Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christmas Tech Bargains?

A Christmas tech bargain may not be what you think, especially in computers. Just because something costs half what it cost last year does not mean that there is not a still even better alternative now.

Here is an illustration. Tablets and cell phones have dropped in price. But now you can buy something different and far of just a few weeks ago. You can buy an unlocked smartphone.

So what's so important about an unlocked cell phone? A new big smartphone, unlocked, can serve the purpose of both tablet and smartphone, even without the usual high cell service costs.

And then the new cell phone plans no longer require a contract. The new smartphones cost half as much as before, if paid for upfront.

The Nexus 5 brings all the features of tablets and phones together at less than $400, already a bargain. Click or tap for the Nexus 5. The new Moto G does that for half that price.Click or tap for the Moto G.

Meanwhile my T Mobile cell phone plan has fallen in price with twice as much data and no contract when the old one expires in March.

If I had no other computer, the brand new Moto G could do everything I need to do, helped along with a wireless keyboard and Wireless HD HDMI external display and $35.00 Chromecast stick.

Not only that but it can piggyback a laptop on its data plan cheaply, as many as 8 laptops.

It is similar with laptops.? You can get a laptop for about half what it would have cost a few years ago.

But the right choice will yield you a laptop which can do far more than that half priced laptop.

I could not believe that I could get a Windows 8 laptop with touch screen for less than $300 which would do far more than a laptop I bought years ago at $600 without any of those capabilities and which is still being sold today.Tap or click for a fine lightweight one which will drive your old large monitor,too.

A $50 Canon printer today far exceeds the capabilities of last year's printers at more than $100, being newly tablet-capable as well.

Today with these benefits, however, there is a caution. You may need to learn something new about how to use them. You also need to make sure that the latest capabilities are in any new device you buy.

If you do that, you will be richly rewarded in what you can do and what you had to pay for it.

Or you could just buy the last year's technology still selling today at last year's prices and limp along with the old technology and its serious shortcomings. Some of those old devices can be updated at practically no cost.

The old Kindle fire and the Nook HD can be upgraded to work like the newest tablets.

Windows 8 may run on an old laptop. It is a faster and safer operating system, providing you learn how to use it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ransomeware and Other Windows Ills

With Ransomeware and many other computer ills it's mainly about Windows. There are other computer systems not so exposed.

Windows is special. With Windows you need to do your own support to keep things going. It is up to you to make yourself as secure as possible using it. No one else can do that for you with Windows. 

Ransomware can lock up your Windows computer until you pay a ransom. This is just the latest of Windows' many ills. 

Now, security exposures are grossly overhyped and rare. But they do happen in Windows. (My experience comes from working with hundreds of users in the past on a one to one basis.  I feel a responsibility to unschooled users of Windows.) 

The easiest way to avoid exposures would be not to use Windows for any Internet related activity but restrict yourself to offline for work with Microsoft Office, for example. Do your browsing in a safer place. 

So Don't Rely on Windows Alone?

Or you could simply avoid Windows altogether, even if you needed to run Microsoft Office from a more secure device and operating system. There are also plenty of office suites which work just like Microsoft Office on other safe platforms. 

You could even run Windows from another operating system such as Apple or Linux for Android for most tablets. 

At Your Own Risk 

All That is a little extreme. 

There are ways to run Windows. However, (disclaimer) alternatives are at your own risk and depend upon your own tech know-how. Neither I nor anyone else can protect you completely from an insecure system like Windows. 

Avoid Patent Medicine Fixes 

I emphatically recommend against many of the nostrums to remove malware. No matter how many of these you use there is no way to be sure there is not a vestige somewhere in your system. The ONLY sure and safe way to remove malware is to reinstall the operating system. Fortunately, Windows 8 makes that easy. So get to know how to reinstall in a jiffy. 

Keep Your Data in a Safe Place 

A less extreme approach to security would then be to keep your data on Microsoft's SkyDrive so as to be able to reinstall quickly, as now is possible. That way, it would be very easy to recover from a disaster. Reinstalling would be quick, and your data would be safe. 

Learn to Use Windows 8 

The downside to that is that you need to learn to use Windows 8. This is definitely worth the effort, but there are other ways to to skin a cat without doing so. There are safeguards, however, which really need to be employed if you do use Windows online.

Make Email Secure

The most obvious of these is to protect yourself from malicious email attachments. Use a reliable email like Google's Gmail and think carefully before opening any attachment. Gmail screens and encrypts content.

However even this may not be practical or entirely effective. It may not be enough.

Other Measures are Needed

There are other measures which are essential and necessary for Windows. It is possible to run Windows inside a secure pipeline or in virtual mode. That gets technical. You can search for the details on internet.

Configure that Router Using Windows

Without a properly configured router Windows is unsafe. Get that router configured with a reliable internet service.

Safety then starts at your router. Without one you are altogether insecure.

Again, for Windows the router then needs to be configured. Unfortunately this usually does not happen unless the router is supplied by a competent entity such as Comcast, which also screens content.

The router needs to be configured so it cannot be taken over by someone else via Windows. That means applying a new password, disabling control on a wide-area basis, disabling PNP and so on. Again, search internet for more.

It is possible to run a second router in tandem to make it even more difficult to access your data.  Works.

Avoid Insecure Wi-Fi when Using Windows

Your WiFi access point needs to be protected with an encrypted data key. It is best not to use Windows with an unknown WiFi. And in your Windows computer the Java programming language needs to be disabled, ideally along with Adobe programs such as Adobe Reader and Flash Player. They are OK on a tablet if you need them.

Exposing Your Personal Data

You need to make sure that you have not exposed you r records to misuse by others. That does not mean excluding well protected internetsoftware. It does mean care with Social Security and account numbers. No one should require you to provide them your social security number, although they do anyway, period.

You can also protect your accounts in various other ways by limiting and controlling access tightly.

Learn to Use the Newest Tool Windows 8

With all its faults, Windows 8 is probably the safest Windows version to date, so that whatever concerns you have about it, you are obligated to learn to use it if you want its security. And don't try to make it work like older versions of Windows. Although the new Windows may seem awkward and strange, it is pretty nice to be able to use the touchscreen.

If you use it, I would recommend that you replace anybody else's antivirus software with Microsoft's own Microsoft Security Essentials combined with Microsoft Defender. This is built in. Just delete anything else which may have been installed with your particular brand of computer computer.

Don't let the bad guys scare you off.

Do your Homework Yourself

If you really want Windows you need to do your homework. Otherwise use some other platform.

By the way you do not need to spend an arm and a leg for a Windows 8 computer. My $280 Asus touch screen laptop is a wonder, configured for performance and used for one application at a time, no games, and no video editing.

Spend the rest of your money on a much safer device which is not exposed to so many disasters.

First on the list should be a Nexus 7 2nd generation tablet. Then, maybe a Chromebook, an iPad, or even a Mac.

I do use Windows and I do enjoy the benefits of Windows 8 and my remarkable cheap laptop from Asus but I am under no illusions about what I need to do for security. That will never be enough to be completely comfortable.

Still, if you are still using spreadsheets, this might be the way to go. The trouble is that those still using spreadsheets are not likely to want to learn new ways of doing things.

(links to follow.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Its NOT What You Know

With computers It's NOT what you know.

With computers it's not about all that you know. It is not like the legal profession. It's more about how fast you can learn and, yes, also how fast you can forget. It's about knowing where to go to find out what's new, then replacing the old with the new.

That is because everything is changing so fast, and indeed has been changing that way for many years. You need to be able to put what you know aside and open up to a new way of looking at things and then do things that way.

My college had as its objective to have students put aside what they had learned up till then and rebuild from the ground up. That was liberal arts.

This came back to me recently when a resident asked for help learning to use a computer. She was 95 and had never used computer before. Worse, someone dear to her had given her a computer with Windows 8 which has NOT been well received by old Windows fans.

I spent an hour with her showing her what I knew of Windows 8 and then asked another resident to assist her further. By the time he got to her she had already mastered Windows 8 and was delighted with it. There had been nothing she had to unlearn.

That was an eye opener, just as much about learning to use computers as it was about Windows 8. (The barrier in Windows 8 is in trying to make it work the old way and not learning the new way.)

So it is not all about what you know as much as how fast you can learn. I recall that when I was a very young engineer, my boss, a head of personnel who had come up the hard way without a college education, recommended me to head up a project to convert the company to an IBM System. He had been unable to recruit anybody qualified.

Our Vice President called us in and asked me if I knew anything about computers. Of course I knew nothing and I said so. But then I said that they were so new that you could not find anyone with experience, and I was a fast learner. I got the job and soon two IBMers were teaching me 1 on 1 in how to implement systems.

Without any experience at all and no knowledge of it I was able to install major industrial systems. That forced me to learn all about cost centers and cost accounting, production control, quality control, inventory, and so on. It was a benefit not to know the old way in order to implement the new.

Thereafter, working in computers, I could never could find enough people with experience and knowledge about computer systems. I found I did not need them experience.

It was the same when the original computer developers of the ENIAC computer in Philadelphia had a secretary who wanted to do the technical work but had no background whatsoever. She was told that if she could learn assembler language she could become part of the team. Assembler is terribly terribly difficult. But she learned it and became part of the team.

Years later, when I was an IT director, I had to scrounge for people who could assist in converting a large operation to computers. I looked to people who could learn fast. Once I interviewed a woman who had never worked anywhere else except McDonalds. I gave her the typing test, and surprisingly, she passed it. She had trained herself as a touch typist. I asked her if she had a computer at home. She did. Then I asked her if she had ever had it apart. She had. She had trained herself all about it.

Here was a self trained self-starter. She was quite excited when she left the office with a new job and twice her former pay.

What you know can really get in your way as time goes by. You get wedded to a situation that no longer applies. Our McDonalds worker could have kept on at McDonalds.

Now that we have a technology which enables us to get information quickly we are no longer dependent so much upon what we can remember and we can deal even more effectively with change. So polish up your "forgettory" and get on with learning the new . Let your little tablet speed you on your way.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Christmas is Coming---How Much Should You Pay?

When considering a new computer the question comes up as to how much you should pay.

You should pay for whatever it takes to serve your purposes, present and future.

That might not be entirely clear at the outset.

Unfortunately I see many users paying too much or too little for what they need, even though prices have dropped a lot.

There is no need to pay more for a tablet than the $230 Nexus 7 second generation. Spending less will get you fewer capabilities, and spending more will gain you little or nothing, unless you have a special reason for a particular capability, such as ability to mirror to a TV.

If you need a laptop, there is every reason to buy a Mac Book Air at $1000 plus. Although this is the most expensive of laptops, what you gain is no cutting corners to give you the best.

If you do purchase a Windows machine, there is no reason to spend anywhere near that much for a machine which will not give you better service and just cost more. What you are buying is nothing more than processor speed and memory that you will never need if you are not doing many things at a time or doing games & video editing.

A mechanical or optical hard drive may just be an unnecessary nuisance. You can always plug in an optical drive, but nowadays you should not need one. There are better options.

A $300 touch screen Windows 8.1 laptop will do the job if you are conscientious about opening only one or two applications at a time. Without a touch screen, your machine is severely limited in ease of use.   Windows 8.1 is not worth having unless you are willing to learn how to use it, which will then be worth the effort.

Now, want to spend more? If vision is a concern, or if you need to have a large screen, then almost any device will work nowadays with a TV or large display. Just be sure you have the proper connector or converter to do the job. A TV box may be needed.

The same applies to a keyboard although you may need a particular keyboard device. For example, the iPad, with an Apple TV box, can work with your TV and add on keyboard to serve the same purpose as any other computer.

If you play videogames or do video editing you will absolutely require a powerful machine which will cost you $$$. Don't scrimp.

If you are a touch typist, you may feel lost without a friendly touch keyboard like the old IBM Selectric, a classic machine loved by all of us who ever used it.

 If you are a poor typist, or even if you are not, you may want speech recognition. In that case only the best will do. That means speaker independent internet aided speech recognition such as Google's.

If you travel or move around a lot you will absolutely want a small device. You will want something with a solid state drive. The Samsung Chromebook laptop will do the job at $250, as will the Nexus 7 tablet if you do not need a keyboard.

It may be useful to choose a machine used by others who can help you.

Remember also, that there may be no machine which will fill all your requirements, and you may need two devices rather than one. It may be better to have two than to spend a lot on a single device.

Whatever you choose, you may very well need a new printer. Again, too much is often spent for a bulky device. No more than $100 will get you a fine all in one printer. It does make sense to have two printers, a laser printer to keep ink costs down, and an all in one for all other functions. Both should be small. My Canon all in one cost $50 including some other items thrown in by Walmart and is recommended by Consumer Reports.

What makes little or no sense is to use or buy old equipment, no matter what seems like a bargain. New equipment will do more for the same investment.

It is almost always a good idea to read the manual for a new piece of equipment, even before buying. Manuals are almost always available on internet. A very good and popular book may also be advised. Just make sure you get the best one, often by first reading user comments on Amazon. The book should have plenty of pictures of screen processes.

Choose the easiest machines to use for your particular needs. A tablet comes first, followed by a Chromebook, followed by a tablet, preferably from Apple for Apple support, then only a Windows machine with touch screen.

Windows 8.1 is mainly for someone who wants or needs to infinitely configure his machine for all kinds of purposes. That capability is the prominent benefit of Windows.

Windows 8 is not a good choice for those who want to learn nothing new and stick to the old Windows unless...they stick to the desktop only in Windows 8.1.

It is not a waste of money to buy into support such as Apple's support if you will be able to take full advantage of it.

A cost saving measure is to combine your computer and TV by using a TV with another device for both TV viewing and computer. That is fine if your mobility is limited and you have limited space.

Does it make sense to buy something you want even if you don't need it? It certainly will make sense if you will regret not having it sometime later.

A very popular device is an all in one computer in which the computer and screen are in a single case and there are very few wires. The keyboard is wireless. If you want that, go for it.

And for cell phones, the simplest will do the job. On the other hand a large cell phone can do much of your tablet work. You can now obtain an unlocked phone and pick your service separately. There are now very inexpensive cell phone plans which will do the job.

Even a non phone tablet may provide what you need in phoning via Wi-Fi. A hot box such as that from Freedompop can connect almost any device to internet. It will work almost anywhere but needs to be in a place where it can "see" that cell tower.

The big thing about Internet service is to choose a service which indeed provides service and does not pass on to you most of the support.

In summary, it is possible to buy a tablet, a laptop, a new printer, and Wi-Fi hardware, all of them outstanding, for way under $1000. You may or may not want to chintz on your internet service.

Oh, and as for cases, very low cost cases can be found on Amazon or eBay. The idea here is not to spend more but to choose wisely after studying Amazon comments.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Memory Failures

Like seniors, computers sometimes come up with short memory. If you are a computer user you may actually unwittingly be the culprit. You may be asking the computer to do too much.

The computer only has space for so much memory just like seniors.

When memory is running short problems occur. When overloaded, the computer puts things where they are harder to get, in slow memory.

This week one resident had a problem with his screen freezing up, another had a problem with slowups, still another had a problem with an unresponsive touchpad on a tablet. Finally one resident came up with a clue to these other problems by noticing that his computer kept telling him that he had low memory.

How can you be the culprit?

Well, for one thing you might be opening too many web page tabs in your browser.

Now you could always add more RAM memory and this is often the popular solution. In fact, computers are often sold on the basis of how much RAM they have.

With a little care though you can make even a cheap or old computer with slow RAM perform quickly.

For example, in the Chrome browser you can install a plugin which automatically limits to 6 tabs.

You can also limit the number of programs in Windows under start up. These run all the time and can be entirely eliminated and run only when needed.

Approaches like this made it possible for me to run Windows 8.1 quickly on a touch tablet under $300.

On some tablets it is easy enough to go to settings, rank applications by memory size, and simply delete those with the most memory and least interest.

On an iPad you can double tap the home button and swipe programs away.

On Windows 8 at the top left screen you can swype or use the mouse to display the programs that are open and delete all that you are not immediately using.

The last also helped me use an inexpensive laptop to perform well with Windows 8. If a Windows device is very low on RAM memory, it is even possible to plug in a USB stick or SD card to add a bit more memory if needed.

Taking care with memory will eliminate a lot of your computer problems even if you have little other technical knowledge. It may also save you from needing to buy another computer just to overcome such problems.

To find out exactly how to do it Google for more information.