Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon Prime)

It's not The Wire, Deadwood, Justified, or Nobel, and it has no violence, but if you find intriguing the world of  F Scott Fitzgerald, and the Great Gatsby, and enjoy wonderful photography, well done casting and script, delightful characters, and a quick moving plot, then you will enjoy Z on Amazon Prime, where it's free.

Link to Z on Amazon

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It ... Every Time by Maria Konnikova (2017) Part 2

[Prefatory Note: This book was reviewed in an earlier post after having reached the half-way point. Having now finished the book, here are some additional review comments. It's not the best written book ever, but it's a truly informative and eye-opening read. In many ways, it parallels the lessons of Michael Lewis's recent book, but in a far more understandable and gripping way]

The second half of the book goes through confidence scheme after confidence scheme and explores the many principles that make them work. Unfortunately, it comes a bit of a sensory overload for those of us who would prefer to have the maximum three principles we are capable of remembering. Still, some of the principles manage to stick:

1. Each of us thinks of ourselves as exceptional (the Lake Wobegon Effect), elevating our supposed  strengths and diminishing our hypothesized shortcomings. This heightens the chance any of us can be conned.

2. That same inflated exceptionalism works to avoid ever admitting that one’s been conned. “I wasn’t conned. I’m too smart to have been conned.” Anyone mention the fierce loyalty of Trump’s supporters?

3. Citing the work on the law of small numbers by the two cognitive psychologists featured in Michael Lewis’s most recent book, if you believe in the fallacy of the hot hand in basketball, you have fallen for a con. Not that players can’t sink quite a few shots in a row, or that a fund manager cannot have out-sized returns for a while, but to bet that their odds of prevailing on the next shot or next investment is better than the odds of a fair coin having come up heads for the past 10 flips coming up heads again, is just the kind of belief in good outcomes that enables con artists to be so successful.

4. Two principles you likely know—dissonance theory and the fallacy of the sunk cost—but likely never associated with cons clearly are. They explain in great measure how people re-write the history of choices they’ve made to try to avoid the clear fact that they have made a wrong decision.

5. The tenacious, yet faulty, belief that one has a viable exit strategy to protect against the down-side of a possible con, a lever that rarely if ever gets pulled—e.g., “I’ll sell if the stock/market drops 5%.”

6. If you think you’ve never been conned or can’t be, then you likely headed for the hills before the dot.com bust in 2000 and the housing bust in 2008. Put another way, there is no fundamental difference between a con and a bubble.

Bottom Line: Cons don’t work because people are too stupid to see the truth. Cons work because people want them to be the truth. They (we) want to be in a better place. And that explains what some people say might be the biggest and most prolific con of all—the promise of salvation and ever-lasting life, which all will agree is a con when practiced by money-grubbing pseudo-evangelists and their shady ministries or a brain-washing cult, but which some say is not a con when practiced by seemingly proper ministers and mainstream churches.

*     *     *

Sneak Preview of Letter to Be Published by Arizona Republic

Although declined by the Financial Times and New York Times, the Arizona Republic has the good sense to be publishing the following letter:

Subject: Stand Up to Trump by Staying Home

            Protesting each new policy announced by Trump or each new coercive threat he makes to compel companies to bend to his will are salutary and to be embraced under our first amendment (which itself is under assault). But protests should be just the first step, a rallying cry, which, to have impact, should be followed on immediately with boycotts. For example, if airlines continue to agree to abide Trump’s immigration ban, boycott the airlines; if Carrier and Ford say they will cave into Trump’s bullying instead of doing what is best for their companies and their customers, boycott Carrier and Ford; if Uber refuses to join taxis in a strike, boycott Uber; and if a mayor agrees to end sanctuary city status rather than stand up to Trump’s fulminations, boycott Miami. In short, it is one thing to have a shouting match with Trump—which Trump seems to relish, but quite another to raise the stakes for those who refuse to stand up to him—which Trump has yet to face.  Thus, a day or two of the world’s standing up to Trump by staying home should put an end to his outrageous directives and teach Trump a lesson that he needs to learn.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Bridget Jones's Baby (2016)

The opening scene is not bad. It's got a funny twist to it. It's over in a couple of minutes though. And then the rest of the movie, at least the rest of the first half of the movie, is a real snooze. It's over-acted and under-written. Trying to be R-rated in some its language does not save it, and adding supposed cute kids in dance scenes does not either. Ultimately, the story line is akin to the most-often stories told on the worst day-time television shows under the rubric of  "whose my daddy," but those episodes gratefully end in 10 minutes while this movie drones on. It might be tolerable if you're locked into an airplane flying to Kartoum, but if you watch it on Amazon, it's not even free yet. No matter how endearing you find Renee Zellweger, and who doesn't, this is not her great come back.

IMDb to Bridget Jones's Baby

Pork on a Fork (Various Phoenix Locations)

First, as to the two most important things when it comes to restaurants: (i) parking is okay but it's in effect the most crowded part of the Fry's parking lot which seem populated with poor drivers; and (ii) ambient noise is not a problem especially if you do the food to go and do your pick up right when it opens at 11 a.m. As to that other factor people seem to care about in restaurants, the food, it's fair at best. On the other hand, the people behind the counter are extremely nice and very customer oriented, at least when you are the only customer in the place.

Link to Pork on a Fork Website

Frank & Albert's (Phoenix Biltmore) for Breakfast

If you want a nice place to do a special weekday breakfast in Phoenix, Frank & Albert's at the Biltmore is not a bad choice. First, as to the two most important things when it comes to restaurants: (i) parking is not a problem especially if you walk there (if you drive, park in the golf course parking lot); and (ii) ambient noise is not a problem especially if you eat on the outside patio and do not sit to close to a very loud couple with a barking dog. Second, the food is good, but here's the key: Unless you insist on having pancakes or eggs benedict, go with the buffet. You will end up paying as much as $10 less per person and it's a very nice buffet with a good selection.

Link to Frank & Albert's Website

PS: An investigation is underway to determine if the restaurant is named for Frank Lloyd Wright who did not design the Biltmore and Albert Einstein who also did not design the Biltmore.

Why Print Newspapers Are in Trouble

[Courtesy of a Loyal Reader]

Print newspapers are facing ever increasing costs and declining readerships, which puts enormous financial strain on them. Here is one loyal reader's suggestion for how they, especially the NYTimes, might save costs: Fire their headline writers which would save money run the same headline every day from now on (which would have the added benefit of avoiding less accurate headlines) :

“Trump Takes Racist, Offensive, Self-Serving Action While Hypocritical 'Moderate' Republicans Continue to Dither.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Nobel: The End

There's one problem with Nobel (on Netflix). It ends with Episode 8. Unlike the Night Manager which went downhill as it went on and The Night Of that not only went downhill but had a terrible last episode, Nobel gets better as it goes on, and, Episode 8 actually draws things together so that much of what confused you becomes clearer. All in all, it's a great last episode.

Black Box Chardonnay

If you think wine-in-the-box is to be eschewed, you haven't tried Black Box. Our Wine and Spirits Professionals (WASPS) have not had the pleasure of tasting all the vintages Black Box grows, harvests, ferments, and boxes, but they are pleased to note that Black Box Chardonnay compares favorably with wines far more expensive, and even rivals Yellow Tail Chardonnay on an overall price/taste basis. And it's shape makes for far more efficient storage in your refrigerator or wine cellar than wine in a bottle.

Image result for black box chardonnay

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Best Windows Free Security Software

This link will take you to the categories and from there the list of the best free security software for Windows computers: Link to Security Software

Here is what the Link will look like:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Nobel PS

Having now since Episodes 2 through 4, we reiterate our recommendation to watch Nobel on Netflix. You might not understand every scene, and if you haven't played the Afghanistan game with the dead goat on horseback, you might not enjoy it as much as those of us who have. But, it's a really an amazingly terrific series. Indeed, it's mesmerizing. And it's just perfectly done from the casting to the photography to the story to the intrigue.

Video Calling

For the same reason some people cling to their guns and bibles, many people cling to their iPhones thinking they are necessary for making video phone calls. While it is true that, because Apple has a locked architecture, Apple's Facetime App works only on iPhones. But there are many apps to make video calls between iPhones and Androids as long as the iPhone user has installed one of these apps. You can read all about it in the two cited references, but Facebook Messenger and Google's Dup are thought by many to be Facetime killers.

Link to Six Ways to Make iPhone/Android Video Calls

Link to Google's Facetime Killer: Duo

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Using Google Maps to Order Uber

[Courtesy of cnet]

Figuring out the fastest way to get to your destination just got a lot easier. Google Maps has added car hailing to its list of transportation method options, which means you can order an Uber without leaving the app.
Next time you have somewhere to go, don't bother opening the Uber app. As long as your apps are up-to-date and you're logged in to your Uber account, you should have the new ride-hailing option as soon as you open the Google Maps app.

How to order an Uber with Google Maps

Search for, or type in, your destination and map it out as usual. Once you see your route, swipe right on the transportation options on the top of the screen until you come across the stick figure holding a briefcase and select.
This will prompt a pop-up screen on the bottom showing price estimates and wait times for both Uber and Lyft. And though both show up as results, for now only Uber lets you complete the transaction without leaving the Maps app.
Click on the Uber tab at the top. The interface is not exactly what you're used to seeing in the Uber app, but you still have the same basic options for comparing prices and wait times. Next, select your ride type (Pool, UberX, Uber XL, Select, Black or SUV) and click request.
This will prompt you to select a payment method. It defaults to the card on file for your Uber account, but you can easily add a different one or even use Android Pay if you have it set up on your phone.
If you've already linked Uber to your Google account, you should see the tiny car icon making its way to you as soon as you hit the "Book it" button on the bottom right. If not, you'll see a pop-up screen prompting you to do so before you book.
Once your driver is en route you can contact him or her directly from Google Maps or cancel your ride. You'll still be notified when the car arrives, and the actual ride is exactly the same.
The only thing you may still have to use the Uber app for is to rate your driver after the ride.
And if you need more incentive to book via Google Maps, Uber is currently offering a $15 credit toward your first ride using Maps for both Android and iOS users. In the UK, the credit is £20

Grass Roots Kitchen & Tap (Phoenix)

Grass Roots should be added to your Phoenix restaurant list for lunch or dinner just for the excellent close-in non-valet parking and the totally acceptable noise level. Its pleasant decor is matched by its pleasant food, which actually is quite good and not ordinary. Most of its offerings seem to have special touches and flairs and presentations, but nothing is overdone. The blackened fish is delicious, the coleslaw is quite good as are the french fries. The service is excellent without any obsequiousness, and one's iced tea or water is timely re-filled. Finally, the prices are reasonable.  

Link to Grass Roots Website and Menu

HP Notebook Battery Recall

HP just issued another battery recall program for various notebooks (aka laptops) sold over the past 4 years. If you have an affected battery, HP recommends that you stop using it immediately, and HP will send you a new free battery. Here is the link by which you can determine if your notebook has an affected battery: Link to Check HP Battery Recall

[Note: If running the check does not seem to work in Chrome, past the link into Internet Explorer and the check should run fine]

Hotel Thermostats Really Are Rigged to Mess With You and Save Hotels Money

[Courtesy of the WSJ (Jan. 26)

Image result for hotel rooms
Hotel rooms don’t get hot enough or cold enough. Ventilation shuts off in the middle of the night. The thermostat says 72 but your sweaty brow says 78. It’s not your imagination. Hotel thermostats often aren’t under your control.
Unknowing guests around the world are left to push thermostats up and down in vain. Fixing the problem requires a degree—or six or seven—as well as a bit of a mischievous streak. “I can’t tell you how many times I have awakened sweating bullets at 3 a.m. and the a/c was off,” says Houston finance and accounting consultant Jay Callahan.
Clever, clammy travelers have started resisting, scouring thermostat manuals to uncover secret overrides of the override. One Tumblr blog, thermostatbypass, collects bypass instructions. Travelers have posted YouTube videos on various thermostat models. A Disney hotel discussion board also has thermostat bypass instructions. On some Inncom thermostats, for example, hold down Display then tap Off then tap the Up arrow. That puts the unit in VIP mode, giving control back to the occupant.
A spokesman for Inncom’s parent company Honeywell International Inc. says even though the override capability has been made public, “we have not seen widespread use of it by guests.” Hotels continue to set bypasses for guests’ desired temperature on request, he said.
The humble hotel wall thermostat, once just a mechanical temperature sensor and fan-speed switch, has become an infrared heat and motion detector wirelessly networked into building controls that cut costs by reducing energy consumption. Many are tied to door switches, shutting off when people leave the room or even open a window or balcony door.
Sensors can be fooled by sound sleepers and erroneously shut off air in the middle of the night. Guests wake up and realize a quick wave of the arm will bring back A/C. Hotels acknowledge this happens. They also say lack of cleaning and maintenance can render many hotel thermostats inaccurate by as much as 20%.
Overall, hotels say new systems increase guest comfort and reduce costs. Some can measure and adjust humidity in a room. Limiting how far guests can push thermostats reduces maintenance expenses (sometimes making a room too cold can freeze up air-conditioning condensers). And new room control systems, which have become much more affordable for hotels, comply with tougher energy-conservation building codes around the country and sometimes qualify for tax rebates.
“When it comes to thermostats, the world has evolved,” says Randy Gaines, Hilton’s vice president operations and new project development for the Americas.
Hilton’s goal is for simple, passive control so guests will be comfortable without playing with the thermostat. “We’re getting far fewer complaints than we used to years ago,” he says.
The New York Hilton has a system that keeps unoccupied rooms at 78 degrees and then automatically sets the thermostat to 74 when a guest checks in. The system cools the room down in about 5 minutes. Companywide, new temperature control systems have helped Hilton reduce energy use by 14% since 2009.
Thermostat big-brothering is a sensitive subject for some hotel companies. InterContinental Hotels Group, which includes Kimpton, Holiday Inn and other brands, was lukewarm to discussing its energy policy. “This topic isn’t a fit right now,” a spokeswoman says.
Steve Torbett, a product manager from Charlotte who has spent 30 years on the road, keeps track of which hotels he stays in that use motion sensors on thermostats and refuses to book them in the future. His worst experience was in Miami a couple of years ago where a thermostat shut off air so frequently he woke up five times. “The timer was pretty short and it was just miserable waking up about every hour and having to wave your arms around,’’ he says.
Mr. Torbett says he has had to hunt down override codes less frequently because some hotels are getting better at programming the devices. On the flip side, some newer thermostats block unauthorized overrides.
Tim Fountain, who spends 150 nights a year in hotels managing sales for a technology company, thinks central limits imposed by hotels make it harder to get rooms to desired temperatures. He carries a travel alarm clock with a thermometer and says 30% of the rooms he has been in have thermostats that misreport room temperature. Worst case: a thermostat that said it was 65 when it was really 72.
“It just gets to be silly,’’ he says.
Hotel consultants and owners say that more than half of all hotel and motel rooms have heating/air-conditioning units mounted on an exterior wall, called Package Terminal Air Conditioning or PTAC. They are notoriously noisy and nicknamed wall-bangers in the industry. If the units aren’t cleaned monthly and switches and controls well maintained, their temperature sensing can be inaccurate by 12% to 20%, says Greg Posmantur, chief executive of JYI Hospitality Management & Consultants, of Cypress, Texas.
“If it’s a limited-service hotel, you’re often dealing with tight budgets,” and units may not get cleaned frequently, he says.
Hotels are retrofitting wireless wall thermostats and door switches in some rooms now that devices are cheaper to buy. The advantage is that they can be centrally controlled. Guests may still fiddle with old knobs on the PTAC units, but it won’t get cooler or warmer. “We can read the room’s temperature and comfort, find out when you come, find out when you go and we can control it,” Mr. Gaines says.
Robert Rauch, a hotel owner and consultant from San Diego, says he has thermostat problems himself on the road. He sets thermostats to 66 to find the minimum temperature the hotel allows, usually 68 or 69.
“Our hotels allow guests to go down to 65, but lots of hotels are only 68 to 70,” says Mr. Rauch, chief executive of RAR Hospitality. His company manages 23 hotels, including in Phoenix and San Diego.
Thermostat issues don’t rank high in Expedia or TripAdvisor hotel complaints. But some travelers are plenty hot. A reviewer of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Northeast in Wichita, Kan., complained of having to get up and wave at the thermostat. “This is a horrible way to treat a guest.” The hotel responded saying the thermostat vendor “assured us that this will not be a problem.” But after the complaint, the hotel decided to disable the motion sensors. In an interview, the manager said the hotel hasn’t had thermostat complaints since.
Hilton’s Mr. Gaines says most often when motion and heat sensors aren’t picking up guests it’s a programming problem—hotels haven’t set the systems to be sensitive enough. “We do have, with technology, a lot more room for errors if we don’t program properly,” he says.
Mr. Callahan, the Houston-based frequent traveler, says he thinks hotels set thermostats in the summer to show temperatures lower than they actually are. He sets his home thermostat at 72, but typically sets hotel rooms at 67 just to get the same cooling, and hunts for bypass instructions online.
“They’re trying to fool you,” he says. “Some of these places rig the thing so you cannot get to the temperature you like.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Nobel (2016 on Netflix)

[Watched on a tip by a loyal reader who said it's excellent but he usually has no clue what he's talking about, but, based on Episode 1 of Season 1, he's right on this one]

If you speak Norwegian, you will like it even more, but even if not, if you can read English sub-titles, you will find Nobel compelling. All of the characters are real, neither exaggerated nor under-stated, the photography is fabulous, the dialogue is perfect, and the direction is tight. That is not to say you necessarily will understand everything that is happening at the moment because it surely is a bit confusing, but that won't bother you, because you will find yourself gripped to see what happens next. It's set in part in a world of violence, but the violence is so well handled and so sublime that it neither intrudes, offends, or shocks. This is truly art, that explores politics like no other form or format can (indeed, it confirms that are media are incompetent amateurs). Enjoy!!!!

IMDb Link to Nobel

Oh Those Wacky Dutch

We don't do politics here, but we were asked to judge a contest held at the United Nations for the best international reaction to recent political events in the United States. After reviewing more than 120 submissions, our Commentary and Review Panel (CARP), gave the top prize to the Dutch submission. Here it is: Link to Winning Commentary by the Dutch

Plumbing Tip for Kitchen Sinks in Older Homes and Tip on Phoenix Plumber to Use

While you might have a disposal that is new and strong, if the pipe it drains into is old and particularly if it's galvanized, you should take some special precautions. Specifically, the less food scraps you put into the disposal and the more you put them into the garbage bin the better. Many foods, including even egg shells, get finely ground in the disposal and end up like sand that doesn't just clog the drain, but actually adheres to the drain's walls shrinking its diameter. Also as a best practice, every three days you should fill the sink with warm water and run the disposal until it empties, which is the best prophylactic way to avoid expensive drain pipe replacement, especially if the drain pipe goes into a concrete floor or block wall. If your sink becomes clogged, especially in an old house, you should call an experienced and trusted plumber instead of one of the commercial Roto-Rooter services. Doing so usually will save you money (Roto-Rooter reps work on commission and will tend to do more than is needed at greater cost and will not instruct you in best practices) and get you better service. In Phoenix, your best bet is Tyson Mustain at 623-512-5874.

If you are unfamiliar with what a kitchen sink disposal system looks like, this should help:

Image result for kitchen sink plumbing with disposal

If you are unfamiliar with what a clogged kitchen sink looks like, this should help:

Image result for kitchen sink clogged

If you are unfamiliar with what someone looks like after the plumber unclogs a kitchen sink, this should help:

Image result for happy smiley face

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Call Protect From AT&T

[Thanks to a tip from a loyal reader]

AT&T Call Protect offers more control over nuisance calls. This free service is provided through the AT&T network and features automatic fraud call blocking and suspected spam call warnings, as well as manual temporary call blocking through the optional AT&T Call Protect app. It's free but it will work only on relatively recent vintage smart phones. So, if you have an iPhone 5, Call Protect will not work on it, which should provide one great impetus to switch to a Samsung Galaxy S5 or higher on all of which Call Protect will work.

PS: If you call AT&T for any technical support, you will discover that AT&T has gone to a new voice-command answering tree that likely will win the award for WORST answering tree in the world. You might consider asking President Trump to look into the matter so that he can do his thing to make AT&T great again. In the meantime, if you need technical support, say "technical support" (without the quotes) at the first prompt, then say "voice mail" at the second prompt (without the quotes), and then, if there are any more prompts, just keep hitting 0.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Select Auto Body (Phoenix) and a Lesson in Erroneous Causation Thinking

Even when they are not making up alternative facts and alternative realities, or just plain dissembling, Fox News in general and Republicans in particular base their arguments on faulty notions of causation. Specifically, they confuse correlation with causation and, as long as someone or group they don't like precedes some event or condition they don't like, they find cause for blame. For example, Obama's stimulus program preceded the country's 2% economic growth rate so, as they see it, the stimulus program is the reason the growth rate was not higher.  

Well, suppose you let your spouse drive your car. After she brings it back, it has two small scratch marks that were not there before. If you do not understand causation, you might be likely to blame her for the scratch marks. But, if you take the car to Select Auto Body, which is by far the best auto body shop in Phoenix--they're geniuses and true artisans and really nice people--you will learn that the scratches were made by a cat, and they will even buff them out for free and refuse to take any tip. Unlike Fox News and the Republicans, when your flawed attribution of causation is uncovered, at least have the character to admit and atone accordingly.

Link to Select Auto Body Web Site

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fry's (Phoenix): Two Things

1. Fry's meat department outside the meat counter is not the best. But at the meat counter, there are some terrific deals. They have Ahi tuna portions at $3.99@ and Prime NY steaks at $13.99/lb. They also have huge delicious shrimp at $1.99@.

2. The bakery is weird. But behind the bagel cabinet is the bollio roll cabinet, and they are 33 cents each and they are delicious and soft and make great rolls for Prime NY steak sandwiches.

Music Player That Displays Song Lyrics

If you enjoy music with song lyrics, you probably have tried Musixmatch Lyrics as it has a huge collection of song lyrics in its database accessible online. It is convenient to use Musixmatch but not without some disadvantages, like some lyrics may not be available from its database for certain songs you like, and the app does not offer reading the lyrics you have.
The good news is there another free option to fill up the gap. Grab this great music player for lyrics Medoly. It is free and reads your local lyrics, either saved separately in lyrics text files or embedded in mp3 files on your mobile device, with no Internet connection required. Both synced and unsynced lyrics are pure text, easily editable with some MP3 Tag Editors and embedded in mp3 files, with synced lyrics commonly using this frame id “SYLT” and unsynced lyrics “USLT”. Not many music players offer reading synced lyrics embeded in mp3 files, despite they do unsynced lyrics. Melody not only offers it, and does it well.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ballet in New Mexico

As our loyal readers likely know, this blog has received the highest critical acclaim and many awards for its reviews of various art genres. What might not be known is that we also support the arts in several other ways. One way we do this is by scouting for new talent and, when we find it, we take the person under our wing and personally attend to the training and all other aspects of the talent's life. Here is our latest success, which also just happens to be the God-daughter of the Director of our Creative Arts Department (CAD). She has danced the part of Clara in the Santa Fe production of the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet Company's last two season's performance of the Nutcracker, and likely will do so again this year, so this Xmas, head to Santa Fe and take in the show: Link to Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet Company Ticket Sales  This is she, and it's not photo-shopped:

Correcting This Error: "Unfortunately the process com.android.systemui has stopped"

If you push on the Home button to bring up the device manager or to see what apps are open, you might have just found it not to work and, instead, this message comes up: "Unfortunately the process com.android.systemui has stopped." The villain is an update Google pushed to its Google App. If you go to your Application Manager, tap on Google, and tap on Uninstall Updates which will revert the device to the factory version of Google App, your Home button should work again. It is hoped Google will undo its update in its next pushed update.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Postage Stamp Price Increase

On January 22, postage stamps are going up to 49 cents from 47 cents. So, unless you consider saving money a waste of time, you might consider going online at usps.com to buy Forever stamps at 47 cents on or before Saturday January 21.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Third-Party Apps

Apps from the Google Play and Apple iTunes stores are safe from infections. Some third-party apps are safe from infections. Unfortunately, some are not. There is one way to be certain you are not installing an infected app: Do not install any third-party apps. Your phone and table will have a default setting that won't allow you to install third-party apps unless you check a box that turns off that security feature. But if you are going to install any third-party apps, be sure to take some cautionary steps first as explained here: Link to Safety Measures to Take Before Installing Third-Party Apps

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Caution re Very Tricky Phishing Scam

You get an email from one of your contacts. It looks like the real thing and sounds like it came from someone you know. Click the attachment and you're taken to a site where you are prompted to re-enter your Gmail credentials. If you didn't check the whole URL, you just gave away your account information. Details on this scam are in the link below if you want a more in-depth look. 

Explanatory Link

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Home Wi-Fi Systems

[Courtesy of cnet]

Why 'traditional' routers often disappoint

A powerful router's Wi-Fi signal can be strong enough to cover approximately a 3,000-square-foot home, but only if it's placed right in the middle of the house. This is because the signal spreads out equally from the router's location. Most people, however, place the router at the service line (DSL, cable and so on) drop, which is usually in one corner of the house. In the end, half of the router's Wi-Fi coverage is actually outside of the house, leaving the farthest part of the home uncovered.
Home Wi-Fi systems such as Google WifiNetgear OrbiEeroAlmond 3 and Portal -- also known as home mesh networks -- are designed to solve this problem. Instead of just one router, they come in two, three or even more units, allowing you to blanket your home with Wi-Fi.
But Wi-Fi systems aren't perfect. Before you invest in one, consider these pros and cons.

Wi-Fi systems CNET has worked with

Set unitsMobile appWeb interfaceAccount requiredSignal lossHandoffPrice
Almond 33YesYesRequired for certain functionsYesOK$400
Google Wifi3YesNoYesYesExcellent$300
Netgear Orbi2YesYesOptionalNoExcellent$400
Linksys Velop3YesNoYesMinorExcellent$500

Why Wi-Fi systems work

These are the benefits you can expect from a Wi-Fi system.

Custom Wi-Fi coverage

Not only will you get expanded coverage with a Wi-Fi system, you can also tailor the Wi-Fi signal according to the shape of your home by placing the extra units where they're needed.
Generally, each unit can be placed as far as 30 to 50 feet from the last (one or two rooms apart). So if you have one long property, a set of three hardware units in a daisy-chain setup will deliver signal from one end to another. And with most Wi-Fi systems, you can expand your coverage by buying and adding more units.

They're easy to use

If you can use a smartphone and have plugged something into a wall socket before, you then can set up a Wi-Fi system.
All Wi-Fi systems are dead-simple to use -- at least those I've worked with, anyway. Usually, you can use your phone -- not a clunky web interface -- to set up the first unit and connect it to an internet source like your broadband modem. After that, all you have to do is place the rest of the units around the house and plug them into power outlets. And that's it.

They are frequently updated

Most Wi-Fi systems are managed by vendors and get regular software update to improve their performance, features and security. Even those that are not connected to a vendor also get automatic firmware updates to address any issues that might arise. So getting a Wi-Fi system means you won't need to worry whether your home network is up to date with regard to security or updating (commonly known as "flashing") the firmware yourself. And at times, you might even get a pleasant surprise when a new feature is added or the performance is suddenly greatly improved.
The Google Wifi is currently the most affordable Wi-Fi system I'd recommend.Photo by Josh Miller/CNET

The caveats

There are a few concerns that one might have about using a Wi-Fi system. They are not necessarily applicable to every system, and I will explain how to mitigate or eliminate each one, when possible.

They're expensive

Wi-Fi systems are generally expensive. Currently, the most affordable option I'd recommend is Google Wifi, which is still pricey at $300 for a set of three units.
What you're paying for here is convenience -- not higher-tier Wi-Fi. Google Wifi, like many other Wi-Fi systems, uses a relatively low-tier Wi-Fi standard oftentimes being AC1200, which is a dual-band, dual-stream (2 x 2) system that has top the speed of 867 megabit per second on the 5GHz band and 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. In short, it's quite low on the performance chart and generally used by routers in the $50 range. So, if you know how to link three routers together manually, a mesh network-like setup will only cost you $150. However, in this case, it will take a lot more effort. So yes, with Wi-Fi systems, you pay for the convenience and ease of use.

Privacy risks

This doesn't apply to all Wi-Fi systems, but many of them are required to be connected to the vendor at all times to function properly. In fact, you can't even manage your home network without logging into an account with the vendor first. Examples of systems that require this are Google Wifi, the Eero, and the Plume. Some of those that don't are the Netgear Orbi or the Portal.
Keep in mind that most other home routers don't need to connect to vendors to work. Having your home network connected to the vendor at all times means the vendor potentially could be monitoring all that's going on in your network, including internet traffic. All vendors say that they don't collect user's activities as websites you visit and so on. But no vendor can give absolute assurance that they won't be hacked, either.
That said, for vendor-connected Wi-Fi systems, make your choice based on how much you trust the vendor.

Slow Wi-Fi speed

This is mainly due to two reasons, signal loss and signal degradation.
Signal loss is phenomenon that takes place when a Wi-Fi signal is extended wirelessly. In this case the signal hops from the main router unit to a satellite unit. This secondary unit will then have to do two jobs at once: receive the Wi-Fi signal from the original router and then rebroadcast it. And when the device uses the same band for these two jobs, it loses 50 percent efficiency, meaning devices connected to the main router unit will have double the real-world speed compared to those connected to a second satellite unit.
If you use three units and daisy-chain them sequentially to extend the signal farther in one direction, devices connected to the third unit will further suffer in speed -- up to four times slower than those connected to the main router. The more units you use farther from the main one, the more the speed will degrade. A few Wi-Fi systems on the market don't suffer from this phenomenon, however, like the Netgear Orbi or the Linksys Velop and more are coming soon, which don't have signal loss if you use no more than two units.
But all systems suffer from signal degradation, which happens when you place the satellite unit more than 20 or 30 feet away from the main router unit. This happens because Wi-Fi signal generally gets worse the farther away from the broadcaster.
This makes it tricky to use a Wi-Fi system; if you place a satellite unit close to the main router unit to maintain the speed, it doesn't help much with the range. But if you place it too far, the range is great but there's not much signal from the original broadcaster to extend, so the real-world speed will suffer.
Most systems help users find out where it's best to place the satellite units via the mobile app, but they tend to favor range over speed. To find the best balance, you'll need to test the speed of your local Wi-Fi network during the setup process.
That said, unless you're having weekly LAN parties, frequently transferring files between computers in your home, or you have a Gigabit-class internet connection, the signal loss and degradation won't matter much since Wi-Fi is so much faster than most residential broadband connections anyway. Generally, if your internet speed is 200Mbps or less, chances are a Wi-Fi system (with no more than three units) can still deliver it in full most of the time. But if you have faster internet speed or need a fast local wireless network, a Wi-Fi system generally won't cut it.
To mitigate the speed problem you can try placing the satellite units around the first router unit. And to eliminate it completely, connect the units using network cables. But if you choose this option, you'd lose the convenience factor.
The Netgear Orbi doesn't suffer from signal loss if you use the original set of two units.Photo by Dong Ngo/CNET

Signal handoff

When you use multiple broadcasters, a connected mobile device like an iPad is supposed to automatically and seamlessly move from one to another as you move it around the house. This is called signal handoff. If you have a Wi-Fi system with excellent signal handoff, you will experience no disconnection when this transition takes place. But a system with bad handoff will cause interruption for applications that require a constant connection such as Wi-Fi calling or online games, when you're moving around the house.

Lack of features and settings. Also: Not future-proof

All Wi-Fi systems I've reviewed, except for the Netgear Orbi, have a very limited number of features and settings that let you customize your network. Most of the time, Wi-Fi systems have just one or two features -- mostly for prioritizing connections and parental controls -- and that's it. If you're used to deep customization of your network, or like to have a web interface -- the way things are with traditional routers -- you'll find most Wi-Fi system very lacking. On top of that, most systems have just one LAN port on one each unit, so if you want to hook up wired devices (like servers or a desktop computers) you will definitely need to resort to switches.
What's more important is, once you've gone with a Wi-Fi system, you're stuck with it. There's no easy way to upgrade the hardware of such a system. So, if at some point you're no longer happy with either your Wi-Fi speed or the feature set, you will need a new system entirely.

The alternative

Wi-Fi systems will be here to stay. This is because they are set to solve the biggest problem in home Wi-Fi: coverage. That said, it's expected that you will soon find even more options that might have better performance and more features -- and the cost might go down, too.
One thing for sure, though: the best alternative to Wi-Fi systems is to run network cables to certain parts of your home. In this scenario, you have one main router, with all the features you want, and more access points (or routers in access point mode) around the house that connect to it via network cables. That's the best way to have both fast performance and the most features at the lowest cost. Obviously, this tends to require a lot of work or even a major remodeling of your home.