Average Ratings
67
4
0
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.

iTunes Ratings

73 Ratings
Average Ratings
67
4
0
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.

Listen to:

Cover image of The Computer Tutor

The Computer Tutor

Updated 9 days ago

Read more

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

Rank #1: How to change the font size when viewing websites

Podcast cover
Read more

It’s the weirdest thing – as I get older, a lot of websites have decided to make their print size smaller and more difficult to read. So rude of them! But in Chrome (and Firefox), I have the option to make the words bigger.

I get this request fairly often from clients. Sometimes they think they’ve figured out how to do it themselves. But that’s only temporary.

They’ll open Chrome, click on the 3 dots, and spot the menu item that says “Zoom” with a percentage next to it. They’ll adjust it to 125% or 150% which makes everything on the page larger (including any images), and it all looks great. Problem solved, right? No – it only changes the appearance of that one website. When a different website is opened, it will be reset back to the standard 100% and everything is back to small size again.

But you CAN adjust the size of what you see on the screen, and have it stay that way for every website you open with Chrome. You just have to get into the Settings section.

So you need to click on the 3 dots in the top right, then click on Settings.

Scroll down a little to the “Appearance” section and you’ll see a couple of places where you can make this adjustment:

If you want, you can change just the font size. The options are:

  • very small
  • small
  • medium
  • large
  • very large

So you can experiment with it, and see which one you like the best. For some people, this is the only adjustment needed. If you’re reading a blog, or an online article, or your Facebook news feed, you might only need for the text itself to be larger. This will solve that problem.

The other option you can see listed is page zoom. You can zoom out (meaning everything on the web page gets smaller) or you can zoom in (everything gets larger). Again, this is something you can experiment with to see how you like it. You have options ranging from 25% of the normal size, all the way up to 500%.

Once you have these things set to your preference, just close the Settings tab (there’s no “Save” button to lock in your choices). Now you can close Chrome, or even restart your computer, and when you come back you will still have those Font Size and Page Zoom settings the way you like them.

And what if you’re using Firefox and need to make these adjustments? You have the option there as well, although it works a little differently.

For page zoom, you can click on the 3 horizontal lines in the top right corner, and in the menu that drops down you’ll see Page Zoom percentage options. You can change the settings here, but you can only change this on a page-by-page basis. So if you want to adjust Page Zoom on a different website, you’ll have to go to that website and make the same adjustment.

For font size, you can make that change and have it in effect for ANY websites you visit. Just click the 3 horizontal lines, then click Options. Scroll down to the “Language and Appearance” section and choose the font size you want:

For both Chrome and Firefox, you also have the option to change the actual font (Times New Roman, Arial, etc.). I wouldn’t recommend this in most cases, unless the font being used by the website makes the text too difficult to read.

Dec 04 2017

8mins

Play

Rank #2: Where’s a good hacker when you need one?

Podcast cover
Read more

Want to find out your roommate’s Facebook password? Need to have a few “below average” grades removed from your college transcript? Would you like to have some embarrassing pictures removed from Google search results? If you find yourself in need of these or similar services, what you really need is… a hacker!

One thing you need to realize is that the term “hacker” has evolved over the years, and now it doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. In the past, if someone mentioned a hacker, it would conjure up images of someone trying to use their own computer to break into another computer somewhere, like the Pentagon or something. Of course, there are still people that try to do that, and they are still pretty much referred to as hackers.

But “hacking” has now taken on a whole new range of meanings. These days, it often means that someone has figured out a way to do something that makes it easier, or a process that just seems to make more sense.

For example – if your microwave has old particles of dried food on the inside because of splatter that has accumulated, and you want to easily clean it, here’s a kitchen “hack” – fill a bowl with water and microwave it for a couple of minutes. The steam will loosen the dried-on food, making it easier to clean off.

Here’s another one – if you notice little pieces of debris or dirt down between the keys of your computer keyboard, just take a single Post-It note and drag it in between the rows to pick up some of that junk. That’s a “hack” that I’ve been doing for a long time.

There’s actually a very popular website devoted to hacks in all areas of life – it’s Lifehacker.com. There are some great ideas on there.

BUT… what if you need one of the old-style hackers? You know, the kind of sneaky person that knows how to get into some other computer and change things around or manipulate some information in your favor? That’s when you need Hackerslist!

You can find this at Hackerslist.com, and what it’s supposed to be is just what the name indicates – a list of hackers advertising their services for whatever type of computer hacking job you need to have done.

You can post your hacking job request, and what you’re willing to pay, and then the “hackers” on the site can bid on your job. In browsing the site, here are some of the hacking jobs being requested:

Fiance Gmail Password:
I would like the current password of my fiancé’s GMAIL email account due to work issues he is having that he will not let me help him with that are affecting our relationship. Obviously remaining discreet and professional, thank you.
Willing to pay: $200 – $300

Need to hack a dating website:
I want access to a person’s account on a dating website. I know the person’s full name as well as their username. I am not sure if this project is even possible. I want to be able to see/read this person’s messages and friends. If possible, I want this done without them finding out so that I can access the account multiple times.
Willing to pay: $100 – $1000

Clean driving record:
I need a hacker to clean my driving record in AZ. recently received a DUI and got an “Admin per se” diving with BAC > .08. Also remove any driving tickets i may have. Remove my suspention currently in place
Willing to pay: $100 – $1000

Project Justice:
I have been cheated by my business partner and He has managed to disconnect me from all business contracts. I wanted to find how he swindled the money.
Willing to pay: $500 – $2000

Credit Report:
Fix credit bureau information and erroneous data stored.
Willing to pay: $500 – $2000

Frankly, I don’t know of some of these things are even possible. I’m sure a lot of people would like to just pay some money and have their driving record cleaned up, but my guess is that the Department of Motor Vehicles has their computer system pretty well locked down so that stuff like that just doesn’t happen. Of course, the big exception would be if the “hacker” is really just someone that works at the DMV and has access to make those changes. But would they really risk their job (and possibly jail time) just for $1000? I guess some people would.

And what about the one about removing erroneous information from a credit report? That’s something that the owner of that credit report can do for free, but I suppose some people don’t know that.

And what if someone SAYS they can hack into Gmail and get someone’s password, but then you pay the money and it turns out they are unable to do the job? The website has anticipated that problem and taken a few steps to protect its users:

1. If a hacker doesn’t maintain at least a 3-star rating or if he has too many disputes, he is removed from the site.

2. The website administrators have to approve a hacker before he is even allowed to bid on any projects.

3. Hackers with low ratings are charged a higher percentage, so they have a financial incentive to have more positive reviews.

4. Escrow – you can choose to have your payment held in escrow, so that the hacker doesn’t get paid until you say you are satisfied that he completed the job.

One of the interesting things on the site is their disclaimer – “Hackerslist is intended for legal and ethical use. If you feel a project violates our terms of service please report the listing immediately. We do our best to moderate projects however we rely on the community to aid in this process.” Of course they have to put something on there so that they can claim innocence when they are inevitably sued. But it seems to be just a formality, since I’m sure a large percentage of the jobs up for bid on the site are actually illegal, and many of them were posted several weeks or months ago.

It’s a fun thing to check out anyway, even if you would never actually hire a hacker. I’m no marriage counselor, but I would think hacking into your fiance’s email is probably not a good start for a lifelong relationship.

Feb 09 2015

11mins

Play

Rank #3: How to stop Gmail from adding events to your Google calendar

Podcast cover
Read more

I use my Google calendar for just about everything that goes on in my life. This includes all of my onsite computer repair appointments here in Safety Harbor of course, but also birthday and anniversary reminders, dentist appointments, online webinars, etc. So I don’t like it when I get an email to remind me of an appointment, and it automatically ADDS that appointment to my Google calendar. Here’s how to disable that from happening.

Here’s what usually happens.

I’ll go to the dentist for the 6-month checkup, and before I leave, we set an appointment for the next visit. So I enter that in my Google calendar on that date 6 months into the future. That way I won’t accidentally book anything else into that time.

Then, 5 months and 3 weeks later, my dentist office sends me an email to remind me of that appointment. And just to double check, I go to my Google calendar and look, and in that time slot I now have TWO appointments booked for the dentist at that date and time. One is the appointment I entered 6 months previously, and the other one was just put there by that email that came in. So I have to delete one of them.

The same thing happens when I sign up to attend an online webinar. I’ll put it on my calendar so I don’t forget, but inevitably the webinar system automatically sends out a reminder to everyone that registered. So I end up with two entries for that one event again.

I just want these “convenient” reminder emails to leave my calendar alone! Fortunately there’s an easy solution.

You can just disable Gmail from being able to add those events to your calendar automatically. Here’s how:

1. In your Google Calendar, click on the Settings gear icon in the top right corner, and click on “Settings” in the drop down menu:

2. Scroll down until you see “Events from Gmail”, and UNcheck the box next to “Add automatically”:

3. You’ll get this little warning pop-up, so you should obviously click on “Continue”:

4. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and click Save.

All done! Now the only entries you’ll find in your Google Calendar are ones that you deliberately created yourself.

Jan 30 2017

7mins

Play

Rank #4: How to create a recovery drive for Windows 10

Podcast cover
Read more

Recently I had a client with a Windows 10 computer that would power on, but it wouldn’t boot all the way into the Windows operating system. Sometimes Windows will run self-diagnosis and repair the problem and reboot. But what if you reboot, and it just keeps coming up to the same error screen? That’s when you need a Windows 10 recovery drive.

If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about with that bootup error screen, here’s what it might look like:

Of course, the one you might see may not look exactly like that. Especially the error code, since there are lots of different ones. But what this type of error message means is that without some type of repair, the computer won’t be able to boot into the Windows 10 operating system.

Unless… unless you have a Windows 10 recovery drive.

Here’s the catch – if you see that error screen and you haven’t created your recovery drive, it’s too late to create one using this computer (though you could go to a different Windows 10 computer and create one). So the best time to create one of these is right now, while your Windows 10 computer is booting up and working properly.

You only need two things to create this recovery drive – your working Windows 10 computer, and a flash drive. One of these:

A 16 gb flash drive should be plenty big enough (here’s a 16gb flash drive on Amazon). Even 8 gb would probably be okay. That is, unless you’re going to back up the system files from your computer to the flash drive (that might sound complicated but it’s just a matter of checking a box – you’ll see in the process below). If you want to do that, you should probably get a 32 gb flash drive (here’s a 32gb flash drive on Amazon).

Keep in mind, you may not be creating this recovery drive with plans to use it yourself. You might not know how to get your computer to boot up to a flash drive, and you might not know how to use it once it is booted up. That doesn’t matter – even if you see that error code and have your computer tech come over to fix it, it will be a help to him if you have this recovery drive already created. Or if you have everyone over to your house for Thanksgiving dinner and your computer gives this error message, there’s a chance that one of your family members might know enough about computers to use this recovery drive and solve the problem.

Here’s how to create the Windows 10 Recovery Drive

1. Insert your flash drive into a USB port, and once it is recognized, note what drive letter gets assigned to it (such as drive E, drive F, etc.).

2. In the search field (lower left area of the screen), type: recovery drive. It will come up in the search results:

3. Now you’ll see the window where you’ll actually start the process to create the recovery drive. Either check the box or don’t check it, and click Next.

(If you don’t choose to back up the system files to the recovery drive, that’s fine. Without the system files, you can still repair Windows with this recovery drive. The advantage of having the system files copied to the recovery drive is that you can then actually reinstall Windows from that flash drive if you ever needed to. As I mentioned earlier, if you opt for that, it will take more space on the flash drive so you’ll need a bigger one. If the one you have isn’t big enough, you’ll get an alert about that.)

4. Now you wait for a few seconds while your computer looks for your flash drive

5. Now it finds the flash drive (and maybe some other drives you might have connected). Choose the flash drive and make sure there’s nothing important on there, because whatever is on there will be wiped out when the recovery drive creation process kicks in. Then click Next.

6. You’ll get another warning about all of the files on the flash drive being deleted, then click Create:

7. You’ll see the progress bar as the Recovery Drive is created on your flash drive:

This will take several minutes. Go walk your dog, or just walk yourself to take a break from the computer for a bit. Might take maybe 15 minutes (just a rough guess). When you come back, you’ll see that it’s all done:

Now just label that drive as “Windows 10 recovery drive” and keep it in a safe place, where you can access it easily. But hopefully you’ll never need it!

Feb 06 2017

9mins

Play

Rank #5: Malwarebytes plan is changing – get your lifetime license while you can!

Podcast cover
Read more

Update: Unfortunately, since version 2 was released, Malwarebytes is no longer working properly. In fact I have seen on several computers where it is messing up other programs, including my clients’ online file backup software. I am recommending that Malwarebytes be uninstalled. The security software we now use and recommend is here.

I have been using and recommending Malwarebytes (the paid version) for many years now.  It’s a great tool, and provides a good level of security in addition to your antivirus program.  Malwarebytes recently announced that their business model is changing.  This means that you have a window of opportunity to take advantage of their current pricing, because it will soon change permanently from a single payment lifetime license to an annual subscription.

As a refresher –

Malwarebytes has 2 options for their antispyware program.  You can get the free version or the paid version.

The free version installs on your computer, and you can run it whenever you want to do a scan.  When you run it, it will update itself and scan your drives for any malicious software, then remove it for you.  But, if you never run it, it won’t do anything other than sit on your computer.

The paid version runs all the time in the background (you can see it in the System Tray when it’s running).  This means it will block that stuff from coming into your computer in the first place.  Also, the paid version has a Website Blocker, so it will pop up a warning if you are about to click through to a malicious or infected website.

In my opinion, your computer will be properly protected if you use Microsoft Security Essentials (free antivirus) in combination with the paid version of Malwarebytes.

For many years, Malwarebytes has charged $24.95 for the paid version.  This is a lifetime license for your computer.  And in fact you could install Malwarebytes on your next computer and use the same license codes.  This was a great deal (and you even get a discount if you purchased licenses for 2 or more computers at the same time).

That is now changing.

Malwarebytes is about to come out with version 2, and with the introduction of that, they are changing to an annual subscription.  The new pricing will be $24.95 per year.  In addition, this one license will be good for 3 computers.

Here is the important thing to note: at the time of this blog post, you can still purchase the lifetime license for the single payment of $24.95.  You can get it here.  (Note: that’s an affiliate link, so when you purchase from that link they will pay me a small commission.)

Some questions and answers:

Question: When is the price officially going to go up to the annual subscription model?
Answer: Malwarebytes has not announced a specific date when version 2 will be released and the subscription model will go into effect.

Question: If I buy the lifetime license now, will I still get version 2 when it is released?
Answer: Yes

I am one of the beta testers for the version 2 software, and I really like it.  It has a much more modern interface, and it’s easy to use.  I have it installed on my Windows 8 computer, so by the time you get the full release version 2 I will be very familiar with it and can help you configure it if needed.

Personally, I am glad they are changing to the annual subscription model.  The one-time payment for a lifetime license was really way underpriced.  The company provides daily updates to the malware definitions, which requires a lot of resources to keep up with.  Plus they have come out with a new version of the program a few times, which is also expensive.  By creating a more predictable cash flow annually, it will enable them to invest more into new products and development, and we will all benefit from that by having a safer computer experience.

Another positive from this is that Malwarebytes did not opt to keep the product free but put in advertising or junk downloads or toolbars.  I would rather pay a few dollars for a product annually than have to navigate through all that garbage.

Finally, you should go check out their site at Malwarebytes.org.  They have a LOT more software than just Malwarebytes, and several are free:

  • File Assassin: got a file on your computer that you can’t delete because Windows says it is locked?  Unlock it with this program (free)
  • Reg Assassin: cleans out malware entries in your computer’s registry (free).
  • Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit: finds rootkits (malware that works at the root of your C drive) and gets rid of them.  Note that this is a product currently in beta testing stage (free).

Get your lifetime Malwarebytes license: ComputerTutorFlorida.com/malwarebytes

Feb 17 2014

12mins

Play

Rank #6: For computer security, you need these 3 things

Podcast cover
Read more

Update: Unfortunately, since version 2 was released, Malwarebytes is no longer working properly. In fact I have seen on several computers where it is messing up other programs, including my clients’ online file backup software. I am recommending that Malwarebytes be uninstalled. The security software we now use and recommend is here.

“What’s the best antivirus to use?”  It’s a question that I am asked on a pretty regular basis.  There are lots of choices out there, and everyone seems to have a different opinion.  In the end, of course, that’s all I can really offer – my opinion.  But it is based on lots of experience, and it has worked for me as well as hundreds of my clients.

I feel that there are 3 primary things – 3 important components – that are needed in order to keep your computer secure.  A quick abbreviation of these would be MSE, MB, and UB.

Thing One: a decent antivirus program

The one I use and recommend is Microsoft Security Essentials.  Get it here.  It’s free.  It will update itself automatically, and it will do a scan either daily or weekly, depending on what you prefer (I just do a scan once a week).  If you use Windows 8, you already have this program installed – but it’s called Defender.  Essentially the same program.  But you need to make sure it is already running, updating and scanning.

I’ve been using MSE for more than 3 years now and have been pretty happy with it.  However, just having it installed without the other 2 computer security components would be insufficient.

Thing Two: a good anti-malware program

I’ve been using Malwarebytes for years and highly recommend it.  Get it here (affiliate link).  You might be tempted to just get the free version, but don’t do it.  Get the “Pro” version.  It only costs $24.95 per year and that gives you licenses for 3 computers.

Here’s the difference.  The free version is installed on your computer, but it doesn’t do anything unless you remember to click on it manually and do a scan.  If it finds bad stuff, you can get rid of it then.  But wouldn’t you want to keep that stuff off your computer in the first place?  The Pro version runs all the time in the background, and will potentially block a lot of the malware that tries to get in.  It will also update itself and scan your computer on whatever schedule you prefer.  And a bonus feature: if you happen to click on a link that leads to an infected or known malicious website, Malwarebytes Pro will throw up a red flag and block you from going there.

So it’s important to have both of those programs installed and running on your computer.  But without the third component, you’re still going to be vulnerable.

Thing Three: User Behavior

I might even venture to say that the User Behavior component is the most important of the 3 things.  By this, I mean that you – the user of your computer – need to always be aware of what you are doing.  Whether you are reading email, doing a Google search, or playing an online game, you must be careful and deliberate about where you go and what you click on.  Don’t be this person:

Here are some basic guidelines:

1. Don’t open email attachments unless you know what it is.  This is regardless of who the email says it’s from, and regardless of what the text in the email says.  Most people know this already, but even computer users that are aware of this can get tricked into clicking on an attachment.  That’s why email attachments are still the primary way that viruses are distributed.

2. Don’t trust Google search results to be safe.  A large portion of the websites that come up in Google searches are just there to infect your computer with junkware/malware/adware.  Especially dangerous are searches for free games, free music, free screensavers, etc.  Scammers know that millions of people search for these things all the time, and they’re ready.

3. Don’t assume that “tech support” person on the phone is legitimate.  Fake tech support is a huge scam now, and continues to grow.  If you’re looking for tech support, remember #2 above – you might find a website that claims that they are certified by Yahoo, or that they are affiliated with Google, or that they work for Microsoft.  But they don’t.  And if you get an unexpected phone call from ANY person or company that claims your computer is “sending out errors” or something similar, and they are contacting you to help fix it, it is a scam.  Don’t give them access to your computer, and don’t give them your credit card (they will ask for both).  Just hang up.

(For some entertainment, and to see how clever the fake tech support guys are, check out this video I made when I was talking to one of them and pretending to be an unsuspecting victim.)

4. Don’t let software get installed unless you know what it is.  This is another huge issue, and I see the effects of it on most computers I work on.  You might go looking for a legitimate program, such as CCleaner or Adobe Reader.  That program itself is okay, but during the installation they will try to slip in other software that you didn’t request and don’t need.  You need to be constantly on the lookout for checkboxes that are pre-checked by default, and for “Agree” or “Accept” buttons that are really just granting permission for junk software to get installed on your computer.

So there they are – the 3 important components of computer security.  If you’re only using one or two of them, you are only partially protected.  Don’t be a victim.

Apr 21 2014

16mins

Play

Rank #7: This classified ads service is better than Craigslist

Podcast cover
Read more

Everyone knows Craigslist as “the” online classified ads site. It’s been around forever. But now there are other options so we’re not stuck with the limitations of Craigslist anymore. The site I really like is called OfferUp.

You can use OfferUp from your computer (just go to offerup.com) but it’s really designed to be used from your phone. That’s what makes it so incredibly easy and fast to use, whenever you want to sell something.

From your phone (Android or iPhone) get the OfferUp app, then just follow these steps in the app:

  1. Click on Post
  2. Choose a picture to display (you can use up to 5 pictures). You can either take a picture with your phone right then and use it, or select from pictures that are already on your phone.
  3. Write the title, like “full size mattress, great condition”
  4. Write the description and selling price
  5. Click “Post” and your ad is live

So simple!

And a lot better (in my opinion anyway) than Craigslist. Here’s why I say that:

– OfferUp has a much more modern user interface. If you look at the Craigslist website, you’ll see that it is using the same boring format that was there when it was originally created.

– When you post on OfferUp, the item for sale is immediately live. With Craigslist, it’s usually at least 15 minutes before it shows up in searches. And sometimes when Craigslist “ghosts” your ad, it NEVER shows up. And they don’t contact you to tell you that.

– OfferUp has user ratings. This is one of my pet peeves about Craigslist – when I set a time to meet someone who is either selling something, or buying something from me, at least half the time the other person just doesn’t show up. Even people that email and say “I’m on my way now” somehow never make it to the meeting spot and don’t call or email to say they won’t be there. With OfferUp, if someone does that, you can include that information in the rating/review so that other people will know about it before they decide to deal with this person. When someone knows their reputation is at stake, they are probably going to act more responsibly. Craigslist has no user rating system and both parties can remain anonymous if they want to).

– OfferUp has it’s own messaging system, built right into the app. This is very convenient. Craigslist still relies on its antiquated “anonymous email” process.

– With Craigslist you cannot repost or “bump” an item for sale more than once every 48 hours. OfferUp gives you the option to do this more often (at a cost of $1.99). This just means your item goes back to the top of the list, so that users who are browsing are more likely to see it.

– OfferUp gives you a real-time display of how many people have viewed your item’s listing. This is nice to know. With Craigslist, you can add some code and display a counter in the listing itself I think (or at least you used to be able to) but it’s not a part of Craigslist’s process and it’s definitely not as easy.

I think the only advantage for Craigslist is the fact that it has been around longer, so more people are aware of it. However, OfferUp has become a dominate player in this game so when you list something, it will be seen by a lot of people. I recently did list a mattress on OfferUp, like I mentioned in the example above. This was late one afternoon. It ended up getting 82 views, and someone came and purchased it the next morning. Can’t complain about that.

There is another popular app that works similarly to OfferUp. It’s called LetGo. Pretty much the same process, but I just like OfferUp better. If you are really serious about selling something, probably the best strategy would be to OfferUp, LetGo, AND Craigslist. They’re all free, and the more eyeballs you can put on your item, the better, right?

Do you use an online selling service such as these, that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments.

Oct 30 2017

10mins

Play

Rank #8: Google wants your phone number – so give it to them

Podcast cover
Read more

Everyone seems to be in a panic about privacy these days. All the big companies want to know everything about you, and most people are reluctant to give up any more information than they really need to (with one exception – we willingly tell Facebook everything about ourselves). But when Google asks you for your phone number – you definitely should give it to them.

“What??”

“Google is evil! They want to know too much about me!”

“I don’t want to give them any more personal details!”

That’s fine. I understand that. And in general, I agree with the idea that protecting your personal information is a good thing. But this is an exception.

First of all, this only applies if you have a Google account. How would you answer these questions:

  • Do you use Gmail?
  • Do you use a Google Calendar?
  • Do you use Google Photos?
  • Do you have a YouTube account?
  • Do you use Google Drive?
  • Do you get apps from the Play Store for your Android phone?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you have a Google account.

Now the big question: why does Google want your phone number? What are they going to do with it?

Well, they aren’t going to call you at dinner time to sell you a time share or ask for a charity donation.

Google wants your phone number, so they can help you get your account back if for some reason you are unable to log in.

For me, all of my email comes in through Gmail (I actually have several Gmail accounts, for different purposes). What if suddenly you could not access your email account? How big of a problem would that be for you? That means you can’t get new emails coming in now, which is an issue in itself. But you also cannot go to Gmail.com and access any of your PAST emails (although you still could see the old emails if you have them stored on your computer). You also don’t have access to your Gmail contact list. Or your Google calendar. Or any of the photos you have backed up in Google Photos (a great way to backup all of your photos, by the way). Or anything else you use your Google account for.

This would be an issue you would want to get resolved as soon as possible. And the way to get it fixed is for Google to either send you a text message with a special one-time code, or to call you and give you that code. You enter that code on their site, and you then have access to change your password to a new one. And you’re back in business that quick.

But if Google doesn’t have your phone number, it’s not that easy.

They could also send that code to an alternate email address that you provide them (yes, you should give them that information as well). Hopefully you still have access to that old email account – you might not though, if it was from an internet provider you cancelled 10 years ago.

You can also resolve this by answering some security questions that Google has on file. Assuming you remember those answers. I had a client recently that had to answer one of those. The question was “What is your favorite movie?” and she had to think about it for a minute because she originally answered that question a few years earlier. Fortunately she was able to get it right after a few tries, but it was a little risky to depend on that one thing.

Giving Google your phone number and the other information they need is really easy. Just go to Google.com and sign in to your account. Then click on your picture up in the top right, and in the drop-down menu click on “My Account”.

On the next page, look on the left side for the “Security Checkup” area and click on “Get Started”. Google will walk you through the rest from there.

Keep this in mind: you can only do this BEFORE you lose access to your Google or Gmail account. That means you need to do it now!

Aug 07 2017

12mins

Play

Rank #9: Eliminate distractions and get more work done

Podcast cover
Read more

A lot of us suffer from a particular affliction.  It’s called distraction.

I might notice this more than some people because I work from a home office.  I can be completely focused on doing something, such as building a website or diagnosing a computer that isn’t working properly.  Then something happens.  Usually it’s an email that comes in.  My computer notifies me that I have a new email, so I take a second and see who sent it and if it needs my reply.  Then I do a quick Facebook check and end up making a comment or two on there.  And as long as I’m on the computer, might as well check to see if there are any new YouTube videos on the channels where I subscribe.



And before you know it, I’ve spent 20-30 minutes on activities that are of no value to me or to my clients.  That’s crazy.  But it’s very easy to do.  And this is becoming more of a problem not just with people that work from home, but even those in an office.  A lot of these outside distractions that come in through the computer are now seen more frequently in the workplace, and it’s something we all need to fight against.

It might seem that the solution is simple.  Just don’t get distracted.  Easy, right?

“Focus, Scott!  Ignore that email chime and that funny video that just popped up.  Just stay focused on your work!”  That might work for a little while.  And I find that I do tend to be more focused when I have a deadline and no choice but to complete a certain project.  But the “self pep talk” doesn’t really work in the long run.

For me, I have found a different solution that is working great.  I’m using a free program called Cold Turkey.  You can get it at GetColdTurkey.com.

Cold Turkey uses self-imposed limitations.  In other words, since I can’t always trust myself to ignore the distracting websites and programs that want my attention, I use this program to lock me out of them for a certain period of time.

You can download the program from the website mentioned above, and I found that installing it did not include any sneaky stuff to watch out for (you should still pay close attention though, because that could always change).

After it is installed and you run it, you just need to answer a few questions.

First, what websites do you want to be blocked from visiting?  You just check the ones that apply.

Next, click on the “Programs” tab and add any programs you want to have blocked (such as Outlook or any games you might like to play).

Then, there is the “Custom” tab that allows you to enter any websites that distract you, that might not be in their standard list of sites.  I tend to spend too much time on Craigslist, so I put that in there.  I also found that you can’t just put the primary domain, “craigslist.org” – you also need to put the subdomain of where you are.  For me, that means “tampa.craigslist.org”.

Now that you have chosen what distractions to block, you need to determine how long the block will last.  You just enter the date and time – that’s when the blocks will come off and you can access those things again.  You can set it for a few minutes into the future, or a few weeks.  I checked on how far in advance you could set it, and the maximum is a month.

After you have set the date and time for the block to stop, click the “Go Cold Turkey” button.  As you see, there is a little checkbox that will allow you to update your Facebook status one last time before you are locked out.

And even after THAT – you still get one more confirmation screen so you can back out:


But once you click that last button, you’re committed.  However, you might not see it go into effect unless you close your browser window(s) and open them again.

Once the block is in effect, what happens?  Well, here’s what you see when you try to access a blocked site, such as Facebook:

This will be the result for any web browser you use, whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, whatever.

You might be thinking, “Ah, I’ll get around that – I’ll just restart my computer to disable the block”.  Well, first of all, now you’re wasting time trying to figure out how to waste more time.  The whole purpose is to eliminate the distractions and get on with the real work.  Anyway, restarting the computer does not get rid of the block.  In fact, you would have to be pretty computer savvy to be able to get past the block while it’s in effect.  At least that’s what I gather by reading about it.  I have not pursued ways to subvert it, because I want to use it to my advantage.

I find the psychological effect of this pretty amazing.  Once I have this software blocking me from going to time-wasting websites, I feel sort of “free”.  At that point, it’s not a matter of my self-discipline keeping me on task, because going to those other sites is not even an option.  What am I going to do, just sit and stare at the screen?  It enables me to really focus my thoughts on the work I have to do, and get it done.

Cold Turkey is only available for Windows computers.  However, if you use a Mac, there is a similar program called Self Control.  You can get it at SelfControlApp.com.

Sep 09 2013

11mins

Play

Rank #10: Use a flash drive to give your PC a quick boost of energy

Podcast cover
Read more

Sometimes you might be in a situation where you need to give your computer a quick boost of RAM (memory) in order for it to be able to handle an extra load.  Maybe you’re working on an older computer, and you have Word, Chrome, Photoshop and maybe a few other programs all running at the same time, and your old PC is choking on all those memory-intensive programs.  Fortunately, there’s a way to just give it a nice “nudge” by bumping up the available memory.  All you need is a blank flash drive.

Note that the important word about the flash drive is “blank”.  The first step in this process is to format the flash drive, which will wipe everything off it.  So make sure there is nothing important on there that you need to save somewhere else first.

Your computer might currently have anywhere from 1 gb of memory (RAM) to 8 or even 16 gb.  The programs on your computer use this memory to run, and they all have to share the memory at the same time.  If there are a lot of programs running, all of them will run more slowly because there is only so much memory to go around among them.

It’s like if you and some friends had a pie to share.  If you want as much pie as possible, it’s a lot better to share the pie with 4 friends than with 10 friends.  But if you can add another pie or two, that’s a solution as well.

The trick I’m talking about today is like adding more pie (memory) so there’s more to share.  That way, all of the programs running should be able to run faster.

Setting this up is pretty simple.  Here’s how you do it:

1. Plug in the flash drive.  Click the Start button, then click Computer.  You’ll see the icons for the various drives displayed there, including the one for the flash drive:

2. If you have not done so already, do a right click on the flash drive and choose Format.  This clears everything off the drive so that the whole thing is available for use.  In the image above, you can see that the available space shows as 3.76 gb of space, but this is a 4 gb drive – that’s normal.

3. After the format is finished, close that window and then once again do a right click on the flash drive icon.  This time, choose Properties.  In the new window, click on the ReadyBoost tab:

4. In that window click on the option that says “Use this device” and slide the marker all the way to the right in order to take full advantage of all the memory on the drive:

5. Click OK to close the window, then close the “Computer” window with the red X up in the right corner.

If you try this, let me know what you experience as far as increased speed.  When I did it, it wasn’t a huge difference, but my computer is running 8 gb of memory already so it’s pretty fast anyway.  It would probably be a lot more noticeable if a computer is running 1 or 2 gb of memory, and the flash drive added another 4 gb or 8 gb.

When you’re done with your need for this extra RAM, you can take out the drive and use it for storage again.

Feb 03 2014

7mins

Play

Rank #11: How I customize Chrome

Podcast cover
Read more

Chrome is great even if you just leave it alone and use it with the default settings. But I like to customize and “tweak” it a few different ways to make it even better.

Basically what I’m describing here today is the process I go through when I’m setting up Chrome on a client’s computer they’ve just purchased, or on a laptop that I’ll have available for sale.

The following steps involve going in to the Chrome Settings. To get to that area, you need to click the 3 little dots in the top right area of the Chrome window (see below). That will give you a menu, and in that menu you can click on “Settings”.

1. Set Chrome as the default browser. In a new computer, Windows 10 REALLY wants you to use their Edge browser to view websites. So if you don’t change anything, Edge will be the default browser. In Windows 7 or 8, the default is Internet Explorer. We don’t want that; we want Chrome. So go into Settings , scroll down to the “Default browser” section and click on “Make Default”:

For Windows 7 or 8, that’s just about all you have to do. For Windows 10, it will take you to a “Default Programs” page in the Windows settings, and you have to choose Chrome from a list. They’ll pop up a message about how great Edge is to talk you out of it, but you just click on “Switch anyway” and it’s done.

2. Set your home page tabs. When Chrome opens, you can have it open just one tab to whatever website you want (such as just the plain Google search page, or Facebook, or something else). Or, you can have it open a bunch of tabs with a different website in each one. For me, I have about a half-dozen tabs open each time I open Chrome (these are websites I visit regularly).

So the first thing you do is open up whatever websites you want, one in each tab. You just need to get Chrome set with those websites. Then click to the Settings area, and scroll down to the “On Startup” section, and click on “Open a specific page or set of pages”, then click on “Use Current Pages”.

Now close Chrome and open it again, and you’ll see all of your tabs are right there, and they’ll be there like that every time you open Chrome.

3. Set your default search engine to Google, and get rid of the others. Of course, since Chrome is a Google product, the default search should be Google already. So just go to Settings and scroll down to the “Search Engine” section. Make sure Google is the one displayed like this:

Then click on the “Manage Search Engines” arrow and you’ll see a list of the “other” search engines that are available (like below). Click on the 3 dots out at the right side of each one, and choose to remove them one by one (except for Google, of course).

Why Google even includes those other search engines, I don’t know (especially junk like Ask).

4. Set up your ad blocker. I wrote a whole blog post about this recently. The ad blocker I use and recommend is uBlock Origin. If you open Chrome and do a Google search for “ublock origin” it will be the first thing that comes up. Just click it and follow the instructions for installing it as an extension in Chrome. It’s the best thing in the world for blocking ads on almost any website you visit.

For my own computer, the other extension that I definitely install is LastPass. This is the program that stores all of my passwords for me. This means that I can use really long, random passwords – and LastPass actually creates them for me as well. I don’t set up LastPass on the laptops that I sell because you have to have a LastPass account (which is free). But I definitely recommend it.

5. Display the bookmarks toolbar. For websites I check on regularly, I like the convenience of having them right at the top of my Chrome window, ready for me to click at any time. To do that, you have to tell Chrome to display that toolbar all the time. To do that, just hold down Ctrl and Shift, and tap the letter “b” (for bookmarks). You’ll see the toolbar show up right under the address bar in Chrome. And you can drag any website address there you want, and it will always show up there for quick, easy access.

These are the things I do as part of my routine when setting up Chrome. But of course, there are LOTS more ways you can customize it. There are thousands of Chrome extensions that do all kinds of cool things (in fact, I’ll probably do a blog post about the best Chrome extensions at some point – if you have a great one, let me know about it).

Jul 10 2017

12mins

Play

Rank #12: What’s the difference between POP and IMAP?

Podcast cover
Read more

If you use Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird or some other email software on your computer, this is something you (or your tech) has dealt with. When you set up a new email account, one of the questions is whether or not you want the email protocol to be POP or IMAP. What’s the difference between them? Does it matter which one you use?

First, you should know this: if you get your email by going to a website, the POP vs. IMAP question doesn’t really apply to you. You just go to the email website and there’s your email. You can read it, delete it, send email, whatever you want to do. The POP/IMAP issue only applies when you are running an actual email software program on your computer.

In the past, POP email protocol was the most popular choice. IMAP is now gaining in popularity mainly because of everyone getting email on their smartphones and tablets.

The main difference between the two has to do with syncing your various devices.

When you use IMAP, for example, your laptop that uses MS Outlook would always be in sync with the inbox that you access via the web (such as the one at Gmail.com). So if you open Outlook on your laptop, read an email and then delete it, the next time you go to Gmail.com you will see that it’s automatically deleted there as well. The website version of your email will always be the same as your Outlook version on the computer.

On the other hand, if you use POP, the devices don’t sync up automatically. You could check your email in Outlook on your laptop, and then if you go to the Gmail.com website, you would still see those same emails there in the Inbox.

Should you use POP or IMAP?

It’s really a personal preference. For my email, I use POP for a couple of reasons. The “not necessarily logical” reason is that I’ve always used POP and I’m used to how it works. I know what to expect. There is some value in familiarity, and it does work for me. The other reason I like it though is because it means I always have a backup of my emails on the Gmail.com web server. I know that even if I accidentally delete an email in Outlook on my computer, I can go to Gmail.com and that email will still be there. And it will really be there indefinitely, since Google gives you so much email server space to work with. I’ve had my Gmail account since they first came out in 2004, and right now I am only using about 30% of the available space.

I have to say though, the trend is moving toward IMAP. This is mainly because of people having so many different devices. One person might have a desktop, laptop, iPad and smartphone – and probably gets email on all of them. With IMAP, all of those devices are automatically synced with each other so if you get one email you don’t have to delete it from 4 different devices. That’s efficiency. But, you better make sure you have your email backed up somewhere, because once you delete it from one device, it’s gone from all of them automatically.

Oct 20 2014

6mins

Play

Rank #13: First things to try when you have a computer problem

Podcast cover
Read more

As a computer technician, I spend a lot of time doing computer repair here in Safety Harbor, Florida (and remotely for clients around the country). Just about everyone has a computer (or several) these days, and eventually something goes wrong with almost all of them. If there were no computer problems I would have to go look for a real job! But there are certain situations that you might be able to take care of on your own, just by trying one or two steps first.

Problem: no internet connection

First thing to do: restart your modem and router
The company that you pay for your internet access provides you with a modem. In some cases, the modem is also a router. Or, you might use the internet company’s modem along with a router that you purchased yourself. There are even some cases where all you have is a modem (this is common if you only have one desktop computer and no need for a wifi connection).

Whatever your situation is, you need to unplug the modem and router from the electrical outlet, wait a minute, then plug them back in. In many cases, this will bring back your internet connection so your computer is able to go online again.

Of course, you could just call your internet provider, navigate through their phone menu, wait on hold for a while, and then the first thing they’re going to have you do is power down the modem and router anyway. Save some time and do that first.

Another option: If your computer is a laptop that uses wifi to connect to the internet, you could check and see if the wifi is physically switched on. For some laptops, there is a simple slide switch on the front or side that may have gotten bumped into the “Off” position. Or you might see one of the keyboard keys that has a small indicator light that’s orange (meaning wifi is off) and when you tap it, the color changes to blue (meaning wifi is on).


Problem:
a program won’t run


First thing to do:
restart the computer
Actually, restarting the computer is sort of a “magic pill” for fixing computer problems. When someone tells me they keep clicking on an icon for a particular program and it just doesn’t do anything, I’ll ask them when was the last time the computer was restarted. Many times the answer is several days or even weeks. Not good! Your PC, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop, should be restarted each day or at least every couple of days. The easiest thing is whenever you’re done using it for a while, just do a restart then. When you come back to it, the restart will be completed and the computer will be fresh and ready to use again.


Problem:
an error message appears on the screen

First thing to do: write down the actual text of the error message
So many times I’ll have someone call me and tell me that their computer needs repair. Here’s the typical dialogue:

Computer user: “My computer is acting really weird and not working right.”
Me: “How is it acting weird? What are you actually seeing on the screen?”
Computer user: “Well this error message keeps popping up telling me something something blah blah blah. Do you think it has a virus?”
Me: “What does the error message actually say?”
Computer user: “I don’t remember.”

The actual text of the error message is probably the biggest clue in diagnosing the problem, so write it down when you see it. Your computer guy, whether it’s me or someone else, will want to know what that is.

Even better – take a screenshot of it and email it to your computer tech. This might not be possible, depending on what kind of problems the computer is having, but it sure does help explain a lot of things more clearly than just a verbal description.

Problem: printer won’t print

First thing to do: check the print queue and clear it if necessary
If you try to print a document and for whatever reason it doesn’t print, then no print requests after that will be successful until you clear out that first one that didn’t work. A lot of times I’ll be on a client’s computer and they’ve been trying to print for a while without any success. Then when I look in the print queue, there are 5 or 10 files in there, all lined up but nothing printing – because they’re blocked by the first one that didn’t print.

To check the print queue, click the Start button and go to Devices and Printers. Double click your printer, then click on “See what’s printing”. Whatever is in that list needs to be cancelled. Then you can check on the printer (or have your tech check it) and see why the first document didn’t print.

Problem: Outlook won’t send an email

First thing to do: delete any emails in the Outbox folder
If you create an email and it has a mistake, it won’t be sent. A mistake could mean an email address that doesn’t make sense (like it’s missing the “@” sign), or it could mean that the email server settings in your Outlook account are not correct. Whatever the problem is, if that first email you sent has a mistake, Outlook can’t send it. And that means that any emails you create AFTER that won’t be sent – even if those subsequent emails don’t have that mistake any more. You have to delete the mistaken email first. This applies to both Outlook, and Windows Live Mail. Fix the mistake(s), empty the Outbox, and your emails will go (assuming everything else is working properly).

Oct 13 2014

11mins

Play

Rank #14: New device to speed up your internet consistently

Podcast cover
Read more

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

8mins

Play

Rank #15: Turn any online article into audio or a podcast

Podcast cover
Read more

Why do you think audio books are so popular now? I think it’s because people want to read, but they simply don’t have time to sit down and visually read a book. With audio books, you can “read” a book while you’re driving, or biking, or walking the dog.

But here’s the problem. There are lots of blogs and articles on the internet that are full of amazing content – but they are only available as text. Not audio. So you might miss out on a lot of good stuff, just because it takes too long to read and you don’t have time.

Now there’s a solution for that.

I recently discovered a service called Blog Reader. You can get it at blogreader.com.au.

Turns out, this service was created by a guy in Australia, Matt Segal, to solve his own problem. This is what he wrote on the website:

The way it works is pretty simple:

  1. You find a web page with content you want to listen to, and copy that page’s URL
  2. You submit the URL on the Blog Reader website
  3. The site reads the content on that webpage
  4. The site converts that content into an audio file
  5. The audio file gets added to a podcast feed that is only for you to see and use (use any podcast player)
  6. When you open that podcast feed, you see it there automatically.

If you’re not into podcasts – you also have the option to download the audio or listen to it right in your web browser.

Unfortunately this is not a completely free service, but it is very affordable. The cost is 2 AUD for each hour of audio (this currently converts to about $1.43 in US dollars). But you are able to try it out for free and see what you think – you get 5 free hours of audio when you create an account.

I tried it by sending it one of Seth Godin’s blog posts. I was actually surprised at the quality of the audio – the narration did not sound robotic, even though the voice was a computer reading it. The quality of computerized voices has really improved recently. You can also listen to a sample right on the website, without sending it any content to convert.

If you try it out, let us know what you think in the comments below!

Apr 29 2019

10mins

Play

Rank #16: Case study of a client who was (almost) scammed

Podcast cover
Read more

Online scams are a huge problem, and it seems like they won’t be going away anytime soon. I recently had a client who almost got scammed and wasn’t even aware of it until I explained what happened.

Laura contacted me about buying one of my refurbished laptops. Her laptop had been running really badly recently so she was considering getting a new one. I answered some questions (we were communicating via Facebook chat) and eventually we were talking about her current laptop and the possibility of getting it repaired rather than replacing it.

I explained to her that diagnosis was free, so it really would make sense to at least explore that option rather than just giving up on it and buying a new one. So a couple of days later she brought it to me.

Whenever someone brings me a computer for repair, I try to ask a lot of questions and get as much information as possible. Sometimes just one question, one little bit of info, can make a huge difference in the outcome of a project. That was very true in this case.

So she brought me the laptop, and the first thing I noticed was that it looked fairly new. Of course, outward appearance is not always an indicator of what kind of condition a computer is in, but it’s often a pretty good sign.

Also, I could tell from my communications with Laura that she is someone who is very attentive to detail – the type of person who is careful, organized, and would take good care of her things.

As part of our conversation, it came up that she had purchased the laptop new about a year ago. That naturally lead to my question, “Is it still under warranty?” Typically the manufacturer’s warranty is one year from the date of purchase.

Her response: “No, I called HP and they said the warranty has expired.”

Whenever someone says they have called and talked to some large online company (HP, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, etc.), my next question is: “How did you get their phone number?”

Laura: “I found it online.

From experience, I know that when someone looks up a “tech support” number online, the number they find is most likely NOT going to be a phone number for the actual computer manufacturer’s tech support department. Of course, when they call that number, the answer will be something like “HP Tech Support” or “Microsoft Tech Support” or something similar, so there would be no reason to suspect anything. But on the other end of that line is a scammer ready to steal your money.

I asked Laura for more details about what the “HP” representative told her. She explained that he was sorry to inform her that the warranty had expired, but that she could purchase an extended warranty. Laura didn’t recall how much the new “warranty” would cost, but typically these things sell for $200 – $300. Fortunately, she did not purchase from the scammer, but contacted me instead to talk about getting a new computer.

I explained to Laura that she was most likely NOT talking to an actual HP representative. She was pretty surprised to find out that she had probably been talking to a scammer. These criminals are really getting pretty good at fooling people into thinking they’re legitimate, and in many cases they are successful. Just not this time.

At this point I couldn’t be 100% certain until I did some more research. So I told her I would check into it, as well as diagnose the laptop’s problems, and get back to her.

My next 3 steps:

  1. Back up her important data. The computer was not working properly, and there was critical data on it, and she had no backup. So the first priority in any case like this is to make sure whatever data is still accessible gets saved to a separate drive. I was able to save all of her important stuff.
  2. Check the hard drive health. My diagnostic testing came back with the result that the hard drive was failing. This is also known as a hard drive crash. This would explain all of the problems the computer was having when Laura was trying to use it.
  3. Check on the warranty situation with HP (the REAL company this time).

Turns out Laura’s laptop was actually still under warranty. And how much time was left on the warranty? TWO DAYS. No time to waste.

I contacted Laura immediately (this was still the same day she dropped it off) and told her what I had found out. She came back right away and picked up the laptop as well as the portable drive that was now safely storing her Documents, Pictures, etc.

I heard from her later that day. She had called the actual HP phone number (which I gave to her) and they confirmed that the laptop was under warranty. They will be sending her a shipping box to pack up her laptop for shipment to HP, for them to repair at no cost to Laura whatsoever. What I expect they will do is replace the hard drive with a new one and send it back to her with a fresh installation of Windows 10 (same as it was when she first got it).

What can we learn from this? Three things:

First: Don’t Google for tech support phone numbers. The scammers know that many thousands of people, every day, are searching on Google for a tech support phone number. So they create websites to match those searches. Those websites can have very convincing content, even including the actual logos of the large computer companies, to make you think you are genuinely talking with someone from that company. Don’t fall for it.

Second: When hiring a tech, make sure it’s someone you can trust. I hate to say it, but there are some techs that run their business without integrity. In a case like this, the client is usually expecting to pay a few hundred dollars for the data backup and hard drive replacement, so the less-than-honest techs will just do the repair and get paid for it. Especially when the client already “knows” the warranty has expired. Find a tech who you know will do the right thing.

Third: Back up your important files. I say this repeatedly and without apology. Laura’s hard drive was failing gradually, which allowed us to grab the data before it completely died. Some hard drives don’t give you that luxury – they just crash without warning. Setting up a mostly automated backup is not expensive, and I can do it for you remotely. If you have stuff on your computer that you would not want to lose, get this done. No excuses!

Jul 31 2017

11mins

Play

Rank #17: What is Windows “Fast Startup” option, and why disable it?

Podcast cover
Read more

In a recent blog/podcast, I talked about the importance of restarting your computer in order to refresh the memory and speed it up. But some people actually powered down their computers and powered up again, and the “Up time” counter did not reset. That’s because of the Windows 10 “Fast Startup” option so we’ll talk about that today.

Thanks to my friend Larry for reminding me about this feature!

If you’re running Windows 10, there’s a built-in feature called Fast Startup. Guess what it does. That’s right, it helps your computer start up faster!

But you might not want it to do that.

Think of it like this. If you wanted to be dressed and ready to go in the morning as fast as possible, one way to achieve that would be to just not take off your clothes from the day before. Just sleep in them. So when you wake up and get out of bed, BOOM – you’re already dressed! So you’ve achieved the goal of being dressed quickly, but there’s a cost – your clothes are all wrinkled, and not really clean because you wore them the day before.

That’s kind of what this Fast Startup option does with Windows. You hit the power button and choose the Shut Down option, to turn off your computer. But what Windows 10 does is, it takes a “picture” of your computer’s state, and then puts it into a hybrid state between powered off and powered on.

The thing is, your computer DOES need to completely power down sometimes (as discussed in this blog back on July 9). So it might be a good idea if you disabled the Fast Startup option (though there is an exception, which I’ll cover in a minute). And in reality, you might not even see a noticeable difference in the bootup time when Fast Startup is turned off – especially if your computer has a solid state drive, which means it’s already really fast.

Here’s how you check the Fast Startup option and disable it if you want to:

Do a RIGHT click on the Start button, and choose Power Options.

In the new window that opens, click on “Additional power settings”:

In the next window, click on “Choose what the power buttons do”:

In the new window, look in the section called “Shutdown settings”. There will be a few options there, and one of them is “Turn on fast startup”. It’s probably already checked. If you can just uncheck it, go ahead.

If you can’t uncheck it, you might need to find “Change settings that are currently unavailable” in the top part of that window and click that first, THEN uncheck the Fast Startup box.

After that, just click “Save changes” and you’re all done.

Now, when you click “Shut down”, your computer will actually shut completely down.

NOTE: Here’s the exception. If you choose the “Restart” option, that actually DOES fully turn off your computer and turn it back on again. For some people, this may be sufficient. Since I do a restart pretty regularly, the Fast Startup option is not a critical thing.

Aug 20 2018

10mins

Play

Rank #18: Great sources for free audiobooks

Podcast cover
Read more

Everyone knows about Audible, the audio book subscription service at audible.com. For $14.95 per month, you get one audiobook and 2 “audible originals”. It’s a great service for people who don’t have time (or don’t want to take the time) to actually read a book. You can listen to a popular or best-selling book while doing something else, just like many people do with podcasts.

But what if you don’t want to pay $14.95 per month? What if you don’t want to pay ANYTHING per month? Turns out there are still some great options for you to get your audiobooks.

Your local library
If you’re in the US, I think this is service is really amazing. All you need is a library card for your local library, and an app on your smartphone called Overdrive. With this service, you have access to hundreds of audiobooks, many of them best sellers, from all categories. Seriously, if you have not yet checked this out, you need to go to the website, get the app, and start listening.
Link: https://www.overdrive.com/

Learn Out Loud
Another great resource – this one focuses more on audiobooks that are oriented toward some type of instruction or learning. You can choose from almost any category you can think of, based on what you want to learn, and it’s probably there. And all free.
Link: https://www.learnoutloud.com/

ThoughtAudio
For this one, the content is a little different from the previous two services. ThoughtAudio has audio books that are more in the areas of classic literature and philosophy, rather than modern day books. Not quite as large a selection here, but if you ever get the idea that you want to read something classic, like The Art of War, it’s here for you to listen to!
Link: https://Thoughtaudio.com

Storynory
And here’s one for the kids! Storynory has been around since 2005. They have a podcast and also audio streaming from their website. Lots and lots of content here for a younger audience, with a lot being original stories by the site’s owner, Hugh Fraser. Everything here is free. Lately, they have focused a bit more on factual content, including history and interviews. The idea is to stimulate kids’ curiosity about the world – nothing wrong with that!
Link: https://Storynory.com

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
Obviously you’ve heard of the BBC. It’s a worldwide presence and has been putting out content to listeners since way back in 1922 when it was founded. I kind of think of the BBC as “the NPR of Europe” even though with the internet and podcasts, geographic designations don’t really mean much any more. The BBC offers a LOT of audio content, from a variety of authors, as you’ll see when you look at the site. One that looked particularly interesting was “Blackwater” – a multi-voiced dark story about secrets and lies in a small town.
Link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/categories/readings

Loyal Books
And finally we have Loyal Books. Their philosophy is “Books should be free” – an idea that might be a bit impractical overall for the publishing industry since people need to be paid for their work. But regardless of that, almost all the audiobooks and e-Books on their site are indeed free. Many are classics that are in the public domain, and there is almost certain to be something of interest for everyone here. They also include content in LOTS of different languages.
Link: https://loyalbooks.com

Do you have a favorite site to get free audiobooks that I overlooked in this list? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Apr 01 2019

8mins

Play

Rank #19: One tool you should NEVER use on your laptop

Podcast cover
Read more

Unfortunately, it’s an accident that happens way more often than it should – a liquid gets spilled on a laptop. Water, soda, wine, beer, lemonade, whatever – obviously none of these things are a good thing for a computer. But then, in some cases, the owner of the laptop makes things worse by trying to “dry out” the laptop with a hair dryer.

Makes sense, right? A hair dryer (blow dryer) is designed specifically to blow air and dry things out, so logically it would seem like it’s a good choice to quickly dry out your laptop after a spill.

Blow dryers work fine on hair, which is what they are designed for. But your hair isn’t made of plastic like your laptop keyboard is. Plastic has a lower melting point, and unfortunately some people are surprised at how quickly that can happen.

To demonstrate this, I picked out an old, non-working laptop from my collection (every tech has a few of these around). And I used a standard blow dryer, like you’d buy from your local Walmart. You probably have one in your bathroom right now.

Here’s a picture of the lower left section of the keyboard before our experiment:

Just a regular keyboard on an old computer.

Now, here’s the same laptop keyboard after 60 seconds of blow-drying:

It’s pretty surprising how quickly it can happen. Laptop keyboards are just not designed to handle hot air coming at them. And that’s after just one minute. Think about how long it would take to actually dry out the entire keyboard (IF the liquid was contained to just the keyboard and didn’t seep further down, on to the motherboard and other components).

I was going to show you some other pictures of keyboards that were inadvertently destroyed by blow dryers, but I cannot post them here on my site due to copyright concerns. But if you want to see the damage that can be done by hot air, do a Google Image search on “hair dryer keyboard damage”.

So if you do accidentally spill something on your laptop, don’t run for the blow dryers. Instead:

  1. Immediately turn it off
  2. Flip it over and remove the battery
  3. Disconnect anything that’s plugged in to it – power cable, portable drive, flash drive, printer cable – pull everything out of all the USB ports and other slots
  4. If you see any water that can be wiped off with a cloth, wipe it off
  5. Flip the laptop upside down (so the keyboard is facing down) and let it dry for 48 hours.

Yes, that means you won’t be able to use it for 2 days. Do not try to shortcut this and boot it up sooner just to see if it works!

After 48 hours and the liquid has dried, put the battery back in and reconnect the power cord and see if it turns on. If it boots up, you’re probably okay. If it doesn’t, contact your local computer tech.

And you might also check to see if you happened to have purchased an extended warranty when you bought the laptop. If you have coverage that includes accidental spills, it might be time to make a claim on that plan. Personally, I never buy those accident policies. My insurance plan is just not drinking near my laptop.

May 14 2018

9mins

Play

Rank #20: TEN handy Windows 10 shortcuts

Podcast cover
Read more

Windows 10 is just LOADED with some really great shortcuts, and a lot of people don’t know about many of them. I’m sure I don’t know about all of them. But here are ten shortcuts that I (and others) have found really handy.

Shortcut #1
If you’re using Chrome or Firefox, with a bunch of tabs open, and you accidentally close one – don’t panic! Just hit Ctrl + Shift + T and the tab that got closed will automatically re-open.

Shortcut #2
In just about every program, Ctrl + Z will undo your last action.

Shortcut #3
If you want to open Task Manager, you don’t have to hit Ctrl + Alt +Delete and then click it. You just have to hit Ctrl + Shift + Esc.

Shortcut #4
If you’re searching Google for a word or name, and you find yourself on a website that has a mile of text, don’t scroll down the page trying to spot that word. Hit Ctrl + F and type the word, and you’ll see every place that word appears on that entire page.

Shortcut #5
If you drag a file with the RIGHT mouse button instead of the left, when you let go you’ll get a little menu asking if you want to copy that file, move it, or create a shortcut to it.

Shortcut #6
If you have several windows open but need to get to a file or icon on the desktop screen, hit the Windows key + D. All windows will be minimized so you can see the desktop.

Shortcut #7
After you hit the Windows key + D in tip #6 to minimize all your windows, hit it again and they’re all back again.

Shortcut #8
If you want to make sure your Google search results DON’T include anything from Pinterest, just put this in front of your search word(s): -site:pinterest.com

Shortcut #9
If you get a pop-up window with audio telling you your computer has major problems and that you should not shut it down, shut down the computer. Just hold in the power button for 10 seconds or until the computer shuts off. Wait a minute, then turn it back on. That pop-up and audio message is just a scam.

Shortcut #10
This one will blow your mind if you don’t already know about it. Hit Ctrl + Windows key + D to create a new virtual desktop. It’s like a whole separate desktop screen, but no windows are open. So now you have two separate, usable desktop screens. You can switch back and forth between them by hitting Ctrl + Windows key + left/right arrow. If you want to close the one you’re in, it’s Ctrl + Windows key + F4. OR, you can just hit Windows key + Tab to see all of your virtual desktops and manually close them or add new ones.

Virtual desktops are handy if you want to have a bunch of research windows open on one desktop, and the paper you’re writing on the other desktop. Or if you want to let someone else use your computer temporarily without having all of your windows available to be seen.

And a BONUS Shortcut:
Hit the Windows key + “.” (just the period, without the quotes). Go ahead, it’s safe.

Mar 04 2019

11mins

Play