Google+ February 2016 ~ High Tech House Calls

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

When to renew your passport by Travel and Leisure Magazine

Some 87 million people need to renew their passports this year, so the whole process could take way longer.

Think you don’t need to apply for a new passport until your existing one is six months from expiring? Think again. The State Department has just advised travelers whose passports expire any time in 2016 or 2017 to get a jump on the process, as there’s soon to be a backlog in renewal requests.

The uptick in requests comes as a consequence to two things: the REAL ID act, which requires travelers from 25 U.S. states and territories to use a passport for domestic flights, and the enormous number of citizens who signed up for a passport in 2006 or 2007, when the government enacted the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. (The Initiative kicked off a new mandate requiring travelers to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda to have a valid passport.)

According to the most recent statistics from the State Department that were released in 2014, only 46 percent of Americans hold valid passports. Given that the REAL ID act impacts half of the U.S. states, it’s reasonable to think that 27 percent of Americans—half of those currently without passports—will consider signing up for one before October 10, when Federal agencies will no longer accept their driver’s licenses. That’s roughly 87 million potential new applicants—without considering how many people will be up for renewal. (Don't worry: the State Department is expecting the turnout to be much lower, at around 17 million.)

If you’re smart, you’ll get your paperwork taken care of before March rolls around; it’s the busiest month for passport renewals all year, according to data from the U.S. Department of State. Last year, 1.5 million Americans chose that month to renew, while in November, the number dropped as low as 713,000. Backlog, indeed.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

You’re Typing It Wrong: The Best Alternative Keyboards for iOS by Dan Moren

When it launched the iPhone in 2007, Apple essentially created the touchscreen keyboard as we all now know it. But until 2014, Apple’s own built-in keyboard was the only game in town for iPhone. Then, with iOS 8, the company enabled third-party developers to create alternative keyboards (which, it must be admitted, had by then been available on the Android operating system for years).

Since then, all kinds of alternative iOS keyboards have appeared in the App Store. We’ve rounded up five of our favorites, which each do something useful that the iOS default can’t.

One word of caution before you download any of them: Most of the third-party keyboards we’ve tested require you to enable the Allow Full Access option (in Settings > Keyboards); as iOS will warn you, making that change means those keyboards could in theory snoop on any text you enter. Because of those security worries, third-party keyboards are restricted in what they can do: For example, whenever you select a password field in Safari, you’ll be automatically switched back to the standard iOS keyboard.


While you can simply type in SwiftKey as you would on iOS’s own keyboard, the real fun comes when you start swiping. That means you don’t have to lift your finger or thumb from the screen as you type; you can instead just slide it from one letter to the next. SwiftKey will use the pattern to determine what word you’re trying to type; its accuracy is surprisingly good. Even if it guesses wrong, it will offer predictive suggestions above the keyboard that you can tap to select. 

SwiftKey’s layout is otherwise identical to the built-in keyboard, which makes it easy to adjust to. In my experience, it’s not quite as good as iOS’s keyboard for standard typing, but the swipe input method can often be much faster — especially if you need to type with one hand. SwiftKey is free, with additional cosmetic themes available for in-app purchase.


Apple’s built-in emoji keyboard is pretty solid, but if you’re looking to up your emoji game, the $0.99 Emoji++ has a few niceties to offer. For one, it uses a vertical scrolling interface rather than Apple’s horizontal one, which makes it easier to operate one-handed, especially on larger iPhones. (Likewise with the scroller on the right side, which lets you quickly skim through different categories of emoji.) And it has both a section of recently used emoji as well as the ability to set certain emoji as favorites: Just tap and hold on an icon that you use frequently, and it’ll be added to the quick-access panel, marked with a heart.


Rather than just making a single alternative way to enter text, Fleksy has turned the keyboard into a platform. By default, it offers a strikingly different-looking keyboard. But if you dive into the Fleksy app, you’ll find you can not only change the color and styling of the keyboard, but you can also enable a number of extensions to add new functionality. For example, one extension lets you press and hold on the spacebar, then swipe back and forth to move the cursor. Another lets you quickly shrink the keyboard’s width and put it on the right or left for easier one-handed typing. Others let you add a row of hot keys or numerals at the top of the keyboard. There’s also a built-in GIF and sticker search for when words just aren’t enough. Fleksy is free, but you can unlock additional themes and extension slots via in-app purchase.

GIF Keyboard

Speaking of pictures, if you’re a frequent poster of animated images, then maybe you could use a keyboard dedicated to the task. The free GIF Keyboard allows you to browse and search an extensive and frequently updated catalog of images and videos. You can search by keyword, look at trending and popular images, or (my personal favorite) search via emoji to find an animated way to capture exactly the mood you’re in. There’s also a list of your recent GIFs, as well as favorites that you’ve saved. GIF Keyboard’s usefulness is a bit limited, though, since you have to then use iOS to paste in your selected images — and not all apps support animated GIFs.


When there isn’t an existing image that conveys exactly how you’re feeling, it’s handy to be able to sketch your own. You could open up a drawing app and create one in there, but wouldn’t a keyboard be even more useful? That’s where the $0.99 DrawType comes in: You can choose from a relatively limited handful of colors and line thicknesses, and create your own work of art to send. As with GIF Keyboard, you’ll have to paste the result, and not every app supports it.

Dan Moren is a freelance writer and podcaster who contributes frequently to Six Colors and Macworld and who co-hosts the tech podcasts Clockwise and The Rebound.

Top Story: Simple steps to get rid of Windows 10's new lock screen ads By Justin Ferris

 If you use Windows 10, or the older Windows 8.1, you're familiar with the Windows lock screen. This is the screen where you log in to your account, either during startup or after locking your computer. Aside from the log-in area, the lock screen's main features is the eye-catching background image that changes regularly.

However, it looks like in Windows 10, Microsoft might be starting to use the lock screen image for advertising. A number of people are reporting seeing a lock screen image of a newly released game called "Rise of the Tomb Raider" with a link to buy it in the Windows Store. If lock screen advertising doesn't sound like something you want, there are a few ways to take control.

Be default after a recent update, the image for the lock screen is pulled from a service called Microsoft Spotlight. To help it pull images you like, Microsoft has a way to tell Spotlight what kinds of images you do and don't want to see.

On the lock screen, simply click the "chat" icon near in the upper-right corner of the screen and select "I want more!" or "Not a fan." Depending on which one you choose, Microsoft will show you more images or fewer images like the current one.

It isn't clear if that system will work on advertisements, or if Microsoft is even going to start pushing more advertising through Spotlight. Still, if you just don't want to mess with it, or want to see your own images on the lock screen, you can change where the images come from.

Log in to Windows and go to Start>>Settings. In the Settings area, click "Personalization" and then choose the "Lock Screen" area in the left column. In the right column where it says "Background," click the drop-down menu and either select "Picture" or "Slideshow."

Picture lets you choose a single picture from your hard drive to display. Slideshow lets you choose several pictures or an entire folder.

Note that if you do switch to Picture or Slideshow, you'll want to turn off the option that appears called "Get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen." Otherwise, you'll see random text showing up on your lock screen.

Sponsor Content: 3 unbelievable true stories of identity theft By Komando Staff

You've probably heard the alarming statistic that more than 12 million Americans have their identity stolen every year. In 2015, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, it was actually 13.1 million with $15 billion stolen. The average victim lost $1,100.

Still, it's surprisingly easy to hear those big numbers and think that it will happen to someone else and not to you. Even if you worry about it momentarily, with everything else going on your busy life you probably put it off for later. Before you feel too confident, however, take this quick quiz.

Answer these questions honestly. Let’s see how much you really know about what criminals are targeting. Just answer with a simple yes or no.
  1. Do you use free Wi-Fi at restaurants, businesses, the library, at work or on the road?
  2. Do you carry all your credit cards around with you in your wallet or purse?
  3. Do you throw away your important mail or junk mail without thoroughly shredding it?
  4. Do you only get your credit report when you are applying for a car, home or other type of loan?
  5. Do you have your passwords saved in your browser or phone for sites like Facebook, Amazon and more?
  6. Do you think it’s not necessary to secure your home wireless network?
  7. Do you use the same password for most of your sites?
These are things we do routinely and without much thought. If you said "yes" to any of these questions, you’re at risk for thieves stealing your identity. Then, it only takes seconds for criminals to start using your personal details or selling them on the Dark Web (sponsor). This is a huge problem.

To really drive this point home, we're going to tell you three stories about real identity thieves and their victims. Hopefully, hearing these stories convinces you to take the necessary steps to defend against identity theft.

It actually isn't hard; you just need to make a decision take the first step. We'll tell you what that step is in a moment, but first, let's look at these stories. We're going to start with a story that hits close to home for those of us here at Komando, and Kim's listeners.

Mike James

If you're a regular listener to Kim's radio show, you're familiar with "Mighty" Mike James. He's been Kim's technical director for 12 years! A while back, he was also a victim of identity theft.

The thieves opened five credit cards in his name and charged $10,000 in fraudulent purchases. Unfortunately, he didn't discover the theft until he was in the middle of buying a house and got denied for a loan. But wait, it gets worse.

Mike filled out police reports, and then was on the phone for ages with credit card companies and the major credit reporting bureaus trying to correct his credit. Overall, he estimates it took 100 hours over six months to get his credit restored.

Even after that, it took five years to stop getting "late payment" entries on his credit report. He had to get an attorney involved to make it stop.

To this day, Mike says he doesn't know how the identity thieves originally got his information. Although, it does sound like it could have been from non-shredded pre-approved credit. Learn more about the danger of pre-approved credit cards and four other things you do that put your financial life at risk (sponsor).

Lara Love and David Jackson

You tend to think of identity thieves as being hackers in other countries or slick con men, but studies show that's not the case. In 30% of identity theft cases, the culprit is likely to be a family member or relative. You also have an 18% chance it's a friend, neighbor or someone else with access to your house.

That leads us to Lara Love and David Jackson. In an 8 month period back in 2009, they stole the identities of 30 neighbors. How did they do it?

To pull it off, they swiped their neighbors' mail, gift cards that were lying around the house and eventually credit cards. To make matters worse, they used their neighbors' unsecured Wi-Fi to go online and set up fake accounts to make their fraudulent online purchases.

Even after the neighbors noticed and the pair were caught, the judge released them on their own recognizance - and they went right back to stealing stuff. Eventually, they were given a year in jail, treatment for drug addiction and five years of supervised probation.

In general, it's a good idea not to leave paper with sensitive information or cards of any kind out when people are over at your house, even if they're friends or relatives. You should also secure your Wi-Fi against intruders.

William Donaldson

In the last few years, hundreds of millions of Americans have had information exposed in retail and medical data breaches. This information can range from email addresses to Social Security numbers have been leaked.

William Donaldson is a long-time listener of the Kim Komando Show and he sent Kim a message talking about his harrowing experience after a data breach. His identity was stolen, but he didn't realize it until he was denied for a department store credit card. After investigating the matter, he learned that criminals were applying for a home equity loan for almost $100,000!

William is a big believer in privacy, he locked down his Wi-Fi, always shredded his documents and even checked his credit report annually. Unfortunately, it didn't really help him because identity thieves got his information in an entirely different way.

It's a chilling reminder that there are too many ways to thieves to get your identity, and you can't cover them all yourself. You need complete protection for your financial life that you work hard to obtain and maintain. We’re talking about your investment accounts, 401(k), credit cards, the equity in your home and more.

That's why you need identity theft protection, and the best place to get it is our trusted sponsor LifeLock. LifeLock does more than just monitor your credit, bank accounts, financial accounts, public records, black market sites and more for misuse of your information.

When LifeLock discovers a problem, it alerts you so you can take action. However, LifeLock also provides you with a U.S.-based Identity Restoration Specialist who knows what companies to contact and what forms to fill out. You don't have to figure it out alone.

In serious situations, LifeLock will spend up to $1 million on lawyers, accountants and other specialists to help you get your identity back. With everything else going on in your busy life, you don't need the aggravation, so let LifeLock do the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Google for, but should be By Kevin Downey

 You use Google for everything. If you're at work, home, or school, the first thing you do when you're looking for information is probably a Google search.

There's a good reason for that. You just type in a word or expression, or just ask Google's virtual assistant Google Now, and in seconds you've got your answer. You can do easy searches, such as finding someone's biography, or complicated searches that'll give you results from university papers and journals.
But, you use Google for a lot more than searches. You use Google Maps to get driving directions and Google Street View to experience a city as if you're there. You use Google to read books, listen to music, translate foreign languages into English, and a lot more.

Yet, Google does so many really cool things that you may not know about. We're going to tell you about five amazing things you didn't know Google could do, but they'll help you out with everyday tasks. (Keep reading for a bonus tip). For starters, how many calories are you eating?

1. Food comparisons

If you're like a lot of people, you're concerned about your health. Or weight, or both. If so, you know you're never quite sure if something you're about to eat is good for you.

For instance, you'd love to put a big scoop of mashed potatoes on your plate, but you think sweet potatoes may be a healthier option. But is it?

Unless you've been studying food nutrition, you're not sure. Google's really cool and really fast food comparison charts show you detailed information about all sorts of foods, including their calories (based on 100-gram servings), fat content, cholesterol, sodium, plus fiber, vitamins and minerals.

On your smartphone, use the Google Search app and say, or type, "compare mashed potatoes to sweet potatoes." Or, from your computer, search for "compare mashed potatoes to sweet potatoes," or any types of food. You'll see detailed, side-by-side information.
Google food comparison

2. Tip calculator

Do you remember the days when you had to figure out a tip in your head? Or, worse, you scribbled a calculation on a restaurant napkin?

Most people have done that. Of course, now you always have a calculator with you, thanks to the one on your smartphone. But, to figure out a tip in just a few seconds, you don't even need to open your calculator app.

Just type "tip for," plus the dollar amount, directly into your Google search bar. Try it. Put in any amount of money, like "tip for $15.95" and Google will automatically figure out a 15% tip. If you want to tweak that percentage to match the level of service you received, just use the + or - symbols.
Google tip calculator

3. Check flight status

There are so many great travel apps to find low-cost flights, and updated travel information. So, it's unlikely that Google comes  to mind when you're picking up a family member at the airport, or when you're wondering if you should leave to catch a flight.

But, in seconds, you can get updated information just by typing in your flight number in the Google search bar. Type in something as simple as, "United Airlines flight 15," and you'll see that you have more than two and a half hours to get to the airport.

Not only that, but Google's flight status tells you which terminal the flight's landing in, its gate and whether it's running late.
Google Flight Status

4. Sunrise and sunset time

This time of year, you're probably noticing that the sun is coming up a little earlier, and it's going down a bit later every night. That's a sure sign that the seasons are changing, and spring will soon be here.

But when exactly does the sun come up, and go down?  It's never been easier to figure that out. Instead of asking around the office, to see if anyone knows, or hoping the weatherman tells you, just type "sunrise sunset time" on Google. Boom, up pops the sun's schedule where you live.
Google sunrise sunset time

5. Timer

Speaking of time, you can count down the time in five-minute increments with Google timer. Just type "Google timer" into your Google search bar, and you'll have a five-minute timer. Hit "start" to begin your countdown, and "stop" when you're finished.

Plus, when was the last time you had a stopwatch when you needed one? These days, your stopwatch is your phone or fitness tracker. Set the timer to go off just as you're about to start running or jogging, and it'll keep track of how long it took you to get from point A to point B.

But on the tab right next to Google's timer is its stopwatch. Just hit "start" when you're ready to start keeping time, and "stop" again when you're finished.
Google timer

Bonus: Number pronunciation

Small numbers are simple, but what if you're dealing with a really large number? Google will tell you how to pronounce it. You can type in a number with or without commas. Just be sure to say you want to hear the number "in English." Like, "4,668,356,661 in English."

To hear how the number sounds, copy Google's spelled version. Then, paste it into Google translate. You can hear how the number is spoken in English. In Google Translate, click the microphone underneath the number.

Then, double bonus, you can also translate the number into other languages. Click on the microphone underneath Google's translation to hear how the number is pronounced in that language. (See second image.)
Google number pronunciation
Google numbers

Verizon snags the top spot in yet another national network performance test by Jacob Siegal, BGR News

 T-Mobile customers might have the best customer care in the industry, but it’s Verizon that provides the most consistent network. In the latest report from RootMetrics, Verizon took home its fifth consecutive title for overall network performance among the top four wireless carriers in the U.S., ranking first in five of the six categories.

The independent test from RootMetrics took place across all 50 states, examining reliability, speed, call, text, network and overall performance. Verizon was unchallenged in five categories and tied for first place in text performance.

Of the 300 possible State RootScore Awards that RootMetrics handed out for this six-month stretch (one for each category in each state), Verizon managed to collect 272 of them, an improvement over the 253 it won in the first half of 2015.

These scores are based on RootMetrics drive tests, which were conducted across 232,000 miles and 125 metro areas from one end of the country to the other from July to December 2015. 6,607 indoor locations were also included in the test.

“We’re pleased that a 5th straight overall RootMetrics ranking has the Verizon network at the top, but our focus already has turned to winning number six – because our customers depend on us to be even better tomorrow,” said Mike Haberman, VP of network support for Verizon, in response to the results.

Although Verizon came out on top, RootMetrics notes that all three of the other carriers are improving in different areas: AT&T increased its total share of awards by more than any other carrier; Sprint has improved call and text performance in several states; and T-Mobile managed to claw its way from zero awards in the first half of the year to nine in the second half.

You can dig deeper into the results of this latest test on RootMetrics’ website.

Verizon is offering you a free extra 2GB per month for the rest of your life By Brad Reed

 If you find yourself constantly running up against your monthly data cap, you can get an extra 2GB per month for free for the rest of your life thanks to a new offer from Verizon. All you have to do is upgrade or activate a new phone with device payment on XL or larger Verizon Plans, and you’ll get an extra 24GB of data every year to use for as long as you’re a Verizon subscriber.

MUST SEE: This video may make you think twice about upgrading to iOS 10

Now, this also means you’ll have to pay for one of Verizon’s pricier data plans — its XL plan gives you 12GB of data for $80 per month and its XXL plan gives you 18GB of data for $100 per month. So the only way that this free extra 2GB of data is really worth it is if you’re already a heavy data user who doesn’t mind paying more each month.
The good news is that this new offer applies to family plans and Verizon says that “a family upgrading or activating new phones on four lines with XL or larger sizes can receive an extra 8 GB of data per month for the account.” Verizon also says you can share your 2GB of extra data across all devices registered to your account.

To read more about Verizon’s offer, check out its full announcement at this link.

How to delete photos after they sync by Glenn Fleishman | @GlennF

Fiona MacDonald writes with a quandary relating to getting rid of pictures she doesn’t want:
With photos taken on my iPad or iPhone, unless I delete them from the device immediately, am I unable to get rid of them on my iMac? Now, with a less than perfect Wi-Fi signal to my new Apple TV, these same photos are taking aeons trying to load onto the Apple TV device.
This almost certainly relates to My Photo Stream (as it’s called in iOS 9 and El Captain), which works with iCloud, but is distinct and separate from iCloud Photo Library’s syncing. The fact that two interrelated options exist that seem to provide the same function has confused more people than just Fiona.
  • iCloud Photo Library synchronizes all photos taken on an iOS device or saved to its photo library, as well as all images imported into Photos for OS X.
  • My Photo Stream shows only the most recent photos (the last 30 days and no more than 1,000 images) from iOS devices, synchronizing them across all iOS and OS X devices for which the feature has been activated.
The confusing part is that because these streamed photos appear on all devices, it might seem as if they’re being synced and can’t be removed! Instead, they’re only temporary denizens unless you also have iCloud Photo Library enabled. With just My Photo Stream turned on, you can download images that are synced and keep them permanently on a device without them winding up in the permanent collection of Photos for iOS and OS X on all your hardware.
mac911 photo stream setting ios
Photos for iOS (and for OS X) let you choose whether to stream photos.
The Apple TV issue probably arises because an Apple TV will show My Photo Stream images whether you have iCloud Photos or Photo Stream turned on! So even if you think you’re not viewing streamed images with iCloud Photos selected—you are.

However, My Photo Stream is supposed to let you delete images and have them disappear everywhere they were streamed. Open My Photo Stream in iOS or OS X, select an image, and use the trash icon or the Delete button, and it should be removed. (In iOS 8 and 9 and Photos for OS X, go to Photos > Albums > My Photo Stream; in iPhoto, go to iPhoto > iCloud > My Photo Stream.)

There may be a lag, or there might be a problem with images also being synced to iCloud Photo Library. You shouldn’t have to delete an image both in the streamed album and in your main library, but the lag in syncing could be duplicating its appearance. Check in both places—and maybe turn My Photo Streaming off to prevent this from happening in the future.

How to tell if your NetFlix account has been hacked By Meredith Cunningham

Has your Netflix account been hacked? There have been several recent reports about hackers selling Netflix, HBO and Spotify streaming accounts for as little as $0.25 for a lifetime subscription on the Dark Web. Could you be one of the victims? There are a few ways to tell. First, you'll want to check your account using these steps:
  1. Click on your account icon in the top right hand of the screen.
  2. Select "Your Account."
  3. Select "Viewing Activity." If there are titles showing up that you didn't watch, that's the first red flag - but everything could appear normal. Don't stop there.
  4. Select "Recent Account Access." Here, you should see only your locations. If it's just your devices you're all set.


But, if you're like me, you might have seen a few locations that were outside of where you live. I live in Phoenix and saw California showing up.
What should you do? If you've been hacked, head back to the "Your Account" page and under "My Profile" click on "Sign out of all devices." According to Netflix, "This method of deactivation will disconnect all devices currently connected to your Netflix account, but may take up to 8 hours to take effect.
Next, you will need to reset your Netflix password. Here are those instructions straight from Netflix itself:

To reset your password via email, send yourself a password reset email. The email should arrive within about a minute, and contains a link that will sign you in to Netflix automatically. From there, you'll be asked to create a new password. The link in the email expires after 24 hours, so be sure to use it as soon as possible.

If the link in the email has expired, don't worry - you can always send yourself another password reset email.

Next, if you want to dig even deeper, you can see which specific email address was hacked with the site Have I Been Pwned? Just type in your email address and hit enter. The site will tell you where and how your account was compromised. You can also sign up to get alerts in the future so that you can keep your personal information safe.
Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 9.41.44 AM

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Apple vs. FBI: Here's everything you need to know (FAQ) By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day

A polarizing legal debate that's engulfed the nation has almost everyone talking.

Should Apple be forced to help the FBI unlock a phone belonging to a terrorist? The arguments are simple enough, but the ramifications and precedent that they set could undermine trust at the foundations of Silicon Valley, one of the largest industries in the world.
US judge Sheri Pym ruled Tuesday that the iPhone and iPad maker must provide a tool that would allow federal agents to beat a security feature preventing the phone from erasing after a number of failed unlocking attempts, according to the AP.

The court ruling did not order Apple to break the encryption, but said it should offer "reasonable technical assistance" to law enforcement.

The iPhone 5c was a work phone used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December 2015.

Federal agents don't know the passcode to the phone, and run the risk of erasing all the data. But Apple doesn't have access to the passcode either. The company began locking itself out of the security chain to prevent law enforcement from demanding that it hands them over.

Apple's bid to shut itself out of the encryption loop was precisely to avoid the kind of ethical dilemma that would force it into handing over customer data to the authorities.

More than 94 percent of all iPhones and iPads, which run iOS 8 or later, can be encrypted.

5 worst tech rip-offs and how to avoid them By Justin Ferris

Everyone likes to save money, which is why we give you several money-saving suggestions every week, from booking directly with hotels to ways that you can stop wasting printer ink. Today we're bringing you not one, not two, but five areas to save money.

These are things you might not even realize you're spending money on, or that someone convinced you are a good idea when they really aren't. So, strap in and let's start saving.

1. Rental cable modems

We talk a lot about saving on your cable bill, because it's one of the bigger ones you probably have. However, even when you've cut it down as low as you can go, there's a charge in your bill that you might not have noticed: modem rental.

Yep, your cable company is charging you $3 to $4 every month for that years-old modem collecting dust on your desk. On the plus side, if something goes wrong with that modem, the cable company will replace it.

On the other hand, you can buy a new cable modem with the latest technology for $85 to $100 that will give you more than four years of service. Leasing a modem from the cable company for four years at $4 per month will cost you $192. I guarantee you, your cable company pays nowhere near that much for the modems it provides, so much of that fee is pure profit.

Even if you don't want to mess with buying your own modem, call up your cable company's customer service. You can usually get the monthly modem fee waived, or have them upgrade you to a new model with faster technology. Learn why you want a new modem and how it can improve your Internet speeds and connection quality.

2. Overpriced cables

You just bought a perfect new TV that has the five important features any new TV should have. Before you can take it home, however, you need cables to hook it up to your Blu-ray player, audio receiver and other home theater equipment.

That's when you notice that cable prices cover a huge range from "dirt cheap" to "this month's mortgage payment." You want to buy the cheap one, but surely the cables priced into the stratosphere have SOMETHING that makes them better.

If you talk to an unscrupulous salesperson, they'll do their best to convince you that the premium cables give you better image or audio thanks to contacts coated with gold stolen piece by piece from a dragon's den in the Himalayas, or silver conductors forged by elves in the light of a full moon.

In the end, it's just sales hype. Any cable that's shielded (and most are now) and has basic gold connectors is fine for most situations. If you're dealing with distances over 15 feet or an entertainment setup that costs more than the average American home, then you can look at pricier cables.

Fortunately, as more people are catching on to this rip-off, overpriced cables are becoming scarcer in regular retail stores.

3. Phone insurance

When you bought your phone, the salesperson probably offered phone insurance. The idea is that you pay $5 to $13 a month, and if something happens to your phone, you can get it fixed or replaced without spending the full cost.

At first, that sounds just like the phone's warranty, but insurance protects against theft and other damage that a warranty usually doesn't cover. At least that's the theory.

In practice, you can find several insurance tiers that offer varying levels of protection, even from the same carrier. Only the most expensive tiers are going to cover your phone if it's damaged, lost or stolen. Less expensive tiers only deal with damage and malfunctions. Some third-party insurance doesn't cover theft or loss at all.

Then there's the deductible, which again varies by the plan and gadget, but it can get up to $200. Most damage you need repaired is going to be a lot less than that, especially if you do it yourself. The only time it makes sense is if you have to completely replace a $500+ smartphone out of pocket. Even then, the insurance company might replace it with a refurbished model.

Unless you know you're really unlucky with your phones, you're better off saving your money. Many credit cards offer extra protection for gadgets bought with the card, and your electronics might also be covered under your renter's insurance. I'd look into your options there before spending money on phone insurance. I'll discuss this more in point 5.

4. Ringback tones

This isn't a term a lot of people know, but I'm sure you've experienced it. A ringback tone is music that plays for a caller before you answer the phone. It's nicer than the typical "ringing" sound you get by default.

Depending on the phone and carrier, you can even customize the ringback tone for certain callers. So your mom might hear a clip from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" while your rock-loving friend hears The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."

The catch is that ringback tones are going to cost you. With Verizon, for example, you pay $0.99 a month for each phone that you want to play ringback tones. Then you have to pay $1.99 for each individual ringback tone, which you can only use on one phone at a time. Even then, you only get to use the song for one year before you have to pay for it again.

In other words, ringback tones are a great way to increase your phone bill, especially if you have teenagers in the house who go overboard with it. Save your money and let your friends listen to the default ringer sound.

5. Extended warranties

We've already talked about salespeople trying to sell you on phone insurance, but another popular upsell on any gadget is the extended warranty. This plays on the joke that a gadget always breaks the day after the warranty expires.

However, data from consumer reports shows that most manufacturing problems with a gadget will show up in the first year. If your gadget makes it through that, it often won't hit wear and tear failures until after the extended warranty expires.

Even if you have a problem during the extended warranty period, most extended warranties aren't as comprehensive as you would hope. It might not cover common types of damage or wear and tear.
Don't forget that prices on electronics drop fast. So, by the time a gadget does fail, the cost to repair or even replace it might be less than what you paid for the extended warranty itself.

You should also check with your credit card company. It might give you an extended warranty or extra benefits automatically when you buy with certain cards. Some cards will extend the manufacturer's warranty another full year.

5 Google Maps tips only the pros know By Komando Staff

Google Maps is one of the most powerful tools available on your computer, smartphone or tablet. It can help you get to your destination, find places to get gas or eat, see remote locations at ground level, view satellite and terrain features and so much more. If you don't have Google Maps, you're just missing out.

Even better, the mapping service gets regular updates with cool new features. The best part is that it's free for personal AND business use. When you're trying to bring your business overhead under control, any great free tool is welcome news. For personal use, well, let's say you don't have to fold a map anymore.
Google Maps can probably do much more for your personal life and your business than you realize. I'm going to tell you some new and hidden features that only the pros know.

Before I go into those, make sure you have the most up-to-date version of Google Maps on your phone. If you are using an older version, you may not have all the goodies I am about to share with you.

While you're at it, grab Google Earth that used to cost $400, but is now FREE. Yes, you can now get the $400 Google Professional mapping program free. You can get it now, or anytime, at this link on my site: Google Earth Pro. Ready? Let's get started!

1. Traffic Alerts

Arriving late to an important meeting is never a good thing. That's why you should leave early and take the best route. However, what you think is the best route might turn out to be a traffic nightmare.
Google has just added Traffic Alerts to the Google Maps app that give you the best real-time option. Simply put in your location and destination like normal and Google will give you several routes you can take.

In addition to the usual distance and time, Google will tell you which one is the best route based on current traffic conditions. It also takes into account anticipated traffic conditions.

If you're on the go and something along your planned route changes, Google will alert you. It tells you what obstacles or traffic jams are in your way and how long it will take to get through it. If there's a faster route available, Google will give you the option to switch to that.

2. Offline Maps

Not everywhere you're going to travel is going to have cellular or Wi-Fi, especially if you do business in remote locations. Before you head out, download the Google Maps data to your phone so you can use it even with no Wi-Fi or cell service.

Open Google Maps and search for a city or region, like "Phoenix, AZ." Once it loads, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get the area's infocard. Then tap the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner and tap "Save offline map."

Now you can pan and zoom to capture the area you want. Then tap "Save" to download it to your phone. Note that depending on the area it could take up a lot of space on your gadget. Also, you'll want to do this over Wi-Fi so you don't burn up your data plan.

3. Share your location

When you need to share a meeting location with a client or employee, exact directions are really important. Maybe they wrote down the wrong location or your directions weren't quite correct.

Sidestep the confusion by sharing the location direction from the Google Maps app. Simply tap the location you want to meet and hold until a red pin appears. Then tap the pin and tap the Share option.
You can send the location to the person through text, social media, email, cloud services and much more. It will open for them in their Google Maps app, and they can easily get directions from wherever they are.

4. See where you've been

Knowing where you're going is important, but it also helps sometimes to see where you've been. Maybe you need to expense your miles driven, or you just want a record of the stops you've made.
By default, Google tracks your location and stores the data for 30 days. You can bring it up in the Google Location History page. Click here to find that page, and learn how to turn off tracking when you don't want it on.

5. Plan the best route with multiple addresses

Google Maps is good for finding a good route to one or two locations, but what if you need to plan the most efficient route to a dozen different locations? That's a bit more than Google Maps can easily handle.

Fortunately, you can use Google Earth Pro instead. As I said above, it used to be a $400 program, but now it's free for everyone. It lets you easily add and import addresses to create custom routes. You can also use it to see demographic and business information to help you expand your business.

If you're trying to find the most efficient route, however, you might want to take a look at a third party like RouteXL. It's powered by Google Maps, but makes it easier to import addresses and create efficient routes. You can then print, download or share the route. It's free for up to 20 addresses.

Tip: Sometimes You Really Do Need to Reboot the Damn Thing by Rob Pegoraro

For an aggravating 36 hours, my phone had no service overseas: It showed no trace of T-Mobile’s free but low-speed international roaming. I tried switching it in and out of Airplane Mode. I fiddled with its cellular network settings. I wondered if there was something weird about T-Mobile’s roaming arrangements in Israel. And then I finally solved the problem by doing what I should have done when I first saw the “no signal” message on the screen.

I shut down and restarted the phone. 

That worked for the reason it usually does: Even theoretically simple digital devices have multiple software processes going on behind the scenes. Each of those processes can suffer from the same ailments as the apps you see on the screen: They can get stuck, they can get confused by errant input, they can crash and fail to resume, and they can run out of memory. And when one of those things happens, the fastest solution is often to reboot the whole thing.

That’s how I’ve fixed issues with: a laptop telling me it couldn’t detect its own camera; a phone complaining about the same thing; a computer hopelessly bogged down by its Web browsers (nice memory management, Apple!); a laptop unable to see its own touchpad; a printer failing to connect to my home WiFi; and many, many more miscellaneous malfunctions. I’ve even seen a flight crew go through the reboot routine to clear up a computer problem on an Embraer 175 regional jet — fortunately, we were still parked at the gate at the time. 

I realize that reboot-first troubleshooting advice has gotten a bad name, because so many tech-support reps use it as their first line of defense. (To the point that it long ago became Dilbert material.) But it’s still a good thing to try before you get on the phone or into the support chat. Then, when reps advise you to reboot, you can calmly explain that you already tried that and ask them to move to the next item on their troubleshooting checklist.

Bug or feature: Windows 10 update resets default programs to Microsoft products By Justin Ferris

 One of the nice things about Windows is that there are so many third-party programs available. If you need a word processor, you can use Microsoft's Word, or the free LibreOffice, AbiWord, or any one of dozens of other options. Don't want to use Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge? Chrome and Firefox are a download away.

Even better, Windows lets you choose your default programs. That way when you click a link, or double-click on a document, photo, video file or music file, it opens in your program of choice. Unfortunately, Windows 10 has decided it doesn't want to play nice with third-party programs anymore.

The problem started with the latest round of Windows updates, specifically patch KB 3135173. After it installed and the computer rebooted, a number of people discovered that all their default programs and file associations had been reset.

The Windows 10 Action Center listed a string of error messages saying that there was a problem with the third-party program or file type and it had to reset. The reset, naturally, routes everything back to Windows programs like Microsoft Edge, Windows Photos and others.

The update also wiped out third-party options from context menus. So, if you right-click on a file, you won't see any of the options for opening it or using it with your third-party programs.

Even worse, users who tried to put their defaults back to the way they were have found that Windows 10 will show an error message and reset it again. So, was this a bug or is Microsoft declaring war on third-party programs?

Fortunately, Microsoft just started releasing notices explaining what's in the updates, a practice it had stopped for Windows 10 updates. So, we know that update KB 3135173 isn't actually supposed to be messing with the default program settings. That means this is almost certainly a bug and Microsoft will be releasing a fix.

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do in the meantime. Uninstalling the update will let you set your own defaults, but Windows 10 will just try to install it again unless you do some high-tech trickery that isn't recommended for most users.

Hopefully, with this being only the latest in a string of problematic updates, Microsoft will take a hard look at its mandatory update policy. It's not a bad idea for security updates, but for program and non-essential updates, it would be nice if users had some control so they didn't fall victim to problems like this one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to Protect Yourself From Phishing by

 Last fall, Facebook users began receiving an alarming email warning. "For security reasons, your account will be disabled permanently," said the email. To confirm your identity, the message—which was signed by the "Facebook Team"—instructed users to click on a link and log into what looked like a real Facebook page. 

But this email had nothing to do with Facebook. It was a phishing (pronounced “fishing”) scam, a form of identity theft in which hackers use fraudulent websites and fake emails to attempt to steal your personal data, especially passwords and credit card information. Phishing scammers send emails that appear to come from trustworthy sources such as a social media website or a financial service provider, and tell you that they need you to follow certain links in order to rectify some problem. Then they steal your data as you enter it, lock you out, and begin using your account to send more scam messages in your name.

Phishing attacks are happening everywhere. Online security firm Kaspersky Labs says it repelled nearly 800 billion attacks in 2015, almost 2 million of which were attempts to steal money from online bank accounts.

According to Fraudwatch International, a global online fraud protection service, some of the recent phished sites included Bank of America, PayPal, Chase Bank and Apple Store. Typical fake email alerts: “Westpac Bank—Your Account Has Been Blocked,” or “Apple Store—About your last Transaction.”

With tax season starting to ramp up, scammers have been targeting TurboTax users with fake subject lines such as “TurboTax Update: Resolve Account Issue Now” and “TurboTax—Important Notice” that urges users to open a fraudulent attachment.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are also now among scammers’ favorite phishing targets, surpassing the banking and financial services sectors during the first three quarters of 2015, reports the non-profit Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). Phishers like to break into ISP accounts so that they can send spam from those user accounts. ISP accounts can also contain other things that phishers want: personal identity information, credit card details, and access to domain name and hosting management.

The Best Defense

How can you protect yourself against phishing lures? Here's some advice:
  • If you aren’t 100 percent certain of the sender’s authenticity, don’t click on attachments or embedded links; both are likely to result in malware being installed. Instead, open a new browser window and type the URL directly into the address bar. Often a phishing website will look identical to the original, so check the address bar to confirm the address.

  • Similarly, never submit confidential information via forms embedded in or attached to email messages. Senders are often able to track all of the information you enter.

  • Be wary of emails asking for financial information. Emails reminding you to update your account, requesting you to send a wire transfer, or alerting you about a failed transaction are compelling. However, scammers count on the urgency of the message to blind you to the potential for fraud.

  • Don’t fall for scare tactics. Phishers often try to pressure you into providing sensitive information by threatening to disable an account or delay services until you update certain information. Contact the merchant directly to confirm the authenticity of the request.

  • Be suspicious of social media invitations from people you don’t know. According to Kaspersky Lab research, over one in five phishing scams target Facebook. Phishers rely on your natural curiosity to click on the person’s profile “just to find out who it is.” However, in a phishing email, every link can trigger malware, including links that appear to be images or even legal boilerplate; scammers use your hijacked account to send spam to your friends, because spam from real accounts is more believable than spam from a fake account.

  • Watch out for generic-looking requests for information. Many phishing emails begin with “Dear Sir/Madam.” Some come from a bank with which you don’t even have an account.

  • Ignore emails with typos and misspellings. Recent real examples targeting TurboTax include ”Your Change Request is Completeed” and “User Peofile Updates!!!

  • Update and maintain effective software to combat phishing. Reliable anti-virus software should also automatically detect and block fake websites, as well as authenticating the major legitimate banking and shopping sites. 
Mobile device users should be especially vigilant. Scammers increasingly design mobile-friendly pages; what’s worse, many browsers hide the web address bars, so it can be even more difficult to spot scams on a mobile device.

Want Latest/Greatest or Best Price? Here’s When You Should Buy Tech Gear in 2016 BY Dan Miller

 If you’ve got an aging smartphone, tablet, laptop, camera, TV, or other piece of tech gear, you might be thinking about replacing it sometime this year. Question is, when this year would be the best time to buy?

The answer depends primarily on the kind of gadget you’re buying and the brand(s) you prefer. Here are our best conjectures about when to buy the hardware and other tech stuff you want this year.

Mobile devices

When it comes to smartphones and tablets, the best time to get the latest/greatest and the best time to get a great deal are often one and the same. That’s because, as vendors release new models, they often keep the previous generation on the market, but at a reduced price.

Of course, we don’t yet know when the major mobile vendors will release new gadgets this year. But we can make some educated guesses based on when they’ve done so in the past.

Apple: For the past four years, the company has released new iPhone(s) in September. (In 2011, the iPhone 4S came out in October; before that, new phones came out in June.) So the expectation is that the iPhone 7 (and perhaps a 7 Plus as well) will come out this September. And when Apple releases a new iPhone, it invariably lowers the price of the previous year’s model.

For iPads, the timing is similar but later: For the past four years, new iPad models shipped in late October or early November. (The big exception: The iPad mini 4 shipped in September last year, along with the iPhone 6S.) And, as with phones, when the new tablets are announced, Apple usually lowers the prices on old ones.

There’s one extra wrinkle this year: According to the rumor mill, Apple could release a new iPhone as early as this spring. Presumably, this would be a relatively small and budget-friendly model; we’ll just have to wait and see whether it’s closer in spirit to the plastic-y 5c or the more refined 5s.
Last year’s models. (Photo: Apple)
Google: The Android vendor typically releases new Nexus phones in October. That’s when it released the highly regarded Nexus 6P last year and the Nexus 6 in 2014. So that’d be our best guess for 2016, too.

LG: The rumor mill currently guesses there’ll be an LG G5 announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Spain at the end of February. Another LG phone — the LG Flex 3 — was rumored to be announced at CES at the beginning of this month, but it wasn’t. So this one is hazy.

Microsoft: The Redmond giant has dropped hints that it will release a Surface Phone to go along with its Surface Pro tablet and Surface Book laptop. Likeliest times for it to announce one? At MWC in February (with everyone else) or at its own Build conference in April.

Samsung: The Korean company typically holds two “Unpacked” events each year: One in the spring (tied to MWC) and another in the late summer (often in connection with the IFA show in Germany). Last year, for example, it introduced the Galaxy S6 at MWC in February, then the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge+ at an event in August. But this year, it may do more announcements early. According to the rumor mill, we could see multiple Galaxy S7 models at the end of February.


With the rise of smartphones (and, to a lesser extent, tablets) as our computing devices of choice, new desktops and laptops don’t make quite the same splash they once did; it’s more like a constant dribble. (The big exception is Apple, because Apple makes a big deal out of everything.) 

That said, there are a few times of year you can expect to get the latest technologies and the best possible deal. But those two times aren’t as closely linked as they are with mobile devices.
One good time to get the latest/greatest is when new chips hit the market. Those new chips are often linked to other new technologies — graphics and such — so PC vendors release new machines with all the bells and whistles.

This year, Intel is expected to ship its new Broadwell-E CPUs in the second quarter. That chip is targeted at high-end machines — hello, gamers! — so expect to see some screamers then. After that, the next-generation Kaby Lake processors are expected in the last half of the year. They aren’t expected to possess any particular superpowers, but they will be new and more powerful, which means new and more powerful PCs to follow.
The next generation of this chip could power your next PC. (Photo: Intel)
Meanwhile, AMD is slated to release its own high-end chip — the so-called ‘Zen’ FX CPU — at the end of this year. It too is targeted at high-end systems, which might appear as early as this year’s holiday season. But all of that is still extremely speculative; AMD hasn’t confirmed that timing.

As for when you can expect to find bargains, there are three times of year to mark on your calendar: late winter (when vendors clear out their inventory from the holiday season), late summer (back-to-school sales), and the holidays themselves. Note that PC vendors also clear out inventory just before they release new models, so there will be bargains then. In other words: You don’t have to be too particular about your timing.

Apple, of course, is the exception to all of the above. It still operates on its own timetable, independent of what everyone else is doing. But it no longer releases new Macs on any kind of reliable annual calendar. One bit of advice if you want to time a purchase: Check out the buyer’s guide on the Mac Rumors site. That guide tracks how long it’s been since Apple introduced new models in each of its product lines — iMacs, Mac Pros, Mac minis — and from that figures out when we’ll likely see the next generation.

If you want to get a deal on a Mac, remember that Apple never discounts anything — except for older technology and refurbished models. Its own Refurb Store is a great place to get last year’s models at a (relatively) low price.


For years, the conventional wisdom has been that the best time to buy a new TV is right before the Super Bowl: Everyone wants to get a big new screen to watch the big game. But while there are indeed pre-Super Bowl sales, that’s not necessarily the best time to buy.

The sales you do see this time of year may have less to do with football and more to do with last year’s holiday sales: If retailers stocked up on TVs last fall but didn’t sell them all, they might get rid of them now to make room for new models (including those announced at January’s CES); the Bowl just happens to be fortuitously timed.

If you want to score the best possible price, later in the year may be a better bet. For one thing, TV manufacturers love Black Friday and the rest of the holiday sales season. Moreover, a study by the Wall Street Journal found that, historically, prices actually hit their nadir in October. In either case, if you can wait, you should.
Lots of high-def TVs—but not a lot to watch. (Photo: Rob Pegoraro/Yahoo Tech)
If you’re looking for cutting-edge TV technology, vendors announced plenty of cool new TV tech at CES, and those sets will be trickling into the market throughout the year.

One word of caution, though: While many of those new sets offer some form of ultrahigh-definition (UHD) or 4K video, and while 4K sets have been available for a couple of years now, content still hasn’t caught up with it. (The selection of 4K content on the major streaming services is still relatively small; the bandwidth recommended for that content (25 Mbps) is still higher than most Americans get; and if you prefer discs, you’ll need to buy a new 4K-compatible Blu-ray player and then hunt down the 4K discs.)


Cameras are more like smartphones in that new releases are tied closely to some major trade shows.

In particular, says Simon Joinson, editor in chief of Digital Photography Review, new cameras tend to be announced at CES (particularly entry-level models and photo-friendly gadgets such as drones) in January and CP+ in Japan at the end of February. There’s often a second wave of announcements in the fall (often coinciding with the Photokina show, which happens every two years), with big-time launches from most vendors.
Nikon D500, introduced at CES 2016. (Photo: Nikon USA)
As for deals, Joinson says you can count on sales during the holiday season as well as early summer (coinciding with Father’s Day, graduation time, and summer vacations). Often these sales are on older models destined to be replaced in the fall. But you can sometimes find bargains on newer models about six months after they’re launched; those deals are often tied to bundles (i.e., you have to buy a camera and a new lens to go with it). The good news is that, as digital camera technology matures, the difference in features between older and newer models is narrowing, so a camera on sale can be nearly as cutting-edge as one that just came out.


Games and consoles definitely follow seasonal patterns, and the big season for both is around the holidays.

In particular (according to Yahoo Games editor Ben Silverman), the platform vendors (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) typically release holiday bundles that include their consoles and one or two popular titles. At the same time, retailers often put hot games on sale around Black Friday

Recently, we’ve also seen some console sales at the end of summer to clear out room for the holiday blitz. For PC gamers, there are two big seasonal sales, both centered on the Steam platform: one in summer, another in winter.

All that said, gamers can pick up deals year-round if they keep their eyes open. Game developers offer discounts on specific titles all the time; in any given week, some game or another will be on sale. As Yahoo’s Gordon Cameron has noted, “It’s a game in its own right to root around and look for something cool and heavily discounted.”