Saturday, May 30, 2015

Family Tech: Microsoft: Not your father’s company anymore - May 29, 2015

There is a high-tech company out there aggressively building new products for IOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows. They are acquiring exciting new companies that publish apps for some of these platforms.

They are building a way for PC owners to run some iPhone and Android apps on their PCs. They are making it possible for developers to write one app that will run on Windows, Xbox One, and Windows Phones.

They are taking risks with their long-standing cash cows and astonishing long-time watchers of the company. They are doing things that one would think would make the company’s founder roll over in his grave, if he wasn’t very much alive.

They are planning on giving away a new product that will replace Windows 7 and Windows 8. You will want it.

What is this dynamic, risk-taking company? Is it some new startup? No, it’s Microsoft. Yet, it isn’t your father’s Microsoft.The 40-year-old company is changing.

Founder Bill Gates remains on the board of Microsoft, but spends much of his time now with the foundation he and his wife began.

Gate’s college friend, Steve Ballmer, has retired as chief executive officer. I never thought of Ballmer as a visionary. He spent his time jealously guarding Microsoft’s big cash cows: Windows and Office.

In February 2014, Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s CEO. He came out of its Cloud Computing division, one of the newest, more forward thinking divisions.

Sometime this summer, Microsoft will release Windows 10, its newest, and they say, its final operating system.

From now on, it says it says there will not be new Windows operating system, just downloadable upgrades to Windows 10. Details are still sketchy about when Windows 10 is coming, and if any of the operating systems prior to Windows 7 will be upgradeable for free.

Windows 10 has been out for a while as a Beta program. I’ve been running it in a Virtual Machine so that it has not taken over my entire PC.

I’ll have a future column with fuller details about Windows 10 when it is announced.

Microsoft has made some other un-Microsoft moves in the last couple years. It has moved away from Office as a product you purchase, and which they sell as upgrades periodically. Instead, its Office 365 is a subscription product which you pay for each year and automatically have upgrades when you need them.

A one-year subscription lets you put it on up to five devices. It includes a full terabyte of online storage on Microsoft’s OneDrive service. In fact, it wants to store new documents on OneDrive by default. That does make your files available from anywhere you have web access, including your smartphone.

And OneDrive is priced competitively against offerings from Google and Dropbox.

Microsoft recently purchased the Sunrise calendar app that runs on iPhones, iPads and Android phones, but not Windows phones. Well, not yet anyway.

I’ve been using Sunrise for a few days now and am favorably impressed. Before Sunrise, to see what my day entailed, I had to look at my Google Calendar, my to-do task list in Wunderlist and longer term reminders which I had in Evernote.

Sunrise pulls all those reminders together and can include reminders from many more apps. Next, I’ll be typing it to TripIt, an app that keeps up with pending flights I’ve booked.

All this information is displayed on my Android phone, an iPad and in my web browser.

There was a time when Microsoft was not keen on products that ran on non-Microsoft platforms. Nadella seems to have moved them past that.

Microsoft has also been showing experimental products for the first time by demonstrating a new augmented reality headset.

Unlike the Facebook-owned Occulus Rift, the Microsoft HoloLens does not create an all new reality, but adds things to our reality. For example, a mechanic working on a complex jet engine would see the engine clearly, but HoloLens would superimpose identifiers and other information over what the mechanic was seeing.

Virtual Reality, like Rift, completely replaces reality with a computer-generated reality for gaming or exploring a made-up world. Both kinds of devices have their place. A release date for HoloLens has not been announced.

By publicly experimenting as they are with HoloLens and producing products for platforms other than Windows – sometimes releasing them on Windows only after other platforms have a product – Microsoft is reinventing itself.

Links for this column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Family Tech: Apple Watch: still in the nice-to-have category

I expected to be impressed with the Apple Watch and I was. But then, I’m a cheap date when it comes to tech. I like just about everything.

And you’d be forgiven if you think the only watch out there is the Apple Watch. Apple’s excellent juggernaut of marketing has done a good job.

People who have worn the Apple Watch and the Motorola’s Moto 360, which runs on Google’s Android Wear operating system, have commented that they expected Apple’s to be far and away better than the Moto 360. Instead, they feel they are near comparable.

For many, smartphones are close to the have-to-have category. Yet watches, I think, are still in the nice-to-have category and only for some people.

Watches are designed to augment smartphones and make up for one of biggest shortcomings of smartphones.

It is really hard to resist when you hear your phone ding or vibrate notifying you of a new text, notification or other message. We tell ourselves we are not being rude when we pull our phone out for a quick glance, but of course we are.

With a watch, the notifications show up on the watch. While it still not cool to glance at the watch during a conversation, at least the intrusion into your life is briefer. The offense is less, theoretically. It’s a much faster glance at your wrist then to take your phone out and perhaps have to slide to unlock and pull down the notification screen.

The watch is not necessary to me and I have not bought one – yet. Maybe when they get cheaper. Now they range from about $200 to $350 for an entry-level Apple Watch – and up. The Apple watch can get as high as $1,700 for one gold-plated. That does not seem a prudent purchase of something likely to be updated in a year and obsolete a few years later.

An advantage of a watch over a phone is accessibility, when your hands may be otherwise full. One of those moments I can think of is rushing through an airport while managing luggage. American Airlines is the first to offer an app that will show a barcode for your boarding pass.

Starwood Hotels will let you unlock your hotel door with a flick of your wrist if it has an Apple Watch on it. More airlines and hotels will no doubt follow suit.

Other activities where you need to collect data maybe make a count or time events, where you need to be discreet will lend themselves to watches. There are audio-recording apps too for recording encounters.

My favorite app is available on both watches. Evernote’s watch lets you dictate quick notes or do a voice search for a previously created note.

You can even take or make a phone call through your Apple Watch. While this may thrill those raised on Dick Tracy, it is probably too geeky for many. It is a good way to quickly tell a caller you cannot talk just now and will call them back soon.

The phones let you see an incoming text or email and dictate a response. You can tell it to set an alarm or create a reminder then it displays on the watch or your phone.

If you are walking or driving, your watch can display turn-by-turn directions. The watches gently vibrate to indicate there is a new message or direction for you to notice.

A mainstay of watches is as a fitness monitor. They will help you know how many steps you have taken and help you plan and monitor your exercise.

It may be silly, but one reason I want an Apple or Wear watch is the changeable watch faces you can use. You can enjoy the thrill of a new watch simply by downloading a new watch face.

If you want a watch and have an iPhone, then the Apple Watch is for you. Currently, watches running on Android Wear operating system do not work with iPhones, but are the only ones that work with Android phones.

This is a brand-new category. Early adopters are rushing to buy them, but if you do not know if you need one, hold off. This is early in the game, they certainly will get better fast.

And watches are going to be yet another challenge for educators and employers. Now it is easy to see if a student or employee is distracted by their phone. It will be harder when they starting wearing smart watches.

For more of Mark’s online activities and contact information, visit

Links for this column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Family Tech for May 15, 2015: Family vacations coming soon – get tech ready

The Family Tech columns that are not published at, the online home of Northern Virginia Media Services newspaper including Prince William Today, will be published here at

We have fewer than 30 days of school left in the county. It’ time to start planning the summer vacation.

No matter how you go – car or plane – technology can make the trip easier than our parents had it in the 60s and 70s, and also add some new burdens they did not have.

Smartphones can help reduce boredom on long car rides, plane trips or while waiting in airports. Yet, power can be a problem. Phone batteries rarely survive a day of active web surfing, watching movies, or playing music – all activities one might do to avoid travel boredom.

Portable chargers can be a godsend.  Portable chargers are nothing more than large batteries you connect to your phone with a standard recharge cable. You see them at checkout lines now for about $20 for one that looks like a lipstick.

Those are bad deals.

They have about 2200 mAh of power. That’s enough for one charge of a phone. For $40 you can get a 15,000-mAh one, good for about six charges.

One charger can charge multiple devices – iPads, iPhones, Android phones, tablets, etc. – although maybe not at the same time.

Some of your devices such as tablets may depend on Wi-Fi for Internet access. In cars, you can use a phone’s data connection with your non-cellular devices. You can do that by hotspotting your phone. You’ll need to check with your cell provider to see if they offer the service and if your phone supports it. Hotspotting turns your phone into a Wi-Fi access point for your other devices such as tablets. Log in and then connect to the Internet via the cell network.

Sprint lets me hotspot our phones for $20 a month for two gigabytes of data. The really nice thing is they will prorate for a day or two if that is all I need.

If hotspotting your phone is not an option, your provider may be able to sell you a MiFi.  This is a small device with its own cellular account. It sends and receives data on the cell network, and lets several devices connect to it via Wi-Fi.

If you are off for a long drive, you likely are planning on using the navigation system in your phone. You should also install Waze. Waze is a social navigation system. Drivers ahead of you can report accidents, construction, speed traps, etc. and it shows up your display.

Waze is carefully designed to not allow using it while the vehicle is moving, unless the operator declares they are a passenger.

Lone drivers can wave their hand over their phone twice to get Waze’s attention then make their report by voice.  Waze prompts you by voice.

Waze measures the speed of all the users, so it can tell you roughly the traffic conditions ahead.

Our phones are often our cameras.  Before you go, download the photos on your phone to your PC, and then delete them off your phone.  This frees up space on your phone.  If you are taking a laptop with you, plan on downloading photos from your phone during the trip both as a backup should you lose your phone, and to free up space for more photos.

If you have a separate camera, make sure you take memory cards for it.

Going on an adventurous vacation? You might want to consider a GoPro or other wearable camera to record the adventure. You can buy underwater enclosures for them if you’re going on a snorkeling or diving vacation.

And be certain to take chargers and charger cables for all your devices.

If you leave one behind, check with the desk at your hotel.  Apparently so many people leave chargers behind when they check out, that many hotels have boxes full of chargers they are happy to give away.

All Android phones use the same charger, and many pharmacies and other stores sell Android and iPhone chargers good enough for use in a pinch.

Laptops and cameras often use unique chargers so be especially careful not leave them behind.
Make a checklist of all the tech things you want to take so you remember to pack it at home and make sure you have it when you leave each place you stay. Record the serial and model numbers of your devices should one get lost or stolen.

And finally, do not let technology diminish your trip.

The Grand Canyon looks better through your eyes then through the viewfinder of your camera.  Don’t be like the kid in a photoset I’ve linked to in this week’s link post at

His parents have photos of him playing Gameboy at Stonehenge, Big Ben and along the Jordan River.

Don’t be that kid.

For links mentioned in the column, go to  For more of Mark’s online activities and contact information, visit on the web.

Links for this column is here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Links for May 15, 2015 - Travel Tech

The column is located here.

Anker brand portable chargers at Amazon  +

Gameboy around the world (photo set)

+ denotes Amazon Associate Link.  Disclosure:  If you purchase from this link, I receive a tiny commission, while you pay the same price as you would otherwise.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Family Tech for May 8, 2015 - Malware: don’t get it and you won’t need a new computer

Starting this week, those Family Tech columns that are not published at, the online home of Northern Virginia Media Services newspaper including Prince William Today, will be published here at

Too many people buy a new computer because their old one was infected with malware, viruses and other software they did not knowingly install.

And all too soon, that new computer is infected too.

What is malware? How do we get it?  How do we get rid of it?

Malware is any piece of software designed to steal information from your PC, direct you to websites you otherwise would not visit, insert ads into your view or actively damage your computer.

They will commonly change your desired search engine and home page to ones their advertisers want.

Malware can plant a key-logger on your PC, so that when you visit your bank website, the key-logger sees your username and password and sends it over the Internet to someone else.
Malware can add an advertisement to a webpage, cluttering your view and hiding information. It can report back on the websites you go to so as to build a profile of you useful to advertisers.

Malware can infect your system with a Trojan app that lets others control your PC to make it send out spam emails for them or download more malware apps.

Malware can redirect you to a page that looks like your bank’s, for example, and when you login, it has your password. This is called Phishing.

Most malware ends up on a PC because the user was fooled into downloading it.

Never, ever, open an attachment on an email unless you are absolutely certain it is safe.

A photo of your grandchild from your son is probably safe. An attachment on an email from someone you don’t know with the subject line, “I thought of you when I saw this,” is definitely not safe.

Emails that come with harmful attachments may appear to be from your bank. Before you open that attachment, study the email carefully. Does it call you by name? Most banks do not send out files by email. They may ask you to go to their website and download a document instead. If you have any questions, call your bank before opening that attachment.

I regularly receive emails in my Spam folder purportedly from banks where I do not have an account. So I know any attachments on them or even links in them are potentially harmful.

Does the email sound to be good to be true like, “Proven tip to win any sports bet?” Or scare you, “Someone is running a background investigation of you?”
Each of these examples came from actual emails I found in my Spam folder. Look at the emails in your Spam folder to see the kind of tricks people use. Be watchful for ones that do get into your Inbox that use the same techniques to get your attention.

One common one is to start the subject line with “re:” to make it appear you’ve already been in email conversation with them.

Another common way to trick you into downloading is with a pop-up page that appears when you visit a website. The pop-up is often designed to look like a dialog box and it may say that a virus has been spotted on your PC and if you click the link it will download an app to remove it.

There is no virus and the app that is downloaded probably is a virus or other malware.

Also, avoid downloading apps from sites like Those apps frequently come with a variety of evil apps bundled in. They’ll ask permission to install them using crafty phrasing and double negatives to trick you into giving permission. Use to download useful apps safely.

Some criminals give real effort. They will call and say they are with Microsoft support and have remotely detected a virus on your PC. They will guide you through downloading an app to your PC to fix the problem.

Microsoft does not scan for viruses remotely and will not call you. These are scammers.  The app they have you download will search for banking and credit card information.

So how do you fix a malware infestation? The best way is to not get malware in the first place. Educate your family on the points I’ve made already about never opening an email attachment and never responding to a pop-up that says you have malware and offer to fix the problem. 

If there is one person knowledgeable about computers in your family, ask them to check all the family’s PCs for infestations and take responsibility for responding to any messages that come up saying you have malware.

Get a good anti-virus and have it regularly update itself and run scans of your PC.

Download MalwareBytes and Spybot 2 and run their scans periodically. Links are on

Keep regular backups both onsite and offsite. That will be the topic of a column soon.

Computers make it easier for us to do many things, but it also makes it easier for bad people to do bad things to us.

For links mentioned in the column, go to  For more of Mark’s online activities and contact information, visit on the web.

Link for this column is here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Links for May 8, 2015 - Malware  (under security, download Spybot 2 and MalwareBytes)

Read the column here.