Category Archives: TECH TALK

MAY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: NEED A FIX?

COMPUTER REPAIR

One might think that, as an IT professional for 45 years, I would know a lot about fixing computers.  But I was a manager and not close to day-to-day machine operation.   And even if I had known about making repairs then, technology changes rapidly.  It involves constant relearning.  So that, friends, gets me to the topic for today’s discussion.

When I purchased my last computer a little over three years ago, I was faced with having to transport a huge amount of material (files, emails, etc.) from my old machine to my new one.  Further, I knew that many of the pieces of software I owned were not up-to-date and that some would not run on the Windows 8 system that I was buying.  I purchased my computer from Best Buy and decided to purchase their Geek Squad policy and their conversion assistance.  It was an excellent decision.

They took my old computer, made a list of all of my software, and shared it with me so I could tell them what no longer wanted.  Then, they ported over what they could.  My version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) would not run on the new machine, so I bought the upgrade.  It really made my life easy.

But Part 2 is really the important part.  During the first month, I kept running into subtle little issues.  The way that Word and Excel operated, for example, was not the same as it had been with my previous environment.  I called the Geek Squad, and they helped me through every problem.  When it was time to go to Windows 10, I had them do it.  I’m sure I could have done it myself, but I decided to avoid any potential hassle.  Yesterday, my Windows Live Mail (through Comcast) stopped working.  I tried everything I could think of—to no avail.  I called the Geek Squad, and they fixed it.  It turned out that Comcast had changed port numbers, and even when I called the company, they gave me the wrong information.  The Geek Squad, though, had the correct data.  The guy I was dealing with was in the Philippines, but his English was excellent.  After gaining some basic information, they (with your permission) gain access to your machine and do a full scan.  Subsequently, the agent used his access to my machine to work out and solve my issue.  I slept better last night.

TECH TALK feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

APRIL TECH TALK with John Rudy: Screen Sharing?

SHOULD I LET YOU LOG ONTO MY COMPUTER?

The simple answer is NO, but, as usual, nothing is simple. There are three circumstances I can think of (and there are probably more) when this should be fine and actually even beneficial.

  1. I have a yearly contract with The Geek Squad, an organization that is part of Best Buy, for support of my computer. For a reasonable rate, they will support up to 3 computers for me and take as many calls as necessary. Sometimes a call to them is sufficient to get an answer to your question, but at other times, you might have a complex question that requires someone to log onto your machine in order to fix it. Of course, you can take the computer to a store, but it is more convenient when, given permission, they can log in to fix whatever ails the machine. I have received similar service from Comcast.
  2. Occasionally, you might call a friend and ask how to do something, like work on a Word document. They say that they’ll be over next week. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to collaborate in real time?
  3. You want to share something, maybe pictures, with someone, and the file is too large to easily send. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just see them on your machine? There are a number of software products that accomplish this. You can check with the Geek Squad and Comcast or your own service provider to see what they deem to be safe.

Here is an article on a variety of tools. http://www.online-tech-tips.com/cool-websites/5-free-remote-desktopsharing-and-screen-sharing-solutions/  that you can choose from when looking for options like this.

I use Teamviewer (the current is version 12) because it was recommended to me a couple of years ago, and I find it easy to use. It is free and available at https://www.teamviewer.com/en/download/windows /

When using Teamviewer, you provide a code to the person to whom you are allowing access and then either they or you can move the cursor on your screen. At the end of the session, they log out and cannot get in again until a future session is initiated by you.  So it is safe. They have full documentation available on their site.

Having said all this, be very selective about allowing others onto your machine. They would then have access to material that you might rather keep private.

TECH TALK Feature Writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

FEBRUARY TECH TALK with John Rudy: MAKING TRAVEL PLANS

THE NEW WORLD OF ONLINE TRAVEL PLANNING

It used to be that, whenever I wanted to take a trip, I drove into Lexington and visited Colpitt’s Travel where Marilyn would help us make reservations.  Unfortunately, she often had to deal with airlines that didn’t answer the phone and hotels in places she hadn’t visited.  The situation today is very different, and most of the readers of this blog already probably take advantage of some of the tools out there.  The purpose of this entry is to provide you with some ideas you might not be familiar with—and, of course, what I provide here is just a small piece of what is available.  Be sure to use the comment box at the end to add your ideas and/or ask questions!

Step1:

Where/when do I want to go?                                                                                 Do I want to arrange for airfare or a package with car and/or hotel?     Do I have flexibility for travel dates, times of day, locations?         What am I willing to give up for the lowest price out there?                 Do I want trip cancellation insurance?

Step 2:

Pick one of the travel tools that are available online.  Various review sites contrast the different tools, but there is some consensus that www.booking.com is the best overall site and www.Priceline.com is the best for last-minute deals.

Other popular sites include: Expedia, Cheap Air, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, and Kayak.

These sites allow you to 1) search across many different airline or select specific ones; 2) deal with specific or flexible travel dates; 3) sort information by date, price, time, and number of stops.

Be sure to look carefully at car rental information, especially at drop-off fees.  Also be sure to note whether or not the site will alert you if there are price changes and if you will be able to take advantage of that information.  Be aware, too, of the busiest airports.  Smaller airports (like Providence) may be available near your destination—prices, though, might be higher, and they might have less availability.

Get Money for Change Flights

Airlines overbook assuming that they will have no-shows.  Many times, they provide offers for volunteers willing to take different flights.  Offers go up when there are no takers.  But be sure to ask questions.

Sometimes, the offer provided can only be used with a full-fare ticket.  The offer may not apply to your whole group.  What if the next flight is also fully booked?  Ask for a flight guarantee within X hours.  If the delay to a substitute flight turns out to be X hours long, will they reimburse an overnight hotel bill?

Many years ago, I met someone who located the busiest American Airlines flight to LA and booked it to visit the grandchildren.   He always got bumped.

When Should I Fly?

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least expensive days on which to fly; then Saturday.  Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.  Very early morning, late night, red-eye, and mealtime flights are cheaper than other flights.

When Should I Book?

According to FareCompare.com data, the best time for booking in the U.S. is on Tuesday at 3 p.m.  Many airlines release their weekly sales late on Mondays or early on Tuesdays.  By mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, then, the competing airlines have matched the lower prices.

U.S. domestic tickets: Shop between 3 months and 30 days before departure. International fares: Shop between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure. Peak travel: During peak seasons such as June, July and August or the December holidays, purchase tickets two months in advance.

The large companies from whom we used to buy travel books now have elaborate, comprehensive web sites.  These are particularly useful when trying to get detailed data on a location.  Browse them and see what is available.  These include, but are not limited to:  http://www.fodors.com/  and https://www.viamichelin.com  as well as https://www.lonelyplanet.com

One last item:  Google is pretty good.  If you type in, say, “American Airlines 145,” you will get the status of that flight.  If it is already airborne, you will get its ETA and the arriving Gate Number–some airlines even make it possible for you to track their in-air flights!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this month’s or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402

JANUARY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: PHISHING

DON’T FEED THE PHISH!

By John Rudy

Many of you have heard the term Phishing.  And phishing works like this.  You receive an email that looks like it came from a company you trust.  Typically, it indicates that there is a problem with your account and asks you to click on a link to resolve it.  Sometimes, it indicates that you have a gift waiting for you and asks you to click to receive it.  Any time you receive an unsolicited email like this, you should be suspicious.  Is it really from a site you can trust?  Once you click on one of its links, it is too late.  So, Message #1 is Do Not Click.

Then, look at the email address it came from.  In many cases, the words after the @ do not look  like those from the website you know.  Let’s take a simple example.  If you use PAYPAL, you know that their site is www.paypal.com.  I recently received a message, purportedly from PayPal, which came from noreply@gator4248.hostgator.com.  I think we can all agree that this doesn’t look as if it came from PayPal.  Recently, there have been a lot of phishing attacks purportedly from Amazon and PayPal.  Kim Komando has written an excellent article which should be required reading:   http://www.komando.com/happening-now/382417/top-story-paypal-and-amazon-phishing-scams-spreading-now/all

Kim Komando’s newsletter is free, and I recommend signing up to receive it.

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John Rudy, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this month’s or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Printing

                    GETTING BETTER USE OUT OF YOUR PRINTER                     (and Using Less Paper)

printers

Today, people are concerned about the amount of ink used to print large documents because ink costs more than the printer itself.   Here are some tips for saving ink.  (Note that not all of these fonts may be available to you.)

  1.  Avoid printing in color unless you really need color.  See #3 for directions.

2.  Only use BOLD when you need it; it uses a lot more ink

  1. When you print a document, you have the option to print it in DRAFT.  Depending on the operating system/version and your printer,  there are a number of ways to control this.  After you click on Print, go to Printer Properties.  Then go to Paper Quality and click on Draft.   Also click on Black and White, not color.

draft

  1. Not all fonts use the same amount of ink. My favorite font is Arial because it is so clean and easy to read.  But Times New Roman uses 27% less ink.  Calibri and Century Gothic are also good.  Here, in large letters, is a comparison using 24 point type so it is readable:

 

fonts

  1. This article is written in 12 point type (except for the examples above).  I use 12 point because I find it to be readable with my 71 year old eyes, but you might consider 14 point when printing for seniors or 10 point where you want to reduce the number of pages. Just going to 11.5 point saves about 5% of your ink.
  1. When you print, look at the default margin you are using. You have considerable flexibility. For example: 1” on all sides gives you a 6.5” x 9” area (58.5 square inches).  Using a ½” margin gives you a 7.5” by 10” or 75 square inches or 28% more space per page
  1. On occasion you have a document that goes just over a page. There are also options to “shrink to fit” as well as other approaches.
  1. In Word documents, you have the ability to specify whether you want double space, 1.5 space, or single space between lines.  But you can even make it tighter, like .9 space.  Going to “paragraph,” you have this option and can alter it either for the whole document or for portions of it.
  1. I have noticed that when people respond to emails, they retain the whole previous string. In most cases, that can/should be deleted. This is particularly important if you only want to print the beginning.
  2. Be careful to print only the pages you want.  The other day, I needed to print the confirmation of theatre tickets I had bought. Without thinking, I printed the whole thing; three pages.  But I really only needed the beginning.  It is a good idea to print only those pages you want.  A similar thing happened when I printed a journal paper.  The first 4 pages were the bibliography.

Taking just a little more time to select your printer options with a bit more care can save ink (and money!) in the long run.

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this item  or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Searching is Not for the Faint of Heart

This month’s tech offering is all about the art of searching the internet–which is not really as daunting as it may seem.  

search 1

Let’s start by getting a bit of terminology out of the way.

web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web.  The most common are Chrome and Internet Explorer though there have been many issues with Explorer so Microsoft is switching to Edge.  But Edge is not ready for prime time.  I suggest you all use Chrome though Safari and Firefox are good alternatives.  Chrome has about half the market.

web search engine is a software system that is designed to search for information on the Web, returning pages that meet specified criteria Google is the clear winner here.  Bing and Ask are becoming intrusive and sometimes you’ll find them taking over (the subject of a much longer discussion.

pie chart

There is a lot of data out there to search.  The following snippet is old and is probably off by a factor of 10.  BUT  ….   Luckily Google runs “web Crawlers” at night to make it easier to find data amongst all this.

search question 1

It is expected that by the end of the year there will be a zettabyte of bytes moved every year.   That is a million times bigger than a Petabyte.  Most if not all of you use Google but it turns out that you can use it better.  There are books and articles with hundreds of examples of things that you can do; I’m just going to mention a few.

  • Put your most important search term first
  • “George washington” (caps don’t matter) is NOT the same as George Washington.  Putting quotation marks around the words indicates that you want to find the two words together in the page.
  • Take advantage of exclusion. “George Washington” –bridge will exclude all references that include the word bridge
  • Google makes a lot of smart guesses. Delta 1431 will get you the status of the flight.  02420 will get you the zipcode and bring up a map of Lexington.  781 will bring up the area code.  You can even put in Fedex or UPS numbers.  Put in Red Sox and you will get the information on the current game including a link for box scores, etc.
  • When you return a search, the words Search Tool is near the top. Click on that and you will see the words “any time” with a downward arrow.  Click on the arrow and you’ll see that you can restrict the time range for the search.  This is very important as it removes a lot of obsolete information.
  • For those with a mathematical bent, you can set up a Boolean Search, viz: snowmobile and (snowblower or Green Bay). But you don’t need the “and”
  • The asterisk is a wild card. The search for three * mice will allow any middle word
  • Define happy goes out to the dictionary for the word happy.  (I used that a lot when I was reading The Iliad.)
  • You can do math or currency conversion . You can even say 176 in roman numerals, and it returns the right answer.  1 a.u./c returns 8.31675359 min, with “a.u.” meaning “astronomical units” and c is the speed of light.
  • If you type in a location, you can get directions, a map, and  markings for traffic problems. You can even ask for a walking or bicycle route rather than a car route.
  • You can ask questions: double quarter pounder with cheese has * calories

search 2

This is just scratching the surface.  We could have a 1-2 hour talk on the subject!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on searching or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

 

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Additional Security Issues

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY:  ADDITIONAL SECURITY ISSUES

tech talk

In August,  I talked about the importance of proper passwords for your computer life and stressed that using the same password for everything risks that someone able to find it has access to your whole life.  I also said that simple passwords like your spouse’s first name or the name of your first pet are too easy to crack.   Thanks to Facebook and easy hacker tools, data about you is readily available so you have to come up with complex passwords at least 8 characters long.  So how can you remember all this?  The first step is to get them off paper and into a computer file, like an Excel spreadsheet.  But don’t name the spreadsheet “passwords” and put it into a folder called “important computer information”.

Any file on your computer can be encrypted.  Yes, I know that is one more password to remember.  Depending on the version of Microsoft Office you have, there are somewhat different processes, and you can Google to find them.  For Word 2010 or Excel 2010, click on FILE, then on INFO, then on PROTECT DOCUMENT and you can supply a password.

IMPORTANT: practice this on some test documents until you are sure you remember just how to do it.

Quite a few companies sell password Managers (protected by a password) where you can store all your passwords and information about the passwords.  These managers make it easy to retrieve the password you want from a variety of devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet).  Here is a review from PC Magazine of the best password Managers in 2016.  There is a lot of interesting material in this article and it is interesting to me that the PW Managers most talked about a couple of years ago are no longer on this list. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

To switch topics …

I received a note asking me about the unsubscribe link found at the bottom of many emails sent by commercial companies. The question (reminds me of Marathon Man) was “Is it safe?”  Well, that depends.  If you are certain that the email is from a legitimate company, then the unsubscribe is a perfect way to stop getting their email.  But sometimes, the email is unsolicited and might be what is called phishing.  It looks like it is from a legitimate company but is not, and the unsubscribe is a trick to get you to click on to a link that will import malware to your computer.  But let’s say that the email is from a legitimate source.  Then hitting the unsubscribe tells the sender that you are real, and that may give it information about you that is tucked into your response, setting you up for other advertising from complicit companies.  I recently got an email containing an unsubscribe link.  The source address on it was UNO@unoinsiderclub.com.  I suspect it is okay, but anyone can buy an address like that.  The UNO home page is unos.com so I would have been more comfortable if I had received the email from that url or a subset of that url.

Next month’s talk will be on travel, but before we get to that, here is a reminder: Take out all the credit cards and other stuff (like SS card and license) in your wallet and place it on your printer.  Take pictures of both sides. Then take a picture of your passport.  Put these pictures in your safe deposit box and another safe place in your house so if your wallet is stolen you know what the crooks have.  Why not limit it to your safe deposit box?  Because if the theft is Saturday at 4pm you won’t be able to get to the safe deposit box until Monday morning.

 

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: I.T. Musings

There are many pieces of application software that are available–some you pay for, and others are free.  And then there are some which have both free and pay versions where the latter comes with extra capability.

Today I’ll discuss AdBlockPlus and Secunia PSI.

John Rudy additionAdBlockPlus Whenever you go to the internet, you are inundated with ads. This is because the folks providing you the information you are requesting are looking for ways to derive income from the process. Luckily, a number of companies have developed products to significantly reduce (not eliminate) these ads. I use AdblockPlus, which is free https://adblockplus.org/ Note that it has to be installed separately for each web browser. I use Chrome exclusively, so that is where I have it installed. I’ve had it for about 2 years. In the picture below you will note that it places a small icon in the upper right of your browser, and when you click on it, you learn how many ads it has blocked. When you set it up, you can exclude certain sites and make other choices. Not surprisingly, a lot of companies are unhappy about this, and I frequently get a message when opening up a web page asking me to close the blocker. Here is some recent data. “A new survey of users found that only 41% of those surveyed were aware of ad blocking. But among those who are aware of it,80% block ads on desktops and 46% percent do so on smartphones, suggesting it’s just awareness that’s holding back higher ad blocking adoption.” It has been reported (Wired magazine) that some ad block companies are receiving money from companies to exclude their sites from the block list!

Secunia PSI   There are many reasons to keep your software up to date. The most obvious is that you have access to the newest           capability that the software ofers. But the more important reason is that most software comes with vulnerabilities, and new releases fix them. The problem is that you may be unaware that a new release is available and that you might not know how to perform the update. That is where Secunia PSI (even the free version) fits it. It will check your software against the newest versions and, in most cases, perform the updates automatically. I have set it to run when I reboot my computer. There are some products that require manual updates, and it tells you.   Go to the following site, and you will be taken through the simple process.  The web page has a lot of additional information which you may find to be helpful as well.

http://www.flexerasoftware.com/enterprise/products/software-vulnerability-management/personal-software-inspector/

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides these helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Passwords

images

We are pleased to inaugurate our new monthly technology feature!  On the first Friday of each month, John Rudy will provide us with good, solid, practical, hands-on (and off) information and advice about our computer use.  Be sure to respond with questions and topics you’d like to have John address in future articles.

Today’s subject is PASSWORDS.

Almost everywhere you go in the computer world, you are asked for passwords, but there have been enough articles recently to convince everyone that, despite this mandate, many files are not secure. So let’s hit the basics.

  • To be secure, a password must be long and complex. Using “123456” or “johnrudy” will be cracked almost instantaneously. That is why you want a minimum of 8 characters and should use upper and lower case, numerals, and special characters. That gives about 75 options for each position.
  • Do not use the same password for all your accounts. If you do, when it is cracked, you are open totally.
  • Not everything has to be protected in the same way. Worry about money. So bank accounts, brokerage firms, and any site that has your credit card should be protected most carefully–and each must be different. (Using “123456” for your high school will probably result in little damage.)
  • Passwords must be written down. That does NOT mean having a file titled PASSWORD.doc on your computer or a written list in your desk top drawer. This is really the subject of a subsequent article, but if you store them in a file, the file must be encrypted with a password; and if you write them down, store them in a non-obvious place, like with your cheesecake recipes. There are a number of good, automated programs that can address this issue. Another solution is to place this file on a thumb-drive.
  • Give your password file to your heir. This is not a joke. Someone you trust needs to be able to step in when memory issues, incapacitation, fatal illness occur.

And finally, when you dispose of your computer, remember that merely deleting a file does NOT, in fact, remove it from your system. Best Buy and other places claim that they fully wipe your drive when you give them an old computer. Here is a good article on the subject from a reputable source.

http://pcsupport.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/tp/erase-hard-drive.htm

John Rudy
BOLLI Member and Tech Wizard John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides this helpful hints in this monthly feature in BOLLI Matters.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)