Posted tagged ‘technology’

New Laptop

September 13, 2018

Well on Tuesday my new laptop arrived from HP. Ordered on Sept. 1, arrives on Sept. 11. I requested priority shipping. The website said 2-4 days for extra $40. I hate to think what regular, non-priority shipping was like.

The laptop is an HP Spectre series with 15″ screen, 8Gb of Memory and 500Gb Solid State drive. Old computer was also HP but with 13″ screen. I still get my employee purchase discount which is about $250 off the price.

So it arrived by FedEx. I had to sign for it which was to be expected. After all, the box says “Intel Inside” which translates into English as “Steal Me”. They tried to deliver on Monday, but no one home. I told the driver that you said it was going be delivered on Tuesday so I wasn’t going to be home all day Monday. Driver tried to deliver during the 1.5 hour that I was out.

So the laptop has 2 USB-C ports, 1 USB-A port (the old fashioned kind) and a HDMI port to connect an auxiliary monitor. Also, it has headphone port and power connector.

I’ve been setting it up over the past few days. Took over an hour for the first boot and load of Windows 10. I had considered buying a Mac, but decided that it would have cost me over $1000 more to get a Mac laptop similarly configured.

First steps were to download the Dropbox app and login and find my files that were stored in the cloud. Then loaded Chrome browser from Google. Logged into Google and magically all of my web shortcuts reappeared. I was impressed.

Then logged in to Microsoft and downloaded MS Office. I have subscription to MS Office, so no additional fees.

Next, I was looking for a PDF editor. First try was PDF Suite. They added a couple of other utilities that I thought might be useful, but when I tried to load them. Loader says “Virus Detected”. Not good. The loaded the PDF editor. That didn’t go well either. App locks the file and prevents my ability to change file name. Support person argues no viruses. I tell her if Windows says virus on my computer, then it doesn’t get installed, PERIOD.

Call support and tell them I want money back. She tries to get my to take 50% discount. No dice, I tell her. I want 100% back. I stood firm and said I want 100% back. Eventually I got my way. Received email confirming refund. Will need to check credit card account to see if the refund was really done.

I found another PDF App called PDF Pro 10. Works much better. Two major things that I do with this app. First is to reorient pages from portrait to landscape. Second is to delete pages that I really don’t need to save.

Next step is to get copy of NoteWorthy. This is an app for editing sheet music. I have been using this for about 8 years. Email to support with license info. They immediately sent me a link to download the app. No muss, no fuss, no money. Happy customer. For anyone that does any work with sheet music, this is a great app.

Next step was to install drivers for audio interface that I use at MA Grand Chapter OES and the Mixcraft recording app. All set for next May.

Final step was to download HP software to connect to my HP printer. This allows me to scan files directly to my laptop. Connect to HP support site. No fee.

COIN

July 5, 2015

  About 18 months ago, I paid $50 to join a crowd source funding for a new product called “COIN”. COIN is supposed to be a credit card replacement that could dynamically change the data on the credit card magnetic stripe. One would be able to store a total of 8 different credit cards on the device. The idea is/was to reduce one’s credit card bloat in your wallet.

It seemed like a good idea to me. I typically have about 6-7 credit cards including ATM cards, credit cards and the like. The developer was promising delivery during the summer of 2014. I guess the early beta didn’t go as well as they hoped. So last summer they scheduled a second expanded beta with expanded beta units going to those who signed on early in the funding process.

Everyone else would have to wait until full production ramped up this summer. Those who didn’t want to wait could get a refund. So a couple of weeks ago I finally received my unit. Better late than never.

Here’s how it works, You need to install the COIN app on your smart phone (in my case an iPhone 6 plus). The COIN comes with a plug in credit card reader. First you have to pair your phone with the COIN. The COIN uses Blue-Tooth to communicate with the app.

One loads the credit cards into the app by swiping the card on the card reader. Then the app prompts you to add the security code on the back of the card. Once you are finished loading credit cards onto the app you then sync the credit cards with the COIN, So far so good. Works as advertised.

The COIN is the exact same size as a credit card. It has a small display that shows the card type (AMEX, Visa, etc) and last four digits of the card number. You can load credit/debit cards, gift cards and some id cards that have a magnetic stripe (though I can’t see how much use that would be.) There is button that you press to wake up the card and select the card that one wants to use.

Supposedly the COIN is compatible with most credit card readers and ATM’s. Here is where the rubber hits the road (or not). I haven’t tried it on any ATM’s yet. I don’t need to go to ATM’s very much. I usually get cash back while I am at the supermarket.

I have tried to use the device about a half dozen time. This is certainly a very limited sample size to be sure. I have attempted and been rejected at two different restaurants. I have successfully used it at a grocery store and the Starbucks at the grocery store.

It does have some neat security features though. The COIN won’t work if you lose connection to your phone. And the app will warn you that your COIN has gone away. It shuts off after about seven minutes and you will need a pass code to turn it back on or be paired with your phone.

So I wouldn’t use at it the regular Starbucks. They have an iPhone App for that and it works quite well.

Much of my shopping is done online and this device is of no use for that type of shopping.

My end goal is to have Apple-Pay become more widely accepted. Then I could ditch the credit cards all together. As it stands right now, I have only seen Apple-Pay in use at one merchant establishment (Panera Restaurant).

If you are interested in learning more about the device from the developer’s web site, Go to onlycoin.com. As for me, I’m not quite ready to leave my credit cards at home (at least not yet.) The support pages has a list of merchants that accept COIN and a list that have been reported as rejecting it.

Coin

August 29, 2014

Maybe you’ve heard of a device called “Coin” or maybe not. “Coin” is a device being developed by some folks in San Francisco. The concept is the device that will save account information of up to eight credit or debit cards and can be used like a credit or debit card at any Point of Sale credit card terminal or ATM. It works in conjunction with a mobile app to load the credit card information including account number, expiration date, security code and account owner’s name and so forth. Here’s the link to the “Coin” web site. And here is a picture of the device.

Coin-640x353

Okay, so far so good. I get it. I can carry one card instead of eight. Lightens up the amount of plastic I carry in my pocket. Sounds like a laudable goal.

So when I heard about it last fall, I bit the bullet and signed up. The company is partially funded by crowd source funding. Never heard of “Crowd Source Funding”? Click here for the wikipedia entry. That is, I send them my $50, and they promise to send one of the devices some time in the future. So a lot of people signed up. The company hasn’t said how much money was raised, but I believe it was significant.

So are there any drawbacks to the design? Two big ones that I can think of. First, it has a battery inside. Batteries go dead after a while. Coin website says the battery lasts for two years. Then you have to buy a new coin. By that time there ought to be a Coin 2.0 available. Perhaps it will support loading more cards, chip and pin, longer battery life? Who knows.

Second, the credit card technology used in the US is called “Chip and Signature”. The technology rapidly being adopted is called “Chip and Pin”. This technology is considered more secure. The “Coin” does not support “Chip and Pin”. So don’t expect it to work in Europe. Maybe some day it will be supported but not now

So back in November (November 15 to be exact) I forked over $50. The company said that the device would start shipping by the summer of 2014. Every once and a while, I would get an email with current status of development. So the summer has pretty much come and gone. The IOS app appeared as scheduled on 8/28. (The Android version is scheduled for 9/25) So I downloaded the app.  Actually it took a while to find. When you do a search for “Coin” you get about a couple of thousand hits. But never no mind.

I guess I should have known, when someone is vague about delivery dates using terms like spring or summer. I of course was hoping for June. Coin was obviously thinking end of summer. 

Recent emails from coin, have been telling me that delivery will be delayed as well as a second beta for 15,000 devices, with production quality devices shipping in Spring of 2015. Perhaps their idea of Spring is next September. I am not holding my breath. 

So the 2nd beta is for 15,000 devices going to the first 15,000 folks who signed up. The IOS app was to tell you when your device would ship (ie. are you in the beta or not?) The app says my coin would ship Spring 2015. I am not happy about that. And I fear that their scheduling is overly optimistic. I would not be surprise that additional delays could happen.

I could ask for my money back. My suspicion that would take quite a while. Besides, the money is already spent. I might as well settle down and wait.

One more thing. If after reading all of the above and you are still interested in pre-ordering one, use the following link to order. I get a $5 referral bonus credit. 

VPN’s Explained

September 13, 2013

Last night I mentioned the use of a VPN on Facebook. It occurred to me that many of my FB friends don’t have a clue what I was talking about. So here is a brief tutorial on VPN’s.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It was originally developed to allow remote users to securely connect to a corporations internal networks. Corporations install firewalls to prevent unauthorized users to snoop around their internal networks. The VPN provides end-to-end encrypted connection.

That was the original idea. Now it seems some new and clever uses have emerged. There are companies that will sell for a modest price VPN service that provides anonymous connections to the internet. This has been used successfully in third world countries to allow users (say in China) to bypass Chinese government attempts to prevent Chinese citizens to look at sites outside their country.

The service that I use is sold by a company called Avast!. They also provide free anti-virus apps. So when I bring up my VPN it goes through one of Avast’s servers around the world. This prevents snoops (like the NSA or CIA) from looking at what web sites you are visiting.

Web servers have the ability to find out in a general fashion where you are located. For instance, a weather site would find out that I live in the Los Angeles area and that I probably would be interested in the weather in LA. A site can do a “traceroute” to find out where your IP address is located. Netflix uses traceroute to make sure that you are inside the continental USA. Their agreement with content providers is for US access only.

So when I use a VPN, I can make a web server think that I am located somewhere else. Last night I was trying to access both the Apple and AT&T site. My thought was that they might be giving east coast users a head start on ordering new iPhones. So I loaded my VPN going through New York. It didn’t help because the Apple and AT&T sites were severely overloaded.

I also occasionally use it for accessing MLBtv. That is the Major League Baseball subscription app for viewing baseball games. MLB however blacks out games in your local area. Seeing as I usually want to watch Boston Red Sox game, this is not a problem. However, when the Sox were playing the LA Dodgers, the game was blacked out here in LA. So I loaded my VPN going through Seattle. Presto, MLB thinks I’m in Seattle. Game on. Unfortunately this doesn’t work for my iPad. Apple devices also have a GPS that MLB uses to find out where you are.

VPN’s are also very useful for securing your internet access from public wiFi access (eg. at Starbucks, Local Libraries and hotels). I strongly encourage VPN use in those situations. You just don’t know who is listening.

Here are a few links for your education (be forwarned these wiki articles are a bit technical):

Virtual Private Networks Wiki

Traceroute

Avast! VPN Service

VPN Anyone?

August 19, 2013

You might say what the heck is a VPN? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPN’s were originally developed to allow internet users access to the web from behind corporate firewalls. It was also used to allow home users access to corporate networks that were hidden by firewalls. Here is a much more detailed explanation of VPN’s on Wikipedia.

Okay, all well and good. Now VPN’s are used for several other purposes. Here’s a list. (by no means exhaustive).

  1. Security on public networks. If you use public internet access, say at your local Starbuck’s or local library, you are using a public internet. This means that other people with some clever tools can listen into what you are doing. The can see what sites you are visiting. They sometimes see the data you are transmitting. Using a VPN on public internet is a very good practice.
  2. Access to sites that are blocked. Some sites are blocked. Sometimes by governments (eg. China, Middle East), sometimes by corporations, and sometimes by ISP’s.

So there are private VPN’s operated by corporate IT departments and there are VPN’s that are public where you can purchase a license to use their service. I will be talking about the latter case, because that one is the most useful for the average user.

I first started thinking about VPN’s recently when CBS and Time Warner Cable (TWC) started a very public fight. The fight is over fees that CBS wants TWC to pay for the right to provide CBS to TWC’s customers. TWC customers could no longer watch CBS shows on their TV service. TWC also blocked access to CBS web sites on their internet service. I can’t do anything to fix the former problem (unless I buy an antenna or switch providers).  But I can do something about the internet service. I could of course switch TV and network providers, but that is a giant PITA.

The solution is to install a VPN on my laptop. There are several providers available. Most of the providers try a free “try before you buy” license, typically good for a few days. Currently, I am trying out “Avast Secure Line”, Seems to work. I can view the CBS sites. I need to try on MLBTV by attempting to watch games that are typically blacked out. It has free three day license. Then $42 for a year.

Here’s the screen shot of the Avast Secure Line:

avast secureline

iOS solution is a bit different. There are several iOS apps available. Search the App Store for “VPN”. Installation seems to be straight forward. The apps tend to be free. They typically limit initial free bandwidth to 300mb. So you get to try before you buy. After that you have to do in-app purchase to buy bandwidth. The privacy needs for my iPAD and iPhone are more important than my PC. I don’t take my laptop travelling very much. Most of the time it is plugged in to my home wifi. Here’s the link to the app store entry for “VPN Express“. There are other VPN apps. Try them and see what works.

2013-08-19 11.17.01

So my recommendation, get a VPN. Remember that freedom isn’t free, and neither is security. There is way too much snooping going on, Both by the government(s) and others. This is one additional way to keep people from snooping. Plus, now I can watch “David Letterman” and “Big Bang Theory”. VPN’s won’t prevent mail providers like Google or Yahoo giving the NSA the admin passwords to the mail servers. But it does plug an important hole in internet security.

I still need to try the VPN apps with MLBTV games that are blacked out for being local. For me that would be LA Dodgers and LA Angels. Not a real big deal. I only care about them when they’re playing the Boston Red Sox.

Costco Hearing Aids

June 19, 2013

Yesterday, we went for my appointment with the Costco Hearing Aid dept. We met with Vallonna who is the Hearing Aid Center manager. After filling out some forms and giving her my copy of my hearing test from Kaiser we got down to business.

We started with some more hearing tests. As usual, I sat in a sound proof room and listened to the head phones. Push the button when you hear the tone. In addition to what they did at Kaiser, she also did a loudness test. ie. How loud can we go before you feel pain? Push the button when it gets too loud.

She recommended a pair of Resound Forza 8 behind the ear BTE hearing aids. Base price of about $1350 each. Expensive but a lot less than the price at Hearx. She then programmed a pair of hearing aids for me to try. The hearing aids come with a handy remote control that can control both volume and program. She showed me how to use. Set it up with two programs, one for noisy and one for normal. Then she sent us off to wander around the store for 30 minutes.

This was something that the folks at Hearx never offered. Try before you buy, what a concept. The Costco warehouse was certainly a hearing challenging area. It took a little getting used to, but I liked them.

So we ordered the hearing aid pair. Paid with the Costco Amex card which gives 2% rebate at the end of the year. We also ordered the phone clip that provides the Blue Tooth capability. Pick up next Monday where Vallona will program. Then we have followup appointment the following Monday to see how things are going. I am looking forward to getting them.

TTFN

Joe

There’s an App for that

December 17, 2012

First, some administrivia. This is my 100th post. How’d that happen?

I thought I would write about some of my favorite iPhone/iPad apps. As many of you know (or may not) I own a 3rd gen iPad and in iPhone 4s. Here in no particular are some of the apps that I use a lot. Note, most of the hyperlinks takes you to the iTunes store.

Shazam

Shazam is in app for identifying music. Push the button and the app will listen for about 30-60 seconds and report to you what you are listening. It is truly amazing. Even works with classical music. BTW, it’s free.

GroceryIQ

An app for managing grocery lists. Sync’s with your grocery list in the cloud. So you can add something on the iPad list and it shows up your iPhone list. There is also a web version. Free. There is also an Android version.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a cloud file storage service. I pay $10 a month for 100Gb of storage. There are Dropbox apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. You selectively sync folders on to your device.

Sheet Music Apps

When the iPad first came out, I decided it would be an excellent platform for storing my collection of sheet music. I had hundreds of pages of sheet music stored in loose leaf binders. This was a killer app for me.

Readdledocs and PDF Expert

At first I used Readledocs together with dropbox to put my sheet music (stored as PDF files on Dropbox) on to my iPad. I also used a similar app called PDF Expert. I believe that both apps support Google drive (another cloud storage service). Both apps support annotation of the files. Readdledocs is $4.99 and PDF Expert is $9.99.

Forscore

Forscore is a sheet music management app. One loads music scores in PDF format into the app. Then one can assign to a genre (eg. Classical, Pop, etc.)

But there’s more. You can create ‘Set Lists’ then organize according to the way you plan to play the music. You can import from Dropbox and other cloud storage services. Then add other meta-data related to each score (author, tags, etc.)

They also sell music scores. Price $4.99. Well worth the money.

Musicnotes

Musicnotes is another sheet music app. The difference here is that it is primarily for viewing scores bought from their service on musicnotes.com. The app is free, but you have to buy music from them.

They have an option for loading PDF files that you have created. But this costs $9.99 and doesn’t work very well. I either scan the music on my flat bed scanner or use an app called DeskPDF to create the PDF file. For my money, Forscore is way better.

PWsafe

PWsafe is an app for managing usernames and passwords. The app is free, but for a couple of dollars you can add the function to sync password files on Dropbox or other cloud file services. In my online world I have many accounts on many different services. (eg. Banking, Shopping, Social media, Subscriptions, etc.). Using the same password on all of one’s accounts is a bad idea. So remembering multiple passwords is (at least to me) impossible. PWsafe encrypts the file that stores your passwords. Now you only need one master password to open the file. IOS devices and Android supported as well as Windows PC.

That’s enough for now. More later…