Q: I've been hesitant to use a password management service like LastPass or Dashlane because if it is hacked then all of my accounts would be compromised. How safe are they to use, and what safeguards do they have?
A: Before I answer your question, let me tell you what the least secure way to store your passwords is: any method that involves not using a secure password management system. It is humanly impossible to remember a separate password for every website that you use, and that is what you must be doing to protect your online accounts. If you use the same password on any two websites, you are already trusting your passwords to every website where you login. For instance, if you use the same password for your bank, Facebook, email account, and the blogs and forums you leave comments on, you are trusting all of them with access to all of your other sites! If any of them get hacked and your password is compromised, that password will be tested against all of your other accounts, and as soon as one account is broken into, hackers can and will use it to gain access into every other online account you have. Don't believe me? Ask Mat Honan. That is why it is so important that you must have a separate password on every online account you have. You should also have two-step authentication on any accounts that you can, but that is a separate conversation for another day.
LastPass and Dashlane both provide an incredible service: remembering the dozens upon dozens of passwords and logins that people have to use on a daily basis. Both have browser plugins for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari that will fill in your passwords for you while you browse on the web. Both also have apps for iOS and Android, so you can always have your passwords at arms reach.
Both LastPass and Dashlane use AES-256 encryption, the same encryption your bank uses to keep your account information safe. On top of that, Dashlane and Lastpass encrypt your information one more …
Q: I have a laptop that is about 10 years old, and it is completely beyond repair. What can I do with it? Is it OK to just throw it in the trash?
A: NO! Stop! If you've already put it out for the trash, stop reading this right now, and go bring it back inside! Never, ever, throw computers, or almost any electronics, in the trash.
First of all, you need to protect yourself and clear any personal data off of that thing before you release it into the wild. I'm not talking about a simple, quick re-formatting. I mean such a thorough scrubbing of your data that it would take the entire cast of CSI to recreate it. When you delete something from your hard drive, it isn't really erased. The computer just pretends it's not there.
To really delete a file from your computer's hard drive, you have to write something over that file. There are a few programs that will securely delete your files for you. If it's a Windows PC you're getting rid of, use a program like Eraser or the Drive Wiper in CCleaner to completely eradicate your data. If you're tossing out a Mac, there's a program called Permanent Eraser.
Once you've taken care of protecting yourself, you need to protect the environment. Computers are loaded with toxic metals and materials that are dangerous to the environment and need to be handled appropriately. Some cities and counties have curbside pickup of e-waste, but you should never just toss your computer in with the regular trash.
Check with your municipality's website to find out where you can drop off your computer so that it is disposed of properly. Here in Jacksonville e-waste can be dropped off Tuesday through Saturday at the city's Household Hazardous Waste Facility located at 2675 Commonwealth Ave.
Of course as they say, one man’s toxic trash is another man’s treasure. There are companies that will take computers and monitors apart and extract the metals out of them to sell as scrap. So before you just throw that old junker away, …
Q: There was a break in at my neighbor's house last night. If I hadn't seen the cops pull up as I was leaving for work, I wouldn't even had known about it. It made me realize just how few of my neighbors I actually know. Is there was a website or some other way I can get to know my neighbors that doesn't require going door to door and meeting my neighbors in person?
A: It is ironic that with Facebook and Twitter we can know what a random acquaintance from high school had for lunch, but we still might not know the name of three of our neighbors. There is a new social network called Nextdoor that is trying to fix that. Nextdoor is a private social network that only connects you to people who live in your neighborhood. To join, you have to prove where you live. To verify where you live, you can provide a credit or debit card to verify your street address, choose to have Nextdoor sent a postcard in the mail with a security code, or in some areas you can have Nextdoor call your landline telephone. Otherwise, you'll have to be verified by the Founding Member or a Lead Neighbor.
Once you've been verified, you can sign in to find out about all of the yard sales, missing puppies, and fun events in your neighborhood. In my neighborhood, folks are giving stuff away, having garage sales, posting information about church and theatre events, and talking about the car smash and grabs that happened last year. The cities of New York, San Diego, San Jose and Dallas have all adopted Nextdoor to improve communication with their residents. Now, you can even share and talk with folks in nearby neighborhoods, so you won't be limited to just your community. You can choose if you want your information and posts just shared with your neighborhood and/or with nearby neighborhoods. Also, like any self respecting social network, Nextdoor has an iPhone app, and is developing an Android app, so you can post and read others posts on the go.
To sign up for Nextdoor, download the …
Q: I bought a laptop about six months ago, and it already feels like it's running sluggish. It came with a bunch of programs on it that I don't need and don't use. Are they making it run slow? If so, can I get rid of them?
A: Most people believe that computers get slower with age, but that's actually a misconception. Computer hardware doesn't get slower, at least not noticeably. The difference in speed over several years is microscopic, barely even measurable. However, the operating system and the software on your computer does get significantly slower as you install programs that run in the background and as you upgrade to more feature packed versions of the software you have. To make things worse, new computers, especially Windows PCs tend to come with lots of "bloatware" right out of the box, getting you off to a slow start to begin with. Get rid of any programs you have on your computer that you don't use, and you'll have a leaner, faster machine. There are a few free great programs that will do the job for you. Unfortunately, neither of the two best applications for Windows have really great names: CCleaner and PC Decrapifier. In case you were wondering, yes, the extra "C" in CCleaner stands for "Crap." Despite their names that seem to be inspired by the jokes of adolescents, both of these applications do an excellent job of uninstalling software and removing settings that slow down your computer. For Mac users, there is a beta version of CCleaner available on their website, and there is also MacKeeper and CleanMyMac which do the same job. MacKeeper is the only software listed above that isn't free, but it offers many more options than the others. It is worth checking out, even though the price can get hefty.
Once you have one of the programs I mentioned above downloaded and installed, go through the list of applications. Ask yourself, when was the last time I used this program, and when do I expect the next time will be? If you've never used it, and you …
Q: The rear-facing camera on my iPhone is foggy, but the front-facing camera is perfectly clear. What can I do to fix it?
A: It's fairly safe to rule out any software problem with your phone, especially since you said the front-facing camera is working properly. So, it has to be one of three causes: you either have a bad scratch or scratches on the lens of your camera or you have moisture inside your iPhone, or there is the possibility that your lens is just dirty.
Now, I am assuming that you have already tried to clean your camera lens, but even so, that's where I would start. Take a slightly damp cloth with a little bit of gentle soap on it, and rub the lens. Then, dry it off. After you're done with that, try taking a few pictures, and see if it's still not taking clear photos. If the pictures are still foggy, take the edge of your fingernail or a guitar pick, and gently scrape the lens. If any debris comes off, get that cloth back out and keep cleaning!
If that still doesn’t fix the problem, try feeling for ridges on the lens. If you find any, you have a scratched lens which is most likely your problem. Otherwise you probably have moisture in your iPhone. If moisture is the problem, there’s a simple fix you can try, although it’s a little bit unusual. Turn off your iPhone. Then, take a gallon size Ziplock baggie, and fill it with about a pound of rice. Now, take your iPhone and bury it in the bag of rice, and seal the bag. Leave it in there for a couple of days. Believe it or not, that should draw most of the moisture out of your phone. Now, take out your iPhone, turn it back on, and try to take a picture. With any luck, it will have cleared up.
If that doesn't work, it's time to take your iPhone to the Apple Store. They might not be able to do anything about it, because you may have violated your warranty, for instance if you have gotten your iPhone wet, but they'll be able to tell you what they can do, and they …
Q: I was letting my three-year-old play with my iPhone when she spit up all over it. Eww. I need to get it clean. Like, really clean, not just “dab-it-with-a-lint-free-cloth clean.” It’s a phone. You put it up to your face! And I just know it's crawling with germs now. How can I disinfect my iPhone?
A: Oh, that is gross! However, even if your kid hadn't aimed for your iPhone, a couple of recent studies have shown that even cellphones that haven't been victims of three-year-olds are “veritable reservoirs of pathogens.” A sample of smartphones showed abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination. So, with that in mind you’ll definitely want to clean your phone. A lint-free cloth and some alcohol should kill 99% of bacteria.
However, certain touch-screen smart-phones, including the iPhone, have an oleophobic coating on them to protect them from smudges and fingerprints. Apple specifically warns not to use any product with alcohol in it to clean the iPhone or iPad screens. Using cleaners with alcohol will wear down the oleophobic coating on your iPhone and iPad.
Now, anecdotal evidence indicates that an occasional light cleaning with alcohol doesn’t seem to have much ill effect on an iPhone, but you use it against the manufacturer’s recommendations and at your own risk. Be sure to test any cleaner you try before use. Dab a small amount of it on the corner of your cellphone’s screen. Better to damage a small piece of your screen than the entire thing.
However, most phones can be cleansed with just a small amount of mild soap and a little bit of water. Make sure that the rag is just a little wet. That will get rid of most germs. It won't kill the germs, but it will get them off your phone, which is all that really matters, right? You'll have a phone with hardly any germs on it. Of course, you'll want to consult the manual for your device before trying this at …
Q: I love that the Kindle holds my furthest location, but my wife and I share one account. That makes things really annoying when she finishes a book when I am just starting it. Is there a way to reset the synchronization, or just turn it off?
A: When you read an eBook on a Kindle ereader or app, Amazon peaks over your shoulder and keeps track of what page you are on. The feature called Whispersync tracks what you are reading so you don't have to find your place. The next time you open your eBook, even if you open your eBook on another device, it will open to the last page you had open when you closed it.
But, if you are sharing an account with someone, and you are both trying to read the same book, it can get pretty irritating. However, it is pretty easy to change it so that it stops doing that, if you know where to find it.
Here’s what you do. Go to Amazon.com on your computer. Then click Your Account > Manage Your Kindle > Manage Your Devices > Manage Kindle Device Synchronization. Now, under the heading Device Synchronization (Whispersync Settings), click Turn Off.
Wait a little while, maybe about 10 minutes.
On your Kindle device or your Kindle app, exit the book and reopen it. Turn to the first page in the book, and try to sync your book to the furthest position. It should say that you are at the furthest position if it worked correctly.
If you want to turn synchronization back on, just go back to Amazon.com and click Turn On under Device Synchronization.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to synchronize or un-synchronize just one of your books. But, as long as you don’t move your position in your books, when you reopen the book after you turn synchronization back on, they will still be at the position and will sync at that position.
Q: I like to charge my phone overnight while I'm sleeping. It really only takes a couple hours to charge the phone, so this worries me. I have heard that charging a battery too long can shorten its lifespan. Is this true?
A: There’s a lot of contradictory advice about batteries out there. The reason for this is because there are a lot of different types of batteries, and different types require different care. A similar thing that I had heard was that if you unplugged them before they were finished charging, you would reduce their charging capacity. That was pretty worrying to me because sometimes I need to grab my phone and go, whether it’s done charging or not. Was this killing my battery?
Fortunately, neither of us needs to worry. You see, virtually all modern smart phones use lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are designed with the understanding that you’re going to be using your cellphone on the go. Sometimes you’ll need to unplug before you’re finished charging; sometimes you’ll plug in the phone for a quick top-off, and, of course, you'll often leave it plugged in overnight. These batteries are designed for all of that.
And it’s also OK to recharge your battery before it runs all the way down. In fact, for lithium-ion batteries, it’s preferable. Maybe once a month or so, let your battery run all the way down before charging it. This will help calibrate the battery. But most of the time you don’t need to do this.
The truth is, the major threat to your battery life is time. Rechargeable batteries have something known as "charge cycles." A charge cycle is basically going from near-empty to completely full. Every phone battery has a finite number of charge cycles. That number is very large, but eventually your phone’s battery will reach a point where its charging capacity starts getting smaller. Rechargeable batteries just don’t last forever.
Now, going back to your …
Q: I have a printer problem but not with how it works: it's the cost of operation. We bought two inkjet printers for my kids to use in college. While the printers were very cheap to purchase, they have been very expensive to operate. I am not sure which cost more - college tuition or the ink for the printers! Now that the kids have graduated, I would really like to find a printer that’s inexpensive to run and has decent print quality for occasional home use. Any ideas?
A: Inkjet printers are often cheap to buy, but they are notoriously expensive to maintain. When I was working for a certain office supply company years ago, I learned that the companies that make the printers actually make their money off selling the ink. But here's a question for you, how much do you really need to print? That question may sound crazy but, do you have a mobile device that could replace whatever you are using the printer for? In my house, we hardly print anything anymore because we have an iPad. You would be surprised at how much a tablet or good smartphone will replace printing stuff out.
Remember going to MapQuest and printing out directions before you went on a trip? A device with built-in GPS can take care of that. One of the main selling points for inkjets is that they are fantastic for printing out high resolution color pictures, but how often do you really need to do that? Again, that's something that a lot of folks who own tablets and smartphones don't need because the pictures look better on the mobile device, and if you want to show them off, most of them have a way you can show the pictures on your high def television screen. If you do need to print some pictures, your local print shop can probably do a much better job and do it cheaper, all things being equal.
My wife really only uses our printer for couponing and the occasional form that has to printed out and signed. You don't need a color printer for that. So, she did some research and discovered …
Q: I’ve heard that you’re supposed to have a good password to keep hackers from breaking into your account, but how do I know what a secure password is? I know I shouldn’t use something dumb like 123abc but I don’t think I can remember a bunch of random letters and numbers. What would you recommend?
A: First of all, there are different guidelines for home users and work users. Here are some password security basics for home users:
Never share a computer account,
never use the same password for more than one account,
never tell a password to anyone, including people who claim to be from customer service or security,
never email your password to anyone,
be sure to log off or lock your screen before leaving a computer unattended,
change your password whenever you think that it may have been compromised, and
don’t use guessable passwords: this includes your spouse’s name, your kid’s name, your pet’s name, and of course your name.
A perfect password would be made up entirely of random letters numbers and special characters, be as long as possible, and not be used anywhere else. Unfortunately, this is not humanly possible. Unless you use something like LastPass. LastPass is a password management app. It suggests complicated, secure passwords for any website or application, and it remembers all of them for you.
Here is another easy way to create strong, secure passwords: instead of using random letters and numbers, use a long string of separate words. For instance, something like "OrangeShrimpOrphanSingers."
Separate each word with a number to make the password alphanumeric. Try not to make the words related to each other because that will make them easier to guess. But you will likely find four words easier to remember than eight or 10 random characters, and because the password is longer, it is actually tougher to crack.
Oh, and you know how you’ve always been told …