Online services need to figure out the ‘Family’ concept

Recently, I’ve had several clients contact me asking to help them setup and configure multiple iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches and computers, both Apple and Windows. In each case, children were part of the equation.

“This iPad belongs to Johnny. This one is for Mary. They also each have their own iPhone.” That sort of thing.

The question is about sharing certain things but not other things. The children’s devices should be able to use apps, listen to music, watch movies that were purchased with the parent’s iTunes account, but they shouldn’t have access to the parent’s calendars, contacts,  emails, etc. “Everything” should synchronize, but you know, not everything. Often, the client can’t really specify what they want, much less figure out how to do it.

So, the answer is to set up iCloud accounts for the children. That shouldn’t be a problem, but it is. Because you can’t create an iCloud account if you are under 13. Oh, wait, you can’t do it without lying about your age.

Apple, Facebook, Google, etc. should have a way for a parent to create an account and then manage their family’s accounts, too. Mom and Dad have Apple IDs and iCloud accounts and want to create accounts for their kids? Great, let’s just open the “Accounts” page, click on “Add child,” fill in the correct information and done! iCloud configured.

Sadly, most online services don’t seem to see the need or have an answer. I’ve seen lots of articles about “How to setup iCloud for my family” and each one of them just skims over the “Create an account for each child.” They don’t address the “lie about your kids’ age” issue.

It’s possible that when the articles were written, that requirement didn’t exist. I’m pretty certain that when iCloud was released, I created an account for my under-13 son using his correct birthday without any problems. But, now when I look at his account, it indicates a problem with the birthdate. If I change it to his actual birthday, it says “invalid.” So I cancel and leave it as it is.

Please, Apple and others, add this to your To-Do list. Fast!


What to do if your install disks don’t work

I had a client call me the other day. He had purchased a new desktop and was trying to install Microsoft Office onto it using his original Microsoft media. But, for some reason, it kept getting stuck on one particular file.

He tried cleaning the DVD. He tried copying the files to the computer. Nothing worked. So, he called me, asking “What can I do?”

Here’s what I do. I download a copy of the software from the many torrent sites around.

Yes, many people use torrents to illegally download music, movies and software, but this doesn’t fall into the illegal category. The client has a legal Product Key and a copy of the software; it’s just scratched or damaged in some way and can’t be used to install.

The software that can be found all over the internet for download is not illegal. It’s a backup, if you will. Downloaded software becomes illegal if you use a stolen Product Key or something is done to get around the product key requirement. But, if you use your legal and purchased Product Key, everything is fine.

Problem Solved. Case Closed.

Windows Users: Install and run Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware

Everyone knows that you should have an anti-virus program on your Windows computer. Many computers even come with a trial version of some commercial product, although I always recommend using one of the three free anti-virus products: AVG (my personal choice), Avast or Avira.

But, it turns out that these anti-virus programs don’t catch all the different “gremlins” that might be in your system, causing things to slow down, freeze, prevent web access, etc. For this reason, I always install the free version Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware software.

In fact, if you are using a computer running Windows right now, I’d recommend downloading it now and running it. A quick scan followed by a full scan, if the quick scan found anything. If you’ve been using your computer for more than 3 months, I’m willing to bet that you’ll find *something* on your system that warrants a closer look and/or removal.

While anti-virus software runs in the background all the time, this (free) software only runs on demand. I recommend scanning your computer about once a month, just in case.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about it or you’re uneasy about downloading or running it yourself.

HP Printers are great. HP Computers are not.

HP makes great printers. They seem to be on the cutting edge of features. Their products are easy to install, easy to use. The software for Mac or Windows computers seems to be really designed for each computer specifically, rather than a poor conversion of one to the other. All in all, after all these years, I still consider HP my go-to printer choice and recommend it to my clients, who often say “Yes, I’ve been happy with HP printers for years.”

But, there’s a dark side to HP.

HP computers suck. On so many different levels. Since I spend a lot of my professional life inside the computer, my complaints focus mostly on more technical aspects. To wit:

  1. In one week, I had two clients contact me about their HP Pavilion Slimline model. In both cases, the power supply was dead. That by itself is already a bit suspect, but in one case, it was user error: the computer was purchased in Mexico (110 V) and connected here in Switzerland (220 V). Poof! Dead power supply. That’s my first beef. Yes, they have little switches on the back of the power supply to choose 110 V or 220 V, but what regular computer user knows about this? I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and guess how I found out about it? Yup, I did the same thing. But, auto-switching power supplies do exist. All laptop adapters that I’ve seen work on the range 100 – 240 V and many desktops, as well. I hope that HP has changed that practice recently. I really, really hope they have.
  2. OK, so I have two HP Slimline’s with dead power supplies. No problem. Pop the box open, remove the power supply, off to the computer accessories store and I’ll be done by the end of the day, right? Wrong. In order to remove the power supply, I had to remove: the faceplate, the optical drive, the Pocket Media drive bay, and the hard disk. Basically, I took apart the entire computer. This is unheard of, even in small footprint models that I’ve seen before. Even to upgrade the RAM, you have to remove the optical drive. Sheesh! It makes me *really* appreciate Apple engineering.
  3. Now that I’ve been able to remove the power supply, getting a new one should be a no-brainer. But, it wasn’t. It’s not a standard size. I had to call HP and order one. <sigh> But, guess what?! You can’t order parts from HP. They don’t do that. Even if you have the HP part number, you can’t order a replacement part. You have to go through third party sources.
  4. I’ve had to contact HP support on many, many occasions. In several different countries. And, to put it bluntly, it was awful. Each and every time. Wait, I’m sure that’s not true. I’m sure there were occasions that it wasn’t stab-me-in-the-eye painful, but such occurrences are washed away in the flood of awful experiences. I have saved away some of the support chat transcripts. Horrifying reading. They won’t help you if you’ve contacted the *wrong* country’s support line. If you’re now in Switzerland but bought it in US, guess what? You have to order the parts you nee from the US, but guess what, part 2? They can’t ship it internationally. FFS, guys, don’t you know this is a global economy? People travel! They work in different countries! Can you really be so clueless?
  5. HP laptops. My son bought an HP laptop several years ago. He had it replaced twice within the first year because of overheating. And I’ve had numerous HP laptops come to me that were overheating due to very poor ventilation. In some cases, the vents were a little clogged with dust and cleaning it out was enough to help things out. But, again, I had to take the computer almost completely apart in order to remove/clean the fans and vents. And this went on – goes on? – for years. You’d think that if they were listening – which they clearly aren’t – to their forums, customer feedback, etc. they would at least make the fans easier to access and clean. But, they didn’t. I daresay, they don’t.

Now, if these gripes were similar for other computer manufacturers, I’d have nothing to write about. But, they really seem to something particular to HP. Other manufacturers have auto-switching power supplies. Not HP. Other computers are easy to disassemble and replace parts. Not (always) with HP. Other manufactures use standard parts. Not (always) with HP. Getting replacement parts directly from the manufacturer is usually no problem. Not so with HP.

And regarding the overheating of HP laptops. It was so systemic, every forum had people crying foul about their laptops, but there was no word from HP about what to do, about a recall, about a repair program, nothing. In fact, if you searched the HP website, there was no mention of any problems with the laptops. Sony had a problem once about overheating or power supplies or batteries, or something. They didn’t have to do anything, but they did. If you went to the product page of an affected product, even if you were just looking for information or drivers or anything *not* related to the issue they knew about, there was a big, obvious “READ ME” section at the top of the page telling the reader about a free exchange for the defective part, even if already out of warranty. SONY went out of their way to tell people there was a problem with certain models and what the customer could do about it. HP seems to hide from similar problems. They don’t acknowledge the problem. When it becomes too obvious, they offer no support, no centralized help page, and they certainly don’t offer free replacements or service. Especially not out of warranty.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this post. I just read a truly horrifying article on the Economic Times on the India Times about how HP is going to merge their Printer and PC divisions. Noooooo! Not only that, but according to the article, “the printing division chief [would] step down …and current PC chief  [would] head up the combined unit.” Arrrrrgh! The best division in the company is going to be merged with … well, *not* the best division in the company and the new combined division will be run by the guy who ran the *not* best division?

Meg Whitman – you’ve got the cart in front of the horse.

Laptop users: Prey Project, a free anti-theft solution

The other day, I was WhatsApp’ing a friend of mine in Norway. She told me she was at work – on a weekend? – and that she had just frightened a burglar away, but he had nonetheless managed to steal a laptop.

My immediate response was, for the future, install and configure Prey Project which is a free anti-theft service. I’m not sure I agree with the word “anti-theft,” but in case of theft, Prey Project might help you by gathering and providing you with data.

Here’s how it works.

You download and install a tiny piece of software which will run in the background. As part of the installation, you provide an email address and a password which is used to create an account on Prey Project’s website. You receive an email to activate the account.

The whole process takes about 5-10 minutes, from download through to activation. From now on, your laptop will periodically check with the website, essentially asking ”

Have I been reported as stolen? No? Oh, ok. Good. I’ll go back to sleep.”

What happens next is…not much. That is, until your laptop gets stolen.

As soon as you realize that your laptop has been stolen, run – don’t walk – to their web site, log in and “report” your laptop as being stolen. Now, the next time your laptop asks “Have I been reported as stolen?” it will be told that indeed it has and it will start to collect data: geolocation data, network information (such as the name of the wireless network it’s connected to, IP addresses, nearby wireless hotspots), screenshot, picture of user from webcam (don’t put tape over your webcam!), and other info. You have access to this data and can print it and take it to the police so they have something to work with.

It’s not an anti-theft solution, but it does give you a fighting chance to get your laptop back.

Highly recommended. Works on Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, Linux, Adroid and soon, iOS. Although I am directing this towards laptop users, it does work with desktops, too. It’s just that laptops are easier to steal.


Mac Users: Please, please, please….use Time Machine

Whenever I meet a client or a friend or really anyone who uses a Mac computer, almost the first question I ask them is “Do you use Time Machine?” often followed by a short pause as I gauge their reaction and then “Do you know about Time Machine?”

If you don’t know, Time Machine is a backup solution provided by Apple in the operating system on your Mac. It was introduced in 2007 with Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and continued with Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and certainly Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

The best thing about Time Machine, besides being free, is how easy it is. All you do is attach a hard disk to your Apple desktop or laptop and your Mac will ask you “Shall I use this disk to backup your system?” So, all you need to do is buy a hard disk of sufficient size, plug it in and when prompted, respond “Yes.” That’s it. Really.

But, it’s not really it, is it?

Well, actually it is, but there’s more to say. More that’s worth reading to the end.

If you have only a Mac desktop, then the above is a great solution. Plug in the hard disk, never take it out, and forget it. Your system will take care of everything.

However, if you have only a laptop, or if you have more than one Mac computer in the same household, you really want a wireless backup option. Why?

Well, if you have only a laptop, the idea is to be mobile. So you take your laptop to a meeting, interview, to the pub or cafe, to a friend’s house, etc. When you get home with your laptop, you have a dozen things on your mind: kids, dinner, going to the gym, report due tomorrow, friend coming over, etc. The last thing on your mind, probably, is “Oh, I have to plug in my hard disk to let Time Machine do its thing.” So, inevitably, people will forget to plug it in. Maybe one day. Maybe one day becomes two days. or a week.

However, during this time of not plugging in the hard disk, you probably will use the computer. To check email, print out the travel documents, check movie times, look up a recipe, etc.

Apple realized this situation and came out with the cleverly titled Time Capsule to work with Time Machine. It’s basically a wireless router with a huge disk built-in. It comes in two capacities: 2 TB and 3 TB. It takes about 10 minutes to setup. Once it is, you tell your laptop to use the hard disk on the Time Capsule as its backup device. Now, anytime you use the computer, it will be backing things up. Wirelessly.

Another great thing about the Time Capsule is that it can back up multiple computers at once. So, if you have an iMac for the kids, and Mom and Dad each have a laptop, they can all back up to the same Time Capsule. Security and peace of mind.

Like car insurance or health insurance.

So, if you use a Mac, please, please, please, please…..use Time Machine. And, depending on which Macs or how many, you may want to consider using the Apple Time Capsule.

iBank 3 Review: on Mac OS X Lion (10.7.x) and iPhone

Some time ago, I purchased iBank to keep track of my finances. During the Eighties, Nineties and Naughties, I used, recommended, and even sold Quicken, but I forget why I decided to change this time around.

In any case, I was able to keep track of my finances both on my MacBook Pro and also on my iPhone. Any transactions entered on one would be automagically sync’d to the other either via MobileMe or directly when on the same WiFi network. Great stuff.

But, the iPhone version has some noticeable bugs and problems. To this day, and I’ve tried it on iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3Gs and now iPhone 4S, I cannot enter a Deposit directly. I have to select “POS” or “Withdrawal” or something with a negative number, then I can decide that it’s a Deposit. If I select “Deposit” first, it simply won’t let me enter anything. Weird.

Furthermore, it seems to me that I should select the Payee first…based on previously entered transactions, the program should know that BP is a POS transaction, category is Auto:Fuel, etc. Or if payee is Client, then it should be a Deposit, category Salary, etc.

Then, there’s the program on the Mac.

I wish you could drag and drop transactions from one account to another. Sometimes, I’m  entering 5 or 10 transactions, some are Cash and others are Debit Card. If I mistakenly enter a transaction in Cash, but it should be in the other account, I can’t drag and drop it into the correct account.

While typing this, I discovered that I can copy and paste the transaction, which is already something. However, when I do so, I have to go search for the transaction; the window does not scroll automatically to the new transaction. In fact, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary scrolling in the program.

Another thing I wish they’d fix is with dates. When I press up/down arrow on the date, I want it to be intelligent….Pressing “up” when it says 01 march 2012 should take me to 29 Feb, not 31 march. The date should be treated as one item, not three separate data pieces.

But, here’s the reason I am writing this post: iBank 3 on Mac OS X 10.7.x (Lion). For me, it was crashing all the time when I quit the program. It would freeze for about 10 seconds and then I’d get the crash message: Ignore, Reopen, etc.

I found out the problem. And the fix.

There is an issue with the “Sync devices on launch and quit” option. Turn it on – crash. Turn it off – smooth sailing.