New Vulnerability – STOP using Internet Explorer on Windows XP

Seriously, you've got to stop using Internet Explorer if you are running Windows XP.

Seriously, you’ve got to stop using Internet Explorer if you are running Windows XP.

As I predicted in my recent articles about “The End of Windows XP” (part 1, part 2, part 3), the Internet Explorer browser that is part of Windows XP would be the most vulnerable part of the operating system now that Microsoft has officially ended support. I strongly advised that people should stop using Internet Explorer and switch to another web browser such as Google Chrome. Hopefully you have heeded my advice because a new vulnerability has been made public that effects every version of Internet Explorer ever made, including the now unsupported version of Internet Explorer 8 that runs on Windows XP.

Microsoft Security Advisory 2963983 details the vulnerability called CVE-2014-1776. It basically allows attackers to run code on your computer, which can potentially give them access to do malicious things to or with your computer.

If you are using Windows XP, please take action to install and use a different web browser immediately. Unless Microsoft goes against their own policy, Internet Explorer in Windows XP will NOT receive a security update and you will remain vulnerable indefinitely if you continue to use Windows XP. If you need help with this, please contact me and I will be happy to help.

This Bug Makes My Heartbleed – What You Need to Know

Aw, this bug even has its own logo. Isn't that precious?

Aw, this bug even has its own logo. Isn’t that precious?

Early this week a security vulnerability was made public, given the name of “Heartbleed”. Unlike most security vulnerabilities that never make much news, warnings about Heartbleed quickly spread around the Internet and has even made the mainstream media. Given the propensity for false alerts to spread around the Internet, I’ve been waiting to make sure that this wasn’t an overblown “Chicken Little” situation. However, the news has reached a fever pitch, so let me try to set the situation straight for any one who is confused by all the hysterical warnings.

Heartbleed is the name given to a bug discovered in a particular implementation of SSL/TLS, which is the encryption protocol used for most secure web transactions. This protocol is used by nearly every web site from banks to social media. The bug allows an attacker to gather small amounts of random data from a server that had otherwise been encrypted. Since encrypted data is often sensitive data, the random data that an attacker could have gathered may have been valuable, such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. The biggest concern of security experts is that it may have been possible for an attacker to get the “private key” from a server, which would in theory allow them to decrypt all communications from a server at that point. If the security key of a major server had been compromised, a lot of very valuable data could have been extracted.

Make no mistake, Heartbleed is indeed a very critical bug. Any server that was affected and not yet patched their software is putting their users’ data in serious jeopardy. However, for all the dire warnings of impending doom, I believe the hysteria has been overblown quite a bit. This bug even has its own web site and logo!

At this point, most reports are advising people to change their passwords on their online accounts. Obviously it is never a bad idea to change your passwords. It can’t hurt anything and if your username and password was compromised this will effectively protect you. However, based on everything I’ve read so far, the likelihood of your account being compromised is pretty low. While popular, not every web site used the affected version of the SSL implementation. And if the bug had been known to criminals (or intelligence agencies) ahead of the pubic announcement, then the damage would have been done already. Changing your password would prevent any future intrusions, but any valuable data would likely have already been compromised.

Based on my research, it appears that the Heartbleed bug was not known to the criminal underground prior to the pubic announcement this week. It certainly is possible that the NSA or other government intelligence agencies did know about the bug, so keep that in mind. Even if it had been known, the chances of criminals recovering data in a way that could compromise accounts is fairly low, given the fact they could only recover small amounts of random data from a server with each attack. Large-scale attacks would have likely triggered security alerts prior to now, so the bug would have been discovered earlier. Account numbers such as credit cards may have been more easily recovered, but if they had been, you probably would have already had your account compromised by now and taken steps to remedy that. Or your account will be compromised in the future and the only thing you can do is to proactively change your credit card number, which can be a big pain obviously

The bottom line is that ideally you should be changing your passwords with some regularity anyway, so this situation should only enforce the necessity of that practice. Otherwise, it is a potential avenue for identity theft of which there is no evidence of the attack actually being used so the likelihood is low. The reality of Heartbleed is that it is mostly a reminder (albeit a very loud and well-publicized reminder) to proactively protect yourself from identity theft. Companies like Lifelock are probably very happy as I’m sure they’ll see a surge in new subscriptions soon. Otherwise, as for yourself, change your passwords just to be safe and keep an eye on your financial accounts as usual, but please don’t lose any sleep.

The End of Windows XP? Part 3

death_of_windows_xpThis is the third in a series of articles discussing the “End of Support” for Windows XP. Please read the first article and the second article if you haven’t already.

If you’ve read the first and second article I wrote about the End of Support for Windows XP, you should be up to speed on what the ramifications are if you wish to continue running Windows XP. For many, continuing to run Windows XP may be the right choice. But for others, this may be the time to move on to a new computer. But moving to a new PC isn’t as simple as it used to be (was it ever?). There are a few things to consider.

The first thing to do is NOT assume that you must buy a Windows computer just because you are moving from Windows XP. The technology world has changed a lot since you bought your Windows XP machine and Windows is no longer the de-facto standard for small businesses and individuals. For many people, the change from Windows XP to a new version of Windows is enough of a mind-bending experience that they might as well look at other options. So as you consider your options, don’t exclude the idea of a Macintosh computer or even an iPad replacing your old Windows XP PC. I’ll talk more about these options throughout this article.

One of the complications of buying a new PC is that the specter of Windows 8 looms out there. Most new Windows computers come with Windows 8 pre-installed, especially at big box technology stores. I probably don’t need to tell you that many people absolutely hate Windows 8, so it would be best if you had some experience with Windows 8 before running out to buy a new PC. If you have no issues with Windows 8, then you have a wide selection of devices available. If you don’t want to use Windows 8, you can buy a Windows 7 PC on-line from companies like Dell and HP. And of course, as I mentioned above, you can also choose a Macintosh computer.

For many, the idea of a Macintosh computer seems very foreign, especially if they’ve been using Windows XP for many years. At the time of Windows XP’s launch, the technology world was filled with many more incompatibilities than there are now. With today’s technology, Macintosh computers (as well as other devices) are capable of using most data that originated on a Windows computer and can even run most of the same software that Windows computers can. If necessary, Macintosh computers can even run the Windows operating system itself, ensuring that it can run all Windows software as well as Macintosh software. The ability to run all this software is one of the big advantages of using a Mac, along with being virtually virus-free and, of course, being known as the world’s most user-friendly computer. I could go on and on about this topic, but the bottom line is to not dismiss purchasing a Macintosh computer based on old preconceptions. I’m willing to bet that many of the old ideas you have about a Macintosh are no longer valid. You may miss out on the chance to upgrade your computing experience if you assume a Macintosh won’t work for you or switching would be hard. Ironically, many people find that switching to a Mac is easier than switching to a Windows 8 PC.

Regardless if you buy a Windows 8, Windows 7, or Macintosh computer, there will be some conversion hurdles. The most common problem is that software programs installed on an old Windows XP PC will not directly transfer to a new computer. While data files are simple to copy to a new computer, software programs must be properly reinstalled from the original installer. If the software is too old it may need a new version purchased or downloaded. Usually this isn’t too big of a problem. Either people have kept their original installation media, or they can simply purchase or download their new versions. However, sometimes it is very difficult for people to reinstall their old software on a new computer. Perhaps they lost their installation discs or the software is no longer made for new computers. This poses a bit of a problem but there is a solution.

Regardless of the type of new computer purchased (Windows or Mac), it is possible to run Windows XP in what is called a “virtual machine”. A virtual machine is software that emulates a physical computer, allowing an operating system to run “inside” another. For the purposes of a Windows XP transition, it is possible to “clone” your old PC into a virtual machine in your new computer. Think of it like taking the “brain” of your old physical computer and transplanting it virtually in your new computer. Your old computer lives on inside your new computer, running identically the way it was before. This allows you to migrate to a new computer while still virtually retaining the use of your old PC. I’ve done a lot of transitions of old Windows XP computers to new computers this way over the last several years and it generally works out really well for the user, especially if they are transitioning to a Macintosh. This works out especially well for users who have old specialty software that is no longer supported for use on any new computer. It allows them to continue to use their old speciality software indefinitely, while making use of the new software on their new computer for everything else.

Finally, for the way many people use their computers, they may not need to purchase a traditional personal computer. For many people, an iPad works better for them than a traditional personal computer, be it Windows or Macintosh. If you are the type of person who primarily only surfs the web and uses e-mail, then you should consider an iPad. Being relatively inexpensive as compared to a quality new personal computer, the iPad’s mobility and ease-of-use lends itself to the basic computing tasks that most people do most often. Paired with an external keyboard, the iPad even works out very well for those who need to do more typing than average. Plus the number of apps available for the iPad make it extraordinarily powerful. I’ve observed many people who have opted to buy an iPad and keep their old personal computer around for sporadic use instead of simply buying a new personal computer. This way they still have their old computer around “just in case” while gaining the advantages of a new iPad. If you haven’t considered that an iPad could replace your old Windows XP computer, make sure you get a chance to use one before committing to any purchase decision.

The moral of the story is to not make any assumptions when considering the purchase of a new computer. Since you have a Windows XP computer, it is safe to say that there have been tremendous changes in the technology landscape since you purchased your current computer. All options are on the table, including retaining the use of your old PC in one form or another. Do some research and ask questions so that you have as much information available in order to make an informed decision. Feel free to contact me, but do so quickly – April 8th is just days away!

The End of Windows XP? Part 2

the-end-of-windows-xpThis is the second in a series of articles discussing the “End of Support” for Windows XP. Please read the first article in the series if you haven’t already.

If you have read the first article I wrote about Microsoft ending official support for Windows XP on April 8th, you know that for most people, this won’t result in an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moment. Computers aren’t going to stop suddenly working and hackers aren’t going to infiltrate your computer on that date. However, you will need to be a little more vigilant about keeping your Windows XP computer secure going forward. Here are some specific things you should do if you will continue to run Windows XP.

1) Make sure you have solid and current anti-malware (anti-virus) software running. I will go into more detail in another article, but the bottom line is to make sure that you are running some sort of security software that is not more than a year old and that is actually functioning properly. I can’t tell you how many new clients I run into that have anti-malware software that is 4-6 years old and isn’t actually protecting anything. A good option is Microsoft’s Security Essentials, a free anti-malware program from Microsoft. Other than being free, Security Essentials does a good job of protecting Windows from malware, especially when combined with some other options I discuss below. However, while Microsoft will continue to offer updates for Security Essentials on XP until July 15th, 2015, they claim they will not make the software itself available for install after April 8th. So if you would like to take advantage of Microsoft Security Essentials, get it downloaded and installed before April 8th. Otherwise, there are many other good options available. Verifying your anti-malware situation is a good idea for any version of Windows but it is now critical if you will continue to run Windows XP. Let me know if you need help with this, or contact your trusted technology professional.

2) Your computer (and network) should be protected by a good firewall. A firewall prevents malicious online hackers from directly breaking into the computers on our networks. For most of us, our Internet routers offer a simple but solid firewall and that is really all the firewall you need to protect yourself while at home or on your business network. However, laptops that venture into pubic networks should also have a software-based firewall that runs on the computer itself. Windows XP has built-in firewall software that will work just fine. You just need to make sure it is actively running. Firewalls are also usually part of third-party anti-malware programs, which again, you’ll just need to ensure is actually operational. One word of warning: there have been some examples of Internet routers with vulnerabilities that can be exploited to break into your network. Make sure your Internet router is secured by verifying you are running the latest firmware available for your particular device. Again, this is a good idea for any version of Windows, but especially now for Windows XP, so let me or your trusted technology professional know if you need help with any of this.

3) Supplement your computer’s security with a service like OpenDNS. OpenDNS is a free third-party DNS service that replaces the use of your Internet provider’s DNS settings. DNS settings are what defines how your computer “looks up” the address of web sites and servers. OpenDNS runs a system where they actively block the lookup of addresses of known malicious web sites and servers, adding an additional layer of protection for your computer. Because it is free there is no downside to using OpenDNS, so I highly recommend it. In fact, I set up OpenDNS as a matter of course for all my clients, regardless of which operating system they use. Changing DNS settings can be a little bit more technical than most people are comfortable with, so if you need help with this, contact me or your trusted technology pro.

4) Make sure you stop using Internet Explorer 8 as your web browser. Web browsers are an increasingly common point of attack for malicious activity online. It is imperative that your web browser stay updated to protect against security issues. As an integrated part of Windows XP, Microsoft will stop releasing security updates for Internet Explorer 8 on April 8th as well. This particular action is the most serious risk that Microsoft’s end of support for XP will bring. Luckily, it is fairly simple to switch to a different web browser and you probably won’t notice much difference. The reality is that Internet Explorer 8 has long been outdated so it is a good idea to replace Internet Explorer 8 anyway. Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are the two most common third-party browsers and either one makes a fine replacement for Internet Explorer 8. The Opera web browser is also a fairly well-known option. Pick any of these, download, install, and start using it right away before April 8th comes rolling around.

5) Stop ignoring Adobe Flash and Java update notifications. Similar to web browsers, Adobe Flash and Java are increasingly common points of attack for online criminals. It is critical to keep these add-ons updated. While many of us ignore these updates until they’ve annoyed us sufficiently to take action, Windows XP users can no longer afford to ignore them. So when you get these update notifications, take action reasonably quickly. Alternately, if you don’t think you use Java, it can be a good idea to uninstall it. Once again, a trusted technology professional like me can help you work through securing your system, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help now, before you spend twice or three times down the road when your Windows XP computer is in trouble.

In the next article in this series, I will discuss the pros and cons of buying a new computer, plus steps to retain Windows XP compatibility on new computers. Please send me any questions you may have about Windows XP or new computers and I will make sure to answer them as well.

Meeting Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak on the left, Marcel Brown on the right, and the Apple IIgs with Woz signature.

Steve Wozniak on the left, Marcel Brown on the right, and the Apple IIgs with Woz signature.

Back on January 28th, I was lucky enough to personally meet Steve Wozniak, a living legend in the technology industry. First a shout out to Cathy and Jack Davis of Davis Creative for giving me the heads up that Steve Wozniak was holding a special reception while he was in town to give a speech. I would have likely not known otherwise and missed out on the opportunity. For those of you that may not be aware, Steve Wozniak was co-founder of Apple Computer, along with Steve Jobs, and was the primary designer of the Apple I and Apple II computers that ignited the personal computer revolution. The first real computer I ever used was an Apple IIe and I spent most of my early years learning computer technology on various Apple II series computers. So to say that Steve Wozniak was influential in my life is an understatement. Meeting such an important person in the history of the technology industry was an absolutely incredible experience.

Wozniak primarily gave a little talk, answered some questions, and then shook hands with people and signed autographs. I even managed to get him to sign my old Apple IIgs computer!

Here are some highlights of what he spoke about that evening.

  • He mentioned several times about how he never really was interested in starting or running a business. He just wanted to create great technology.
  • Along the same lines, he was clear that Steve Jobs was not the technology brains behind Apple. But he was also clear that without Jobs’ contributions, Apple would have never existed as a business. He said that the two of them together were a perfect combination.
  • He talked about the relative failure of the educational system to take advantage of technology for teaching. He cited that most class sizes are too big and most educational systems don’t allow for outside of the box thinking. Technology should be giving kids the ability to think for themselves, but most educational systems stifle that creativity and therefore technology is not being used to its fullest potential. (Personally, I’ve seen the contrast between school districts that embrace technology and those that don’t, so I got exactly what he was saying. Too much old-school thinking that technology is just “fun and games” still permeates some educations systems and they try too hard to control the way technology is deployed in the classroom. In the meanwhile, kids are using technology in all other aspects of their lives so they look at the classroom as archaic and this stifles their learning. Other districts embrace personal technology and have made great strides in teacher-student interaction and subsequently the kids are learning in ways they are very comfortable with. Some of you know all too well exactly what I’m talking about.)
  • He received a question along the lines of what tips and tricks did he use to create the first Apple computers. Wozniak’s reply was, “I was inventing the tips and tricks”. If you know the history of the early personal computers like I do, you’d understand that he was right. Wozniak was using existing technology and making it do things it wasn’t exactly intended to do. But by doing so, he was able to solve technology problems in a way that allowed for the early personal computers to be relatively simple, and more importantly, affordable. The contributions of Steve Wozniak to the personal computer revolution can not be overstated.
  • Wozniak said that to him creating computers was the easy part. The business stuff was hard and he was so grateful that Steve Jobs handled all that stuff.

As a technology professional and a technology enthusiast, meeting one of the men who ignited the personal computer revolution was an experience of a lifetime. Below I share a few pictures and video of the event. I hope you enjoy them!

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The End of Windows XP? Part 1

Microsoft_XP_support_endingIf you follow technology news at all or you have techie-minded friends, you are probably aware that in just a little over a month Microsoft will formally end support of Windows XP. However, if you’re like most people, you really have no idea what that means. Some people believe they must buy a new computer because their old one will suddenly stop working. If you listen to some technology experts or even some of your friends talking, they’re warning you of the dire consequences that could happen if you keep trying to use your old PC. Business owners are being bombarded by notices from technology vendors warning them of the impending Windows XP end of support date. And of course, Microsoft desperately wants everyone to buy a new PC with Windows 8, as their sales are seriously struggling. As I’m sure you’re confused by all the information flying around (heck, I’ve been a little confused at times myself), let me try to explain the situation to you so that you can be fully prepared.

The first step is to understand exactly what end of support means – and what it doesn’t. Please understand that computers running Windows XP WILL continue to work. No matter what rumors you’ve heard, computers with Windows XP are not going to suddenly stop working on April 8th. If you believed this was the case, breathe easy! You can continue using your old Windows XP PC long after April 8th – assuming your computer hardware keeps working of course! So you can put on hold any emergency plans you had to run out and buy a new computer. Keep reading, however, because there is much you should be aware of.

The real meaning of Windows XP end of support is two-fold. First, Microsoft will no longer provide technical support for Windows XP. Second, Microsoft will stop providing updates to the operating system.

Microsoft no longer providing technical support for Windows XP means that end-users and business can no longer call or request support for Windows XP directly from Microsoft. For most people, this means absolutely nothing. This is because most people do not receive support directly from Microsoft anyway. Usually, most people get support from the company that sold them their computer, whether this is a big-box store like Best Buy, a direct sales company like Dell, or a local PC shop. Or they would get support from their own IT staff or an independent technology professional – like me! About the only people who get support directly from Microsoft are big corporations with dedicated account representatives. So again, for most people, not having support directly from Microsoft is no different than what they’re used to now. So don’t worry about Microsoft not providing support for Windows XP. You will likely still be able to get support from the same people you get support from now – or from many other resources in the future. Myself personally, I will continue to support people and businesses with Windows XP because I know that Windows XP isn’t going to disappear any time soon. So I have no need to stop supporting it and will continue to do so as long as my clients require it.

Some people confuse the idea of no support for Windows XP with no support for the software that runs on top of Windows XP. In most cases, the two support mechanisms are completely independent. Companies that create software for Windows have no need to discontinue support for their software running on Windows XP simply because Microsoft has stopped supporting the underlying operating system. Windows XP still runs on 30% of the world’s installed computers base. Software vendors aren’t going to ignore a 30% marketshare at this time. You will need to check with your software vendors to be sure if they will continue to support and develop your important programs for the near future. But again, don’t worry that your software will suddenly stop working. Remember, April 8th isn’t a “kill switch” day for Windows XP nor any software that runs on it. However, you should be aware of what the future will hold for your software, so be sure to get informed.

What should be concerning to Windows XP users is the fact that Microsoft will stop developing updates to the operating system. Come April 8th, any undiscovered security issues that exist in Windows XP will never be patched. Any bugs that crop up will never be squashed. This is something to keep in mind as you move forward with Windows XP. However, the sky will not fall on April 8th or at any time in the near future. Just because Microsoft will stop developing security patches for Windows XP, doesn’t mean that Windows XP will instantly become vulnerable. It doesn’t mean that computers will suddenly become buggy and start crashing. It just means that future issues won’t be resolved. But given the age of Windows XP, the incidence of world-altering security issues and bugs in the operating system are fairly low. More common are issues in software programs that run on top of Windows XP, such as web browsers, Adobe Flash, or Java. Those programs will continue to receive updates to resolve security issues and bugs in the near future. So don’t listen to those people who claim the sky is falling when it comes to Windows XP. Sure, it’s potentially vulnerable, but the reality is that Windows as an operating system has always been somewhat vulnerable. So if you are fairly secure now, you’ll continue to be for the near future.

Given what I’ve said so far, it would seem that the end of support for Windows XP is a bit overblown. To some extent it is. However, it is a significant event that you should be aware of. Come April 8th, you alone will be responsible for keeping up with any potential serious issues that are discovered with Windows XP. While I don’t predict that anything significant would occur, if something does come up that threatens your data or privacy, you will need to deal with it somehow. Microsoft isn’t going to release an update that will automatically plug a security hole for you anymore. Most people don’t pay attention to technology news. But if you’re going to keep running Windows XP, it would do good for you to keep at least an ear open to any news concerning issues with Windows XP. Or have someone that you can trust to keep you informed – like me! If nothing else, make sure to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. A little information can go a long way.

Now that you have the straight scoop on the end of support for Windows XP, there are some specific things that you should do over the next few weeks to be ready for April 8th. Some of you may also be wondering if it is the right time to buy a new computer. I will cover these issues in the next part of this article, which I will post within the next week. Also if you have any specific questions regarding the future of Windows XP, or migrating your existing Windows XP computer to a new computer, please let me know. I’ll answer you directly as well as answer those questions in a future article.

Steve Jobs, Aspen, a Lost Time Capsule, and Me

As we get closer to the season premiere of the National Geographic Channel’s show, Diggers, where I will make my national TV debut, I have been inundated with questions on how all this came to be. The story is quite detailed, but for those of you who are wondering, I will give you a summary here. First, here is the sneak peek of the upcoming Diggers episode set to air tomorrow February 25th at 9 PM. I am featured toward the end of the clip.

In 2011, my client John Celuch gave me a cassette tape of a Steve Jobs speech he attended in Aspen, Colorado back in 1983. Steve Jobs delivered this speech as part of a yearly design conference that John had attended for several years. Once I finally got around to listening to the speech and realizing that virtually no copies of this speech were available on the Internet, I digitized the speech and posted an article about it on one of my blogs in October 2012. The article went viral and received a lot of attention. The speech is pretty amazing and you can read the article I wrote about The “Lost” Steve Jobs Speech of 1983 by clicking here.

While I was preparing to post my article about the speech, John Celuch told me a story about the design conference in 1983. That year the theme of the conference was about the future. In keeping with the theme, Steve Jobs was there to talk about the personal computer revolution and the conference organizers also wanted to bury a time capsule. After John heard Steve Jobs’ speech, he personally asked Jobs if he wanted to donate something to the time capsule. Jobs gave him the mouse from the Lisa computer he used during the speech. The time capsule (technically a 13-foot long PVC “tube”) was buried in Aspen with the intention of digging it up in the year 2000. However, by the year 2000 the conference had faded away so no one was really in charge of recovering the time tube. In addition, the records detailing the exact location of the time capsule were missing. No real effort was made to recover the time tube so it remained buried and lost. I wrote an article about the “Lost” Aspen Time Tube as a follow up to the Steve Jobs speech, which you can read by clicking here.

The article about the Aspen Time Tube received some attention, but not nearly as much as the article about the “Lost” Steve Jobs speech. I wrote in the article that I would have loved to see the time capsule, along with Steve Jobs’ mouse, recovered in the year 2013, exactly 30 years after it was buried. Nothing much transpired for several months but luckily the article caught the attention of the producers of the show Diggers in early 2013. They were interested in recovering the time tube for an episode of their show. After being contacted by the show’s producers, I gave them the information I had and put them in touch with John Celuch. I didn’t hear much else for a few more months but eventually John let me know that the show was on track to film in September and we were invited to participate in the recovery of the time tube. So in September of last year John and I took a trip to Aspen and we helped recover the lost time tube.

I can’t give too many details of the show until it airs, so watch the episode of Diggers when it airs February 25 at 9 PM Central Time on the National Geographic Channel. After the show airs I will be able to reveal my own personal photos and video I took during the filming and fill in my own experiences.

My Clients Can Keep LogMeIn for Free

logmein-freeIf you are a user of LogMeIn, you should be aware that LogMeIn is eliminating their free service. If you currently have a free account, you will have seven days to switch to a paid LogMeIn account the next time you log in to LogMeIn.com. Many people are upset about this sudden change, as the free LogMeIn service was very popular for simple remote needs.

Luckily for my clients, I have a way to continue using LogMeIn for free. I already subscribe to a premium LogMeIn service that I use to remote control my clients’ computers. I can assign my clients access to their own computers when they are controlled under my account. I do not incur any additional fee when I assign my clients access to their own computers, so I will happily give my clients control of their own machines when needed.

If you are an existing client of mine and currently use LogMeIn Free, contact me right away and I can reconfigure your LogMeIn software to use my account. By the way, if you are my client and would like me to be able to remotely control your computer, click on this link http://marcelbrown.com/remote. Because I can often resolve issues quickly over a remote session and I do not need to drive to your location, I offer a discount on my service fees when I can resolve issues over remote control.

If you aren’t currently my client, feel free to contact me and let me know what I can do for you!

Force Facebook to Refresh Link URL

facebook debugger tool

The Facebook debugger tool – it’s a magic bullet!

I ran into an issue the other day while attempting to post a link to Facebook (publicizing the TV episode I will be making an appearance in next month, FYI). For some reason, when I pasted the link into Facebook, the description of the page and the photo were not showing up. Instead of a nice looking post complete with picture and description, the post only showed the raw link itself. This would not have been very functional. I tried copying the link in several different places, even trying a different web browser, but Facebook never would pull up the photo or description. Since the link was a blog post I had written, I made some changes to the post hoping the changes would trigger Facebook to refresh the link. Still no luck. I did a lot of research and finally found a suggestion that actually worked.

It seems that Facebook caches links (or a “URL” in tech talk) to web sites that people post. So if multiple people post the same link, Facebook’s servers won’t need to go the the website to pull the information repeatedly. It just uses the cached copy from the first time it pulled the link information. This is probably good as it keeps Facebook’s servers more efficient and reduces load on the targeted web sites. But if Facebook had a problem pulling the right information the first time, this can be really frustrating since Facebook won’t go back to pull the correct information for a certain amount of time. I’m not sure how long Facebook caches URLs, but when someone is trying to post a link RIGHT NOW, it is severely aggravating. However, I now can happily present a solution!

Facebook has a special web site for developers who want to write software to interface with Facebook. One of tools on this web site is a “debugger” that allows developers to see how Facebook “views” a particular web page. You may want to save this link for future use https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug. Fortuitously, it appears the debugger tool has the side-effect of forcing Facebook to reload whatever link you paste into it. I pasted my link into the debugger tool and clicked the Debug button. This brought up some technical info that was mostly useless to me, except that I saw the image and description I wanted. I went back to put the link into a Facebook post and voila! Facebook pulled up the link as I expected it to, pretty picture and everything!

So if you are trying to post a link in Facebook and it didn’t pull the picture or description for some reason, use the debugger tool and force Facebook to refresh the URL it has cached. Hopefully this trick will save you some aggravation in the future. If you have any questions about using social media for business, please let me know. I’ll be happy to help.

Hands-free Hassle: Tips on Buying a Handsfree Device

Illinois-Cell-Phone-Use-Sign-NHE-25777-Illinois_300As of January 1, 2014, the State of Illinois has mandated that cell phone calls be made with hands-free technology in a moving vehicle. Since I live in Illinois, I have received many questions about hands-free devices, such as bluetooth headsets. While I would love to be able to answer this question as simply as possible, the reality is that the choice of a hands-free device is a very personal decision with many factors above and beyond the core technology, such as fit and style. So I will give a few general tips for anyone considering a hands-free device.

Whatever method you use to go handsfree, make sure you throughly test your device, especially if you plan on using the device for business. It is not very professional to carry on a conversation where your client can’t understand you. Whatever device you test, make sure you test it driving around various noise levels such as city driving and highway driving. Besides simply calling friends and family to get their opinion on how you sound, another way to test is to place various calls to your own voicemail and leave recordings so you can listen to them later. Make sure you leave at least 30-second messages with combinations of talking mixed in with silence so you get a good variety to listen to.

Most hands-free devices such as headsets use a wireless technology called Bluetooth. For most people this will be fine, but I know some people do not want to use Bluetooth. In that case, it is possible for you to use a wired headset in the car. Just note that in the State of Illinois (and some other states) it is illegal to drive a car with earbuds in BOTH ears. One ear is fine, but two is not. So if you want to use a wired headset, you’ll need to leave one ear bud dangling down. Using your phone on speaker is also an option, but be very careful about road noise issues.

Before you run off and buy something, know that many newer cars have Bluetooth built in so it may be possible to configure your car itself to be your hands-free device. Check with your owner’s manual or dealer where you bought your car if you aren’t sure. Additionally, some aftermarket car radios have a Bluetooth function. Connecting your phone to your car’s Bluetooth system also has the advantage of the car muting the radio when a call comes in. If your car has Bluetooth, that can be a very simple way to go hands-free. However, there are a couple of potential issues to keep in mind. Depending on the quality of the car’s system, it may pick up a lot of road noise, especially at high speed. Also, keep in mind that if you have passengers in your car, your calls will not be private unless you have another hands-free device.

Regardless of what you want to buy, make sure that where you are buying it from has a liberal return policy. The reality is that you may need to test a few devices before you find one you really like. Stores should have a customer satisfaction policy where you can return your device if you simply do not like the way it performs, the way it fits, or even the way it looks on you. For example, Best Buy has a standard 15-day return policy. That should probably be enough time to thoroughly test out your device, but if you think you’ll need more time than that, you may want to shop around. Personally speaking, I prefer to shop locally for Bluetooth headsets since I can just take them back to the store rather than dealing with the hassle of shipping. If you have a store like a Best Buy near you, it will probably be best to purchase from a store like that. However, there are many cell phone accessory stores that have a good selection and return policy so shop around.

If you really don’t want a headset, there are hands-free kits that can install in your car. As with built-in Bluetooth, road noise may be a factor and your calls won’t be private. Here is a good example of a hands-free car kit.

When it comes to headsets, the two main styles are in-ear and around-the-ear (also called behind-the-ear). In-ear styles tend to be smaller and can be more stable fitting, but finding a good fit can be difficult. Around-the-ear styles tend to be easy to fit, but they can move around some and are more bulky. What’s best for you? I can’t answer that for you. You’ll need to test and decide for yourself. I personally prefer in-ear styles, since I like the headset to stay stable in my ear and not be as bulky.

When it comes to price, look for value more than price. The cheap headsets may not work well enough to be worth your time, but it probably is not necessary to spend $150 or more. Find a model with good noise reduction and good battery life.

I’ve been using a Bluetooth headset for many years now, so I have some experience with various devices. Personally, I’ve been using the Jawbone Era for a couple of years. It is more expensive than an average Bluetooth headset, but I have had very good luck with it. I also combine it with a YurBud aftermarket ear gel for a tight fit in my ear, but unfortunately YurBud doesn’t sell just their ear gels anymore. However, I did find a similar product from Jabra that is a replacement ear gel for the Jawbone Era. If you are as nit-picky about your headset as I am, this might be the combination for you.

Shopping for a hands-free device can be a bit of a pain, but ultimately it is a much safer way to use your phone in your car, not to mention a lot more convenient. And if the new law in Illinois gets you down, cheer up – the state has also raised the speed limit on most Interstates!

If you have any questions about hands-free, Bluetooth, or phone technology, please don’t hesitate to contact me right away!