Nerdism at its best

January 25, 2017

Why data caps are bad.

For most customers, a TB of data will be plenty, but there’s an important principle here. If consumers simply accept broadband data caps, the FCC, which is currently investigating them, will have less incentive to crack down on the ISPs that impose them. Then there’d be nothing to keep Comcast, Cox, AT&T, or the newly-merged Charter/Time-Warner-Cable Goliath from dropping them even lower.

Why would an ISP do that? Greed, but also because they fear streaming video will encroach on their traditional TV profits. After all, AT&T now owns DirecTV, and Comcast has a huge pay TV business.  Cox also has their cable and phone services. They all want to protect those revenue streams from cord-cutters. If streaming video gets too expensive, it will slow the cord-cutting movement and encourage people to stick with pay TV.

Broadband data caps are a form of price discrimination.

The anti-Net Neutrality crowd has been happy to sow confusion for years, pretending that the content on the Internet is the same thing as the network connection that Internet service providers sell us. Here’s the difference: Websites and applications serve up the content on the Internet; they aren’t the same thing as the connection we pay cable and phone companies for every month to get online and access all that content.

Data caps have been around for a while on mobile networks but have now made their way over to home broadband connections. ISPs like to promote these caps as “fair” but that’s an apt description only if you think these companies should be able to charge you twice for their service (once to connect and again to actually use the connection).

There’s no technical justification for caps like the ones AT&T, Comcast, and Cox are pushing on to their home broadband customers; they’re just another way for ISPs to exploit their customers. Comcast has rolled them out in about a dozen markets, with plans to take them nationwide. If you don’t like the cap you can pay an additional $30–35 a month to avoid it — regardless of how much data you actually use. AT&T just announced a similar program, but you can avoid the additional fee for unlimited data by subscribing to the company’s pay-TV service on DIRECTV or U-Verse. You can bet COX will be following suit.

On the mobile side, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are all combining data caps with sponsored data programs. AT&T and Verizon are happy to exempt their own content streams from your monthly data caps, regardless of whether you stream one hour a week or leave it running in the background 24/7. And T-Mobile’s cap is different, but its exemptions apply only to video and music apps.

If an ISP can randomly exempt content from your monthly cap based on its source or type — regardless of how much data you consume — why do the caps exist in the first place?

In January 2013 at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) Broadband and Social Policy Summit , National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) president Michael Powell clarified in a speech that cable’s interest in data caps was no longer (or never was) about network congestion but instead about pricing fairness.

I had to read that one twice. So what of the angst over bandwidth hogs and bytes and bits and network management and capacity constraints? That’s not actually true? Well, okay, if the new argument is about how companies recover their investments and fairly allocate those costs then we can all agree that is quite reasonable. But if that is the case, then changes the debate to one about pricing (costs) and not about capacity (caps).

There are plenty of ways to address pricing that fairly charges customers without requiring them to pursue an engineering degree or a private investigator to figure it out. Let’s be clear: Broadband is not like electricity, where utilities must first generate the power they deliver to customers, requiring them to charge heavy users more because it costs the utilities more to serve them. Even the ISPs themselves allow that marginal costs for additional bandwidth are negligible between light and heavy broadband users.

ISPs already have a way to offer consumers different price options for internet access – it’s called speed. If you are a comparatively light internet user who goes online primarily to send email and surf the web, you can buy a lower-speed tier and save yourself some cash. If you don’t see daylight much, and use your connection to watch a ton of online video, you’ll probably need to upgrade to (and yes, pay for) something faster.

Virtually all ISPs use this pricing model already which, it turns out, works pretty well. Most consumers don’t know a gigabyte from a hole in the ground, but they do know when their internet connection is slow. Pricing by speed offers consumers predictability on their monthly bills and an understanding of what they’re paying for. With data cap-based “penalty” fees there’s a big chance they’ll instead get a nasty bill shock at the end of the month and then wonder what on this green earth they did to deserve it.

The FCC has an Internet complaint page

https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us/requests/new?ticket_form_id=38824

Take action

http://www.freepress.net/action

 

December 15, 2016

Password Database Compromised

“Our password database was stolen yesterday. But don’t worry: your passwords were encrypted.” I regularly see statements like this one online, including yesterday, from Yahoo.

Password database compromises are a concern, no matter how a company may try to spin it. But there are a few things you can do.

How Passwords Should Be Stored

Here’s how companies should store passwords in an ideal world: You create an account and provide a password. Instead of storing the password itself, the service generates a “hash” from the password. This is a unique fingerprint that can’t be reversed. For example, the password “password” may turn into something that looks more like “4jfh75to4sud7gh93247g…”. When you enter your password to log in, the service generates a hash from it and checks if the hash value matches the value stored in the database. At no point does the service ever save your password itself to disk.

To determine your actual password, an attacker with access to the database would have to pre-compute the hashes for common passwords and then check if they exist in the database. Attackers do this with lookup tables—huge lists of hashes that match passwords. The hashes can then be compared to the database. For example, an attacker would know the hash for “password1” and then see if any accounts in the database are using that hash. If they are, the attacker knows their password is “password1”.

To prevent this, services should “salt” their hashes. Instead of creating a hash from the password itself, they add a random string to the front or end of the password before hashing it. In other words, a user would enter the password “password” and the service would add the salt and hash a password that looks more like “password35s2dg.” Each user account should have their own unique salt, and this would ensure that each user account would have a different hash value for their password in the database. Even if multiple accounts used the password “password1”, they’d have different hashes because of the different salt values. This would defeat an attacker who tried to pre-compute hashes for passwords. Instead of being able to generate hashes that applied to every user account in the entire database at once, they’d have to generate unique hashes for each user account and its unique salt. This would take much more computation time and memory.

This is why services often say not to worry. A service using proper security procedures should say they were using salted password hashes. If they’re simply saying the passwords are “hashed,” that’s more worrying. LinkedIn hashed their passwords, for example, but they didn’t salt them—so it was a big deal when LinkedIn lost 6.5 million hashed passwords in 2012.

Bad Password Practices

This isn’t the hardest thing to implement, but many websites still manage to mess it up in a variety of ways:

  • Storing Passwords in Plain Text: Rather than bother with hashing, some of the worst offenders may just dump the passwords in plain text form into a database. If such a database is compromised, your passwords are obviously compromised. It wouldn’t matter how strong they were.
  • Hashing the Passwords Without Salting Them: Some services may hash the passwords and give up there, opting not to use salts. Such password databases would be very vulnerable to lookup tables. An attacker could generate the hashes for many passwords and then check if they existed in the database — they could do this for every account at once if no salt was used.
  • Reusing Salts: Some services may use a salt, but they may reuse the same salt for every user account password. This is pointless—if the same salt were used for every user, two users with the same password would have the same hash.
  • Using Short Salts: If salts of just a few digits are used, it would be possible to generate lookup tables that incorporated every possible salt. For example, if a single digit were used as a salt, the attacker could easily generate lists of hashes that incorporated every possible salt.

Companies won’t always tell you the whole story, so even if they say a password was hashed (or hashed and salted), they may not be using the best practices. Always err on the side of caution.

Other Concerns

It’s likely that the salt value is also present in the password database. This isn’t that bad—if a unique salt value were used for each user, the attackers would have to spend massive amounts of CPU power breaking all those passwords.

In practice, so many people use obvious passwords that it would likely be easy to determine many user accounts’ passwords. For example, if an attacker knows your hash and they know your salt, they can easily check to see if you’re using some of the most common passwords.

If an attacker has it out for you and wants to crack your password, they can do it with brute force as long as they know the salt value—which they probably do. With local, offline access to password databases, attackers can employ all the brute force attacks they want.

Other personal data also likely leaks when a password database is stolen: Usernames, email addresses, and more. In the case of the Yahoo leak, security questions and answers were also leaked—which, as we all know, make it easier to steal access to someone’s account.

Help, What Should I Do?

Whatever a service says when its password database is stolen, it’s best to assume that every service is completely incompetent and act accordingly.

First, don’t reuse passwords on multiple websites. Use a password manager that generates unique passwords for each website. If an attacker manages to discover that your password for a service is “43^tSd%7uho2#3” and you only use that password on that one specific website, they’ve learned nothing useful. If you use the same password everywhere, they could access your other accounts.

If a service does become compromised, be sure to change the password you use there. You should also change the password on other sites if you reuse it there — but you shouldn’t be doing that in the first place.

You should also consider using two-factor authentication, which will protect you even if an attacker learns your password.

The most important thing is not reusing passwords. Compromised password databases can’t hurt you if you use a unique password everywhere — unless they store something else important in the database, like your credit card number.

 

December 12, 2016

You Should Update Game Consoles Before Christmas

The last thing you want on Christmas Day is for your kids to be unable to play the game console they’ve waited so long to enjoy. For young kids setting up the console in advance is a sure win. They’re young, they’re super excited to play with their new game console, and they likely don’t care about or even consider the update process. They just want to play with their new toy (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

For older kids the whole process of setting up the console, seeing it update, and, of course, using the voucher codes to select and download the games, is a big part of the process in much the same way that building the gaming PC is a part of the process for many PC gamers.

With that in mind you may consider a sort of compromise when dealing with older kids and the gift of a new game console. If you want your older child to have the experience of unpacking the game console and preparing it themselves (and certainly many gamers young and old would tell you that the unpack/update experience is fun in its own way) you might consider unpacking and updating it with them a few days/weeks in advance so it’s all ready to go but then putting it aside until Christmas. You lose the “Surprise!” factor on Christmas morning but you also get to have a bonding experience with them and the anticipation (and knowledge that console will be ready to go) will definitely keep them excited until Christmas.

Why Do I Want to Do This?
(more…)

June 25, 2016

New DSLR Camera

So I have been playing with a new to me DSLR camera a Canon Rebel EOS T3i. I am still learning how to use said camera and with the help of the internet I have been able to learn a few tips and tricks. A DSLR is something I have been wanting for a very long time, but has never been high on my list because there is a lot of stuff on my list that I need way more than a camera. The price was right. This camera may be a generation old, but it is still extremely high tech for a camera. It has a high resolution moveable display, takes 18mp uncompressed photos and 1080P video, and can shoot 3.7 frames per second. It also offers the EOS utility which allows for live capture from the camera of images onto a computer.

I have always loved Canon digital cameras my first canon was a Powershot A20.

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When compared to the T3i this is a crap camera but that little point and click will always be my favorite point and click. It was also a compact flash card camera. After this quit working I had been through several other brands of point and clicks, but nothing was ever the same as that old canon I had. The last couple of years I was able to score a Canon Powershot ELPH 300HS and all of a sudden all the features I loved about my original Powershot was back.

I still love the ELPH, but what most impresses me about this camera are its low-light capabilities. And the built in image stabilizer, which is something the A20 had. When the successors of the A20 came out the stabilizers were either non-existent or just a lot worst than what was in the A20. All my pictures were blurry and not quite in focus. The ELPH 300 HS brought back that stabilizing function I so remembered.

Now I have only been using the T3i for a couple weeks just playing with it and trying to learn about what the DSLR has to offer for me. I have a long way to go. I am learning slowly though. Long exposures, learning to focus, and what setting does what. Look forward to me posting more photos and video as I start to get better with this DSLR.

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September 30, 2015

Your passwords are not secure

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The majority of people use very weak passwords and reuse them on different websites. How are you supposed to use strong, unique passwords on all the websites you use? The solution is a password manager.

Password managers store your login information for all the websites you use and help you log into them automatically. They encrypt your password database with a master password – the master password is the only one you have to remember.

Don’t Reuse Passwords!

Password reuse is a serious problem because of the many password leaks that occur each year, even on large websites. When your password leaks, malicious individuals have an email address, username, and password combination they can try on other websites. If you use the same login information everywhere, a leak at one website could give people access to all your accounts. If someone gains access to your email account in this way, they could use password-reset links to access other websites, like your online banking or PayPal account.

To prevent password leaks from being so damaging, you need to use unique passwords on every website. These should also be strong passwords – long, unpredictable passwords that contain numbers and symbols.

Web geeks have hundreds of accounts to keep track of, while even the average person likely has tens of different passwords. Remembering such strong passwords is nearly impossible without resorting to some sort of trick. The ideal trick is a password manager that generates secure, random passwords for you and remembers them so you don’t have to.

What Using a Password Manager is Like

A password manager will take a load off your mind, freeing up brain power for doing productive things rather than remembering a long list of passwords.

When you use a password manager and need to log into a website, you will first visit that website normally. Instead of typing your password into the website, you type your master password into the password manager, which automatically fills the appropriate login information into the website. (If you’re already logged into your password manager, it will automatically fill the data for you). You don’t have to think about what email address, username, and password you used for the website – your password manager does the dirty work for you.

If you’re creating a new account, your password manager will offer to generate a secure random password for you, so you don’t have to think about that, either. It can also be configured to automatically fill information like your address, name, and email address into web forms.

Why Browser-Based Password Managers Aren’t Ideal

Web browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and others – all have integrated password managers. Each browser’s built-in password manager can’t compete with dedicated password managers. For one thing, Chrome and Internet Explorer store your passwords on your computer in an unencrypted form. People could access the password files on your computer and view them, unless you encrypt your computer’s hard drive.

Mozilla Firefox has a “master password” feature that allows you to encrypt your saved passwords with a single “master” password, storing them on your computer in an encrypted format. However, Firefox’s password manager isn’t the ideal solution, either. The interface doesn’t help you generate random passwords and it lacks various features, such as cross-platform syncing (Firefox can’t sync to iOS devices).

A dedicated password manager will store your passwords in an encrypted form, help you generate secure random passwords, offer a more powerful interface, and allow you to easily access your passwords across all the different computers, smartphones, and tablets you us

Password Managers to Use

A variety of password managers are available, but three stand out as the best options. Each is a solid option, and which you prefer will depend on what’s more important to you:

Dashlane: This password manager is a little newer, but what they lack in name recognition they make up for with great features and slick apps for almost every platform — Windows, OS X, iPhone, iPad, and Android. They have extensions for every browser, features like a security dashboard that analyzes your passwords, and they even have an automatic password changer that can change your passwords for you without having to deal with it yourself.

One of the best features of Dashlane is that it’s completely free to use on a single device. If you want to sync your passwords between devices, you’ll need to upgrade to premium. But you can test it out for free.

And when it comes to security, Dashlane has another advantage, because you have the choice to keep all of your passwords locally on your computer, rather than in a cloud. So you have the benefit of something like KeePass, but with a better interface. If you do choose to sync your passwords using the cloud, they are AES encrypted.

LastPass: This is a cloud-based password manager with extensions, mobile apps, and even desktop apps for all the browsers and operating systems you could want. It’s extremely powerful and even offers a variety of two-factor authentication options so you can ensure no one else can log into your password vault. LastPass stores your passwords on LastPass’s servers in an encrypted form – the LastPass extension or app locally decrypts and encrypts them when you log in, so LastPass couldn’t see your passwords if they wanted to.

KeePass: LastPass isn’t for everyone. Some people just aren’t comfortable with a cloud-based password manager, and that’s fine. KeePass is a popular desktop application for managing your passwords, but there are also browser extensions and mobile apps for KeePass. KeePass stores your passwords on your computer so you remain in control of them — it’s even open-source, so you could audit its code if you wanted to. The downside is that you’re responsible for your passwords, and you’ll have to sync them between your devices manually. Some people use a syncing solution like Dropbox to sync the KeePass database between their devices.

Getting Started with Your Password Manager

The first big decision you will need to make with a password manager is choosing your master password. This master password controls access to your entire password manager database, so you should make it particularly strong – it’s the only password you’ll need to remember, after all. You may want to write down the password and store it somewhere safe after choosing it, just in case – for example, if you’re really serious, you could store your master password in a vault at the bank. You can change this password later, but only if you remember it – if you lose your master password, you won’t be able to view your saved passwords. This is essential, as it ensures no one else can view your secure password database without the master password.

After installing a password manager, you will likely want to start changing your website passwords to more secure ones. LastPass offers the LastPass Security Challenge, which identifies the weak and duplicate passwords you should focus on changing. Dashlane has a Security Dashboard built right in, that will help you figure out which passwords might need to be changed.

Password managers also allow you to store other types of data in a secure form – everything from credit card numbers to secure notes. All data you store in a password manager is encrypted with your master password.

Password managers can even help against phishing, as they fill account information into websites based on their web address (URL). if you think you’re on your bank’s website and your password manager doesn’t automatically fill your login information, it’s possible that you’re on a phishing website with a different URL.

September 29, 2015

Why Deleted Files Can Be Recovered and How You Can Prevent It

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When you a delete a file, it isn’t really erased – it continues existing on your hard drive, even after you empty it from the Recycle Bin. This allows you (and other people) to recover files you’ve deleted.

If you’re not careful, this will also allow other people to recover your confidential files, even if you think you’ve deleted them. This is a particularly important concern when you’re disposing of a computer or hard drive.

What Happens When You Delete a File

Windows (and other operating systems) keep track of where files are on a hard drive through “pointers.” Each file and folder on your hard disk has a pointer that tells Windows where the file’s data begins and ends.

When you delete a file, Windows removes the pointer and marks the sectors containing the file’s data as available. From the file system’s point of view, the file is no longer present on your hard drive and the sectors containing its data are considered free space.

However, until Windows actually writes new data over the sectors containing the contents of the file, the file is still recoverable. A file recovery program can scan a hard drive for these deleted files and restore them. If the file has been partially overwritten, the file recovery program can only recover part of the data.

Note that this doesn’t apply to solid-state drives (SSDs) – see below for why.

Why Deleted Files Aren’t Erased Immediately

If you’re wondering why your computer doesn’t just erase files when you delete them, it’s actually pretty simple. Deleting a file’s pointer and marking its space as available is an extremely fast operation. In contrast, actually erasing a file by overwriting its data takes significantly longer. For example, if you’re deleting a 10 GB file, that would be near-instantaneous. To actually erase the file’s contents, it may take several minutes – just as long as if you were writing 10 gigabytes of data to your hard drive.

To increase performance and save time, Windows and other operating systems don’t erase a file’s contents when it’s deleted. If you want to erase a file’s contents when it’s deleted, you can use a “file-shredding” tool – see the last section for more information.

Solid-State Drives Work Differently: None of this applies to solid state drives (SSDs). When you use a TRIM-enabled SSD (all modern SSDs support TRIM), deleted files are removed immediately and can’t be recovered. Essentially, data can’t be overwritten onto flash cells – to write new data, the contents of the flash memory must first be erased. Your operating system erases files immediately to speed up write performance in the future – if it didn’t erase the file data immediately, the flash memory would first have to be erased before being written to in the future. This would make writing to an SSD slower over time.

Recovering Deleted Files

If you’ve accidentally deleted a file and need to get it back, there are some things you should bear in mind:

  • You should recover the file as soon as possible: As Windows continues to write files to your hard drive, the chances of it overwriting the deleted files increases. If you want to be sure you can recover the file, you should perform a recovery immediately.
  • You should try to use the hard drive as little as possible: The best way to recover a deleted file from a hard drive is powering the computer down immediately after the file is deleted, inserting the hard drive into another computer, and using an operating system running on another hard drive to recover it. If you try to recover a file by installing a file-recovery program on the same hard drive, the installation process and normal use of the hard drive can overwrite the file.

Windows doesn’t include a built-in tool that scans your hard drive for deleted files, but there are a wide variety of third-party tools that do this. Recuva, made by the developers of CCleaner, is a good option. Recuva and other utilities can scan a hard drive for deleted files and allow you to recover them.

Preventing Deleted Files From Being Recovered

If you have confidential, private data on your computer, such as financial documents and other sensitive pieces of information, you may be worried that someone could recover your deleted files. If you’re selling or otherwise disposing of a computer or hard drive, you should exercise caution.

You can use a utility that automatically wipes your hard drive’s free space – by writing other data over the free space on your hard drive, all deleted files will be erased. For example, CCleaner’s integrated Drive Wiper tool can do this.

To make sure that a single file can’t be recovered, you can use a “file-shredding” application such as Eraser to delete it. When a file is shredded or erased, not only is it deleted, but its data is overwritten entirely, preventing other people from recovering it. However, this may not always protect you – if you made a copy of the file and deleted the original at some point, another deleted copy of the file may still be lurking around your hard disk.

Note that this process takes longer than deleting a file normally, so it’s a bad idea to delete every file this way — it’s only necessary for confidential ones.

To really prevent someone from recovering any of your data, you can use a disk-wiping program, such as DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke.) Burn DBAN to a CD, boot from it, and it will erase everything from your hard drive, including your operating system and all your personal files, overwriting them with useless data. This is very useful when getting rid of a computer — it helps you ensure all your personal data is erased. While some people think that files can still be recovered after they’re overwritten, the evidence shows us that one wipe should be good enough.

You should now understand why deleted files can be recovered and when they can’t. Remember this when getting rid of a computer or hard drive – your confidential files may still be present on your hard drive if you haven’t properly erased them.

August 4, 2015

Microsoft will not charge you for windows 10 updates…

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Windows 10 is available for free to most computers out there. Assuming your computer runs either Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1, you’ll see a “Get Windows 10″ pop-up as long as you have Windows Update enabled. Even if you’re using Windows 7 without Service Pack 1 or the original version of Windows 8, you can upgrade to the latest versions of Windows 7 or 8 for free and then get your Windows 10 upgrade.

Microsoft has previously said this Windows 10 upgrade will be “free for the first year.” This means that this free offer lasts a year — from July 29, 2015 to July 29, 2016. You have a year to get your free upgrade. If you don’t upgrade by July 29, 2016 and try to upgrade on July 30, Microsoft won’t give you Windows 10 for free.

If you do upgrade within the first year, you get Windows 10 for free, permanently. You don’t have to pay anything. Even after it’s been a year, your Windows 10 installation will continue working and receiving updates as normal. You won’t have to pay for some sort of Windows 10 subscription or fee to continue using it, and you’ll even get any new features Microsft adds.

Boxed Windows 10 Copies and New Computers Are The Same. Free upgrade aside, this works the same across all Windows 10 licenses. If you buy a boxed copy of Windows 10 — for example, if you’re building your own PC and need a Windows license — it’ll cost $119 up-front and won’t ever require a subscription or another payment. If you buy a new computer that comes with Windows 10, it won’t ever require a subscription or fee either. Businesses may continue paying for volume licensing subscriptions, which is the only type of Windows subscription that really exists. This is only relevant for businesses doing large deployments of Windows systems.

Then What Exactly is “Windows 10 as a Service”? If Windows 10 is completely free, then what is all this talk about Windows being a “service” going forward? Well, to hear MIcrosoft tell it, they’re changing the way they develop and deliver Windows. This is tied together with Windows 10 being “the last version of Windows,” as some are saying.

Windows 10 will be updated and developed on an ongoing basis going foward. Microsoft won’t work for three years on a Windows 11 with new features and attempt to sell you an upgrade. Instead, they’ll continue adding features and improvements to Windows 10 itself on an ongoing basis. You won’t have to pay for these features. Windows 10 will just receive regular updates with the features that would otherwise have been held onto for Windows 11.

In this way, Windows 10 becomes more like Google Chrome — something that’s continually updated in the background. That’s why you can’t disable Windows Update on Windows 10 Home, and you can only delay updates on Windows 10 Professional. Microsoft wants to get all modern Windows computers on the same version of Windows and keep them updated, creating a single platform for developers to target and a single platform they have to support with security updates. Windows 10 is more like the operating systems on a Macbook, Chromebook, iPhone or iPad. You don’t have to worry about paying to upgrade to the next version of the operating system — you just get those improvements for free.

Free For “The Supported Lifetime of Your Device”(1) Microsoft doesn’t say that your PC will continue getting free updates forever. Instead, they say that those feature updates and security updates will continue “for the supported lifetime of your device.” Microsoft hasn’t actually explained what this phrase means, but it has a bit of an obvious explanation to it. Windows can’t continue to support old hardware forever — Windows 10 won’t run on PCs from 20 years ago. Whatever version of Windows exists twenty years from now probably won’t support today’s Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft gets to draw the line of when they want to stop supporting old hardware with future updates.

So How Does Microsoft Plan on Making Money? Microsoft still plans on charging for Windows licenses. When you buy a new PC, the manufacturer will still have to pay MIcrosoft for that license. If you build your own PC, you’ll need to pay $119 for a Windows license. Businesses will still need to pay for volume licenses — Enterprise versions of Windows 7 and 8.1 don’t get the free upgrade offer. Yes, Microsoft is losing upgrade revenue — people won’t pay to upgrade Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs to Windows 10. But very few people actually go out and buy a boxed copy of Windows to upgrade those old computers, anyway.

Microsoft benefits from pulling you into their Windows ecosystem. If you like Windows 10, you might get a Windows phone to run those same “universal apps” or even just choose Microsoft’s apps on your iPhone or Android phone. You might buy a Windows tablet or PC instead of a Mac, iPad, Android tablet, or Chromebook. You might choose an Xbox One over a PlayStation 4. If you don’t like your current Windows 8.1 system so much, Microsoft is betting you’ll like Windows 10 more and that will make you happy and more likely to continue purchasing Microsoft products in the future.

Of course, Microsoft could change tactics in the future, releasing WIndows 11 in five years and declaring that older devices are no longer within their “supported lifetime.” But this is clearly Microsoft’s plan right now — you shouldn’t worry about having to spend money for an existing Windows 10 install in the future. It’s free.

 

1.) http://blogs.windows.com/bloggingwindows/2015/01/21/the-next-generation-of-windows-windows-10/

April 7, 2015

Which laptop should I buy?

As the resident PC geek, I get asked a lot which computer people should buy.

If you’re a gamer, programmer, or otherwise need a beefy computer, you might consider having a desktop at home and bringing a lighter laptop or even a tablet for mobile uses. Some may even be able to get by with just a tablet, especially if it has a keyboard accessory available. All major tablet platforms, including Android, iOS, and Windows 8 have excellent note-taking apps.

Before we get into specific recommendations, let’s talk about the general features you want in your laptop:

Weight is both the most important and most forgotten criteria for finding a laptop. Don’t get any laptop over 5 lbs, and aim for under 4. The heavier your laptop is, the less likely you’ll bring it with you. A lighter, smaller laptop fits better in your pack, and is easier to lug around.
“It’s too heavy” is the #1 laptop regret I hear. You can comfortably bring a lightweight laptop with you everywhere, never having to think ahead about whether you might need it or not.
Battery life is second most important feature. Look at third-party reviews to verify manufacturers’ battery life claims – the battery life stated is usually exaggerated by measuring under unrealistic conditions. You want enough battery life to get through a full day, so the hours you need depends on your type of day. Five hours is a good minimum.
Get a computer that’ll last. A laptop that costs 20% more up front but lasts four years is worth it, especially when you consider the time lost replacing a broken laptop in the middle of work or as a student midterms. Avoid “entertainment” or “media” computers, and look for “business grade” or “professional” computers. The specs may look identical, but the build quality, internal structure, drop resistance, and longevity will be better.
Screen size isn’t all that important as long as it’s comfortable to carry – you’ll be sitting right in front of the screen. Screen resolution is important though. Resolution is how many pixels there are per square inch of screen. The higher the resolution, the crisper things will look, and the more will fit on your screen at once. This makes it easier to put an Excel sheet with data and a lab report in Word side-by-side, or to have a browser open for research right next to your report.
Avoid laptops with a 1366×768 resolution, as it’s too small to fit two windows comfortably side-by-side. Look for a 1600×900 screen as a minimum, and get a 1920×1080 or larger resolution if possible. A super-high-resolution screen (like Apple’s Retina displays) is nice, but by no means a necessity – they make everything look smoother but don’t increase usable screen space.
Get a dual-band wireless card. Unfortunately the wording used by manufacturers is inconsistent, but look for things like “dual band”, “5 GHz”, supports “802.11a” or “802.11ac“. Most public spaces are converting to a 5 GHz wifi network, which will have much less congestion and interference than the standard 2.4 GHz spectrum. Even if this option costs $20 or $30 extra, it’s worth it. In a crowded area it can mean the difference between not being able to connect and having nearly limitless speeds.
If you are a student. Look for student discounts before you buy your laptop. All major manufacturers offer student discounts, typically from 10-20%. Here’s a list of student portals for some of the major manufacturers:

You can also get an academic discount on most software. Don’t purchase Microsoft Office or other bundled software with your laptop. Your university’s bookstore likely offers the same software for 20-80% cheaper. Some schools even offer Microsoft Office for free to all students. You also don’t need to purchase anti-virus software – antivirus software is available for free.

 

 

Specific Recommendations

Surface Pro 3 (from $720)


The 2014 #1 laptop suggestion… is not a laptop! It’s the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. The Surface has the internals and performance of a full-powered ultrabook laptop in the shape of a tablet. Unlike Android or iOS tablets, it runs a full, regular version of Windows, meaning you can use any program like you would on a regular PC. The detachable keyboard ($130 extra, but a must-have) allows you to type like a regular laptop, and snaps off so you can use the Surface as a tablet. The Surface has all the major features recommended above: it’s light at 1.8 lbs, testers have run it for nearly 10 hours doing casual web browsing, and about 7 hours with video playing, and it comes with a 5GHz ac/abgn wifi card and Bluetooth 4.0 built in.

Perhaps the most compelling feature for students is the built-in digitizer. In addition to 10-point multitouch, you can also use the included surface pen to hand-write notes, to draw diagrams on your typed notes, to create things in Photoshop or Illustrator, to annotate documents, etc.

The base model is $799, but students get 10% off through the Microsoft Education Store. The lowest-cost model gets you a Core i3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of storage. I’d suggest going with the next model up, which gets you a Core i5, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage for $1000 ($900 with discount). If you have demanding needs, you can get up to a Core i7 with 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD.

Visit Microsoft Education Store or View Surface Pro 3 details

I use to recommend Lenovo but due to due to Lenovo pre-installing spyware on their computers. I can no longer recommend any Lenovo products

 

Apple MacBook Air (from $950)


I personally prefer Windows over OS X, but the MacBook Air is definitely a nice computer. If you’d like a Mac, I would suggest the 13″ version, which weighs in at 2.9 lbs. You don’t get many configuration options with Macs, just a few choices to upgrade the storage or processor. The 13″ comes with a 1440×900 screen, a claimed 12 hours of battery life, and 5 GHz wifi. You can get the 11″ starting at $850 and the 13″ starting at $950 on Apple’s Mac for Education site.

 

ASUS ZenBook (from $925)


The Asus ZenBook is the one exception to my “no consumer laptops” rule. The ZenBook line’s build quality and features are superb, and while expensive, they deserve a look if you can afford one. ASUS isn’t very good at naming their laptops, but I narrowed the dozen or so laptops in the ZenBook family down to two choices – both with new, power-efficient Intel processors, high resolution touchscreens, and 5 GHz AC wireless.

  • The UX301LA is one of the nicest laptops on the market right now. Starting at $1500 it’s quite pricey, but you get a 2560×1440 ultra-HD screen behind scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, plus up to 512 GB of SSD storage and 8 GB of RAM. Asus doesn’t sell their laptops directly, but you can buy one on Amazon.
  • The UX302LA is just as sleek, but brings down the price to $925 by using a still-excellent 1920×1080 screen, 4GB of RAM, and a standard magnetic hard drive instead of an SSD. It too is available on Amazon.

Dell Latitude and XPS

Dell’s Latitude business notebooks are durable and should last you a long time. Unfortunately, Dell doesn’t offer nearly as much customization as they used to, so it can be difficult to get the right combination of features. I couldn’t find any Latitude laptops with a high resolution screen for under $1000, but most did offer 5 GHz wifi cards. At 4.3 lbs and 14″, the Latitude 14 5000 series seems to have the best balance of features among the current Latitude lineup.

Dell’s consumer-oriented XPS laptops aren’t quite as rugged as the Latitude, but still provide good performance and decent build quality. The XPS 13 weights 3 lbs and comes with a 1920×1080 full HD display.

Saving money

Most of my suggestions here are a bit pricey. That’s for a reason: I only recommend laptops that I think will last through a whole college career(ie 4 years or more), and that have the features I think you need to get the most out of your computer. A cheaply built laptop will come back to bite you, and ultimately cost more when you have to replace it down the road.

However, I know that for a lot of families, a $1000 laptop is just too much to afford. The cheapest laptop I could configure with all of my suggested criteria above was theThinkPad E440. It came out to $602 using the Barnes and Noble discount with the following options:

  • Core i3-4000M
  • 14″ HD+ 1600×900 screen
  • 6 cell 62WH battery
  • Intel 7260AC dual band wireless

The E440 isn’t as rugged as the T or X series ThinkPads, and it’s heavier at 4.7 lbs. However, it’s still more durable than generic consumer media laptops, has the fantastic ThinkPad keyboard.

Refurbished laptops: brand-new quality at much lower prices

If $600 is still over your budget (or even if your budget is $1200), consider looking at refurbished laptops. When a customer cancels an order, their brand-new unused laptop is sent back to the factory, but it can’t be resold as new. Every major manufacturer has an outlet store where they sell refurbished laptops. Each refurbished computer is checked carefully to make sure it’s in good condition, and typically still comes with a full 1-year warranty. Computers are often hundreds of dollars cheaper when refurbished, and work just as well.

Availability of refurbished laptops fluctuates constantly, so you have to keep a close eye out for good deals. For example, at the time of this writing, a Dell E7440, typically a $1000+ ultrabook, is available for $520 with full HD 1920×1080 screen and dual-band wireless.

March 22, 2015

My Gadget Bag

IMG_0256

When I am out and about you normally will not see me without my gadgets bag. I use to carry around a swissgear backpack, but my gadgets out grew that bag and it has now become my tool bag. I have been sporting a swissgear messenger bag. This bag is starting to become out grown as well and I have been starting to look for a new backpack style bag. For now it works. So what do I carry around on a daily basis?

  1. A laptop. I have a windows machine and a macbook that I switch between depending what I need to have. For longer trips I normally take my macbook as it is much lighter than my 17in msi gaming notebook.
  2. Extended battery. This thing is awesome. I can use it to extend my phone battery/charge my tablet or my 3DS and kindles.
  3. Which brings me to my next items my 3DS XL and USB NES controller. I have a NES emulator on all my laptops that I can use my NES controller on the go. I also have a flash cart for my 3DS that contain Gameboy and Gameboy color emulators and roms plus my DS games. Hours upon hours of video game entertainment
  4. Kindles, that is right your read that correctly two kindles. I have a paperwhite and 3rd gen that I have stocked up with all the books. the 3rd gen supports audio files and has the ability to read to you. the paper white is just easier to read on and has a back lit screen.
  5. Leather Notebook w/ pens. You never know when you might need some paper to write something down.
  6. Tablet; This is my newest edition to my bag. I use it to access spread sheets that I use to track my weekly carb and calorie intakes. Plus this thing makes for a great comic reader.
  7. USB drive/card reader. Though I forget these a lot. Thankfully my computers all have sd slots on them.
  8. Pocket knives. These are a must though these are also what I forget to grab as well.
  9. Charging cables. Though not pictured I have usb data/power cables galore.
  10. Electrical tape. Not even sure why all my bags have a roll of electrical tape in them, but they do.
  11. headphones. also not pictured above is my Razer headset.

So there you have what I carry around with me every day.

August 25, 2014

Macs are PCs

PCFor many years I have been an anti-apple advocate in some ways I still am because I feel Apple PCs are just a status symbol. When someone tries to tell me that their Mac is superior than the pc I know and love that’s when I get upset. It is that elitest mind set that sometimes comes with that apple. Now I can not say that that same attitude doesn’t come from windows fans, it does. I use to be that way, but in the last year or so I have changed from that. Today’s Macs are no different than the windows laptop I carry with me each and everyday. Albeit a very expensive brand name that you are paying for. They are no different.

The time for dividing computers into “PCs” and “Macs” is over. With more and more people are using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, Mac OS X is just another PC operating system alongside Windows and Linux.

The Historical Meaning of “PC”

“PC” has several different meanings. On one extreme, PC just means “personal computer,” and smartphones and tablets are just as much PCs as laptops and desktops. On the other extreme, “PC” originally meant “IBM PC-compatible.” These were computers that were compatible with IBM’s PC architecture. They had a BIOS and could run all the same operating systems, like IBM’s PC-DOS and Microsoft’s MS-DOS. This was a standard architecture computers could conform to so they’d be compatible with the software that ran on other IBM PCs or IBM PC-compatible PCs. IBM no longer makes PCs, so this description isn’t accurate.

IBM PCs became less common and eventually vanished, so the term”IBM PC-compatible” fell out of favor. “Wintel” PCs replaced them — Windows-compatible PCs with an Intel x86 chip inside.

People continued to use the term “PC” for those Windows-on-Intel-x86 machines. But there was nothing intrinsically Windows-only about a PC. PCs originally ran DOS, and today many PCs run Linux. There have been other PC operating systems like IBM OS/2 and BeOS, too. “PC” may be synonymous with Windows to many people, but it shouldn’t be — Linux is also a PC operating system.

Macs Moved From PowerPC to Intel

In the past, a Macintosh’s hardware was very different from a PC’s. Where those Wintel PCs had Intel x86-compatible chips inside, Macs had PowerPC chips. PowerPC was a completely different architecture, so Windows just couldn’t install on a Mac, and Mac OS just couldn’t install on a PC. The difference wasn’t just the operating system, it was the architecture. That’s why a computer that came with OS/2 or BeOS could be considered a PC, but a Mac wasn’t a PC — it wasn’t “PC-compatible.”

In 2006, Apple began transitioning Macs to run on Intel’s x86 chips instead of the PowerPC architecture. This wasn’t just swapping out a chip manufacturer — Mac OS transitioned from being a PowerPC operating system to being an x86 operating system. Macs now use the same Intel chips found in “PCs.” The last version of Mac OS X to even run on PowerPCs at all was Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard back in 2009.

Macs and PCs Have the Same Hardware

Some people seem to think that the hardware in a Mac is very different from the hardware in a PC, but this isn’t true.

The CPU in a Mac is the same Intel CPU you’ll find in Windows based machines. Companies like Samsung, Toshiba, and SanDisk provide the solid-state drives used in a Mac — these are the same SSDs you would buy off the shelves to put in a “PC”, too. LG and Samsung make the displays for the majority of the worlds computers.

Windows, Linux, and Mac Are All PC Operating Systems

In the past, you couldn’t run Windows on a Mac without an emulator. Now, Windows can be easily installed on a Mac. You can install the standard version of your Linux distribution of choice on a Mac, too.

Mac OS X can even be installed on PC hardware — this is what’s known as a “hackintosh.” It isn’t officially supported by Apple. However, it’s possible because you can get PCs with the same hardware as to what you’d find in a Mac. Those hardware drivers Apple writes specifically for its Mac hardware can work just as well on that PC with the same hardware.

Macs are PCs — nice and expensive ones, but PCs nonetheless.