Category: Hardware (Page 1 of 6)

Eclipse Protection for Your Camera

eclipse protection for your camera

I suspect by now everyone is prepared for the upcoming eclipse, and has viewing glasses in hand. Retinal damage from looking at the eclipse without protection is no joke. But did you know that you also need eclipse protection for your camera?

Experts say that if you plan on pointing a camera at the eclipse, you’ll want to use a solar filter to safeguard its sensors. Unfiltered eclipse photography could permanently damage your device!

If you’re a casual/amateur picture-taker, then an inexpensive camera filter may already be included with the pack of eclipse glasses you’ve bought from Amazon. But professionals can also pursue more serious equipment.

Laptop Swelling

It’s uncommon to see, but laptops can get swollen. If you ever think your laptop is swelling, then you need to address a problem with its battery, stat!

laptop swelling

Usually, the laptop’s battery is a boring little brick that stays in one shape. But a manufacturing defect, extreme age or abuse could cause acid leakage, inside the battery’s main casing. If this happens, the rupture is usually still contained, but that boring brick will change shape. It may start to resemble a wallet or a beanbag.

If this ever happens to you, you’ll start to notice that your laptop is warping. Perhaps the keyboard is arcing upwards, or the sides of the laptop are starting to gap. You may have trouble closing the lid because things just don’t fit anymore. And it could be that the distended tech feels warmer than usual.

Again: this is not common, but if you notice this, you do need to take prompt action. Ignoring a turgid laptop is a risk to your computer’s lifespan and your personal safety! Shut off the laptop and disconnect the power cord. Take your computer to a repair store, and they’ll know how to safely replace your battery.

Alternatively, if the laptop is no longer needed, you can take it to a computer recycler.

Scam Electricity-Saving Devices

Scam Electricity-Saving Devices

This post is not really a computer tip, per se, but I’ll cover it anyway. Scam electricity-saving devices are rather tangential to what I write about here, and quite a few people are asking me about them. So heads up! Here’s what I can find and say about these things:

Power Saving Devices

These things go by a variety of names: Watt-Saver, StopWatt Energy Saving Device, Power-Save Box and more. If you notice these for sale on Amazon/TikTok/eBay/Facebook/etc., they will promise to greatly decrease your electricity bill! All you have to do is buy a bunch of them, plug them into your household outlets and wait.

But everything about these boxes is made up and the facts don’t matter.

  • Elon Musk and/or Tesla have had no hand in creating or selling these devices.
  • They do not reduce your electricity consumption in any meaningful way.
  • Fox News and other news media have not endorsed or covered this product.

Their marketing also states that it may take a few months for you to notice the reduction on your bills. This is just a tactic to convince purchasers to keep these devices longer than the purchase-return-window.

The Truth

If you really want to cut electricity costs in your home, don’t believe these con artists. Conserving electricity is a little more involved than buying some junk from Amazon and plugging it in. There are plenty of reputable resources out there with ideas for you, and your electric company probably is probably one of them.

But Jesse, I see these things on Amazon and they get great reviews!” Sorry, you can’t count on Amazon reviews these days. There are countless ways to game that system, so that a bogus product shows many 4- and 5-star reviews.

These devices contain almost nothing of value. YouTube has plenty of videos, where people take apart “power-saving boxes” and discuss their innards. Enjoy!

Flea Power

Computers and other tech devices retain small amounts of electricity even when turned off and unplugged. Some of it is deliberately stored in capacitors on circuit boards. Other energy is incidentally caught up as a static charge. In any case, this minute amount of electricity is called Flea Power.

flea power

It’s a Bug, Not a Feature

Sometimes you need to drain this residual power, to revive a device. Here are some scenarios where you should try a hard reset (or power drain) to deplete that stored power:

  • A laptop begins to boot, but shows nothing on the screen.
  • A desktop tower flashes its power button as if it were asleep, but it won’t easily wake up or turn all the way off.
  • A printer turns on, but the Wi-Fi just won’t work or connect.
  • Some component, like your audio port or all USB ports, aren’t working.

Draining the flea power is not a cure-all, but it is a crucial troubleshooting step, that should be used early on, before you invest time and patience into a hardware problem.

Getting Rid of Flea Power

For computers that are stuck or troublesome, you would:

  1. Disconnect the power cord from the back or side of the system.
    • Remove the battery, if possible.
  2. Disconnect other cables and devices attached to the computer.
  3. Press and hold the computer’s main power button for 15-30 seconds, and then release it.
  4. Reconnect only the power cable, and press the power button briefly, as you would to turn it on.
  5. If the system turns on, reconnect your other cables and devices. If the system does not turn on, try steps 1-4 again.

Some printers will benefit from this troubleshooting tactic, too. If you are trying to solve a problem with your ink cartridges or printer’s network connection, make sure to follow these steps at least once. Also keep this tactic in mind for any TVs and soundbars that give you difficulty.

Draining a device’s Flea Power is generally harmless, so feel free to do it at anytime. However, you should not have to do this often. If you find your device requires this procedure again and again, you may have a deeper problem worth discovering.

Pet-Proofing Your Computer

Pets don’t understand why we spend so much time at the computer, but they sure can be curious. Whether they are attracted to the heat, screen images or dangly bits, pets may be coming for your desk and you need to be ready. Here are some ideas for pet-proofing your tech.

pet-proofing your tech

Cable Management

If you have a computer setup with lots of cables, you may find your pets need to taste every long stringy thing they see. You’ll need to protect those cables from sharp teeth. Cables Sleeves may help with this. A cable sleeve may be made of mesh or thick PVC, and usually allow for you to bunch up and protect several cables in one “tube.”

Protecting the cables is fine, but those cables likely lead to a surge protector. That might be the next item you need to safeguard. Check out Cable Management Boxes as your next tool, available at a wide variety of stores. You can plunk your surge protector inside one of these, route your power cords into it and close the lid. If your pet is extra-persnickety, you may have to tape or bungee the box shut.

And Velcro Cable Ties are useful, for keeping cables away from your pets, and just in general. If you’re tidying an office, you’re sure to find a use for these somewhere!

Keyboard Stroke Prevention

Maybe your pet has moved past biting cables, and wants to type, as you do. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but you still don’t want your beastie to press keys and cause a catastrophe. Before you walk away from your system, you could remember to close your lid, or press WIN + L to lock your screen.

But also consider that they make Keyboard Bridge Protectors, specifically for this scenario. A clever piece of acrylic will prevent any paws from walking across your keyboard. And you can continue to type underneath of it! Once you see these, you may feel handy enough to make something of your own that offers similar protection.


Here are some other brief ideas to reduce conflict between your pets and your tech:

  • Go wireless wherever possible. Ditch that wired keyboard and mouse, and buy a nice wireless combo set. Make your next desktop computer an All-in-One and watch your cable count drop to near-zero.
  • Keep drinks away from your computer desk. You may be perfectly reliable, and might never knock it over. But what about if a pet zooms in and jumps upon your work area or barges up against your table? You may not have the lightning-quick reflexes needed to prevent your computer from getting doused…
  • Your laptop screen cannot take a lot of weight on it before the video panel breaks. Don’t let a weighty pet sit on or stand on a closed laptop.

Got other clever tricks to protect your computer against adventurous pets? Please comment below or send me an email and share your genius ideas!

Find or Replace Your Earbuds

Bluetooth Wireless Earbuds are fairly ubiquitous at this point. Many people rely on their Apple Airpods for hands-free phone use. Others love their Google Pixel Buds, including yours truly. In any case, those tiny gadgets are easily misplaced or damaged. You should know how to find or replace your earbuds, in case something unfortunate happens.

Gone Missing!

find or replace your earbuds

Earbuds go missing for a variety of reasons. Maybe Fluffy likes the way your Pixel Bud skitters across the floor. A toddler likes how well their Duplo figure holds the AirPod like it were a microphone. Or you’re just having an off-day and after crossing that last threshold, you can barely remember the day of the week. Don’t Panic! Apple and Google have your back, and you can first ask them to find your missing tech.

If you have Apple AirPods, grab your iPhone and use the FindMy app — it should tell you where your AirPods are. Alternatively, you can go to the iCloud website, and use the FindMy tool there.

For those with Google Pixel Buds, use your Android phone to track them down, following these steps.

Truly Gone…

If these efforts fail, then perhaps Barkley ate your earbud. Or it was flushed by your adorable niece who didn’t know better. Before you buy a new set, please know that you can probably replace just a single earbud to save some money.

Apple makes it easy for AirPod owners to replace individual buds or parts at this site. Google is similar, offering this site for Pixel Bud users. If you sign in and answer a few questions, both websites can quickly give you a price quote for one replacement earbud.

Your replacement price is certainly going to be better than the price of a whole new set of buds. But your price may decrease further if you paid for AppleCare+ protection, or if you have any earned discounts through a Google One membership.

Also, I hear that it might be possible to acquire a used or refurbished replacement and save even more money. If you want to pursue that option, visit your local Apple store or call Apple at 1-800-275-2273 (for AirPods) or contact Google through their Store Help page (for Pixel Buds).

Other Brands of Earbuds

If your earbuds didn’t come from Apple or Google, then YMMV. Think about if your earbuds have a dedicated, branded app on your smartphone. For example, Bose owners can open the BoseConnect app. Samsung users might launch the Wearable app. These apps are likely to offer a “Find” function, similar to Apple and Google. If your earbuds lack an app or brand name, then you may have to mourn the loss and opt for total replacement.

Wi-Fi Calling

wi-fi calling

Wi-Fi Calling is a commonplace function, built into most smartphones by now. But as ubiquitous as it is, I still meet people unfamiliar with it, or suffering without it. So here’s all you need to know about Wi-Fi Calling:

The Basics

Wi-Fi Calling (rarely called Voice over Wi-Fi calling or VoWiFi) is another service that allows your cellphone to make or receive phonecalls. And also text messages! Whether you have an iPhone or an Android, this feature is probably already running, inside your device.

Normally, your phone would connect a call over the cellular network, using the local cell towers. But when that cellular signal is weak or lost, Wi-Fi Calling can take over. Your call/text will still happen, but it will travel over the internet, through your local Wi-Fi network, instead.

Wi-Fi Calling is typically free and included with whatever calling plan you’ve purchased with your cellular provider.

Where Is It Useful?

They say that “Home is Where the Wi-Fi Is” but Wi-Fi Calling isn’t just for when you’re inside your house. It can help your phone work better wherever you go and the cellular reception is lacking:

  • Vacation at a remote location
  • Working in a densely built, cinderblock basement
  • Walking through a parking garage/warehouse/convention center

If you can connect your phone to any working wireless network, Wi-Fi Calling kicks in and you’ll have uninterrupted service. The calls and texts will flow! So, as you travel, you may want to connect your phone to every Wi-Fi network accessible to you. The public Wi-Fi at the library. The free Wi-Fi at Costco. The municipal Wi-Fi at the downtown walking mall. The hospital’s Wi-Fi.

This feature may also help you avoid international calling charges (but check with your carrier before you travel and rely on that). And, if you have a very-limited data plan, Wi-Fi Calling may also help you avoid extra charges for data usage. Calls and texts that travel over Wi-Fi Calling should not count towards your data consumption!

Finding This on Your Phone

You do not need to install any extra apps or software for this to work. It’s already inside your smartphone’s OS. But I want you to know how to find this on your phone, just to verify that it is Enabled/On. Plus, if you ever have any trouble with your Wi-Fi Calling, your first troubleshooting step should be: Find this setting, and turn it off and on again.

Use any of the following links for steps and info on where to find it:

Make calls over Wi-Fi, by Google

Make a call with Wi-Fi Calling, by Apple

Set up Wi-Fi Calling, by T-Mobile

AT&T WI-FI® Calling, by AT&T

Wi-Fi Calling at Verizon FAQs

If you have a smartphone, but cannot find this feature on your phone, call your carrier to ask about it! It cannot be used on really old phones (or flip-phones). But if this is missing from your modern smartphone, it could be that the carrier didn’t activate it for you from their end. That’s usually a quick fix, after a call in to customer support

Traptops in 2023 v2.0

Traptops in 2023, v2.0

Just last month, I went on at length about traptops on this blog. I’m sorry to say that I have to return to this topic, as people are bringing to my attention some even sneakier traptops. Let’s pull open the drapes on these shenanigans, so fewer people get taken by this trickery. Here we go with Traptops in 2023 v2.0:

I Was Almost Fooled

This new type of traptop almost fooled me. I recommend you check out this listing over at Amazon. Here’s another comparable listing, also on Amazon. If I go digging, they’re on Wal*Mart, as well. I had to stare at these for a few minutes; I truly doubted my spidey-sense at first, because these products really look good. They feature:

  • a big name brand (HP)
  • shipped quickly through Amazon’s Prime program
  • sold as a New item, with Windows 11
  • tons of storage space and RAM
  • a reasonable price

But I think the tip-off to me was that these computers sport too much RAM. 8GB is enough, 16GB is a lot, but you don’t typically see 32GB of RAM in a $500 computer 32GB of RAM is only expected inside of professional-grade or top-tier gaming computers.

Next, I noticed the processors: Intel Pentium and Silver CPUs. The same bargain-basement, ultra-low-powered chips found in those sub-$200 traptops I’m always going on about. The combination of amazing RAM/storage with a low-rent processor caused my facial tic to act up. So I dug in further.

The Plot Sickens

Reading the finer print, other details stuck out to me:

  • These computers are sold by mystery companies (Oydisen, Snow Bell, etc.) and not HP or Dell.
  • They are “new” in the sense that no other consumers have used them before. But these computers have been opened, unboxed, dissected, and “upgraded” with components from other sources.

I had to sit with this and imagine the path of one of these computers, from its birth to arriving at my doorstep. Here’s my hot-take on how this happens:

HP manufactures too many computers, and they are left with some extra pallets of traptops from last year. They sell them off cheap through remainder programs or other ersatz methods, to companies like Oydisen. These fringe companies crack open the laptops, take out the 128GB SSDs and swap in 1TB SSDs, take out the 4GB of RAM and put in 32GB, slap it all back together and try to move them on Amazon, eBay and Wal*Mart, where the return policies will discourage anything from being sent back. The newish computers are then sold off at a big profit, and they also get to sell off the harvested parts in bulk, too.

If I had to guess, they likely bought these 2022 traptops for less than $200 a pop. If they buy the SSDs in bulk, they could be less than $40 apiece. And RAM also can be found cheaply, for under $50. All told, these outfits could be moving $250 computers for $500 or more.

Now, I don’t want you to get angry about them making money. This is America, and everyone marks up every piece of merchandise. What I want you to focus on are the problems and dangers with the computers they’re cranking out.

What Can Go Wrong

As I’ve detailed before, traptops are built to go wrong. They’re underpowered, deliberately hobbled, have insufficient cooling and are largely non-upgradeable. Adding an unbelievable amount of RAM and massive storage does not change this.

In fact, it increases the risk of problems. More RAM creates more heat. The laptop was designed with its original hardware in mind, and it may not be able to exhaust the heat created by the upgrades heaped upon it.

Please consider also: What happens if you have any hardware problems with this computer? Are you going to call HP Support? Let me stop you right there: HP will not help you with this “new” computer. The warranty was voided by the company that cracked the seal and removed the HP parts. If you have any warranty, it’s now with Oysiden or whoever sent you the computer.

And if you are upset or disappointed after buying such a computer, the deck is stacked against you for returning it. Even if you are well within the return-window, Amazon or Wal*mart may resist accepting the computer back. Because: Can you truly prove there’s anything wrong with it? They’ll help you with defective merch, but not with anything they think is buyer’s remorse.

And finally, good luck tracking down these seller, for support or complaints or anything. I went looking for Oydisen and never found a website or phone number. I can find their warehouse in Delaware, and their awful BBB profile, but no sensible way of calling them. Another seller, Snow Bell, tracks back to a lovely $1M residential home in Fairfax, VA, but I have a feeling they don’t welcome customers or calls there.

Stay Safe Out There

  • Buying from big box stores is generally safer than buying from Amazon, Wal*Mart and eBay. When you buy from a big name store, the computer is coming from them. But Amazon and Wal*Mart consider themselves “marketplaces”, where anyone can sell anything. And they don’t take much responsibility over what their marketplace sellers’ behavior.
  • If you do buy from Amazon, take special note of the Sold By info in the product details. “Ships from and sold by” is safer than “Sold by Hot Mess Express Tech Deals”.
  • I recommend you choose new computers over refurbished/renewed/open box systems. And read the fine-print to make sure they are truly new-in-box, unmolested, all quality seals intact.
  • Know where your computer warranty lay. If you buy from Costco, that’s where you go with warranty questions and tech help. Best Buy, Staples, MicroCenter will steer your warranty concerns to the original manufacturer’s number. If you find out that the warranty is through some unknown third-party, that should raise a red flag.
  • Please feel free to email or call me about any computer purchase you are unsure of. I will quickly offer an opinion about any PC you send me details about.

Hiding Photos on Your Phone

hiding photos on your phone

Smartphones offer you an important tool for hiding photos on your phone. Whether you have an Android or an iPhone, you should consider using this function!

For Android users: Google gives you the ability to securely stash photos in the Locked Folder, in the Google Photos app. Here’s a simple Google article on how you would use it.

For iOS users: Apple offers the same sort of tool, but they call it the Hidden Folder. Apple offers this article to explain on its use.

Once you’ve placed anything in this special folder, you should know:

  • These items are well-protected, and you’ll have to enter your passcode or thumbprint every time you enter the folder.
  • When you move a file into the Locked/Hidden Folder, that file is removed from its location in your photo library. That also means it disappears from the normal cloud backup and any other devices that it synced to.
  • The contents of this protected folder won’t turn up in any searches performed on your phone.
  • If you still want an important photo to be backed up or synced, make a copy of it and move the copy into this folder.

Possible Uses

With a little imagination, you’ll find a variety of uses for this tool. Perhaps you have some delicate photos that shouldn’t be seen by anyone who borrows your phone. Maybe you need a safe place for some critical evidence you’ve photographed. My favorite, though, is keeping a record of everything that’s in my wallet.

It’s true, I could lose my wallet and my phone at the same time. So I’ve also recorded my wallet contents elsewhere at home. But let’s say I’m travelling and my wallet decides to travel somewhere without me. I’ve socked away a photo of each card in my wallet. I can immediately go to my Locked Folder, refresh my memory of all the cards I carry, and start calling the associated banks and companies. It would make a tough situation a little easier to resolve.

Traptops in 2023

traptops in 2023

There is a class of laptop that I refer to as a “traptop”. Buying this class of computer is akin to stepping in a trap, and I have warned my readers about these in past years. And here I am again, writing about Traptops in 2023, because they are changing and still causing harm to my customers.

Traptops lure in people with great, low prices and amazingly positive descriptions. Consider this laptop on special sale right now at Amazon for the Prime Days. It looks like a pretty sweet deal at $287 for a 17″ Windows computer! But it isn’t. Please do not consider buying this dreadful device. As I say often: You will live to regret it.

Here are the criticisms I can levy on this computer:

Storage: These laptops start at 128GB of storage. And that’s not so bad, but please know that Windows 11 and its initial big updates will gobble 30-40GB of space. If you plan on storing much data, you’ll need more storage capacity. And this laptop only offers a slot for a MicroSD card. Those are extra-fragile, and I would not recommend using them for anything important.

Processor: A traptop often comes with a very underpowered processor, like an Intel Celeron. That CPU is not good at handling the weight of Windows 11. It will bog down quickly, if you leave Chrome open for too long, or during a virus scan, or even during a big Windows Update. And you cannot upgrade the processor down the road. If you plan on running Windows, avoid processors with names like Celeron, Silver, Gold and just Pentium. Those are fine for Chromebooks, but not for heavy-lifting.

Deliberately Hobbled: These computers are designed to spare all expense. They cut corners and then they cut corners off of those corners, to drive the cost down as far as is possible. And to the regular consumer, these tactics are invisible. But I and others can describe what’s going on, under the hood.

A traptop’s build cost can be cut if you eliminate the cooling fans. But to eliminate cooling fans, you must also eliminate heat. A processor has to create some heat, though. So to reduce the heat, the motherboard is programmed to throttle the already-pitiful Celeron processor.

Lack of Support: You can get into trouble with any new computer, and your first call might be to the manufacturer. No one wants to call the maker of the computer for help. But at least you can do that with an HP laptop or a Dell desktop. I have a feeling it’s not the same with a SGIN computer.

I’ve looked over the Amazon listing for their cheapest SGIN computer. I’ve done a bit of Googling and other searches. I cannot for the life of me find a website or contact number for SGIN. How would I contact the manufacturer, if I have trouble with this device? Send a message through the Amazon website?

PS: While I do not put much faith in Amazon reviews, they do reveal how bad the support level is with SGIN. Pick a SGIN computer, go to the Reviews and click on the 1-Star ratings. You’ll quickly see the suffering others have gone through.

There are many other traptops out there to beware of, so take this info and apply it wherever you see a computer that has a too-good-to-be-true pricepoint. Amazon is the worst offender that I see right now for traptops. But I should like to heap shame also on Wal*Mart and eBay for permitting these to be sold on their platforms, as well.

In general, I want to see a Windows computer with at least 8GB of RAM, a true Solid State Drive and at least an Intel i3 processor. Less than that is asking for trouble. And stick to the big brand names: HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo. Pass over that Liánjià Lèsè Laptop or anything with a similarly curious name.

And please feel free to reach out to me before you buy your next computer. I am happy to give you my opinion on your future PC purchase!

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