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Yes, when you take your computer to the Geek Squad, they snoop through your files

Recent article in the Washington Post shows what many of us tech guys already knew.  When you take your computer to Best Buy to get fixed, you can be pretty sure that whatever man/woman is looking at it, they probably will be looking through your personal files.  They are obligated to report anything criminal they find (ie. Child porn).  This I have no problem with, but the idea that they search to begin with is bothersome.  When fixing your computer, there is no reason for them to go through your personl files, but many will do it for kicks.  Just thought you should know that when you take your computer to those services, you might want to remove anything personal you have, as there is nothing preventing a corrupt technician from copying your personal pictures, tax returns and the like from your system.   There are several options you have for protecting your information in these situations.  I will update those options in another post. 


Siri can actually tell you what plane is flying above your head!

Siri can do more than set reminders or read emails to you, such as identifying which planes are currently flying above you.

When we first covered this tip way back in 2011, you had to use a specific phrase involving Wolfram Alpha, the service that Apple uses with Siri, in order for it to work.

Since then, Apple has streamlined the command along the way.

The next time you see planes overhead and are curious where it's heading, activate Siri and ask "What planes are overhead?"

That's it. A few seconds later a chart detailing the airline, flight number, altitude, and degrees off the horizon will show up. Another chart goes on to list the type of airplane along with slant distance, or how far away the plane is from you.

At the bottom of the chart is a small disclaimer, stating the data is based on a projection of where the plane should be using delayed data. In other words, if the plane isn't exactly where Siri tells you it is, it's likely close.


Have you ditched your landline for mobile yet? Most of have...

In America, landlines aren’t the norm anymore.

A recently released survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF) estimates that during the second half of 2016 50.8 percent of U.S. households were wireless only. That’s up from 48.3 percent during the same time period in 2015—a rise of 2.5 percentage points.

The story behind the story: It might seem odd to hear that the CDC is tracking phone usage, but there’s actually a good reason for it. Every year, the CDC conducts a face-to-face survey with 40,000 households called the National Health Interview Survey. Since 2003, the NHIS has monitored what kind of phone connectivity respondents had: landline or mobile. This data gives the CDC useful information that correlates to the health status of people without landlines.

Cutting the cord

But beyond the health implications, the CDC’s phone data tracking is useful to monitor the trend of households going mobile only. The CDC’s findings line up with financial reports from telecom providers that are a seeing a decline in landline phone revenue, as Fortune reported.

cdcwirelessdata CDC

With mobile devices—and smartphones in particular—becoming so common, many families inevitably have the discussion about whether their landline is worth keeping. For some it is, but for more and more families it isn’t. Why have a landline, after all, when your mobile phone is always attached at the hip?

Cost is also a factor. More than 70 percent of all adults between the ages of 25-34 and other adults who rent homes had wireless-only households, the CDC said. The government agency also found that 66.3 percent of adults living in poverty and 59 percent of those in near poverty were more likely to be mobile-only households than higher income homes, where the percentage was 48.5 percent.

No cords, no constraints

Another interesting tidbit: Mobile-only folks tend to be smokers and binge drinkers, as NPR reported.

In the May 2017 study, the CDC said that “adults who had at least one heavy drinking day in the past year was substantially higher among wireless-only adults”—about 30 percent. They were also more likely to be smokers. At the same time, however, the CDC said that wireless-only adults were also more likely to describe their health status as excellent or very good, more likely to meet the 2008 federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity, and less likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes.


Use a VPN So Your ISP Can’t Track You

Keeping personal information safe from online hackers has always been a concern. Now that ISPs in the United States have the legal right to sell your internet history without permission, privacy on the web has become a serious issue. Installing an ad blocker or using a browser’s incognito mode doesn’t prevent personal details from leaving your home. If you want to prevent ISP tracking and keep your information secure, the best way to do it is by using a virtual private network. 

What Does a VPN Do?

Virtual private networks (VPNs) act as a barrier between your computer and your service provider. Every time you connect to the internet you’re assigned an IP address. This string of numbers is associated with everything you do online, from browsing websites to shopping, watching videos, or checking e-mail, and it can be used to find your location as well as track down your identity. IP activity is logged by service providers and can be accessed by agencies and private parties willing to purchase the information. With a VPN in place, however, that information suddenly becomes useless.

VPN protect your data from your ISP 1024x364 How to Use a VPN So Your ISP Cant Track You

Protect your privacy with a VPN

Simply put, a VPN disguises your internet traffic by scrambling it and passing it through servers around the world. The IP address you’re assigned has no association with yourself or your location, and all traffic is heavily encrypted as it leaves the computer. Instead of seeing personal details and a browsing history, ISPs only receive strings of randomized numbers and letters. Your activity and your information stays private, this is one reason why VPNs are popular for torrenting where users want to hide their activity from their ISP.

How to Choose a VPN

Researching VPNs can get extremely technical. Fortunately you don’t need to know the finer points of IPSec/L2TP and SOCKS5 protocol to make an informed decision. VPNs take care of most of the details, allowing you to focus on picking the provider that best suits your needs.

Which VPN service you go with is ultimately up to you, but there are three basic factors you should research before signing up:

Logging Practices – Logging is a major concern for anyone who’s serious about protecting their privacy online. A VPN provider can know as much about you as an ISP, as they receive all information that passes through your computer. What’s to prevent them from using or selling the data themselves?

Having a strict zero-log or no-log policy is absolutely essential in the VPN you choose. It ensures the company that handles your encrypted data doesn’t store information on their servers. If nothing is stored, nothing can be shared or sold, it’s that simple.

Jurisdiction – Location is extremely important when it comes to a VPN. The physical servers can be positioned almost anywhere, but where the company is registered carries a lot of weight, as the VPN must adhere to local laws. If a country has a strict data retention policy, for example, the VPN will need to comply with any logging and distribution policies, nullifying the effectiveness of the service.

Most high quality VPNs pay close attention to the consumer protection laws they operate under and explicitly state this in their policies. There’s no quick answer to which countries are more privacy friendly with their consumer laws, but VPN users tend to favor providers registered in Iceland, Estonia, Canada, Germany, the US, and Australia.

Cost – If there’s only one rule to remember about choosing a VPN, it’s this: free is almost always a bad idea. Providers that don’t charge customers have almost no incentive to protect your privacy. While it may be tempting to use plug-ins or services that rely on free VPNs, if you’re serious about stopping ISPs from tracking your activity, you’ll need to invest in a paid service. Fortunately most VPNs are available for affordable, flat monthly rates.

VPN private internet access How to Use a VPN So Your ISP Cant Track You

VPN Service Recommendations

It’s easy to get lured in by a shady VPN provider. Promises of free service and deep discounts are attractive, especially for first time users. To prevent tracking and keep your information safe, it’s best to stick with a known company that’s been in business for a few years. The examples below are established VPN providers with competitive pricing and are a solid choice for anyone looking to use a VPN.

NordVPN – A long-trusted VPN provider that has 741 servers in 58 countries. The company allows P2P traffic, doesn’t throttle bandwidth, and doesn’t keep logs of any type.

Private Internet Access – Another provider with a good history of reliable service. PIA has a strict zero-log policy, doesn’t monitor or restrict torrent traffic, and has servers available in the US, Iceland, and more.

ExpressVPN – An extremely privacy-oriented VPN provider with offshore jurisdiction based in an independent nation in the Caribbean. A strict zero-log policy and unmonitored traffic makes them a solid choice. For those looking to use a VPN to access geo-restricted content, such as unblocking US Netflix outside of America, ExpressVPN is one of the few that still works.

SlickVPN – A security focused service provider with masked, unmonitored traffic, multiple servers available around the world, and a sturdy zero-log policy.

IPVanish – A popular VPN provider with a focus on speed and anonymity. IPVanish boasts a zero-log policy, no bandwidth monitoring, and over 750 servers spread across 60 countries.

How to Set Up a VPN

Competition has made the process of setting up a VPN extraordinarily simple. The software you download from your chosen network provider will take care of most of the configuration. All you have to do is log in and start using the internet like you always do, only now your personal information is encrypted and safe.

  1. Sign up with your chosen VPN provider.
  2. Download the VPN software for each device you use on the internet.
  3. Install and open the software or app.
  4. Log in using your VPN credentials.
  5. Browse the internet and watch videos as normal.

For certain tasks like gaming or heavy video streaming you might want to temporarily disable your VPN to ensure a consistent speed. Always remember to re-enable it afterwards.

Does a VPN Protect Cell Phones and Other Devices?

A VPN can encrypt data traveling from any internet connected device, but only if you use the service’s software. Signing up with a VPN and installing software on your computer doesn’t automatically protect everything connected to your home network. Unless your VPN provider offers software to add to your router, devices that connect via Wi-Fi will still send unencrypted traffic to your ISP.

To keep your data safe, make sure you download and install apps for every internet device you use, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, and e-readers. Most VPN providers offer easy to use software for iOS and Android devices available from their official website. As an extra bonus, your portable devices will encrypt traffic even when you’re using a public network, adding an extra layer of privacy when you travel.

A VPN You Control

If the thought of sending data to a third party still doesn’t sit right, you can always create and host your own VPN. Sidestepping external providers has a number of advantages, most notably the complete security of encrypting all internet traffic before it leaves your home. You won’t have to worry about VPN privacy policies or zero-log promises being broken. You will, however, need some technical know how and a bit of elbow grease to get it done.

Some of the most popular methods for setting up personal VPNs include OpenVPN and AutoVPN along with a Linux server rented from Amazon or DigitalOcean. The cost is comparable to a third party VPN provider, but with added security and customizability.


You can now sign into your Microsoft Account without a password

This doesn’t mean you can use Authenticator to sign-in to your Microsoft Account anywhere—it doesn’t work for logging in to Windows 10 PCs, for example. But for website sign-ins that require your Microsoft Account, such as,, and, it works just fine.

sign in Microsoft

To try the feature out, download and install the Microsoft Authenticator app from the App Store or Google Play. Next, add your Microsoft account to the app, which will require you to sign-in. For Microsoft accounts, this authenticator does not scan QR codes.

Once you’re ready to go, try logging in to a website on your PC that requires your Microsoft Account. As usual with Microsoft Accounts, you enter your email address on the first page, and then when you get to the second page click “Use the Microsoft Authenticator app instead” at the bottom of the page.

useauthenticatorinstead Ian Paul/IDG

Next, you’ll be shown a two-digit number on the webpage, and a notification on your phone. Tap the notification, and Microsoft Authenticator will show you three two-digit numbers, as well as the location of where you’re signing in.

Choose the corresponding number from the webpage, and then tap Approve. You may then need to authenticate yourself on the phone by tapping in your access PIN or scanning your fingerprint.

Once that’s done, you’ll be signed in to the website, and the next time you sign-in Microsoft says it will remember your preference for using the Authenticator app, thereby reducing the number of steps you have to take to sign-in the second time around. If you ever get tired of using Authenticator you can switch back to using a password at any time.

The impact on you at home: Overall, this process doesn’t necessarily reduce the number of steps you need to take to sign-in with your Microsoft Account. In fact, it probably takes more or at least as many as using two-step authentication. Nevertheless, I’d argue it’s still easier since you don’t have to remember a long, random password that’s especially cumbersome to type in on a phone.


How To Quickly Get A Blank Desktop on a Mac

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who have clean, organized desktops, and those that have cluttered desktops. Some people make it a priority to always have a well organized desktop and to ensure only the most important files and folders have a place on their desktop. Others put cleaning their desktop on a back burner. If you’re the kind that often has a messy desktop or you’re just looking to hide what’s on it then Screen Commander is the app for the job. It’s a free macOS utility that gives you a blank desktop by adding a black shade to it. Your icons are all hidden but your app windows are not. It works with multiple displays and runs entirely from the menu bar.


Download and run Screen Commander. The first time you run the app, it will ask if you want to launch it automatically at start up. It will also add a display icon to the menu bar.

screen commander start up How To Quickly Get A Blank Desktop [macOS]

To get a blank desktop, click the display icon in the menu bar and select ‘Blank this Screen’.

screen commander menu bar How To Quickly Get A Blank Desktop [macOS]

A black backdrop will appear on your desktop hiding all icons. To remove it, left-click any where and select ‘Unblank this Screen’.

As mentioned earlier, Screen Commander supports multiple displays. You can use it to blank a specific display, or all displays except for the current one. It can blank and unblank all displays from the context menu.

If you prefer to open the Screen Commander menu via the right-click mouse button instead of the default left-click, you can configure it to do so from the app’s preferences.

One very obvious use of Screen Commander is taking clean screenshots. The black backdrop the app adds isn’t great to look at but it’s better than desktop clutter.

Other usage scenarios include using the app to hide your desktop when you’re sharing your screen over, e.g. Skype. It’s also a good way to get theater mode when watching a movie. Screen Commander is a utility built for multiple monitors but it works with a single monitor as well.

As far as improvements go, the app could do with a few customization options. Users should be able to choose if they want a black backdrop or a different colored backdrop. Ideally, the app should let users set an image to use as the backdrop for a blank desktop. This will give users a clean, blank desktop that is aesthetically nice to look at. It will also make for better screenshots.

Download Screen Commander From The Mac App Store

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