Sunday, May 22, 2016

Does Netflix Stall And "Buffer" When You Watch? Check Your Broadband Speed At Fast.com

Everyone that uses Netflix has had an occasional "hiccup". You're watching a movie and the video stalls or buffers. Is it a Netflix issue or is it your Internet connection? Of course, Netflix believes that most often it is your Internet Bandwidth. To bolster their position, Netflx has opened a new testing site at Fast.com  It's very simple to use. Just visit Fast.com using a computer, tablet or smartphone and it will quickly and automatically display the download speed of your current broadband connection.

 

Compare this number to the speed that your Internet Service Provider claims you are receiving. Most users pay for a particular "speed tier."

In addition, you should compare your measured speed to what Netflix says is recommended. Here is a list of their present download speed recommendations.

  • 3.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for SD (Standard Definition) quality
  • 5.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for HD (High Definition) quality
  • 25 Megabits per second - Recommended for UHD (Ultra High Definition) quality
If your speed falls below 5 Mbps and you want to watch HD programming, you may need to purchase a higher level tier. Give it a whirl.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Is Your IPhone Also Your "Home Phone"? Make It More Convenient - Default To Speaker Mode

Let's face it, modern smartphones are great pocket computers, but they are terrible cell phones. Have you ever considered going back to a "flip phone"? Or perhaps, you never left. The flip type mobile phones were small, easy to carry, easy to use, almost indestructible and sounded great.

On the other hand, many folks rarely use the smartphone "as a phone". Email, Internet, Apps, Text messaging have become dominant - it's a portable computer. 

 
 

Landlines are gradually disappearing and we see mobile devices becoming the primary phone in the home. In the privacy of your home or office, setting the phone to "Speaker" leaves you hands free and offers the ability to share the conversation. On most mobile phones the sound quality is better, as well.

If you have an IPhone, you may have discovered that switching from Earphone to Speaker phone can be inconvenient, to say the least. On the larger models hanging a "surfboard" next to your ear can be uncomfortable and difficult to maneuver. So, you might want to set your IPhone to default to "Speaker Phone". Incoming and Outgoing calls (including FaceTime) will automatically use the devices speaker for communication. Fortunately, it's easy to do in two steps.

1. Open the Settings app, go to General and then Accessibility.
2. Scroll down and select Call Audio Routing, which should be set to Automatic by default. Change this setting to Speaker. 

Simple enough. Happy calling!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Is Apple's QuickTime Installed On Your Windows Based Computer? Remove It Now!

Apple's QuickTime media player has been around since the early 90's. Applications like QuickTime and Adobe Flash have always been prone to exploits, particularly when their respective plugins are enabled in your Internet Browser. The "bad guys" look for holes that will allow malevolent code execution on your PC.

QuickTime

QuickTime has largely been replaced by html5, on the web, and Apple has stopped issuing security patches for the Windows version. The latest version contains several vulnerabilities, and the US Department of Homeland Security is advising Windows users to uninstall the application immediately. This does not apply to Quicktime for Mac.

QuickTime is usually bundled with ITunes, so if your computer has ITunes installed, you probably have QuickTime, as well. Fortunately, it is simple to remove. Go to Control Panel >> Category View >> Programs >> Uninstall a program. Select QuickTime, click uninstall and you're done. It is unlikely that you will miss it and your safety and privacy will be considerably enhanced. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Don't Want To Upgrade To Windows 10, and Hate The Microsoft "Nags"? - Get Never10, It's Free.

Windows 10 has been gradually gaining acceptance as we approach the July 29, 2016 deadline. This is the last date that an individual can grab the upgrade - free. Will Microsoft stick to this deadline? Some analysts think this may be an arbitrary date designed to force as many upgrades, as possible. There is no doubt that Microsoft has been pushing users toward Windows 10. Everyone using Windows 7 or 8.1 has seen the "nagging" GWX Control icon, periodically, popping up asking you to move to Windows 10. Some users have been "tricked" into installing the upgrade - thinking it was a normal Windows security patch.



Personally, I have found no major issues with Windows 10. Nevertheless, you may be one of the many folks that simply, do not want Microsoft's "latest and greatest." Perhaps you presently have software or hardware that is incompatible with Windows 10. Maybe you object to some of the privacy policies or dislike the Tile Interface (in spite of the recent changes). Whatever the reason, you should be allowed to stick with your present version "nag free".

If you fall into this category, you may want to download Steve Gibson's free utility - Never10  This tiny application removes the constant popups and deletes the 6-7 GB of upgrade files that Microsoft has already downloaded to your computer. Don't let the name fool you. You can always re-enable the Windows 10 upgrade (via the app), as needed. Never10 does not install any extraneous files on your computer - the process runs from a single executable file. It's fast, simple and completely reversible. 

So, if you want to stick with Windows 7 or 8.1 check out Never10.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

IPhone Security - Two Simple Steps You Can Take To Protect Your Privacy

We have all read the headlines regarding the "FBI vs Apple" San Bernardino IPhone Case. It has become a political "hot potato". Each side has presented their case in the media, and unfortunately there are no easy answers. On the surface it may see simple - why not provide the IPhone data to the Government? Doesn't Apple want to help prevent Terrorism? What about privacy? Does the Govenment have the right to force a private international company to create a "master key" that potentially "opens thousands of doors." Valid government warrants have routinely been used in criminal cases - is this case different? Generally US courts have upheld valid warrants for "things", but not for what's in your head (self incrimination). You can be compelled to provide a fingerprint, but what you store in your brain is protected. These are complex issues and the US Congress will ultimately have to create new law.



Why new law? Because of Math. Modern methods of encrypting data rely on math - cryptography. The art and science of cryptography has evolved to the point where we can hide (encrypt) information, in such a manner, that no one can recover it, without knowing the "Key". This is an all or none, binary process - there are no "shades of gray". Supercomputers can "brute Force" encrypted data, but the math - crypto has managed stay ahead and win the race. Modern computers would take more than a thousand years to break standard encryption methods that are available to the public. Will our government outlaw encryption? Apple's latest IPhone 6 series, if properly. secured, would be impossible to decrypt by anyone other than the person that created the key - Apple included. Keep in mind that the San Bernardino IPhone was, from what we have seen, not properly secured. So, Apple, most likely could create a special OS or firmware in this case. Does that set a precedent?

So how do you secure your IPhone (IPhone 6 running IOS 9) against thieves, hackers and even governments? Two simple steps.

1. Use a good passcode - even if you use the fingerprint technology - Touch ID. What is a good passcode? To make it relatively convenient, choose a 12 - 14 digit numerical code. It would take over 1000 years to discover your key. Want to make it better - use a 12 - 14 character alpha-numeric key. This 
pushes it to hundreds of thousands of years, but it is much less convenient. To change your passcode to 12 - 14 digits, go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode > Change Passcode > Passcode Options > Custom Numeric Code. Or choose Custom Alphanumeric Code if you want to use letters, as well. You should also turn on the feature to "erase your phone" after 10 incorrect tries.

2. Turn off iCloud Backups on your IPhone. Instead, use ITunes (via USB) on your Mac or Windows PC to make routine backups. When using this method, make sure you turn on Encryption within the ITunes backup and choose a good password. To stop backing up to iCloud – and delete your existing backup – go to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage then select your device before pressing Delete Backup. When asked to confirm, select Turn Off & Delete.

Your IPhone data is now as secure as you can make it. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

How To Easily Unlock The Ultimate Windows 10 "Tweaker" - GodMode

Windows 10 is replete with features and "tweaks" that are either hidden or very difficult to find. If you are a Power User or simply someone who wants to optimize your workflow, you may want to unleash The Windows Master Control Panel. It's relatively easy to setup and you will be able to "tweak" a plethora of powerful "under the hood" parameters. So, let's make a new desktop shortcut to point the way.



1. Create a New Folder on your Desktop using a right mouse click.
2. Next, rename the Folder. The new folder name (shown below) includes a long set of characters and you must have them correct. Just copy and paste to make sure get it right.

GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

3. You should now have a new Icon on your Desktop called GodMode.

Double-Click the new Icon and enjoy your new found access to hundreds of previously hidden settings and features.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Have You Recently Upgraded To Windows 10? Here's How You Can Save 20-30 GB of Hard Drive Space

Many users of Windows 7 and 8.1 have already moved to Windows 10. The upgrade will be free until July of 2016 for most users, and the majority of the early bugs have been patched. There are still good reasons to hold off - you may be using 3rd party software that is not, yet, compatible with Microsoft's latest OS. This particular tip is for those who have already "taken the plunge" and don't plan on going back.



When you "upgrade" to Windows 10, or install a major update like the recent one offered in November 2015, Microsoft stores the files necessary for a "rollback" on your hard drive. If you have plenty of space, this may not be an issue, but if your PC has a Solid State Drive (SSD) you may want to recover that lost space - (20-30 GB). These backups are stored in a file named Windows.old, but you cannot simply delete it.

To remove Windows.old - Run the "Disk Cleanup" Utility. (Caution - Once you delete the files you cannot "rollback" to a previous version of Windows.)

1. Click on the Search icon in the Taskbar or use the Windows key to open the Start Menu and just start typing the phrase Disk Cleanup. You will see the Disk Cleanup program entry at the top of the search results. Click or tap the program name to start it.

2. Run the Disk Cleanup utility, and after the initial scan, click “Clean up system files.” After a second scan, there should be an option reading “Previous Windows installation(s).” This item may not be selected by default. Select and run it again to delete the files.

Your newly acquired extra space may be just what you need to store a few additional photos, videos or digital music.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How To Easily Uninstall A "Built-In" Windows 10 App

Many PC users have "taken the plunge" and installed Microsoft's latest - Windows 10. It remains free for most users until July 2016, and it seems to be a solid update.

If you have spent time with Windows 10, you may have noticed that it is bundled with a host of "built-in" Apps. Some of these Apps are excellent, but there are many others (Camera, Phone Companion, Get Office, Grove Music) that you may not need, or want. Perhaps you are using a Solid State Drive (SSD) and don't want to waste valuable hard drive space or wait for slow updates.



Unfortunately, Microsoft did not make it easy to remove these applications. There is no generic Uninstall - like the process used for 3rd party Apps. One commonly used method involves invoking PowerShell commands, but this can be complex and inconvenient for normal users. There is a better way - grab the free CCleaner from Piriform  The latest version has an uninstall tool that will remove any application - including those from Microsoft. CCleaner is an excellent program that you should probably have anyway. You can read more about it here

Simply install CCleaner and take the following steps:

1. In CCleaner, click the Tools icon on the left and then select Uninstall.
2. In the Uninstall screen, select the name of the Microsoft App that you want to uninstall from the Programs to Remove list.
3. Click Uninstall.

Done.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How To Quickly Speed Up & Refresh Your IPhone/IPad

Have you noticed your IOS device slowing down or locking up? Or perhaps you have a particular app that is "acting up". Most of the time these symptoms indicate a lack of memory (RAM), and a power down or reboot will usually solve the problem. This, however, can be very inconvenient.



Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to clear your iOS device’s RAM without having to perform a restart. Here's how you do it.

1. Unlock your phone so your home screen is visible.

2. Press power until ‘Slide to Power Off’ pops up.

3. Release the power/sleep button and press the Home button for four or five seconds until it returns to the app screen.

4. That's it. Your device memory has been refreshed. 



Monday, January 11, 2016

IPad Tip: Turn Your IPad Keyboard Into A Trackpad

The IPad has always been considered a "top of the line" consumption device. Recent iterations have expanded it's capabilities to where it can now compete in the "production arena". It may not be a full laptop replacement, but Apple added some nice features to IOS 9 that make it a viable candidate. 

Text editing, in particular, has always been a challenge when using the touchscreen interface. Fortunately, there are a few keyboard tricks in IOS 9 that make this a breeze.



How To Turn Your Keyboard Into A Trackpad

1. Open an App that requires the keyboard and touch the keyboard with two fingers. This action starts trackpad mode. Slide your fingers around to move the cursor. 
2. Tap two fingers once to select a word.
3. Tap two fingers twice to select a sentence.
4. Tap two fingers three times to select a  paragraph.
5. To select custom lengths of text - hold two fingers on the keyboard until the cursor switches to a text selector. Slide your fingers to select the boundaries of your custom text.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Your New Vizio Smart TV May Be Invading Your Privacy

Modern flatscreen TVs are far removed from the older models that we used for decades. These Internet connected "Smart TVs" are really large screen computers with built in apps. Having Apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, etc., a remote click away, is very convenient. As Apps are added to the TV platform it eliminates the need for all of those extra boxes and peripherals.

Unfortunately, manufactures are always seeking additional revenue streams - perhaps at the expense of your privacy.



Vizio, considered by many to be a top of the line "second tier" product, has a feature that you may want to turn off. This "feature", which is on by default, is capable of tracking your viewing habits and sharing them with other advertisers. Vizio calls this "Smart Interactivity".

The technology analyzes the programs you watch via cable, OTA or even across streaming services like Netflix. Your habits can then be associated with the IP address of your Internet connected TV. While IP addresses are not directly connected to a particular individual they are being combined with other information to gain a clearer picture of the user.

Cable companies in the US are not allowed to sell information about customer viewing habits, but this does not apply to manufactures. 

So how do turn this "feature" off? It varies slightly by model, but the steps below will assist you. 

1. Press the MENU button on your TV's remote.
2. Select either Settings or System (followed by Reset & Admin.) - depending on your model.
3. Highlight Smart Interactivity.
4. Press the RIGHT arrow to change the setting to Off.