Tag Archives: internet

The network is down… And so is my Stock…

It happens to everybody sooner or later. You’ve got an important document you have to email right away, and you suddenly lost your Internet connection.

Don't Panic!!

First off, your life probably does not depend on your internet connection. Your career might, but that’s not too likely, at least for short term outages. If it truly does, you need to come up with a Plan B, pronto! If you just think it does, then maybe you don’t have a life! We’ll talk about “Plan B” a bit later, but first let’s start with some basic troubleshooting.

Check to make sure some fool with a backhoe didn’t just cut your cable. Don’t laugh, it Happened to me! Of course, that’s easier to check if the backhoe is in your back yard at the time…
Anyway, the first thing you should always check is your modem. All broadband modems have an entire array of blinking lights on the front. They’re not there just to impress the user; incredibly, they actually provide useful information! Get familiar with how many and what color lights are on when everything is working. My DSL modem has four green lights during normal operation. They are labeled “Power”, “DSL”, “Internet”, and “Ethernet.” Cable modems are similar. “Power” is self-explanatory. “DSL” indicates connection to the phone line. “Internet” is connection to the Internet, and “Ethernet” is a wired connection to your computer or router.

The router will also have lots of lights, indicating wired and wireless status.

The computer or other device you’re using will have a connection icon that gives current status. Get familiar with that also.

The easiest thing to try first, no matter what the lights are telling you, is shut down the computer, then remove (unplug) the power cord from the modem and the router if you have one. Wait 60 seconds, then first apply power back to the modem, wait up to 3 minutes, and see if all the important lights are back on. Next, do the same with the router. Finally, start the computer. In most cases, if the phase of the Moon is right and you bowed toward the East three times, You’ll be back up lickety-split, no problem. If not, try to localize the issue:

  • Try to connect using another computer or device, if you have one. If you can, then the problem is the computer.
  • Try a wired connection if your problem is wireless, or vice-versa.
  • If you have a router, try bypassing it and going direct from router to computer.
  • If your connection is wired, try a different cable — your cable may have failed, or been chewed by your dog, cat, skunk, or pet platypus. Also check the cable going from the modem to the wall, especially if you don’t have all the lights on the modem.

If all that doesn’t work, call your ISP. The trouble may be on their end. The first thing they will tell you to do is all the things I just told you, so maybe you can save yourself some hold time and aggravation! Maybe they have a Fool with a backhoe somewhere in the neighborhood…

Now… About that plan B. If your internet connection is that important, you need a back-up plan. Fortunately, there are a number of easy alternatives.

  • Many smartphones can be used as a wireless hotspot, i.e., it can become a source of wi-fi, using your cellular connection. Be cautious with this, some carriers don’t allow it, others will charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege, and you will go through a lot of data even if they do allow it.
  • Consider a dedicated portable hotspot. These will work much the same as the smartphone, but with a separate data plan you will have to pay for.
  • If you’re working from a laptop or tablet, find a public hotspot. Most public libraries, coffeehouses, and many other public buildings have them now, and many are free. Caution: Don’t do anything involving sensitive information (Like your banking) on a public hotspot. You don’t know what may be happening to your data on it’s way to it’s destination.

061017_no_shirt_shoes_wifi

  • If all else fails, and you still have a land line, you can use dial-up. Yes, I know, it’s as slow as a drugged snail, but it might be better than nothing. You will probably have to buy a USB dial-up modem, because most late-model computers no longer have internal modems.

All of these alternatives require some pre-planning, but if your connection is that important (In other words, you lose money every minute it’s down), it’s wise to look into them.

Now, you can resume panicking!

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Put a Cap on It!

Question: Are you a Netflix aficionado? Do you watch streaming movies every night? Addicted to cat videos on YouTube? There might be bad news in your future.

You’ve probably – at least once – gotten an unexpected sky-high bill from your cellphone provider for excessive data usage, because cellphone plans almost always put some kind of “cap” on data. You also may have no idea where all that data went…

The bad news is some wired internet companies are toying with capping data as well. Comcast is experimenting with this in the Tucson area as well as other cities.

Granted, the caps are pretty high (300 Gigabytes), but still, at the rate the modern internet user consumes data, that cap wouldn’t be too hard to break. 300 Gigabytes averages 10 Gigabytes per day, or about 5 movies on Netflix at standard resolution. If you watch in HD, that’s maybe 2 movies a day.

There aren’t too many other ways for an average user to hog that much data, but remember, this is usage for your entire household – including the kids. The movies and TV they watch online, as well as data used by gaming, all contributes.

If you’re running up against data caps, maybe it’s time to take the family to the park, instead…

http://www.geekwire.com/2015/comcast-brings-cell-phone-like-data-charges-to-home-internet-users/

 

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

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What’s the REAL price?

Ever wonder why your phone plan is advertised as “$29.99/month,” but it’s always over $40? Phone bills (even landlines) have so many hidden charges, it’s enough to make your head spin. You might expect to pay State, City, and Federal Excise tax, but here are some others you might find:

  • State excise tax
  • Universal service charge
  • 911 charge
  • LNP (Local Number Portability) charge
  • TRS (Telecommunications Relay Service) charge
  • Single Bill Fee
  • Detailed Billing fee
  • Access charge
  • Intercontinental Ballistic IntraLATA Surcharge

Okay, I made that last one up, but seriously, this is ridiculous! And those are only the charges you can’t get out of, that add anywhere from 17% to 25% to your phone bill. Reminds me of a TV commercial where the husband comes in with a package in the mail the size of the L.A. phone directory, drops it on the kitchen table with a resounding thud, and says, “It’s the phone bill!”

Arizona ranks 17th in high wireless bill taxes with a State and local rate of 11.98% and a Federal rate of 6.46% (Same in all 50 states) for a combined rate of 18.44%, so we are above the median as far as taxes go.

Why can’t they fold all those fees into the advertised price and avoid the sticker shock? Well… Because then they wouldn’t be able to advertise “$29.99*” in great big numbers and then under the “*” they say (in tiny letters) “Plus applicable taxes, fees, and whatever else we can gouge out of you!” This is also true of many other businesses, such as hotels, airlines, and online ticket sales. One company even tried an all-inclusive “Out the door” price model on it’s website… and lost business to their competitors advertising a lower price, even though their final price was higher. Moral of the story? Sadly, you can’t play an honest game if everyone else is cheating.

People are starting to get really sick of this manipulation, though. That’s one of the many reasons cellphone customers are switching to prepaid service in droves. With prepaid, you buy a month’s worth of service ahead of time, typically for around $40-$45 for most carriers, and the only thing else you pay is sales tax. Granted, the hassle factor is slightly higher because you have to be proactive in making sure your service continues, but look at all the advantages:

  • No contracts!
  • No credit check, in fact, no credit needed because you pay for the service before you use it.
  • No hidden fees, and no surprises. If you need to pay more for some service, you’ll know about it beforehand.
  • You own your phone.
  • No sitting down with someone who wants to sell you lots of additional services.
  • No hour of wasted time reading and signing those contracts.
  • Depending on your needs, often lower monthly charges.

There are a few disadvantages, as well:

  • You may have to pay a lot for your phone, especially if you want the latest iPhone or similar.
  • Your selection of available phones may be smaller, or different.
  • If you run out of money, the grace periods are short, and you’ve got no phone service until you pay again.
  • If you let the service lapse past the grace period, you lose your phone number.

Still, if you stay on top of your finances, prepaid is a very good alternative for many folks. Here’s an idea: Join the revolution and demand a simple quote of the real price! Patronize those businesses that actually tell you how much something costs.

More info:

http://money.cnn.com/2013/07/10/technology/mobile/wireless-taxes/

https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/understanding-your-telephone-bill

http://www.mywireless.org/state-issues/state-tax-rankings/

Gone Phishing!

So, you’ve just gotten an email from eFax saying there is an important fax waiting for you? Not so fast, bub. Something from your bank saying you’re overdrawn and your account is frozen? Hold the phone! The IRS says you owe back taxes?? WHOA!! Don’t touch that mouse!

All of the above are collectively known as “Phishing,” i.e. the sending of fraudulent emails intended to trick you into giving your personal information to some lowlife, who will proceed to make your life miserable.

This is usually done by including a link in the email that will take you to an allegedly legit site, but it’s a fake site that just looks legit. Sometimes, it’s a poisoned attachment instead, but (hopefully!) most of us know by now not to open unsolicited attachments.

Phishing comes in a number of different forms.

  • One common approach, although not the most effective, is the “Dear Bank Customer” ( or Amazon, or Paypal, or any other site) that tells you there is a problem with your account and asks for your passwords or other personal information.
  • Spear Phishing targets a particular individual or company. An attacker can gather enough information about the person or company to increase the success rate. This form of attack is more likely to catch someone than the “Dear Customer” type.
  • Clone Phishing takes a legitimate email and “clones” it, changing only the link to that of a nefarious site instead of the real one.

There are many tricks the Phishers use; for instance, for those of us who actually look at the url address in our browsers (always a good idea!), the address may say

thebank.badguy.com.

You’d think that this is a section of the “thebank” website, but it’s actually a section of the “badguy” website, and has no relation to the “thebank” website other than name. Look at your address bar now. It starts with https://thegizmologist.wordpress.com. The website is wordpress.com, and the “thegizmologist” is my blog space on wordpress.com. Now if you look at my website: http://thegizmologist.com/html/blog.html, notice the sections of the site are separated by slashes instead of “dots.” There’s the difference. thebank/badguy.com is “the bank’s” website (maybe with an article on how not to get scammed), while thebank.badguy.com is the “bad guy’s” website. What a difference a dot makes!

There are many ways to defend against phishing.

  • The most important, from the standpoint of the end user, is to pay attention. If the grammar is bad, the email is impersonal (Dear PayPal customer), it promises dire consequences if you don’t act Right Now, the sender’s address is strange looking, or anything else makes you the least bit uncomfortable, it’s probably not the real thing. If you’re worried it just might be legit, close your email, and type the company’s web address in your browser rather than clicking a link.
  • If you hover your mouse pointer over a link, the bar at the bottom of your web browser or email program will tell you where the link actually leads. If it looks like it leads somewhere other than where it says it leads, don’t go there! See Clone Phishing.
  • The best thing you can do is label all such as spam and delete immediately. Some email systems allow you to specifically label an email “Phishing.”
  • Any legitimate banking site will have it’s address start with https://, not http://. The extra “s” stands for “secure,” and there will usually also be a “padlock” symbol next to the address. Some shopping sites will only have their cart and checkout sections secure. Never enter any personal information unless you see “https.”
  • Some internet security suites have “anti-phishing” filters built in, which may help.
  • The Web of Trust, which I’ve talked about before, won’t stop the emails, but can be very helpful in identifying bad sites, including known phishing sites.

Finally, phishing is not limited just to email. Those phone calls from “Microsoft Technical Support” are the same sort of thing. There has also been some phishing via snail mail, although those are rare since postage can run into serious money.

For more information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing#List_of_phishing_types

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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Is It Safe?

It’s definitely Not Safe!

How do you know whether that website you’re visiting, or that email you’re opening, is safe? Well, one way to find out is visit the site or open the email and see if horrible things happen, or take some precautions, if you don’t like living dangerously.

Websites:

There are many web filtering systems out there. The Firefox browser has one, Google has one, most antivirus programs have one, but the one I use every day is Web of Trust. It’s a no-nonsense browser add-on that tells you whether a site is rated safe by users just like you. It requires no complicated settings, it just works. Get it here: mywot.com

Email:

I’ve covered a lot of this ground before, but some things bear repeating:

  • Don’t open any email that you suspect, even a little bit. Even if it’s from someone you know. Their email may have been compromised. An example: I received an email from a friend that purported to say she was traveling in Spain and had lost her wallet, and would I please wire her some money to get home? This lady is not a World traveler, so the alarm bells immediately started ringing. This is a common scam. Turned out someone had hacked her email.
  • Attachments are especially suspect. These often come disguised as billing or shipping info from UPS, FedEx, or a bank or credit card company.
  • Since a lot of scammers know we don’t open attachments much anymore, links in email are equally suspect.

Above all, don’t get impatient and barge in. Think before you click!

For more tips, visit the website below.

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/stay-safe-online-5-secrets-every-pc-and-mac-owner-should-know/3542

 

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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Plan B: Do You Have One?

It’s been said that if architects designed buildings the  way programmers write programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization… We’ve just heard from one of those woodpeckers, and they are not just about software.

On February 26 of this year, some apparently determined and organized vandals cut a major fiber-optic line in northern Arizona, depriving tens of thousands of residents of phone and internet service for most of a day.

This might seem to some like not a big deal, and if one’s internet usage consists mostly of Facebook and watching stupid cat videos, it’s not. But try to use an ATM or pay for something with a credit card, and you soon find out differently. Local news stations could not even get weather reports from around the state. Law enforcement databases were unavailable. Cellphones didn’t work. Stores closed because they couldn’t ring up sales. If you had an emergency, you might not have had a way to call for help.

This is not the only time something like this has happened. in 1998, the Galaxy IV communications satellite stopped aiming it’s antenna at Earth, leaving millions of Americans without phone and pager service for several days.

It seems amazing that the explosion of the internet is only about 25 years old (or less, depending on how you look at it), and we are already so dependent on it that any disruption at all throws life into chaos. Our current system is incredibly vulnerable to anything from vandals to solar flares.  It’s time to think about a Plan B.

I don’t know much about big business, but one thing I learned was that if a business gets more than half it’s revenue from a single customer, that business is looking at a huge potential problem if that customer stops buying. Single-sourcing anything is a terrible idea, whether you’re a business or an individual.

A Plan B involves having available a different way of doing things should the primary way collapse for some reason. For the business, this may involve having a way to at least make cash sales if you can’t take plastic. Maybe even processing credit cards the old fashioned way, with the mechanical imprinter. Sure, it’s riskier. But your customers will love you!

For the individual, I can think of a few very practical and simple ways to be prepared for a potential lack of modern conveniences like internet.

  • Always have some cash on hand; enough to buy a tank of gas and a few meals would be the minimum. If you don’t want to carry it in your wallet, at least have it in a hidden envelope somewhere at home. I recommend at least $100, some in $5 and $10 bills. The bank isn’t going to pay you any interest worth mentioning anyway, so you might as well keep it at home instead.
  • Do not store your vital files only in the “cloud.” As a matter of fact, any file you care enough about to keep should be on your computer’s hard drive. It’s okay to back up your files to the cloud, like DropBox does, but have a local copy that is within your control.
  • Don’t let your gas tank run almost dry. Always have enough gas to at least get home again, or to some safe place if you’re on a trip.
  • Consider having your phone (land-line), internet, and TV service from different providers. Yes, I know it’s convenient to bundle your services, but if all three of those are coming into your home over one skinny cable, and some fool cuts that cable with a backhoe, you are completely out of touch with the world. If it’s a local outage, your cellphone will still work, but in the latest Arizona outage, cellphones were also affected. Plain old copper wire may seem so last Century, but it still worked after the fiber-optic was cut.
  • Look into getting an Amateur radio license. You do not have to be a brain surgeon to get one of these. There is a written test to pass (which usually costs about $5- $10), the license itself is free and good for 10 years, and you can be up and running with a cheap walkie-talkie  radio for under $50. You may not think a walkie-talkie would do much good, with it’s limited range, but amateurs have mountain-top repeaters in all cities and most towns, so city-wide coverage is not unusual. Amateur radio has proven to be a very important service when the you-know-what hits the fan; it’s totally independent of anything else.
  • Above all, think independently, not dependently! You can take control of a lot of this stuff. Don’t trust it to someone else.

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-05-21/news/9805210138_1_galaxy-iv-satellite-outage-pager-customers

http://www.azfamily.com/news/Outage-halts-Internet-cell-service-in-northern-Arizona-294103211.html

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

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10 rules for easy and safe websurfing (Update)

I’ve posted this article before, but everyone needs an update now and then.

1. Get an Antivirus program and make sure you Keep it Updated. There are free ones available that are every bit as good as the overpriced ones. I use AVG Antivirus. You can get the free version here.

2. Make sure your security settings are correct. Click Start, Settings, Control Panel in Windows XP and earlier, Start, Control Panel in Vista and Windows 7, and on Windows 8 (Deep Breath!), Open Control Panel by swiping in from the right edge of the screen, tapping Search (or if you’re using a mouse, pointing to the upper-right corner of the screen, moving the mouse pointer down, and then clicking Search), entering Control Panel in the search box, and then tapping or clicking Control Panel. Make sure your Firewall is on, your Antivirus is Updated, and your Windows Updates are set to Automatic.

3. Get some good anti-Spyware software, such as Malwarebytes and Super Antispyware. These are both free. I use both, because one catches stuff the other does not. If you must use only one, use Malwarebytes. These products also require updating. Avoid ANY such product advertised in a popup ad or “Scare” ad. See Defenestration.

4. Please don’t use illegal file sharing sites. Whether you think taking copyrighted stuff for free is immoral, illegal, or fattening is between you and God; The Real Issue is that you can pick up so much C.R.A.P. from such sites that it’s not worth it. Such sites may auto-install Ransomware, Adware, Spyware, Viruses, Trojans…. You get the idea. Unless you like having your computer cleaned up every couple of months, Just Don’t.

5. Use Windows update to keep your version of Windows less vulnerable to hacking and malicious sites and software. ( If you use a Macintosh, Don’t think you’re immune! Use their update system.) Automatic update makes this reasonably painless. To turn on Automatic updates, click Start-Control Panel in XP, Vista and Windows 7 or Start-Settings-Control Panel in earlier versions. Click Automatic Updates and choose your options. You might have to click “Switch to classic view” on the left-hand side of the control panel before you can see the “Automatic Updates” icon. You will get no further updates for Windows XP after April, 2014!

6. Get a better browser. Your browser is what you use to actually view Web pages. Internet Explorer is the default browser that comes with Windows. You can do Way better with Firefox or Chrome.  They are more versatile, sometimes faster, and more customizable with add-ons called extensions.

7. Don’t let kids on the Web unsupervised. The Web is just like a big city; there are lots of great things to see, but the difference on the Web, is that the Red Light District is never more than one click away. I’m not trying to scare you, only make you aware of the danger. You may never accidentally click on a Porn site (It hasn’t happened to me in 5 years), but there is plenty of it out there, and kids are naturally curious. There are also sick predators that hang out in chat rooms and Blog sites, and they can pose a serious danger to too-trusting kids.

8. If you bank or shop online, take sensible precautions. Use a Strong password. What’s a strong password? It’s easier to tell you what’s Not a strong password.

Noodles (Any real word, in any language, can be easily cracked, even backwards)

04151955 (Your date of birth, Wedding anniversary, Phone Number, Social Security Number, Driver’s license Number, or any other personally identifying name or number. Someone stealing your wallet could easily figure it out.)

What’s a really strong password?

#k~4oM8$p1

You say, I can’t remember something like that? I don’t blame you. Here’s the next best thing.

Iybosotsp

Sounds like gibberish, right? Not! It’s the first letters of the first sentence in this paragraph! (If you bank or shop…) Now, isn’t that easier to remember than Iybosotsp? Of course it is! So, pick a favorite saying, Bible verse, speech, etc. and use the first (or second!) letters in the first 8-10 words. If you want to improve on it further, add a couple of numbers and symbols in the middle somewhere. And if you get an email from a site you use telling you to change your password, do not click any links in the email. Type the address into your browser in the usual way and change your password.

9. Watch out for fake websites. Scammers and spammers often will build a website that looks a lot like a legit site. This is common with sites such as PayPal, banks, eBay, and the like. This is why you should never click a link in an email that purports to be from such a site. If you need to log in to your bank or other financial or shopping website, always type the address into the address bar or use a bookmark you’ve previously made.

If you already have malware on your computer, it’s possible for it to redirect even your legit site requests to a scam site. Check the address bar in your browser for the actual address of the site you’re visiting. Be alert for misspellings, such as payapl.com or bakofamerica.com. Look for the padlock symbol and “https” in the address bar. Https means a secure site, and you should always look for it when conducting business on the internet. If you ever get unexpected results when trying to visit a site or conduct a web search, run a malware scan immediately.

10. There is a LOT of really Good software available free or cheap on the Web. There is also a lot of really Bad software out there. It’s not all malware, some of it is just very low quality. The low quality stuff can cause you serious problems, the bad stuff can install all those nasties we just talked about in #4, above. How do you tell the good stuff from the bad stuff? DON’T EVER download something advertised in a pop-up ad, for one thing. Get your downloaded software from reputable sites. A good place to start is Ninite.com. They make it super simple to install a whole lot of free software goodness with just a few clicks. Or, ask me! I will never recommend something I haven’t used.

For even more empowering technology info, read my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now!

Click here to read all about it.

Follow me on Twitter:

I’d love to hear your comments!