Ask Mr. Modem: Farewell, Dear Friends

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

After more than 30 wonderful years as a writer, I have decided to retire at the end of this year. I know what you’re thinking, “He’s MUCH too young to retire.” Okay, so maybe you are not thinking that, but it’s my final column, so would it kill you to work with me here? Thank you.

All kidding aside, when I began writing columns and publishing my weekly newsletter back in the primordial era of computing, virtually everybody used Windows 3.1. We were a simpler people back then. Technology, as we all know, moves ahead at an unrelenting pace, with us or without us. And yes, it is exhausting just trying to keep up. Today I receive questions from readers using Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 – and heaven help us, the next version of Windows is already in the works. Add to that Apple, Android and Microsoft smartphones, tablets of all species, plus Kindle, Kobo, Slick, Nook and other eReaders – it’s enough to make one’s head explode. The reality is that my one remaining neuron is no longer willing or capable of retaining all that information. (I can, however, still remember some of the 1960s, for which I am very grateful.)
One of the most significant factors in my decision to retire is my beloved Mrs. Modem. She has been incredibly supportive of my work – well, once she accepted the idea that sitting at home all day in one’s robe and slippers is work. My “work,” questionable as it might be by definition, has required my attention virtually seven days a week. It was only Mrs. M’s patience, loving support and acceptance that made it possible. During the past 15 years, we have taken two brief vacations, so I have a lot of time for which to make up. We know we are not getting any younger, so while we can still kick up our heels (hopefully without breaking any hips) and enjoy a few adventures away from the computer, the time is right to move into the next phase of our lives.

Though I plan to relinquish my spot on the cutting edge of technology and ultimately fade into history, I will be very busy in retirement. I look forward to fulfilling multiple roles as house husband and support system for Mrs. Modem, a physician by profession, and reveling in my favorite role as father, protector and pooper-scooper for our three furry felines, Willy, Nilly and Bertie.

I am also excited about having the time to pursue several areas of interest and passion: As an amateur musician, I have had the pleasure of performing (solo and with others) for a number of organizations, including children’s and veterans’ hospitals, retirement homes, centers and communities, long-term care facilities, hospice and other predominantly senior-oriented venues.

In the spirit of “giving back,” I plan to continue, both as a solo performer (acoustic guitar) and as a member of several groups, providing free performances of spirited, all-American sing-along songs, from an era when music was truly music. If you live in the greater Phoenix/Scottsdale area, have an affiliation with an appropriate health care or other facility and would like additional information, please contact me at mrmodem@gmail.com.

Mrs. Modem and I are also avid bicyclists and plan to do more cycling on our own and participate in charity riding events, as well as enjoy several long-distance cycling tours each year – the Good Lord willing, of course. (Watch for us in next year’s Tour de France, Senior Category. We’ll be the ones being attended to by paramedics.)

In closing, I sincerely thank you for your many years of loyal readership, your support and for an extraordinary writing career, which would not have been possible without you.

I can think of no more appropriate way to sign off, particularly at this time of year, than with this 1954 Christmas Classic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S-IidmcSN8 (or http://tinyurl.com/nqnzgaz) featuring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Please turn up your speakers, sit back and enjoy.

I hope all of you had a joyous holiday season and wish you problem-free computing in the years ahead!

Mr. M.

Ask Mr. Modem: Sign Out Of Online Accounts

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Q. When I go to my online bank accounts and other sites that I have to sign into, does it make any difference whether I sign out or just click the X to leave? I’m thinking it doesn’t make any difference, but what is your opinion, Mr. M?

A. Yes, it makes a huge difference. Make that HUGE difference! Never ever, ever, EVER leave an account that you logged into without logging out. Failing to log out is tantamount to departing your home and leaving the door open. 99.99 percent of the time everything will be fine when you return. On the other hand, it is only going to take one time when you return to find your home ransacked or a colony of raccoons having taken up residence that will change your life forever. And then it’s too late.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an online bank account or your Gmail account or anything else, always log off or sign out – whatever you prefer to call it. You log in for security purposes, and you must log out to close and lock the door behind you.

Most log-in venues have an automatic log-out feature so if your account has no activity for a period of time – usually on the order of two to five minutes – you will automatically be logged out in an effort to protect you from yourself. It only takes a split second to log out so it is well worth the effort for the peace of mind alone.

Q. My question concerns the conversion of Word documents to PDF documents. Why would I want to do that?

A. It might be that you don’t want to do that. It really depends on your document needs or any requirements imposed upon you. It’s been years since I converted a .DOC file to a .PDF because I just haven’t had any need to do that.

Many times people are required or requested to submit documents in PDF (Portable Document Format), so in that situation they are simply honoring the request or requirement. There are many reasons that the PDF format may be selected. For example, documents always look exactly the same for all recipients, regardless of the hardware or software used; documents can also be navigated by keyword search and hyperlinks can be included within a table of contents, which increases usability.

In addition, it is an excellent format for presentations, since PDF documents look exactly the same on all platforms; the file format is compact, so files can be easily emailed to recipients; the file format is excellent for archiving, since the look and feel of documents is preserved and the document size is compacted; the format is also an industry standard for business documents such as contracts and forms that must retain their exact appearance for legal reasons, such as tax returns, license agreements, ransom notes, tender documents, quotations and logos.

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

FlightRadar24.com
This is a very cool flight tracker that shows current air traffic worldwide. Click any of the little airplane icons to view detailed information about the flight. Be sure to read the site’s FAQ located in the About section. [www.flightradar24.com]

Science Daily
Here you will find breaking news about the latest discoveries and biggest research projects in everything from astrophysics to zoology. [www.sciencedaily.com]

Television Without Pity
Imagine this nightmarish scenario: Your TiVo or DVR fails and you miss last night’s episode of “The Kardashians.” I’d be despondent, too, but before you stick your head in the microwave, all is not lost. At Television Without Pity you can read a recap of your show, with color commentary. (Be sure to take a look at Hulu.com, too.) [www.televisionwithoutpity.com]


To subscribe to Mr. Modem’s award-winning weekly computer-help newsletter and also receive personal responses to your questions, visit www.mrmodem.com.


Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis / Foter / CC BY

Ask Mr. Modem: Will Older Windows Be Coming Back?

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. I know that Windows 10 is new and that some people didn’t like Windows 8. Do you think Microsoft will keep this format in the future or will it go back to something like XP or the Windows 7 format?

A. Historically, whenever a new operating system makes its debut, there are people who like it and people who don’t like it. I call it the Broccoli Syndrome. While Microsoft is not likely to return to an older format because a few people complain, Windows 10 is designed to make Windows 7 users, who never made the transition to Windows 8, feel comfortable with the new operating system.

When Windows 98 was released eons ago, there were some people who disliked it because it represented such a big change from the previous version. The same thing occurred when XP replaced Windows 98. Over time, users became comfortable with the new operating system and that happened with Windows 8 and it will happen with Windows 10. Change is inevitable when it comes to technology, so rather than resist it, I have found it easier to embrace the new and even if I’m not thrilled with it, I know I just have to wait a little longer and something even newer will come along.

 Q. Is there a limit to how many times I can use my Windows 7 Recovery Disk to format my hard drive?

A. There is no limit, so you can use your Recovery Disk until the cows come home – if you are, indeed, expecting bovine visitors.

Q. How do I delete all data from a flash drive so that I can put new information on it?

A. Formatting a flash drive will wipe all data off the drive. Start by inserting the flash drive into a USB port on your computer. Click Computer (depending on your version of Windows), then right-click your flash drive icon and select Format.

You will see the option to change the Volume Label, which is the name that will appear next to the drive letter for your flash drive. I like to name my flash drives something short like “Morry” or “Edith,” but other people prefer something more descriptive, such as MP3Files or WorkDocs. You don’t have to change the Volume Label if you prefer to leave things as they are.

Remove the check mark beside the Quick Format box, then click Start to format your flash drive. Once formatting is complete, your flash drive will be squeaky clean and devoid of all data.

Once activated, you will receive a confirmation message and will no longer be pestered by an impertinent message that dares to suggest your copy of Windows is not genuine. (Of all the nerve!)

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

NaughtyCodes.com
Though it sounds like an adult-oriented Web site, it is not. This site provides access to a database of discount codes that are available to shoppers when placing an online order. Sure it’s naughty, but it’s also kind of nice. A similar site that I have used successfully a number of times is Retailmenot.com. {www.naughtycodes.com}

The Labyrinth
If you are a student of Medieval Studies – and who among us isn’t? – this site provides free access to a plethora of resources, including connections to databases, services, texts and images. Each user will be able to find an Ariadne’s Thread through the maze of information on the Web. (As we all know, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. Minos had Daedalus build a Labyrinth, which was a house of winding passages. So who is Daedalus? Don’t be silly. He was the father of Icarus, uncle of Perdix and Iapyx, of course.) {http://bit.ly/1j8k7Zz}

Twisted Questions
Would you rather die by a boulder falling on you, falling off a mountain or getting hit by a meteor? Described as a “playground for the mind,” this site asks bizarre, occasionally troubling questions and invites your input and participation. Some questions may occasionally be a bit on the coarse side, so be forewarned. {www.twistedquestions.com}

To subscribe to Mr. Modem’s award-winning weekly computer-help newsletter and also receive personal responses to your questions, visit www.mrmodem.com.

 

Ask Mr. Modem: Move Photos From Smartphone To PC

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. Can you recommend a simple program to move pictures from my Android phone to my Windows 7 computer?

A. You really don’t need a program or an app to do that. Connect your smartphone to your computer using the USB sync cable that came with your phone or is available for purchase. When the USB icon appears in the Notification area of your phone, drag the Notifications bar down, then tap it. Next, tap USB Connected > Mount.

On your computer, click Start > Computer or My Computer. The micro-SD card in your phone will be recognized and listed as a Removable Disk. Double-click its icon to open it. Double-click the DCIM folder > DCIM > Camera. (DCIM stands for Digital Camera IMages.) From this location you can copy all pictures and videos taken with your Android phone to any folder on your computer. To disconnect the Android phone, go to the Notifications area and tap the USB icon.

Q. I’m tempted to try a free junkware removal tool that I got an email about. What’s your take on these types of programs?

A. There is nothing inherently wrong with programs of this type, but philosophically, I don’t use them. My feeling is that unless a system is experiencing a problem that I am attempting to resolve, what’s the point? In other words, if everything is working well, you’re not going to make it run “weller” by throwing more software at it. And every additional piece of software carries the risk of potential conflicts, not to mention the underlying concept of “free.” With virtually any “free” program, there is always a price to be paid. I would also steer clear of any offer that appears out of the blue. You can call that type of email anything you want, but it’s still spam.

I’m very much an advocate of the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. I have 11 systems here running all versions of Windows, Mac and Linux and they run happy as clams – if clams are truly happy – and never give me any problems. The computers, not the clams. Clams are nothing but trouble.

So that’s my take on it, but you’re the boss when it comes to your computer. If you asked me if I would install it on any of my systems, the answer would be “Absolutely not.” When it comes to unsolicited, free programs of that ilk, just remember the old axiom, “Beware of geeks bearing gifts.”

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

National Geographic: Education
This site is filled to the brim with teaching and related educational resources. Check out the Fast Fact section, the scrolling featured topics and Quote beneath the navigation strip. Below those you will find featured content from each of the categories on the navigation strip. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in science, social studies or geography. {http://tinyurl.com/ybteq6o}

Public Art Archive
Search for public art exhibits in the United States and Canada. Search by Artist, Collection, Material, Title, Venue or Year. Information is provided about each work of art, multiple images, its location and a map of the area. {www.publicartarchive.org}

Twinkies Facts
The Twinkie, long recognized as the cornerstone of any well-balanced diet, was created in 1930 by James Dewar, a plant manager at the Continental Baking Company. From its humble beginning as “Twinkie Fingers,” today more than 500 million Twinkies are produced every year. Despite urban legends that suggest the shelf life of a Twinkie is measured in decades, the actual shelf life is 25 days per Twink. Before he departed for the Big Cupcake in the Sky at age 88, Mr. Dewar said that the secret to his long life was to “eat Twinkies every day and smoke a pack of cigarettes.” What, no bourbon?{http://bit.ly/SstRSy}

To subscribe to Mr. Modem’s award-winning weekly computer-help newsletter and also receive personal responses to your questions, visit www.mrmodem.com.

 

Ask Mr. Modem: Flash Drive Longevity

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Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. When I deleted a file, I never received the request for confirmation. It wasn’t a big deal in this case, but I prefer having to confirm any deletions. Do you know why it would do this? I’m using Windows 7.

A. It sounds like your Recycle Bin settings may have changed, but it’s easy to get them back on track: Right-click your Recycle Bin and select Properties. Select the General tab, which will encompass all hard drives.

Click to place a check mark in the box next to Display Delete Confirmation dialog, followed by Apply > OK. The next time you delete a file, you will be prompted to confirm the deletion.

Q. I use a flash drive to back up my data and I leave it plugged in all the time. Does leaving it plugged in wear it out faster, or should I be plugging it in only when I need to copy something to it?

A. Leaving a flash drive plugged in will have no adverse effect on the drive. Wear and tear occurs during the read/write process, not from sitting idly in a USB port.

I recommend (and use) a rotational flash-drive backup protocol which results in one or more backup flash drives NOT residing in a computer at all times.

In other words, I use two or more flash drives and each time I back up data, I remove one drive and insert another. I also keep my most important data backed up within a free Gmail account I maintain for that specific purpose. To do this, I simply mail (as an attachment) any important files I want to keep safely off-site.

Q. Why do I keep getting a message that my Windows is not genuine, even though it came installed on my Dell computer?

A. Your Windows includes a Genuine Advantage checker that verifies that your copy of Windows is legally licensed. Sometimes, however, Windows may forget it is registered, though it is easy to jog its memory.

Look on the back or bottom of your computer for the Windows Authenticity Label which will display your Windows Product Key or serial number.

Next, click the Start button and in the Search box type Activate Windows. In the window that appears you will be able to enter your Product Key and proceed with activation. You may need to click the Change Product Key button and type the Product Key again.

Once activated, you will receive a confirmation message and will no longer be pestered by an impertinent message that dares to suggest your copy of Windows is not genuine. (Of all the nerve!)

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

Calm
Calm is an online oasis that provides an opportunity to relax in increments of two, ten or 20 minutes. You can customize your relaxation experience by selecting a background image and sound, the type of music you want to hear and whether or not you want guidance on your journey to relaxation — assuming making all these decisions doesn’t stress you out even more. Use the arrows at the bottom of the screen to transition between the various sound motifs. Ahhhhh….. {http://calm.com}

History of Rock and Roll in 100 Riffs
This is a remarkable demonstration by guitar-player Alex, who plays 100 of the most famous riffs in rock and roll history — and he does it all in a single take. The video is 12 minutes in length, so crank up the volume, sit back and enjoy. If you want to have some additional fun, don’t watch the screen, but instead try to jot down the name of each song of the 100 riffs he plays, then match them up with the list that appears below the video. {http://bit.ly/OdEH8U}

Subscribe to Mr. Modem’s award-winning weekly computer-help newsletter using promo code CITYSUN and receive a free month with your six-month subscription. 

 

Ask Mr. Modem: SD Card vs Thumb Drive vs External HD

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. I’m dithering between purchasing an SD card and a thumb drive for the storage of photos and documents. Is one better than the other or should I get an external hard drive?
A. SD cards and thumb drives use the same technology. A thumb or flash drive plugs into a USB port and is easily removed so you can take it with you. Its small size also makes it easy to misplace so if your life is lacking drama and you enjoy a good adrenaline surge periodically, thumb drives are the way to go.
In your situation, you can’t go wrong with either option. I have external drives, which have served me well, but in recent years I have gravitated more towards flash or thumb drives simply because of their size and convenience.

Q. Is there a way to set a default font style and size in Gmail?

A. To change the default font, log into Gmail then go to Settings (the little gear icon to the far right). Locate the Default Text Style section on the General tab. Choose your text style using the icons above, “This is what your body text will look like.” Click Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

Q. Someone is using my email address to sign up for various mailing lists, seminars, meetings and other things. Aren’t there laws against this? What can I do to prevent it?

A. While there are federal and state laws against email “spoofing” and other forms of misleading or deceptive online practices, the problem is tracking down and prosecuting the perpetrators. And that just doesn’t happen.
In most cases of this type, automated scripts harvest email addresses from legitimate sources such as websites, message boards, blogs, social media and those dreadful “chain” emails so many people feel compelled to forward to others.
Don’t attempt to unsubscribe from messages that are not from legitimate senders. That type of Unsubscribe link is designed to trick you into verifying your address so it can then be sold to other spammers at a premium. (Of all the nerve!)
I recommend having a minimum of two email addresses, one being your primary address that you use to communicate with friends, family and other trusted individuals, and another address that you use for all other purposes, including making online purchases and registrations. I prefer free Gmail accounts for this purpose, but Yahoo! Mail is also an excellent choice.

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

An Optical Illusion
If you enjoy optical illusions, this site features modern interpretations of illusions. Simply scroll down the page and prepare to be wowed. You can also use the Older Posts link at the bottom of the page to view previous entries. Be sure to take a break if your eyes start to hemorrhage or if you feel your head is about to explode. {www.anopticalillusion.com}

For the Love of Monet
I remember first becoming enamored with Monet’s art while I was living in Paris, working on my doctoral dissertation, “The Influence of Renaissance Mimes on Baroque, Neoclassicism French Architecture.” It was a magical time. If you’re a Monet enthusiast, you won’t want to miss this site. Once the site loads, select Journey to begin your digital excursion. As an alternative, you can go directly to the Gallery, organized by the year of each work. {www.monet2010.com/en}

Web Crosswords
If you’re a crossword puzzle enthusiast, here you can select easy puzzles or L.A. Times crosswords, as well as other word-related games. In the unlikely event you get stuck, stymied or flummoxed, click the Solve button to reveal a letter, a word, or the solved puzzle. A little timer in the upper right-hand corner is informative, yet humbling, in a humiliating kind of way. {www.webcrosswords.com}

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Ask Mr. Modem: Network Password? What Network Password?

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. I forgot my WiFi network password and I’m in a panic. Is there any way to recover it? Help!
A. If you are still able to use your WiFi, you can view your saved password by clicking the wireless connection icon on the Taskbar, right-clicking the network you are connected to, then click Properties.
On the Security tab, one field will display the Network Security Key as a series of dots or asterisks. Below that will be a little check box to “Show Characters,” which will then display the Network Security Key and your saved password.
If you cannot access it in this manner, most routers have a Reset button on the bottom or back of the router, which will reset it to factory settings. You will then need to follow your router manufacturer’s set-up instructions (usually available from its website or on the CD that came with your router) to configure the router and assign it a new password.

Q. How can I make it so multiple start pages display in Firefox?

A. If you would like more than one Web page to display when you open Firefox, go to Tools > Options > General. In the field where you have your Home page entered, type in as many additional Web addresses as you wish, each one separated with a pipe (|) mark, which you can create by simultaneously pressing the SHIFT key and the \ key. Click OK when finished. Close then reopen Firefox and your multiple pages will display, each page in its own tab.

Q. Other than for security purposes, does shredding deleted files reclaim hard-drive space? If so, how does that work?

A. When you delete a file from your Recycle Bin, the file is still present and can be recovered. When you virtually shred a file, the computer overwrites the saved information with random data so the information contained in the file cannot be recovered.
The primary reason for shredding is security. If you delete something and you don’t want anyone to ever be able to access it again (think subpoena), shred it. Most free shredder programs, such as Eraser (http://sourceforge.net/projects/eraser), will make one pass, writing ones and zeros over the information. Industrial-strength, professional, no-fooling-around shredder programs, such as CyberScrub.com, will make one pass writing ones and zeros, then additional passes writing different characters in order to obfuscate (wow!) previously written information.

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

Askapatient.com
Launched by a physician in 2008, here you can access a database of patient opinions, comments and ratings as they relate to the effectiveness of various medications. It also includes weekly consumer opinion polls on health care topics. The multiple-choice poll question I was asked when I visited the site was, “By what percentage has the taking of antidepressants increased in the past 10 years?” I was too depressed to participate. Perhaps next time. {www.askapatient.com}

Ask Numbers
Measurement conversion charts and converters for metric, Imperial and U.S. systems. In addition to conversion calculators, scientific calculators, definitions, abbreviations and formulae, the site also provides printable metric conversion tables and unit converters for commonly used items such as feet to hectometers, meters to perch and the always useful kilometers to dekameters. {www.asknumbers.com}

In Search of Myths and Heroes
This site, which is based on the PBS program of the same name, focuses on four myths: The Queen of Sheba, Shangri-la, King Arthur and “The harder you swing, the farther the golf ball will go.” Just kidding. The fourth myth is Jason and the Argonauts. (One of my favorite ’50s rock groups.) This site has lots of interesting features and I particularly enjoyed the Living Legends Quiz, so you won’t want to myth that. {www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes}

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Ask Mr. Modem: Transmit Super-Large Files

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. I have approximately 100 pictures from a recent vacation that I would like to e-mail to others. What program should I use for this?
A. Unless you know your intended recipients very well, that’s a lot of photos to inflict upon anybody. One hundred vacation photos equal 400 non-vacation photos to anybody who did not accompany you on the trip.
The best thing to do is to compress (ZIP) those 100 photo files into one humongous file, then use a service such as TransferBigFiles.com or MailBigFile.com to upload your gonzo file to a secure area. A link will be provided to your designated recipients that they can click to download your file, thus circumventing any ISP-based file-size restrictions. Both sites offer free and paid services, which are explained on the respective sites.
To compress (ZIP) your photo files into one file, click to select the files then right-click and select Send To > Compressed (zipped) Folder. E-mail the resulting .ZIP file as an attachment. Your recipients can right-click the file, select Extract and designated a location for the files on their computer.
Another option is sharing your vacation photos in an online album that your invitees can then “enjoy” until their respective heads explode. Sites such as Snapfish.com, Shutterfly.com or Flickr.com will serve that purpose quite nicely.

Q. Why is it that some sites require the www and for others I just have to type http, without the www?
A. In a Net shell, a website name is converted (using a DNS or Domain Name System server) from alpha to numeric format. In other words, the word(s) you type as the address of a website are translated into a series of numbers called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. This address tells your browser where on the Internet the website can be found. (It’s a bit more technical than that, but I’m already losing interest, not to mention consciousness.) Some website DNS records are configured to allow you to type the SiteName.com alone, while others are configured to require the “www” (for World Wide Web) prefix.

Q. Is there any way to test for color blindness online?
A. Before sharing information of this type, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend seeking appropriate medical evaluation and consultation for definitive answers to health-related questions. I am not a doctor, nor do I portray one on television, though I did play one on radio back in the ‘70s – well, until the Cease and Desist Order was issued. With that caveat, there is, indeed, a color blindness test located at the appropriately named ColorVisionTesting.com Web site.


Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

The Dorcus Collection
A collection of men’s fashion photography from the ‘50s, ‘60s and polyestered ‘70s. Caution: Some of the language on this site is a bit on the coarse side so sensitive readers, or those subject to chafing, should proceed at their own peril.
http://bit.ly/TIy0t

Skillshare
This site helps visitors connect with educators in order to learn whatever skill they are interested in learning. There may be a fee associated with some classes, so be sure to review the Frequently Asked Questions in the Help area. Better safe than hysterical. www.skillshare.com

Song Facts
Song meanings and music trivia, including highest album and chart position achieved. The trivia is quite interesting and links are provided to view a song’s lyrics, purchase the song or obtain the sheet music. www.songfacts.com

Subscribe to Mr. Modem’s award-winning weekly computer-help newsletter using promo code CITYSUN and receive a free month with your six-month subscription. 

Ask Mr. Modem: Why Rebates, Not Discounts?

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Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. Why do online companies offer rebates instead of just selling a product at a lower price? It seems like there are always strings attached or restrictions on the rebate check received.
A. There are three primary reasons that companies offer rebates: First, the time between the purchase and the rebate can be several months, a period in which your money is in the company’s possession. This may seem insignificant, but to a company that sells hundreds of thousands of widgets, it can be substantial.
Second, what better way for a company to obtain your personal data for subsequent contact or to sell to others than by offering you money (in the form of a rebate) for your information?
Third, companies know that most people are busy or lazy (or both) and won’t go to the trouble of cutting out a bar code or providing the requisite paperwork to obtain a rebate. In this way, the company gets to attract purchasers by advertising a low price, and in most instances selling an item for a higher price because the purchaser never applies for the rebate. What a deal!

Q. Should I purchase a copy of Windows 7 and set it aside for a future installation? I’m worried that Windows 7 won’t be available a year or two from now.

A. Historically, previous versions of Windows have been available for years after they are no longer the current operating system. For example, Windows Vista replaced Windows XP in January 2007, more than seven years ago, yet if you search amazon.com, you will find a number of retailers who still have XP available. If history does indeed repeat itself, Windows 7 is going to be available for many years to come.

Q. I know this is a weird question, but what is the proper name for the little mouse pointer?

A. Weird questions are always welcome! The object that moves on the screen when you move the mouse is often called a cursor, although some nitpicking purists might argue that technically only the blinking line that comprises a DOS prompt can be properly called a cursor. For most users, myself included, the terms “pointer” and “cursor” can be used interchangeably.
A cursor can take several forms. For example, it may change into a small hand when hovering over a link, or it may become an animated cursor, in the form of a rotating hour glass, when Windows is in the process of loading a page or program. (My cousin Leon became an animated cursor once when he was hit in the head with a golf ball.)

Mr. Modem’s Web Sites Of The Month

Color
This color-matching game is deceptively easy… at first. Your challenge is to mouse over the color wheel to find a matching color to what is displayed. There is one small catch: Your cursor is tied not to just one point on the color wheel, but to two points and then four points as the game progresses. To play, click the color wheel, then try to match the colors displayed. Highest score, or the first person to get a splitting headache, wins.
http://color.method.ac

HackerWatch
This is a free service that can test the protection afforded by your firewall by doing a simple probe and/or a port scan.
www.hackerwatch.org/probe

ImageSplitter
Here you will find free tools for tasks you might want to perform on an uploaded image, such as resizing, converting, splitting or cropping.
http://imagesplitter.net

Ask Mr. Modem: APP-ropriate Permissions

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Click to read more about Mr. Modem.

Q. I am concerned about the permissions required when I install apps on my Android phone. They make me wonder if the apps are safe. Should I be concerned?

A. In a word, yes. Most Android app installations require special-access permissions, so you have to decide whether a given app is worth allowing them. Many are necessary, while the need for others is questionable. For example, there are some wallpaper apps that require access to your Contacts. Before granting permission, stop and ask yourself, “Why would a wallpaper app require access to my Contacts?” To me, that’s reason enough to move to another app.
Permissions required for the Facebook for Android app include access to your personal information, services that cost you money, your messages, your location, your Internet provider, your accounts, what you’re wearing, phone calls (phone state and identity) and more. That’s too intrusive for my tastes.
When using the phone to download apps from the Google Play Store (https://play.google.com), a list of permissions appears below the Accept & Download button. Click an item for more information, including (gulp!) potential consequences.
To review an app’s permissions, in Android 4.0+ tap Apps > Settings > Apps. Tap to select an app and scroll down to Permissions. You’ll never sleep again.


Q. How do you feel about letting others take remote control of your computer to fix problems?

A. Not good. I would be more inclined to have a microchip implanted in my body so my cat knows where I am at all times. To give anyone that level of access is – I believe the psychiatric term is “nutso.” That type of access is not limited or restricted; it is full, 100-percent, wide-open, help-yourself-to-my-data access.
Most remote repair outfits require you to install their software so they can take control of your system. If you have engaged in that type of potentially risky behavior and had a computer problem resolved, congratulations! Unfortunately, there are other individuals who wind up with compromised computers and new problems where none previously existed – sometimes days or even weeks later. Cynically minded individuals even suggest that new problems are created in order to generate additional revenue for the remote repair service. Eek!
My negative perspective notwithstanding, there certainly are people who sign up for these remote-access services and have a good experience. More power to them. Would I grant access to my computers in a similar manner? Not in a million-jillion years.

Mr. Modem’s DME (Don’t Miss ‘Em) Sites Of The Month

Einstein’s Big Idea
Filled with fascinating facts about the legendary E=MC2 genius and his life’s work, you will also find interesting articles about Einstein’s personal life. For example, who would have guessed that Einstein was a huge fan of The Three Stooges? (www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/einstein)

Newspaper Map
This is an unusual website in that it has indexed newspapers from 199 countries. If you are interested in obtaining a local perspective on global news, use the site filters (the three lines at the top) to locate a newspaper in any location, in your language of choice and start reading. (http://newspapermap.com)

Phone Arena
If you get woozy trying to sort through the various features in an attempt to figure out which mobile phone is best for you, here you will find phone reviews by actual users who aren’t trying to sell you anything. You can also review side-by-side comparisons, editor picks and learn that an updated version of your new phone will be released 30 minutes after purchase.  (www.phonearena.com)

Use Promo Code CITYSUN when entering your six-month subscription to Mr. Modem’s award-winning weekly computer-help newsletter and receive one month for free! Visit www.mrmodem.com.

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