Saturday, June 27, 2015

How To Optimize Your Home WIFI To Get The Strongest Signal And Coverage

One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive is "How can I improve the WIFI reception in my home." Any RF engineer will tell you that there are a myriad of answers to this question. Your WIFI router transmits RF (radio frequency) and it can be blocked and absorbed by most anything in your home. In addition, there are other transient RF waves, in your space, that will "interfere" with those that are being emitted by your router.

First, let's take a look at the more involved and costly solutions, and then we will look at the simple fixes that won't cost you a dime.

 

1. Update your router's firmware with an open source product like DD-WRT. This is not possible on all routers and it is rather "geeky" - not suggested for the average user. This will allow you to increase the output level of the RF signal and give you many more options for "fine tuning".

2. Purchase a new router. Most of the new routers like the TP-Link Archer C9 will provide a stronger signal and cover a larger area. In addition, they are "dual band" - transmitting on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. This is a significant advantage in crowded areas where the 2.4 spectrum may be over-saturated. Areas like apartments or condos, where there are many WIFI routers in close proximity, create huge problems with interference. The 5 GHz band has many more channels and less chance for collisions.

3. Purchase a Repeater or Range Extender. These devices are bridges that basically grab the RF signal from your original WIFI router and extend it to another area of your home. While this setup will increase your range, it generally, reduces the throughput of your Internet connection. Sometimes a better solution is to purchase a Powerline Repeater. This transmits the signal via Ethernet through your electrical lines, as if the lines were Cat 5 twisted pair cable. The Powerline Repeater, coupled with a second router or access point in another part of the home has proved to be satisfactory solution for many users.

4. Of course, the ideal solution is often the most difficult to achieve. Run Ethernet cable from your main router to a distant part of your home and connect a second router (preferably the same brand as the first) in Bridge Mode. Easier said than done, in most homes.

Ok, now for the simple steps that everyone can perform - WIFI Channel Selection and Router Placement.

1. The placement of your WIFi router is crucial. Sometimes moving it 4 or 5 feet will make a huge difference. But, how do you know where to place it? Surely, trial and error is not a good solution. Fortunately, there is an "App for that". In fact, there are two good ones. I recommend WIFI Analyzer. Unfortunately, it's Android only. If you have an Android based Smartphone or Tablet, you can get it in the Google Play Store - free. There is no equivalent App for IPhone or IPad because IOS does not permit this type of hardware access. There is a, less elegant, alternative. NirSoft's WifiInfoView is a simple Windows application, with a few less features, but it gets the job done. These applications will allow you to test the WIFI signal strength of your router from different locations in your home. You can move the router, slightly, and recheck the areas that have weak reception.

2. Adjust the WIFI Channel. All WIFI routers allow you to change (Within the Administrative Settings) the transmit channel (frequency). Generally, WIFI routers have Channel Ranges 1 - 11. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are the most frequently used for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. These three channels are the only ones that don’t overlap with each other. When you scan your area with WIFI Analyzer or WifiInfoView, you will see the details of all of the WIFI routers close to your location. You need to put your router on a Channel that is the least crowded. If 5 neighbors are on Channel 1 you should use 6 or 11. The further you are from the congested channels, the better. Correct channel selection will significantly improve your signal strength and expand the broadcast area within your home.

Try the simple steps first - you may save a little time and money.

 

 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Five Quick Tips For Your New Apple Watch

Apple sold millions of Apple Watches during the pre-order phase a few months ago. Now that the new Smartwatch is actually available in "brick and mortar" stores, sales are expected to increase.

As new users learn how to use the device, Apple will be busy sorting out bugs and preparing Watch OS2. The updated OS is expected this Fall (2015), and many analysts say, that it represents the platform that Apple had hoped to launch at the debut.

While Apple takes pride in offering simple, intuitive interfaces, there is a slight "learning curve" with the new Apple Watch. So, here are a few tips for the new user.

 

1. Make the text larger - The watch is quite small, so you may want to increase the size of the text. Apple makes this easy in the accessibility settings. Go to Settings > Brightness & Text Size.

2. Mute the Sound - If you have sound enabled on the Watch, you may need to quickly silence it. Just cover the display with your hand for three seconds or more to instantly mute any new sounds. To turn this on, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then go to My Watch > Sounds & Haptics > Cover to Mute.

3. Force your Watch to reboot - Sometimes the Apple Watch will freeze or crash due to a problematic App. You can turn the Watch off by pressing and holding the side button until you see the Power Off slider, then drag it across the screen. If your Watch is completely frozen, you can perform a force reboot by holding both the side button and Digital Crown for at least ten seconds, until you see the Apple logo.

4. Create custom Messages responses - As you know, you can't type directly on your Apple Watch. Apple does provide a few custom responses to be used in text messages. In addition, you can set up your own responses using your attached iPhone. To do so, open the Apple Watch app, then go to My Watch > Messages > Default Replies.

5. Save custom watch faces - Apple provided 10 different Watch Faces with the first OS release. You can customize each of the Faces - by changing the "Complications"and colors. Fortunately, you can also Save them. To do so, Force Touch (long press) on the Watch display, then swipe all the way to the left and tap the New plus button. From there, you can customize the new version of your watch face and save it for later use.

 

 

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How To Reserve Your Free Copy Of Windows 10 If You Don't See The Tray Icon

Starting in late July, 2015 users that are currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8 will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 - free. What happened to Windows 9? Well, Microsoft would rather not discuss 9 - they want to get a fresh start with Version 10. You may have noticed that a small, white, Windows Icon recently appeared in the lower right tray of your Windows 7 or 8 desktop. The icon is a reminder to "reserve your free copy of Windows 10".

 

Unfortunately, some users have not seen this icon and assume that they are not eligible for the upgrade. In most cases this is just a bug and you will still be able to grab Windows 10 when it's released on July 29, 2015. Here are a few things you can do to make the reservation icon appear.

1. Make sure that Windows Update is enabled and running. Also, check "Computer Properties" to insure that you are running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update.

2. The icon arrived as part of Windows Update KB3035583. Open Windows Update and click on View Update History to see if you have it. If you don't, you can download the update manually from Microsoft.

3. If you do have it and the icon doesn't show, try to launch it manually: Open the Run Box (Windows Key + R), type "C:\Windows\System32\GWX\GWX.exe", and tap Enter. Next, Reboot your computer and see if it appears in the lower tray.

4. If the previous steps didn't resolve the issue, uninstall KB3015583 from the Windows Update Panel, and reinstall the update using the manual link above. Reboot once again.

Reserving your free copy of Windows 10 is convenient, but not absolutely necessary. You will have one year to upgrade (July 29, 2015 - July 29, 2016), as long as your computer meets the specifications below.

  1. Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC.
  2. RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit OS.
  3. Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS.
  4. Graphics Card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  5. Display Resolution: 1024x600



 

Friday, June 19, 2015

How To Increase Privacy And Decrease Third Party Tracking On Your IPhone And IPad

It is often said that "if you are not paying for a product - you are the product." This may not tell the complete story, but all of us know that advertising runs the Internet. How many Internet Services do you use that are free? Email, news, music, video, podcasts, cloud storage, social networks - the list is long. All of these services have to find some way to monetize - online content is not free.

Most users understand this model and are willing to live with online/mobile ads that are non-intrusive. However, many are obnoxious and employ surreptitious tracking methods that are often seen as an invasion of privacy. The goal is to deliver "targeted ads", but this requires a wealth of information about "you" - the target.

You may not be concerned about this type of tracking. But, if you would like to err on the side of Privacy, here are a few changes you may want to implement on your IPhone or IPad.

 

1. Turn off Diagnostics and Usage Data on your iPhone. Tap Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics and Usage and select Don’t Send.

2. Turn off Geo-Location for Photos. Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera and select Never.

3. Turn off Location based Ads. Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services and set Location-Based iAds to Off.

4. Limit Ad Tracking. Tap Settings > Privacy > Advertising and set Limit Ad Tracking to On. While you are here tap the Reset Advertising Identifier so you are using a new ID number that advertisers cannot track.

5. Turn on Do Not Track. Do Not Track is a Safari option that prevents reputable websites from tracking your information. Tap on Settings > Safari and set Do Not Track to On.

6. Use Duck Duck Go instead of Google for Searching. tap on Settings > Safari > Search Engine and tap on DuckDuckGo. This web engine is designed for anonymity - no tracking, or sharing of your personal information.

 

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What You Should Do To Protect Your Identity If You Become Part Of A Large Scale Breach

We have often talked about online security. Taking the appropriate steps to secure your computer, mobile device, passwords, WIFI, home router, etc., will go along way towards securing your identity. Check out the Security Section of our Tech Tips to explore these. Unfortunately, no matter how careful and prepared you are personally, you cannot control the action or inaction of others. Governments (Local, State and Federal), Private Corporations, Hospitals, etc. have access to virtually all of your private information - Financial, Medical, it's there for the taking.

Most of this information is accessible across the Internet. So, you are at the mercy of others to secure it. But, as we have seen, they do a very poor job. Everyday we hear about new "Hacks and Breaches". Big Box stores, Government Agencies, Social Networks and Internet Based Companies have all been targeted by Private and Nation State Hackers. Is it, even, possible to prevent these attacks? One hundred percent mitigation is not possible, but the majority of the recent, large, compromises were due to incompetence. We have the technology to secure this data, but "best practices" were simply ignored.

Cryptographers and Security Experts know that modern encryption methods are highly effective. Records that have been properly encrypted are almost impossible to breach in any reasonable amount of time. Most of the attacks in recent years have employed simple Social Engineering - tricking, poorly trained, employees into releasing private information, in order to gain access to data. In far too many cases this data was being stored in plain text - readable by anyone. In the US, poor practices are most evident in the State and Federal Government agencies. A few years ago the South Carolina Department Of Revenue suffered a breach that exposed information on 4 million taxpayers - including Social Security Numbers. Recently, the Federal Government dropped the ball and handed the hackers 4 million personnel records. The OPM Chief Information Officer, reportedly said Encryption and data obfuscating techniques "are new capabilities that we’re building into our databases." This is an incredible statement. These techniques have been available, and in wide use, for many years. Our government agencies require private information, but are reckless and negligent when it comes to protecting it.

There is one step that everyone can take that will, immediately, give you added protection. It is somewhat inconvenient and not widely known. Freeze your Credit Files. All three of the Credit Bureaus (Equifax, Transunion and Experian) are required by law, to lock your files upon request. In some states there is a fee, but in many it is free. Freezing or Locking your Credit Files prevents anyone, except a government law enforcement agency, from accessing your file. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they, generally, will not extend the credit. You will have to unlock the file anytime you apply for credit. This can be done via phone or online. It's a little inconvenient, but security and convenience are most always on opposite sides of the spectrum.

So, it's not a matter of "if" your private information will be compromised - it will eventually happen. When it does, what should you do?

The Federal Trade Comission (FTC) recently unveiled a new website IdentityTheft.gov, that provides a wealth of information to help, if you have become a victim of one of these breaches. The site provides simple steps designed to assist in your recovery. All of the forms, links and phone numbers that you will need are embedded in the process.

This is an excellent resource, that in spite of all of our best efforts, we may eventually need.

 

 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How To Quickly Move All Of Your Microsoft Outlook Data To A New Computer

Ok, so you have a new computer and perhaps a new version of Microsoft Outlook, and you want to move all of your email, contacts, tasks, calendars, etc. over to the new PC. Fortunately, Outlook is very adept at importing and converting data from older versions to the very latest. You will, simply, need to backup the data on the old computer and import it within the new version of Outlook - here's how.

1. Before you can transfer your data, you have to know where it is. Outlook keeps all of its data in one file, with a .pst extension. It is most likely named Outlook.pst. In addition, there could be multiple .pst files if you have several Internet accounts, but the larger Outlook.pst is the one with your archived emails, calendar, etc. So, how do you find the file in order to back it up?

2. The location varies depending on your version of Outlook. For example, if you've been using Outlook 2010, it's probably stored in an Outlook Files folder within your Documents folder. Other versions may store the .pst file somewhere inside the hidden Appdata folder, and it can be difficult to find - unless you "unhide" those Folders. You can always find the location by looking in the Outlook Program itself.

3. In Outlook 2010 - 2013, click the File tab, then Info in the left pane. Select Account Settings and then Account Settings once again. In Outlook 2007 and older versions, look in Tools > Options.

4. Next, click the Data Files button. You will see the location of the Outlook.pst file. You can then copy the file to an external USB or Flash drive. The file may be quite large, depending on the amount of email, etc.

5. Once you've installed Outlook on the new PC, it will create a new .pst file. You will need to import data from the old file to the new one. Plug in your backup drive and locate the .pst file that you created above.

6. Launch Outlook. If this is your first time launching it on this PC, go through the wizard. Once Outlook is up and running, click the File tab and select Open & Export > Import/Export. In the resulting Import and Export wizard, select Import from another program or file, then Outlook Data File (.pst).

7. Click Next, for the "file to import" option, click the Browse button and select the old .pst file.

8. The next page will ask you what to import. If you want to import everything, stick with the default, otherwise choose your Folders.

9. When you click Finish, the wizard will go away, and the import will start. Be patient, this process can be slow – depending on the size of your file.

When the process is complete you may need to close and re-open Outlook.

 

 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How To Connect Your WIFI Only IPad To The Internet When There's No WIFI

The IPad makes a great traveling companion. You can read a book, listen to music, review your photos, watch a movie and even get some work completed. Suppose some of those items are not on your IPad. We have become much more dependent on the "cloud" as online storage services have become ubiquitous and virtually free. What do you do if you need that larger IPad screen "real estate", but are unable to find a WIFI connection to the Internet? The base IPad doesn't include cellular data access (LTE), and it costs an additional $130 for this feature - which cannot be added after purchase. If you did "pony up" the extra cash for that cellular modem, you will still need to pay an additional monthly fee for a specific "bucket" of data.

 

On occasion, you may be able to locate a free WIFI Hotspot. These are convenient, but as we have said before, they are often insecure. Fortunately, there is another alternative - use your Smartphone as a Hotspot. Since, your mobile phone is already connected to the Internet via it's cellular data connection, use it as a gateway for your IPad or any other WIFI tablet or laptop. A few years ago, Mobile Carriers, particularly in the US, discouraged this practice by charging customers a monthly service fee for enabling Hotspot or Tethering. Times have changed, and most carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint) now include Hotspot as a feature within their Prepaid Services. Of course, an IPad that is using your Smartphones connection to the Internet, is also using data. So, the IPad's data use will count against your Smartphone's monthly data allotment.

So, how do you use Hotspot? Generally your Smartphone (IPhone, Android, Windows) will have a Menu in the Settings area with an item called Hotspot or Tethering. When you turn this on, your Smartphone will broadcast a WIFI Name (SSID), just like any other wifi router. Simply connect your tablet via wifi, using the Name and Password shown in the Hotspot Menu. Here are the specific directions for the IPhone.

1. On your IPhone - Tap Settings and then select the Personal Hotspot menu.

2. Turn on your Personal Hotspot and view the Name and Password to access the connection. This Password can be changed to whatever you want - but choose wisely.

3. On your IPad - Tap Settings>WIFI and look for the Name of your IPhone above. Tap the Name and enter the Password. You are now using your IPhone as a WIFI Hotspot for your IPad.

Enjoy the larger display, but remember that you are using your IPhone's data - there is no "free ride".

 

 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Don't Let A Faulty IPhone Home Button Slow You Down - Add One To Your Home Screen

The Home Button on IOS (IPhone & IPad) devices encounters considerable abuse. Just think about how many times you press this little circle each day. The "five finger squeeze gesture" (put all 5 fingers on the screen and squeeze to return to the Home Screen) can reduce some of the use, but it only works on the IPad.

 

I often hear from users who have older IPhones in excellent condition - except the Home Button has become "flaky". Fortunately, there is a way to ameliorate this issue. Simply add a Home Touch Screen Button to your device. Apple provided this feature to help people with dexterity problems, but it is an excellent way to postpone that repair or new purchase.

1. Go to Settings.

2. Scroll down and select General.

3. Select Accessibility.

4. Find the option for AssistiveTouch (near the bottom) and select it.

5. Turn AssistiveTouch on.

Go back to your Home Screen and you’ll see a little black square icon with a white circle in it - the AssistiveTouch symbol. You can move it wherever you want - it will remain visable in any App.

Clicking this icon brings up a menu in the middle of the screen with several options. One of these is the Home Button. This Button has the same function as your physical Home Button.

As you can see from the other icons, AssistiveTouch can be used to duplicate other physical buttons. You may want to explore and see if there are any other shortcuts that you might find useful.

 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

How To Remove That Annoying "Get Windows 10" Tray Icon From Your PC

Microsoft Windows users, worldwide, were "treated" to a new Popup early last week. The little white Windows logo suddenly appeared in the lower right Tray - beckoning unsuspecting users to "Get Windows 10". Initially, many assumed that this was some type of Malware. Viruses have become so common that everyone should react with an abundance of caution.

This time it was genuine Microsoft. To be sure, the pesky image is in part, a simple ad. Microsoft is letting you know that your computer qualifies for a free upgrade to Windows 10. You can use the icon to "reserve a copy". The truth is, you don't have to reserve a copy. Windows 10 will be available, as a free upgrade, on your consumer Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer, for a period of one year (July 29, 2015 - July 29, 2016).

 

So, should you reserve your copy now? It appears that Windows 10 reservations will be delivered through the normal Windows Update Channel. It will be downloaded and installed just like your monthly security updates. At this point we don't know if it will Automatically install, based on your Update settings. I suspect you will receive a warning before the update occurs, giving you the opportunity to postpone the process.

Most cutting edge "Geeks" will upgrade on July 29, 2015. If you don't fall into this category, or if your computer is "mission critical", just wait. Most of the bugs will be fixed prior to the one year deadline, and the new features are not - "must have". If you want to cancel your reservation, Right-click the system tray icon and select Check your upgrade status. Click the Cancel reservation link. If you don't see the link, click the hamburger button in the top-left, click View information, and then click the Cancel reservation.

So, if you don't want to have that little reminder running in the background, and appearing in your tray, here's how you can remove it.

  1. Go to Control Panel > Programs and Features > Installed Updates.
  2. Search for KB3035583, double-click it, and then click Yes, to uninstall the update.
  3. Finally, Reboot your computer and the tray icon should be gone.

Remember, as a consumer, you have a one year window to grab the Windows 10 upgrade free - something Microsoft has never done before. If you decide later that you would like to accept the "Reservation" you can always reinstall the KB3035583 update, manually, and get the Tray Icon back.

I have been impressed with the pre-release versions of Windows 10 and I suspect most general users will pleased.

 

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How To Disable Or Increase The Text Message Alerts On Your IPhone Or IPad

You may have found that those repeated Text Message Alerts on your IPhone/Ipad can be distracting. Or perhaps you work in a noisy environment and need more alerts. Fortunately, Apple has provided a simple, but somewhat hidden, setting that will let you customize the number of times a specific Alert is repeated.

 
So, let's set it up.
  1. Open your Settings App.
  2. Scroll down to Notifications and select it.
  3. From the Notifications Panel - Select Messages.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom. Select Repeat Alerts.
  5. You should now see several options - ranging from completely disabling repeat alerts to extending the alerts to 10 times after a message has been received. To disable the repeat alert, check the Never option or set the number that works for you.

Keep in mind that repeat Alerts, if engaged, occur approximately every 2 minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How To Avoid Installing Junkware & Bundleware On Your Windows PC.

There are many excellent Freeware applications for your Windows based computer. Most of the developers that offer these programs have to find some way to monetize their efforts. Unfortunately, there has been a growing trend toward bundling other, often nefarious, apps with the base App that you were seeking. You have probably encountered this every time you have to update Adobe Flash on your PC.

The bundled "Junkware" is often obfuscated, and installs without your knowledge. In addition, there are a bewildering array of check boxes and defaults that confuse and trick the unsuspecting user.

Generally, if you choose a Custom installation and read the instructions very carefully, you can navigate the obstacles and successfully avoid the junk. But, there is a better way!

 

There is a great little, free, Windows application called Unchecky, that will make your freeware installation a breeze. Unchecky will run on all versions of Windows - XP and above.

Just download the program and run the installer. Unchecky runs in the background and uses few resources. You will probably not know that it is running until you install a new program and find that it has automatically unchecked the "Junkware" and provided you with a clean install.

Unchecky stumbles occasionally with older software, but works fine with most newer applications. It is particularly suited for normal computer users who may not be willing, or inclined, to perform complex custom installations.