Category: Hardware (Page 1 of 4)

5G Is Not the Same as 5G

Tech jargon is confusing enough as it is. But then some geniuses had to go and name two completely different technologies the same thing. Not helpful….

I’m referring to the label “5G”, which can be used regarding your home Wi-Fi or with cellphones. I continue to find that people conflate the two technologies when they have absolutely nothing to do with each other! So I’m going to try and clear this up:

5G Stands for Fifth Generation

When talking about telecommunications, 5G refers to the latest technology that makes your cellphones work. Right now, the fifth generation (5G) of technology is being rolled out in our country. The fourth generation (4G) is the existing cellular communications technology used in much of the country, and 3G & 2G technology is on its way out. The old 3rd gen and 2nd gen antennae and other hardware is being decommissioned and dismantled to make way for the new hotness that is 5G.

5G Stands for 5 Gigahertz (GHz)

By now, most households have Wi-Fi to spread your internet connection around to laptops, tablets and smartphones. And many of you may notice that your Wi-Fi router offers two network names, one that may end in “-5G”. This is merely to distinguish the two bands of frequency emanating from your device. Those two bands are 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, the latter can be referred to as the “5G band.” If you want to read more on Wi-Fi frequency bands, this site has you covered.

Back Tap on Smartphones

iPhones

Most iPhones have a largely unknown feature called Back Tap. If you turn on this special ability, Back Tap will let you trigger an app or function when you tap the back of your iPhone. Back Tap can open Settings, or the Facebook app, or your Camera, whatever you yoke it to.

It’s like you have an invisible button back there that can do anything! Back Tap can be setup on any iPhone 8 and up that is running iOS 14 or newer. For detailed steps, check out these articles for how to set yours up.

First-time users of Back Tap are recommended to keep an eye on it for the first week or so, in case of accidental triggers. If you notice any misfires with Back Tap, you can modify the settings (Double or Triple Tap) or turn it off.

Android Phones

This feature is called Quick Tap on Android phones, but is not widely available yet. So far, it’s showing up only on select Google Pixel phones. Other manufacturers are slow to incorporate this into their phones, but you can always check your phone for this feature under: Settings -> System -> Gestures. If your phone supports Quick Tap, it will be at the top of the Gestures options list.

A warning: internet searches for “Android Quick Tap” will quickly reveal a workaround app called Tap Tap. BlueScreen Computer does not recommend this app. It does not come from the Google Play Store. It has not been vetted by Google. Installing Tap Tap requires you to hamstring & bypass your phone’s security. Please don’t risk it! If your Android phone doesn’t offer Quick Tap, you’re better off waiting to get it on a future phone.

Creating QR Codes

Once you see how easy it is to use QR codes, you may want to make your own. Good news! There are plenty of sites where you can make your own QR code for free, and download/save/print it immediately:

QR Code Generator

QR Code Monkey

My WiFi Sign

Explore these sites and learn all the possibilities for QR codes. You can make a WiFi poster for your coffeeshop. A graphic for your business card that links to your FB Page. A sign that connects your clients to your online menu.

And if you just need a quick QR code for a website, just load it in Chrome. Click the Share icon at the end of the address bar, and then choose QR Code. Google will give you a QR code on the spot!

Scan QR Codes with Your Phone’s Camera

The title says it all, but I’ll go into more detail: When you see a QR code in public, use your cellphone’s camera on it.

If you open your camera and point it at a QR code, the camera software can “figure it out.” Watch for a clickable link on your screen (you do not need to actually take a picture). If you tap the link that appears, it will do whatever the QR code is programmed for (take you to a website, start an email, etc.).

Do NOT download and install any 3rd party app for QR code reading. Those apps are wholly unnecessary at this point, and can contain adware or worse.

Contactless Payments

You’ve probably seen people paying with their phones or watches, instead of using cards or cash. This type of payment is called a “contactless payment”. But despite the boring name, this is a great convenience and security upgrade that I think more people should try.

The Basics

To make a contactless payment, you generally need a smartphone that features NFC. (Smartwatches and tablets may also allow for this!) On your phone, you’ll need to choose and install your contactless payment app. You have 3 choices:

Once you’ve chosen and installed your app, you’ll need to add at least one of your payment card’s info. Many cards are accepted into these apps, but there are some exceptions. If you find your credit card isn’t compatible with contactless payment apps, you can use a different card or talk to the card issuer for other options.

With a card accepted into your Pay app, you are ready to use it at any stores offering contactless payments. Keep an eye out for the universal symbol on storefront doors, windows and payment terminals to know where contactless payments are accepted.

The Security Benefit

I understand that some folks dismiss contactless payments as just a convenience item. “I don’t mind taking a card out of my pocket to pay!” is a common remark. But these Contactless Payments apps protect your account information in a significant way.

When you enroll a payment card into one of these Pay apps, your account number is not stored on your phone. The app builds a secure relationship with your bank, and every time you wave your phone at a reader to make a payment, a unique account number is created for that purchase only. That one-time number makes the transaction go through, and then can never be used again.

The benefit to this is that your true card number is never out in the wild. Criminals have all kinds of tactics for learning your card information, so they can place fraudulent charges. Contactless payment apps defeat a lot of them:

  • If you use Android Pay at a compromised gas pump, the hidden credit card skimmer captures a useless number from you.
  • Let’s say you use Apple Pay at the grocery store, and their servers are hacked the following week. The criminals may get other people’s credit card information, but not yours.
  • If you’re on public Wi-Fi and need to buy something over the internet, using Google Pay or Apple Pay (through your computer) would prevent your true card number from being seen in transmission.

It is true that bank cards in your wallet could still be skimmed and stolen, wirelessly. To help prevent that, I can recommend you also use a RFID-blocking wallet. You can find them as low as $20 on Amazon!

Some Cautions

If you use Contactless Payments, you’ll have to have a screen-lock on your phone. Because otherwise, someone could steal your phone and start buying things with it! As you set up a contactless payment app, it will check and tell you if your phone’s security needs to be improved.

Contactless Payments are not universally accepted (yet). Some stores may not accept them, because it requires newer card-reading equipment, or because it would increase their card-processing fees. But over time, this technology should become more and more widely adopted. Just keep an eye out for the payment symbols:

Costco’s 100% Satisfaction Guarantee

Costco is such a nice company. If you’re a member, you’re probably already familiar with how generous their return policy is. You can bring back almost anything (exceptions listed here) for a refund. They will satisfy almost any reasonable request.

When it comes to big-ticket items, like computers and TVs, you do have to get special permission before returning the item. But I was surprised recently to learn that printers sold at Costco are covered by their 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. So nota bene: if your printer fails you or disappoints you, even after many years of service and expiration of warranty, you may still return it to Costco for your money back! Just carry it in to their Returns counter and ask them to make it right.

This policy likely applies to other technology items (routers, cameras, external hard drives) sold through Costco. So keep good records on everything you buy from Costco, and ask them about a return anytime a technology item fails you. Most of the time, Costco is going to serve you well and save you money!

Bluetooth Scanners Used in Car Burglaries

Here’s another reason not to leave your electronics in your car: Thieves may target your vehicle if they detect your devices’ Bluetooth signals.

Anyone can use free apps to scan for Bluetooth in their vicinity. And this kind of app has a very legitimate use: Finding your lost Bluetooth device! If you misplace your Fitbit or drop a wireless earbud, a Bluetooth scanning app will detect all active Bluetooth signals near you, as well as report how close you are to them.

Unfortunately, thieves have repurposed this sort of tool. They can walk around parking garages and other areas dense with vehicles, and determine which cars have active electronics inside them. I can’t tell how widespread this tactic is, but when I see multiple police departments warn about it, it looks credible enough to pass on.

So many of your tech devices give off Bluetooth signals:

  • Laptops
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Wireless headphones and earbuds
  • Fitness trackers and smartwatches

Sure, you could go to the effort of disabling Bluetooth on your electronics or turning your devices completely off, before locking them in your car. But that’s a hassle, and something we all might forget to do. It’s probably easier just to take your electronics with you.

Why Is My New Computer So Slow?

When you buy a new computer, you probably expect it to be fast! Or at least, faster than the previous computer…. But that’s not always the case. Some new computers disappoint with sluggish performance as they are first turned on. Here are some common causes and solutions for this:

Windows Updates

Microsoft is always updating Windows with improvements and security patches. Some updates are small & light, while others are bulky and take a lot of time and bandwidth to download and install. In most cases, your new computer will begin work on these updates, silently & automatically, as soon as it detects an internet connection.

But how long was your computer sitting on the shelf at the store? A couple of months? Longer? This may mean that your new laptop is now working hard to catch up on dozens of updates, missed during its time in the stockroom. This can bog down even the best of computers, and the problem can be further exacerbated if your internet is slow.

The best solution here is patience. Click Start, go to Settings, and then go to Update & Security (for Windows 10) or Windows Update (Windows 11). Your PC may already be updating, and you can leave this screen open as you wait for them to finish. If Windows is not updating, use any buttons you see here to “Check For Updates” or “Download & Install Updates”.

These updates might take a long time to process, so feel free to leave the computer on and running overnight, and check back in the morning.

Always Restart after any updates appear to finish, and then return to this same Settings area, in case there are more Updates coming. Eventually you will visit this panel and find that there are No New Updates. Then, re-judge your computer’s speed, and you may find it’s ready to do a better job for you.

Shovelware

Every manufacturer shovels on a bunch of unnecessary software before they ship their computers off to the stores. Some of it is just there for marketing purposes. Other shovelware has good intentions (speed up your connection, clean up your hard drive) but it usually turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth. And of course, there’s always a trial antivirus software in there, asking for money and dragging things down even further.

The first solution here is to remove the 3rd party antivirus. Whatever it is, I do not recommend you use it! Home-use computers are protected just as well using the free Microsoft Defender Antivirus as they are with any commercial product. So I recommend you uninstall Norton or McAfee or whatever protection software is present, and then reboot your system. Afterwards, use the white or blue shield icon near the time & date to check that the Virus & Threat Protection is turned on and has a green checkmark.

The follow-up solution is to eliminate the burden of the other shovelware. That differs from one computer to the next, and would be hard to detail in a single blog post. But there is a handy tool that can disable most shovelware, no matter what brand of computer you’ve bought: ADWCleaner. This free download is meant to remove malware after a quick scan, but after that, it will also identify unnecessary apps and neutralize them. I recommend running this tool and disabling everything it targets as unnecessary.

Traptops

I’ve written about ultra-cheap, underpowered laptops before, and how they are essentially traps that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. These “traptops” are deceptively marketed as fantastic deals, but are anything but. Hallmarks of these disappointing Windows computers may include:

  • Price is around $200
  • Storage is listed as 32GB or 64GB
  • RAM is 2GB or 4GB
  • Processor is an AMD Dual-Core or an Intel Silver/Gold/Celeron/Atom

Unfortunately, if you buy one of these types of computers, there may be no solution for its lack of speed. This class of computer is non-upgradeable with its RAM and its storage drive. And the processor is often deliberately throttled to a slower speed, so that it won’t overheat and harm the motherboard. This allows the manufacturer to design and build the computer with fewer (or no) cooling fans.

TL;DR: If you ask me for help with such a computer, we’ll start by determining if you can possibly return the computer ASAP.

Retrofloppy.com

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.

WD My Book Live Drives Being Erased

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.

What To Do, per Western Digital:

If you have a My Book Live drive, WD recommends you disconnect it immediately to protect your data.

What To Do, per BlueScreen Computer:

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.

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