All posts by timlacey

Printers and Scanners

I am often asked to recommend printers and scanners. Here is my set of favorites as of November 2018.

Printers? I like Epson. I find HP to be bogged down with complex software and setup, I find Brothers to be good but finicky sometimes with connecting over the network, and I like Epson. I like Epson based on the experiences I have with them – people who buy them require less help in general and are happier with their printers.

So Costco is currently selling the Epson ET-4750 for $379. It scans, faxes, and prints.

Manufacturers now sell printers with ink tanks, rather than cartridges, and the Epson ET-4750 comes with 2 years worth of color and black and white ink. That’s why these new printers, while still inexpensive, are much more expensive than printers from a few years ago that replied on expensive cartridges to subsidize them.

https://www.costco.com/Epson-WorkForce-ET-4750-Special-Edition-EcoTank-All-in-One-Printer.product.100392405.html

 

As for scanners, you can easily scan with the Epson above, but for people that do a lot of scanning, and for people that scan documents of all sizes, I really like document scanners.  I use a Scansnap S1500 and the modern versions of that sell for about $450 on Amazon.  For less hard-core scanning, I recommend the little portable Scansnap scanners.  The software is great and easy to use.  The scanner is fast and creates super great PDFs and can also convert them to Word documents.

If you wanted a stand alone scanner for documents, receipts, and other things, these Scansnap scanners are the best.  Here it is on Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Fujitsu-ScanSnap-Portable-Document-Scanner/dp/B008HBFADQ/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1541742050&sr=1-4&keywords=scansnap

Sharing Google Drive and Alternate Addresses

Have you ever had somebody send you a link to a Google Drive file or folder that you couldn’t open because you didn’t have a Google account for that email address?

Usually, when that happens, you have to email the person back and give them a google email address that they can use instead, or sometimes you may just have NO IDEA what to do.

You CANNOT share Google Drive with a non-Google address.  BUT you can link your non-google address to a preferred google account (they have an easy way to do this – see below).  I did that for myself so if somebody shares a document with me at one of my personal non-gmail addresses like tlacey@techconciergesd.com, it will automatically share to my personal gmail account.

These extra addresses that link to your Google account are called “alternate addresses.”  I recommend logging in to your primary google account and then adding your other non-Google email accounts to it as an alternate address.

You can try to set up your alternate email addresses by going to https://myaccount.google.com/email

This should solve your sharing problem.  Please note that once you add an alternate address, it will work going forward, but any sharing links you’ve previously been sent to an alternate address will still not work.  A new sharing link will have to be sent.  They may even have to remove your sharing from before and then re-share it with you.

But the beauty of this is that people don’t need to know your google account – they simply need to use your regular email address to share Google documents and folders with you.  As long as those addresses are set up as “alternate addresses” in your Google account, it will be as if they shared with your Google account directly.

Happy sharing!

 

 

iOS 12 to include Parental Controls we actually need!

Worried about your kids and their devices?

You are not alone.

In fact, I have been working on this issue as a parent for many years.  Phones and computers are tools to do homework, but they also introduce ongoing distractions that prevent homework from being done.  They also seem to isolate our kids in a digital world.  They change the way their brains are wired.

So do we just take them away?  Not if you need them to do their homework.  Homework these days REQUIRES a computer, etc. . .  Plus our kids NEED devices to some extent to interact socially with their peers.

Thankfully, there are a few old solutions.  On the Windows PC side of the world, there is Microsoft Family Safety.  It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing, and it can limit screen time, block access to certain websites and programs, etc. . .  In the Mac/Iphone/IPad world, there are programs like Qustodio and devices like Circle, but something new is coming NEXT WEEK that will change everything.

APPLE FINALLY OFFERS US A WAY TO CONTROL THIS!


For those of you who use Apple devices, the fix is coming next week.  The new version of Apple’s operating system for iPhones and iPads, iOS12, is being released next week and will include a number of features to protect your kids from themselves.

What it includes?

  • SCREEN TIME TRACKING – You and your kids can finally see and understand where the time goes. . . this can be a great starting point for discussions on how to manage it or a starting point for setting limits.  It will actually work since it’s built into the phone!
  • APP LIMITS – put a limit on time spent for any particular app.  Are they on Snapchat 6 hours a day?  Let them know they’ll only be allowed 2 and the phone will enforce it.  I believe that it will allow them to ask you for exceptions when needed too, so you can easily give them a little extra time if they need it. (without dealing with SETTINGS!)
  • DOWNTIME – It allows you to specify times that devices won’t be usable for your kids.  You can turn off those pesky phones during dinner or at night-time, and good news, you can allow certain apps to still function.  This way, they can still use the music app to play music while they do homework.

Rather than write volumes about it here, I found a great article on Common Sense Media’s website that explains the upcoming changes.  CLICK HERE TO READ IT

Why am I writing to you about this?  This change is coming next week, will automatically install on all your Apple devices, and needs to be set up to work properly.  I can make sure your family set-up is ready for this change and I can help you set it up.  I’m sure most of you can figure this out on your own, but do you want to do it alone?  I can help you get it done and done right.  It’s not just a tech issue, there are a lot of issues that you might want to discuss and work through and tie together with how your life works.  I don’t have all the answers, but we can set up the tools.  In the end, you’d tell me how you want to use them.  And you’ll be able to manage it on your own once we are done.

OneDrive mysteriously vanishes on Windows 10 machines

Starting in May 2018, around the time of Windows version 1803 rolling out, I noticed that more than half the computers I work with had lost the OneDrive client.  In other words, OneDrive stopped syncing in Windows!  Changes I was making weren’t showing up on other computers, and I had to get to the bottom of it.

I quickly found that one can reinstall OneDrive in Windows 10 anytime by:

  1. Press the WINDOWS key
  2. Type COMMAND
  3. When Command Prompt appears as an option, right click it and select RUN AS ADMINISTRATOR
    1. If presented with a security prompt, press OK
  4. In the box that appears, type this: %SystemRoot%\SysWOW64\OneDriveSetup.exe
    1. If you are not running 64 bit Windows 10, then type %SystemRoot%\System32\OneDriveSetup.exe instead
  5. If that doesn’t work (especially if you are warned that a newer version is installed), open a program called REGEDIT (if you’re not sure what this is, get help)
    1. Go to HKCU\Software\Microsoft\OneDrive and find version number.  Change it to 17.
  6. Now go to onedrive.com, download the latest desktop app and install from there.

These are not intended to be do it yourself instructions – if you’re not clear, get help on this task.  But most importantly, if your OneDrive client is missing, make sure it gets fixed right away before your files are at risk of being lost/confused.

Please note I can take no responsibility for your machine or data should you follow the above instructions and fail.

 

Setting up new windows 10 machines

I’ve gotten a lot of practice now setting up Windows 10 machines.  I find a few handy tools and configurations work very well.  Therefore my base recommendation for a new Windows 10 machine:

Update and Reset (if coming from Windows 7) to Windows 10 fresh copy.

Set machine name and workgroup info.

Set up machine linked to a Microsoft account.  Configure a photo and security as needed.

Run all updates before proceeding.

Install Chrome and Firefox, set Chrome as default but put both on taskbar

Install AdBlockPlus on both Chrome and Firefox

Install Malwarebytes and purchase lifetime license if possible, otherwise offer a subscription option

Install Office 365 if applicable and license it appropriately.

Set up family safety and any multiple users as needed.

Install remote access tool for support

Install Roboform if the client needs a password manager.

Set up mail – consolidate contacts and calendar to one of following:  Google, iCloud, or Outlook.com/Office 365.

Set up versioning backup to backup and protect current and deleted files for Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive.

Configure start menu according to client’s needs and preferences.

Redirect Documents and Pictures folder (and desktop according to preferences) to OneDrive or Dropbox locations.

Install PDF viewing and editing option desired (otherwise will default to Microsoft Edge Browser)

Set Windows 10 Update settings to include Microsoft programs.  Also turn off “updates from more than one place.”

Set up client specific programs: Firefox, Printers, special applications

A “Versioning” Backup

I work with my clients to get them to stop storing their files solely on their computers.  This can be documents, pictures, etc.  Typically we redirect the computer to use a Documents folder and Pictures folder that reside on a cloud storage service like Dropbox or OneDrive.

Once this is done, their files are stored in the cloud and can stay synchronized between multiple computers that they use.  It works like a backup and a sync tool at the same time.  But is it a safe backup?  I believe everyone should have at least three copies of every file.  Having it on your computer is #1, having it in the cloud is #2, but what about the third?  One method is to routinely backup a copy of everything to a hard drive that can then be stored at a different location, providing pretty extensive disaster recovery.  In the event the backup and your original copies are destroyed simultaneously, you probably wouldn’t be alive anyway!  Another method is to store a local copy for archiving purposes that is not affected by daily use and by updates to the cloud.  But those would be mere copies of your data – and they would backup what you have today, not everything you’ve ever had.

Why does this matter?  Say you accidentally delete a folder on Dropbox.  You can go to their website for 30 days and recover it, no problem.  But what if you didn’t REALIZE that you deleted a folder.  Say that folder contained something like “2014 Photos.”  You may lose an entire year of your well organized life in pictures with an accidental mouse movement.  After 30 days, it’s gone.

I create something called a Versioning Backup for my clients using a program called FreeFileSync.  FreeFileSync creates a mirror image of your Cloud Based file storage onto our hard drive (somewhere separate from your actual files) or onto an external or network drive.  It also keeps copies of any files you update, replace, or delete in a special “versioning” folder.  This means you have a full clone of your cloud storage but also a folder containing all the changes you’ve ever made.  This archive with “versioning” allows you to go back and undo any changes, intentional or accidental, as long as you have the backup files.  Better yet, they’re not stored in some archive file that you can’t look into, but rather locally in a separate folder structure that looks just like your actual storage.

To set this up, I follow a process similar to this: http://www.trustyetc.com/trustyblog/2012/10/07/automatic-backup-with-freefilesync/

I also make sure indexing for search is turned off on the backup, so that people don’t accidentally start editing the files in their backup!

 

Outlook.com Accounts getting a Huge Update!

So I’ve recommended outlook.com for a while now, and it’s about to get much better.  Problems with syncing contacts, mail getting out of synch, and calendar issues are about to go away.  Contact group functionality is about to return.  But most importantly, outlook.com should just work a whole lot better.

Microsoft is moving outlook.com accounts from its old hotmail system and outlook.com site to a new Exchange-server based outlook.com service.  This means that outlook.com will now support the “Exchange server” option in mail clients, offering a full feature set of tools for organizing and syncing mail, contacts, and calendars.  This much more robust platform replaces “ActiveSync” which is what the outlook.com and hotmail.com and live.com mail have been using for years.  EAS (Exchange Active Sync) was set up as an Exchange-server lite, stripped of important features and not designed for the highest performance.  This crippled version of Exchange is about to be replaced with the full version of Exchange.

Some of my clients got a note in November, 2015 that they would be migrating soon.  Once the migration happens, certain email programs will need a quick update.  Here is an excellent link to the process: Slipstick.com – Notes on outlook.com migration

Please contact me if your outlook.com is updating or no longer working.  Not only will I fix it, but I’ll show you all the new things we can now do, including contact groups and lists!

Tim

Beware of Aggressive Computer Service Agents!

I’ve had a number of clients now that have been connected with independent computer support companies for various reasons. One client of mine was calling Intuit about a problem with Quicken. At some point in the call my client mentioned that something was “running slow.” The Intuit person transferred them to another person (another company altogether contracted to handle Intuit’s customers with computer problems).  The person on the phone then told my client that they need computer service. In the process, they inevitably identify malware and viruses and other frightening items and get you to pay them $99, or maybe $249 (with a 1 year service agreement for unlimited follow up support) to fix it. They insist that your regular computer person, if you have one, is somehow not doing his/her job based on what they’re seeing. They’ll generally use your help to let them access your machine and they’ll start “fixing” things. Fortunately, besides taking my client’s money, these companies have never caused irreparable damage to a client’s computer. But they do often disable normal system functions and do some other tricks to make your machine run faster but less solidly. They also undo specific things that we’ve set up like backups, and they change settings that subtly affect how the computers work.  They do not leave a convenient list behind documenting their work either!  I have found that they generally overstate the problems they encounter, relying on the client’s lack of specific knowledge and the magic fear factor to gain your trust and business.

 

Please do not agree to let somebody to fix your machine without calling me first. If they tell you that you have problems that need fixing right away, remember that they are doing a hard sell and that they will do everything in their power to scare you and convince you that you need THEM to fix it right away. You’re better off calling me, even though they’ll give you a number of reasons to question your current service provider.  I can check over your machine quickly and easily. Plus, they usually remove Malwarebytes and my remote access software from your machine – they actually tell you that these things are malware and viruses and insist that your computer specialist has led you astray by installing them. Ha!

 

Remember that Intuit, Chase, Bank of America, etc. . only support their software and sites – they do not offer computer service. . . instead they contract with external companies to “fix” your PC-related problems. Please contact me if your computer is causing trouble for you, running slow, having trouble with particular websites and so on. I am familiar with your machine and can give you much better service and advice in nearly all cases and at the same or lower cost!

 

Also, if you see a box pop up on your computer screen telling you that a license is expired or that you need to buy something and you don’t know what to do, simply e-mail me! Quick support e-mails are answered at no cost to clients and it’s my way of preventing problems on your end from happening in the first place.  I’d rather answer your questions than fix something for you later.

Cloud storage is here to stay and improve how you use your devices.

I talked about the importance of Cloud storage in my article about Windows 10.  Cloud storage essentially means that your files are stored on servers accessible over the internet.  Programs on your computer can seamlessly keep a copy of these files on your computer, but you can use the files just like anything else on your computer.  The great part is that when the files are updated anywhere, the changes are synchonized with the copy on the internet and then with any other devices you own that share the files.  So if you update a recipe document on your computer, that same recipe is updated and your other devices then have the latest copy.  Your files are also backed up not just in the internet but on every one of your devices, depending on your settings.  This is amazingly convenient and protects your data at the same time from loss.

 

Suddenly about now, people stop me and ask “is that safe?” and “Can’t anybody can steal my files?”  Well, you’re not the first person to think of that problem, and companies using cloud services have been building in better and better safeguards for years.  Let’s start by thinking about your laptop.  If somebody steals it or if you lose it, your hard drive contains all your files.  With physical access, your data is ALWAYS vulnerable.  People can remove the hard drive from your computer and copy your files with our without the password to your computer.  The cloud can help with this.

 

The approach to digital security is adapting to reflect the facts of cloud based storage.  There are two tricks to securing data on portable devices:

  • You can ENCRYPT your device’s data, rendering it useless to thieves: For example, you can upgrade Windows to include “Bitlocker,” encryption on your hard drive that renders your data to be gibberish unless Windows boots up and decodes it, and this requires you to login with a real password.  Encrypting all the data on your hard drive requires special software and specific setup, and right now nearly all personal computers do NOT have this set up.  Typically, this is reserved for enterprise-level computers configured by an IT department with security in mind.
  • You can keep data in the cloud ONLY. . . simply keep your cloud data in the cloud and only copy it to your computer when you use it.  Cloud storage programs can be set up this way and Microsoft’s OneDrive is especially good at this.  While your files are inaccessible, though, without access to the internet, you can specify that certain files are available all the time, balancing security against convenience on your terms.  Technology has a solution for every situation, and every situation is different.  That is where I come in.  We can discuss how safe your data is and balance your concerns with convenience and security.

 

Finally, there is the issue of passwords.  Your cloud data is only as safe as your password, but this is changing.  Now, Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, Apple, and others have started using something called Two Factor Authentication, which I plan to discuss in my next blog entry, to prevent people from accessing your stuff even if they have stolen your password!  It’s a huge advance and can be integrated with programs that help you manage your passwords as well as biometric devices, like fingerprint readers.  For instance, we installed a fingerprint reader on our computer at home, so everyone in the family can log in to the kitchen computer with just their finger.

Apple’s new Music Service is here!

I am experimenting with Apple’s new Music service.  My family has used Rhapsody, another music streaming service, for years.  Rhapsody, like Spotify and Apple Music, is a service where you pay a monthly fee of about $10 and you can play all of the music in their library.  You can play specific songs and albums and build playlists just for you.  You can even play it from your phones and tablets with or without internet access.  We are experimenting with Apple Music since we have a number of iPhones in our household and we’ve found the program to work very well on Apple products.  I’m happy to discuss this with you, but I won’t have a final opinion on it for a few more months (by late 2015 for sure).  So far, it’s looking like a good alternative to Spotify and Rhapsody, and much better than Pandora for people who like to listen to specific things instead of a radio-like music stream.