Thursday, November 26, 2015

There is no Family Tech for November 27, 2015

Brief paper this week, so no Family Tech.

Check the paper on December 5th for the next one, or online here at 9 AM on the 6th.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Family Tech readers.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Wifi is now essential to our lives – here’s how to maximize it - November 20,, 2015

For something most of us didn’t even have 10-15 years ago, wifi has become virtually indispensable in our homes. Sixty-one percent of American homes have wifi.

And wifi can be maddening if it fails to reach all rooms in our home.

Wifi provides the internet to more and more devices every year. Our first router back around 2003 served two laptops. Today, in an average home, many more devices are linked to wifi routers including laptops, mobile phones, game consoles, portable gaming machines and more.

And more devices will continue to login. Devices such as your refrigerator, washing machine, light bulbs, door locks and those little Dash Buttons from Amazon that let you reorder things at the push of a button.

Does your wifi reach all areas of your home? If it doesn’t, you are losing valuable functionality.

In this column, we’ll tell you how to easily find dead spots in your home and what you can do to get the internet throughout your home.

You may already know what rooms don’t have internet, but perhaps you haven’t ever tried to use your wifi connection in your guest room or in the basement. Guests who have slept there might have been too polite to mention it.

There are apps for your cell phone that will measure your connectivity as you move about the house.

First of course, you have to connect your phone to your own wifi. If you need help with that, check this week’s link post at for help.

Once that’s done, go to your phone’s app store, and search “wifi.” You will find a variety of tools. I have always used Wifi Analyzer.

The app shows you the strength and channels your wireless router uses. Make a quick hand-drawn map of your home’s layout. On the app, touch the icon that looks like an Eye at the top right and chooses Signal Meter from the menu. Near the bottom, touch the button and choose from your wifi name from the list. Then, walk around the house and record the signal strength in each room.

Ideally, the meter should be in the green throughout.

When you are done, make a list of the rooms that had less than -60 dbm. Are they rooms you need to have internet access in?

If your router’s signal cannot reach rooms where you need the internet, there are extenders and other devices you can purchase to extend the reach of your wifi signal.

An extender is a small box that plugs into an electrical outlet. It receives the signal from your wifi and then rebroadcasts it on another channel. The idea is to put it somewhere between your router and the room where you do not have a strong signal. Where you place it should still have a good enough signal and the new signal it puts out should hopefully reach the poorly covered area.

Netgear and TP-link are manufacturers I have some experience with and they make extenders. This week’s link post will have Amazon links the products mentioned here.

Earlier this year, I moved our router to the upper level since we did a lot of our computing in the bedrooms there. That demolished coverage in our basement, and we had occasional need for cover age there.

An extender would not be a good solution in that situation. Instead, I opted for a powerline extender.

A powerline extender has two boxes. One box plugs into the wall near your router and connects to your router with a network cable.

It takes the internet signal from your router and actually sends it to the second box through the powerline in your house.

The other box sits in the room that otherwise wouldn’t have internet connectivity. Some extenders you have to plug a network cable between it and your device. Or, you could buy a second wifi router and hook it in and have a strong wifi signal in that room.

Some of the newer ones have their own wifi signal on the other end. Read the product descriptions carefully before choosing one.

The ideal solution would be to have an electrician run network cable throughout your home. That is on my list for the custom home I’d build after winning the lottery. That, and heated bathroom floors.

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Links for this week's column.

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Links for Wifi is now essential to our lives – here’s how to maximize it - November 20, 2015

This column will appear online Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be at this link.

It is available before in the November 20th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, November 19th in the afternoon.

How to connect your wifi to iPhone and Android

Signal strength apps at the Google Play Store

For apps for iPhone, to to ITunes and search the app store on "wifi strength" at the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store

Wifi extenders [Amazon Link]

Powerline Extenders

Powerline Extenders with Wifi

Running Ethernet cable through your home

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Column Update: Don’t trust yourself to be your computers’ back-up plan - October 2, 2015

In the column "Don’t trust yourself to be your computers’ back-up plan - October 2, 2015" I suggested one cloud service to backup your computer to could be Microsoft's OneDrive.

That recommendation hasn't changed, but Microsoft did recently make a fundamental change to OneDrive that might make it not the best choice for some.

I wrote then how Microsoft had promoted in October of 2014 that OneDrive was going to be unlimited storage.  

Unfortunately, Microsoft has withdrawn the unlimited storage promise because, well, some people were using it for unlimited storage.  The cited some users storing as much as 70 gigabytes.

Now the most you can buy is one terabyte.  It is included with an Office 365 subscription.  A terabyte should be sufficient for backing up most people's computer.  It is for mine, and for my family members.

What's truly unfortunate, is they also took the option of downgrading their storage plans.  Now they will no longer offer the 100 gigabyte and 200 gigabyte paid tiers. And new users for the free service will only get five gigabytes, not the previous fifteen.

Microsoft has made some positive steps recently by abandoning their Microsoft platform first strategy and actually producing good products for the Android platform.  And they have made a couple of excellent acquisitions recently with products like Sunrise and Wunderlist; two apps I use daily.  This OneDrive announcement is a big step backwards.  As other companies race to add more value to their cloud storage opportunities, Microsoft steps back.

As I mentioned in the column, there is one unlimited storage offering that is truly unlimited; at least unlimited from the get go, and not an add on as was Microsoft's.  

That is Amazon's Cloud Drive.  For $60 a year you get truly unlimited backup.  Some Amazon customers have received offers from Amazon for a free trial year of Amazon Cloud.  Everyone gets at least a 90 day free trial.

And I found it backups files faster use Arq Backup then did OneDrive.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Drones in Prince William County

Do you operate a drone or thinking of getting one for Christmas?

If you live in Prince William County, you will want to read this recent article from

This map shows the approximate no fly zone around Manassas Airport. It is not part of the article. I created it from tools at

Family Tech tips for family tech issues - November 13, 2015

This is the time of year for traditions. A tradition of this column is helping techies get ready for the inevitable requests from family members to take a quick look at their computer.

It’s never quick.

Being the family tech is a thankless job. If you do one thing to help someone, for years after you will hear comments/requests such as, “I can’t find a file I downloaded” or “What did you do wrong when you fixed my computer?”

That column is still relevant. I’ve posted it to if you want to check it out.

Despite the thanklessness, those of us not intimidated with technology often want to help our family. For seniors especially, having working technology keeps them in contact and engaged with family via Facebook and email. It helps them not feel isolated if family is not nearby.

Here’s a few new thoughts this year on that topic.

If a family member’s computer is hopelessly infested with viruses and malware, or so old as to be dreadfully slow, it is time for them to consider new hardware. If you find a PC running XP or Vista, that’s a sign. XP was last installed on new PCs seven years ago. Vista was an awful operating system.

Vista machines may be upgradable to Windows 10, but the cost should make one consider spending more and buying a whole new PC. Vista is not one of the previous versions eligible for a free Windows 10 upgrade.

It’s like putting a new engine in a car. Sure, it costs less than a new car, but now you have a new engine driving old parts.

And XP machines probably would not make good Windows 10 PCs. They wouldn’t be fast enough nor have enough memory.

If a PC should be replaced, ask questions about how they use a PC. If all they do is use Facebook, email and online games such as Words with Friends then perhaps they do not need a full PC.

Viable alternatives would be an iPad or Android tablet. Although I’m deeply entrenched in the Google/Android ecosystem, for someone with only one device – a tablet – I’d urge them to choose an iPad. They are easy to use and if there is an Apple store near a relative, their Genius bar offers excellent and patient support when you are not around.

If they want to a more traditional PC device, and perhaps are not comfortable with touch screens, a Google Chrome device might be appropriate.

These are inexpensive laptop-looking devices that run just a browser. It is more than suitable for Facebook and email. The one app a senior might use that is not supported well by a Chromebook is Skype. However, it does support the free Google Hangouts if you want to continue video calling them.

The beauty of Chromebooks is they are essentially virus and malware free. And, the operating system upgrades automatically. While it does not run Word, or other Office apps, for the kind of user Chromebooks are best for, Google Docs works just fine. The documents are stored on the web, and Google makes copies of them so backups are not needed.

Their low maintenance is why they are popular in schools and could be good for some users such as seniors needing Facebook, email, photos and other services that can be served up on the web.

Another thing you can do for your family members is check their internet connectivity. On a PC, go to and click the “Begin Test” button. Do not click the “Scan Now” button; that’s an ad. also has apps for iPads, iPhones and Android devices. Check the speed at various places in the house. If you do not have connectivity, or poor connectivity, in parts of their home, check next week’s columns for ways to improve connectivity.

The column mentioning this column will be posted Saturday, November 14 at 9 AM here.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

Links for this week's column.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Links for Family Tech tips for family tech issues - November 13, 2015

This column will appear online Saturday, November 11, 2015 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be at this link.

It is available before in the November 10th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, November 10th in the afternoon.

a Past Family Tech: A few tools to get a family tech through holiday visits - December 4th, 2014

This Family Tech from 2014 is mentioned in this week's column. It has tips on performing tech support when visiting relatives over the holidays.

Did you hear anyone on your Thanksgiving visit with family say, “Hey, you are so smart with computers, can you see why my PC is running so slow?” If so, while the rest of the family visited or watched football, you slaved away over an infected PC, maybe with 15 toolbars running in Internet Explorer.

Being the family tech is a thankless job. Do one thing to help, and for years after you’ll hear things such as “I can’t find a file I downloaded. What did you do wrong when you fixed my computer?”

Whenever someone poses the question on an online forum, “What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your life?” Someone always answers, “Let my family know I know more about computers than they do.”

Maybe I can help other family techs by offering a few tools to get them through the Christmas holiday visits with family.

The first thing to do when sitting down at a sick PC is to learn something about it. Go to the Start button, and choose search. Type in “System Information.” It will give you an option to click for system information.

The report that comes up on the screen tells you a lot of information. What you are concerned with is the operating system, amount of memory and processor.

If it is an XP machine, diplomatically wash your hands of it. Explain that XP last shipped PCs in June 2008. Their PC is now at least 6 years old and maybe as old as 13. It would be far more economical to purchase a new computer, than upgrade their existing one, if that is even possible. At this point, tell them you have to limit your help to helping them choose a new computer.

If all they do is get email and web surf, nudge them in the direction of a Chromebook. With Chromebooks, you do not have to worry about backups or viruses.

If they can’t afford the $200, a minimal PC will cost, let them know where they can get free computer access, such as at the library. Trying to maintain an XP machine is soul-suckingly awful. If you must, you can run some of the processes I’ll describe later.

If it is Windows Vista PC with at least a 1ghz processor and a couple gigabytes of memory, you could help them buy a copy of Windows 8 and install it. Or, they can wait a year to see what the system requirements of Windows 10 are going to be, and then either upgrade to it if their PC allows or purchase a new machine.

If they have Windows 7 or 8, and are having problems, then there are things you can do to help.

The first thing to do is backup their files. Login as each of the accounts on the PC and use File Explorer and navigate to their c:\users folder. Right click it, and choose Properties to find out how big it is.

For most people who primarily use their computers for email and web surfing, the contents on their hard drives are usually very small. Most often, smaller than an affordable 16 or 32 gigabyte USB drive.

Buy them one of the drives, and backup the contents of their c:\users folder. You will need to login as an administrator, or login as each user on the PC and copy their c:\users\their_name folder individually.

If you do nothing else for your family member, do the following. Most likely they are not backing up anything, ever. For about $10 you can save them should things truly go south. Leave them the USB drive so they don’t worry about you being nefarious with their files, but tell them not to do anything with it. It is only for you to use when visiting.

Before you leave for your relatives, go to and download some utilities to your own USB drive. Ninite is about the only safe download site left. Get a copy of the Chrome browser, and under security, Essentials, Malwarebytes, and Spybot 2. Under Utilities, get WinDirStat.

Check to see if they have an antivirus software installed. If not, install the Microsoft Essentials you downloaded from Ninite.

Reboot the computer to Safe Mode and run a virus scan, and after a MalwareBytes run and Spybot 2 scan. These can take time, so start it fairly soon after arriving, and let them know the computer is off limits until they are done.

If things are still flaky after you run these scans, byte the bullet and do a restore.

The column mentioning this column will appear online Saturday, November 14, 2015 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will here on on this blog.

It is available before in the November 13th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, November 12th in the afternoon.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tips for shooting and editing family videos - November 6, 2015

Last week, we talked about interviewing family members with a story to tell. This week, let’s talk about how to make a good video of the interview. Surprisingly, we can do a good job with just our smartphone.

Even if you do not want to record a family member’s memories, there might be times you will want to shoot a short video interview. Whenever I watch a reality show about a family, I always enjoy the interviews with the small children, and their unfiltered answers.

What a delight it will be for the parents long after the show goes off the air to have these memories. How fun it will be to show some of them at their wedding reception one day. We can interview our own children at different points of their lives or after major events. Talk to them a week after a vacation to find out what memories stuck. After a major family event, such as a wedding, interview them about their understanding and feelings about the event.

One of the favorite things I do when I video a wedding, is a pre-wedding interview done separately with the bride and groom.

The first thing to know about shooting a video with your camera is to hold the phone horizontally. Vertical videos look odd, while horizontal videos look more like the aspect ratio we are used to from television.

Also, a horizontal format lets you shoot two people side by side easier and more naturally.

While you can hold the camera, it is best if the camera were steady. You can mount your phone on a small tripod for stability.

In this week’s Link Post at, I link a number of tabletop tripods for cell phones. Most are under $10. And there are cell phone holders that will mount on a traditional tripod you might already own.

You can use the StoryCorp app we talked about last week or you can use the camera app on your phone, set to video to shoot the video.

You can set the camera a little out of the subject’s line of sight so they are not constantly reminded they are being videoed.

If your subject worries about rambling, assume them you can edit the account later if needed.

Your camera should pick up the sound adequately. A quiet room is essential. Go off to a private room or wait until the house is empty to conduct the interview.

It is important to test your setup before the person you want to interview arrives. Setup the camera as you’d like it and hold a practice interview with another person. When you play it back, check lighting, focus, composition and the sound to make sure it will be adequate. You would hate to shoot a compelling interview with horrible production values detracting from the story you are telling.

The interviewer should be willing to ask follow-up questions, but needs to concentrate on listening closely first.

Editing the video afterwards can take out awkward moments, interruptions, off topic discussions and just tighten up the interview. Also, some graphics can help with the storytelling. Perhaps photos found on the web in the public domain that show what the place and period was like that the subject is talking about.

Also, introductory titles are always useful.

There are free video-editing programs available that are easy to use. Mac users have iMovie included with their Macs. Microsoft Movie Maker is good for Windows 7 and 8. It is a little trickier for Windows 10 users. Movie Maker is not supported for Windows 10 and Microsoft has yet to release a free editor for it. is an online video editor that will work for this purpose.

Once you are done shooting the video, you can broach the subject of sharing it, if you haven’t already. Assure the subject their name does not have to be associated with the upload. Interviewers can be careful during the interview to make sure the person’s name is not used or can edit it out later.

Once the video is complete, you can upload it directly using the StoryCorp app. Or you can edit it on your computer and upload it to StoryCorp via their website. Or to Youtube if you want to share with the world or only those people you designate.

To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below.

Links for this week's column.

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Links for Tips for shooting and editing family videos - November 6, 2015

This column will appear online Saturday, November 7, 2015 at 9 AM EST.

When it is posted, it will be on this blog.

It is available before in the November 6th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, November 5th in the afternoon.

Last Week's column about capturing memories at Thanksgiving

Amazon selection of tripods for Cell Phones

iMovie video editor for Mac

MovieMaker video editor for Windows 7 & 8

WeVideo online video editor