Controlling Robocalls

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PhoneRobot

Robocall – “a telephone call from an automated source that delivers a prerecorded message to a large number of people.”

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/robocall

You know what they are – those irritating calls from telemarketers that come just as you are sitting down to dinner or the ones that pollute and commandeer telephone lines for months before elections.

Not all robocalls are bad. We appreciate (usually) reminders from our doctor or dentist about upcoming appointments; or calls from our city about garbage collection and recycle weeks; or about school closings; or even emergency or weather alerts.

However, robocalls, besides being pesky, can be downright fraudulent. Fraudster calls impersonate legitimate organizations to get money, donations, even personal information to commit identity theft. Fraudulent calling is an estimated $10 billion industry.

The Federal Trade Commission was so concerned about the rise in robocalls that it challenged techie “innovators” to create solutions that block illegal robocalls. The prize for such a solution would be $50,000!

Source: Robocall.challengepost.com

There were actually two winning solutions for the FTC Challenge. The winners were announced this past April (2013). And each winner received $25,000.

The winning innovators are Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss.

• “Danis’s proposal, titled Robocall Filtering System and Device with Autonomous Blacklisting, Whitelisting, GrayListing and Caller ID Spoof Detection, would analyze and block robocalls using software that could be implemented as a mobile app, an electronic device in a user’s home, or a feature of a provider’s telephone service.

• Foss’s proposal, called Nomorobo, is a cloud-based solution that would use ‘simultaneous ringing,’ which allows incoming calls to be routed to a second telephone line. In the Nomorobo solution, this second line would identify and hang up on illegal robocalls before they could ring through to the user.”

Source: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/robocall-challenge-and-winner

NoMoRoboCalls is now available as of September 2013.  Their website is http://www.nomorobo.com/.

Legitimate Robocalls

The only robocalls that are considered legitimate according to the FTC are:

• Informational Calls only (e.g. cancelled flight information; appointment reminders). These type calls cannot promote the sale of goods or services.

• Certain health care providers (e.g. prescription reminders)

• Political calls (this one is a head scratcher to me….)

• “Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.”

NOTE: “ It’s against the law to place auto-dialed and pre-recorded calls to cell phones, except in case of emergency or if the recipient has expressly consented to being called”

Source: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0259-robocalls

Other Solutions for Dealing with Robocalls

There are some low tech solutions you can observe as well to do battle with the vexatious robocalls. You probably do some of these already:

1. Register your phone number on the Do Not Call Listhttp://www.donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222.

2. HANGUP as soon as you realize you have a robot on the other end of the line. DO NOT press 1 or any other number that will supposedly remove your number from their “list”. This activity only confirms you are a real live prospect.

2. Never Ever give PERSONAL INFORMATION to anyone, even if you suspect it is from a known and trusted source. If you suspect the call is legitimate, get the correct phone number from the source’s website and call them back.

3. Ask your phone provider to BLOCK the phone number. This solution might work if the provider is willing to do it. They might charge a fee.

• Spoofing of phone IDs makes it difficult to get the real phone number of the caller – the call looks like it is coming from a local caller but it is not the caller’s real number.

4. Search online for other solutions. There are fee based solutions available.

Report Fraudulent Calls

• Report fraudulent calls to the FTC – http://www.donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222

• Verizon Unlawful Call Center – 1‐800‐257‐2969

Reporting these calls DOES have an impact. The FCC is cracking down on violators, especially marketers who violate the law by calling cell phone numbers. Violators of the cell phone laws are liable to penalties of $16,000 per illegal call! And penalties are being assigned…. YES!

If I were The Top Dog, I’d make sure these rules were enforced; penalties would be assigned and collected; and the money collected would help pay down the national debt. What a thought – Robocall crooks helping to balance the budget….

A Few More DogGone Neat “Table” Tricks…

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If you read the recent Post, (When Things Just Don’t Line Up), you know that Browsing Bowser found a very easy way to organize and track his prized bones collection by using the Tables function in his word processing program. He found that by inserting a simple table into a word processing document , typing the necessary data into the table, then making all the table lines/borders invisible, he had the clean looking list he wanted. All his information was neatly lined up and his inventory list was easy to edit and maintain!

“How much better can it get?” he wondered to himself.  Then without a paws, Browsing Bowser answered his own question….

“My list could be even better if I tracked costs and totals”, he yipped!   Dog tired as he was, BB went back to his list to see if he could actually track totals in his Buried Bones Inventory table.   Sure enough, he found it was not only possible, it was pretty easy to do as well. “Probably easy enough even for a cat to do”, he secretly snarled…

Here’s what he did to enhance his Buried Bones Inventory:

First, BB made the borders and lines of his table visible again to make his edits easier to do.

Then he added another column at the end of his table.

• In most word processing programs, this can be done by right clicking in the column to which you want to add another column;

• Select “Insert”;

• Select where to add the column, in this case “Insert column to the right”.

Then…

bonesinv3

Now for the fun part – BB made the Table calculate total quantities and costs for him, since he was never good counting past 4 paws.

NOTE: This is done using the SUM function. Although it is easy to use, accessing it varies with the different word processing programs and versions. You may have to search help for “SUM” to find out how your program handles this function.

BB uses Microsoft Word 2010 so here is how it worked for him.

• Place the cursor in the last cell of the QTY column

• On the Menu Bar under “Table Tools” > Select “Layout” > Select “fx Formula” icon

• A dialogue box opens. At the = Sign type SUM(ABOVE) (see below)

FormulaSum

• Click on OK

• After you click OK, the QTY column total appears in that cell.

To Total the COSTS column, place the cursor in the last cell of the COSTS Column and repeat the above process.

Word of caution: If you are familiar with spreadsheet calculations, you may expect the word processing table to update formula calculations automatically as well.    Bummer, but it doesn’t.  It’s more like a cat that has to be prodded a little. But it’s an easy “prod”.

To update all the totals:

o Press the Ctrl + A keys (this is a “Select All” shortcut)

o Press F9 Key

If you forget to update your totals, but save your data, you’ll find that the totals will be updated the next time you open your table.

And to prove old dogs CAN learn new tricks, here are a few more tips/tricks Browsing Bowser learned while he was putting finishing touches on his new table.

• The Bold, Underline, and Italics, colors, etc. functions can be used within his table

• He can create lines and borders by choosing which lines/borders he wants to make visible or invisible.

o First BB chose to make all lines/borders invisible to get back his clean list look.

o Then BB wanted lines to appear above his totals so he chose to put a top border line of the total cell

o BB wanted a line under each column title so he chose to put a bottom line on each cell of the column titles.

This is what his new Buried Bones Inventory List looks like:

bonesfinal

“DogGone It”, Browsing Bowser said to himself as he circled his doggie bed before plopping down for the night.  “I worked like a dog today, but, you know, I really do lead a dog’s life!”   And with that, he fell securely asleep.

When Things Just Don’t Line Up…

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BB2At the top of Browsing Bowser’s To-Do List is the task to create an inventory to track his prized chew-bone collection. Although it is currently small, BB has grandiose plans to greatly increase his bone collection. As a savvy and “safe” collector, BB has diversified the locations of his assets — he has buried them in various places across his “estate”.

To manage his growing collection, BB has decided to devise a simple List of his assets including relevant information. He wants this List to be clean looking; simple to use; easy to edit and maintain. Being a bit of a computer canine, BB has chosen to create a digital List using his word processing program.

Good choice, BB.  Keep it Simple.  A spreadsheet might be overkill for this small project.  All the Inventory List needs is a title on one line; column titles on the next line; then inventory information under each column title.  Hmmm – Columns…  BB had trouble using columns before.  He feels it is easier to herd mice than deal with those things!  So he decides to just use tabs to setup the order of his Inventory List. Tabs sound simple enough – until BB starts to type and uses those Tab keys!

Grrrrrr… Information is shifting and jumping with each tab stroke!  Nothing is lining up! Information is in the wrong place! Each effort to correct the last Tab jump makes the List even more incorrect!  More Grrrrrrr….   It’s like expecting a pen full of puppies to line up at the food bowl for dinner… No Control. No Order. And little hope for it!

What to do? What to do??? Well…

A spreadsheet is still a possible solution. But it looks so, so “spreadsheet”… BB wanted a simple, clean looking List.

Here’s another solution — using a word processing program, create and insert a TABLE into a document; enter necessary data into each cell in the Table; then remove the lines/borders from the Table, resulting in a clean looking and very orderly List.

BB tried it and liked it! If you like his idea, here’s how he created his simple List:

In the Word Processing Program,

• Find the menu item to Insert a “Table

• Define the table. BB needed 5 Columns across; he wanted room for growth of his collection so he defined it to have 15 Rows down.

• He entered appropriate headings and data into the Table cells.

Here is what BB’s resulting Table looked like:

1bonesinv1

But BB wanted a “clean” looking List. The lines and borders make it look like a Table.  Not clean and simple looking…

To achieve the Clean List Look BB found the Table’s menu tool that controlled the borders and chose to remove ALL borders.

Voila! Borders become invisible!

boneinv2Now the Inventory List has the Clean Look that BB desired. All information is correct and lined up – perfectly!

Borders can be turned on and off at will – turning them on to edit or maintain the table; then turning them off for that Clean List Look……

Simplify….  BB liked it…

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” — Hans Hofmann

Please Don’t Ignore These Updates

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Update Now!

As your computer and personal identity security are a major concern for DogGoneComputers, we are highlighting this month’s Microsoft Updates.  Microsoft released several CRITICAL and IMPORTANT patches Tuesday, October 8, 2013, that should be applied as soon as possible.  The most important ones that you, as a responsible cyber citizen should understand are listed below.   Whether you want to read and “understand” the patches or not, please apply them ASAP!

Internet Explorer – Critical – Zero Day Patch

One of the patches is a Critical patch to correct a “zero day” vulnerability in Internet Explorer.   A “vulnerability” or bug, is called “zero day” because the software maker (in this case, Microsoft) has “zero days” notice to address/fix the bug that is exploited as soon as it is discovered by hackers/exploiters.  The Microsoft Website provides the following description for this Critical patch.  This patch will require a restart of your computer.

  • Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (2879017)

    This security update resolves one publicly disclosed vulnerability and nine privately reported vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. The most severe vulnerabilities could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted webpage using Internet Explorer. An attacker who successfully exploited the most severe of these vulnerabilities could gain the same user rights as the current user. Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.

 Microsoft Office-Important – Remote Code Execution

Microsoft Office patches are included in this month’s updates.    Microsoft Word and Excel are the targeted products.  These updates should be applied as soon as possible.  The Microsoft Website provides the following description for these Important patches:

  • Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Excel, Word, Could Allow Remote Code Execution (2885080, 2885084)

    This security update resolves two privately reported vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office. The vulnerabilities could allow remote code execution if a user opens a specially crafted Office file with an affected version of Microsoft Excel, Word or other affected Microsoft Office software. An attacker who successfully exploited the vulnerabilities could gain the same user rights as the current user. Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.

Microsoft Silverlight – Important – Information Disclosure

Silverlight, as defined by Microsoft, is “a powerful development tool for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for Web and mobile applications. Silverlight is a free plug-in, powered by the .NET framework and compatible with multiple browsers, devices and operating systems, bringing a new level of interactivity wherever the Web works.”  It is a competitor to Adobe Flash Player.  The Microsoft Website provides the following description for this Important patch:

  • Vulnerability in Silverlight Could Allow Information Disclosure (2890788)

    This security update resolves a privately reported vulnerability in Microsoft Silverlight. The vulnerability could allow information disclosure if an attacker hosts a website that contains a specially crafted Silverlight application that could exploit this vulnerability and then convinces a user to view the website. The attacker could also take advantage of compromised websites and websites that accept or host user-provided content or advertisements. Such websites could contain specially crafted content that could exploit this vulnerability. In all cases, however, an attacker would have no way to force users to visit a website. Instead, an attacker would have to convince users to visit a website, typically by getting them to click a link in an email message or in an Instant Messenger message that takes them to the attacker’s website. It could also be possible to display specially crafted web content by using banner advertisements or by using other methods to deliver web content to affected systems.

Make NO BONES about it… These updates are critical for you to apply as soon as possible.  If your computer is set to “Automatic Updates”, then you just have to apply/install the updates.  One of the updates requires a restart of your computer.  Please note that after the restart, you will probably have to install the remaining updates.   An Update Reminder will not let you forget…

If your Windows computer is not set for “Automatic Updates” or you’re not sure if it is, or you want to know how to setup it up, this Microsoft support site provides directions for the various Windows Operating Systems on setting up Automatic Updates:  http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306525

If you have questions about Automatic Updates for your Apple Computer, please visit this site:  http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1338

 

 

 

 

 

Mouse Traps and Keyboard Shortcuts

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I don’t like mice.  I don’t like real live mice and I don’t like computer mice (or is it mouses as in more than one mouse?)

Since this is a blog about all things digital, I will ignore how I deal with the real version and focus on the digital kind.

Why don’t I like the digital mouse?  Because it gets in my way…. I know — the digital mouse is a proven useful computer navigation device.  But it is also a slow and cumbersome device — and I prefer things fast or at least faster…

I am not a speedy typist on the keyboard.  I couldn’t earn a living with my “typing” speed.   So it is for that very reason that I don’t like the mouse — it slows me down even more.

Think about it… You’re typing along; suddenly you have to make some move with the mouse in order to continue doing what you’re doing. You take your hands off the keyboard, grab the mouse, fidget around to position it where you need it to be on the computer screen. Then you have to decide whether you need a left mouse click or a right mouse click. And, oh, do you need to single click or double click it? Wow! I don’t know about you but that kind of time interruption puts me over the moon!

So I prefer to use keyboard shortcuts whenever I can!   Keyboard shortcuts allow me to leave my hands on the keyboard as much as possible while I’m “computering”.   Shortcuts speed up my already slow typing speed.   Shortcuts help keep me from going over the moon, and they enhance my memory capabilities.   What could be better?

So, what’s a keyboard shortcut?   It is a combination of keyboard key strokes, that when pressed at the same time, perform an intended operation.

For instance, consider the common functions of copy, paste, cut, print.  If I’m on a Windows operating system computer and I want to quickly COPY a selection and PASTE it into another location, I highlight the selection I want to copy, press the “Ctrl” key and the “C” key at the same time to copy it; to paste the copied selection, I position the cursor at the insertion point, then press the “Ctrl” key and the “V” key. Voila! My copied selection is now pasted in the selected location.

If I want to PRINT something, I just press the “Ctrl” key and the “P” key at the same time, and my PRINT menu appears.

If I want to CUT some selection, I highlight that selection, then press “Ctrl” and the “X” key at the same time and my highlighted selection disappears. If I want to PASTE the “CUT” selection, I position the cursor at the insertion point and use my PASTE shortcut (Ctrl + V) and my selection appears (is “pasted”) at the insertion point.

Ctrl + C to Copy
Ctrl + V to Paste
Ctrl + X to Cut   
Ctrl + P to Print
Ctrl + A to Select All
Quick and easy to do and to remember!

Better yet, when I perform these shortcuts enough times, I don’t have to think about them. They become muscle memory for my fingers… Less mouse, more speed. I like that…

There are so many keyboard shortcuts that it would take a few pages to list them on this blog. You’d lose interest and not finish reading the post. But there are a lot of places to find lists of shortcuts for both Windows and Mac operating systems.

One place is on drop down menu lists. These menus display a function and its corresponding keyboard shortcut (if one exists). Open a drop down menu and see for yourself… Probably never even noticed it did you?

There are also many good websites that provide information about keyboard shortcuts.  Two good sites with printable lists for Windows keyboard shortcuts are:
•    http://shortcutmania.com/Windows-7-Keyboard-Shortcuts-printable-cheatsheet.htm
•    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/126449

A great site for Mac keyboard shortcuts and other tips is:
•    http://www.danrodney.com/mac/index.html

And a great table of keyboard shortcuts for Windows, Macs and other operating systems, believe it or not, is provided by Wikipedia.  Check out their comprehensive list:
•    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_keyboard_shortcuts

Think of keyboard shortcuts as a passing gear to get around those slow turtles on the cyber highway. There will always be turtles, but you don’t have to always drive in the slow lane…

 

Can Cleaning Damage a Monitor?

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If you read the post about cleaning computer keyboards, you’ll know I cautioned against using alcohols as cleaning agents on computer keyboards. However, isopropyl alcohol (IPA) specifically is suggested all over internet sites as a preferred cleaner for keyboards as well as monitors and TV screens. The Internet doesn’t lie, does it? So It must be a good cleaner, right? And yeah, I’ve used IPA as a cleaner and I know it is an effective cleaner against dirt and grime…

But doggoneit, wait a minute! Even though the internet recommends it and I’ve used it with some success, I also know it can  cause damage to plastics!  I know it because I took the finish off keys on a keyboard using IPA!   So, even though it is highly recommended, can IPA hurt my monitor? Me oh my! What is one to believe?

I believe, when in doubt, to err on the side of caution. I believe that experience trumps polyparrot advice. So when in doubt about cleaning monitors and TV screens, I thought it prudent to seek out the manufacturer’s advice.

After checking several manufacturers of LCD monitors, laptop screens and Plasma TVs for their recommended cleaning procedures, I found they have a few common best practices. These are:

  •  Always turn off the device and unplug the power cord from the wall or surge protector before cleaning.
  • Always use a clean, soft microfiber cloth to wipe surfaces to remove dirt and dust.
  • Always wipe in one direction to avoid streaks.
  • NEVER use cleaning products, paper towels, tissues or other abrasive materials to clean screens.
  • NEVER use alcohols or ammonia-based cleaners.
  • NEVER use aerosol or liquid cleaners sprayed directly on the screen.
  • NEVER use heavy pressure against the screen while cleaning.

If smudges remain after wiping, then moisten a clean microfiber cloth with water, wring it out to remove excess moisture and gently clean the dirty area.

For difficult dirt, Dell recommends a product called KlearScreen. Apple recommends a product called iKlear. Both products have good reviews and can be explored at http://www.KlearScreen.com.

One suggestion from the Dell site was to frequently wipe dust from the screen with the clean microfiber cloth, but not to clean the screen too frequently, even with a recommended cleaner. Dell explained that excessive cleaning can eventually wear away the special coatings on the surface of the monitor that are meant to make your computing experience easier on your eyes.

Hoping that these suggestions might help you see more clearly now…

Is Your Keyboard Infected?

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cleankeybd

If you do any internet search about dirty computer keyboards and how to clean them, one of the first attention grabbers you’ll read is how these modern devices of necessity harbor more germs than a toilet seat! Yep, disgusting as it is, this yucky tidbit is not just hype – there is research to back up this germy factoid. Research done in London and “…by the University of Arizona…found the average office desktop harboured 400 times more bacteria than the average office toilet seat.”

(May, 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7377002.stm).

If sticky keys, spilled drinks, food crumbs, dust, cat hair, dog paws and unreadable keys have not been enough reason for you to consider cleaning that keyboard, then, maybe 400 times more bacteria might motivate you.

OK, so it does motivate you! That’s Great! It does me too! But, doggoneit, what do I do about it? How do I clean my keyboard without doing damage to it? Do I need special cleaners? How do I keep it clean? My keyboard is so gross – should I just throw it away?

You ask really good questions! To answer them I’d like to share some cleaning techniques that have worked for me and will not do damage to your keyboard. Although there are keyboard cleaning products on the market, you don’t need to buy any special supplies. Most will be things you already have and use in your household. And for that really disgusting keyboard that you think will defy cleaning and maybe ought to head for the trash can, I have one tip I love sharing. That will come last….

What you’ll need for cleaning:

Small bowl of water with a drop of dishwashing soap

Can of compressed air (if you don’t have this a hair dryer is an ok substitute)

Cotton swabs or lint free cloth

Q-tips

(Warning1: some websites will suggest using rubbing or isopropyl alcohol to clean keys. I once rubbed the finish off on keys using alcohol so I don’t recommend them for cleaning keyboards. It might have been that I was just rubbing too hard, but alcohols can harm plastics – so I share this caution.)

(Warning 2: Never use a vacuum cleaner around a computer. Vacuum cleaners create a lot of static electricity that when discharged can destroy electronics/chips (think motherboards). This one comes from personal experience also. I did not LOL.)

Step One:

Unplug the keyboard from the PC or Mac.

If a laptop, turn the laptop off and unplug it before cleaning the keyboard.

General Cleaning: (For all keyboards)

Blow out dust and other crud from the keyboard with a can of compressed air.

o A hair dryer on high blowing also works well. It does not have to be on high heat.

o Tilt the keyboard or laptop while blowing to have easier access to the underside of the keys. This also lets dirt and debris blow out of or fall away from the keyboard.

Swab between the keys with Q-tips moistened with the water/dish cleaner solution

o Don’t pour liquids onto the keyboard. Pour onto the cloth or Q-tips, then apply as cleaner.

o If you do get too much cleaner on the keyboard, use the hair dryer to dry it.

Wipe the keys down with the cleaning solution until the grit and grime are removed.

• Allow time to dry; then plug the keyboard in, start the PC or Mac and get back to work. If laptop, just start it up and work away.

• Some sites recommend using antibacterial wipes regularly after the cleaning.

More Daring and More Difficult Cleaning Technique:

Remove the keys…. One by one.

I DON’T recommend this process for several reasons. The keys are not always that easy to remove; the keys and the keyboard can be damaged with this process; and you better remember how to put them back in the right places…. Keyboards vary.

Here’s my last suggestion.

• It is ONLY for the wired standard keyboard that looks hopelessly filthy.

• It is NOT for laptop keyboards for reasons that will be obvious.

• It is NOT for wireless keyboards.

• It is NOT for metal keyboards.

• It is NOT recommended by manufacturers. But I’ve done it many times and it cleans the dirtiest keyboards

• It is to…

Put it in the Dishwasher:

• Have an extra keyboard on hand to use while this one dries.

• Some techs recommend taking the back off the keyboard and remove the electronics .

o I didn’t follow this advice. I just put mine in the dishwasher in its whole and dirty condition. I did this more than once, always with success.

• Put the keyboard in the dishwasher. Run on quick cycle. Don’t use the pot scrubber cycle.

• Remove and dry thoroughly. This may take several days (even up to 7 days).

o Not doing so can cause shorting and damage to you and the devices….

Final Suggestion:

Once you have a clean keyboard, you might consider purchasing a covering called a skin that will protect it against spills and dirt under the keys, yet not interfere with the touch experience that you have become accustomed to….

So that’s the DogGone down and dirty about cleaning up computer keyboards.