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Tales of Three Clients (And The Moral of the Stories)

Richard received an email from his web designer last month informing him she had taken an opportunity that no longer allowed her to maintain his company’s web site. He immediately forwarded the information to me requesting I “handle it.”

He knows his time and energy as a small business owner are best spent building his business and serving his customers. It’s wasteful for him to fumble around with computers, his website, and other tech issues.

Ever since Richard asked me to support his computer needs over seven years ago, he’s viewed our relationship as that of a trusted advisor. He knows we have his best interests at heart and will make the right recommendations and decisions for him because we understand his business and his technology needs.

For example, when the sales rep for his accounting software calls his office to process the annual renewal, he gives them my phone number and tells them to speak with me. He refuses to talk to them.

Because of this relationship, I can proudly report his computers and network have had NO major issues causing loss of data or significant interruptions in his business. The small, common computer problems are very infrequent and solved quickly.

But I have several clients – both business and residential – who are unlike Richard. They prefer to make changes or tackle computer problems on their own without consulting a computer professional.

Just today, as I’m writing this column, a client frantically called me within minutes of the Frontier technician leaving his office after installing the DSL Internet service. He discovered his two computers couldn’t communicate with each other. Nor could he print to either of his wireless printers.

A quick phone call to me prior to changing his Internet service providers would have prevented his moment of panic, his computer problems, and a costly emergency service call.

Here’s another story:

The other evening while wasting time on Facebook, I saw a friend’s post soliciting help in hooking up her Spectrum (formerly Time Warner) cable modem. She couldn’t find any place in her house with the connections for the cables.

One person commented, “Find a teenager in your neighborhood or call one of your grandkids.”

To many, setting up a cable modem should be easy and take less than five minutes. But I’ve had instances where it necessitated a 30-minute phone call to get it working after it was properly connected.

Grandkids who are “computer geniuses” and family members who “work for Microsoft” keep computer repair shops across this country in business. They know just enough to royally screw up your computer or network – leaving you to foot a hefty repair bill to clean up their mess.

So what’s the moral of these stories?

Find a computer professional you know, like, and trust.

Then let them handle EVERYTHING related to your technology – whether it’s at your home or your business.

Call them BEFORE changing service providers, installing new software, buying a new printer or other hardware, or disconnecting any cables.

The money you spend for advice and direction from someone who knows what they’re doing (i.e. someone who does it every day for a living) will be CONSIDERABLY LESS than what you’ll shell out to fix something you or someone else broke.

As the old saying goes, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”

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How I Saved $828 A Year On My Cable TV Bill

“Your promotional rate is expiring, but your savings will continue,” boldly proclaimed the headline on my letter from the cable company.

So that I could “keep enjoying the same services [I] have now,” my preferred rate would increase by $22.75 per month – or an additional $273 a year.  For the SAME services.

The new discounted rate still offered a huge savings off their standard retail prices, said the form letter.

It’s an acrobatic performance you and I go through every year.

The cable company increases your fees.  You call customer service, spend 30-plus minutes on hold, speak to an agent, and negotiate a better monthly rate – sometimes even getting a better deal than what you originally had.

This year, I decided enough was enough.

I’ve gotten tired of haggling over rising cable costs every year – considering that I seldom watch TV.  During the fall and spring, I regularly watch about three shows.  All of them are on broadcast television, which I can receive free of charge with my over-the-air antenna.

Cut Cable TVSo I decided to cut the cord.

With the proliferation of content available online via the Internet, combined with the basic channels that can be picked up with an over-the-air antenna, I found that I can save $69 a month or $828 a year by cancelling my cable TV service and going strictly online.

Many of my clients express the same frustration about rising cable prices, but don’t know what alternative options they have or how to go about setting it up.  Let me share with you some insight.

Before you cut the cable, you need to do your homework.

First, you need to have a reliable high-speed Internet connection.  I recommend at least a 10Mbps or faster connection.  Cable Internet is preferred, although you may receive decent quality with a fast enough DSL option.

Second, you need to compile a list of what shows you want to watch and what channels they are on.  This is important because not all stations and shows available on cable television can be accessed via online-only providers.

Third, you need to realize that you’ll lose access to DVR capability.  Depending on what stations and shows you watch, some past content is available online without the need for a DVR.

Finally, you need to thoroughly calculate the costs associated with the alternative options to make sure it really is a better deal than your current cable TV rate.

So what options are available?

OVER-THE-AIR ANTENNA

Many homes in our community still have freestanding antennas situated next to them.  These can pick up your local network stations such as NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, WNIN, and more at no charge.

Most of these stations are available in HD (high-definition) so the picture and sound quality is very close to what you have on cable television.

If you don’t have an external antenna tower, you can easily install a digital antenna to pick up these stations.

SLING TV

Dish Network offers an affordable online service called Sling TV.  It offers you 22 popular channels that can be watched live for only $20 a month. (www.sling.com)

Available channels include ESPN, ESPN2, HGTV, TBS, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, and The Travel Channel.

They also offer add-on packages for as little as $5 a month giving you extra channels of a specific kind.

To get Sling TV, you will need either an Amazon Fire TV player or a Roku LT box.

HULU PLUS

Hulu offers the largest array of current TV shows and movies of online providers, with new episodes added daily.  It’s not live content, but usually the latest shows are added within one to two days after airing. (www.hulu.com)

Hulu Plus is only $7.99 per month.

You can watch Hulu Plus directly on a Smart TV or on an Amazon Fire TV box.

NETFLIX

If you’re an aficionado of older movies and television shows, Netflix offers a wealth of great entertainment.  Netflix doesn’t offer live content nor does it include the episodes from the current season of most TV shows. (www.netflix.com)

Prices start at $7.99 per month for the streaming plan, although I’d recommend the $8.99 a month plan to get HD content.

If you’re tired of rising cable prices, open to modifying your viewing habits, and willing to spend time exploring what’s available online, you may be able to save some of your hard-earned money by cutting the cord.

While the ultimate decision lies with you, I would be more than happy to schedule an appointment to explore your options to help you reach an informed decision.

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A Decade of Changes

“Time passes by so quickly. Change happens all around us every day whether we like it or not. Enjoy the moment while you can. One day it will just be another memory.”

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Calibre Computer Solutions. As I reflect back on this journey that began in 2004, I marvel at how quickly the years have passed and at the rapid changes in technology.

Many clients throughout the years have asked me, “How did you get into this business, Scott?” I thought now would be an appropriate time to briefly share my story with you.

The time was mid-2004. I was working full-time as a security dispatcher at Toyota.

Because I worked with computers since childhood, I had developed considerable knowledge about how they operated, how they failed, and how to fix them. Friends, family, coworkers and even strangers continually asked me to help solve their troublesome computer problems.

Dion Knight, one of my fellow crew members at Toyota, and I spent many late night shifts discussing our dreams, goals and desires to leave the daily grind of the corporate world. Both of us enjoyed our jobs, except for the 12-hour swing shifts that wreaked havoc on our sleep schedule and the constant pleas for us to work overtime.

Dion kept prodding me to start my own computer business. “You can do it,” he encouraged. “You have the knowledge and the skills. Go for it.”

After much brainstorming and planning, I opened Calibre Computer Solutions in September 2004. It was a very part-time venture. I hired a couple part-time technicians, who handled computer calls while I was working my full-time job.

Over the next few years, I changed jobs two times, all the while slowly growing and expanding Calibre. One of those jobs was in Evansville. Although it was an enjoyable position, the distance from my primary client base posed several challenges.

I finally returned to Princeton as full-time store manager of the now-closed All-Star Rentals. Being closer to home allowed me to better serve my clients and assist my technicians.

Calibre continued to grow as our marketing and referrals attracted new clients. I really needed to be at the office full-time, but I just wasn’t ready to give up the security blanket of a full-time job.

One day, Brad, the district manager, called me up to his office. He informed me that I was being let go. It took me by surprise, but it was the shove I needed. I was now free to be my own boss and pursue my dream to build a stellar business focused on serving clients in the best way possible.

(In case you’re wondering, Brad and I parted on good terms and are still good friends to this day.)

Faced with the “sink or swim” decision, I hunkered down and expanded my knowledge and skills in technology, business operations and marketing. I’m proud to report that Calibre is still going strong 10 years later.

Over these 10 years, technology has dramatically changed. Here are a few highlights:

  • In 2004, most computer users had a Windows XP machine. Some still used the Windows Me operating system, which Microsoft doesn’t like to fess up to creating.
  • We’ve seen XP finally laid to rest, suffered through Windows Vista, rejoiced at the release of Windows 7, and cried at the miserable failure of Windows 8 and 8.1.
  • Apple debuted its iPod player in 2001. Throughout the following 13 years, it has become the de facto brand of portable music player.
  • Cybersecurity threats have increased, requiring more diligence than ever by computer users to keep their personal information safe and secure.
  • Email has proliferated, along with spam messages. Google unveiled its free Gmail service in 2004. It’s now one of the top free email services.

Had you asked, “Scott, would you have imagined ten years ago that you would be doing what you’re doing now?” I would have said, “No.”

It’s been an amazing journey. I’m looking forward to what the next 10 years will bring.

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The Truth About Why Your Internet Is Slow

You’ve had a long, tiring day. You’ve slugged your way through another shift at work. You finally made it to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk that you’ve been out of for two days. You shuttled the kids from practice to practice.

Now you’re finally at home, ready to sit down and relax. Ready to be done with the stressors of life – at least until tomorrow.

While some may watch television or curl up to read a good book, you like to unwind by sitting down with your computer to watch some funny YouTube videos, browse social media sites, and stream a movie on Netflix.

But you quickly find yourself fuming because the Internet is running pathetically slow. Some web sites don’t even load, causing you to get an error message on your screen.

“Why doesn’t this thing work?” you mutter to no one in particular.

After a fighting with it for 15 minutes, you give up and just go to bed.

You are not alone if you’ve recently been frustrated with horrendously slow Internet speeds.

The common assumption is that there’s either a problem with your computer (“stupid technology!”) or it’s lousy service by your Internet provider (“I pay them big bucks every month, yet can’t provide quality service!”).

The truth is most slow Internet speeds are due to intentional congestion by last mile Internet Service Providers (such as Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and AT&T) and by outdated equipment that handles worldwide Internet traffic.

Outdated Internet equipment

On August 12, the Internet came to a crawl in the early hours of the morning and lasted throughout the day. This had been predicted by Internet engineers as early as May. “We expect to see/hear of some bugs … not earlier than August and not later than October,” one wrote.

Cisco, a leading manufacturer of networking equipment, warned its customers about the problem and recommended upgrading the older equipment. Of course, many Internet Service Providers didn’t spend the money to do so at the time.

Now that the issues have surfaced, these companies will be forced to upgrade or replace the outdated Internet equipment. Once done, this part of the slow Internet problem will be fixed for good.

But as this equipment is replaced, you and I will periodically experience more slow Internet speeds.

Intentional congestion

The other reason you experience slow Internet speeds is because some Internet Service Providers, such as Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T and others, intentionally clog up the Internet. At least this is the accusation made by Mark Taylor, vice president of Level 3, which is a backbone Internet provider.

You can compare the worldwide Internet to the blood vessel system in your body. It is comprised of main arteries that carry large amounts of blood to the main parts of your body. Blood vessels and veins then carry that blood to the outlying parts of your body, such as your fingers, toes, lungs, etc.

Backbone Internet providers are the main arteries transmitting web content all over the world. They have thousands of miles of fiber and cable allowing for lightning fast speeds to dozens of last-mile Internet Service Providers.

Last-mile Internet Service Providers are the tinier vessels that connect to the arteries and deliver the web content to individual homes and businesses.

These last-mile providers, according to Taylor, are connecting to the backbone providers on connections that are heavily utilized and congested, causing the slow Internet speeds for users like you and me.

It means that streaming videos on Netflix or YouTube results in buffering, where the video stops and starts, stops and starts. It means that video calls on Skype and other voice over Internet calls may be choppy.

Taylor wrote, “Congestion that is permanent, has been in place for well over a year and where our peer refuses to augment capacity. They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers.”

The worst part is most of these ISPs causing the congestion have no incentive to change it. In many cases, only one Internet Service Provider serves a community, leaving consumers with no alternative or recourse.

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You Want to Do WHAT With My What??!!!??

Cai opened his Android tablet like he does every day to browse news stories, catch up on the latest gossip on Facebook and chat with friends.  Today, he was required to download and install the new Facebook Messenger app in order to read and respond to Facebook messages.

“No problem.  This won’t take but a few minutes,” Cai mused, having done this many times before.

What he saw next alarmed him.

By installing this app, the message on his screen said, it:

  • “Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention.  This may result in unexpected charges or calls.  Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
  • “Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera.  This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
  • “Allows the app to read your phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls.  This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.
  • “Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.”

“What the what?!” Cai exclaimed as he pushed the cancel button.  “Does Mark Zuckerburg [the founder of Facebook] need to know everything single thing I do in my life?  He’s going to know more than the CIA!”

Cai isn’t alone.  Millions of people vehemently expressed their dissatisfaction all over the Internet at Facebook’s bold request for personal information.

I’ve received a few phone calls and messages from worried users about the risk of installing and using the new, required Facebook Messenger app. 

Here are the important things you need to know to make an informed decision about whether or not to install the app on your devices:

First, you do NOT have to install the Facebook Messenger app if you do not wish to send or receive Facebook chat messages on your phone or other mobile device.  You can still communicate with friends and family using the regular chat feature on your desktop or laptop computer.

However, if you DO want to communicate using a mobile device, Facebook forces you to install the app (and agree to its terms and conditions).

Second, the terms and conditions to which you must agree for the Facebook Messenger app are pretty much the same for every app you install on your mobile devices.  Other examples include Skype and Snapchat.

Sean Lyons, an expert with cyber-safety organization Netsafe advises, “A lot of the language in the terms and conditions seems scary, but I don’t think there is anything sinister going on here.”

I seriously doubt Facebook is scheming to make long distance calls to Russia on your dime or use your camera to take photos while you’re sleeping.

Finally, the problem revolves around the wording of the permission requests, mainly on Android devices.

Facebook issued the following response to the controversy: “Almost all apps need certain permissions to run on Android, and we use these permissions to run features in the app.  Keep in mind that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they’re named doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them.”

In essence, Android’s wording of the permission requests makes the threat seem more ominous and intrusive.

Apple iPhone and iPad users have the ability to control what features the app has permission to use.  For example, if you don’t want the app to be able to access your pictures, you can deny it access.

The way Android devices are programmed requires you to give all or nothing access to any app when you download it.  Thus, creating the most uproar among Android mobile users.

What do I recommend?  Make your own determination.

Remember, pretty much everything we say or do electronically is recorded by someone, somewhere, somehow.  Whether it’s Google, Facebook or the NSA, someone out there knows more than you probably want them to.

Keep your conversations on the up-and-up and you’ll have nothing to worry about.  The good book reminds us, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”  Especially in the digital age.

Now excuse me, I need to go install the app on my Nexus tablet.