Page 2 of 8

Refill Your Inkjet Cartridges at Costco

Costco offers so many different services and perks to its members, that many go unnoticed. If you use your inkjet printer a lot, then you should know about their unsung inkjet refill service. At the photo counters of many Costco locations, you can save a lot of money by having them refill your printer cartridges.

Prices vary from one cartridge to the next, and range between $7-12 per refill. Cartridges must be empty, as their equipment is not designed to refill a half-empty unit. And this service is typically performed in less than an hour (while you shop!).

Some caveats: Not all Costco locations offer this service, so call ahead before you make the trip. Not all cartridges can be refilled; use their website to look up your printer model for eligibility. As with all inkjet refills, there is a small chance of leaks, so be careful as you transport and install your refilled cartridges.

Caveats aside, this is a fairly safe service to try out, because Costco is super-easy to work with, and they will make it right if you’re not completely happy. Please read over their FAQ or talk to them at their stores if you have any other questions.

Turning Off Facebook Voting Reminders

As Election Day approaches, there are a lot of differing opinions about what’s going to happen and what we need to do. But I’ve found that almost everyone can come together and agree on one thing:

Facebook can STOP reminding us to vote, already.

I’m not sure why, but the Zuckerbots are popping up too much on many phones and computers as you use Facebook. If you want Facebook to stop telling you to vote, you can turn that off!

On a computer, go to:

On the right, look for Voting reminders — you can turn that Off, and have a little less nagging in your life.

In the Facebook app on your mobile device, you would tap the hamburger button to the upper-right, scroll down to tap on See More, scroll down to tap on Town Hall. Tap Settings to find the same Voting Reminders option and turn it off.

This is only for Facebook’s non-partisan voting reminders. You may continue to see political ads or posts from people you’ve connected to.

Monitor Adapter Cables

“I can’t get my old monitor to connect to my new computer!”

This comes up a lot, when someone is trying to connect old tech to new tech. Because display connectors have evolved over the years, your new PC may not offer the right port for your 10-year-old monitor. But you don’t have to buy a new monitor ($100-200). Instead, find an adapter cable ($10-25) and use your old screen until it drops!

There are a lot of different display interfaces over the years:

But with typical computers, there’s only 4 to think about:

  • VGA: its cable has 3 rows of pins in a trapezoid, and has blue ends with thumb-screws.
  • DVI: its cable has 3 rows of pins in a rectangle, and has white ends with thumb-screws.
  • HDMI: its cable has no thumb-screws and usually has black ends with a metallic insert.
  • DisplayPort: its cable is similar to HDMI, but the connector is not symmetrical — one corner is cut off.

If you’ve made it this far without glazing over, congratulations! You can use the info above to go over to Amazon or Microcenter to buy an adapter cable that will connect your monitor to your computer!

A common example: old monitors often only have a VGA connector on their backs. New PCs often have HDMI connectors. So for that situation, you would want an HDMI-to-VGA adapter cable, such as this or that.

I’ve also helped customers connect multiple monitors to a graphics card or a port replicator, where the hardware offers 1 HDMI port, 1 DVI port and 1 VGA port. If the monitors all offer HDMI connectors, then that situation would require a standard HDMI cable, an HDMI-to-DVI adapter cable, and a HDMI-to-VGA cable.

If this stuff makes your head swim, no worries. When you find yourself in this kind of pickle, call or email me and I’ll quickly steer you towards the correct cable to buy.

LibreOffice: Free Office Software

There are plenty of reasons to pay for Microsoft Office, but if you don’t have any, don’t immediately buy it. Try LibreOffice first– it’s legitimately free and can do almost everything that Word, Excel and PowerPoint can. You might just save $150 (for Microsoft Office 2019) or $70/yr (for Microsoft 365).

LibreOffice has been around for years, and is maintained by a non-profit company and nice tech community members. You can install LibreOffice on Windows, MacOSX and Linux machines. If you want an app for your mobile device, it looks like The Document Foundation recommends a partner company, Collabora, for that.

But to be absolutely clear: LibreOffice is a full-featured program that can stand-in for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It can open your existing Office files without changing or harming them. LibreOffice will open Word, Excel and PowerPoint files that are sent to you, allow you to edit & save them, and send them off to other Microsoft Office users.

There is no risk here, and if for any reason you don’t want LibreOffice after using it, you haven’t burned any bridges! You may uninstall LibreOffice at any time and move to another Office suite, without consequence.

Changing the File Type Defaults

Once you install LibreOffice, though, you should tweak a few settings, so that it saves your new files in Microsoft formats. By default, Libre offers to save your files in Open Document formats, which aren’t widely used. Follow these next steps to make sure that all of your new work will be compatible with everyone else:

  • Open LibreOffice and go to the Tools menu, then to Options.
  • On the left, click the Plus Sign next to Load/Save, then click General.
  • To the right, change ‘Document Type’ to ‘Text Document’.
    Set the ‘Always Save As’ field to ‘Word 2007-365 (*.docx)’.
  • Next, change ‘Document Type’ to ‘Spreadsheet’.
    Set the ‘Always Save As’ field to ‘Excel 2007-365 (*.xlsx)’.
  • Lastly, change ‘Document Type’ to ‘Presentation’.
    Set the ‘Always Save As’ field to ‘PowerPoint 2007-365 (*.pptx)’.
  • Click OK at the bottom, and you are done.

PS: MacOS users cannot go to Tools -> Options in these programs. Instead, go to LibreOffice -> Preferences, and then the rest of these instructions should line up.

Reverting Facebook

The New Facebook Design is upon us! Actually, they’ve been phasing it in for months now, but the option to return to the Classic Experience was always offered on their options menu. Now, that option to revert has been removed. You have no choice but to use their New Facebook site.

Except someone made a tool that brings back the Classic Facebook! Check out RevertSite for all the info and download links.

RevertSite offers an extension to install on your computer, that fools the Facebook site into thinking you’re using a really old browser. And that causes Facebook to load its classic version instead of the new design.

RevertSite doesn’t collect data on you or snoop on your Facebook info, and is completely free (though Paypal donations are welcomed, if you really like the product). And best of all, you can turn the extension on and off, or remove it at any time, with no ill consequences.

How Much Internet Do I Really Need?

Most Internet Service Providers have different prices & speeds of broadband to sell you. When it’s time to choose the right speed for your household, your ISP is the last person you should ask for advice. Almost every internet company will upsell you and convince you to overspend on your internet.

You’ll want to figure this out on your own, or with help from someone who doesn’t benefit from the sale. Please consider my commentary below and talk with other people you know and trust before picking/changing your internet speed. And don’t fret! Most ISPs will allow you to change your speed package, if you opted for something a little too slow or fast.

You don’t need as much bandwidth as your ISP claims. I just took a quiz on Xfinity’s website, answering honestly about what I would do if I bought their cable internet. Yes, I have multiple computers. I stream video. I have a lot of smart home devices on my Wi-Fi. I game online. They recommended I buy their 1G (1000Mbps) service for my lifestyle.

This is a stunner to me, because I currently have 50Mbps service in my home, and have never felt the need for higher speed. And I know that Xfinity offers 25, 100, 200, 300 and 600Mbps in my region. But their website is full of dark patterns and they aim to hide all of those more-affordable options from me. And I don’t mean to single out Comcast for this sneaky business: Shentel, Verizon and many other ISPs are guilty of this type of salesmanship.

Each household’s internet needs are different. You’ll want to take stock of what items in your home draw heavily on the internet, to know what speed to choose. Basic internet and email is not so important to worry about. And many of your smart home devices, like thermostats and smart bulbs, won’t need much bandwidth. Don’t factor them too heavily in your considerations.

Streaming Video is where you should start your focus. A single Netflix movie, played back in HD, is going to require 5Mbps. Other streaming services require between 5-8 Mbps to run well. So count up the members in your household who might be streaming at any time and multiply that by 5Mbps (or 10Mbps, if you want to estimate high). That amount of bandwidth should have you covered, in case all of them decide to all watch a different movie at the same time.

Next would be Online Gaming. If you have some gamers in your house, their bandwidth needs could be high. The lowest speed a gamer can get by on is 3Mbps, but most will excel with bandwidth in the 10-25Mbps range. So if you have 4 people connecting in the evening to various online games, you may need 100Mbps to keep them all connected and happy.

Now, let’s cover some other types of video: Got internet-connected security cameras? You can usually look up their internet needs on the manufacturer website, but just as an example: A Ring camera needs 2Mbps. Nest cameras can vary, but need no more than 4Mbps per camera. Going to video chat with other people? Skype recommends having 1.5Mbps for basic HD video calling, but upwards of 8Mbps if you’re roping many others into the same video call.

With all these examples in mind, imagine The Perfect Internet Storm, in your home. Visualize a day where you have maximum internet usage on all your heavy-hitting internet devices. Your teenager is gaming, while you watch a Netflix video and the spouse is Skyping with people on the Left Coast. All of that easily can be done with a 50Mbps connection.

Add it all up, and you’ll come up with a much more realistic speed number than your ISP would have you buy. If you find you’re already overbuying on internet, you can call your ISP and ask to downgrade, try something a little more affordable. Chances are good it’ll work well and save you a lot of money.

Free Alternatives to Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is the photo-editing software for professionals, and it costs $21/mo to use. Adobe Photoshop Elements is a simpler version, for casual and hobbyist use, and costs $100 to buy outright. If neither price is to your liking, check out some free alternatives:

GIMP is very similar to Photoshop, and can be installed on Windows, MacOSX and Linux computers. is for Windows computers only. It was started as a replacement for MS Paint, but evolved into something much more capable.

Pixlr and Photopea should work on any computer, regardless of the operating system, because they load inside your web browser. That means there’s nothing to install, and all you need is a solid internet connection and a working browser.

DSL Troubleshooting

An ISP in Wales recently solved their town-wide DSL problem by locating and disconnecting a resident’s old TV. It’s an extreme example of a common problem with DSL service: DSL signal is very touchy and vulnerable to interference. And that interference can be caused by so many different things along your phonelines. If you have persistent DSL problems, here’s some troubleshooting info for you:

  • Connect your DSL modem’s phoneline directly to the wall jack. Only use the phone cable provided with the modem by your ISP. That phone cable from the dollar store or that line that came with your fax machine may not be an adequate replacement.
  • Do NOT route the modem’s phoneline through a surge protector. Avoid connecting the modem’s phoneline to duplexers or splitters or couplers, unless directed by your ISP. If possible, eliminate splitters and couplers elsewhere in the house.
  • Disconnect old fax machines, answering machines and rotary telephones elsewhere in your house. Really, anything attached to a phone jack in your home could be offending your DSL modem. If your DSL behaves better after detaching some of these devices, you can reconnect them one at a time to figure out which is to blame.
  • All other devices connected to your phonelines must run through DSL filters. These filters are typically supplied by your ISP — call them if you need some! An unfiltered device can upset your DSL modem, even from across the house. Your DSL modem should not be filtered, unless your ISP supplied you with a special duplexer for attaching both a modem and a phone to the same jack. That sort of dongle is actually filtered on one side (for a phone) and unfiltered on the other (for your modem).

Also, make sure not to stack your DSL modem on top of your router or any other electronics. Stacking can lead to overheating, which causes frequent outages until the modem is totally cooked!

Each time you make a change or improvement to your wiring, reboot your modem. But do NOT use any hard-to-reach Reset button, unless directed by your ISP. If you use the Reset button (usually by inserting a toothpick into a hole on the rear of the modem), you may erase important settings and make your situation worse.

If all else fails, it may be time get a new modem. Besides normal wear and tear, DSL modems degrade due to power surges that travel over the phone lines. I recommend you go to your ISP for your replacement modem, to ensure that they support you with any future issues.

Dark Patterns: Auto-Renewal Traps

ABCMouse was recently punished by the FTC, to the tune of $10 million. They were fined for a variety of deceptive practices, including recurring charges to customer credit cards for membership renewals that were either not disclosed or difficult to terminate.

Auto-renewal traps are nothing new. ABCMouse is certainly a big name, but many other companies do business this way. They store your payment info and charge you periodically, even after you’ve stopped using the product. They sign you up for automatic payments, and create a confusing or complicated process for defeating that feature.

These dark patterns are widespread on the web, and I encounter them most commonly with antivirus companies and other software services. But to focus solely on auto-renewal traps, here’s what I can recommend:

  • Review your credit card statements every month, to catch unexpected charges.
  • Track down and disable any renewal options you don’t want, by logging in to your account at the relevant company website. Don’t remember your account password? Use the Forgot Password tool at that website to get logged in.
  • If using the website proves difficult, instead chat or call the company and ask for auto-renewal to be turned off. Expect that they will try to dissuade you. Repeat your request as often as you need to, don’t let them sidetrack you, but also don’t mistreat the agent. They are programmed to act in their way, and you should persist as you would against a stubborn computer.
  • When all else fails, or if you simply run short on patience or time, disconnect and then call your credit card company. Explain that you tried and failed to work with the company. Ask to dispute the renewal charge and they should promptly help you get your money back.

And if you feel any company is breaking the law or hurting people with their tactics, report it to the FTC.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2020 BlueScreen Computer

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑