macOS 10.14 — mountains to the desert — High Sierra to Mojave

 Computer, Desktop, General, News, Notebook  Comments Off on macOS 10.14 — mountains to the desert — High Sierra to Mojave
Sep 252018
 

Today Apple officially released a new version of its macOS. The name of the new system — “Mojave” — celebrates the desert rather than the mountains of the High Sierra, and updates to version 10.14 from 10.13.6. Available on your Mac from the Apple Menu > App Store > Featured > Mac App Store, Apple touts Mojave as “simply powerful” with these highlights:

MacOS Mojave delivers new features inspired by its most powerful users, but designed for everyone. Stay focused on your work using Dark Mode. Organize your desktop using Stacks. Experience four new built-in apps. And discover new apps in the reimagined Mac App Store.

Dark Mode
• Experience a dramatic new look for your Mac that puts your content front and center while controls recede into the background.
• Enjoy new app designs that are easier on your eyes in dark environments.

Desktop
• View an ever-changing desktop picture with Dynamic Desktop.
• Automatically organize your desktop files by kind, date, or tag using Stacks.
• Capture stills and video of your screen using the new Screenshot utility.

Finder
• Find your files visually using large previews in Gallery View.
• See full metadata for all file types in the Preview pane.
• Rotate an image, create a PDF, and more — right in the Finder using Quick Actions.
• Mark up and sign PDFs, crop images, and trim audio and video files using Quick Look.

Continuity Camera
• Photograph an object or scan a document nearby using your iPhone, and it automatically appears on your Mac.

Mac App Store
• Browse handpicked apps in the new Discover, Create, Work, and Play tabs.
• Discover the perfect app and make the most of those you have with stories, curated collections, and videos.

iTunes
Search with lyrics to find a song using a few of the words you remember.
• Start a personalized station of any artist’s music from the enhanced artist pages.
• Enjoy the new Friends Mix, a playlist of songs your friends are listening to.

Safari
• Block Share and Like buttons, comment widgets, and embedded content from tracking you without your permission with enhanced Intelligent Tracking Prevention.
• Prevent websites from tracking your Mac using a simplified system profile that makes you more anonymous online.

Apple News
• Read Top Stories selected by Apple News editors, trending stories popular with readers, and a customized feed created just for you.
• Keep your favorite topics, channels, and saved stories up to date on your Mac and iOS devices.

Stocks
• Create a customized watchlist and view interactive charts that sync across your Mac and iOS devices.
• Browse business news driving the markets curated by Apple News editors.

Voice Memos
• Make audio recordings, listen to them as you work with other apps, or use them in a podcast, song, or video.
• Access audio clips from your iPhone on your Mac using iCloud.

Home
• Organize and control all of your HomeKit accessories from your desktop.
• Receive real-time notifications from your home devices while you work.

The free upgrade is a 5.70 GB download, and claims compatibility with OS X 10.8 or later.

To install macOS Mojave, your Mac needs at least 2GB of memory and 12.5GB of available storage space to upgrade—or up to 18.5GB of storage space when upgrading from OS X Yosemite or earlier.

There are many articles online about Mojave. Here’re 3 articles by MacWorld:

  • How to upgrade to macOS Mojave: Step-by-step instructions on upgrading to the latest Macintosh operating system
  • MacOS Mojave: Apple releases the latest version of its Macintosh operating system: Everything you need to know about the new Macintosh operating system
    • Mojave has three new apps that were originally iOS apps: Apple News, Stocks, and Voice Memos. There’s also a new Home app for managing internet-of-things devices.
    • Apple names macOS after California locations, a method adopted in 2014 with OS X Yosemite. In case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “Mo-HA-vey.” Mojave is a national preserve in the area between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • 5 reasons why you should upgrade to macOS Mojave right now
    • It’s not a major revamp of the operating system (it’s been a while since the Mac has had one of those), but it does add new features that can help you be more productive with your Mac.
    • An OverSight-like feature is now built into Mojave that can alert you when an app wants to access the camera and mic, as well as iTunes device backups, Time Machine backups, your Mail database, your Message history, your Safari data, and other data.
    • Mojave makes Quick Look most robust, providing simple editing tools so you don’t even need to open an app. Now when you preview an image (select it and then press the space bar), you can click on the Quick Actions icon between the Rotate icon and the Open in Preview button, and a set of editing tools appears.

As with any macOS upgrade, best practices are to backup your current Mac’s hard drive (using Time Machine and/or SuperDuper) and do the installation when you’re not stressed and when you do not need to use your Mac for an hour or two. Then give yourself some time afterwards to acclimate to the new look of some things.

macOS theme

iOS 12 — what’s new in Apple’s iPhone system upgrade

 Phone, Tablet  Comments Off on iOS 12 — what’s new in Apple’s iPhone system upgrade
Sep 172018
 

It’s that time of year again. New Apple devices. New iPhones and watches, and new versions of the stuff that makes them work. MacWorld highlights the best new features in iOS 12 in this article: “How to use the coolest new features in iOS 12” (September 17, 2018).

At last, iOS 12 is here, bringing a batch of new features to tinker with. Most (if not all) of these features aren’t exactly earth-shaking, in part because Apple spent much of its development process cleaning up the relatively buggy mess of iOS 11 and turning its sequel into something worthy of the Apple name. In fact, many already exist on competing operating systemsin some form or another.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re not fun or useful, nor does it mean that they’re not welcome. We here at Macworld have spent the last several months tinkering with all of these new options in the iOS 12 beta, and over that time a few have emerged as our favorites. Once you get used to them, iOS 11 feels ancient and inefficient by comparison.

Read the full article to determine if there are any features which may appeal to you.

 

Best PC anti-virus program?

 Computer, Desktop, Notebook  Comments Off on Best PC anti-virus program?
Aug 282018
 

An annual review by PC World: “Best antivirus: Keep your Windows PC safe from spyware, Trojans, malware, and more” (updated August 27, 2018):

Antivirus software is nearly as crucial as a PC’s operating system. Even if you’re well aware of potential threats and practice extreme caution, some threats just can’t be prevented without the extra help of an AV program—or a full antivirus suite.

You could, for example, visit a website that unintentionally displays malicious ads. Or accidentally click on a phishing email (it happens!). Or get stung by a zero-day threat, where an undisclosed bug in Windows, your browser, or an installed program gives hackers entry to your system.

Read the entire article for a list of all products which were reviewed (with links), but here’s their short list:

ANTIVIRUS SUITE CHEAT SHEET
Our quick-hit recommendations:

  • Best overall antivirus suite: Norton Security Premium[symantec.com]
  • Best budget antivirus suite: AVG Internet Security[avg.com]
  • Best antivirus suite for newcomers: Trend Micro Maximum Security[trendmicro.com]

Paid versions are subscriptions, annually debiting your credit card (unless you disable that setting in your account). And if you only have a single PC, look for a product edition for an appropriate number of devices (rather than a more costly “premium” edition which may cover 5 or 10 devices).

And remember that best practice is to use one of these highly rated security programs and at least the free version of Malwarebytes.

Note that many of these products have mobile editions.

Mac (Apple): Here’s MacWorld’s review for Mac, “Best antivirus for Mac: Protect yourself from malicious software” (September 4, 2018).

Macs may be a far less tempting target for malware and viruses, but they’re not immune from attack. Even if you don’t care about adware or being used as a means to infect users on other platforms, it’s still possible to fall victim to ransomware, password theft, or stolen iPhone backups.

Our quick-hit recommendations:

Note that Malwarebytes also is available for the Mac.

Aug 202018
 

I’ve followed this topic for years: When and how often to charge your smartphone’s battery. What to do and not — in order to prolong the usable life of that battery (and so not worry about replacing the battery before you’re ready to get a new smartphone, eh).

For many of us, charging the battery on our smartphones is a daily ritual. Sometimes more than once a day, as we do more and more on our smartphones that we used to do on desktop/notebook computers. One basic question is whether to use your smartphone until the battery charge level is so low that your device shuts off automatically (or at least until you get a warning).

While there remains some debate about charging practices (versus battery chemistry per se), I found this recent Lifehacker.com article a good summary: “Stop Letting Your Smartphone’s Battery Die Before You Charge It” (August 17, 2018).

You can charge your smartphone whenever you want. Your device’s lithium-ion battery doesn’t care if it’s at 10% or 80% capacity; it will charge just fine without destroying your device’s longevity.

It’s true that a lithium-ion battery will diminish over time, … the capacity of a lithium-ion battery “diminishes slightly with each complete charge cycle.”So, if you’ve overusing your smartphone because you think you’re better-maintaining its battery by doing so, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice. Stop adding unnecessary charge cycles by draining the battery. Just charge it.

In particular, the article references a YouTube video from the American Chemical Society with tips on making your smartphone battery last longer.

As for all the other battery myths out there, everyone seems to have a different take on what you should do with your device—when to charge it, when not to charge it, what battery level to charge to, et cetera. … the general recommendation is that you keep your smartphone’s battery around 50 percent if you aren’t using it for a long time (as in, months) …

How Can You Make Your Smartphone Battery Last Longer?

  • Avoid heat
  • Avoid fully discharging the battery — to the point that your device shuts off
  • Store at 50% charge

There appears to be one area of some contention:

But what about the dreaded “trickle-charging” issue you’ve probably heard of? That’s the one where you’re not supposed to keep your smartphone plugged in at night because it will constantly “charge” whenever it drops to 99 percent. That’s not exactly a myth, according to multiple sources, but there’s still a lot of contention over what you should actually do …

Personally, whenever I can (and it’s convenient), if I notice that my smartphone is 100% charged, I disconnect the charger.

Be more conscious about when your smartphone is plugged in, and you’ll likely reap what little benefits you can—assuming your efforts aren’t overshadowed by the fact that your smartphone’s battery will simply get worse with age, period.

Note that because many other devices use lithium-ion batteries, these tips may apply to them as well. And remember to follow your device manufacturer’s guidelines and use their provided chargers in most cases, since quality matters regarding the interplay of device and charger.

Mute web page videos — Apple Safari Auto-Play settings

 Computer, General  Comments Off on Mute web page videos — Apple Safari Auto-Play settings
Jun 072018
 

Safari > Preferences > Websites > Auto-Play and audio for web site videos

The other day a client thought that her built-in (internal) Apple computer’s speakers weren’t working. Well, more specifically, on her favorite news site,  posted videos were playing without sound — muted. Her iMac recently had been upgraded to the latest macOS version. She’d noticed a new feature.

So, this is a new feature in the latest versions of Safari and other web browsers (like Chrome) which was introduced to reduce the annoyance and distraction of video ads and other video spots on web pages which autoplay on visiting those web pages. You have control over this setting in Safari.

You may override the default setting on a case by case basis by clicking on the audio icon for the particular video (using the playback control section in that video window) — to mute or un-mute and adjust volume.

Here’s more detail on how the feature works. When visiting a web site, the factory default setting in Safari is to “Stop Media with Sound” unless you change it. See the attached two screenshots.

In screenshot 1, with the desired web page (site) open, in Safari Preferences the web site setting for Auto-Play will be set to the default (Stop Media with Sound) as a “Currently Open Website.” If you elect to change the setting to Allow All Auto-Play, and close the settings window …

In screenshot 2, when you visit that site later, you’ll notice the Auto-Play setting for that site is now a “Configured Website” with your changed setting. That new behavior stays in place unless removed.

Screenshot Screenshot

GDPR privacy notifications — primrose path of default settings

 Computer, General, News  Comments Off on GDPR privacy notifications — primrose path of default settings
Jun 012018
 

I’ve been getting a lot of privacy policy update notifications in my email since last month. As part of terms and conditions for use of a product or service. All in response to the GDPR — General Data Protection Regulation, a European Union Regulation which was implemented on May 25, 2018. Many companies sell products and services globally; hence, the notices for those of us in the United States.

Wiki: According to the European Commission, “personal data is any information relating to an individual, whether it relates to his or her private, professional or public life. It can be anything from a name, a home address, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer’s IP address.”

The lead-up to the effective date of the GDPR led to many companies and websites changing their privacy policies and features worldwide in order to comply with its requirements, and providing email and on-site notification of the changes, … This has been criticized for eventually leading to a form of fatigue among end-users over the excessive numbers of messages.

I’ve read some of these notices in full. And supplied my consent when requested. Tedious. Once you read a few, others are similar. Generally, the GDPR has facilitated clarification of all the ways our personal data is collected and used and especially shared. So, at face value, such transparency is a good thing.

This Washington Post article (May 25, 2018) “Why you’re getting flooded with privacy notifications in your email” summarizes what’s happening.

European Union regulators have always been much tougher on tech companies than their U.S. counterparts, for instance forcing them to give users more control, imposing fines for noncompliance and requiring platforms to spot and delete illegal content.

But as this Washington Post article (June 1, 2018) “Hands off my data! 15 default privacy settings you should change right now” points out, compliance for the updated privacy policies has an insidious “buyer beware” side. In some cases, the GDPR changed nothing as far as your personal data. “The devil’s in the defaults.”

Say no to defaults. A clickable guide to fixing the complicated privacy settings from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.

You’re not reading all those updated data policies flooding your inbox. You probably haven’t even looked for your privacy settings. And that’s exactly what Facebook, Google and other tech giants are counting on.

They tout we’re “in control” of our personal data, but know most of us won’t change the settings that let them grab it like cash in a game show wind machine. Call it the Rule of Defaults: 95 percent of people are too busy, or too confused, to change a darn thing.

Give me 15 minutes, and I can help you join the 5 percent who are actually in control. I dug through the privacy settings for the five biggest consumer tech companies and picked a few of the most egregious defaults you should consider changing. These links will take you directly to what to tap, click and toggle for Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.

Google has been saving a map of everywhere you go, if you turned on its Assistant when you set up an Android phone. Amazon makes your wish list public — and keeps recordings of all your conversations with Alexa. Facebook exposes to the public your friends list and all the pages you follow, and it lets marketers use your name in their Facebook ads. By default, Microsoft’s Cortana in Windows 10 gobbles up … pretty much your entire digital life.

I’ve increasingly noticed the tradeoff between convenience and personal privacy. For example, Google’s services can make finding things, navigating, and scheduling appointments rather seamless. A digital assistant, providing personalization (like having an amazing personal butler). But my digital footprint — comprehensive record of my contacts and times and places — is shopped and shared between apps and services in a somewhat spooky way.

Changing the defaults … mean you’ll get less personalization from some services, and might see some repeated ads. But these changes can curtail some of the creepy advertising fueled by your data, and, in some cases, stop these giant companies from collecting so much data about you in the first place. And that’s a good place to start.

Phishing attacks — fake “Apple” emails

 Computer, Desktop, Notebook, Phone, Tablet  Comments Off on Phishing attacks — fake “Apple” emails
Mar 282018
 

I’ve noticed these types of scams for awhile: email messages (supposedly) from Apple purportedly about a payment or Apple ID or login from another device (which in fact you may not own). More and more email apps (especially on mobile devices) do not permit examination of the raw message text, which often permits detection of the fraud. So, what to do?

This Vipre Security News blog post (March 16, 2018) is a good summary of the situation: “Apple Phishing Attacks Prompt Advice From Tech Giant.”

Apple customers don’t get phished quite as much as Microsoft ones, but they do face a fairly annoying variety and frequency of fake emails. The problem stems from the fact that Apple sends emails to its customers quite regularly, thereby making the millions of Apple customers juicy targets for the bad guys.

There are three basic fake emails going around. The first appears as an email invoice for your “recent Apple purchase.” Another is a “Reminder” notifying you of an account login from an iPad in Monaco. The third, and possibly most alarming, is a text message informing you that your Apple ID is expiring today.

If you’re not sure whether an email about an App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, or Apple Music purchase is legitimate, these tips from Apple may help.

As in all phishing scams, these fake messages want you to click on a link or open an attachment (which may include further fake links) and then trick you into providing personal or account information — which (genuine) “App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, or Apple Music purchases will never ask you to provide.”

Checking or updating any account or payment information should only be done in the Settings on your Apple device.

Spectre and Meltdown — Intel patches progress

 Computer, Desktop, News  Comments Off on Spectre and Meltdown — Intel patches progress
Mar 022018
 

Yesterday, PC World posted some articles regarding progress in the continuing Spectre and Meltdown saga.

The fixed Spectre fixes are coming fast and furious now. Intel quietly pushed CPU firmware updates out for Haswell (4th-generation) and Broadwell (5th-generation) processors earlier this week, following in the footsteps of recent microcode patches for Skylake (6th-gen), Kaby Lake (7th-gen), and Coffee Lake (8th-gen) processors.

Don’t expect to see the updates immediately. They need to trickle down through hardware suppliers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Asus in the form of motherboard BIOS updates; you can’t grab it directly from Intel. If you own a laptop or prebuilt PC from a major manufacturer, keep an eye out for an available update.

The Spectre CPU firmware updates will affect your PC’s performance, though it varies wildly depending on your hardware, operating system, and tasks at hand.

Typically, patching Spectre and Meltdown mitigations have followed a traditional pattern: Microsoft patches Windows via Windows Update, antivirus companies like AVG have patched their antivirus software, and so on. Intel, too, authors patches, as it recently did for Haswell and Broadwell CPUs. But unlike Microsoft, Intel doesn’t directly ship those patches to end users—it uses its network of PC makers and motherboard vendors to distribute them, after the appropriate testing by each vendor.

What isn’t clear is whether Microsoft will also push out Intel’s microcode via Windows Update, its usual distribution mechanism for supplying patches. … Though neither Microsoft nor Intel clarified exactly why Microsoft is providing Intel’s microcode, the likely reason is to support smaller PC makers, and especially motherboard makers … [So, for the typical PC user this does not apply, eh.]

Processor designations like Coffee Lake, Kaby Lake, Skylake, Broadwell, Haswell, etc., don’t mean anything to most of us; so, basically all this news tells us is that Intel and Microsoft (among others) are continuing to work on patches for relatively new and somewhat older PCs.

Update 3-9-2018: Intel issues Meltdown/Spectre fixes for Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge as patch effort winds down

Intel’s revised patches for its Ivy Bridge [3rd gen] and Sandy Bridge [2nd gen] processor families have begun rolling out to address Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. With the release of the new code, just a few older processor families remain in the patch queue.

By now, Microsoft and many antivirus vendors have issued the appropriate patches, but if you’re concerned that your PC or motherboard vendor hasn’t delivered the appropriate patch, you can also check Microsoft’s site.

Update 4-6-2018: How to find your motherboard’s Spectre CPU fix – Such a crucial patch should be much simpler to find – by Brad Chacos, Senior Editor, PCWorld – April 5, 2018

Operating system patches alone can protect against the nasty Meltdown flaw affecting Intel processors, but fixing Spectre —Meltdown’s nasty sibling, which affects all CPUs — requires firmware updates for your hardware. Those firmware fixes are finally available for all Intel processors scheduled to receive a fix, dating back to the Sandy Bridge (2nd-gen) era of Core processors from 2011.

Installing Spectre fixes aren’t so easy, though, especially if you’re using a computer you’ve built yourself, or one from a boutique PC builder that uses off-the-shelf parts. You can’t download CPU firmware patches directly from Intel or AMD; instead, you need to download them from your motherboard’s provider, such as Asus, Gigabyte, or ASRock. You’ll need to know your motherboard’s model number to find the correct firmware for your device, too, and Windows doesn’t make that easy to find.

 

Ad blocking — Chrome enters the mix

 Computer, News  Comments Off on Ad blocking — Chrome enters the mix
Feb 142018
 

If you’re already using an ad blocker with your favorite Web browsers, you’re in good company. Eliminating the clutter and distraction is one thing (which some browsers’ Reader View can do). But ad clutter also slows down page loading, consumes more battery power, and poses some privacy and security risks.

Google and Facebook command the bulk of online ad revenue; so, when Google announces that the latest release of its Chrome browser will start blocking (some) ads, that’s news, eh. Today’s Cnet article “How Chrome ad blocking is already changing the web” provides a good summary of this move.

What was once unthinkable — that Chrome would block online ads, Google’s lifeblood — becomes reality on Thursday.

That’s when Chrome takes a significant step in the direction that  hundreds of millions of us already have gone by installing ad blockers. Chrome stops far short of those browser extensions, which typically ban all ads, but the move carries plenty of importance because Google’s browser dominates the web on both personal computers and phones. Chrome is used to view about 56 percent of web pages, according to analytics firm StatCounter.

Chrome’s ad-blocking move is designed to rid the web of sites stuffed to the gills with ads or degraded by obnoxious ads, said Ryan Schoen, Google’s product manager for web platform work at Chrome. There are signs it’s already had an effect: About 42 percent of sites that the company’s warned have dialed back on ads to pass Google’s standards, including the LA Times, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune.

A Web without lots of ads is unlikely. Perhaps there’ll be more “paywalls” on news sites. At least soon there’ll be another way to curtail the most obnoxious ads. The saga will continue.

And I do recommend Google’s browser. Windows PCs come with Microsoft’s Edge browser; and Apple’s devices come with Safari. Just add Chrome as a second browser.

Which Mac to get?

 Computer, Research  Comments Off on Which Mac to get?
Feb 012018
 

Considering purchasing a Mac for the first time or replacing an older one? Apple computers are premium products; so, congrats on your decision. If you’re a typical user, your experience on a Mac will be smoother, more consistent over time, particularly due to less housekeeping distractions than on a PC. And while Macs are not immune to malware and hacking, generally there’s less risk (remember, regardless of type of computer, more often criminals hack your head, not your device).

For power users — those with a passion for high-end video games or professional video production — choosing a Mac can be more complicated — considering a purchase over $5000 gets into a range where PCs have advantages regarding bang-for-the-buck (despite other factors).

Other than spending time exploring product descriptions and specifications on Apple’s site, this January 30, 2018, PC World article “Which Mac should you buy?” is an excellent guide.

When it comes to purchasing a Mac, we’ve got the lowdown on each model to help you make a buying decision.

Before we proceed, we should specifically address Apple’s desktop Macs. It’s been a while since the company has updated the Mac mini and Mac Pro. While our advice for each Mac model provides guidance as to which model you should buy, you might actually consider waiting to see if Apple releases a new Mac mini or Mac Pro, or consider buying an iMac.

This buying guide provides an overview of all the Mac models available, and what each model is best suited for. To get more details, you can read the full review by clicking the product name in the product boxes that have mouse ratings.

Apple has standard and “Pro” models for some of their computers — notebooks (MacBook) and all-in-ones (iMac), and then at the high-end just the Mac Pro. Most of my clients with Apple computers have iMac’s. And indeed those models are the most popular.

I always recommend visiting an Apple Store and getting some hands on experience to help decide which model fits your needs and budget best. Just remember that you’ll likely be getting another new computer in several years, and if you can do everything on your iPhone or iPad, then there’s no need for a desktop. And if printing from your phone or tablet is the only issue, then a less expensive notebook may be fine. But one thing I can say from experience is that my 2012 Mac has gotten somewhat slower and slower with each macOS upgrade; so, performance is important, even for routine daily tasks.

 

Best TV streaming service?

 Desktop, Notebook, Phone, Site, Tablet, Video  Comments Off on Best TV streaming service?
Jan 312018
 

PC World, January 31, 2018: “Best TV streaming service: SlingTV vs Hulu vs PlayStation Vue, and all the rest.”

Which streaming TV bundle is the best deal for cord cutters? Our head-to-head reviews hash it out.

When you “cut the [cable TV) cord]” and keep your high-speed Internet service, whether you also switch to over-the-air (OTA) channels, what over-the-top (OTT) service do you subscribe to? There are quite a few choices. Not all choices are available everywhere.

Personally, after reactivating my old TV antenna for OTA reception, I chose YouTube TV. Is YouTube TV perfect? Nope. Does the service have all the OTA channels? Nope. Do I like it? Most definitely.

The PC World article cited above is an excellent guide for choices: Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV, and Philo, and more. Channels, prices, features, device compatibility.

To see which local stations are available in your area, visit the websites for Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, FuboTV, and YouTube TV.

 

Mixed reality — if the price is right?

 Computer, Desktop, Research, Site  Comments Off on Mixed reality — if the price is right?
Jan 292018
 

I’ve been following this topic for a couple of years: virtual reality and mixed reality consumer gear. I have one PC which meets the requirements, but I’ve yet to make the investment in a headset. Now there are choices other than Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive if “mixed reality” is good enough. Price still can be a barrier when the value over time is fuzzy. And the technology is advancing quickly. So, this Cnet article on January 19, 2018, grabbed my interest: “Windows Mixed Reality headset prices cut in half on Amazon.”

The big promise of Windows Mixed Reality headsets was to bring augmented and virtual reality and anything in between to people at more reasonable prices and with an easier setup than competitors. By the time they rolled out late last year, though, it was mostly just the latter that came true: Once the headsets were bundled with controllers the WMR headsets cost the same or more than the current $399 Oculus Rift bundle.

But, there’s nothing like a steep price cut to spark some sales.

As spotted by GameDeals on RedditAmazon currently has prices on Windows Mixed Reality headset and controller bundles from Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo to around half of what they are elsewhere. Note, though, that these deals appear to only be available through third-party sellers and fulfilled by Amazon, so you’ll want to check their ratings and reviews.

 

Best smartphone case — CES 2018 drop test

 News, Phone, Site, Video  Comments Off on Best smartphone case — CES 2018 drop test
Jan 292018
 

Get a new smartphone and you’re probably going to get a case. I got one because my bare phone was slippery. I had no particular brand loyalty. So, if you’re not loyal to a previous brand, there are lots of choices. If drop protection is vital, then this Cnet video article “We broke $9,000 worth of phones to find the toughest iPhone X case” may be of interest.

We challenged 12 case makers to a live drop test at CES and dropped their cases from 20 feet. These were the last ones standing.

We invited the top case makers in the market to participate in a live drop test at CES to find out which one could survive the highest drop.

And 12 of them took us up on the offer: Caseology, Rokform, Thanotech, BodyGuardz, Tech21, Pelican, PureGear, Zizo, Spigen, RhinoShield, Supcase and OWC showed up at the CNET live stage at the Las Vegas Convention Center at CES 2018. Each brought their own brand-new iPhone Xs (still in the box) and their toughest case so we could drop them onto concrete slabs. Things escalated pretty quickly after that.

 

Microsoft Store — some free services

 Computer, Site  Comments Off on Microsoft Store — some free services
Jan 242018
 

I received an email message from the Microsoft Store recently reminding me of services available there, some of which are free. While these retail stores are scarce, if you’re near enough to one, you might consider that an option or a place to get general help — Answer Desk. Or if you’re thinking about a new PC, eh. Here’s a link to the local store in the LA area: Microsoft Store – Westfield Century City.

email snipemail snipemail snip

Meltdown and Spectre — Intel vs AMD status

 Computer, Desktop, Notebook  Comments Off on Meltdown and Spectre — Intel vs AMD status
Jan 192018
 

If you have a computer powered by an AMD processor, is your risk profile any different from someone with an Intel-powered PC? This Ars Technica article (January 18, 2018) summarizes the situation: “Meltdown and Spectre: Good news for AMD users, (more) bad news for Intel.”

Windows patches are fixed, but microcode updates are causing even more trouble.

Microsoft’s patches now work with newer and older AMD systems.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have installed the previous, bad update and now have a system that crashes on startup, you’ll still have to roll back the bad update before you can install the new one.

But Intel’s firmware patches remain an issue for several generations of their processors (something that will perplex the typical PC user).

The short article concludes with a perspective on what action really is practical for most of us with older PCs.

What this means is that if you’re lucky enough to have a system that is still being supported with firmware updates from its manufacturer—because let’s be honest: good luck getting any firmware updates for any consumer PC or motherboard that’s more than about 18 months old—you probably shouldn’t install the firmware anyway. Unless, that is, you’re in a high risk category such as a cloud host or VPS provider, in which case you’ll just have to install it anyway, because the consequences of not upgrading are probably worse than the consequences of upgrading.

Patches for Spectre — impact on your iPhone?

 Computer, Phone, Tablet  Comments Off on Patches for Spectre — impact on your iPhone?
Jan 172018
 

Much in the media still about global computer security vulnerabilities Meltdown and Spectre. Apple, among other companies, released patches to mitigate the risks. This PC World article (January 16, 2018) summarizes the situation for Apple’s mobile devices — your iPhone: “Apple’s iOS 11.2.2 Spectre patch probably won’t slow down your iPhone, but here’s what to do if it does.”

Last week Apple pushed out iOS 11.2.2, which seeks to mitigate the risks associated with the Spectre chip flaw via a security update to Safari and Webkit. Since a Spectre attacker is most likely to attack your system via a Javascript vulnerability, Apple has addressed the issue in iOS 11.2.2 to make your system more secure.

The patch doesn’t actually fix the issue, however, and it’s unlikely Apple will ever release an iOS update that will. While researchers and programmers are actively working on ways to reduce the likelihood that your iPhone will ever be exploited using the Spectre flaws, Apple and others have made it clear that these are merely mitigations and not outright fixes.

We tested an iPhone 6 with an original battery both before and after installing iOS 11.2.2, and the results were much more in line with what Apple told us. … That’s roughly a 2.5-percent performance hit …

If your iPhone’s performance feels different, the article reocmmends:

  • Restarting
  • Checking storage
  • Resetting Safari’s cache
  • (Temporarily) disabling Javascript
  • Checking the battery for possible replacement
Jan 122018
 

Yesterday, MacWorld posted a useful article about Apple’s $29 iPhone battery replacement program.

All of your questions answered.

The article covers the usual FAQs. In particular, “How do I initiate a battery repair?”

As for the “How do I check my own iPhone’s battery life?” question, I downloaded and tried the coconutBattery macOS app and found the results interesting. Battery capacity was still okay.

Jan 052018
 

Much in the media this week about an industry-wide problem with all devices using Intel processors — CPU chips, and perhaps those from other manufacturers as well. A security vulnerability: Meltdown and Spectre. It’s like Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow walking through the dark forest in the 1939 classic The Wizard of OZ and chanting “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

PC World’s been covering this situation with a bunch of articles. Here’re a few links:

Massive security vulnerabilities in modern CPUs are forcing a redesign of the kernel software at the heart of all major operating systems. Since the issues—dubbed Meltdown and Spectre—exist in the CPU hardware itself, Windows, Linux, Android, macOS, iOS, Chromebooks, and other operating systems all need to protect against it. And worse, plugging the hole can negatively affect your PC’s performance.

Everyday home users shouldn’t panic too much though. Just apply all available updates and keep your antivirus software vigilant, as ever. If you want to dive right into the action without all the background information, we’ve also created a focused guide on how to protect your PC against Meltdown and Spectre.1

Intel said the patches for the CPU vulnerability, due next week, would bring a negligible performance hit to the average user. Claiming that the patches can make PCs “immune” from the vulnerabilities is a first, though.

Intel may have dominated most of the news surrounding the kernel bug in processors, but it’s not just Windows and Macs that are at risk. In addition to Meltdown, there is also a “branch target injection” bug called Spectre that affects mobile ARM processors found in iOS and Android phones, tablets, and other devices that could also expose your data. Here’s everything we know about it so far.

We’ve been waiting to hear from Apple ever since we first heard about the far-reaching Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws earlier this week, and the company has finally responded with some not-so-good news: All Mac and iOS devices are affected. That’s right, all of them. However, Apple ensures us there’s no reason to panic.

So, the bottom line is that this vulnerability is serious. Lots of manufacturers of the hardware and software that make your devices run are working on the fixes. Some patches already have been released. So, just be ready for the updates. It’ll take time for everything to settle down. The major concern is impact on performance. Ironically, the vulnerabilities were a result of long-standing techniques to improve performance. As PC World stated:

“We feel your pain. But security trumps performance, so we’d rather our PCs be a little slower than exposed to hackers.”

In summary:

  • Update your operating system
  • Check for firmware updates
  • Update your browser
  • Keep your antivirus active

 

[1] That PC World article notes that:

  • Microsoft pushed out an emergency Windows patch [Windows 10 ‘1709’ edition KB4056892 patch] late in the day on January 3.
  • Apple quietly worked Meltdown protections into macOS High Sierra 10.13.2, which released in December. [Also iOS 11.2.]
  • Intel also released a detection tool that can help you determine whether you need a firmware update.
  • The major PC web browsers have all issued updates as a first line of defense against nefarious websites seeking to exploit the CPU flaw with Javascript.
  • The Google researchers who discovered the CPU flaws say that traditional antivirus wouldn’t be able to detect a Meltdown or Spectre attack. But attackers need to be able to inject and run malicious code on your PC to take advantage of the exploits. Keeping security software installed and vigilant helps keep hackers and malware off your computer.

UPDATE: I haven’t tried Intel’s detection tool, but today (January 17, 2018) Senior Editor Brad Chacos at PC World published an article about a 3rd-party tool which checks whether your system has been patched to protect against the flaws: “Is your PC vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre CPU exploits? InSpectre tells you.”

Gibson Research recently released InSpectre, a wonderfully named, dead simple tool that detects if your PC is vulnerable to Meltdown and Spectre.

InSpectre is a small 122 KB program that doesn’t need a formal install and scans your computer for Meltdown and Spectre susceptibility in mere milliseconds. When it’s done, the program pops up with clear, easy-to-read information about the security status of your system.

This is the sort of software Microsoft or Intel should have released to help clarify the murky, convoluted patching situation around this devastating duo of CPU exploits.

Personally, I’ll wait for these tools to evolve further.

New iPhone — things to do first

 Computer, Phone  Comments Off on New iPhone — things to do first
Dec 282017
 

New iPhone for the holidays? MacWorld once again has tips for a smooth start with your new device: “Got an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus? Do these 10 things first.”

After you inhale that new-iPhone smell, follow this setup guide to be up and running faster than you can say A11 Bionic.

Eleven tips, starting with back up and restore.

New holiday computer?

 Computer  Comments Off on New holiday computer?
Dec 212017
 

If you got a new PC for the holidays, congrats. What’s next? Windows 10 updates, Cortana practice, customization, privacy settings, another browser, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, backup, … fun.

As in the past, PC World posted an article yesterday about what to do first with a new PC: “How to set up your new computer.”

Best practices:

  • Run Windows Update
  • Install a second browser, e.g., Google’s Chrome
  • Set up your new PC’s security — either the default Windows Defender or a 3rd party program bundled by the manufacturer + Malwarebytes
  • Clean your computer’s bloatware (optional)
  • Learn about your new computer (new features compared to your previous one)
  • Install additional software programs (e.g., Microsoft Office or a 3rd party Office program)
  • Copy personal files from your old PC (or not — if all your stuff’s stored in various Cloud services)
  • Back up your new computer

And it’s best to do these things when you’re not distracted or stressed by other things. And one step at a time. And practice, practice, practice. (How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.)