CTPC User Group

 

  1. Preview of the Next CTPC Meeting - No-Contract Cell Phones Demystified
  2. The Affordable Care Website from a Programmer's Perspective - Sandy Berger
  3. Get Plain Text – Linda Gonse
  4. I/O, I/O, It’s Off To Work We Go - Phil Sorrentino
  5. The Tip Corner - Bill Sheff
  6. Alternative Landline Telephone Services - Ira Wilsker
  7. Nibblers - Jeannine Sloan
  8. FitBit -_Small Electronic Wonder Monitors Some Health Concerns - Ira Wilsker
 

Preview of the Next CTPC Meeting - Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 6:30 p.m.

No-Contract Cell Phones Demystified

Ben Barkhouse, owner of the Rocket Wireless store at 247 Connecticut Avenue (located within Cartridge World opposite the Silver Star Restaurant) will be our guest speaker. He has over 25 year of experience with cellular telephony.

Ben will talk about the evolution of cell phones and the current trend toward no-contract providers. These providers offer pre-paid plans that utilize the towers of the four major carriers: Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. He says getting the best phone is a matter of first determining where and how the phone will be used, then picking the device, provider and plan that best fits those criteria. Rocket Wireless offers no-contract service from T-Mobile, Net10, Selectel Wireless, Pageplus and several others. You can purchase a phone at the store or bring your own. Rocket’s website is: www.rocketwireless.me.

So, if you’re confused about cell phones, rates and plans – as most of us are – you’ll want to catch this presentation.

Note that meetings are held at the Silver Star diner in Norwalk (directions here). We also invite you to remain after the meeting for some socializing and to have pizza, salad and the beverage of your choice. Cost is shared and is normally less than $14/person. The Silver Star allows us to use their facility at no charge and we think they deserve some benefit for their generosity.

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Sandy Berger, Compu-KISS, www.compukiss.com, sandy (at) compukiss.com

The Affordable Care Website from a Programmer's Perspective

We have heard the word “glitch” over and over again in reference to the government’s new health care website, Healthcare.gov. As a person who has personally coded thousands of lines of code and run several websites, I can assure you that what we are seeing with this website is not a bunch of small glitches. It is as fundamental failure. Read on for my take on it all.

How did we get here? First of all, with any web project, especially one as large as this, clarity of purpose is essential. The first thing you do in such a project is to decide definitive objectives and plot out a program of how to get to those desired results.

At 1900 pages, the size of H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, is overwhelming. It crashed my computer several times before I was able to download the PDF. Add that to the fact that no one in Washington knew exactly what it contained when it was passed and you can understand why there was no clarity of purpose in developing the website.

Also consider the fact that outdated procurement and bidding processes for governmental work have become so overwhelming that only those companies who know how to manipulate the system can be successful in gaining these government contracts. The people who get the contracts are not necessarily the best and the brightest, but rather, those who can play the political game the best.

So we wound up with several contractors, led by CGI – the largest tech company in Canada. Although I have nothing against Canadians, it seems to me that something that we Americans will rely on so heavily would be better served by an American company. After all, we still have a very high standing in the technology world. What ever happen to “Made in the USA?”

And, as you know, cost overruns are rampant. The initial CGI contract was awarded at $93.7 million and their work has already raised the bill to almost $300 million. Would Apple, Amazon, or others allow such outrageous cost overruns when such lack of results have been shown?

I would like to also take a moment here to suggest that the US government be honest with the American people. When I look at the statistics for my CompuKISS.com website, I can tell you exactly how many visitors we’ve had, where they are located, how many signup up for each form, what browsers they are using and a wealth of other information. Anyone who deals with websites knows these statistics are available. So for them not be able to tell us how many people have signed up is simply more political posturing. This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It is a political issue. Didn’t we learn from Watergate that the cover up is usually worse than the original act?

And, unfortunately, it is obvious in this case that politics have driven the technology rather than the technology being driven by the customer. The user interface is terrible. A wealth of problems seem to have occurred because the government insisted on customer verification against IRS rolls instead of simply allowing the user to see the programs and costs before they signed in with personal information. While I can’t be sure without actually seeing the code, I suspect that other last minute changes and political posturing also led to many of the current problems.

With everyone asking if, and when this can be fixed, I will add my take as an “old programmer” who worked on several large financial team programs and who also worked to make sure that several banks were ready for Y2K. As a programmer, I can tell you that finding all the “glitches” in 5 billion lines of code is not an easy job. And translating the data to be able to communicate with state agencies as well as hundreds of insurance companies is a monumental job. Add that to the fact that hardware issues, server capacity, load balancing, and other highly technical issues have to be taken into consideration.

While some modules of code for this new website may be able to be rescued and reused, the best situation is to start over again with a plain clear plan and no political maneuvering.

There is one main reason that I suggest this. A nest of system problems like those found in this website, ALWAYS translates into security issues. Poor programming leaves loopholes that hackers can expedite to perpetrate identity fraud, phishing, and other vicious plots. Bogus websites with names similar to healthcare.gov have already popped up ready to steal your personal information as you enter it.

Anti-virus software maker Trend Micro also reports that hackers and scammers are also already trying to capitalize on the health care confusion because you can not only sign up at healthcare.gov, but also at several state and third-party sites. They write, “When a person starts looking through sites to find one, at this time, they’re faced with the challenge that there’s no official marking or labeling that they can look at on a site to know that it’s an officially sanctioned site …a survey of state and third-party sites also shows that official sites aren’t required to provide the ability to verify the site using SSL (a security verification system): many of them don’t provide it for site verification at all, though the Federal site does.” It seems that many things were overlooked when this system was created and at least some of those will also cause security problems for end users.

With this new health care system, we are trusting the government with much of our personal and private information. Patching the current system is almost certain to be tried for political expediency. Making it useable may solve the immediate problems, but is sure to cause security problems in the future. This point not being made in most of the media, although for me, it is a major concern. And it should be for you, as well.

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Linda Gonse, Editor & Webmaster, Orange County PC Users’ Group, CA, October 2013 issue, Nibbles & Bits, www.orcopug.org, editor (at) orcopug.org

Get Plain Text

It’s probably safe to say that everyone has copied text from a webpage at some time and pasted it into an email or into a Word-like program. So, of course, you can relate to my dismay of pasting the type complete with its formatting riding piggyback on it.

I always have to stop what I’m doing and unformat and reformat the type, so it blends in with what I’m working on.

I can hear “old timers” yelling, “Notepad! Use Notepad!”

That’s true. And, it’s a good option. I’m using Windows XP (still), so I have a shortcut to Notepad on my Start menu. It’s very easy to click on Start while I have my browser open and click to open Notepad to paste the web text, then recopy it from Notepad, and repaste the text into a document.

But, I found a simpler method.

Really. There is no learning curve.

I only have to click once after copying from a webpage and then I can immediately paste unformatted text into anything anywhere!

With our typical complicated programs to work with, this just doesn’t seem possible. Or, maybe alchemy might be involved!

The short of it is that this is true, no hocus pocus. It is possible with a tiny program called Get Plain Text.

It’s only 70Kb and it doesn’t add an icon to your system tray or grab any memory when you use it.

It works in less than a second to remove text formatting, including fonts, sizes, colors, and embedded images. It just leaves plain text.

Download the program from the developer’s webpage (clipdiary.com) at http://bit.ly/1bzFuea or a secondary download site at http://www.softpedia.com/get/PORTABLE-SOFTWARE/Office/Clipboard/Portable-Get-Plain-Text.shtml. Save it to your preferred disk location. Click on the program to run it.

Add the icon that launches Get Plain Text to your Quick Launch bar or favorite program launcher.

I keep it on my Quick Launch bar. As soon as I copy something to the clipboard, I click on the Get Plain Text icon. Then, I paste the text anywhere I desire. That’s it.

When I use Get Plain Text, no window opens. There are no dialog boxes or preferences to select. There are no flags, bells, or whistles to tell me it is finished. It simply works fast, silently, and unobtrusively.

What else? Oh, yeah. It’s free!

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Phil Sorrentino, Past President, Sarasota PCUG, Florida, November 2013 issue, PC Monitor, www.spcug.org, philsorr (at) yahoo.com

I/O, I/O, It’s Off To Work We Go

The work I’m talking about here is computer data transfer. I/O or Input/Output is a term used to collect all the ways you can move data into and/or out of a computer. (This may be a review for some, but there are a few new ideas that might make it worth the time.) For all of those that have been with computers from the beginning, circa 1980, the only way into or out of your computer, then, was through the serial and parallel ports (the keyboard, mouse, and display interfaces were really internal and were only used for their intended purposes). Fortunately, the serial and parallel interfaces have been replaced with interfaces that are much faster and much more flexible and easier to use. Today, most of the I/O is conducted over the Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface. However, there are a few special purpose interfaces that have become basic to computer use.

Early on, audio was included in the computers bag of tricks so we now typically have an audio-in for a microphone and an audio-out for speakers. Many computers also have another audio-in, usually tagged as line-in. Audio-out is typically used to drive external speakers and line-in is typically used to input a stereo analog signal for use by audio processing software. Also added early on was an Ethernet connection which has become the computers on-ramp to the Internet. Yes, and Wi-Fi (Wireless-Fidelity) has certainly become the mechanism for all, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones to get on to the Internet. Wi-Fi is a wireless I/O and therefore needs no connectors or wires. It is all accomplished by the transmitter and receiver hardware and software, within the computer. There are two other wireless interfaces, Bluetooth and NFC. Bluetooth is becoming very popular as a way to easily connect various Bluetooth compatible devices to the computer with no wires cluttering up the computer area. Bluetooth sets up a PAN (Personal Area Network) around the computer, usually within 10 meters. Bluetooth is also finding its way into many places like the living room entertainment center and the automobile. NFC (Near Field Communications) is a very short range (less than 4 inches) wireless interface that may or may not be used on a computer but will probably be used with smartphones to help make the electronic wallet possible in the future.

Not so early on, around the time laptops became portable, rather than luggable, a video display output port started to appear. This became the very popular VGA (Video Graphics Array) output port (a.k.a. the RGB port because it provided Red, Green, and Blue analog video signals). The VGA port was typically used with an external display device like a larger display or a projector. For a brief time, the DVI (Digital Video Interface) began to take over the job of moving digital video information from the computer to an external display device, but it was soon overtaken by a more comprehensive and versatile interface. Today, the VGA and the DVI port, is being replaced by a digital multi-media port, the HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port. The HDMI port carries both digital video and digital audio signals from the computer to a digital display device. (HDMI is also used in most new digital entertainment centers and digital televisions. Many new digital TVs even provide multiple HDMI input ports, so you can connect cable boxes and DVD players to the TV.) HDMI is also being used on small devices such as smartphones and camcorders and as such is being made available in mini and micro sizes.

So besides audio and video, most of the digital data that is transferred to and from the computer is done via the USB ports. Modern computers usually have multiple USB connectors (laptops maybe 2 to 4, and desktops may have 2 to many). The USB port is a rectangular plug that is keyed so you cannot plug the connector in incorrectly. The USB connector also provides a limited amount of power to the device connected to it, which can be used to charge a battery or even power the device. Because the USB connector provides power to the connecting device, many smartphones and media players charge their batteries through the USB connector. Currently USB is at version 3.0. (Early versions were 1.0 which was little used, 1.1 which was very popular but slow at only 12 Mbps, and 2.0 which was ubiquitous, and fast at up to 480 Mbps.) USB 3.0 devices began to appear in January 2010. USB 3.0 has a maximum data rate of 5 Gbps, yes that’s 5 thousand Mega bits per second. That is a maximum and most data transfers will probably not be near 5 Gbps, but they will be very fast. Fortunately, USB 3.0 is backward compatible with both 1.1 and 2.0. Backward compatibility means that devices at any USB version can operate together, although the data transfer will only be at the speed of the lowest USB version. USB 3.0 connectors usually have a blue center post to identify them as 3.0. Because USB is used on so many small devices, like smartphones and tablets, USB connectors come in Mini and Micro sizes. USB has become so fast and ubiquitous that it has just about eclipsed the other, almost popular, serial bus, IEEE1394 (a.k.a. FireWire).

There are a few other interfaces that may show up on a higher-end computer. These tend to be for special purposes or are extremely fast. One interface, for the purpose of connecting external hard drives, is eSATA (external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). This interface is not as popular as it was before USB 3.0 became available, but it is still a way to extend the computer’s hard drive capability. Thunderbolt i s another special purpose interface, rarely seen on typical computers, with speeds up to 10 Gbps. Thunderbolt can connect multiple compatible devices in a daisy chained configuration. DisplayPort is another special purpose Video Display interface that is very fast, it is advertised at up to 21.6 Gbps, and is designed for multiple displays. These very fast interfaces may be found on professional Display systems that require resolution and refresh rates far beyond those of HDMI. This type of display may be found in medical systems that may be used to display MRI Scans or X-Rays. DisplayPort may be found on some high-end machines, maybe gaming machines and if resolutions beyond 1080p ever find their way to the home, you may find DisplayPort driving those display devices.

The job of moving digital data around is tough work, but these interfaces seem to be up to the job, and I’m sure the ones that will come in the future will probably be faster, more versatile and even more capable.

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Bill Sheff, Novice SIG Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Computer Group, PA, November 2013 issue, The LVCG Journal, www.lvcg.org, nsheff (at) aol.com

The Tip Corner

Buying a Computer
The holidays are nearly upon us, and some of us are considering purchasing a computer either as a gift or for ourselves. So usually one of the first questions is: which PC brand is best? Some swear by a particular brand, and there is probably an equal amount swearing at it. Let’s consider the fact that every PC consists of different parts, even within the same brand or model. So let’s look at what we should be considering in the purchase of a new computer. (For the purpose of this discussion I am leaving the choice of PC or Apple to the reader. Much can be said for either choice.)

Value! Before we decide on a price range we should consider what we want in a computer and then we can compare prices among various brands that are providing the same items within the “box.”

So first off, do we want a Laptop or Desktop?

This used to be a simple choice. Laptops offered mobility, but sacrificed a lot of performance.

Today many laptops, while sometimes being slightly slower than similarly priced desktops, offer more than enough performance for more than just everyday tasks. With a desktop you can always add additional cards, but outside of an ability to increase memory there are not too many add-ons for a laptop. If you decide that you want the portability and convenience of a laptop, it should have a good screen since it is not easily replaceable. And while you are at it, consider what size screen fits your need. Today, not only can you get very large monitors, you can also get monitors that are touch sensitive (like a cell phone). Additionally, today’s memory should be between four to eight GB depending upon how much graphic editing you plan to do, but you do not need any ram over 16 GB.

The increase in speed over 8GB is negligible. For normal use four GB of ram should be sufficient to handle most programs including the threshold needed for the operating system.

OK! Let’s look further under the hood.

On a PC you should have a 400 Watt power supply to cover any additional cards you might require.

Laptops provide sufficient wattage. Today’s hard drives are usually 7200 RPM so do not settle for the older 5400 RPM models. Most DVD drives have been upgraded to read Blu-ray, but you don’t want to have to pay extra to be able to record Blu-ray. Also, do you want or need a light scribe disk burner to be able to print labels on the special light scribe disks?

Today’s processors have greatly improved. Look for the Intel I3 (or higher) or an AMD A6 (or higher). I would suggest you do not use the older Celeron, Pentium or AMD E or X2 series.

Ports. I can only suggest you cannot have too many ports. A minimum of four to six USB2 ports should be the minimum. Also see if there is a firewire port and for sure an HDMI port for video transfer.

Most laptops provide a pcmcia card slot which allows adding many useful options. Also both usually have slots to slide in memory sticks.

Motherboards. Almost all motherboards offer video and audio on the board. I have found that except for gaming where you need higher speed graphics the on board audio and video are quite sufficient.

Warranty & Support
Pay careful attention to the warranty and support policies, because they are getting more complicated than ever. Many companies offer various levels of in-home, mail-in or even local repair.

If your warranty is “mail-in after 90 days for a period of 1 year,” it means if anything goes wrong hardware-wise, you’ll need to mail the computer in. You may wait up to two weeks to get it back.

Buying from a local computer shop can often result in faster service and better component choices (to reduce service costs), but may cost you a bit more initially. Since most computers work pretty problem-free after a brief burn-in period; there are some who suggest that additional warranties are not price effective.

Finally, while not readily apparent, tech support from the various brands should be a consideration when choosing a brand.

Reinstall your operating system

When you purchase a new computer you normally do not get any restore disks to reinstall the hard drive to its original condition in case of a virus or failure. Sometimes they suggest you make a copy of the restore disks and keep them safe. Often they suggest you can restore directly from the partition “D” drive for Vista or Win 7. The “D” drive is a “restore partition” which holds the recovery programs. This partition costs less to make than it does to manufacture restore discs. This is good if you cannot locate the restore disks at a crucial time.

If you feel you want to restore from a restore partition, and you can, back up your computer, at least all the files and data you want to save. You probably could do a “non-destructive” restore that will allow you to keep all of your files intact, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

All HPs and Dells manufactured within the past five years include them, as do most other computers these days. You can check for the restore partition by clicking START and then COMPUTER. What you’re looking for is labeled “restore” or “recovery”.

Next, click START and then enter “recovery” into the search box. Click on RECOVERY MANAGER.

When you run the recovery manager, you’ll see a screen with various options.

If your problem is that one of the original programs that came with your computer has become corrupt, you use SOFTWARE PROGRAM REINSTALLATION. MICROSOFT SYSTEM RESTORE will close the recovery manager and launch Microsoft’s system restore program to fix broken Windows. The final option here is REALLY the final option. SYSTEM RECOVERY is for when your system has become hopelessly corrupt and you need to start from scratch.

COMPUTER CHECKUP will check your system for errors and problems. If you’re not sure what’s wrong, this might be a good place to start.

RECOVERY MEDIA CREATION allows you to make the external disks you should have made when you turned your computer on for the first time. These disks are in case there was a total hard disk failure. You can take out the damaged drive and put in a new one and reinstall the programs.

Try and make those disks before the total hard disk failure. Once you have those disks made put them where they won’t be lost or forgotten. Also on the screen mentioned above is a RECOVER REPORT which is pretty self-explanatory. Finally there is a REMOVE RESTORE PARTITION option on the screen.

Once you have restored your operating program be prepared to wait while all the updates get installed.

What Do I Do With a Flash Drive?
I really didn’t know if I had to put in a tip like this, but once in a while we have to go back to basics just in case there are a few of us out there who are newbies, or just confused.

A USB flash drive is sometimes called a jump drive or memory stick. (A thumb drive is slightly different because they have a write-protect feature). In either case the drive is simply a data storage device just like a floppy disk, or even a hard drive. Unlike a hard drive it has no moving parts. It draws power from the USB port on your computer. There are other USB drives that are actually spinning hard drives and sometimes include external power plugs. USB ports can be located in the front or back or even both on a desktop, and usually on the sides of a laptop or all-in-one.

Once you put the drive into the port, the computer will recognize it as a removable drive and assign it a drive letter.

Now you can copy or move items to the drive, the way you would copy to a floppy or transfer to another file or folder. You can add new folders to the drive and do practically any other action that you can do with a regular drive.

It is a good idea to click the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in your system tray to avoid any possible loss of data. This is not too important with the solid state flash drives, but is important with any USB drives that are spinning.

Besides having the ability to hold a lot of data, USB drives can also be used for creating a bootable USB drive and even putting many apps on it to keep some data from having to be installed on your computer.

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Ira Wilsker - Ira hosts “My Computer Show” a call-in tech support show on KLVI radio, 560AM, from 4-5 p.m. Mondays, Pacific time. The show streams live over the net at KLVI.com and on the free iHeartRadio app. His call-in number is 800-330-5584.

Alternative Landline Telephone Services

WEBSITES:
http://ooma.com
http://www.ooma.com/rates
http://www.magicJack.com
http://www.nettalk.com
http://www.skype.com/en/
http://www.vonage.com
http://obihai.com
http://www.basictalk.com
http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/residential-home/phone/domestic-international-calling-plans.html
http://gigaom.com/2012/12/26/over-half-of-american-homes-dont-have-or-use-their-landline/
http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2012/12/27/more-than-half-homes-without-landline/1793823/

It should come as no surprise to followers of technology that newer technologies always tend to replace older technologies; this process has been going on since the advent of mankind. Of the myriad of technologies widely used today, it should come as no surprise that the traditional hardwired landline telephones, using a basic analog technology well over a century old, are already obsolescent. According to a story in USA Today on December 27, 2012 (quoting an original 12/26/12 article from Gigaom), "More than half of U.S. homes don't have or use landline." The article explains how wireless phones have in many cases totally replaced the copper wired analog phones in the majority of homes. This decline in demand for traditional phone service has not been lost on the likes of AT&T and Verizon, major providers of hardwired phone services. The USA Today and Gigaom articles state, "As the FCC begins its regulatory process to change the rules associated with landline access and telcos like AT&T and Verizon try to get out of the landline business altogether, it's clear that the phasing out of copper-based voice lines will have repercussions that go beyond telephone calls."

While cellular (mobile) telephones have taken away much of the market share (and profitability) of the copper based landline services, the rapid rise in the popularity of alternative phone services utilizing "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VoIP) has indicated that there is still substantial demand for a somewhat fixed telephone service for both home and business users. VoIP phone services are digital, utilize the internet to carry calls rather than the more traditional copper lines, generally offer superior voice quality, and utterly lack the domestic long distance charges still charged by the traditional phone companies. For those making international l ong distance phone calls, either to or from the United States, most of these VoIP services offer either free or very inexpensive international long distance. Several of the VoIP providers also offer a reasonably priced international flat rate calling plan with unlimited international calling for less than just local calling costs from a traditional phone company. Originally, most of the VoIP providers had difficulty sending and receiving traditional analog FAX messages, but that problem has been resolved, with almost all of the digital carriers now handling FAX machines as well as any other connected phone devices.

Watching TV for more than a few minutes will likely expose the viewer with a host of commercials for alternative phone services. Among the most widely advertised digital phone products and services are MagicJack, Vonage, Time Warner Digital Phone (other similar cable company phone services are promoted by other carriers), Ooma, netTALK, and BasicTalk. While not heavily advertised, but widely known and used in technical circles are Skype and Obihai. Major providers of online chat services, such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! offer voice chat services that are encroaching on telephone services, with the Google Voice service now being used by many users as a replacement for traditional telephone service. Social networking services, such as Facebook, may also be entering the fray.

I will admit that over the years, I have experimented with several of the devices that can be used to simply connect common home phone (corded or cordless) to the internet in order to make virtually unlimited local and long distance phone calls. Originally, my primary intent was to avoid horrendous long distance charges when my daughters started going away to college. Later, when cell phone plans offered a very limited number of minutes, with additional minutes being very expensive, I needed an alternative method to avoid crippling long distance charges when calling out-of-area family. While our current cell phone plan has a large number of (limited) daytime minutes, with unlimited evening and weekend calling, my primary interest in a VoIP system is to be able to totally replace my antiquated but traditional phone company with a much more cost effective (money saving) alternative that includes virtually unlimited local and domestic long distance calling. By noticing the increasing popularity of the VoIP systems for home use (home users may be able to retain their "old" landline phone number while generating substantial savings), and the exploding use of VoIP based office phones (a service offered by several of the digital phone providers), it seems inevitable that the traditional landline carriers such as AT&T and Verizon may be presiding over a dying technology.

After toying around with several voice-chat services, requiring the use of a headset and boom microphone, my first foray into the more modern VoIP services was with the original version of the magicJack, which I reviewed here in the February 19, 2009 edition of the Examiner. My major complaint about the original magicJack, an issue resolved in a later version, was that it had to be connected to a computer that was turned on in order to function; when my computer was turned off, there was no magicJack service. About two years ago (Examiner, December 23, 2011), I reviewed an updated version of the then new magicJack PLUS, a much improved build that did not require an "always on" computer in order to have full phone access. Newer builds of the device, the latest named "2014 magicJack PLUS", now claim much improved voice quality. The new magicJack PLUS device retails for $69.95, but is widely available for as low as half that price, and usually included the first year of service. Additional years can be purchased for as little as $19.95 per year with a multiyear subscription. The PLUS version of the MagicJack is very simple to install and setup; the AC adapter is plugged into a standard power outlet, with the magicJack's USB plug inserted into the AC power source. A standard phone is connected with its phone plug to one port on the magicJack, and a standard Ethernet (network) cable is connected another port on the device. Registration is fast and simple, leading to a dial tone on the now connected telephone. To be fair, before having adequate cell phone minutes, the portability feature of the magicJack was handy as I could make and receive phone calls from wherever I had a decent broadband internet connection. As with almost all of its competitors, magicJack offers many of the same services as traditional landlines, including caller ID, voice mail, and 911 service (E911). The magicJack is arguably the best selling VoIP device because of its heavy advertising and promotions, with the magicJack website claiming over 11 million devices sold.

Prior to the release of the PLUS version of magicJack, I was seeking an alternative that did not require an "always on' computer in order to function full time; I found that device, the netTALK DUO, which I reviewed in length in the Examiner on May 4, 2012. The basic netTALK DUO was less expensive than the magicJack PLUS, priced at $49.95 retail (commonly available for about a third less), had superior voice quality, with better customer service and tech support than magicJack. The first year of virtually unlimited local and long distance service was included in the price, with additional years of service available for $29.95; a year of netTALK cost about the same as a month of basic landline service from the traditional phone companies. Portable, with almost all of the features of a landline (e911, voice mail, caller ID, etc.) I preferred the netTALK over the magicJack. A new model, the netTALK DUO WiFi ($64.95), offers the option of connecting to any available WiFi service rather than connecting to a router via Ethernet cable.

My latest attempt at a home based VoIP service was an Ooma Telo device. While initially more expensive than netTALK or magicJack, it seems to have better voice quality, and virtually unlimited free local and long distance calling without a monthly or annual subscription fee, making it quickly more cost competitive than a magicJack or netTALK if used for more than two years. Retailing for $149, it is widely available new for under $100, and several of the "bargain" websites periodically have the Ooma (refurbished) for around $69. On Black Friday, I purchased my new Ooma Telo for the same price as others charged for a refurbished model. Installation was very fast and easy, with the online activation an intuitive process. I selected a local phone number, and was able to make and receive phone calls in just a very few minutes. The included AC adapter, Ethernet cable (included), and cord from the telephone connect to the back of the Ooma; as with other VoIP devices, a broadband connection and available router port are required. The device, which is probably the best looking of the devices I considered, is possibly one of the most full featured devices available. I tried its much acclaimed technical support (a weakness with many of its competitors), and it was fast, polite, and effective. Published reviews from trade and technical journals raved about the voice quality of the Ooma over its competitors, and while I did not scientifically test it, I can say that the voice quality was excellent. In order to be fair, the free local and long distance service is not really free, as Ooma is required to collect taxes from its users; according to the Ooma website, "Federal universal service charges, FCC regulatory fee, state and local taxes, fees & surcharges and regulatory and compliance fees are billed monthly and are subject to change." I went to the tax rate calculator on the Ooma website (www.ooma.com/rates), entered my zip code, and found that the total federal and local taxes on my unlimited phone services will be $3.72 per month, charged monthly to my credit card. Reading the fine print on the websites of some of the competing VoIP services indicates that they also either are now, or may shortly start adding these same taxes and fees to their monthly or annual subscription fees. There are several Ooma devices available, including a WiFi adapter (remote devices can send and receive calls via WiFi), Bluetooth adapter (cell phones and other Bluetooth devices can connect directly to Ooma if in range), remote handsets, and other devices. There are Ooma devices explicitly for business users that can connect the businesses' phone lines to VoIP, getting the benefits of free (plus taxes) unlimited local and domestic long distance service. Ooma also offers relatively inexpensive international long distance calling, either at a very low "pennies per minute" rate or a monthly flat rate of $17.99 for unlimited international long distance calling to 61 countries.

WalMart is heavily advertising BasicTalk digital phone service, complete with the most popular services and unlimited local and domestic long distance calling. I tried a BasicTalk and it appeared to work well, with excellent voice quality. While the VoIP device itself is among the lowest cost of any of its competitors at only $9.99, and has had excellent reviews, BasicTalk also charges a monthly service fee of $9.99, which, including the taxes and fees, actually would cost (in my zip code) $12.11 per month. This is far less expensive than the traditional analog phone service, generating considerable savings over just a few years, but quickly becomes more expensive than most of its competitors.

It is almost a "given" that cable broadband providers also offer a digital (VoIP) phone service along with TV and internet services. While quality is often excellent, and feature rich, it is often among the most expensive of the competing services, even though it is common to offer a "teaser" rate for the first 12 months of service, going up to normal price the 13th month and thereafter. Some cable carriers have announced a "new lower monthly rate" of $19.99 for service, while several other cable companies are charging $24.95 to $39.95 per month, with charges for some additional services. These monthly rates do not include the added taxes and fees, which are similar to most of the other carriers. Different cable providers have different fee structures for the equipment necessary to connect the home telephone to the cable service, with some leasing (renting) the VoIP device, some including the cost of the device with the monthly subscription fee, and at least one offering a port directly on the rented cable modem for the phone jack. While still cost effective when compared to the traditional landlines, cable digital phone service is among the most expensive alternative services available.

A very interesting device that has traditionally appealed to "techies" is the Obihai series of VoIP devices. These Obihai devices are intended to utilize other VoIP services, such as the Google Voice (GV) service, providing a very low cost of service from devices that start at $59.99 retail (often available online for about $37) for the basic OBi100 single line model, with moderately higher prices for models that support multiple lines, FAX service, and other functions. Obihai also has models that support the multiple phone lines found in office environments. Reviews of the Obihai systems have been excellent, and when used on alternative VoIP services, such as Google Voice, are among the least expensive to operate, while offering free local and domestic long distance calling, ultra low cost international calls, and other services. While slightly more complex to setup, these Obihai systems are among the least expensive to own and operate over a period of a year or two.

Vonage is another heavily advertised VoIP product, emphasizing its international calling. In order to use the Vonage service, the user must purchase a "Vonage Box" which may retail for $79.99 but is widely available deeply discounted. Vonage offers local and international "teaser" rates of about $10 per month for a limited number of months, increasing to $24.99 per month (plus taxes) for unlimited local and domestic calling, a discounted limited plan (400 minutes per month, 5 cents per minute overage) for $12.99, and international rates of $26.99 for unlimited calling to the US and over 60 countries. Along with some of the cable plans, Vonage is among the most expensive of the plans over time, but its international calling plan is among the best available.

No comparison of VoIP plans would be complete without mentioning Microsoft's Skype service. Mostly free if used between computers or smart devices, and inexpensive if calling a phone number, Skype utilizes the computer (or smart device) as the "box", along with the speaker and microphone components of the computer. I have used Skype with a set of headphones and a microphone in order to talk to other Skype users (the free calls). Calling off the Skype system, such as to other telephones, is reasonably priced, with the lowest rates being available on a subscription basis, with subscription rates being based on projected usage. Domestic (US) calling is as low as 2.3 cents per minute on a "pay as you go" basis, or $2.99 per month for unlimited calling to the US and Canada, $7.99 per month for most of North America (including landline calls to major cities in Mexico), to $13.99 per month for unlimited calling to over 60 countries. There are several telephone-looking devices that serve as a dialer, speaker and microphone that work on computers with Skype, effectively making the computer a complete telephone device. Other than the cost of the computer or smart device, Skype is among the least expensive telephone alternatives.

As the technology is changing, services such as these may be the death knell for the old fashioned, traditional telephone services.

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Jeannine Sloan, Member, Twin Cities PC Users’ Group, Minnesota, October 2013 issue, The Digital Viking, www.tcpc.com, sqwalbran (at) yahoo.com

Nibblers

Grandparents Develop iPad App to Stay in Touch With Family
"It's completely simultaneous, when grandma moves a puzzle piece on her iPad, it moves on Johnny's iPad." http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/family-life/grandparents-develop-ipad-app-famzoom.html 

Print and/or Digital Amazon has begun allowing buyers of print books to also purchase the ebook for little or nothing. http://tinyurl.com/llpt5yz 

Chrome/Firefox Tip
If you use Chrome or Firefox, you can pin a tab by right-clicking it and selecting Pin tab. The web page in the pinned tab will automatically open each time you open a new browser window.

Backup Network Settings
With Windows 7 it is extremely easy to backup your wireless network settings, to save for the just in case times. Even though setting up a wireless network in Windows 7 is very easy, there are still things like a security key that you have to remember and type in manually. Therefore I like to save my wireless network settings and import them back in whenever I need them. http://tips4pc.com/networking/backup-wireless-network-settings-windows-seven.htm 

Manage Wireless Networks
Manage Wireless Networks is gone from Windows 8. The most used part of the Manage Wireless Networks functionality is now part of the list of wireless networks on the network icon. In Windows 8, simply left click on the icon, and then right click on the appropriate wireless network and you'll see "Forget this network", "Connection Properties" etc.

Quick Access Panel in IE 10 on Windows 8
The favorites (pinned sites) and frequent sites in the Modern UI/Metro version of IE10 are accessed from the Quick Site Access panel, which displays when you set focus to the address bar (press Alt + D). http://www.howtogeek.com/123902/ 

OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
Skydrive & Google Drive both perform OCR on photos of narrative. Google Drive can convert PDF to text.

Delete Online Accounts
Check these sites for help: http://justdelete.me/ --or--http://www.accountkiller.com/en/ 

Miracast
It lets two devices that have Wi-Fi in them talk to each other without having to go through your internet network. And unlike AirPlay, it will work with disparate brands and platforms. So ideally, your Samsung phone would be able to talk to your LG TV. http://gizmodo.com/5944578/what-is-miracast

Wireless displays
Wireless displays are pretty amazing things. You can output display and audio from smartphones, laptops and desktops to larger monitors. Most modern computers and smartphones include some kind of support for it. Linux, iOS, PCs and most Android devices with Jelly Bean or later versions support the feature. WiDi, AirPlay and Miracast are terms to study.

Youtube Video Link Customization
You can easily create links that go directly to a specific time in a YouTube video -- ideal for emailing or sharing on social media. To do this, just add &t=#m#s to the end of the video's URL, replacing the # signs with the number of minutes and seconds you want to link to. For example, the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKF-TO2HEuQ&t=15m30s takes you to the 15 minute and 30 second mark on the latest MakeUseOf podcast video. From MakeUseOf ezine

VPN
Windows 7 offers easy methods to set up both incoming and outgoing VPN with the built-in Agile VPN Client. Read the tutorial here: http://tips4pc.com/windows_seven_tips/setup-a-vpn-windows-7-tutorial.htm 

Ctrl + F
When in IE and most other browsers a little known browser keyboard shortcut, Ctrl + F, will open a “Find” box. Fill in any word or phrase that you want to find in the active web page. (For Apple users the keys are Command + f)

Automatic Plant Watering
Instructables user threads a very fine needle, and then punctures the bottom of a zip-loc bag with a threaded needle. The needle has to be straight and fine for this to work, and once punctured the thread hangs out of the bag but the needle rests on the inside. This way the needle isn't in the way, and the thread serves as a wick that water can travel down. Fill the (now leaky) baggie with water, rest the baggie inside the plant's pot (or anywhere near it, as long as it's above the soil and the wick is touching the soil), and you're done.

Take a Screen Shot of Your Smart Phone Screen
On an iPhone, press and hold the Home button along with the Sleep/Wake button. You should hear a shutter click. The screenshot will appear in your Camera Roll or Saved Photos section. On Androids, hold the Power and Volume Down buttons at the same time. The image is saved to the "Captured Images" folder in your Gallery app. That only works in Android 4.0 and higher, though.

Technophoria
n. (tehk-no-FOR-ee-ah) The high you get from purchasing the latest and greatest high tech gadget. "I was overwhelmed with the sense of technophoria when I bought the latest BananaPhone 5000". http://www.urbandictionary.com/ 

Another Search Engine
CanIStream. It is a free service created by Urban Pixels that allows you to search across the most popular streaming, rental, and purchase services to find where a movie is available. If the movie you're looking for is not available, just sign-up, set a reminder and voila we will shoot you an email when your chosen service makes the movie available. It's simple and fast. http://www.canistream.it/

Block Websites in Router
Many routers allow the owner to block specific websites from their LAN. This will be found somewhere in the router settings and will be called something different in each brand. If you want to block access to a specific website, research your brand of router to see if you have that ability. You probably do.

Quick Key
Tap the space bar to move forward one screen in any browser, shift+space to move backward one screen.

Content Creators Use Piracy to Gauge Consumer Interest
Pirating as a barometer for public interest. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/content-creators-use-piracy-to-gauge-consumer-interest/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130918

Botnets Steal PII
Personally Identifiable Information (Pii) can be used to perpetrate identity theft. A botnet has been detected in major public record holders' servers. Read article here: http://tinyurl.com/lc3qv4n 

IMD
Implantable Medical Devices (IMDs) need security too. Emergency responders have to be able to swiftly reprogram or extract data from the devices, lest treatment delays prove fatal to patients as they hunt for keys or passwords, and the devices' wireless access must be protected from hackers who might harm patients or expose their medical data. http://tinyurl.com/k7259jq 

A More Secure Web Browser
http://www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips/2013/09/how-to-secure-your-web-browser/ 

Read THE WHOLE PAGE B4 Downloading
In many cases the real download button is placed some way down the page, requiring scrolling to reach it. Or it may be a simple link, which isn't as prominent as a large graphical button. This can result in you downloading not what you wanted, but something rather less useful or perhaps even harmful. Read more: http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/security/3470334/ 

Safer Online Banking
Follow these 8 tips and you can minimize the risks to your finances and bank safely online:

  1. Choose an account with two factor authentication
  2. Create a strong password
  3. Secure your computer and keep it up-to-date
  4. Avoid clicking through emails
  5. Access your accounts from a secure location
  6. Always log out when you are done
  7. Set up account notifications (if available)
  8. Monitor your accounts regularly
Read more here: http://tinyurl.com/k6u7kfm 

Geo-blocking
Media companies erect location-based barriers around their properties. This practice is known as geo-blocking. Video-streaming sites such as BBC's iPlayer, Netflix and ABC iView use geoblocks to limit their audiences to the UK, USA, and Australia respectively. Online businesses such as gambling services may use these geoblocks to deny availability of their site to countries in which they cannot legally operate. Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-geoblocking.html#jCp 

How to Lock Down Facebook Privacy
The main concern with Facebook's new, more granular search is that your hundreds—and in some cases thousands—of past posts, each now requires its own, unique privacy setting. To keep strangers from poring through every single detail of your Facebook history, you'll want to turn on the “Friends Only” setting for old posts. For a quick way to do it read this: http://gizmodo.com/how-to-lock-down-facebook-privacy-now-that-old-posts-ar-1431103763/ 

Search Your PC on Windows 8
Tap the Windows key makes the Modern (tiled) interface the active screen. Type the search term, even though there is no designated field. Just start typing. The Search pane opens as you type. Tap, or click, the category to be searched.

Visually Impaired Turn to Smartphones
People with vision problems can use a smartphone’s voice commands to read or write. They can determine denominations of money using a camera app, figure out where they are using GPS and compass applications, and take photos. Android and Apple smart phones lead the way in offering assistive technology. Read more here: http://tinyurl.com/ktopc64 

BCC is Confidential
The sender has used the "Bcc:" feature of email to send the email to one or more people, without revealing who they are. So how do you find out who they are? You don't. From Ask Leo ezine

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Ira Wilsker - Ira hosts “My Computer Show” a call-in tech support show on KLVI radio, 560AM, from 4-5 p.m. Mondays, Pacific time. The show streams live over the net at KLVI.com and on the free iHeartRadio app. His call-in number is 800-330-5584.

FitBit -_Small Electronic Wonder Monitors Some Health Concerns

WEBSITES
http://www.fitbit.com
http://www.fitbit.com/setup/one

Several weeks ago my daughters, acting in concert, convinced me to purchase a thumb sized electronic device from one of the local retail stores. It was both currently on sale plus the retailer had an online printable coupon for an additional discount, so I purchased one for about $80. Since buying the small device, it has been a constant 24 hour companion. The device is the FitBit One, readily available in the electronics or fitness departments of several of our local stores, or online.

The FitBit One is a sophisticated device and can track steps walked or run (like a high quality pedometer), calculate the distance covered while walking or running, determine how strenuous is the physical activity, calculate calories burned, determine the number of stairs climbed, track the hours and minutes of sleep, track the number of times awakened, calculate the quality of sleep, and offers a silent vibrating alarm to wake the wearer at a preset time. Information on daily steps, stairs, miles (or kilometers) walked or run, calories burned, the current time, and a flower which symbolizes the degree of fitness are displayed on the small LED screen on the device; additional information is compiled for later uploading (synching) with the computer.

The FitBit one is available in two colors; black or a dark burgundy. In the box is the FitBit One tracker device, a silicone rubber covered metal clip that holds the device, a very small USB - Bluetooth dongle that fits in a USB port on a computer (Windows and MAC compatible), a USB charging cord to charge the internal lithium-ion polymer battery, and an elastic and Velcro wristband that may be used to hold the FitBit at bedtime. The FitBit device is water resistant, and unaffected by perspiration, rain, or splashed water, but is not intended to be used in or under the water. The internal lithium-ion polymer rechargeable battery, which is charged using the included USB charging cable, lasts about a week, and recharges quickly when attached to a computer. The device itself is small, being 1.89 inches tall, 0.76 inches wide, and 0.38 inches thick, and weighs only 0.28 of an ounce; it can easily be clipped inside a pocket (recommended), to an undergarment, or to the included wristband.

Configuring the FitBit One is a fast and simple process. My FitBit One was almost fully charged out of the box, but it may be necessary to use the USB charging cable to charge it; the battery status is displayed on the FitBit while charging by pressing the one button on the FitBit. The USB - Bluetooth dongle, which is about the size of a thumbnail, is plugged into a USB port, and connects to the device via Bluetooth as long as the device is within 20 feet of the dongle; this is necessary to perform the one-time configuration of the device, and the automatic synchronization with the computer. The Bluetooth dongle is so small, that it barely protrudes from the USB port, and if the port is available, can be left plugged in; I plugged the Bluetooth dongle into one of the ports in my 7-port USB hub, which is always connected to my computer, allowing for my FitBit to synch with my computer whenever I sit at my computer.

Configuration is completed online at FitBit.com by registering the device, and answering some physiological questions so the device can calculate calories burned, and other important calculations at each synchronization. A personalized secure website is created that displays all of the data compiled by the FitBit, along with any supplemental data entered by the user. The software necessary to integrate the FitBit One, the computer (both Windows and MAC), and the secure online monitoring is downloaded from the FitBit.com website at the time of registration. Once the software is downloaded and installed, it will load at boot, and can be invoked by right clicking on the icon in the system tray near the clock (PC version). Selecting "Sync Now" will start the synchronization of the device with the computer, and may take up to a minute, but is typically completed within 15 seconds. Some, but not all, Bluetooth equipped smart phones can also be used to wirelessly sync with the FitBit One; all internet connected smart phones can sync using the appropriate app. The raw data is compiled immediately after the sync process, and displayed in a series of charts and graphs on the FitBit.com website. Free FitBit apps for the iPhone and Android are available that offer full functionality including everything that can be displayed on the computer or FitBit website, plus offer the ability to log food consumed (the software will calculate the calories from an extensive database of foods) and compare the calories consumed to a personalized calculation of calories burned, based on the user's personal characteristics and the degree of activity during the day.

Many of us may never have had a medical sleep study, and the FitBit is definitely not a substitute for a medical diagnosis, but it does accurately track our nightly sleep patterns. On the FitBit's personalized website is a sleep chart that both graphically and numerically displays the length of each night's sleep, the number of times awakened, and a rating on the quality of sleep received that night. Daily sleep data (as well as all other information) is compiled into longer term charts for personal analysis and improvement. The silent vibrating alarm can be programmed on the website for days and times to go off, which will awaken the user, but not bother a partner.

Additional information that can be tracked by the FitBit includes a personally programmed weight loss food plan that compares calories consumed (based on the food eaten and entered on to the database) to those burned, and displays the projected dates for reaching weight goals; a blood pressure log where BP can be manually entered; a glucose (blood sugar) tracking utility; a heart rate log; a journal that tracks mood, energy, allergies, and other personal journal entries; weigh factors (weight, body mass index or BMI, and other body measurements); physical activities; and water consumed. Some of this information can be read from the FitBit device as appropriate, or be manually entered on the computer (FitBit.com website), or from some smart phones; the syncing process makes the updates available to all of the devices and the website. Some events are not activated until synced; for example, if an alarm is entered on the personal page on the FitBit website, it will be automatically programmed into the FitBit device at the next sync.

At first, I was skeptical about this little quarter-ounce device, but three of my daughters, all adults, raved about how they used it to monitor their daily activities, and how valuable it was in their successful weight loss programs. When I mentioned to my physician that I had started to monitor my physical activity with a FitBit One, he told me that he had been using one also; I guess that if it is good enough for my doctor, it is good enough for me.

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