Networking 101

It’s a good idea to have some understanding of the basic components of your home network; your computers and smart devices depend on them to share files, and printers, and the Internet.

If you live in this area and you have Internet, you probably have a modem from Shaw or Telus. If that modem is relatively new, it will have a built-in wireless router and switch. If your needs are simple (i.e. you have four or fewer wired devices, and only short-range wireless needs), then connect your devices and you have a home network.

Wires are not passé. If you are trying to decide between a wired connection and a wireless one, remember: a wire is nearly always faster, more dependable, and more secure. And if you are sensitive to wireless signals, you can turn off the wireless feature. But if you want to connect more than four wired devices, you will need a “splitter”, more accurately called an “Ethernet switch”.

But wireless is handy. If you need better range or coverage for your wireless, you have several options: a stronger router, a wireless access point (WAP), a wireless repeater, or a set of mesh devices.

A network should not have more than one router on it, so if you opt for the “stronger router” approach,

have Shaw/Telus “bridge” your modem, thus disabling the one built into the modem before you attach your own. Bridging can usually be done over the phone in a few minutes.

If you simply want to extend your wifi range in one direction, you could add a WAP (connected to the main router with a wire) or a wireless repeater (connected to the main router via wifi). And if you want the best speed/range/coverage, you might create a mesh network … which is basically one wireless router and one or more wireless repeaters configured in a grid layout. Mesh networks used to be out of reach for home users, because of their price and complexity. But now they are relatively affordable (lower cost than some high-end routers) and relatively easy to setup (via smartphone app).

If you are considering replacing one or more components of your network, it’s good to have a basic understanding of your options before you begin … that’s the best way to get the features that suit your needs.

That same basic knowledge is good if you have problems getting online. Know the components of your network so you have an idea of what to reset before calling for help: all network gear is meant to recover from a power outage, so it’s a good first step to unplug each component from power, wait 10 seconds, plug it back in, wait 5 minutes, and try accessing the Internet again.

Traveling with Technology

Not everyone wants technology when they travel, and I get that: sometimes it’s good to “just leave it all behind”. However, there are a few technologies that can make a trip more enjoyable.

Last month, I wrote about GPS technology that helps you locate yourself, share your location and routes with traveling companions, and reassure those at home. This technology is very useful when you travel, but then so is blogging, taking digital photos, using roaming data and roaming power.

If you want to share news of your travels with others, but not everyone on your Facebook list, you can create a custom Facebook group, but I like the simplicity of blogging: you can create a custom address (e.g. antartica2018.blogspot.com), share with select people, write with any number of devices/apps, include pictures/videos/sounds, and refer back to it for years to come.

Digital photos are ubiquitous. Most times, memory cards are large enough to store your photos for an entire trip. However, if you want to share pictures on-the-fly, or take more pictures and videos than will fit on memory cards, you need to give it some forethought.

If you are going on an extended trip, or just plan to take a lot of video, you might think about bringing a hard drive and a method of transferring your data to it. Memory cards tend to store tens of GB, while hard drives can usually hold hundreds or thousands of GB.

Sharing your photos and videos on-the-fly means you will need a dependable Internet connection. To get online while you travel, you have several options: hope for WiFi spots, buy a local SIM card for your smart device, get a roaming plan for your smart device, or (if you have several devices you want to keep online) consider the latest gadget from Skyroam. You can buy or rent a Skyroam device, and get data on a reasonably-priced daily or monthly plan. The resulting WiFi is “unlimited” for up to 5 devices at once, but is somewhat limited for speed: fast (3G/4G speed) for the first 500MB per day, then slow (2G speed) for the remainder of the 24-hour period. Actual speeds will vary from location to location.

Roaming power can also be an issue in some circumstances. If you don’t already know what a “power bank” is, have a look at them, because they could provide the power you need when you can’t get to a power outlet. The latest Skyroam device also doubles as a power bank.

Happy travels!

GPS – Still a Ways to Go

The Global Positioning System is a fantastic technology. Whether you are navigating on land or sea … via car, bike, or foot … on the roads or on the trails … GPS can keep you from getting (or feeling) lost. Additionally, it can give you the ability to share your position/routes with others, or follow theirs.

The US started launching GPS satellites in 1978. So far there have been 72 launches, and there are currently 31 satellites in orbit. In order to use the system, all you need is a GPS device (standalone, or built into your smartphone or smartwatch) that is powered on and in range of at least three of those satellites. The current publicly available system can place you within 5 meters.

It is a great system, and it is getting even better.

The Russian positioning system, called GLONASS, have had satellites orbiting since the 80’s, but only in the past 10 years have they been accessible using commercially-available GPSes. Devices that use both systems produce position information faster and more accurately (within 2 meters) than those that only use GPS technology.

The US plans to launch more a more accurate system (30-centimeter accuracy) starting sometime this year, and many other countries are launching their own systems over the next couple of years.

So improvements are coming for speed and accuracy, but I’m hoping to see advances in software that make these features more user-friendly. Automotive GPSes are quite mature and easy to use, but there is room for improvement for handheld devices.

Sharing your position, or your route, can be daunting for some; but following someone else’s tracks can be even more challenging. Automotive GPSes auto-route you very nicely, but the same is not true (so far) for handheld GPSes on trails. We are patiently waiting for better software, and at the same time we are slowly building databases of trail maps. You can help the latter by supporting sites like HikeTheIsland.com, wikiloc.com, and OpenStreetMap.org (which is more than just streets).

As these technologies improve and get into the hands of Joe Public, we may never get lost again; at least not geographically.

Do you really need Windows or OS X?

If you are thinking of replacing your computer, it’s a good time to take stock of what you actually use it for.

Most people user their computer for researching, reading news, reading and posting social media, collecting pictures, listening to music, streaming videos, playing games, audio/video/text chat, and reading and writing emails, documents and spreadsheets.

You really don’t need a full-blown Mac or PC to do those things; they can be done using other operating systems like Linux, Android, iOS, or ChromeOS. The beauty of these operating systems is that they tend to be less expensive to buy, and both less expensive and easier to run.

One reason that devices running those operating systems are less expensive to buy is that they are not as demanding on hardware, so they don’t need the latest, fastest, most expensive hardware. Another reason is that those operating systems are free. They are cheaper to run because the apps that run on them tend to be less expensive, or free … they use less electricity … and they can often be run without additional security software because they aren’t prone to infection.

Those other operating systems tend to be easier to operate because they are built with the legacy of Windows/OSX as a model, without having to support the legacy of Windows/OSX. PCs, in particular, put in a lot of effort to be backwards compatible with (in some cases) decades-old systems.

A quick note for PC gamers: save yourself some money and switch to a video game console … they are a fraction of the price.

If you are hooked on one or more particular Windows or OS X programs that aren’t available on other platforms, then you have no choice. But in most cases, there are alternatives. So, if it’s time to replace that aging Mac or PC, give some serious consideration to Chrome/Android/iOS/Linux/console devices.

Hanging out your shingle

There was a day when “hanging out your shingle” meant simply hanging up a sign to advertise your business. Over time, business advertising expanded to newspapers and magazines, radio and TV, and billboards and passing vehicles. Now, “hanging out your shingle” should definitely include an online presence.

There are many approaches to online advertising, but nothing builds credibility like having your own domain. Would it affect your impression of a company if they had a Facebook page, but not their own domain/website (e.g. joesgarage.com)? Would the quality of their website affect your attitude toward the company? Would it affect your opinion of that company if their email address was joesgarage@gmail.com rather than service@joesgarage.com (i.e. whether or not they used their own domain)?

For many consumers, it would.

To be taken seriously, a company today needs their own domain, an attractive and modern webpage, email addresses at that domain, and a presence on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and others. Some larger companies even have a full-time employee (or team of employees) dedicated to their web presence, keeping up their online appearances and responding to online requests.

The sky is the limit for what you can spend on online advertising, but the basics need not be expensive. A typical domain costs $2-$20/year. Webpage hosting starts around $5/month. There are ways to build your own website for free, or maybe you know someone who enjoys building them. Basic social media measures are free.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: If you’re not searchable in today’s online world, how are young folk going to find you?

To quote a great poet: “the times, they are a-changin’”

Best Practices – Internet Security

There are some good practices around Internet security that everyone should know and follow. I’ve said them all, many times before … but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them now and then … so here they are.

Use strong passwords

Use strong (either long or complex) passwords for all your important online accounts. If you use a “local” account to log into Windows, consider switching to a “Microsoft” account for extra security there.

Be confident of your firewall

Between the firewall in your wireless modem or router, and the one in your operating system, you are well protected; in my opinion, there is no need to buy a third-party firewall (like the one included in an “Internet Security Suite”). If you are concerned about your firewall, there are a couple of things you can do. First, reset it; there are posted methods for doing that for most operating systems. Second, test it; I trust the ShieldsUP! page by Gibson’s Research (grc.com/shieldsup) to tell me if my firewall is vulnerable.

If you are running Windows, you should run at least one antimalware program

The built-in “Windows Defender” in Windows 10, or “Microsoft Security Essentials” in Windows 7/8, give you good basic protection. There are other good free and paid programs around as well; just make sure they are always current and running. You should consider running “second opinion” programs (like the free Malwarebytes) every month as well. These measures are valid, but not as pertinent, with other operating systems like OS X, iOS, Android, or Linux.

Use encryption whenever possible

Encrypted websites appear with a lock symbol in your browser. Make sure that symbol is there whenever you are on a site that you would like to communicate with privately, especially for ecommerce. If privacy of your email is a concern, look at using encrypted connections there as well.

Do your updates

Operating-system updates fix known bugs and security flaws, so do them!

Back up

Even if you are being very careful where you click, you may click on the wrong thing one day, and poof … there goes your data. To avoid this, you should have a backup procedure for your data that is either automated, or very easy … and detached from your computer so it doesn’t suffer the same fate as your main data (particularly fire, theft, or corruption). Teky uses the free Windows program SyncBack. You should also consider encrypting your data and/or your backup if they are vulnerable to theft. Teky suggests using BitLocker (built into Windows Pro/Enterprise) or VeraCrypt.

Online Resources

One could write volumes on the topic of online resources. In this space, all I will have a chance to do is mention a few general areas, each with two or three examples, one “more popular”, one “less popular” and sometimes an “honorable mention” or two.

Note 1: Capitals in web addresses are there for readability; web domains are case insensitive.

Note 2: All links are listed at blog.teky.ca where you can comment on (this article only) these resources, and suggest others.

  1. Search Engines: Google.ca DuckDuckGo.org
  2. Encyclopedia: Wikipedia.org Everipedia.org
  3. Shopping (so many!): eBay.ca Amazon.ca Walmart.ca
  4. Used goods: UsedCowichan.com VarageSale.com
  5. Real estate: Realtor.ca ZooCasa.com
  6. News: news.Google.ca CBC.ca/news CHEKnews.ca BBC.com
  7. Newspapers: SouthCowichanLife.ca TimesColonist.com CowchanValleyCitizen.com
  8. Social media: Facebook.com Twitter.com
  9. Maps: maps.Google.ca Trailforks.com Wikiloc.com
  10. Weather: TheWeatherNetwork.com/ca Weather.gc.ca/city/pages/bc-29_metric_e.html
  11. Books: Amazon.ca/books GoodReads.com
  12. TV: CTV.ca Knowledge.ca
  13. TV+Movies: Netflix.com Amazon.ca/movies
  14. TV/Movie Databases: IMDB.com RottenTomatoes.com Next-Episode.net
  15. Music: play.Google.ca/music Shoutcast.com Spotify.com
  16. Videos: YouTube.com Flixxy.com
  17. Travel: TripAdvisor.ca Yelp.ca
  18. Phone book: YellowPages.ca canada411.ca

Next month, I will explain what the http:// and https:// signify at the start of these web addresses, and the related change that is on the horizon.

Tweaking Windows 10

As good as it is, it is easy to get turned off by some “features” of Windows 10. Being Microsoft’s long-term operating system, it is best if we can figure out how to get along with it. In this article, you will find common beefs, and fixes, for Windows 10.

Microsoft was very heavy-handed when it came to rolling out Windows 10 … many people were “introduced” to it in a rather forceful way (some successfully sued Microsoft for this). On the bright side, it was offered as a free upgrade for those of us with a valid Windows 7 or 8.x license, and it is still possible to take advantage of their offer, long after it was supposed to end.

The shock of being upgraded to Windows 10 was exacerbated by the sneaky way Microsoft introduced us to their new browser (Edge) and email tool (Mail) by making these inferior products our default programs for those two functions. However, it is easy to fix this by going to “Settings | Apps | Default Apps” and changing them to better alternatives (IE/Chrome/Firefox and Outlook/Thunderbird).

Microsoft didn’t stop there … they also forced games and other apps upon us. These apps are easily uninstalled with a few clicks each (right-click one, Uninstall, and confirm) … and for the most part, they don’t come back. I’ve made a list of these bloatware apps, and other tweaks, here: https://teky.ca/download/Win10Tweaks.txt

As a final poke to their customers, Microsoft automatically turns on “Occasionally show suggestions in the Start”. (What are they thinking?) This setting is easily turned off in “Settings | Personalization | Start”.

Then there are “Tiles” … an unwanted carry-over from the much-disliked Windows 8. It takes about a minute to right-click each tile and choose “Unpin from Start” … making your Start Menu clean and efficient again.

Drivers can be a problem in Windows 10. Beware of “Driver Updater” programs, because they are nearly all riddled with spyware. It is safer to update them manually (Microsoft Article 4028443).

Updates can also be a problem in Windows 10. Firstly, I suggest being patient … some can take an hour or two. If updates break, you can often fix them using “Settings | Update & security | Troubleshoot | Windows Update” or with judicious use of a tool like tweaking.com. Sometimes updates happen right when we least want them … note that you can adjust your “Active hours” in “Settings | Windows Update”.

Finally, Microsoft seems to enjoy disabling our File sharing every time there is a major update. So far, you simply turn it back on again.

On the bright side, Windows 10 has been fairly fast, stable, and compatible with most PC hardware and software.

Mixed Reality

The term “Mixed Reality” (MR) encompasses the concepts of “Virtual Reality” (VR) and “Augmented Reality” (AR). Just like other Star Trek-like technologies, these are slowly making it into the mainstream, so it’s probably time to introduce you to them.

Virtual Reality immerses you in a 360-degree world with a head-mounted display, optional headphones, and optional controllers (usually some sort of 3D joysticks). Augmented Reality also has these components, but instead of immersing you, it incorporates aspects of the real world around you using cameras or transparent screens. As already mentioned, Mixed Reality loosely describes both.

First and foremost, these technologies are for gamers … immersing them in their virtual worlds. But lately we are seeing more applications that appeal to a larger audience: slideshows, movies, and other art—both produced and homemade—take on a new dimension (pardon the pun) when viewed in 360-degree surround. Cameras that take spherical pictures and videos are now available at affordable prices ($200+), as are 3-dimensional art and design programs, so we are seeing a lot more 360-degree content.

The hardware to enjoy this content ranges from the affordable ($20+ headset with your existing smartphone) to the more serious ($900+ PC with $300+ video card and $600+ headset).

I think the “killer application” for MR will be design collaboration. Whether you are designing programs, cars, or buildings, you can now do it in a virtual 3D environment … and even collaborate with others who live and work in other parts of the world.

To get an idea of what I’m talking about, just google videos on “Windows Cliff House”, “Ford HoloLens”, “Fuzor”, “Nvidia Holodeck” … or simply search YouTube for “360 video”. Of course, to fully experience Mixed Reality, you’ll need to get yourself inside a head-mounted display.