The answer to this is a bit dicey. Or nuanced. But the explanation is worth it for your safety.
Facetime is an Apple-owned iOS app that allows you to video chat with people on their iPhones and iPads,. To date, Facetime has only been able to connect you with other iOS devices. That means if you’re on an Android phone or a Windows computer, you can’t use Facetime!
But in the near future, the iOS on modern iPhones and Apple tablets is going to update to version 15. And that update includes a nice change to Facetime: You’ll then be able to send invite links to non-Apple users, and rope them into your Facetime video chats!
There’s nothing to install, when you do this. Non-Apple users will receive a link that opens the Facetime chat in a browser window. It will probably be similar to receiving a Zoom link. PC and Android users will (still) not be able to initiate a Facetime chat, as only iOS users get to do that.
Why Is This Important?
Unfortunately, the nuance of what’s developing is getting lost in the headlines. Many tech articles are already cheerleading with “Facetime Coming to Windows” and that isn’t exactly true. And it is leading people down bad paths.
When some folks see that kind of news, they immediately search the internet for “Facetime for Windows” or similar. And they find free programs or extensions that claim it will install Facetime on your device. And this leads to an infection or adware getting on their machines.
Please do not install anything that says you can put Facetime on your non-Apple device. It is surely false and will only cause you trouble.
We’ve pretty much moved past digital storage media, such as CDs and DVDs, by now. If you’ve got any old discs laying around with important data on them, you should probably move your files off to an external hard drive or cloud storage. These days, very few computers come with an optical drive for reading such discs, and you also have to worry about disc rot as the years go by.
Don’t have a computer with an optical drive? No worries, you can always grab an external one from Amazon or other vendor. A USB-connecting CD/DVD drive should only set you back about $25. Same goes for floppy discs: you won’t ever see a floppy drive in a modern computer, but you can still buy a USB floppy reader from some tech stores and websites. Although here’s a warning, today’s floppy readers may not work for you if your diskettes are pre-2010 or from old Macintoshes…
But you should also know about Retrofloppy.com. If you’ve unearthed some floppies, and need the files off of them, Retrofloppy.com will gladly get your files for you, and provide them to you over the internet as a download. But that’s just the start of it.
Retrofloppy can handle virtually any kind of archaic storage media you have. Zip disks, tape drives, Bernoulli disks… If the media is undamaged, they can read it and copy off the data.
Even more, they can convert archaic file types to modern-day, universal files. Example: If your old digital camera saved some pictures to its disk as MVC files, Retrofloppy will change them over to JPG files for you.
Check out their pricing or contact them for a pricequote, if you think you might need their services.
But if you try LibreOffice, you should immediately adjust its default file types. Right out of the box, LibreOffice will save new files in the OpenDocument Format (ODF). And those aren’t as compatible or friendly with Microsoft Office software. If you share an ODF file with someone running Microsoft Office, they may not appreciate it.
But LibreOffice is made to be compatible with Microsoft Office. You can change LibreOffice to always save your files in the Microsoft file type. And as you create .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx files with Libre, you’ll be able to email them to Microsoft Office users with little to no fuss.
Adjusting LibreOffice’s Defaults
Open LibreOffice, click the Tools menu, then click Options. (Mac users should click the LibreOffice menu, then click Preferences.)
On the left, click the Plus Sign next to Load/Save, then click General.
On the right, change ‘Document Type’ to Text Document. Then set the ‘Always Save As’ field to Microsoft Word 2007-365 (*.docx).
Next, change ‘Document Type’ to Spreadsheet. Then set the ‘Always Save As’ field to Microsoft Excel 2007-365 (*.xlsx).
Lastly, change ‘Document Type’ to Presentation. Then set the ‘Always Save As’ field to Microsoft PowerPoint 2007-365 (*.pptx).
Email address are generally case-insensitive, that is, it doesn’t matter if you use capital letter or lower-case. But Google has a few more tricks up its Gmail sleeve.
Periods: In any Gmail address, periods are ignored. So feel free to add periods anywhere in the username portion, if it makes your email address easier to read or understand.
As far as Google is concerned, email@example.com is the same as firstname.lastname@example.org is the same as Joe.D.Frag.Mented@gmail.com . But one may look better than another on a resume, while another may be easier to relay over the phone, so choose appropriately!
Plus Signs: Plus Signs are also ignored in any Gmail address, along with anything that comes after the plus sign, up to the @ symbol. That means you can customize your email address with any words you like.
Betsy.NoSpam@gmail.com might be your address, but feel free to use:
Messages sent to those extra addresses will still get through to you at your normal address. But the Plus Sign info will still be visible to you on the mail you receive. You can use this tool to know when someone is sharing or selling your info. And you can also use this in writing email rules!
Let’s say you give out Betsy.NoSpamemail@example.com for a contest. And after you didn’t win anything, you noticed a lot of spam coming in, sent to that +lottery-address. In Gmail (or your mail client), you could then write a Rule or Filter to auto-delete everything sent to that particular address.
If you receive a letter hiring you to be a “secret shopper” at a big-name store, please understand it is almost certainly a scam. The letter may be extremely detailed, and it may be accompanied by a cashable bank check. But both are illegitimate and you stand to lose a lot of money if you participate. Here’s how this scam works:
The Setup & Instructions
The victim responds to a Facebook post or unexpected text, expressing interest in a money-making opportunity. The scammer sends over this kind of letter, along with a check for a large amount of money:
In short, the letter claims that the job is to pose as a secret shopper. The purported work involves entering Walmart stores and buying $2000 worth of gift cards, while casually taking notes on the store and customer service. The check amount exceeds the value of the gift cards, and the “shopper” is instructed to “keep the remaining money” as their pay.
The victim deposits the check into their bank account and immediately gets to work: Visiting stores, taking notes, buying gift cards. They return home, write out details on the shopping trips, and transmit all of the numbers from the backs of the gift cards to the “boss.”
It all seems like quick and easy work, and the average person will look at the math, and feel like they can make $470 in a heartbeat. But it takes a while for the other shoe to drop…
The Cunning Defense
Many scams use gift card purchases to rob people of their money, everyday, and the big-name stores know all about it. As a result, Walmart trains their employees to watch for questionable gift card purchases. Cashiers are told to gently inquire with any shoppers buying large quantities of gift cards. They truly want to stop this crime and protect their shoppers from losing money. Store workers are ready to explain the scams and save people from themselves.
But the “story” presented in this mystery-shopper-letter grooms the victim to be discreet and not respond to such questioning. If the mystery shopper “blows their cover”, then they will “fail in their mission”. This preps the victim to resist any in-store conversations that might help them spot the scam.
The Payoff & Switcheroo
So the victim has deposited the check, visited stores, purchased gift cards, and sent the info to the person running the show. Everything seems finished and quiet. How does the other shoe drop?
1-5 days later, the victim’s bank will contact them. The bank will inform them that the check they deposited for $2470 was fraudulent or illegitimate. The amount of the check has been reversed and removed from the victim’s account.
It may seem confusing, because right after the deposit, the money appears on the victim’s ledger and is viewable as “available funds” through the bank website or app. But that is not a promise or guarantee of any kind. It can take almost a week for the bank to verify the check and finalize the entire transaction. When a fraudulent deposit is caught and reversed, the person who deposited the check is held liable for the amount.
After the bank explains this to the victim, the scam truly reveals itself: A fake check & letter convinced the person to spend their own money on gift cards, and send them over to a stranger. The scammer emptied the gift cards and now has $2000 in untraceable, nonrefundable money, and the victim has lost $2000 from whatever account they used to buy the gift cards. Or more, if the bank assessed any fees for the bad check!
What To Do
If you’ve encountered this scam, you can report it. The FTC and your state’s OAG would like to hear from you!
If you’ve fallen victim to this type of scam, you may contact your local authorities. But please understand that they probably cannot help reverse gift card or wire transfers, and your money is likely gone.
If you really really want to find legitimate mystery shopper employment, that is possible. But never from a Facebook post or random text. Consider reaching out to the official Mystery Shopping Professionals Association, if you think this is a good career path for you.
This website will tell you the frequency of occurrence for any name in the USA. Type in a name and it will report how many people in the US have that first name, that last name, and how many have both names.
HowManyOfMe.com might just be a quick bit of entertainment. It boggles my mind to see that there are 85 other people in the states with my full name. But I can also see this being a useful tool for anyone choosing a stage name or pseudonym.
A modern boarding pass (plane ticket) has a QR or Bar Code on it. Quickly scanning that code makes it easy for an airport employee to check you in and get you on your plane. But some people warn about those QR codes and their security.
USA Today and other news stories have been circulating for years, warning of the dangers of discarded boarding passes. Supposedly, hackers could pick up your tossed ticket, scan the QR code themselves, and glean your information. Then that info could be used against you in a scam or money-making scheme.
Basically True, But…
The basic info presented in these stories and articles is true. Most QR and Bar Codes on boarding passes contain your name and other PII, and that information is stored there in an insecure manner. Anyone can zap that code to read it, with the right, freely available tool.
You can test it for yourself, next time you have a boarding pass in hand. There are numerous free QR-Code-Reading apps you can download to your phone. Use one to scan your ticket, to see what lay underneath that strange sigil. Or there are websites that do the same thing: Simply upload a picture and it will regurgitate what’s in the QR code as plain text.
Nah. I can agree this is worth discussing, but I don’t think it’s worth the hype and paranoia that the news media would have you adopt.
First, the QR codes often contain the same info that is printed in plain English on your ticket. There’s a chance of other info, like your seating preference or your frequent flier number, being stored in the code. But there won’t be anything super-secret, like your account password or bank account, in there.
Next, while the potential for information abuse is there, it hasn’t become widespread. Notice that as you watch or read these news items, they report on what could happen, what hackers might do with your boarding pass. The reporting is largely hypothetical. That’s because the hackers are going after lower-hanging fruit. There are easier ways for scammers to target their victims than picking up trash and boot-strapping into one person’s accounts and identity.
You should still treat your boarding pass as a sensitive document. Like a utility bill or library card, you should store your boarding pass safely or shred it when you are done with it. You shouldn’t be careless with any document that reveals information about your identity. Don’t tempt fate. That said, this risk with boarding passes is low, and the news media are largely stirring the pot and cashing in on the attention economy.
This is a pretty scary topic, but let’s go through the scope of this problem. It may not affect you at all, but if it does, I’ve got some advice for you.
Reformatted from Afar
Yesterday it was reported that some people’s Western Digital external hard drives were erased! And the attack is not the fault of the drive owners. Instead, they suspect a malware attack is reformatting the drives remotely (through the internet). WD is still working to figure it all out.
But this attack is only affecting WD My Book Live drives. If your WD drive doesn’t have “Live” in its name, you’re OK for now. If your WD drive connects to your computer via USB cable, there’s no immediate threat. The only worry is for WD My Book Live drives that connect via ethernet cable to your router.
Personally, I recommend that WD My Book Live drive users strive to get their data off of MyBook Live drives ASAP. Switch to any other external hard drive, by WD or another big-name brand. Because, even if Western Digital comes up with a fix for this, it will be hard to trust MyBook Live drives, going forward.
If your MyBook Live drive has a USB connector on the back, it is safe to disconnect its ethernet cable and access the drive directly using a USB cable. The drive will be accessible just on the one computer it is cabled to, but that should be good enough to get your data off.
But if your Live drive only allows for an ethernet connection, there’s no easy and safe way to get at your data. You can take your chances, boot it up and try to get your data off of it (very risky, I do not recommend). Or you can watch the WD Advisory Page for updates.
If you have a My Book Live drive that has been erased by this attack, TURN IT OFF immediately.
UPDATE: Western Digital will offer data recovery services to anyone affected by this attack. And WD will announce some kind of trade-in process for MyBook Live drives, to help people move to different devices that are not vulnerable to this attack. Keep an eye on the last section of this website, to keep up with the details on these offers.
Microsoft is starting to talk about their next version of Windows, and we may see it released in late 2021 or early 2022. Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for any computer running a legitimate copy of Windows 10.
But not all computers will be able to handle Windows 11. If you care to check your computer’s compatibility, Microsoft made this quick software tool for all to use. Download, run and open that program, and then click the big blue Check Now button.
If your computer is found to be Not Compatible with the upcoming Windows, no need to worry. Windows 10 will be supported through October 2025. And you’ll be welcome to use Windows 10 past that time, just as there are still some folks using Windows 7 in 2021.
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.”