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Data Doctors Tips and Tricks



Computing Tips & Tricks



 



Do I need to do anything to my laser/copier/fax printer before I get rid of it?

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Most of us are very aware of the dangers of disposing of our computers, smartphones and tablets without first wiping it clean of our personal information, pictures and files but not so much with our printers.

Depending upon the type of printer you have, you may very well have to take steps to ensure that your private information isn’t still being stored in the device’s internal memory.

What’s At Risk?

It may not be that obvious, but your printer/fax/scanner can potentially be storing some of the most sensitive information that you have ever printed, scanned, faxed or copied.  Everything from tax returns to medical forms to insurance documents have likely passed through your printer over its life.

More sophisticated network printers that can e-mail documents directly can also be storing sensitive e-mail server configuration and passwords that you’ll want to wipe out.

Consumer Printers

Most consumer grade printers have very little storage memory and it’s generally considered ‘volatile memory’ which means that when the power is turned off, whatever it was storing is gone.

If your printer has no fax or copier functions, it most likely won’t have any type of persistent memory storage that needs to be reset, but just to be sure, check your printer’s ‘Settings’ menu for any options that allow you to reset the device to the factory defaults.


If you ever get a message during the reset process warning you that all your data will be lost, you’ll know that it was storing personal information.

If your device has memory card slots for things like camera cards, don’t forget to check to see if you’ve left any old cards in there.

Networked Multifunction Printers

While most consumers aren’t likely to have printers with internal storage, virtually every business grade copier/printer/fax device is highly likely to be storing a large amount of sensitive information on a persistent storage device.

If your company printer has the ability to receive faxes and route them via e-mail to the proper recipient, it first has to store the incoming faxes in some form of internal memory.

If your device can store addresses for sending scanned documents, you should assume that it can store more than just addresses.

Private printing, which refers to the ability for a printer to hold a print job until you are physically in front of the printer and type in a code, certainly points to an internal storage device.

The ability to re-order print jobs that are in the queue is another indication of internal memory capabilities.


Protection Suggestions

Most of today’s printers that include large internal storage devices also include secure wipe options in their settings.

If you can’t find the reset instructions for your printer, a simple Internet search that includes your exact make and model with the word reset after it should yield the directions.

If you can’t find any info from a general search, try checking at http://resetprinters.com and if you can’t find anything there, you probably have nothing to worry about.




What can I do to be safe when using public Wi-Fi?

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The convenience of public Wi-Fi networks has become somewhat of an expectation when we’re away from our primary home and work connections, but it’s important to understand the risks.

Anytime you share a connection with strangers, whether it’s at an airport, on an airplane, in a coffee shop or at a hotel, anyone else on the network can use a variety of tools to capture the traffic floating through the network.

Rented Space

Think of public Wi-Fi as a rented space, like a hotel room - where you have no idea who else has access to your stuff.

Leaving valuable items in your hotel room while you’re out has inherent risks, even though in most cases nothing bad will happen. Using public Wi-Fi also has inherent risks which are greater because of the ease in which compromises can occur.

Any activity that requires you to type in a username and/or password is best avoided on any public Wi-Fi connection.

Man-In-The Middle Scams

While sharing a connection with strangers is a very real threat, a bigger threat is getting fooled into connecting to a rogue connection posing as a legit one.

The off-the-shelf technology available to quickly setup a fake Wi-Fi connection runs less than $100 and fits in your shirt pocket.

Originally developed as an audit tool for IT administrators, these devices have been repurposed by cyber-thieves to setup the hard to detect Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) scams.

They connect to legitimate Wi-Fi connections and then mimic them or they’re setup as an alternative ‘free’ connection in areas where users are generally required to pay.

Thieves know that everyone wants to connect to free Wi-Fi, so they will often call their connections ‘free Wi-Fi’ in airports or in congested urban areas.

VPNs and Private Hotspots

If you’re a regular user of public Wi-Fi, you should consider installing a tool known as a VPN (Virtual Private Network - https://goo.gl/FBGEGc) which will essentially make your data invisible while you’re connected.

The very best way to stay safe in public places is to use your own cellular connection by turning your smartphone into a hotspot (be sure you turn off the Wi-Fi first!)

By tethering to your smartphone, you will be the only one on the connection, therefore bypassing the ‘stranger danger’.


Private Hotspot Issues

Two things to keep in mind if you are going to use your smartphone as your hotspot: battery life and your data plan.

I always find a power outlet whenever I turn on my smartphone’s hotspot because it’s a battery killer.

If you’re on a limited data plan, sharing your phone’s connection with your laptop or tablet can eat up your data in a hurry.

Another option, especially frequent travelers with multiple devices, is to use a separate personal hotspot such as Verizon’s MiFi (https://goo.gl/FpU65P) or Karma’s pay as you go option (https://goo.gl/xo6ZoL).

Both will have exponentially longer battery life as hotspots, so you won’t have to find a power outlet and they won’t eat into your smartphone’s data plan.




Trying to decide between Amazon Echo and Google Home. Any thoughts?

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The ‘smart home assistant’ market continues to grow and improve but there’s so much more to this battle than what meets the eye.

‘Smart speakers’ allow you to interact with them through verbal commands and connect to a variety of devices and online services to act as a virtual butler in your home.

The Proxy War

All of these devices are actually a proxy to the real battle: the platform wars.

With the ‘connected home’ market expected to grow to over $50 billion by 2022, finding ways to get consumers familiar with one platform over another can lead to a bigger piece of the market.

Amazon was first to market with the Echo, but being first doesn’t always ensure that you’ll end up being the market leader and the gap between Amazon and the rest of field is narrowing.

Echo vs Google Home

Google’s entry into the market was with a smaller device that they call Google Home.

As expected, Google Home is designed to integrate with many of Google’s services like search, YouTube and the Chromecast but also popular services like HBO Now and Hulu.


The Echo has substantially more ‘skills’ (https://goo.gl/t953vP) than Google Home, so you can ask it to do more things.

Amazon has over 10,000 skills while Google only offers a couple of hundred.  This may sound like a huge deal, but it’s likely that the most useful skills like ordering a car or a pizza and getting your favorite playlist to start playing are available on both.

Google’s responses to information found on the web is generally more robust, but as you would expect, the Echo excels when it comes shopping related questions.

If you plan on using the device as a music speaker, Home has a fuller sound and it’s smaller, so it’ll fit in smaller bookshelves and nooks.

Which Is Best For You?

What was once a no-brainer choice (Echo) has now become a little more complicated as each platform has added features and capabilities.

The best way to determine which is best for you is to review the supported services and devices for each.  Start with your preferred streaming service as well as your music and video streaming services.

Amazon made a big splash at this year’s CES with announcements that they were integrating with a lot of other companies including Ford, which is going to allow Alexa to work in the car or check on your car while you’re in your home.

Apple’s Upcoming Option

Apple users will be able to add a third option in December when Apple will reportedly release the HomePod powered by Siri.

As usual, Apple’s option will be the most expensive ($349) vs Amazon Echo ($179) or Google Home ($129) and we really won’t know what it will actually do until it’s released.

If you’d like to dip your toe in the smart home assistant pool but you’re not ready to spend the big bucks, I’d highly recommend getting the Amazon Echo Dot ($49) as a primer.




Have you had a chance to test any of the mesh network products for a larger house?

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Wi-Fi can be a challenge when you have a large area that you’d like to cover or when you have construction materials that impact coverage.

Concrete walls, metal structures and lots of metal air conditioning ducts are common reasons that a Wi-Fi signal can be obstructed, even in a smaller home.

In the past, if you wanted to improve your Wi-Fi signal in low signal areas, you either installed another access point or a range extender.

Neither of those solutions was perfect as one required you to run new cables and the other would generally give you half the signal strength as connecting directly to your router.

Mesh Networks

A newer technology known as a ‘mesh network’, while more expensive, is significantly better when dealing with large areas of coverage.

A typical system will consist of three ‘nodes’ which all talk to each other and provide the same level of performance as a result.  It’s almost like having 3 access points in your home.

In our tests using the Ubiquiti Labs AmpliFi HD (https://amplifi.com), we found dramatic improvement in coverage over a traditional single router in a large home.

Ubiquiti has long been a supplier of commercial grade networking devices and recently entered the consumer market to provide some of the same technology at a lower cost.

The Setup

The setup was pretty simple with a base station that took the place of the original router and two additional wireless mesh nodes that simply needed to be plugged into an AC outlet in the areas that we wanted to improve the signal.

The wireless mesh nodes automatically find the base station and connect themselves within a few minutes of plugging them in.  All three will appear as the same SSID (or network name) throughout your house.

A signal strength meter on the nodes lets you know how strong the signal is in your chosen location.

Not only did it fill in the gaps within the home, it extended the signal reach far outside of the house, which allowed for connectivity by the pool, which was a good distance away from the house and the garage, which never had signal before.

The company rates their coverage of the full system at about 20,000 square feet, so if you don’t need that much coverage, you can buy a base station and a single wireless mesh node and save some money.

The Amplifi HD is designed for less tech savvy users, so complicated security issues are handled with their mobile app (iOS or Android), which also allows parents to manage the various devices that connect to it.

The app makes it simple to limit usage by certain devices based on the time of day, so you can create a ‘virtual bedtime’ for internet access for a child’s device.

Conversion Tip

If you decide to replace an existing router with this or any other mesh network solution, make sure you use the same SSID and password you were using on your previous network to avoid having to reset all your devices in order to connect.




Which browser is best to use if I tend to open a lot of tabs?

Wed, 31 May 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Tabbed browsing changed the way we used the Internet and has become both a blessing and a curse.

If you spend time gathering information from multiple sources while researching anything online, this feature has been a game changer.

Being able to open additional tabs eliminated the need to hit the ‘back’ and ‘forward’ buttons in order to jump from one page to another, but the downside to this convenience is the memory usage.

Every tab you open consumes working memory (aka RAM) which can eventually lead to significant performance issues so keeping the number of open tabs to a minimum is always in your best interest.

There are many variables involved in determining actual memory usage, so the various testing sites that proclaim one browser over another may not be applicable to you unless you use your browser the exact same way they tested them.


If I had to make a general recommendation, Firefox for Windows users and Safari for Mac users  seem to have the lowest memory usage based on a compilation of various tests.

Changing Your Behavior

If you can change the way you manage open tabs, you won’t have to consider changing browsers.  As convenient as it may be to have a tab open all day with Facebook running in the background, if you can do without it, you can save memory.

Bookmarking your commonly used sites for easy access and remembering that you can quickly reopen recently closed tabs in most browsers by hitting Ctrl-Shft-T should help you feel better about closing idle tabs.

Sniffing Out Memory Hogs

Different web resources will use different amounts of memory, so you if you want to see how much memory a specific site is taking up, most browsers offer a way to do that.

In Chrome, hitting Shift-Esc will open Google’s Task Manager, which lists all of your open tabs along with various details.  If you click on the ‘Memory’ heading, it will re-sort your open tabs in order of the largest memory usage.

Internet Explorer provides the information as a pop-up that you have to open on each page by hitting Control-Shift-U (hitting it again will close the pop-up).

Firefox users can install an add-on called Tab Memory Usage (https://goo.gl/DXtBuK) which will display the memory usage of each page in the upper right section of the browser window.

By identifying the memory hogs in your regular rotation, you’ll know which ones to close first if things start to slow down.

For ‘Tabaholics’

If there’s no possibility for you to change your tabbing behavior, then adding more RAM or installing add-ons may be a better solution to allow for lots of tabs.

Chrome users can try The Great Suspender (https://goo.gl/DCj4Gt) which will automatically suspend unused tabs to free up memory.

Both Firefox and Opera users can try Tab Suspender (https://goo.gl/9sDEcs) to accomplish the same thing.

Unnecessary Add-Ons

Add-Ons also contribute to memory usage, so avoid installing them if you don’t really need them and disable or get rid of the ones you may have already installed that you don’t use.




How can I check to see if my HP laptop has the key tracking problem?

Wed, 17 May 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) A recent discovery by Swiss security firm Modzero exposed a major security problem in a large number of HP laptops.  They found that an audio driver that was ‘listening’ for specific ‘hotkeys’ was also recording every keystroke and storing them in an unprotected log file.

Often referred to as ‘keylogging’, this type of activity is usually associated with nefarious programs that try to steal passwords or other sensitive credentials by recording all your keystrokes.

In HP’s case, there’s nothing indicating that anyone was remotely capturing the keystrokes contained in the log files; It’s more of a major mistake made by the company that provided HP with the software.

Who’s At Risk?

Conexant is a primary supplier of audio componentry to most of the major laptop manufactures as well as devices like Amazon’s Echo (Alexa), but this particular issues appears to be isolated to specific HP laptops.

They inadvertently left special debugging code active in the final driver provided to HP, which can potentially be exploited in a number of ways because every keystroke you make – even if you can’t see the character as you type – is being captured to this unprotected file.


It’s the digital equivalent of your computer ‘talking in its sleep’; any program that cares to ‘listen’ could make use of this extremely sensitive information.

Owners of any of HP’s Elite, EliteBook, ProBook or ZBook models from 2015 and 2016 should check their computers for the bug.


How to Check Your Laptop

The following steps may be a bit technical for some, but it’s too important to ignore, so make sure you get help from a trusted technical resource.

Different model laptops exhibit different behaviors, but many of the most common models will have created this log file in the following location: C:\Users\Public\MicTray.log.

If your computer has this log file and you can see data in it when you open the file, your computer has the problem.

If you see the file with no data in it, you’re still not in the clear as the debug output could still be exposing your keystrokes to other programs or it will be empty if you just logged into your computer.


To check for leaking keystrokes, you can run Microsoft’s DebugView while typing random characters on your keyboard to see what is being captured.  If you see any lines in DebugView that refers to ‘Mic target’, your computer is operating with the defective audio driver.


How to Kill the Keylogger

Both HP and Microsoft have released updates to fix the problem, so if you regularly keep your computer updated, you may have already fixed the problem.

HP laptop owners that want to make sure they have the updated audio driver can go to HP’s driver download page in the ‘Support’ section of their website.

This logging behavior goes back to October of 2016, so even if you have fixed the problem, your old backups could contain old log files. Make sure you search for and delete any instance of the MicTray.log file in any of your backups as well.




Q: Is there an easy way to get my personal information off of public listing websites?

Wed, 10 May 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) If you’ve ever tried searching for someone on the Internet, you know how many ‘people search’ sites are available online offering information for a fee.

What’s even more shocking to so many is the type of information that can be easily found: your full name, address, previous addresses, birthdate, phone number and more.

Private or Public?

While many would perceive this type of information to be private, the reality is that so much information is easily acquired because it’s actually very public.

Most of the sites you’ll run into are data brokers that collect information from a variety of public record sources: real estate transactions, court records, voter registration databases, marriage and business licenses and the list goes on.

Combining public records with social media profiles, advertising networks and your various online shopping accounts is a huge data-mining resource for many companies in today’s digital economy.

The Bad News

When it comes to public records, there is very little you can do to remove your information.

If you’re willing to pay a visit to your county clerks office, it would allow you to review what is being made public and allow you to inquire as to what information can be removed or at least redacted from the public view.

What You Can Do

Knowing that certain records are always going to be public should get you to start thinking like a celebrity.

High-profile individuals have always had to work harder to protect sensitive personal information and you can do the same.

Using a P.O. box or better yet, a private mailbox service from companies like the UPS Store or PostNet prevents your primary home address from being shared via public records.


A P.O. box will only accept US postal mail and often can’t be used for things like voter registration, which is why having a physical address through a private mailbox service is better.

A private mailbox service can also accept the shipments from all your online purchases, further protecting your home address.

Creating a trust or a Limited Liability Company (LLC) for all of your real estate transactions is another way to mask a lot of your personal information.  It’s important to not use personally identifiable names or your home address when you create these entities.

Opting Out

Many of the data broker websites allow you to ‘opt-out’ of their databases, but they don’t make it easy.

You’ll have to manually go to each one to make the opt-out requests, so it’s also very time consuming. One of the most comprehensive resources for finding how to opt-out is at PrivacyRights.org (https://goo.gl/41rlP2).

Keep in mind, these data brokers are constantly scraping sources, so if you move, sell your home or do anything to change your public records, it will reappear in many of these databases.

If you don’t want to try to manage this manually, there are services such as Albine’s DeleteMe (https://goo.gl/qrHNAM) that help automate the process and then monitor changes for you at the cost of $129 per year.




I want to resurrect my vinyl record collection, so I need to buy a turntable. Any suggestions?

Wed, 3 May 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The “vinyl revival” as it’s been called, has been growing for the past ten years and there are many reasons for it.

For those of us that grew up pulling a record out, cleaning it and reading the liner notes while listening to the ENTIRE album, nothing in today’s digital music world comes close to that experience.

It’s much the same reason that those that grew up with the tactile experience of reading newspapers and magazines still prefer it over e-books and reading online.

Depending upon the quality of your sound system and your ear for sound, there can be a dramatic difference in what you hear -- I typically describe it as a ‘warmer’ sound.

Listening Options

How you plan to listen to these vinyl gems has a lot to do with which class of turntable you should consider.

If you don’t own any stereo equipment and plan on using your computer speakers, a Bluetooth enabled speaker or a TV sound bar, you’ll want to steer clear of a traditional turntable.

A traditional turntable will require a traditional amplifier with a specific ‘phono’ input on it because the output signal is very low.


Newer turntables have a built-in ‘preamp’ that boosts the signal enough so that it can be directly plugged into your computer via USB or to powered speakers or Bluetooth speakers commonly used by computers.


If you have a surround sound amplifier that lacks a phono input, you’ll still need a turntable with a built-in preamp.  If you don’t want to limit your future options, look for a turntable that has a switchable preamp so it will work with older or newer amplifiers.

The Downside to Cheap

Vinyl records have a consideration that pure digital music fans have never encountered: they wear out!

The wear comes from the contact of the cartridge needle in the grooves of the record and which cost you in the long run.

Cheap, especially all-in-one turntable solutions, use low quality cartridges and tonearms that can wreak havoc on your vinyl collection.

If you want to get the longest life out of both your vinyl collection and the turntable itself, look for something that is fully automatic, has a replaceable cartridge and an adjustable tonearm.

Belt Drive vs Direct Drive

Unless you’re a DJ or looking at more expensive turntables, you’re most likely going to end up with a belt-driven model.

This is not to say that belt-driven turntables are inferior, as explained by Bill Goodman of Arizona Hi-Fi (http://tubeaudio.com), one of the top 10 Hi-Fi stores in the U.S. according to Popular Mechanics (https://goo.gl/0e2F5f). 


“In general, belt-driven turntables have less audible vibration because the belt absorbs the motors vibration” Goodman said as he showed me a $16,000 belt-driven model.


The Vintage Option

If you are looking to score a vintage turntable, don’t forget to shop your local vintage record stores.  Legendary vinyl retailers such as Stinkweeds (http://stinkweeds.com) have been continuously selling vinyl for 30 years and offers both vintage and newer technology turntables.




I was one of the backers of the Plastc card, but they just announced that they are shutting down. Is there anyone offering a multi-credit card that works?

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Plastc is just the latest contender in the ‘Smart Credit Card’ space to go out of business.


This race to create a universal digital credit card that allows you to electronically consolidate all your credit, debit and gift cards on a single device started in 2013 from a company called Coin.

The Obvious Need

Coin’s slick video demo (https://goo.gl/6O2gPB) of what the card was supposed to do went viral and convinced a lot of people (including me) to take a risk and back their crowdfunding campaign.

Their initial goal to raise $50,000 was met in 40 minutes and they ended up with roughly 350,000 backers; a clear indication that the concept of this type of device resonated with a lot of people.

The Risks of Crowdfunding

Spurred by Coin’s crowdfunding success, a whole host of others launched similar campaigns including Stratos, Swyp and Plastc to name just a few, none of which are viable options to date.


The Coin card did finally ship in 2015 after many technical delays and the reviews of it were mixed.  I found it to be inconsistent depending upon the credit card terminal that tried to read it, so I still needed to carry all my cards as backup.

Anyone deciding to take a chance on backing any kind of a startup through a crowdfunding campaign should go in assuming that the product will either fall short of the hype or that it may never ship.

The Rush to Grab Backers

On the heels of all the complaints about the Coin card’s performance, many companies promoted their cards as a better option, adding features that the Coin card lacked.

The Plastc card was heralded by the technical media as one of the best options for “One Card to Replace Them All” causing many to pre-order their cards to take advantage of a healthy discount.

As great as they made it sound, having had the experience I had with the Coin device, I warned last year of the risks of backing a product still under development (https://goo.gl/9ZVe1N).

Why Smart Cards Aren’t The Answer

The mobile payment space is a huge battleground and my opinion is that these ‘smart cards’ are just an interim step in the eventual roadmap to mobile pay devices.

Coin has been acquired by Fitbit, Stratos was acquired by Ciright One in order to stay alive and the parent company of Swyp is pivoting, while Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay continue to grow in popularity.


Despite the wreckage of companies that have tried to create the ultimate all-in-one card, newcomers like the EDGEcard (http://edgesmartcard.com) are still popping up with the promise of the ultimate smart card.

Mobile payment technology that’s integrated into devices we already use everyday rather than a separate stand alone device is where we will all likely end up, so my advice is to stay on the sidelines and let the smoke clear.




Is it safe to continue using Windows Vista?

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Operating systems aren’t something that most users think about, but the reality is you engage with your operating system every time you use your computer.

This essential interface becomes very familiar and changing to a new one often evokes a visceral response, which is why we see so many people clutching to their old familiar versions of Windows.

Microsoft realized how much of a deterrent this was for millions of its users each time they released a new version of Windows, so they made a change.

The Last Version of Windows

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft proclaimed that it would be the last version of Windows ever.

It’s not that they’re going to abandon the Windows platform; they just plan to deliver Windows “as a service” much like how we get updates to our browsers.

Windows is no longer the primary ‘cash cow’ for Microsoft, so for now, once you’ve installed Windows 10, the updates will be free for as long as you’re using the same computer.

In this model, changes will occur incrementally so users don’t have to contend with deciding whether to switch to a new unfamiliar interface.

Vista End-of-Life

Microsoft actually stopped mainstream support for Windows Vista on April 10th, 2012 but continued what they call ‘extended support’ until April 11th, 2017.

When they ended mainstream support, they were simply saying that they would longer be creating any enhancements or new features.

Extended support continued to provide the all-important security updates, which has now ended.

Risks of Continuing with Vista

If the Internet weren’t such a prominent component in daily computing, continuing to use Vista would be a let less risky.

In fact, if you have a computer that has no way to connect to the Internet, there’s no reason you can’t continue to use Vista.

Hackers know all the backdoors and security holes in every piece of software ever created. From this point on, when a security hole is discovered in Windows Vista (and now there’s more incentive for hackers to find them), Microsoft will not be developing a fix or patch for the hole.

If you’re a small business, not only are there major security concerns, depending upon your line of work, there may be compliance risks as well as major incompatibility issues with newer programs.

Windows Vista was originally released in January of 2007 when the Internet was a very different place.

The safeguards built into Windows 10 are exponentially better at defending your computer against today’s threats, so as painful as it may be, upgrading isn’t a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when’.

It’s Not Just Windows

Security risks exist in virtually every program you use, so using really old versions of any software puts you at a higher risk of being exploited.

Popular program such as Microsoft Office are a constant target of thieves and hackers because they know most people don’t think about updating them nearly as much as they do their operating system, so it’s important to update or remove old programs if you’re no longer using them.