This new post after 2 years of silence has been spurred by the massive and unpredictable scale of changes that were forced into our world by SARS-Covid-2.
The drive to immediately isolate our bodies from all others except those in our living spaces has brought with it the massive utilisation of technologies that we might have used or at least known of, but never could we en masse imagine ourselves in the home & work places that many of us are now in.
My business was designed & constructed by me in January 2011 with a specific set of operating modes which I saw as fairly unique,at that time. I set out to close the gaps between the knowledge & systems used by technologists, and the general public / small/medium businesses understanding of them. My bridging the gap by ‘being there’ with them at their premises, shoulder to shoulder as we jointly worked through their worries, hopes, aspirations and technological breakdowns was effective!
But for now this has to change, and I believe that no matter what changes to the threat from bio-organisms both now and in the future arise, a wariness in people of personal risk has or will become a factor that I have to think about. We may have to face that previous ways of working may begin to recede as new ways of working emerge.
So how will I adapt to this without losing too much of my working style?
I can and already have, worked on customer systems (PC/Laptops/Mobile Phones/Pads using remote control software in concert with a phone call. This works well and because it saves me travelling to the customer I have given it a lower hourly rate. Where this has not been possible because of a malfunctioning device or broadband/WiFi connection, I have asked the customer to thoroughly clean the device of finger grease deposits and then to bio-clean it with a 10% hypochlorite (bleach) solution or 66% alcohol solution before I collect it. Before I return it it is again bio-cleaned. This has worked well so far.
But the personal bit where I sit beside them is missing … this is for the purposes of tuition and/or for where I fix a problem while showing them how I do it, and so prevent it reoccurring through a lack of awareness of the cause(s). For this I offer the use of the video or audio messaging feature that is built into the remote control software. Viola!
The only missing service was where I visited to investigate faults to telephone internal extension cabling and the BT master terminal. Though I am happy to advise you on the steps to take through video link and, if you wish will speak to your ISP Support Desk engineers on your behalf to help to speed up the resolution time the fault takes.
Looking ahead what more might I do?
One idea I am exploring is to offer online mentoring for small groups of people where I demonstrate how to understand what concepts and technologies are by definition from some of the frequently asked questions I get. This way a low cost per person could be achieved and I would be paid a fair rate for all the time and effort to produce the materials. This is a work in development so if you have ideas you would like included in it then please do email them to me.
Well that’s it for now,
Please stay safe and well!
For more regular updates and newsy snippets, see my facebook feed – @pctechniquesstroud
I hope you all have coped with the constant media pre electoral spin season, dizzying wasn’t it!
Can we try to forgive & forget the unacceptable conduct of those so called ‘leaders’ whom we are supposed to respect enough to represent us nationally, when they behave worse than feral teens on a sugar high?
And as for the TV & written media please don’t get me started … do I really need a TV any more I wonder.
One particularly glaring point about the election result is that it brought to the fore the newly arrived insignificance of the mainstream TV and printed media platforms.
Our youth mostly don’t bother with those platforms so their views were formed without being tainted by politically biased media proprietors or influenced by a need to kowtow to murmurings of privatisation. Refreshing!
Anyway on to I.T topics and these are on Social Media.
Postings – Occasionally we see a post on our Facebook news feed which might contain a request that instead of using its ‘share’ link, we copy/paste the content instead and make a new post of it ourselves. I assume that would also apply to the memes that are all over Facebook every time some kind of vote is looming. For images you might have to make a copy of the image and create a post with it. Why do this and what happens if we do?
There appear to be 2 main outcomes, so depending on the nature of the post material some care is advised.
Algorithms – These days algorithms are being built into social media platforms as a norm so you might want to consider what making this choice will do for your own posts.
Algorithms are said to have the effect of influencing the readers behaviour when using the platform, i.e how we react to posts we see. More so now than before we are becoming aware that what we are given is probably only a part of the whole pool of available information on the topic. This is down to algorithms working on the website and the logic is that because we don’t have time to read everything we get what they think is most likely to be interesting.
Background – In effect what appears in our ‘news feeds’ has been shaped to suit any bias or preferences that the platform has detected in our responses previously, what we liked and to which posts we responded. In the main we can suspect this is done for marketing purposes, after all its a ‘free service’ and by them using us as a target audience for marketing purposes its a easy guess their motive. Though more darkly, political agendas are now identified as being heavily involved and are said to have been effective in recent controversial electoral outcomes such as Brexit & Trump.
For more on this you might like to read the section titled ‘Controversy surrounding the use of algorithms’ on this Wikipedia – Algorithms, and I refer in particular to the sub title ‘Legal Concerns’
So what is the main difference?
If you re-post using the ‘share’ link, your post is subject to the restrictions placed on its circulation by the person who posted it before you, so according to their privacy settings it may only reach friends that you share with them. So this could restrict the reach of the post, in some cases its not safe to share some types of personal or other information too widely.
Also if the post is identified as one which needs removal i.e. its faked news or a scam the removing it from all feeds down stream is easy the originating account post is removed. So control is better.
The downside of this is that because the posts incoming to you carry a restriction you may wish to use the Public Post option in which case it would be accessible to a much wider audience (though again I expect some algorithmic re-shaping might apply.
If you copy/paste a post into a new one of your own you can remodel it say by adding a picture or rewording or spell correcting it.
But if the post is one of the more ‘challenging’ types it is harder to stop and so scammers and news fakirs have a freer run and can use a search function in the platform to identify you personally as someone they might like to close up to, user beware! this would also happen to all others who used copy/paste, you in effect own it the same as any post you originate yourself.
Two Stage Log In
I am reading now that some experts say that the use of ‘strong’ passwords alone is being seen as falling off the back of the secure practices wagon. Do I hear a sigh or two? ……
Many of you will have already used a version of this with your online banking where your debit card is used with your PIN to generate a code to enter as a second stage to the log in process into your account.
So a second stage login authentication for other vital websites is now also a good idea.
This applies to social media, email and other more important online sites such as for editing your own website because if you were to lose access to it because a hacker had locked you out and was using it to rob your friends or misrepresent you how would you feel?
There are 2 particular methods and one involves a mobile signal connected smart phone or pad, the second method uses a small App that generates the code without a mobile signal.
Note:- because the use of texts by the first method means an insecure text is used to send you a login code, it is advised to use the second (App) method instead. Also I have experienced some annoying delays in receiving texts recently for some reason which have delayed my use of a website.
If you use the first method you would log into the website first using your user name & password, then on receipt of the text you enter the code in the text. Done.
This is offered by most sites you log into these days and is often set up by finding your way into the “Settings” – Security area of the websites menus. You add your mobile phone number and its done.
A text is sent each time you then log into that website.
The second (I think better) method is the App generated method.
This involves you downloading a free small Authenticator App such as Sophos Authenticator or Google or Microsoft Authenticator onto your smart phone or pad … there are several around just find them through the usual preferred App repository on your particular type of smartphone. Do make sure you allow the App to access your smartphones camera for it to work. note:- if you choose Google Authenticator App then see this article on ‘Authy’ which might be also useful.
Once you have installed the App on the smart device you go to the website you wish to set up 2 stage login on a another device such as a PC or laptop. Navigate to the Settings or Options page associated with 2 stage login, the App setup method bit.
This will offer you a QR code in the form of a strange looking square on your laptop/PC screen, use the Authenticator Apps ‘scan QR code’ option to run the camera through the App and point it at the laptop/PC screen to capture the QR code.
The App will record the QR code and add it to a list in the App. Done!
Save the settings on the website to use the 2 stage login in future and logout.
The next time you log into that website it will prompt you for a code which your smartphone will generate there and then, this code changes every minute or so so you will need to open the App each time you log in.
Should you lose access to your smartphone for any reason you can prevent a lockout by downloading and keeping safe some access codes the website will let you have, but grab these NOW so you have them already, just in case…..
Lastly there is a new and very secure method in development using ‘Security Keys’ but as this snippet from Facebook’s website shows its far from universally usable now so better left until its more developed.
“Security keys for Facebook logins currently only work with certain web browsers and mobile devices, so we’ll ask you to also register an additional login approval method, such as your mobile phone or Code Generator.To add a security key from your computer, you’ll need to be using the latest version of Chrome or Opera. At this time we don’t support security key logins for our mobile Facebook app, but if you have an NFC-capable Android device with the latest version of Chrome and Google Authenticator installed, you can use an NFC-capable key to log in from our mobile website.” source Facebook
That’s all for this edition, I hope you found it useful and not too heavy going.
As always do call me for a chat if you would like to reflect on IT matters, or life in general, ….
though not politics …. PLEASE, NO MORE POLITICS!! 🙂
To me SPAM is a response to success, and rather as in nature the success I mention is like that of when a successful system becomes established that enables a species to improve on their prospects.
And then WHAM along comes the inevitable parasite specie that feeds off it somehow … evolution or just a pain where its not wanted!
So the parasitised specie has to develop a protective response or be consumed into oblivion, such is the way of these things it seems.
Now, to get to why this is relevant.
Along came email and enabled millions to communicate rapidly and en-masse to each other and naturally along came scamsters, thieves, bullies etc with their SPAM.
The imuno-response by the email system was to introduce Spam filters which work … mostly … but inevitably some ‘friendly fire’ casualties do happen which is the legitimate emails sent to you that are mistakenly trapped in your recipients spam trap. Often they don’t check to see if its there and so remain unaware that they have missed your email. Luckily this is a relatively rare event in the big picture but sometimes it might matter to see an email that is trapped.
So what can you do?
Google Mail (Gmail) has a long established reputation for having an effective spam trap that at times can be over zealous in its efforts. I show this email provider as my example because it is a very prominent player.
So if you know of senders to your Gmail mailbox who’s emails you would be particularly interested in seeing reliably then you can take a few simple pro-active steps to ensure you always allow through emails from that sender.
It goes like this;
Log into your Gmail account using your web browser (Edge, Firefox, Chrome, IceDragon etc)
Click on the ‘Show Search” options (a downward-pointing triangle in your Gmail’s Search field box.
Find the persons email address that you want to allow in your White list under the “From” listing.
Now select it to add it.
You do not have to create a separate filter for each address.
Separate addresses with an ‘|’ character in the “From” field instead.
Example:- To whitelist both “firstname.lastname@example.org” and Jelani@example.com”, enter “email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org”
To White List an entire Domain.
To whitelist an entire domain (all mail from an address ending in “aboutguide.com”, for example), type only the domain name or the domain name preceded by the ‘@’ character.
e.g. To whitelist “aboutguide.com”, type “@aboutguide.com” (not including the quotation marks).
Follow the Create filter with this search ›› link at the bottom of the search sheet.
Finally – Do ensure the “Never send it to Spam” option is checked.
Now click “Create Filter”
Naturally there are many other email providers who’s systems also allow you to establish a WhiteList similarly. All you need to do to find out how to do this for your particular one is to do a web search using the words …
“How to Whitelist a Sender or Domain in < e.g.Yahoo mail etc>” (exclude the quote marks and squared brackets)
Obviously this only will work when your email recipients take these steps to help your emails to reach them, you cannot do it for them so please do feel free to send this article to them and just to ensure they do see it maybe phone or text them to say you have sent it so its not lost in their ‘Spam’ folder.
VLC is an abbreviation of VideoLAN Client and this often unsung and free little hero application that has been around for a very long time and constantly improved with new features that are actually useful. And it is available on every operating system worth mention including smartphone OS’s!
It is from the ‘Open Sourced’ community of programme developers and these people have a long deserved reputation for producing software which is needed and useful, which in my view makes a nice alternative from the unnecessary feature-trivial, obese bloat-ware of paid vendors.
A useful short article on VLC’s many good uses is here
I have used it for years and must admit I didn’t know them all! Mostly I use it for listening to Radio Caroline or Classic Rock online radio stations, what are your choices of favourite music?
To download it I recommend getting it only from its original source as adware packed copies have been known to exist from those ‘downloads’ websites who make money by bundling up good software with their sponsors junkware.
Linux Mint – Fast, Free to use, and much like Windows 7
Linux Mint is really proving itself these days!
And just like the VLC player above it is made and supported by an ‘Open Source’ community of programmers and so its provided free to use!
I have been testing it and trying out procedures on it to see how easily it could be used in substitute of Windows 7 which as you may know has nearly 3 more years of updates available from Microsoft remaining.
So its not panic time yet by far but unless you are happy to use the tiled and over colourfully activated ‘App Happy’ desktop of Windows 8.x or 10 (which I see as like using an interface built by Fisher Price for kids!) then take a look at Linux Mint.
By comparison you can have a sensible attractive interface that has the —, square and X placed in the top right of all windows just like in Windows 7. It also has a start button and programme listing that makes sense and is not trying to flog you junk and games when trying to use it!
Mint comes preloaded with the Firefox browser, LibreOffice (like MS Office and works with its data files), Thunderbird email client and the other useful apps for Video, Audio and more and you can add more applications yourself through its own Software Manager interface.
Try before you Jump!
And you don’t have to jump entirely into it unprepared either, it can run well in a Virtual Machine that runs inside Windows and so you can try it out and become confident using it before you need to make the change over. I use Oracle VirtualBox and guess what! That is free as well!
And finally I use this opportunity to mention that I can also work on your telephone wiring to add a new extension or maybe to tidy it up or remove old wiring. I can also work with network cabling perhaps to help those of you unnerved by the concerning views of WiFi health effects and Lloyds of London refusing to insure against them. (see point No 6 here)
I can provide guidance and solutions to mitigate your exposure to WiFi as best as possible, please do ask.
I hope that those of you who have taken a work break enjoyed it or are still doing so if sat inside somewhere waiting for the rain/hail storm or associated winds to abate ( otherwise why would you be reading this when on holiday?).
Certainly this summer is proving that weather cannot be relied on to follow any previous ‘norms’ any more (probably our own collective fault but I won’t dwell on that obvious point right now).
For those of you yet to escape from ‘your norm’ I wish you happy journeys and suitable accomodation and weather!
In this edition I will cover considerations that affect both PC’s & Macs.
email – Changes to be aware of
In recent months many email providers have set out to achieve better security for customers by pro actively snaring that lousy spam that we all hate and also stopping as best as they can the more dangerous ‘spear phishing’ offerings from scammers and crooks who target us more efficiently than before.
Certainly I have received more of those emails recently myself in common with many and the danger was first in the zip file attachment on earlier ones, and more recently in a hyperlink in the message body. So what can be done as the crooks get smarter?
The first thing is to be aware of is any dodgy wording styles you see in any email you recieve, even one purporting to come from a known contact because until all email providers have caught up with these changes to their systems its still possible to spoof an email to fool the recipient by disguising the senders real email address. (see DKIM & SPF below)
Next is to beware of zip file attachments. My previous anti virus didn’t alert me to the attachments by snaring them, but because I am naturally cautious I didn’t open them. The rogue emails were from people I didn’t know and each one had a differennt email domain source, very suspicious! So I only I saved them to my Desktop and, because I doubted the ‘Clean’ report that came from my now previous anti virus (Panda) and (surprisingly) my anti malware (Malwarebytes), I posted it them up to virustotal where it lit up all over the screen as dangerous!
Its not good that many well known AV vendors also didn’t see the danger! So now I use one that did see it, Kaspersky (subscription), though BitDefender would have done if I didn’t find its console irritating. Those weren’t the only 2 that caught it but they are the ones I am more familiar with.
So unless you are very confident, your best friend is still Suspicion and its best pal, Caution.
SPF & DKIM
Though this might appear like a 1980’s pop queen duo its a lot less pretty but for reasons I mentioned above, its now much more necessary and will affect your outbound emails being successfully received so do read on.
SPF & DKIM are each little records that need to be added to your email domains DNS settings so that when you send an email from any other source than your own registered email domain, it will carry the necessary credentials to get through the ever tighter mail gateways of the recipient’s email service. Otherwise it may be dumped in the spam skip or simply ‘dropped’ by the server because the address of the sender system differs from the one the email is usually sent from.One of many mass send email online platforms is MailChimp and as an example they have offer this advice …
“DMARC stands for Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance, and takes effect if an email fails certain types of authentication. DMARC policies benefit the email community as a whole because they help prevent phishing, spoofing, and the delivery of fraudulent emails. However, strict DMARC policies can sometimes misidentify your legitimate marketing emails as fraudulent and reject them.”
As the web page shows the approach to DMARC when using a free email provider or a registered email domain diffe,r so an enlightened approach is needed. But its worth getting yours set up before too many of your emails become lost.
Time is up and I must leave NOW, but Windows wants to Update!
We all realise a little late that we must stop working on our laptops and because time deliberately accelerates when we least want it to, we have to move on promptly. Perhaps because we need to make it to an appointment, catch a train or bus or because the partners birthday party begins in less than 1 hour but Windows then freezes us to the spot by forcing us to wait for updates to complete! The tension and self recrimination wheels can begin turning which might spoil your next meeting experience unless …. you do this.
Click on any empty area of the desktop or pressing Windows+D on your keyboard. Then, press Alt+F4 to access the Shut Down Windows dialog box.
To shut down without installing updates, select “Shut down” from the drop-down list.
For those of you wanting to be geeky you could add the following line to a batch file you save on your desktop and run it when the need arises.
shutdown -s -t 0
Mac’s & Viruses / Malware
Before the current time the sound & safe Mac was a safe system where viruses rarely made in-roads but this is now increasingly under threat from web based attacks through the browsers as you traverse the web. Most ‘nasties’ that affect PC’s still don’t run on Macs but the number that do are increasing steadily so I think it is now time to flag this up and offer guidance.
I went looking for answers and found this report from a verifiable source which gives a full review of the reasoning for anti virus on Mac’s and offers ideas on prevention both through extra user care, and by installing an anti virus which it gives comparatrive reviews on and across several vendors of the programme.
It is a long read but as you might expect its worth it by comparison to becoming infected, especially so if the infection encrypts your data and ransomes it back to you for a fat fee! As always I can help you with working to an understanding and discussing actions, please contact me for this.
Please do keep in mind that by backing up your data to my Stroud Cloud you will be able to fully recover your data in that event, if lightning strikes differently.
That is all for now, have a great late summer while the sun still shines.
If I can assist, advise or entertain you further in I.T related topics do give me a call!