By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to Tech Tuesday, where we take deep dives into the issues plaguing you. This week we conclude our Basic Computer Troubleshooting series with a common issue…

My Computer Has a Virus

We come to it at last, THE fear of the digital era. Some of you may be wondering why I have saved this for last. After all, aren’t all computer problems viruses? Well, as you have seen from the other entries in this series, viruses are not the only source of your digital woes.

In fact, the presence of this topic at the end of the Basic Computer Troubleshooting series is a calculated choice on my part. I wanted you to consider other options before jumping at the virus answer because it’s too easy. It has to be a virus, right? I mean, it can’t be the fact that my computer is fifteen years old, has never been cleaned, is running a hideously out of date operating system, and is on a dial-up modem. It can’t be any of that, it must be a virus. And in case you are thinking I am being hyperbolic, these, or variations of these, are things I have heard before.

By placing this at the end I have demonstrated a concept known as Occam’s Razor. Put simply, Occam’s Razor says the most logical solution tends to be the correct one. What is more logical, a group of your neighbors have gotten together and hacked your machine to make it shut down, or that the loud whirring sound your computer is making is due to a faulty cooling fan that is not properly cooling your processor causing it to shut down?

So the first thing I am going to ask you about your computer, especially if you tell me you have a virus, is, “What are the symptoms?”

What are your computer’s symptoms?

Could the problem be anything I have written about in these last few posts? If so, then try those solutions first then come back.

Tried it? Good! Welcome back.

The bad news is—assuming you did as I asked, and you legally have to because you pinkie promised—you probably have a virus or some malware.

Now for the good news, this is usually easily treatable.

Do you have an antivirus and antimalware program installed?

Now for some more good news, if you have a Windows 10 machine then you already have a decently reviewed antivirus in the form of Windows Defender. The program is usually updated on a weekly schedule alongside your other system updates. According to several review websites, Windows Defender is just as good at detecting and removing viruses as paid software. Plus, it doesn’t have annoying popups asking for money.

If you do not have Windows 10 or would prefer something better regarded by the tech community, then Avast antivirus ( is a good alternative. It does a decent job of securing your computer and has decent scores on most third-party testing sites.

The big problems with Avast are:

  1. It asks for money…a lot
  2. It has a lot of security pop ups that can be annoying or terrifying depending on your computer comfort
  3. If you are not paying attention it will install Google Chrome on your computer. Let’s address these in turn.

It wants my money?

Well the consequence of living in our modern society is that most things want your money. The good news is that you do not have to give Avast a single red cent. Those pop-ups asking for money are their way on trying to sell you more advanced features for a one-time or monthly fee. I would not worry about them. Just ignore them and move on with your life.

It’s saying my Wi-Fi is unsecured, what do I do?!

Many of the warnings Avast, and other similar programs, will give you are things your friends and family might have been saying for years; only Avast has an alarm bell. Things such as, “You are connecting to an unsecure Wi-Fi,” can sound terrifying. All it means though is the Wi-Fi you are connecting to does not require a password. These networks are not bad, they are just the sorts of places where you shouldn’t be accessing your personal information. Think of it this way.  A room of people isn’t bad, but you wouldn’t want to start screaming your credit card information. The same is true for unsecure Wi-Fi. If you’re unsure about a particular warning, then google it.

Why is it installing Google Chrome?

This is a common tactic many pieces of software employ. Honestly, it’s annoying and I do not like the practice. However, it is good if only as a benign reminder. Many pieces of malware can be installed by a reputable program simply because you are not paying attention. Instead of just clicking the next button until something installs, read the various screens that appear. By reading these you can prevent malware from downloading and ensure you get the best experience from your software.

Wait, you keep mentioning malware, what’s that?

Malware is the thing you should be worried about when you are fretting over viruses. In fact, as we discussed on a previous Tech Tuesday, viruses are malware. Trojans, Ransomware, Keyloggers, Spyware, these are all different sorts of malware and they are all something you should protect yourself against. The good news is that there are tools for that.

Depending on whether you pay for your anti-virus software, it might come with malware detection built in. Working under the assumption you aren’t though, a decent product is Malwarebytes ( Like Avast, it is free and does a great job of protecting you from most forms of malware. An important thing to remember is, the free version does not run automatically. You will have to run it on some schedule.

What sort of schedule, you might be asking, well that is an easy one to answer. You check based on your internet use. If you are using the internet every day, then check once a week. If you are only using the internet one to two days a week, then you can push the check back to every other week. The core of this is, the more you are potentially exposed to malware the more you should check.

Um, I just tried to go to the site you mentioned and I can’t get there…

Wait one second, how did you go to the site? Did you google the product names, or did you type in the addresses I listed earlier? If you did the first, try typing the address. If you did the second and typed it correctly then you may have a larger problem.

That doesn’t sound good.

Because it’s not. I have encountered this before, when a computer is so compromised it will allow you to go anywhere other than the places with protection. Thankfully, there are ways around this. They do, however, require some extra work on your part and, possibly, a little money. Let’s start with the money. To get your computer secure you will need a usb drive. You don’t need a big one, 16gb is more than enough. Depending on where you shop, and if you don’t already have one, a drive is going to cost you 5-25 dollars. So not a lot of money, but still some.

Once you have your drive in hand, you’re going to need a second computer. Now I know what you are thinking, if you had a second computer you wouldn’t need to worry about fixing the first. Here’s the thing, your library has computers you can use for free. Just go to a branch and use one of the computers there to download the installation files for Avast and Malwarebytes. And yes, you do want both. Then, with files in hand, you can install them in your faulty machine and clean it up. This normally works because the malware is programmed to avoid antivirus websites but not the USB port.

Heh, I have a phone. I don’t have to worry about this stuff!

Well, don’t you look proud of yourself? Sorry to say this though, you’re not as safe as you think. That’s right, phones are just as susceptible to viruses as computers, perhaps more so. There are many apps out there whose sole purpose is to get a virus onto your phone. Those pictures you downloaded, they might have a virus too. My recommendation is to download the Avast and Malwarebytes apps from your phone’s app store and run them. They will help keep you safe.

Of course, if you have an iPhone you don’t really have to worry about this for the moment.

I don’t go to those sites, why should I worry?

By ‘those’ sites do you mean Yahoo, your local news’ site, or basically anywhere on the internet? Because if those are the sites you mean, then I have some bad news for you. You’ve been somewhere you could get infected. Anywhere on the internet where there are pictures has the potential for infection. Pictures can have viruses stored inside them, invisible to the naked eye but present all the same. When your computer loads the picture, which includes looking at it, the virus can infect your machine. From the initial infection, the virus can execute commands to download and install more sophisticated pieces of software.

So you should always be vigilant, always protect yourself.

Hey, someone from Microsoft called saying I had a virus. What do I do?!

First of all, follow the most important rule of Tech…Don’t Panic! Secondly, that person wasn’t from Microsoft, or Apple, or whoever they said they were with. How do I know that you may ask? Well allow me to answer a question with a question. Are you paying them to call you? These companies are profit-driven institutions and are not going to call you out of the goodness of their hearts.

Now, if you have called them and they are calling you back then that is another story altogether. One we will not get into here.

But if someone calls saying you have a virus…DON’T BELIEVE THEM. They are trying to con you, either out of money or to have access to your computer. Normally though, they want both. Access and money. Many of these people who call will actually fix something in your computer, they might clean up some issues you didn’t even know you had. They do this so it seems as if they were legitimate, but the real goal was getting into your computer. Once in, it is very hard to get them out.

Anything else?

On this particular topic? Maybe. But I think I have scared you enough for one day. If you are reading this and have gone through the other Basic Computer Troubleshooting posts then congratulations on making it to the end! That’s right, this is the last post in this series. It is not, however, the last Tech Tuesday by far.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to Tech Tuesday, where we take deep dives into the issues plaguing you. This week we continue our Basic Computer Troubleshooting series with a common issue…

My Internet is Slowing Down

It’s 7 PM. You’re settling down on your couch to relax and stream some Netflix. Then, it happens. The dreaded ring. Circling over and over, denying you your streaming goodness. You look up at the roof, curse the universe, and the stresses of the day pile up.

Why now? Why does it have to be slow now?! It was fine all day. That week you had off and did nothing but binge watch all seven seasons of Deep Space Nine? The internet was great then. So why is it slow now?

That’s a Good Question, Why is it Slow at Certain Times?

The internet is, vast. Epically, amazingly vast. It wraps around the planet a dozen times. Packets of information travel through it at the speed of light. So why does it slow down at 7 PM on Friday night?

Well I hate to tell you this, but you’re not the only person using the internet. Think of the internet, at least in how it is delivered to you, in terms of water. The vast ocean of the internet collects in local pools represented by huge data centers. These data centers are why a part of the internet ocean can ‘run dry’—perhaps due to a power outage—and the rest of the world can still have internet.

Now, when we connect to the internet we each are connecting to one of the data centers with the digital equivalent of a straw. If we are the only person using the straw then we get all the water we want whenever we want it. This state represents the maximum speed at which your internet consumption can occur. But remember, we aren’t the only ones with a straw. There are other straws. Also, some of us pay for bigger straws giving those people an advantage.

Still on this straw metaphor, imagine if half the city all decided at the same time to use their straw. The water, the data, would have to flow to multiple people at once. That’s why if, for instance, you and everyone you know stream the big game, the game can become jittery and pixelated. There are too many straws in use at the same time.

The good news is that, thanks to the unprecedented turn to work from home initiatives due to the COVID-19 crisis, Internet service providers have increased both the straws people use and the overall water pressure.

Is the problem in the home?

Sometimes the sudden slowness in your internet connection has nothing to do with your neighbors’ straws and everything to do with yours. Are you doing a lot of activities that require the internet? Because if you are that can be the culprit.

A big thing in entertainment these days is 4K movies and televisions. These are movies delivered in incredible detail and quality. If you are using a Blu-ray disc, then this isn’t a problem but if you are streaming in 4K then that may be the source of your slow connection. Your straw might not be able to handle the flow you’re trying to consume.

Video games are another possible consumer of internet speed. This is especially true if the game requires a constant internet connection. Because many gamers are also using voice chat features and play music from online sources one person can use up all the flow for a home.

Computer updates are another big drain on water flow. If you are updating your machine, which you should do, it can be a heavy load on your connection and make it so less of the water is available for the other devices in your home.

Why is my Internet Slow All the Time?

Let’s say you aren’t getting on at a ‘peak time’ when lots of people are online. Maybe it’s five A.M. Maybe it’s midnight. It doesn’t matter when you get on or how few straws others are using, your internet is always slow. For these moments there are a few options:

Have you tried resetting it?

For my frequent readers this will sound familiar. You can fix many problems, including internet slowness, by turning your devices off then back on again. This process includes your router. Your router is also a computer and it too can get confused. This is why the first thing your internet service provider will ask is, “Have you reset it?” If your device has an app, I suggest using it as the app will have diagnostic tools and a handy reset button.

What are you paying for?

Thanks to television and movies many of us have unrealistic expectations regarding the speed of the internet. Before you contact your internet service provider you need to know what you are paying for. If your contract says that you are paying for a speed of 32mbps (megabytes per second)—this is very slow—then that is the maximum size your straw will be. Most internet service providers, despite what they sell you, only guarantee half of whatever you are paying for. So, if you are finding that your speed is too slow, and you’ve reset your modem, you might need to upgrade your internet plan.

Is your internet service provider actually providing service?

Now while I just said that you may need to start paying more for internet, I do not want you to immediately jump into that hole. Before you start paying for more, make sure your internet service provider is giving you what you paid for. If your internet is continuously running slower than the 50% of what you are paying for then call them. Keep records. Keep calling and having people come out until it is fixed.

I say this from a position of experience. My own internet used to die, like clockwork, in the 7 – 8 AM bracket. I called and called. Multiple service technicians came out. They replaced every cable in my home. They put me on another node on their line at the pole. They replaced their router four times in a month. Finally, after all the headache, all the, “Have you reset it,” it turned out that there was a faulty node five miles away.

So before you pay a single cent more, make sure you are getting what you paid for.

Where is your router?

The placement of your router can be critical to how you consume the internet. In the off-chance that every device in your home connects to the router via an ethernet connection, meaning a physical wire, then the position matters less. We are going to push such notions aside for now though.

Your router has two main radio transmitters in it, what we call Wi-Fi. One, the 2.4GHz is slower than the 5GHz, the numbers being an indicator of radio frequency. To use the straw metaphor, your router is analogous to the data center and the frequency is the size of your local straw. The 2.4GHz band is slower but more universal, meaning more devices in your home are probably using it. The 5GHz band is faster and newer so your phone might jump onto it but not your printer.

The frequency also determines where you can place your router. 2.4GHz can go further in your home and is blocked by less things while 5GHz has a shorter range. Also, because we are dealing with radio frequencies, we must remember that things like brick and metal can slow or block the signal. If you are in a brick building reinforced with steel, then you might not get signal in the next room while in a wood building you could get it from the other side of the house.

Consider placing your router near where you intend to get the most use from it. If you need it strong in your office, then put it in your office. If you need it near your tv in the middle of your home, then place it there. And if you need WiFi throughout the home but your home is not cooperating then consider purchasing WiFi boosters that can pick up your router’s signal, amplify it, and broadcast to a wider area.

Or go completely crazy like I have and run Ethernet cable through your home. The cable is fairly cheap and then you never have to worry about dropped WiFi signal.

How do I Know How Fast My Internet Is?

Good question. It is hard to refute what your internet service provider is saying without some hard evidence. Thankfully it is easy to find your current internet speed. All you need to do is google ‘speed test’. When you do this, you should be presented with a button saying “RUN SPEED TEST” or “Start”. Press the button and sit back.

Once the software is done you will receive three numbers: the Ping, the Download, and the Upload. Ping is a measure of how quick information leaves your computer, travels down your straw to a data center, then returns. Usually, Ping is under a millisecond and is honestly the number I worry about the least.  Download is a measure of your straw itself. The larger the number of your Download the more information is coming down your straw. When I tell you to make sure you are getting at least half of what you pay for, this is the number to look at. Upload is the measure of how much information is going up your straw to the data center. As a rule, this number will be much smaller than your Download, often by a lot. Unless you are doing something that requires you to have a high Upload number, I would not worry about it.

Anything else?

On this particular topic? Maybe. But as I have proven with these last two posts, I can talk a lot on a topic. Therefor I am ending this one here. Besides, this is the easy stuff. Anything beyond what we’ve talked about today is in other’s hands. Stay tuned for another post in this series where we discuss THE boogeyman of the digital era. Viruses.

*cue lightning bolt and spooky music*

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives on the topics you want to learn more about. Today we are going to look at App Stores. What are they? And how do You use them?

What is an App Store?

At its most basic, App Stores are where you go to ‘purchase’ an app for your device. Notice I put them into the literary equivalent of air quotes? This is because purchasing does not mean the same thing to you and me as it does to Google or Apple. To most people the act of purchasing something is you trading money for goods or services. To these companies though, purchasing is any time you acquire a good or service from them. Free or paid, it does not matter, you are purchasing it. Thankfully, most apps people ‘purchase’ these days are free.

What is an App?

Good question. I get this confusion often. People in the tech space talk about them and programs without really explaining. So let’s take a quick moment to talk about apps. Apps are programs. Ever open Word or Photoshop on your computer? Well, you are opening an application we just call them programs. Basically, the substitution of app for program was a marketing thing. They could have kept calling them programs and today we’d all be talking about the Prog Store. But we aren’t, we are talking about the App Store.

Yeah, about that…I don’t have the App Store.

Are you sure about that? Because I bet you do have it, you just aren’t seeing the name App Store. App Store as a named location tends to be the main purview of Apple. If you have an iPhone or iPad you have an icon named App Store. If you aren’t on Apple though, that’s okay. You still have an App Store, they just call it something else. For Android devices the App Store is named Google Play or Google Play Store, or just Play Store.

Anything else?

Yes actually, glad you asked. I would like to take a moment and circle back to the free part of apps. Now don’t worry, I’m not about to go and reverse free but I do want to issue a warning or two. Many, many apps are as free as their price tag say. Google Maps, Photos, Mail, Docs, Slides, and more, they are all free. However, there are other free apps that are more likely to be called freemium. A freemium app is one you pay nothing for to download but there may be hidden costs down the road. Such costs might include: powerups in games, removal of ads, increased features, extra storage space, or other conveniences. You don’t have to pay for these things. Most apps are designed to still be usable without them. However, these add-on micro transactions are there to trickle money out of you. Instead of charging 20 dollars up front, they give the app away for free then charge you .99 cents here and there and, before you know it, you have suddenly paid much more than the 20 you could have.

This is not to say avoid all apps, just go in understanding that sometimes free doesn’t always come without a cost. Which, I think, is good advice in general.

But what if I want to pay for something? Is my information safe?

Not to be super spooky but, is anyone’s stuff safe? But in all seriousness, yes probably. It’s about as safe from attack as your information on Amazon or any other. And if you are really worried about someone getting your credit card information there are ways around that. Legal ways I might add.

Do go on…

Right. Companies know you don’t want to give them your information. Because of this, the big names in the business, Amazon, Google, and Apple, have prepaid cards you can purchase at most stores. Just buy the card for your particular service, Google Play for instance, then follow the instructions on the card to load your ‘money’ on the account. Now, any purchase requiring money will instead use the pre-set amount on the card you added. This is a great way to limit yourself or your loved ones. After all, many of these services, especially the games, are designed to draw you in and lay down far more money than you might have otherwise. The card puts a quick and easy limit on that and keeps your information safe.

You have a good point there. Anything else I should know?

No, not really. At this point the wonders of the App Store are open to you. Although, if I were you, I would make sure one of my first ‘purchases’ was for an anti-virus, especially if I was on an Android device. Malwarebytes is pretty good, but there are other free ones out there too. Other than that, remember…

Have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives on the issues you are having with technology. Today we are going to take a look at Google Photos, a popular online photo service.

First, a little background. For the longest time any picture you took with your cell phone, if you had Google Drive on your phone, would automatically back up to the Drive. While pictures would be seen in Google Photos and Drive, they really were in the latter while the former was just a convenient interface. Then, in 2019, Google decoupled the two platforms and now all your pictures are solely in Google Photos.

Why are things different?

Believe it or not, Google thought this would be an improvement. According to them, they had complaints that things were too complicated. Therefore, in their mind, disconnecting Photos from the standard Google Drive experience is their way of ‘Making things easier’. The issue with this change is that all your new pictures are going to Google Photos while the others are in Drive.

Wait, you’re telling me I’ve got Photos in two places?!

Yes, yes you do. If you were using Google Photos before the changeover you will have all your old pictures in Google Drive and all the post-change items in Photos exclusively. You can, if you want, merge the old with the new but that is the direction it will go, Old to New. Everything is in Photos now, not Drive.

Although, you could, I guess, move all the pictures manually into Google Drive. I wouldn’t though because of the hit to your storage you’ll take.

How much storage do I have?

Good question. Well according to their site, if you store your pictures at their original quality then you have whatever storage is in your Google Drive. This means, unless you are paying, you will max out at 15 GB. As with most things in life though, the storage number comes with a caveat. If you choose to lower the quality of your pictures from Max Quality to High Quality your storage cap rises from 15 GB to Infinity. Meaning that you can store as many pictures as you want forever. So long as you keep them in Google Photos.

What does it mean by High-Quality?

If you choose the High-Quality option that means your pictures will be reduced in file size to 16 MB per picture. Now that may not seem like a lot, but a picture taken on my iPhone 8 Plus, with its 12 mega pixel camera, clocks in at 3.2 MB. With these numbers I would never hit the max size limit and my pictures would never be reduced. Even in pictures whose quality has been reduced, most of the compression is hard to impossible to detect with the naked eye unless you zoom in to 500% or more. So even under the new system you shouldn’t run into any problems with storage limits.

But I like how it used to be! What do I do?

You have a couple of options. One, you live with the changes and merge the Drive pictures with Photos. Not ideal but it is an option. If you continue this way, if you just look at your pictures while they are in Albums and ignore the master list it will seem as if things were somewhat normal. Two, you can stop using Photos and move to another system such as OneDrive, where you can absolutely use the most complicated folder system you can devise. With OneDrive you will have, by default, 5GB worth of storage with the option of upgrading to more expensive solutions. If you pay yearly or monthly for Office 365 you have 1TB of storage; that’s 1000 gigabytes! Just download the OneDrive app, set it to your account and to backup photos, and sit back.

There is another option out there if you don’t mind dealing with Albums of a sort, and that is Amazon Photos. If you have an Amazon Prime account, you have unlimited picture storage as one of the million other hidden benefits. The real restriction here is that you cannot use the service to store pictures you are using for a business, as that is a separate account. If you want to go this route, just download the Amazon Photos app, set it to your account and to backup photos, and sit back.

So now what?

Really? Just take your photos. If you have decided to use another of the apps then use those. If you are staying with Google Photos, then keep taking pictures. Either way, don’t let the varying machinations of a distant corporate machine keep you from enjoying your day.

And remember, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to another installment of Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives into the issues that concern you. This week we are going to look at an issue that can often mess people up, the difference between Email and Texting.

What is Email?

We spent a long time in a previous episode discussing the finer points of Email, so we shall not rehash them all there. Suffice it to say, Email is a similar form of communication to physically writing out a letter, on paper, with a pen. Because of this deep similarity it is common, and expected, to use similar rules when writing an Email. Emails tend to be long form, with proper punctuation and grammar.

What is Texting then?

If Email is the digital equivalent of hand-writing a letter then Texting, at least among the younger generations, is more akin to a verbal conversation. Also different is how Texting is accessed. Normally, meaning without any workarounds, Texts are tied to a phone number not a set email domain. What this means is that, if you want to Text someone you are not going to use USERNAME@DOMAIN.COM but instead, 9045555555. Though if someone gives you that phone number, they probably do not want to talk to you.

Why do people write Texts so poorly?

That is a good question. A lot of parents look at their children’s Texts and wonder what the heck happened. These are kids and adults whose prose is spectacular, yet their Texts read like a third grader’s failed report. The grammar is wrong. There is no punctuation. Heck, they don’t even use whole words! If you had a hand in shaping this young mind your frustration makes complete sense. But instead of despairing, try rethinking the kind of communication the person is engaging in. Remember, Texting is writing, it’s a stand-in for verbal communication. Think of how the person talks then read the Texts from that perspective.

Now, do me a favor, look at your Texts and read them as if you were speaking. Do they sound like a conversation between two people in a coffee shop or do they sound like a speech?

This Texting = Speaking dynamic also explains something else that many people find irritating, shorthand. If you have ever seen something like 4u and found your teeth grinding, try reading it out loud. If Texting is just Speaking then it does not matter what the information looks like, it is how the communication is being processed that is important.

At the same time, while you may be pulling your hair out at their poor grammar or syntax, they may be worried about you. Some conventions that the written world takes for granted, such as the ellipses aka …, sound very different to those speakreading the Text. Instead of a pause like you probably mean it, the person speakreading it ‘hears’ something far more sarcastic or angry than was intended. Formalized writing in a Texting environment also comes across as angry. Ever hear someone get so angry they start talking slowly and enunciating every word? That is what it can sound like when you bring Email style writing into the texting field.

So I should starting Texting like younger people?

No…just, no. Nothing says I am completely out of touch like someone older than you trying to use the same slang and verbiage as you. But what you CAN do is shake your shoulders a little, break out of the writing mode and move into a more speakerly style. Leave a comma off. Instead of long paragraphs sent as one block, send shorter messages that are easier to digest. And always be aware of how what you are ‘saying’ is going to ‘sound’ to the person speakreading it. Other than that, you be you.

Oh, and this is really important, just because someone is sending you a text doesn’t mean they are expecting an immediate response.

Wait, what?

Yes. When someone you know texts you at 3am they are not expecting you to send a response right then. They know you are asleep. Heck, they may have been asleep too and suddenly was woken up by something and they needed to tell you. What they don’t want though is for you to wake up and text back. Leave that stuff for the morning when you can deal with it appropriately. Usually the only time someone wants you to respond right that second is when they say, “Txt me now! Something’s up.” Unless it is something like that, it can probably wait. Most people who Text are doing so between other things in their life. They can’t get into a sustained conversation right now and they are not expecting you to drop everything either.

If you have someone in your life who is Texting you during times when you are asleep or unable to answer, you can always turn on your phone’s Do Not Disturb function. When this is on you should not receive notifications of the Texts you are getting.

Well that makes me feel better. Now what?

At this point? Just go out and start Texting your loved ones. And if you have something you want to say a tad longer than a quick sentence or two then send it via an email.

And while you’re doing that remember, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to another Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives into the technology issues plaguing you. Today we are going to look at something many of you probably live in fear of, Viruses and Malware. Depending on who you are talking to, they have the potential to ruin your life and steal your cat. Now they aren’t out to do the latter and the former…well that is less about your life and more about knowing information about you allows the ‘bad guys’ more access to the world.

What is a Virus?

Okay, now hold onto your hats because I am about to blow your mind. A Virus is a form of Malware. Boom! More specifically, a Virus is a computer program designed to spread from program to program in your computer. Once it has infected a host machine, the Virus will then seek ways of jumping to other systems to infect them as well. Viruses are made by people with varying goals in mind. Some do it for benign reasons such as creating tools to break into computers to better figure out ways to protect those same computers. Others use Viruses as a way of making a political statement, such as programming a computer so that, every time you press CTRL and ALT at the same time a screen opens and types whatever statement they had in mind.

Those are good to somewhat annoying actors on the stage though. What about the really bad guys? Well Viruses made by these people are out to steal information or deny you access to services until an amount of money is paid.

Then what is Malware?

Malware, or malicious software, is a catch all term for all sorts of nasty computer bugs. Bugs such as Trojan Horses, Ransomware, Adware, Keyloggers, Browser Hijackers, and yes, Viruses. We’ll go through all these but know that they all are problematic and can really be a pain to remove. They are usually created to cause pain in others and extract information and funds from people/institutions.

Trojan Horses

Like the historical horse from which they draw their name, Trojan Horses, aka Trojans, are Malware designed to appear legitimate. They use this seemingly legitimate face to convince you to interact with it and when you do the real Malware hidden inside is free to attack. Some common places for Trojans to pop up are pictures people send you. While the image appears normal, inside Malware may be lurking. It is because of this that many email services include a scanner to check incoming mail for these sorts of attacks.


This kind of Malware either locks you out of your computer or threatens to distribute the contents of your computer. Either way, the chief goal of Ransomware is for you to pay the bad guys. They block access to your files by encoding them with a key that only they have. So long as you are not given the key there is no real way of accessing your information. Trojans are a common vector for getting Ransomware onto your computer


This might be the one you are most familiar with because of how it presents, pop-ups. Adware is designed to create windows filled with ads for you to click on. The most important thing to remember when it comes to Adware is to not click on any of the buttons. For one, you cannot be sure you are going to legitimate sites through these links. Also, you cannot be sure the button isn’t a trigger to release a far more dangerous Malware into your system.


Again, usually, hidden within Trojans, Keyloggers are pieces of Malware designed to make a record of every key you press on your keyboard. The purpose of this is to capture important information such as usernames, passwords, and bank account numbers and then transmit that information to the one behind the Malware. Once they have this information it is much easier to break into your accounts.

Browser Hijackers

These are very sophisticated pieces of Malware designed to take over some, if not all, the functions of your browser. Common features are a changing of your browser’s search engine to a bad actor’s site. These sites are either Malware-laden traps, filled with ads designed to take you to worse sites, or both. Browser Hijackers can be some of the hardest Malware to remove though some aspects of them, such as changing default search engines and browsers, requires user permission making them less powerful on Windows 10 machines.

Okay, I’m scared now. How do I protect myself?

Well the good news is that is fairly easy to protect yourself against the kinds of threats. If you have Windows 10 then your computer comes with Windows Security which is more than up to the task of keeping your computer free of viruses. Just make sure to run regular updates and occasionally pop into the Windows Security, accessible through the Update and Security area of the Settings app.  

Malware, on the other hand, will probably require a bit more power than a simple virus scanner has at its disposal. To combat them you are going to want to download an anti-Malware program. As of 2020 one the most respected anti-Malware programs is Malwarebytes which you can download for free from It will give you a free 14-day trial of their Premium services but you can use the basic package with no problem.

Now what?

Between your free anti-virus and your free anti-Malware, you can use the internet in relative safety. This does not mean there are no threats out there, that’s not how life works. But for the most part you are safe, just like in life. Just remember a few things: don’t download from sites not familiar to you, if a friend sends a picture from the wrong email address don’t open it, run your anti-virus and anti-Malware at least once a month depending on your usage.

Next time we are going to talk about Texting and how it compares to Email and how to get the most out of both.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome to another installment of Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives into the technology we have all around us. Today we are going to look at something that, if you use the internet, you’ve heard mentioned before; Cookies

Mmm, Cookies. Who doesn’t love an ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookie?

Wait, no, not those Cookies, sorry. Today we are going to talk about Cookies in your computer. If you have been anywhere on the internet these days, you have probably encountered something mentioning Cookies and asking your permission to use them. So, let’s do a deep dive into them.

What is a Cookie?

At its most simple, a Cookie is a tiny piece of information placed on your computer by someone else’s computer. Now let’s talk about that, because it sounds scary.

Let’s take a step away from the digital world and back into the real one. Imagine for a moment you have a business card. It has your name, address, phone number, and anything else you would like people to know about you. Easy enough, eh? Even if you have never had one yourself, you’ve seen them on tv and in the movies. Now the purpose of a business card is, when you meet someone or visit a place, you can leave a reminder of who you are, that way people can find you again. Sometimes those people and places that have your card will add additional information to make it easier for them to remember you. This is very similar to how Cookies work.

When you visit a website, it will often ask you if they can place a Cookie on your computer. This is their ‘business card’ so, the next time you visit, they can remember who you are. Depending on the site, this Cookie will take different forms. Most are just a long string of numbers and letters that correspond to your account on their systems.

The kinds of things using Cookies though are integral to the internet. Ever go shopping online and the ‘Shopping Cart’ remembers what you put in it? That information is being stored on your machine via a Cookie. Ever go to your email and you don’t have to sign in? Well the login authentication was done via a Cookie. Ever go back to YouTube and they remember where you left off in a video? That was a Cookie too.

To then answer the question, what is a cookie? One must conclude Cookies are one of the most essential parts of the modern internet.

Cookies are okay then?

This depends. Cookies are used both to track your purchases and reduce the number of times you must sign-in to a site. There was a key word there though, track. Along with being helpful, Cookies are recording what you are doing on your computer so someone else can have access to that information. Most of the time this access is benign but not always. If you are someone who objects to the way modern companies track you and then use the data they gather to advertise to you, then Cookies are not as friendly as they might have been intended.

Okay, so why do people tell me to delete them?

Great question, glad you asked. Although not completely, this notion of deleting Cookies and clearing the cache stems from earlier generations of computers. Being a simple text file, Cookies do not occupy a huge amount of space on your computer. However, what is a small amount of real estate now was a much larger amount of space in the comparatively smaller hard drives and processors of twenty years ago. Back then, when your computer ran slow it made absolute sense to jettison every little bit of stuff clogging up storage and Cookies were an easy place to cut some metaphorical calories. These days, with as powerful and robust as modern computers are it is less necessary to remove them. Additionally, your computer’s browser automatically deletes Cookies that are too old.

So, what should I do about Cookies?

Largely you can ignore them. These days Cookies manage themselves. There are options in your browser you can activate to minimize the use of Cookies on your computer. However, if you choose to use the internet without ever using a Cookie your experience will be less robust than intended.

Then why do all these sites tell me they are using Cookies?

You can thank the European Union for these notifications. The EU Cookies Directive states that any site owned by EU citizens or directed to EU citizens must inform users of the Cookies they use and gain consent for operation. It can be annoying to be sure, but at least you are being informed.

Now what?

Have fun on the internet knowing why the browser keeps mentions Cookies. There are things other than Cookies to be worried about these days, Viruses and Malware. We’ll get to those next time.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.

Tech Tuesday – Incognito Mode

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome back to Tech Tuesday, where we do deep dives into the technology powering our lives. Today we look at something you may have never heard of but can be a powerful tool for keeping yourself safe online. Although called several different things depending on the browser, today we are going to stick with Incognito Mode. While the name may sound ominous, it really isn’t. In fact, it could save you a great deal of headaches down the road.

Also, sorry about the lateness of this.

Okay, so what is Incognito Mode?

As we discussed in a previous post, your Browser—Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari—can be thought of as a car driving down the road that is the Internet. Well as you are moving through the Internet you are seen by every site you visit and your Browser keeps records of everywhere you go, in case you want to quickly get back. Your Browser will even remember your passwords and log-in information if you let it. All of this is handy when you are talking about your own computer, most people would love to not be required to remember their password. But what about a friend’s computer? Or when you’re at the library? You probably don’t want those computers remembering you. That’s where Incognito Mode comes in

When you are using your Browser’s Incognito Mode the Browser behaves as if no one had ever used it. Sites you go to will ask for your passwords and will require any additional proof of identity you may normally bypass on your home machine. What’s great about this lack of remembrance on the Browser’s part is it also protects the normal user of that computer from you accessing their information. Even better news is that, when you are done with Incognito Mode and you close the Browser window it will forget everything you typed inside, so your accounts are not compromised.

Wow, that sounds amazing, but where do I find Incognito Mode?

Good question, humble readers. If you are using Chrome then you will find Incognito Mode by clicking on the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. When you do so it should be the third option down from the top.

That’s great for Chrome but I don’t use it, does that mean I don’t have Incognito Mode?

You probably have it, it might just be called something different. Some alternative names for Incognito Mode are Edge’s InPrivate Window, Firefox’s Private Window, and Safari’s Private Browsing. No matter the name though, you can still use this valuable feature and keep yourself safe on the internet.

Now what?

Now, it’s time to take the internet into your own hands and make the most out of this valuable tool. We did mention something important in here, Cookies, and with websites always mentioning that they are using Cookies we should probably have a discussion about them. That is for next time though.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.


Tech Tuesday – Search Engines

By John Carter

Hi Net Neighbors! Welcome back to this, another Tech Tuesday. If you remember last week, we talked about Address Bars in our browsers, a key way to search for information and go directly to websites as needed. Now on that Tech Tuesday we discussed searching only in the broadest strokes. Why don’t we add some detail to those strokes, eh? So today we are going to look at how you search for things on the internet and for that we are going to look at Search Engines.

What are Search Engines?

At its broadest definition, a Search Engine is a tool you can use to find information in a database. Ever look for a word in a dictionary? If so, at that moment you were the Search Engine, and the dictionary was the database you were accessing. Computer-based ones do the same thing, looking through a large set of information for keywords and phrases. Only the size of these dictionaries is so unfathomably huge I cannot properly put them into words.

You say ‘Engines’, how many are there?

There are more out there than you may thing. In fact, there are so many it can be very hard to keep track of them all. Here are a few you may have heard of: AOL, Yahoo, Bing, and Google. Google is THE premier name when it comes to searching for information on the internet, so much so that the act of searching is now called googling it. Now just because Google has placed themselves at center-stage does not mean it is the best, it is just the most well-known. The others mentioned have their pluses and minuses depending on you the user. For me, if I am searching for high-quality, high-resolution, images I will often go to Microsoft’s Bing because I find their selection slightly better. That being said, I often will just stick with Google since its overall database has been used more and is slightly more robust.

If you don’t want to have your information used for tracking and advertising you can use a Search Engine called DuckDuckGo.

Tracking? What is tracking me?

Now this will sound a little scary, but most of the internet is, in some way, tracking you. This tracking is used to learn more about you. Knowing you have searched for a certain brand of shoes, or for a cool vacation allows the companies running the Search Engine to sell the fact that you searched for those things to companies who can advertise to you. Now this can be a good thing and it can be a bad one too depending on your point of view. Thankfully, more companies are realizing customers do not appreciate their advertising practices and are changing their tactics and allowing you to opt out of their targeted advertising. Not all are, however, hence DuckDuckGo, which does not track you at all. Ads with them are based off what you searched for, as if you were at a store and staff suggested a purchase based on what you just grabbed.

Wait, my Search Engine just changed, what’s up?

Hopefully you will never encounter this, but sometimes your Search Engine will change without warning. There are a few reasons why this could happen so let’s take a look at them.

You live with someone else.

If you live with someone else, they might have changed the Search Engine on your computer. As with anything else, the choice of Search Engines can become almost cult-like. People have been known to change someone else’s Search Engine just because it was not the one they preferred. If that happens to you, simply turn it back in your browser’s settings.

You updated something.

While this does not happen as much anymore, sometimes when you update Windows or your browser some of the settings will be returned to factory standard. One common item to be reset is your browser’s Search Engine. Microsoft-branded browsers, Internet Explorer and Edge, can switch from Google or Yahoo back to Bing. While Google-made Chrome is likely to change back to Google. This is annoying to be sure but, as with the above, just change it in your browser’s settings.

Your browser has been hijacked.

This option is, unfortunately, as ominous as it sounds. If someone in your home hasn’t changed your Search Engine and your update hasn’t either, then a virus or malware has taken control of your browser and has switched it. When this happens, you will need to run an anti-virus and an anti-malware scan on your computer. You may have to do it multiple times depending on the infection. You will also have to remove any virus-installed products from the machine through your computer’s Uninstall Programs area and remove the rogue Search Engines from your browser.

Well that was spooky, anything else?

Well there is Incognito Mode but that doesn’t have anything to do with Search Engines and we will talk more about it at a later date. So, for right now, not really. We’ve talked about Search Engines and their uses. Now it’s up to you to use them and learn more. More about Search Engines and more about the world around you.

Until then, have fun, find adventure, and stay safe.