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Wednesday
May162018

Please stop calling me!....(Telemarketers)

There are all sorts of reasons to block a number: an ex who won't stop calling, in my case, telemarketers who can't take a hint, scammers, or an aunt who wants to check in and see why you're still not married.

When your phone has buzzed one more time than you can take, you know it's time to block that number. But how? Here are the steps to take by popular operating systems and carriers.

Do Not Call
The first thing to do to reduce the number of unwanted calls coming to your phone is to put yourself into the National Do Not Call Registry. On the site, you can register your phone number or check if your digits are already there. On DoNotCall.gov, you can register up to three phone numbers at once. You'll also need to include an email address, as you'll need to confirm your registration. You can also call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register.

According to the FTC, which runs the registry, your phone number will be added to the registry within 24 hours, but it will likely take up to 31 days for sales calls to stop. If they persist in calling, you can file a complaint.

Operating Systems

iOS
Note: If you block someone from sending you texts, FaceTime, or voice calls, they will be automatically blocked from doing all three things.

Block a Call on iOSTo block a number that called you, go into the Phone app, select Recent. Find the number and click the I in the circle next to it. You'll get a screen with information about the call and actions to take, scroll down to Block This Caller.

If you're blocking someone in your Contacts lists, go to Settings > Phone > Call Blocking & Identification > Block Contact. That will bring up your contact list, and you can scroll through and select those you want to block. You can also get there via Settings > Messages > Blocked > Add New.

If a number texting you is not on your Contacts list, iOS 10 requires you to add it to your Contacts list before blocking it (tap the number/image on top of the screen > Create New Contact). Then follow the steps above. If you have an older version of iOS, tap the I in the circle at the upper right of the screen, then select Block This Caller > Block Contact.

If you think they'll sneak a peek at you with FaceTime, then go to that app, find the last FaceTime conversation you had with them, and click the I in the circle next to it. You'll get a screen with information about the call and actions to take; scroll down to Block This Caller. If it's someone in your Contacts, go to Settings > FaceTime > Blocked > Add New, and select the name or names to block.

In related news: If you think you've been blocked, signs include being sent directly to voicemail for calls, never seeing the "Delivered" message appear under your iMessage, and having your text turn green (as opposed to blue). These things can also happen if the person you're trying to contact does not have a connection, so don't freak out right away. But if it's been awhile and you're still not getting through...

Android
For Marshmallow or Nougat, open Dialer, go to your recent calls list, find the number you want to block and select Block/Report Spam. (If you don't want to report the number as spam, you can uncheck the box.) Then tap Block.

For Lollipop, go to the Phone app and select Call Settings > Call Rejection (ouch) > Auto Reject List. Type in the number or search for it, select it, and you're done.

If you use Messenger for messages, tap the name or number that sent you the message on your message list and select Block/Report Spam. (If you don't want to report the number as spam, you can uncheck the box.) For Contacts, go into Messenger, select Menu > Blocked Contacts > Add a Number and enter the number you want to to block.

Windows
To block calls and messages, go to Settings and then Call+SMS Filter, accept the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy if you have not already, then switch Block Calls to On. Now go to the Phone app, hold down the number you want to block, and hit Block Number, then OK.

Phones

Most HTC Phones
To block calls, open the Phone app, select Call History, tap the number, then select Block Contact or Block Caller.

Most LG Phones
To block calls, open the Phone app, select Menu > Settings > Call Reject > Reject Calls From and add numbers.

Most Samsung Phones
To block calls for numbers that have called you, go to the Phone app and open the Log. Select a number and then More > Block settings. There you will be able to select Call Block and Message Block. If the number is in your contacts, open the Phone app, select More > Settings > Call Blocking and add the number or numbers you want to block.

Carriers

AT&T
AT&T gets very specific when it comes to blocking numbers and wants you to do so on a device-by-device basis, so you're better off sticking with the instructions above that are specific to your OS or phone.

Sprint
First sign in to your Sprint account, then choose My Preferences, go to Limits and Permissions, then Block Voice, and select Block Only the Following Phone Numbers for Inbound and Outbound Calls. Enter the number or numbers and then select Add Number and Save.

T-Mobile
Go to the Home screen, select Phone > Contacts. Navigate to the contact you want to block and select Block. If you want to block callers via T-Mobile's site, you can only do so if you have a family plan. Sign in to your account and then select Tools > Family Allowance > Access Family Allowances. Go to Allowed Numbers and choose Never Allowed and put in up to 10 numbers you want blocked. Make sure to click OK and Save.

Verizon
You can block five numbers on each Verizon account that you have. The block lasts for 90 days. Log into the Verizon website, go to My Account > Manage Verizon Family Safeguards & Controls. Go to Call & Message Blocking Feature, select Add Now, and add up to five numbers. If you want or need blocking to be permanent, sign up for Verizon FamilyBase, which gives you blocking and parental control over your devices for $4.99 a month.

Wednesday
May162018

iCloud v. Google One

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is right around the corner, and we all have our lists of things we’re hoping to see: better Siri, a modular Mac, cheaper HomePod, Face ID on the iPad Pro. But there’s one product in desperate need of an update that would instantly generate an extended applause break from the keynote crowd.

No, I’m not talking about the Mac mini. I’m talking about iCloud.

iCloud has been a bone of contention for Apple users ever since its debut at WWDC 2011. A replacement for the MobileMe paid service—which replaced .Mac, which replaced iTools—iCloud was supposed to be the free online storage we all wanted. Like the services of yore, it included backup, email, and online storage starting at 5GB and going up to a terabyte or more for a monthly fee.

[ Further reading: The best TV streaming services ]google one Google

If you pay for Google Drive, Google One is the new home for your files.

That was fine back in 2011. But while Apple has added things like iTunes Match, Photo Library, and Keychain to iCloud to build it into a fuller-featured service, it still lags in comparison to the online storage offered by Google and Dropbox. And now Google is beefing up its own paid storage plans in an effort to put even more distance between it and iCloud. And it’s getting harder and harder to defend iCloud.

iCloud everywhere

Anyone who already pays for a Google Drive account will be automatically upgraded to Google One, bringing a smattering of additional features for the same (or less) money. That includes “one-tap access to experts” and “access to extras from other Google products, like credits on Google Play or deals on select hotels found in Google Search.” And Google promises more benefits over time. Google has also added family sharing to match Apple’s own Family Sharing feature. That means for just $3 a month, five family members can get 40GB of storage a piece. And if they want even more space, two terabytes costs $10 a month on either service. In fact, the two services are remarkably similar when it comes to monthly cost:

iCloud

  • 50GB: $0.99
  • 200GB: $2.99
  • 2TB: $9.99

Google One

  • 100GB: $1.99
  • 200GB: $2.99
  • 2TB: $9.99

But pricing and freebies aren’t the main appeal of Google One. It remains to be seen what Google will add to the service in the way of freebies, but as it stands, Google One is everything iCloud isn’t, namely an extension of your phone, PC, or Chromebook. It’s a way to access all of your files wherever you are. It doesn’t matter what device you’re using or even what platform—all of your files, photos, and video are accessible wherever you go. Even on a Mac, it offers a great way to keep your files and photos synced at all times.

icloud photos Apple

iCloud does a fine job with photo syncing, but it could do so much more.

Google One isn’t just a simple rebranding of Google Drive, it represents a philosophy of convenience that used to be ingrained in Apple’s products too. iCloud Drive is available on Windows, but where’s the Android app?  Apple’s iOS backups are far better than they are on Android, but on the Mac, iCloud backups are little more than syncing of your services. I understand that 5GB is far too little space for a full PC backup, but why not offer iCloud Mac backups as an option for paid accounts?

With its new One plans, Google is sending a message to its users that there is no better place to store your files. That’s not the case with iCloud. Power users maybe able to use it to its full extent, but from its lame free tier to its value-poor subscription plans, Apple offers little incentive for the average user to upgrade for any other reason than to stop receiving out-of-space alerts.

Adding value

Google is putting convenience first. I understand that Apple needs to sell way more iPhones than Google needs to sell Pixel phones, but developing iCloud into a full-featured, standalone cloud service isn’t going to push anyone over to Android. If anything, it’ll get some Android users to switch.

Even if you ignore the fact that Google offers three times the free storage space that Apple does (15GB versus 5GB), the real difference between the two plans is that iCloud doesn’t give any real incentives for upgrading to a paid plan. Back when iTools turned into dot-Mac, I was happy to pay $99 a year for a full suite of services, including Backup for all of my devices, iDisk, and a cool email address. Now I groan a little each time I get my monthly email from Apple informing me that it has charged my account $3.

I recently convinced my dad to pay $1 a month to increase his iCloud storage to 50GB, but it wasn’t an easy sell. He wanted to know why he needed to pay just to have enough space to back up his three iOS devices. It’s a good question. I eventually won the argument by breaking it down to pennies a day, but there should be a better answer. Here’s hoping that Apple provides one at WWDC.

Wednesday
Apr252018

Amazon Made a Kid-Friendly Echo Dot

Amazon wants everyone using Alexa, including kids. With that in mind, you can now pre-order an Echo Dot Kids Edition, which ships with a kid-friendly version of Alexa and free access to a range of content for an entire year.

The Echo Dot Kids Edition launches on May 9, but is available for pre-orer now for $79.99 in blue, green, or red. Amazon claims this version of the Dot includes up to $109 of savings when compared to the standard since it provides free access to Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited service for one year.

FreeTime Unlimited usually costs a minimum of $2.99 per month and unlocks access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. For the Echo Dot Kids Edition, Amazon is making ad-free radio stations, over 300 Audible books, premium kids skills from the likes of Disney and Nickelodeon, and special character alarms free for the first year. There's also a two-year guarantee included; usually, the Echo Dot includes a 90-day limited warranty.

As to what makes this new Dot kid-friendly beyond the FreeTime Unlimited offer, Amazon has turned voice shopping off by default and Alexa automatically filters explicit songs with Amazon Music. There's also parental controls for FreeTime, allowing for a balance of education and entertainment to be easily set. These settings are available both through the Parent Dashboard and Alexa app.

As far as Amazon is concerned, this is just the start of what the Echo Dot Kids Edition will offer, so expect the feature set to grow in the coming months. As is always the case with products like this, the features are generous because Amazon wants kids to grow up and continue to pick Alexa gadgets to be their digital assistants.

Friday
Apr202018

Cord-cutting is hitting the cable companies where it hurts most: Money

As it’s been extensively documented for the last year, cord-cutting streaming services are coming for the cable companies. Pay TV subscriptions are down by record numbers nearly every quarter, more and more people are subscribing to TV services, and the “never cable” generation is growing up and replacing their cable-subscribing parents.

But so far, one thing has bolstered the traditional pay TV industry: revenue. Streaming services are much cheaper than cable or satellite bundles, so even if the new services are stealing subscribers, the rate of decline of the cable industry is still disguised by fat bottom lines. According to the 2018 ” Battle for the American Couch Potato” report from Convergence Research Group, that’s not going to be the case forever.

Convergence’s annual report, which is now in its 12th year, highlights the difference in revenue growth between the streaming and traditional pay TV industries:

We estimate US OTT access revenue (based on 55 OTT
providers led by Netflix) grew 41% to $11.9 billion in 2017,
forecast $16.6 billion for 2018, and $27.6 billion for 2020.

We estimate 2017 US Cable, Satellite, Telco TV access (not
including OTT) revenue grew 1% to $107.6 billion ($94.30/mo.
ARPU), and forecast $107.4 billion (97.90/mo. ARPU) for 2018.

Streaming service revenue grew by 41% last year, while pay TV flatlined in real terms. Given a few years, the analysts expect pay TV to be in revenue decline, and streaming services to be way up. The only reason traditional pay TV revenues aren’t in free-fall already is because prices (especially including fees!) have been steadily creeping up while the quality of programming is staying the same, and with the number of cheap streaming services entering the market, that’s not a sustainable business model.

The report also predicts the effect that this will have on the industry. “The gloves are off,” it proclaims, saying that “programmers now directly compete against their traditional TV access and independent OTT buyers that rival in terms of content spend. Amazon, Apple, DAZN, Facebook, Google and Netflix all have the money muscle to finance their own productions or outbid on programming including major
sporting franchises. ”

It also predicts that programmers are going to move more and more towards direct-to-consumer business models, rather than going through resellers. Disney is planning a direct-to-consumer Netflix competitor to launch next year, and direct streaming services like HBO Now and CBS All Access are becoming increasingly popular.

Friday
Apr202018

How to Improve WiFi Signal: Boost Your Your Router’s WiFi Range

1. Move The Router

If your ISP set up the router in your home, there is no guarantee that they found the best place for it. Most people settle with putting the router next to the most easily accessibly power outlet or wherever they can restart it easily. Sometimes the emphasis is on aesthetics instead of functionality. A router should not be placed;

  • Next to a stove, fridge, microwave, or other such electric appliances
  • Next to anything that is metal e.g. that vase your aunt got you when she came back from vacation
  • Inside a cabinet or any sort of case that makes it look less ugly
  • Anything metal e.g. don’t put it on a metal shelf or a metal stool

Find a place that’s suitable and somewhat in the middle of your house so that the WiFi signal reaches all the rooms. This one is going to be hard to manage with perfect precision but you can move the router out of a bedroom and into the hallway at the very least.

2. Change The Channel

A router isn’t the only wireless device in your home. If you live in a building, your neighbors probably have internet and a wireless router as well. Their router, your router, and most wireless devices all use the same frequency to transmit a signal. The default frequency is 2.5Ghz and it is divided into smaller bands. Without getting too technical, some bands or channels overlap when they transmit a signal. Within the 2.5Ghz frequency, you should select the 1, 6, and 11 channel as there is no overlapping there. If your router uses the 5Ghz frequency,  you have more bands to choose from. You can select the 36, 40, 44, 48, 149, 153, 157 and 161 bands to boost the signal.

You will need to access the admin panel of your router to change the channel.

3. Upgrade Antenna

Some routers don’t have antenna but those that do often have ones that can be replaced. If your router doesn’t have an antenna, ask your ISP to provide you one that does. You might need to tell them the router in your home doesn’t work as well to get them to change it and it might not be easy to get the exact replacement you want. If your router does have an antenna or two and they can be replaced, considering upgrading them. Buying an antenna is much cheaper than buying a new router and it will make a noticeable difference.

4. Upgrade Firmware

Check if your router’s firmware is in need of an upgrade. If a new version is available, upgrade to it. You might be surprised but this can actually improve the performance of your router. The firmware might patch problems or improve the overall performance of the hardware it’s running on and result in a stronger WiFi signal.

5. Signal Boosters And Access Points

We’re getting into hardware improvements here. You can buy signal boosters and install them to boost the WiFi signal in your home. They aren’t expensive and will resolve most signal problems. If a booster isn’t doing the trick, you can supplement it by adding an access point or two. It can be particularly useful if you need your WiFi signal to reach two or more floors e.g. both the basement and the attic.

Conclusion

If your router is particularly old, you might want to invest in a newer model. You don’t need to get the latest model that’s available but your router model shouldn’t be obsolete. Additionally, you should refrain from using hacks like beer cans or metal mesh make-shift antenna to boost the signal. There’s a popular hack that encourages users to use concave metal objects like cans to boost the signal. While this does amplify the signal, somewhat, it does so in one direction. If you only need to use the WiFi in one particular part of the house, see if you can just move your router there. If you want to disburse the signal more evenly, this hack isn’t for you.

When you’re looking for the best place to place your router, take the help of a signal mapping app. It will be able to tell you the signal strength that various parts of your house are getting from the router in its current position.

Friday
Apr202018

What Is The Difference Between HTTP and HTTPS?

Chrome made a major change in one of its recent versions; it now blocks HTTP websites. When users visit a website that is still on HTTP, Chrome blocks it and tells users it’s not secure. Websites that are using HTTPS though are given a clean bill of health. This begs the question as to what HTTP is, and why HTTPS is preferred over it.

HTTP vs HTTPS

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It’s used to send information between two systems and is most commonly used between a web server and an end user computer.

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. It too is used to send information between systems but securely so. The secure part is why Chrome allows these websites to load but blocks the ones still using HTTP.

HTTPS wasn’t always around. In the very early days of the internet, HTTP was all web developers had to work with. This protocol was developed in 1965 and HTTPS only came along in 1994. That’s almost three decades of HTTP being the only transfer protocol there was. For a long time though, it didn’t matter much. The internet as we know it today didn’t exist. It wasn’t widely available and accessible by everyone because personal devices, and even internet connections were expensive and hard to gain access to.

It wasn’t just internet penetration rates that negated the need for having a more secure way to send and receive information between two systems. It also had to do with the nature of information that was sent. With the spread of email via universities, there was a genuine need for the information that was sent to be secure. The internet continued to mature and with the arrival of eCommerce banks began to integrate their payments methods with online stores. Information had to be sent securely and there had to be a way to do it.

HTTPS, SSL, And TSL

HTTPS initially used the Secure Socket Layer protocol to safely transmit data. SSL was developed for this very purpose. Initially, it was used by online eCommerce websites and payment gateways like Paypal however today an unsecure website can be used to inject malware in your browser, and even spread it to your system which is why websites are moving to HTTPS.

It’s also worth mentioning that Secure Socket Layer itself has evolved since it was first developed. It’s been replaced by Transport Layer Security (TLS). TLS provides a much better level of security and protects privacy. Today, the need for security isn’t just to keep sensitive information from being stolen but also against being tracked which is why the security protocol had to be updated.

Identify HTTPS And HTTP Websites

If you use Chrome and visit an HTTP website, it simply won’t let you visit it. You will have the option to ignore the warning but that warning is the surest sign that the website doesn’t use HTTPS.

If you use a different browser, one that doesn’t automatically block HTTP websites, you can still easily identify if a website is on HTTP or HTTPS. To check, look at the address bar. You will see two major markers that tell you a website is secure.