Naked DSL

In past decades, Internet Service Providers would sell DSL service with the requirement that you also purchase phone service. One service was linked to the other, and you were required to buy phone service if you wanted DSL.

Nowadays, ISPs usually do not have that requirement. You may now buy “Naked DSL” from your ISP and abstain from paying for traditional phone service.

Specifically, I can mention that a local ISP (Shentel) started offering Naked DSL in October 2015. They sent out a letter about it, but it was worded in a confusing and discouraging format. So this is your heads-up: Shentel customers do not need telephone service in order to have DSL internet service. You may discontinue your landline number, save some $$$ and still keep your DSL!

If you have DSL internet service with another provider, you can always contact their customer service folks to ask if they, too, allow for Naked DSL. Although, not everybody is comfy with that term, so you might instead call it Standalone DSL or “DSL without landline phone service.”

Permanently Delete a Game from Steam

If you play Steam video games, you should know that you *can* delete a game from your library. This is more than simply uninstalling the game. Deleting it from your Steam Library means you’ll never again see it in your list of available games, or be able to reinstall it.

It’s not obvious how to remove a Steam game in this manner, so here are the steps:

  • In the Steam program, click Help and then click Steam Support.
  • Click “Games, Software, Etc.” and then click on the game you wish to remove. If you don’t see it, use the Search field to find and select it.
  • Click “I want to permanently remove this game from my account.”
  • Click “OK, remove the listed game(s) from my account permanently.”

Please know that this is irreversible and does not get you any kind of refund. Why would you irrevocably delete a game from Steam?

  • You know you’ll never play it again.
  • You’re embarrassed to have it in your library.
  • You’re a parent taking action to remove something inappropriate from your child’s Steam collection.

Text to 911

In case of an emergency, many parts of the USA support Text to 911. This technology allows you to contact 911 for help via text message (SMS).

The FCC reminds everyone that you should place a voice call to 911 whenever possible.

Much of the Shenandoah Valley[1]Warren County, VA has assured me they support this tech, even though they are not on the FCC list is covered, as shown on the FCC’s Public Safety list. Please feel free to verify other American cities and counties using that list. Or, reach out to your local police department or county offices to ask.

For more details, read up at the main FCC page for this technology.

References

References
1 Warren County, VA has assured me they support this tech, even though they are not on the FCC list

Windows 10 in S Mode

Windows 10 comes in a few editions: Home, Pro and S Mode. And that last one gives many people pause. Just what is S Mode? What does the S stand for? Simple, Secure, Strict, Stunted? Microsoft is mum on that question.

S Mode Defined

S Mode is a locked down version of Windows. S Mode means that you may not install any software on the computer, unless it comes from the Microsoft Store. So on a Windows S Mode computer, you are protected from most types of malware and other nasties, but also cannot load Google Chrome, Adobe Reader, Quickbooks or any other software from a download or disc.

This may be acceptable, if you can live with only ever using Microsoft Edge and Microsoft Office. This may be an instant No for many computer users.

But Should You Avoid S Mode Computers?

In short, No! Many computers at Costco, Best Buy, Microcenter and other retailers boast Windows S Mode, but don’t be deterred! S Mode can be removed right after you boot the computer. Microsoft allows you to remove S Mode and convert your license to Windows 10 Home, for free.

But it is a one-way trip. Once you switch from S Mode to Home, there’s no going back. So be sure you want to make the change, and then:

Switch Out of S Mode

Once your new S Mode computer is booted and connected to the internet, go to:

Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Activation.

Here you should find a wodge of text about Switching to Windows 10 Home. Under it, click the link that says “Go to the Store”. The Microsoft Store will appear and you’ll want to use the “Get” button to remove S Mode.

Microsoft may demand that you sign in to your Microsoft account a couple of times, but if you jump through their hoops, Windows will tell you that you have removed S Mode for good! You are then free to install any programs you desire.

One Last Thing…

Sometimes, people complain: “Hey, I removed S Mode and Microsoft still won’t let me install XYZ Program!” If this happens to you, go to:

Start -> Settings -> Apps.

Under the heading “Choose Where to Get Apps”, change the drop-down menu to “Anywhere”. Close this window and then go try your installation again!

News and Interests Widget on Windows 10 Taskbar

As Windows 10 computers receive the latest big update, people everywhere are noticing something new on the taskbar. Next to the small notifications icon now appears a weather symbol and temperature. This “News & Interests Widget” pops up all kinds of info, as you hover over it with your cursor.

If you don’t care for this new feature (and plenty of you are speaking up to me about it!), you can easily turn it off. Right-click on the temperature number on the taskbar, then hover over “News and interests”, then click Turn Off.

If you still want to try this widget, but want to quiet it down a little, you can go into the above “News and interests” menu, and turn off Open on Hover or “Reduce taskbar updates”.

PS: While you’re at it, you may right-click on your Taskbar and hide many of the other buttons on your Taskbar. Many of them you will never use, and they are just taking up screen real estate! Feel free to uncheck Show Cortana Button, Show Task View Button, Show People, Show Ink Workspace Button, Show Touch Keyboard Button and Show Touchpad Button, if you’ve never used them.

No, You Cannot Circumvent Facebook’s Algorithms

At least, not with some copy-and-paste wodge of text. So if you see this kind of post, don’t bother with it:

It is not harmful to post this sort of thing. And you may truly see more posts from long-lost FB Friends afterwards. But that’s because Facebook shows you more of the people you interact with. It’s not a circumvention or hack. It’s just how Facebook behaves, for all posts on all feeds.

You’ll see the same churn in your FB feed after a post where you simply ask people to leave a comment. So don’t pass on this classic Facebook chain letter. If you want to hear from old friends, you can reach out to them without participating in someone’s superstitious hokum.

PS: the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to adjusting Facebook’s main algorithm is a browser extension called FB Purity.

Amazon Sidewalk

Amazon is rolling out a new feature in their Alexa-enabled devices on June 8. It’s named Amazon Sidewalk, and it’s getting a lot of attention. More and more people are writing to me to ask about it, and the concern in their questions is quite apparent. Why?

Well, in short, because Amazon is adding Sidewalk to all of your Alexa, Echo and other Amazon devices. Everyone’s Amazon hardware is getting a Sidewalk upgrade, as well as many Ring.com devices on June 8. It will create a really big network that shares info over a large area, using your internet bandwidth. And Amazon is doing this without asking you, the end-user, the consumer, the owner of the hardware in question.

What is Sidewalk?

But let me back up a little bit and try to describe the technology a little better: Sidewalk will be a fascinating way of connecting devices at up to half a mile’s distance. Using a mixture of Bluetooth and wireless spectrum transmissions, Amazon wants to mesh all of their devices together. If you have an internet outage, Amazon claims your devices may continue working or be more easily reconnected using Sidewalk technology.

Amazon also wants to alleviate your concerns about privacy and data usage: They state that they’ll be triple-encrypting any data passed through Sidewalk. And the amount of data used each month will be kept low and slow, so you should not notice any speed difference, nor hit any data cap with your ISP.

Why Would(n’t) I Want Sidewalk?

Presuming that Amazon is being truthful about the broad-strokes details, here’s some more possibilities on what Sidewalk could do:

  • While your internet is down, Ring devices may be able to still send you motion alerts and other notifications.
  • If you lose your keys/dog/toddler, and they have a Tile tracker attached, the mesh network may be better able to help you locate them, even if they are away from your home WiFi and property.
  • Amazon Support states that they can help you fix your devices’ connections more easily with Sidewalk enabled.
  • Sidewalk can help stretch to your far-flung Amazon devices and keep them connected, if you have to place them further away than your regular Wi-Fi can reach.

But many tech experts and pundits have cautionary opinions about Sidewalk:

  • Amazon & Ring don’t have the greatest track record with data security, and they’re not disclosing exactly what of my data they plan to share over Sidewalk.
  • If this mesh network spans over entire neighborhoods and cities, does this amount to mass surveillance? Will Amazon be watching me as I travel and connecting me with other people?
  • I paid money for my Amazon tech and I own it. It seems a bit presumptuous for Amazon to commandeer my property and use it for their benefit, without compensating me.

I wish I could see the future and tell you how this all turns out, so I could give definitive advice on what to do. But I just don’t know much for certain here. The best I can do is give you decent reading material, urge you to learn more about Sidewalk, and then step back for you to make an informed decision. Please consider these fine publication for more info on this topic:

Wired Magazine: How Amazon Sidewalk Works

Forbes: Why You Should Change This New Sidewalk Setting on Your Amazon Account

Amazon: Welcome to Amazon Sidewalk

CNET on Amazon Sidewalk

Tom’s Guide: What is Amazon Sidewalk

Amazon Device Makers Blog

Enabling/Disabling Amazon Sidewalk

If you’ve read up on Sidewalk and are comfortable with this new technology, then you don’t have to do anything! This feature will be turned on automatically and start working on or after June 8, 2021.

If you have any reason to abstain from Sidewalk, though, most of the articles above detail how you may turn it off. In short, you would open the Alexa app on your smart device, and go to More-> Settings -> Account Settings – Amazon Sidewalk, and then push the slider to Disabled. This setting in Alexa will affect ALL devices connected to that Amazon account at one time!

If you only have Ring devices and no Amazon/Alexa devices, you can follow these steps to disable Sidewalk in your Ring app.

Recycling Computers and Other Tech

It’s best to recycle your old computers and other technology items, when you don’t need them any more. Here are some tools and places to know about for e-recycling:

Earth911 offers a nationwide search tool to give you ideas of who recycles technology items near you.

The Consumer Technology Association also offers a decent search tool.

Most computer manufacturers offer free & easy recycling options. You can usually locate information about those by Googling for the manufacturer name + “recycling”. Some examples: Dell, HP, Asus, Lenovo, & Acer.

You can also usually take unwanted tech to your local landfill, but you’ll want to be aware of any fees they might charge before you drive there. You can usually expect the highest fees for CRT monitors, since our country has a bit of a problem handling those.

One final suggestion: in my region, the non-profit organization Blue Ridge Hospice accepts most electronics at their thrift store locations. Whether your electronics are working or nonfunctional, you can donate them to BRH and they will take care of them appropriately. They even offer to destroy hard drives, to ensure your data is not used elsewhere. Check out their website or their Facebook Page for more details and reach out to them if you have questions.

If you’re in a different part of the USA, you might call your local thrift stores to ask if any of them offer e-recycling like Blue Ridge Hospice!

TMI on Facebook

Too Much Info

Recently I commented on YouTube that we should be very careful about what we share on social media. Specifically, I mentioned that we should avoid posting personal or sensitive facts about ourselves. Consider this ubiquitous example:

Sharing your employment info with the entire internet

I see this post repeated all over Facebook, sometimes with over 500,000 comments. My jaw drops to see so many people publicly reveal their answer to a security question they may have used on an important account.

But beyond advising you to Don’t Comment on These Posts, I want to conjecture a little with you, and suggest how deep the danger can go.

A Fairly Bad Tale

Let’s imagine a guy named Joseph Target. He’s an average guy who is amused by all the fun posts on Facebook. He’s clicked Like on hundreds of Pages that show him jokes and fun stuff. And he comments on everything he can relate to. “I worked at Subway, too! In Springfield, where I grew up. My brother still lives there.” Joe thinks it’s all harmless fun. And you know what? It is, at the time, for most of the people on Facebook.

Until one day, his Facebook account is stolen from him. He thinks it’s a high-level hackjob, but it was a common Messenger scam, that tricked him into giving up his password to the bad guys. He learns about the problem when people start calling him about weird FB Messages coming from his account. He hurries to a computer, goes through the standard account recovery process and then starts sending apologies to his FB friends. All told, it may have only been a few hours that his account was in someone else’s hands. But with a new password in hand, Joe feels like things are resolved, and he settles back into some Farmville games and commenting on posts about favorite hamburger toppings.

But during those few hours? The intruders weren’t just spamming his Facebook friends. They downloaded all of his Facebook info, saved it to their hard drive for future perusal. That includes his every post, every Like, every comment on everyone else’s posts, including all of those fun posts about his first job and mother’s name. Since they had Joe’s password, the process was quick (about an hour) and easy to do.

So as Joe returned to his casual Facebooking, the thieves casually riffled through all of Joe’s posts and other info from Facebook. And the bad guy was able to assemble quite the dossier on Joe, starting with his address and phone and email, and moving on to work history, relatives’ names, where he banks, his first pet’s name, and all kinds of other choice things he’s commented on over the years. All from one download from Facebook.

Are these Facebook phishers going to commit identity theft? Probably not, but they will sell the Target’s info to seasoned criminals, who do know how to steal someone’s identity. They’ll go on to use Joe’s record to open lines of credit, start utilities accounts, and maybe even obtain legal identification, all in his name.

Yes, this is an extreme story. This may not occur with every compromised FB account, but please understood how possible it all is. It does happen.

Safeguards

What can you do about it? For starters, stop posting personal info to Facebook (and other social media). Don’t post anything on Public posts, and review your own account data. Delete what sensitive info you can from their site, like your birthday, hometown, High School. While that info can help long-lost friends find you, it’s also useful to strangers and bad guys.

If you have some spare time, use the Download function to get a copy of your Facebook info and review it yourself. You may be surprised or terrified at what you find in there; it’s almost like reading a diary you’ve been secretly keeping on yourself! But it may help you find other info on your account that you’ll want to change or remove.

Consider turning on 2-factor authentication for your Facebook account. I know, 2FA can be an added inconvenience when logging into your account, but it is an effective safeguard against some bad actor swiping your password. With 2FA in place, someone would have to swipe your password and your phone in order to gain access to your account. That’s highly unlikely to happen!

Ultimately, though, the only certain method to protect your info on Facebook is to close your account. Identity thieves can’t see or copy info from your account, once it’s been deactivated. I don’t expect many of you will delete your Facebook, but just in case, this shows the steps for that.

CyberTipline

If you encounter child pornography on a computer or on the internet, please report it immediately. Don’t download or email any offensive content. That could get you in trouble and could contribute to the spread of the illegal material. Consider some better ways of addressing it:

Contact your local or state police. They are a great resource and can guide you in taking the next appropriate steps.

Also: The best website for reporting this is the CyberTipline at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Their report form allows you to paste in URLs to potentially illegal websites, without incriminating yourself. You can also call 1-800-THE-LOST, if you need to speak with someone as you submit your report.

If you are outside the USA, then there may be a different way of reporting child sexual abuse material (CSAM). You can use INHOPE to find the best agency to contact, when you are abroad.

Please, if you see something that might be child pornography, please speak up and report it. Don’t let doubt hold you back. Trust that the agency handling your report will investigate and respond appropriately. I thank you.

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