Category Archives: Technology

Agenda books and schools: making good little secretaries

agenda-book_msclipartWhy are we teaching kids to use 1970s technology?

Ever hear of Day Timer? Yes, the personal agenda book still exists, but only for a few old school types. Except in schools, where the kids are supposed to use agenda books, and it’s all their damned fault if they don’t.

Seriously. At the A+ Club, we hear from teachers all the time that Johnny “just needs to do what all the other students do and write down the assignments in his agenda book.”

If it were up to me, every kid would have exchange email and  Outlook working seamlessly on their computers, tablets, and phones, and everything they need to do would be posted there automatically. Continue reading

“Roam schooling” & online tutoring: learning without barriers?

globe_learningIs online tutoring & digital learning really going to work?

Fluff or substance? Revolution or fad? Where is online tutoring and digital learning going to take us?

When I was in K-12 school in the 1970s, mostly, education was being turned over. The students had no idea, as it was just happening to us. But what is education today was largely defined by the research, theories, experiments, and, mostly, fads of that period. Continue reading

Do your grades Spring forward or Fall back?

clocks_MH900430829Beware the Daylight Saving! Sleep, rhythms and grades

My wife has long held a theory that life gets more difficult for students when the clock changes every November. The early sunset makes it dark and dreary, and the change itself messes up our daily rhythms and internal clocks. Well, it’s true. Check this out:

End of Daylight Saving Time can mean headaches for some

For some, the end of Daylight Saving Time means an extra hour of sleep. But for others it can mean a headache. Doctors say the time change can cause cluster headaches that can last as long as eight weeks.  The portion of the brain that triggers these headaches also controls your body’s rhythms.  Slight changes can throw off the rhythm, which can also happen when you switch time zones.

Yeah. Researchers have now also affirmed that join pain can predict the weather (How Your Knees Can Predict the Weather: Granny was right: Scientists find link between achy joints and the forecast) and that intuition is rational and often works (Moms know best: Doctors say ‘mother’s intuition’ is real).

Human beings, it seems, weren’t invented along with Edison’s light bulb or Al Gore’s internet. We’ve been experiencing and adapting to time, weather, seasons for, well, for a long time.

With the end of Daylight Saving (here for the Book of Knowledge, I mean, Wikipedia, entry; oh, and it’s “saving” not “savings”), we’re moving the clock back to the “normal” time that is supposedly lined up with the path of the sun. Actually, time itself isn’t made up by humans, but we need some way to measure it, thus sundials and clocks. High noon literally means when the sun is at it’s highest point in the sky, so that means that high noon is different across time zones. High noon here in Washington, DC, isn’t the same as high noon in, say, West Virginia, even though both are in the same time zone, both showing 12:00 noon at the same time.

Time zones were created by the railroad industry in order to coordinate train schedules across places with different actual times. So these, essentially, arbitrary “zones” were created so that passengers and shippers could know that the 5:00 am train from New York that arrives in Chicago at 7:00 pm New York actually took 14 hours, even though it arrived at Chicago at 6:00 Chicago time. Confusing enough? The point is that it’s all made up.

We could leave the clocks alone, but in order to interact with different places, we kinda need to know what time it is there. I think we should all just be on the same time, but that would mean that, if morning in New York is 5am, then morning in London would be a midnight, which would mean we’d have to change midnight in London to Noon. People would still get up when it’s light, or go partying when it’s dark, whether that’s 4:00, 16:00 or whatever. Instead, every local time follows the sun, with morning being morning by and midnight at midnight on the clock.

The reason for it is that humans need sleep. And when we mess with sleep, well, bad things happen.

Sleep!

Sleep is a fundamental part of those “cycles” of life that we experience on this planet. We go around the sun every time the earth spins 365 and a quarter times. And during every one of those spins of the earth we experience a certain amount of sunlight. Since the beginning, human beings have followed these natural, physical patterns of the earth and sun. A fundamental interaction to it is sleep.

Then along comes Thomas Edison and his light bulb. Now we can get more than a flickering flame to light our streets and homes, and we can remake the natural clock of the earth. A cost of this defiance of time, is sleep, and it can really mess with people. Please check out this site from the NIH: Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep, which explains the importance of sleep, its rhythms and cycles and some of the harm in messing with it.

Sleep and Grades

I write all this to remind our students that sleep matters, and sleep can make or break your grades. Adults are always telling kids to “get some sleep,” and kids are always rebelling against that advice and staying up late. So many of the students in our program tells us about sleep issues: have too much home work to do, can’t get off the computer, and then falling asleep over homework or in class.

Sorry, kids, the science is working against you on this one. Electronics mess up your sleep cycles, the “need to text” or Tweet misplaces your priorities and cuts into your productivity. There are a thousand websites with advice on this, but please know you are impacted by your choices. Just this week, here’s another warning about how electronics can destroy a child’s sleep

Pediatricians Set Limits on Screen Time: The American Academy of Pediatrics’ New Guidelines on Children’s Use of Internet, TV, Cellphones, Videogames

Parents should ban electronic media during mealtimes and after bedtime as part of a comprehensive “family media use plan,” according to new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The influential new guidelines are being spurred by a growing recognition of kids’ nearly round-the-clock media consumption, which includes everything from television to texting and social media. “Excessive media use is associated with obesity, poor school performance, aggression and lack of sleep,” said Marjorie Hogan, co-author of the new policy and a pediatrician.

It may seem like parental nannying, but are you sure it’s not hurting your grades?  Yes, sleep does matter. Please be aware of your habits and needs, and please do what you can to make them match.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Forecast cloudy

clouds-cartoon_MC900432591

Alright, I did it. I moved to the cloud. All of my working files now float upon the ether.

In my case it’s Skydrive with 75 gig for documents and photos. I have 25 gig personal and another 50 gig for business. I haven’t moved my music collection there yet, although that’s probably going soon, although with 90 gig of music, I’m not sure I want to pay for it.

Meanwhile, my desktop has a 1.5 Terrabyte drive, which is standard these days. So why am I on the cloud?

It’s all about syncing and sharing

I can now access all the same data on my phone, my laptop, my tablet, and my desktop. I no longer have to go running to the one file that’s on one machine. Moreover, from the Cloud I can choose to share anything with anyone. No more clogging up emails with huge attachments, no more flash drives that I’ll just lose. This is cool stuff.explorer-skydrive_screenshot

I use Skydrive because it integrates seamlessly with my Windows explorer, which I use to manage all my documents. You can see in this screenshot how my Window Explorer program treats Skydrive as if it was just another folder in my computer. I can move, copy, open, search, etc., all the regular functions

Do note the bottom indicator, “available online only” — for that’s the risk we take by riding the Cloud. More on that in a moment.

Cloud storage is NOT a backup system (for that see Carbonite, among others). With Cloud storage, such as Skydrive, if you delete a file on one device, it will delete across all devices, since you are actually managing files on Skydrive and not your local machine. However, Skydrive puts all deleted items into the Recycle Bin in order to retrieve it if you need a deleted file back.  If you are using Win 8, FileHistory will backup your Skydrive files automatically. Be sure to enable this function.

Offline issues

If you know you will be offline, you can download your Skydrive files easily from the skydrive.com site. Click the files or directories you want, and right click and select “download.” Multiple files will be placed into a single zip archive which you can put wherever you want. If you have regular, automated backups, you can always access those files through the backup system if you can’t get online. These solutions are hardly ever needed.

Working, open files are actually managed on the local machine, so if you know you will need a large file where you won’t have good internet access, just open it on your machine and take it with you. You will work with a cached version, and it will sync properly when you’re back online. What I do is open the files I know I will need and go from there.

Other Systems

Applie has iCloud, Google has its Drive, and there are other 3rd party solutions, such as DropBox (see here for comparison and here for Microsoft’s comparison). My preference, when using a Windows machine or MS Office on another operating system, is to stick to the Microsoft products, as they always integrate better with Office and the core Windows functions.

Will you ride the Cloud, too?

I’m afraid you will, if eventually. You probably are already up there with your cell phone to one degree or another, or if you use Kindle, Amazon, or Netflix. Netflix is essentially cloud management of movies, and it works beautifully so long as you keep up your account. As I wrote earlier about software makers pushing users from ownership to rental, the same thing is happening with the Cloud. It’s not a bad thing — the advantages are overwhelming, especially as we all start to use more and different devices for the same things (emails, photos, documents, etc.). But it will cost. Most Cloud services give away a good amount of initial storage, say 5 or 10 gig (Skydrive gave 25gig to Win 8 users), but you will need more, and it will cost.

Be ready for it, that’s all I can say. I don’t see the need to sync all my music across all devices, so I just move my playlists to the Cloud and keep the bulk of what I don’t usually listen to on m desktop and backups. Xbox, btw, has excellent sharing features across devices of locally stored music. I haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s worth a look.

While the Cloud is here, don’t short PC hard drive makers such as Seagate (all time stock high) yet. PC and laptop sales are down, but they’re not going away. And, somebody’s got to store all the Cloud data on huge machines that Seagate will make. The Cloud means more data storage not less, more functionality, not less.

As always, let me know your questions and thoughts.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Bundle this! Bloatware, viruses and other computer pests

computer-sick_MH900141055Don’t want it, never asked for it, and it’s bugging down my machine… except, oops, I didn’t uncheck that little click box…

At our student support service, we spend an awful lot of time cleaning up computers that are virus-ridden and otherwise so slow as to drive kids just to walk away from them or compel parents to give up and buy another computer. By definition, anything that runs on your computer that you 1) don’t want; 2) don’t need … is a virus.  Do you know what’s running on your computer?

A malicious virus will hijack or destroy your computer, but by my definition a program you don’t want and didn’t ask for is a virus. Happens all the time. If you are in better control of your machine, that dreaded “circle of death,” your computer’s groan and moan that too much is going on at once, can largely be avoided.

Two very common programs are a common source of these viruses, and, yes, I will call them what they are, viruses: Java and Flash, brought to you by two monster tech companies, Oracle and Adobe. Here, try out this little poll to see if you have been victimized by these punks:

When updating Java or Flash on my computer I inadvertantly installed

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Here’s how it works:

flash-adobe-install-screenshot
Flash Player downloader screen shot. All set, or are you sure about that?
flash-adobe-install-screenshot_highlighted
Note how the Google “free” toolbar offer is pre-selected. Not ethical, and user beware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you unclick the already checked check box? Hmmm… Okay, repeat after me:

“I [state your name], will never again NOT UNCHECK the little already-checked box that installs third-party programs when updating or installing programs that I want.”

See here for more on this, truly, unethical practice by these major companies: Java scam: How Oracle and Ask profit from sneaky add-ons: Every time users update Java, traps in the program try to trick them into installing useless toolbars and add-ons.  And, of course, if Oracle and Adobe do it, so do others. Just about every little downloaded program follows this ugly practice. All you can do is BE CAREFUL and stick to your oath not to accept anything without unclicking the check boxes.

Cure worse than the disease?

So, if a virus is a program that does things we don’t want, don’t need, and make us lose control of our computers, what, then, are those programs that are supposed to defend us from these dangers themselves dangers?  Nortan, McAfee, AVG, etc., act themselves like viruses, taking over our computers at random, slowing everything down, and just getting in our way.

Equally obnoxious are the bloatware programs that come with Windows laptops and PCs from sellers such as HP, Sony, Acer, Samsung, and so on. These makers try to “add value” to their Windows machines by pre-loading them with various programs, especially those from our friends, the anti-virus viruses. I once restored a Windows 7 computer to original “factory” state and couldn’t believe how slow it became, because all those programs I had deleted were running again. Jeez.

So what’s running on my machine?

All you know is that the damned thing is slower than when you first got it. Without expertise, it’s hard to really know what’s happening, but there are a few easy tricks you can pull to speed things up. Try these:

  • Control your startup programs
    Win 8 Task Manager. Notice how I have most startup programs disabled. I have Adobe reader enabled because I use it all the time.
    Win 8 Task Manager. Notice how I have most startup programs disabled. I have Adobe reader enabled because I use it all the time.
    • Win 7: type into the “Run” section above the start button: msconfig.sys
    • this will bring up “System Configuration” window
    • select the “Startup” tab
    • these are the programs that are set to load automatically when you boot up your computer.
      • most new program installations set themselves to start automatically, which you do not need
      • if you need the program, great, but usually you can get all the functions by running the program occasionally instead of loading it at startup every time.
    • Programs usually have a “settings” tab that includes “Run program at startup”  De-select this unless you really want that program every time you run your computer.
    • Win 8 makes it easier to control. Search and select “Task Manager” and you will find the “Start” tab there now with a list of all the programs that are set to run.
  • Manual updates
    • programs such as Flash and Java want to update themselves.
    • I always select “manual” update so that I know what is happening on my machine and to keep these programs from re-setting themselves to run at startup.
  • for the expert: “Processes”
    • In addition to startup programs are “processes” that run automatically.
    • Knowing which processes are valid, which are needed, and which are unnecessary is more complicated than just keeping a program from starting up. Here’s a quick article on Win 7 processes.

Some programs that are really helpful for resolving problems include:

  • Malwarebytes
    • Download it for free and you can run occasionally, always, or only when you are concerned about something.
    • It’s a very lightweight, easy to use and powerful program.
    • It will find ads, malware, and some bloatware from legitimate program installations. You can pick and choose what you want it to destroy.
  • Sophos Anti-Rootkit
    • I found this program recently when trying to clean a student computer. Nothing else could find the problem, which was an imbedded “root” virus.

Catching a cold

When you really get in trouble and your machine has a virus or has been hijacked by span operators (here for Has Your Computer Been Hijacked?”) you need to get busy.  Again, going back to our definition of a virus, when your machine is doing something that you don’t want, you have a virus. In my experience, the Windows Defender program along with the Windows firewall is sufficient to protect Win 7 and Win 8 machines. (XP has more vulnerabilities). If you want the extra defense, go with the commercial anti-virus programs — which I don’t like.

If you do have a virus, you need to get busy:

  • Most anti-virus software will identify and remove the virus.
  • System Restore: Win 7 and Win 8 machines can be reset to an earlier date:
    • be sure to have “Create a restore point” option on
    • go to “restore to earlier date” to put your Windows operating system back to where it was before your problem started.
    • System restore will not delete any user files, only new programs and other system settings that have been changed since the Restore date.
    • you will need to run Windows Updates again after you have restored to an earlier date (which can take a while, 1-2 hrs sometimes).

Not Catching a Cold

Above all most viruses and bloatware get on your machine because you clicked on something. Here are some ways to avoid it:

  • Browser protection
    • use default security settings in Internet Explorer, including Active-X filtering
      • If the website doesn’t load, use another browser
    • Use different browsers for different purposes and sites
    • Mozilla has an excellent protective addon called NoScript, which lets you choose the “scripts,” or commands that a website runs, one by one. If you are browsing a “dangerous” (ahem) website, USE THIS PROGRAM.
    • All browsers have vulnerabilities, so BE CAREFUL!
  • DONT’ JUST CLICK on email links or program downloads.

    Microsoft's phishing symptoms page offers this example of a fake link to entice user clicks. Note how the name of the link is different from the actual link. BE CAREFUL!!
    Microsoft’s phishing symptoms page offers this example of a fake link to entice user clicks. Note how the name of the link is different from the actual link. BE CAREFUL!!
  • Hover your mouse over or right click the link to see what the real location of the link is. “Phishing” scams pose links as a legitimate website but have a link to a different site that can run malicsious scripts on your simple click.

 Onward

Apple has largely avoided these problems by containing its operating system and browser to its own rules. But that makes the Apple OS expensive and limited in functionality. Microsoft is very, very aware of these problems, which is a big part of the new system, Windows 8. The older systems, XP and Win 7, are easily compromised by legitimate vendors of equipment and programs, which the Win 8 “app” style avoids. You can now add all these programs as apps without compromising your entire operating system.

Above all, be aware!  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you are having trouble with your machines. You can’t get done what you need to do if your tools are working!

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

What? I have to pay every month for a computer program…?

microsoft-officeMonthly subscriptions for everything.

Yep, that’s where we’re headed. I am hearing more and more frequently from students and parents their confusion over buying or renting Microsoft Office and other programs. We can only be thankful that the software makers took so long to figure this out. We had it good with software, just buy disk, load it up and you’re good until the next version is out three years later. It’s not there entirely, but we’re heading to monthly fees for everything.

The reason cars cost what they do, the reason health insurance costs what it does, the reason cell phones, houses and college — whatever it is that you buy on credit or in monthly installments — are so expensive is because by spreading their costs across monthly payments allows consumers to buy more than they could otherwise afford if paying cash. What is generally paid for in cash has more stable, lower prices than things purchased on credit. Allowing consumer to buy what they can’t afford credit creates more demand, so prices go up. Think about it this way: if you have the money, why borrow, which makes your purchase more expensive? The wealthy don’t borrow money to buy things; instead of borrowing money, they’re making more money by financing everyone else’s loans. (The typical home 30 year mortgage costs about twice the original borrowed amount, and, worse, that interest is paid before the original loan).  With software, is it the same?

Yes and no. Yes, the monthly subscription is over time more expensive than a single purchase. But, no, it will not lead to a spike in prices as with homes, college and cars. A couple things are going on here.

First of all, mobile use has changed the way technology companies approach consumers. Mobile requires frequent software updates, and consumers move between platforms and operator systems more quickly than with their computers. It’s now a consumer expectation that operating systems and surrounding software be constantly and quickly updated. Secondly, it’s “the cloud.” Microsoft is actually late to move to the subscription model, to which Adobe recently moved all of its products. You cannot purchase new Adobe software anymore: it’s all rental. Then there’s Google docs, which has made strong inroads into the student and home markets, so Microsoft is trying to make its products more, not less accessible. Finally, businesses have essentially been using the per-user license model, anyway, and Microsoft is very wisely making the same system available to consumers. They call it “Office 365.”

So instead of buying MS Office outright, which costs $139.99, Microsoft wants you to rent it’s Office 365 version for $9.99 a month (or $99 per year). Now, before you scream too loudly, here are the advantages:

1. The 365 license is for up to five machines. (You weren’t supposed to be using the Office disk on all those different computers…)

2. Instead of the “2003,” “2007,” “2010,” “2013” versions, ultimately Office will just be updated with new features without having to launch each as a different product. This means that your license today buys the next version. This is important in today’s world as operating systems change rapidly.

3. Office 365 brings more programs than the stand-alone Office, so you get Outlook and others along with your Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that are on the Home and Student disk version. As I have written before, I strongly recommend using Outlook, which costs another $80 on the single purchase Home & Office version.

4. The cloud. Yes, that cloud. Office 365 includes “web apps” versions of all the software which can be accessed from any browser, just like Google Docs, only with most of the functions of Office (not all of them; the interface is different).

5. Cell phone integration, which along with cloud file storage makes for easy access to all your documents from any device. I no longer store anything but older and exceptionally large files on my hard drive. Everything I use and create I store on the cloud, which in my case is SharePoint and Skydrive.

6. Exchange email: Office 365 allows users to take advantage of “Exchange” which used to belong to businesses only. Exchange allows for syncing of email and other accounts across all yoru devices. So a calendar entry on one machine will update automatically on all the others, not just your cell phone as with competitor products. (Google uses the Microsoft “ActiveSync” system to allow this feature on Google accounts with Outlook, but just recently took it away from non-paying customers.)

7. Windows 8: this is about Win 8, for sure. Aside from the touch featur3es, the new Windows integrates with cloud- and web-based applications, and Microsoft wants to move its customers in that direction. (I am writing this on a Surface RT; see here for more that).

8. Finally, for our college students who have .edu email addresses, there’s a great deal on Office 365: 4 year subscription for $79.99. There’s no reason not to get that one.

If you’re a Google Docs person, God bless ya, but you’re not getting anywhere near the capabilities you can get with the Office products. I’m not a Microsoft shill. I am deeply concerned about my work efficiencies, and Microsoft’s programs are superb products that work for me better than others. I wrote two books using Wordperfect, but MS Word proved itself the better program, so I use it instead. I use Youtube, a Google product, and other services that are not Microsoft systems. I like what works best. And, as I said before, most businesses use Office because they care about their employees’ efficiencies. Whether you go with the subscription or the single-user license for Office, you really do need these programs.

As always, call or write me to discuss your own technology needs and concerns. Good luck, and get busy with making your work more efficient and leaving yourself more time to get more done and enjoy yourself more.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Email Purgatory

email_MH900413668I thought I’d call it “Email Hell”…

… but, honestly, a few email issues don’t eternal damnation make. If so, then I need to rethink vice.

Anyway, Purgatory is more like what a lot of us experience with email: things kinda happen outside of our control that, while not horrible, annoy and get in the way of productivity.

The usual solution is to setup a new email name and then start the process of spam and unwanted subscriptions blasts until it gets too full, then move on. So I thought to write a touch about some easy strategies on avoiding these problems.

Primary & Throwaway email accounts

  • I keep four accounts:
    • work
    • personal
    • personal Microsoft login (used to sync my computers and I use it only for this purpose)
    • throw-away which I use for logins, etc.
  • Managing multiple accounts:
    • Easy access: the problem with multiple accounts is that you need to login to all of them separately in order to keep track of them.
    • Smartphones will allow multiple email accounts, but from a computer you should use an email system that allows for multiple email accounts in a single interface.
    • By far, the best system for managing multiple accounts in a single place is Microsoft Outlook. Mozilla Thunderbird is pretty good, and free, but much less useful.
    • the new Windows 8 mail app is excellent for multiple emails, although, again, it’s less robust than Outlook. I do like it, and I find myself using it more and more frequently.
    • Mac/ Android netbooks: I’m not familiar with them, although there’s a good reason why there is a Office for Mac version..

Protecting your primary email account

  • This is your personal and private communication system. Take good care of it! Keep it private and manage very carefully who gets to use it.
  • Do not give this to anyone or any website that you do not want to hear back from!
  • Do not use this account for logins except for those that you absolutely want to manage through your primary email account.

Throw-away email account

An easy strategy to avoid spam and unwanted email is to use a throw-away account for signing up for commercial services and logins. Uses of the throw-away account include:

  • sending emails when you don’t want the recipient to use or know your personal email.
  • avoiding bulk but legitimate emails related to user accounts (especially for bills and receipts)
  • protecting your personal email and other passwords that should be reserved only for the most secure and important accounts
  • using the throw-away account for logins and accounts protects your primary emails from spam and mailing lists
  • ALWAYS USE A DISTINCT PASSWORD FOR YOUR THROWAWAY EMAIL ACCOUNT!

Aliases

  • Aliases are email names that really send/receive from another email account.
  • Aliases are great for receiving emails into a single account that you don’t want to publish.
  • For example, in our business, we use the following aliases that all go to our main email account:
    • info@school4schools.com
    • admin@school4schools.com
    • admin@theaplusclub.com
    • and so on, with each of these being sent to a single mailbox. We can send from these aliases, as well.

Spam Management

Filters

  • most online email portals have robust filters to which you can add unwanted email, usually with a click.
  • the problem with filters is that spam artists are good at hiding and/or changing their domain or email user names in order to avoid filtering which is based upon one or the other.
  • free email portals will often mis-recognize legitimate emails as spam, so do pay attention to your spam filter box.
  • online mail portals may also have rules or keyword filters so that you can identify spam from subject lines or even content, with words such as one I have setup on my throw-away account:  “If Subject contains viagra then automatically delete e-mail message”

Rules

  • for desktop email programs, such as Outlook, you can create “Rules” to manage emails. It is useful for automatically deleting unwanted email, as per my example above, but rules are much more powerful, so please see the separate section on them below.

 Passwords

  • Most online accounts use email accounts for password recovery. You should be prepared to manage these effectively and without compromising your privacy.
  • Keep track of your passwords only in a secure place, best offline or on a secure piece of paper. I won’t tell you how I manage passcodes, but I do it in a way that I can always access them, yet keep them secure.
  • There are passcode managers that create and update random passcodes on websites and email accounts but that are managed from a single passcode on your computer. I won’t recommend any since I have never used these.

Hijacked Email Accounts

  • Spammers and hijack your email account in two ways:
  • by hacking your account and taking it over, or, more commonly
  • by using your email address for their spams. When they do this, you become the apparent “sender” of the emails, and replies and undelivreables will be sent to you. However, you did not actually send the email, so you won’t see it in your outbox. They get these emails from websites that are designed to gather them, or from buying them from those website. It’s ugly stuff and compromises so much web activity, but it is a reality.
  • If your email becomes compromised,
  • change password
  • notify your email provider. as they are very concerned about these events

Email Rules

  • Some email systems allow for “rules” that create specific actions depending on email sender, recipient, subject, date, etc.
  •  In addition to using rules to filter unwanted email, “rules” can be super useful for automating regular tasks, such as:
  • automating replies
  • moving emails to specific folders or automatically forwarding them to other email accounts

A word about “free” email accounts

  • Google, Microsoft, Apple, Earthlink, etc. all make available free emails for a reason: to make money. Just be aware of this. Google was recently outed for reviewing email content in order to align its ads and banners with user preferences. I think they had to back off from that one. Still, they look at who’s sending and receiving and use that data as part of their overall advertising programs which they sell for huge amounts of money.  Microsoft’s new Outlook.com, which is not the Outlook program, but a lite-version of it, claims to offer better privacy protection and management. I don’t use it so I don’t know. My wife uses EarthLink, and it’s full of ads, but she’s not bothered by it.
  • Just know that “free” is not free.

 Outlook

  • I strongly recommend using Outlook for email management. It can be run as a desktop or online portal, and it brings so many features to thoroughly manage and empower your total communication, scheduling, and general organizational processes.
  • Outlook includes many features, among which I use are:
    • email management with powerful:
      • folders management
      • filtering and searching
      • signatures management (those little messages at the bottom of emails that automatically load)
      • contacts management
      • archiving
      • reading and writing in various formats, including pdfs, spreadsheets, images, Word documents, etc.
    • calendar
    • tasks management
    • journaling
    • sharing
      • this is super important for organizations; you can share calendars, contacts, email accounts, tasks, or anything via Outlook. Our office manager, Megan, and I put tasks on each other’s calendars all the time, and, voila, there it is without any wasting time
    • integration with MS Office, especially Word, Excel, and OneNote.
  • These are just a few of what Outlook brings. It’s why something like 80% of major businesses use Outlook. I became a convert as I watched my wife manage her 500+ daily emails and all her complex calendar entries. Students and teachers should take advantage of this hugely powerful organizational tool.

Good luck with your email management!

It’s all about information and getting things done as effectively and efficiently as possible. I am here to help if you’d like to review your own email strategies. Let me know!

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Tech proficiency: got yours?

We like to think that our kids are technologically proficient.

They love new things, they love using the latest thing, and so on.

Really?

Not in my experience as a teacher. There’s always a kid or two who really knows and loves technology, who might be labeled a “geek” even. If that label ever applies it means that the rest are not geeks, thereby not technologically proficient. The rest know a few things but are too easily trapped within what they know and don’t learn new things. The reason why “apps” are so meaningful to kids is that they encapsulate many functions that can already be done elsewhere but that users don’t know. With this idea in mind, go through a list of apps and you will be amazed at how redundant so many are, both to each other and to better ways to go about doing the same thing.

Schools have no interest in student efficiency, yet kids are graded on it all the time: is the bibliography formatted correctly? Are the web sources acceptable? Did the student get the teacher’s email? Does the computer have a virus, or is it so slow from unintended program installs that it just doesn’t work right? Was the file saved properly? On and on to the trouble I see in students all the time.

It’s not just a matter of functionality. How much time do you waste working for your computer rather than having it work for you.

Check out this video …

I will only use the keyboard during this video.

See here for a list of Microsoft keyboard shortcuts:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/126449

Pretty cool, huh?

You can get more done and with less frustration if you learn a few tricks.

– Michael

What is your level of technological proficency?

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The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?

laptop_MH900405386Another broken or stolen laptop? Are you sure about that?

Are you going to be that one who calls home begging for another computer because your laptop was stolen or it dropped out of your backpack. Mom may lose patience with that one after having forked over $2k for the MacBook Air. Besides, do you really need it?

Let’s think this through carefully. What do you really need?

Here’s my assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of your computer options (on Scale of 5):

Desktop PC Laptop PC Tablet Mac desktop Mac laptop
Ease of Use  5 4 2 5 4
Portability 1 4 5  1 4
Reliability 5 4 4 5 4
Capacity / Function 5 4 2  5 4
Cost 5 4 4 1 1
Risk of Loss or Breakage 5 2 2 5 2
Overall Score
(total ÷ 6 categories)
4.3 3.6 3.1 3.6 3.1

 


Here for updates on this topic:
The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac? pt 2
Laptop, Tablet, or Desktop? Google Docs or Office 365? Which technology is best for high school and college?


Desktops are old fashioned, you say?

Desktops have become, like cars, an afterthought: the average age of American cars is eleven years now, the highest it has ever been. That’s because they’re built better than ever and have all the functions consumers need. What hurt GM, Ford and Chrysler as much as anything over the last five years is that they’re products are very, very good, so people don’t need to buy new ones as often as before. A 2003 automobile is as good as a 2011, and there’s not much a 2013 offers that the ’03 can’t — other than the built-in Bluetooth or a few overly redundant safety features.

And these cars are lasting a long time now. Same goes with PCs: Microsoft’s biggest problem with Windows is that the Windows 7 program is very, very good, very very stable, and there’s little reason to upgrade it anymore (they tried for years to dump XP, which is still solid, useful and widely used). So desktop PCs aren’t so much old fashioned as they are, like a good car, just there.

Now, if you want a Mac, go for it. But you’re gonna pay for it, be it a desktop or a laptop. A Windows 7 PC will cost you less than your smartphone, and you will have a hard time breaking the screen or leaving it on your seat at the movies.

A Windows 7 laptop costs about the same as a desktop and has the added benefit of portability. But do you really, really need to carry your computer around? Some teachers will allow it in class, although I hear more and more about professors who ban them from classrooms because kids are on Facebook rather than focused on class. If I were in college, I’d have a laptop. The ability to take it with me is just that important.  BUT… I’d probably break it or lose it inside of the first semester.

Above all else is cost, which is why 82% of college students use a PC, i.e., Windows-based desktop or laptop. (I’m guessing that most of those are laptops.) As the expert is quoted in that article:

Another reason PCs are winning out with students: price. Desktop PCs are at their cheapest during September when students are going back to school… with prices starting at $200 for a dual-core desktop PC. (The iPad Mini
costs $329.) “The desktop PC is simply a wiser, more realistic investment for any student this fall”

I strongly recommend a decent new or lightly used Windows 7 PC or laptop. As the article points out, a decent PC will start around $200, and there’s no need to go much higher than that, even with a full desktop setup with monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Used Equipment

We work with our students to make sure their equipment is available, proper, and functional. I can get a good Win 7 desktop (with monitor etc.) or laptop from anywhere between $100-$200, depending on the capacity, and with a 1 year warranty. Not bad. So let me know if you’re interested.

My Own Equipment

I use four computers, three laptops and a desktop, all PCs, and all HPs. My laptops can serve as a desktop when I plug it into a wireless keyboard, mouse, speakers, and external monitor setup. One laptop is for upstairs, one is for taking with me, and the other is my old workhorse, a seven year old HP that still goes and goes. I bought my desktop because I wanted a better 2nd monitor and higher overall performance, storage, speed, and so on.

So you know, I run Windows 7 on the old laptop and Windows 8 on the others. I also have a Windows Phone that syncs beautifully with my 8 machines and all my Office Programs, especially OneNote (organization) and Outlook (email). I’ll probably buy a Surface tablet, but I’m waiting for built-in mobile broadband, which is coming later or next year. I can wait. That’s me.

What about you, and what about for college?

What about cell phones?

You can do all that on a smart phone. But not very well.  And a little better on a tablet, but, again, not very well. A laptop does it all, with portability. But that, too, comes at a cost in functionality and risk of damage or loss. The best solution for that list is, I hate to say it – a desktop.

Next

I will next post my Computer Tool Kit list for you with essential programs, features and file management tools. Feel free to call or write with any questions.

Technology should not be a problem!

– Michael