PLAY DEFENSE

hackedRecently, a reader asked about the program “Driver Restore.” Absolutely do not download this one. Though keeping drivers up to date is important, this program and many like it will infect your computer.

Our favorite tech support guy, who owns the service at helphelpnow.com, says he has cleaned up dozens of computers infected by “driver restore” type programs. The company that makes it offers the same program with a hundred different names. They claim it fixes everything from slow computers to back pain.  Why do people keep falling for this scam? Well, the answer is they didn’t know it was a scam. The price of clear computing is eternal vigilance. Stick with well-known companies. And check with sites like helphelpnow.com.

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THE CHROMEBOOK LIVES AND GROWS

Asus Chromebook C200Laptops with Google’s Chrome operating system, an alternative to Windows or Mac, are Chromebooks, and they are selling big. Sales are expected to reach 5.2 million units this year, up 79 percent over last year.

We first wrote about these laptops two years ago. The key issue with Chromebooks is that nearly everything happens online. The other advantages are light weight, long battery life and no viruses. Prices start around $200 and battery life runs around three to eleven hours, depending on the model. The latest ones are the Asus C200 and the Chromebook 13 from Acer.

Because nearly everything they do is online, the programs and services are maintained by Google. They provide the software and every time you start up the Cromebook, Google does a virus check and clean-up if needed; there is no charge for this.

People who buy this kind of laptop have limited uses in mind: They’re great for email, web surfing and online apps for word processing, spreadsheets, phone books and other business software. Many people do nothing else on their home computers, so they may as well have a Chromebook for its speed and freedom from infection. If you want to play games – a frequent source of problems– you can download clear, free ones from Google Apps. Don’t use a Chromebook for your main computer if you need Microsoft Word and other offline programs.

The newer models have around 16 gigabytes of storage, so you can download a couple of movies or TV shows from the Google Play Store to read and watch on the road.  You can increase this storage by plugging in a flash drive.

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PRINTABLE PAPER

paper airplanesPrintablePaper.net is a great place to print out lined or graph paper, forms for budgets, expenses, story-boarding, and hundreds of others. If you do a web search on “printable paper,” you will come with many others, such as paper airplanes.

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VACCINES, CALLING THE SHOTS

vaccinesPBS.org/Nova has all the TV episodes from the science program NOVA, the day after they air. “Vaccines, calling the Shots” takes you around the world to look at epidemics – particularly appropriate these days. “Rise of the Hackers” finds the super sleuths who decode the world’s most sophisticated cyber weapons.

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GADGET MOUSE

colorful mouseWe’re enchanted by a $25 mouse from Satechi. It glows in different colors, cycling through red, green, blue, lime green, purple, turquoise, and silver. Looks very space age. If you’ve got a favorite color, push a button on the back to lock it in. It works well and feels smooth, so color us gadget happy.

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WHEN DISASTER LOOMS

cloud computingFor nearly an entire day, Joy thought she’d lost her most important files. Fortunately, they were backed up in more than one way, even though she wasn’t aware of it at the time.

The device that led her astray was the “Transporter Sync,” a $99 orb about the size of a hockey puck. It connects any external drive to the web, creating your own private online storage area, your own private cloud, as they call it. Let’s pause here for a moment, because all this talk about things happening in a cloud, is very misleading. There is no cloud, it’s a marketing term that refers to having file storage that’s accessible by going on the Internet. That’s all it is. Big providers of such storage, like Google or Microsoft, have row upon row of large capacity disk drives churning somewhere in an air-conditioned room that can be anywhere.

Back to the Transporter Sync device we were testing: You drag a folder onto an image of the hockey puck which then sends it out to storage somewhere else – i.e. the “cloud” where it is held in a private area reserved for you – sort of like putting your stuff in a locker at the bus station. You can then supposedly get to that stuff from anywhere you can sign onto the Internet.

That’s great in theory, and usually in practice, unless there’s a cloud-burst. Then there’s going to be rain on your digital parade. In testing the Transporter Sync, we started by moving files from Microsoft’s free online storage service, “One Drive,” (which allows you to store 15 gigabytes) to our new “Transporter Library.” This was as easy as drag and drop. Unfortunately, the very next day, the files weren’t there. A message said we either had a slow Internet connection or weren’t connected at all. Not true. Read more »

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DANGEROUS DOWNLOADS

KARAOKE APPA reader wanted to divide long audio tracks into segments for public talks. We suggested he try Audacity, a free program. It’s been downloaded over a million times. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

The reader got a virus, possibly from downloading it at a non-official site, but it’s hard to be sure. When he told us that, we tried downloading it ourselves, and, whaddaya know, our computer started acting up too. This was a new thing: we had downloaded Audacity twice before, both times on a computer using Windows 7, and never had any problems with it. This time we downloaded it to Windows 8, and had lots of problems. Things change.

Downloading free programs is perhaps the number one way people mess up their computers. If it doesn’t sound right or look right, don’t download it. Many anti-virus programs will flash a warning message on the screen if they detect the free program trying to download something extra. The bottom line in that kind of situation is to skip the free program and pay to get an authorized version or a substitute.

In this case, for example, the reader turned to “Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio,” a $60 program he is very happy with. We used the free trial version of this program and it worked great. It has tutorials for everything you might want to do, such as split and combine audio files, or publish your creation to the web. Unlike most tutorials, a hand will point where you need to click. It’s $60 at SonyCreativeSoftware.com/audiostudio. That’s where you can find the free trial. If you want it to buy it outright, you can get it for $20 less at discounters like Amazon, CoolSavings or Newegg.

When something bad happens right after downloading a new program, use the Windows “System Restore” utility to take the computer back to the day before or even weeks before. This doesn’t delete any files, just recently downloaded programs. To find it in Windows 8, tap the Windows key and type “help.” In previous versions,  go to “start” and “help,”  then type “system restore.”

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NIGHT LIGHT

flashlightBob just loves flashlights, so we got a “Champ 2-in-1 Nightlight Flashlight, ” which is a combination flashlight and motion sensor. Plug it in and it lights up when someone walks by. Unplug it and it’s a flashlight. It has three LEDs, so it’s bright but lasts long. We saw it at discounters like Amazon for $20. What can we say – we like gadgets.

 

 

 

 

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WHEN TO GO

child peesRunpee.com recommends the best time to run to the bathroom during any movie.

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SELLING YOUR KIDS CLOTHES ONLINE

MOXIE JEANMoxieJean.com lets you sell “like new” kids clothes or buy them at a big discount. They have over 40,000 items. Items that can’t be accepted for sale are donated to charity.

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