Yesterday, a Texas friend of mine, told me a few “You Know Your From Texas” jokes she had seen on Facebook:

“If you’ve had a long telephone conversation with someone who just dialed the wrong number, you may live in Texas.”

“If someone in a Lowe’s store offers you assistance but they don’t work there, you may live in Texas.”

Those are cute, but something similar and not as funny came to mind when I saw Apple’s instructions about how to properly uninstall iTunes on this Apple support page.

If you have to uninstall 6 programs to fully uninstall iTunes, Apple may have a problem!

Six, wow! Not only that, but it must be done in a particular order to avoid “unintended effects”. Keep in mind, some of these take several minutes to uninstall. This process is not quick. There are many more “complex” programs that would require less from their customers. If you are lucky then simply uninstalling iTunes will take care of your issue but if it doesn’t, hopefully jumping through Apple’s hoops will.

 

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What To Look For When Purchasing A Computer

When shopping for a computer, the processor is one of the most important components that the average computer user never considers. Unfortunately, people will often evaluate a computer based on criteria that doesn’t determine the quality of the computer. And in doing so, they spend more money in the long run because they buy a new computer every 3-5 years and they are unhappy with them most of that time. The computer that I use as of this writing is over 7 years old and I have no desire to get a new one any time soon. It was not inexpensive, but it has excellent components. I want to help you have the same success. Here are the main components of a typical computer and the importance of each:

 

  • Hard Drive: People are often impressed by the size of the hard drive. The truth is, the worst computer on the market might have a 2 terabyte hard drive. The hard drive is the physical disk that stores your programs and data files, so when evaluating the hard drive you do need to choose one that is large enough to meet your needs, but bigger is certainly not better. The only people that need a 1 or 2 TB hard drive are those who are storing a vast number of large files like photos and videos. A 500 gigabyte (GB) hard drive is more than enough for most users. A solid state hard drive is different from traditional SATA drives because there is no spinning disk so they cannot “crash” like a traditional hard drive, but like any computer component they can still fail. The major benefit to an SSD is speed, but with that benefit comes a higher price tag.
  • RAM: RAM is the Random Access Memory. Very simply put, it holds the temporary calculations as the processor (“brain”) works. You typically would not evaluate a computer on the brand and type of RAM used in it unless you were building one yourself, but you should consider how much RAM it has. According the Microsoft, the minimum requirement to run Windows 10 on the most common (64 bit) computers today is 2 GB (gigabytes). The key word there, being MINIMUM. I do not recommend less than 8 GB for a Windows 10 computer.
  • Processor: Even a large amount of RAM will not be of significant value if the processor stinks. Like referenced to previously, the processor is like the brain of the computer. If you start narrowing down your search for a new computer by the processor you will be well on your way to making a good computer buying decision. Typically, if a computer has a higher-end processor, the other components are going to be good as well. When evaluating a processor you really need to consider the particular model, not just the type. The Intel i7 is a higher-end processor family, but even within all of that family of processors there are excellent ones and moderate ones. This page at Futuremark.com gives you a concise ranking of them where you can select “laptop” or “desktop” at the top to narrow it down further. I suggest that you print or bookmark that webpage in your phone so you can have it with you at the store. Seeing this type of ranking will give you a better understanding of why the laptop with the  i7-7500U is $521 and the one with the  i7-6700HQ is $999. The processor is the most important component to consider when purchasing a computer. Unfortunately, it is often the one that the average user overlooks.

I hope that this information will help you wade through the selection of computers at the store or website where you shop. But if you still would like assistance purchasing a computer, please contact The Computer Monkey to schedule an appointment. One final tip is to not be intimidated by the salesperson in a computer store. Some are great and really knowledgeable. Others are not, but they like to sound like they are, or they have certain models or brands that they have been instructed to push. In my experience, the salespeople who try to intimidate you with their “vast knowledge” are the ones who know the least. The best ones will have a teacher’s heart and genuinely want to lead you to the purchase that is best for YOU.

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Recent Email from Cox Causes Concern

The recent email from Cox regarding their customer’s email server settings has generated a lot of phone calls and emails to The Computer Monkey. The main question they ask is whether it is legitimate or some type of scam. As someone who has lead presentations on avoiding scams and cleaned up countless computers for victims of scams, I am thrilled that people are looking at it with the healthy skepticism that I always recommend. So, let me first address the “scam” question and provide a few tips for how you can tell if it is a scam or not. Then, I will provide information and links about what your response to the email should be. (Skip to Changing Your Cox Email Settings below)

First, it is NOT a scam or phishing ploy. Cox will be making some necessary and important changes to security on their servers for their customers. These changes require that their customer’s email application settings are correct so that Cox customers can still access their email servers. So how can the average user be confident that it is not a scam? You can look at the email heading and see that it is indeed from a cox.com address and that it is addressed to you, however, it is possible for the address to be spoofed to make it look like it is from someone it is not so the heading alone is not enough.

The main thing you should consider is the action required in the email. What are they asking you to do? Are they asking you to click on a link, login somewhere using your account user name and password, provide them with sensitive information such as a credit card number or download a file?

Let’s look at the body of the email:

So far they have simply provided and explanation and information. The rest of the email gives you the information that you need to apply the changes. They do provide a link that you can click on, but they also suggest that you can “type it directly into your web browser” which is the safer way to handle it. You can be confident that it is safe to type www.cox.com/ into your web browser because that is Cox’s website. You should always pay attention to what is right before the .com, .org, .gov, .biz etc. For example www.cox.com/secureemail is safe, “www.cox.secureemail.com” is NOT or at least, it is NOT a Cox website — “www.cox.secureemail.com” would be an address for a website called “secureemail.com” which may or may not be a legitimate website. This difference is perhaps one of the most important things you can understand about website addresses and staying safe online. It should be noted that misspelled web addresses are also a common ploy of criminals – for example, fake: amozon.com versus legitimate: amazon.com.

Continuing to analyze the Cox email, we see that they also provide steps for you to do which do not involve clicking on anything or providing any sensitive information like your email password. They are simply giving you the proper settings for YOUR email program that you use to read your email. Scams or malware bait usually involve an urgent request for you to provide sensitive information or click on something that is going to get you into trouble without giving you other options.

If you are in doubt about an email it is still better to be cautious and call the customer service number for the company involved. There is certainly no harm is checking first, but I wanted to provide a few tips to help you evaluate questionable emails.

Changing Your Cox Email Settings

Now, to address how you make these necessary changes to your email program. Cox provides very good information on their website for the most common applications that people use. I will link to those below. Not everyone uses the email applications they support in the information they provide, so I will include some screen shots of the settings for users of emClient, another common email application. Even if you don’t use one of the applications Cox or I have addressed, the setting information changes are the same. They key is to find the Accounts section in the settings of your chosen email application.

Below, I hope that I have provided the information you need to make these changes to your Cox settings, but if you need assistance please contact The Computer Monkey. These settings can be adjusted in a matter of minutes via a remote connection.

The basic settings instructions Cox provides for any email application:

Links to instructions for specific email applications:

iOS (iPhone, iPad etc.)

Android 

Outlook 2007-2016

Mozilla Thunderbird

Mac OS

Windows Mail (Windows 10)

EmClient (see screenshots below)

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Unlike the majority of computer vulnerabilities announced in the last few years, the latest Meltdown and Spectre threats exploit a flaw in the computer’s processor. There are very few processors that are NOT affected, in fact. Processes are the execution of the software that is going on constantly on your computer and the processor is the engine behind the execution of the processes. The Meltdown or Spectre vulnerabilities allow the secure memory information of a running process to be read which could expose sensitive information like passwords, banking information etc.

The processor manufacturers (Intel, AMD, ARM – click to see their responses) along with software developers are working quickly to provide information and patches to address is the issues. There are a few things you need to do to protect your computer as much as possible and try to avoid some of the complications that can arise from the multi-vendor response to this situation.

Obviously, one of the most important updates came from Microsoft, who recently released a security update in response. This has caused a problem for some users whose anti-malware/virus product had not yet released an update that was compatible with the Microsoft update. This situation cause some users to experience failed updates or blue screen errors. In response to the vulnerabilities and the resulting patches to operating systems, browsers and anti-malware/virus software, here are the steps you should take:

  1. Update your anti-virus/malware software. Most of the major developers of these products have addresses the Microsoft patch issue by now. Many of my customers use Malwarebytes. Malwarebytes has released an update for it. If you use Malwarebytes you can right-click on the Malwarebytes icon in the System Tray in the bottom right-hand corner on your taskbar and click Update. If you simply want to see if you already have it you can open Malwarebytes, click on Settings and then the About tab. The Update Package Version should be 1.0.3624 or higher.
  2. After you have installed the latest update from your anti-malware/virus software, then check for the Windows Update. Type “Windows Update” in the search box on your taskbar or start menu and click on “Check for Updates”. Install any important updates that Microsoft recommends.
  3. The best way to minimize your computer’s exposure to these vulnerabilities is to install the important software updates and any chipset updates that become available for of your computer.

If you need assistance with any of these suggestions you may contact The Computer Monkey for support.

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A recent version of CCleaner, a favorite software to tidy up computers from those pesky temporary files, was infected with a backdoor hack that collected and transmitted information about the computer. It is disturbing that CCleaner allowed such a breach but they have apologized and assured users that precautions have been taken to prevent such compromises in the future. The affected version 5.33 was available for download between August 15, 2017 and September 12, 2017. Only computers running the 32-bit operating systems are believed to be compromised.

Many of my customers run CCleaner, fortunately, many of them also run Malwarebytes. According to the their website Malwarebytes blocks the IP and domains related to this malware. It will also remove the malicious installer if it resides on your computer. CCleaner users will want to take the following steps.

  1. Open CCleaner and see what version you have:(see below “CCleaner Free”)  
  2. If it says v5.34… then you have a post-compromise version and can wait for their next update. It would still be a good idea to run a Malwarebytes scan if you have it, just in case you were running the infected version at some point. (see step 4)
  3. If you have a version that says 5.33 then you want to uninstall it using Control Panel for Windows 7/8 or  uninstall using Settings for Windows 10.
  4. Run Malwarebytes which can be downloaded here if you do not already have it and then download and run the installer for the latest version of CCleaner.

Here is more detailed information from Malwarebytes about the infected version.

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If you have lost your network/internet connection on your windows pc, there could be a simple fix for getting your connection back. Sometimes the drivers associated with a hardware component on a computer will become corrupted and simply need to be reinstalled. Typically, Windows will automatically install the driver for network adapters for you, but you need to uninstall the network adapter in Device Manager to make that happen.

Try these steps to quickly restore your network connection:

  1. Go to Device Manager. You can get there through Control Panel in Windows 7 or by using the Windows search feature in Windows 7 – 10. In Windows 10 you can also get there with a right-click to the Windows start button as shown below.

2. Once in device manager, left-click the arrow next to Network Adapters to display the network adapters on your computer. Ethernet will indicate a wired connection adapter and Wireless speaks for itself. If you don’t know which one you use you can uninstall both and they will be reinstalled automatically. To uninstall a network adapter, right-click on the adapter you wish to uninstall and choose Uninstall from the menu. It will ask if you are sure so indicate that you are, close out of those windows and restart your computer. Windows will automatically reinstall the uninstalled adapter(s) and hopefully your network connection will be restored. If you use a wireless connection you will have the added step of logging back into your Wifi network because this process resets stored Wireless network information.

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Cord Cutting

Our family is having a cord cutting summer. Our youngest child leaves for college in August and as people continue to remind me, we are going to be “empty nesters”. Cutting that cord will be one of the most difficult things I have had to do. However, we recently did some other cord cutting around our place that was much easier than I thought it would be. Audio/Visual equipment is not my thing so I will not be expanding the list of Computer Monkey services to include Cord Cutting assistance, but I’m happy to share what worked for us.

We had a bundled plan with our local cable company that included telephone, internet and TV. Our monthly bill had passed the $250 mark and was going to go up significantly when it became necessary to pay a monthly fee for a digital converter box for each of our televisions. Some of which were rarely used, but were in certain rooms for convenience. Hence, we started looking into cutting the cord.

To replace cable service we had to think about how to get the channels that we wouldn’t want to be without and how to replace them. In order to do that, we would need to get the local channels broadcast over the air coupled with a streaming service of some kind. The streaming service requires a device for delivery. Some smart TV’s have that built in. The TV itself is the device in that case.

To get the over the air channels you need an antenna. We opted for a whole home antenna rather than putting one on each TV. We have a large home and a significant number of TV’s so we opted for the Marathon HDTV Amplified Long Distance Antenna from freesignal.tv. Our house had been wired with coaxial cable throughout, so we were able to replace the cable company line with the coaxial cable from the antenna and the antenna signal was fed to all of our TV’s. We then had to figure out which line was delivering the cable company signal to the modem for internet so we could keep that connection in place. We had a little trouble getting all the channels to come in clearly and had to contact Marathon support, their support was busy and probably took longer than usual but they did return our calls and respond to our emails. I will say that the resolution was actually easier than what they were suggesting. All we had to do, as it turned out, was move the location and direction of the antenna. They thought maybe the amplifiers that were in our original cabling scheme were causing interference, which was certainly reasonable concern.

Now we had broadcast channels. But, in order to get the cable channels we wanted we opted to go with Playstation Vue streaming service. (Others include: Sling TVDirecTV NowYouTube TV, and Hulu with Live TV ). The folks at KillTheCableBill.com have an Online TV Channel Matrix (click on image to zoom) to see what services offer the channels that are of interest to you. With each service there are typically varying packages with varied price points — more channels, more money.

Our chosen streaming devices are Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire Stick. We have Amazon Prime and we tried them out and they worked well. I had tried a Roku already and wasn’t wild about the interface/remote, but they get excellent reviews and a lot of people really like them. Here is a recent article about the various streaming devices to help you decide what’s best for you.

So we had all of the channels we wanted, but had lost some of the viewing convenience we had with having a DVR from the cable company. Even with a streaming service, network television shows are considered “on demand” which doesn’t give you live access to network television shows and doesn’t allow fast forwarding when you watch them. Also, we would not have been able to record locally broadcast channels. In order to mirror the functionality that we had with cable, we got a DVR that would allow us to record locally broadcast. We chose the Channel Master DVR +16GB. We opted for this less expensive ($249) model where you connect your own external hard drive rather than the other model ($399) that has a 1 TB drive inside because I can purchase my own external hard drive for $54. As I always tell people when I urge them to back up their data, a hard drive crash can happen at any time. If ours crashes, I’m only out $54 if it is out of warranty. I would rather do that than pay another $399 for the complete unit. The Channel Master is great when coupled with a better quality remote. We had a logitech harmony remote that it works beautifully with, but like many manufacturer remotes, the one that came with the Channel Master DVR wasn’t very good.

Have you “cut the cord”? Please comment below about the products/services you use it may help someone with their decision making process.

 

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5 Ways To Save Money on Tech Support

Regardless of whether you use The Computer Monkey or another firm to resolve your IT needs, I don’t want you to pay more than you should. There are several things over which you generally have control that can directly affect the final cost of your services. Because support services are typically billed by the hour, most of them involve things that increase the time required to resolve your issues.
1. Passwords – Many issues require me or the user to log in to a particular device or account. Issues involving internet service, email, program installations, and routers are all situations when we may need a password in order to proceed. When you do not have a needed password, it delays our work and takes extra time to do a password retrieval or call customer service for the provider. In my experience, lost passwords are by far the most common thing that needlessly increases a tech support bill. The best method I have found for keeping passwords is some sort of card file system that keeps a card (or page) for each account’s information. You want to be able to easily find the account in question and completely replace the old information when something changes.

2. Software License Codes – A related area to lost passwords, is lost software license codes. In order to prove that you own the rights to install and use a particular software application, the company you purchase it from provides a unique license or registration code to you at the time of purchase. If you bought it in a store, it will be in the packaging. If you download the software online, it will usually be in your order confirmation email. Some stores like Amazon will keep your license information for you in your order history, but it is always best to make sure that you keep copies of all of your license or registration codes yourself.

3. Software media – If you get a new computer but you still have software applications from the old one that you want to use or you have a software product that needs to be reinstalled due to an error, you will need the installation media. In the past many products have been on disks, but now many are downloaded as referenced above. Either way, you need to have the installation media available for the technician to use in these and other situations. Depending upon the product, some installation files can be easily and quickly downloaded – anti-virus products, for example. However, for more complex products like Microsoft Office, Quickbooks etc. locating and downloading large installation files for your particular version can be time consuming. Although, I am happy to report that Microsoft has recently made great improvements in this area and now provides a web page that makes it pretty easy to get most versions as long as you have your license codes, ahem! When you download software, keep the installation files and back them up like you do your other important data. You are backing up aren’t you? Please tell me you are!

4. Describing the Issue – It can be difficult to explain the computer problem that you are having but the more accurate and detailed you can be, the faster the technician will be able to determine what is happening. For example, a client says “my computer won’t do anything”. In reality, I have had that explanation mean that literally, the computer wouldn’t boot at all so, yeah, it’s not doing anything. On the other hand, I have also had that description mean that the internet browser wouldn’t go to any websites. There is a big difference between these two problems. If you have been receiving an error message, write it down so that you can tell your technician. Try to describe exactly what you are doing when the problem happens or if it just happens at random times think of anything that may help, such as anything that has changed about your setup. Have you recently added any new hardware or software or did Windows recently report doing an update?

5. Seek Qualified Advice – I find that people and businesses often spend more money in the long term because they make ill-advised or unadvised purchases. That laptop at Best Buy that was only $300 might seem like a good deal, but it isn’t if you hate it three years later and want to get a new one or have to keep taking it in for “tune-ups”. I have had the same computer for 8 years and have no intention of getting rid of it any time soon nor have I had to upgrade it in any way. It’s fast and I use a lot of applications all at one time. It wasn’t inexpensive, but I spent the money where it counted. And, new isn’t always better. I would rather have a refurbished high quality computer than a new piece of junk. Consider getting advice before purchasing software as well. In both cases, you may find that paying $30 – $60 to consult with an expert is some of the best tech support money you have spent.

 

 

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Are Your Passwords Exposed?

Most major data breach situations are mentioned in the news media or the company involved notifies it’s customers. However, you still may have missed the news or the notification. There is an easy way to find out if your email address is associated with an account that could have been exposed in a data breach. You simply need to go to Have I Been Pwned and enter your email address to find out. “Pwned”, for those of us who are not up on the newest vernacular, is slang for owned, when used for “defeated” or “bested”. HIBP was created by Troy Hunt, an Australian internet security expert and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional.
If you discover that you have been pwned, don’t panic. Read the information about the breach and when it occurred. You may find that the company involved has already required you to change your password. But, if not I would recommend that you change the password for that account and if you use that same password for other accounts that you change them as well depending upon the nature of the account (i.e. credit card attached, data storage). In addition to checking the current status of your accounts you can sign up to receive an email notification of future breaches associated with your email address. For more information about HIBP, see the HIBP FAQ page.

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red-flagIIYesterday a senior citizen customer of mine called me after she had been to her local Apple store. She had taken in an iPad that had an email issue. The Apple Genius (the name used by Apple for their technical support staff) she was assigned to worked on the problem for about 30 minutes and even sought help from other Geniuses for the problem. The Apple employee finally said that the problem was due to her ATT/Yahoo email settings and wrote a phone number down on a piece of paper for AT&T email support and said they would be able to help her.

My customer went home called the number and spoke with Paul Johnson, who let’s just say, didn’t sound like his name was “Paul Johnson”. He connected to her computer and proceeded to show her all kinds of terrible issues that it had, like “Trojan viruses” but not to worry, he could help her. She would need to sign up for a monitoring service with her credit card. My customer had been a little suspicious before, but quelled that suspicion because the Apple lady had given her this number. The request for a credit card was a giant red flag. Thankfully, she declined the scammer’s request and ended his charade.

But the Apple Genius had given her the number! One problem, the phone number was 888-985-8273 and it had come from an internet search for AT&T Email Support. Do not click on any of these results, but a Google internet search of this phone number reveals a smorgasbord of scam choices. A similar Google images search gives you an idea of how prevalent and legitimate looking the scam lures are. If you need to contact support for any product the best practice for locating the proper phone number is to go directly to that company’s website and be confident that it really is their website. Another lesson is that you cannot always trust the information provided by a person from the Apple store, or other retail establishment, even though they may seem like an authority on the subject.

I was angry and completely stunned by what this Apple employee did, as was the manager of the store when I called him with the details. But, this post isn’t about bashing Apple. I am sure their Genius was genuinely trying to help. It demonstrates how prevalent the scammers are and how easy it is to fall into their clutches. When dealing with technology and web searches for information, always be on guard and keep a healthy skepticism. Feel free to contact me if you have a question about a search result, website or a suspicious email.

Below are some links to articles about tech support scams, how to avoid them and what to do if you fall victim to one.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0346-tech-support-scams

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/windows-tech-support-scam/

http://www.consumerreports.org/money/beware-tech-support-scams-online/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2016/08/07/what-seniors-and-their-children-need-to-know-about-tech-support-scams/#4e2df8dd2631

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