How to fix the four most annoying quirks of Yosemite


OS X 10.10 Yosemite is out, and, while there aren’t many surprises in the interface—which Apple has been showing off since June—users are getting their first tastes of the new look and new features. And many of them are finding that there are some annoyances the way Yosemite displays (or doesn’t display) certain things. Here are my top four Yosemite annoyances and how you can fix them.
Banish translucency

I don’t get the whole thing about translucency. It certainly looks cool, and the technology required to render both a translucent menu and what’s behind it is probably quite complex. But what’s the point of translucency? Is it simply, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, when he presented the rotating cube that displayed with Fast User Switching back in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, “Because we can?”

translucent fluff

I don’t see the point of a blurry interface…

To me, translucent menus just look blurry. And with thinner fonts, it makes it even harder to see what they say. It’s bad enough to have blurry menus, but this extends to some windows. You can see it in the Spotlight window, the Safari window in certain situations (such as when you display Favorites), and in the menu bar. Apple says that “Translucency adds more dimension to your desktop,” but I don’t really need more dimension; I need to see things more clearly. Translucent sidebars in the Finder or iTunes don’t make using OS X any easier.

Fortunately, it’s easy to turn this off. Open System Preferences, then click Accessibility. Click Display, then check Reduce Transparency.


You can get rid of translucency in the Accessibility preferences.

There are two interesting things here. First, that Apple hides this in the Accessibility preferences, rather than in, say, the General preferences, which is where the option to use the dark menu bar and Dock. Second, that Apple isn’t clear on the word it’s using. It’s translucency, not transparency; the Apple web site gets it right, but the Accessibility preferences have it wrong.

End rant.
The case of the missing iTunes sidebar

Since the earliest days of iTunes, the sidebar—the list at the left, which showed your different media libraries, your playlists, and your connected devices—was a familiar and practical tool. But now, in iTunes 12, it’s gone. It had already been granted second-class status in iTunes 11, but iTunes 12 nuked it.

Well, not exactly… You still can display a sidebar, though it won’t show everything the previous versions did. When viewing any of your media libraries, click on Playlists in the navigation bar near the top-center of the window. This displays a sidebar with the name of your currently selected library at the top and your playlists below. This playlists sidebar displays in any media library, and if you click the name of the library—such as Music—you can choose to view your content along with the sidebar.

itunes sidebar

iTunes lets you display playlists in a sidebar while viewing any media library.

While it’s not exactly the same as before, it’s better than nothing.
What’s the address?

In Safari, by default, you no longer see the full address of a web page that you’re visiting. For most people, this isn’t a big deal, but I sometimes want to know the exact address of a web page. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this.

In Safari, go the the Preferences window (choose Safari > Preferences), then click Advanced. At the top of this preference pane, in the Smart Search Field section, check Show full website address. You’ll now be able to see the full address of a page.

It’s worth noting that if this option is turned off, you can still see the full address by clicking in the address field; this highlights the URL and display it in full.
Too much information

Spotlight is a great tool for searching for things on your Mac, and it’s now been extended to search the web and Wikipedia, perform conversions and much more. But there’s a lot of information displayed by default when you invoke Spotlight—perhaps too much.

You can whittle this down by choosing System Preferences > Spotlight, then unchecking some of the categories on the Search Results tab.


Adjust what Spotlight shows when you search.

Another way to make Spotlight searches more useful is to reorder the different results. If you want, say, your contacts to be at the top of the list, just click on Contacts in the preference pane then drag it up the list. You’ll see a small line display as you move items up and down. Customize Spotlight so it works the way you want it; you may want to leave all the categories checked, but just move down to the bottom the ones you don’t use often.

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Easy ways to digitize your old photos

Name three places where I could find your old photos right now. I bet at least one of your answers is photo albums, frames or shoeboxes. Years take a toll on our precious photos.

It’s time to get them into your computer. I know, it’s a huge job that sounds as daunting as climbing Machu Picchu. Having done both, at least you won’t get altitude sickness working with photos.

• Digitize the photos

The first step is getting your photos into a computer. Purchase a scanner, either an all-purpose flatbed model (starting at $100) or one made specifically for scanning photos.

You can also take photos of photos using your camera, smartphone or tablet. But if you are going to do that, download the Heirloom app that was created for scanning photos.

Heirloom automatically adjusts lighting, tweaks perspectives and crops edges so you don’t have to do so much work. Plus, you can keep your pictures in albums and frames as you scan, so you don’t have to spend time getting them out and potentially damaging them.

If you have tons of photos, consider sending them to a photo-scanning service like FotoBridge, PhotoBin, or ScanCafe. The average price is typically $75 for 250 photos.

• Let’s organize

Once you have your photos converted to image files in your computer, you need some way to organize them. You don’t want to be wading through files to find that one hilarious picture from when you were 11.

If you own a Mac, the built-in iPhoto has you covered. For PC, use the free Google Picasa.

These programs will do their best to auto-sort photos by date, but on scanned photos they’re not going to have accurate date information. So, you will need to manually enter date, location and event information for each photo.

iPhoto, Picasa and other photo organizers usually have facial recognition too, which should help sort the photos based on who is in them. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a nice shortcut.

Be sure to set good picture titles. “Aunt June, 1959, Chicago” will be a lot easier to find later than “IMG00602.JPG.”

Tagging your photos is another good practice. Tags are descriptive keywords that describe what’s going on in the picture.

Keywords for the Aunt June picture might include “Graduation” or “Grandma Virginia’s house.” That can help narrow your search when you’re thumbing through 125 pictures of Aunt June.

One thing many people have trouble working with organized albums is that the albums only appear in the program. So if you uninstall Picasa, for example, your organization goes away. Your pictures will only have whatever file names and folder organization you started with.

This is a tip to remember. Both iPhoto and Picasa have the File>>Export feature. This sends an organized album to its own separate folder on your hard drive. You can tell the program to number the files so they’re always in the right order.

• Let’s backup

One of the main reasons for digitizing your photos is to make sure they stay safe from damage or disaster. After your photos are all pretty and organized in your computer, be sure to make a backup.

I recommend using an online backup service like Carbonite, Mozy or BackBlaze. Carbonite is the one I’ve used personally for years and it’s never let me down

Online backup is best because, unlike disc backups or an external hard drive, it keeps your information safe from burglars and local disasters. Plus, you can look at your backed up photos from any computer, tablet or smartphone, which comes in real handy when you are at a relative’s home and want to share photos you haven’t put on Facebook. It’s a great side benefit that I have used many times


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Computer Tune-up Special


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Is Your Router Easy to Hack? Learn How to Properly Secure Your Router.


If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give your home WiFi router another thought after checking to make sure it has Internet connection. But did you know that your home WiFi router is a crucial component to your overall security?

While a WiFi router means no more hassling with messy Ethernet cables, you could unknowingly be putting your data at risk of being intercepted if you don’t properly secure it.

When was the last time you checked which WiFi encryption you’re using? Perhaps you’ve been using Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) all this time without even knowing! Using WEP as your WiFi encryption is equivalent to using no encryption at all, as this flawed encryption standard can be hacked in a matter of minutes. To better protect your network, you should upgrade to WPA2, a newer and more robust WiFi network security standard. We’ll show you how to check which WiFi encryption you’re currently using and how to upgrade to WPA2.

First, what’s wrong with WEP?
Wired Equivalent Privacy or WEP was introduced in 1999 to provide a WiFi network with security comparable to that of a wired network.

WEP was widely used for years, but before long, it became clear that WEP security was about as strong as a wet paper towel. For example, in 2005, the FBI publicly demonstrated how it could crack WEP passwords within minutes. Once passwords are cracked, a hacker can do just about whatever he wants on your network or to your computer— including stealing your bank account information.

Though WEP was retired as a WiFi network standard in 2004, it’s still in use today, particularly by those with older computers and pre-2005 wireless network routers.

Bottom line: If you haven’t upgraded to WPA2, you should consider doing so right away.

How to check which WiFi encryption you’re using
If you’re on Windows 7, follow these steps:

1. In the bottom right of your system tray, look for the wireless network icon. Left-click on the icon and you’ll get a popup menu of available wireless networks.
system tray WiFi icon

2. Hover the cursor over your home network name, and you’ll see which WiFi encryption you’re using.
system tray WiFi icon expanded

If you’re on Windows 8, follow these steps:
1. In the bottom right of your system tray, look for the wireless network icon. Right-click on the icon and select ‘Open Network and Sharing Center’.
Windows 8 Open Network and Sharing Center

2. Click on the network name
Network name

3. Click on ‘Wireless Properties’
Wireless properties

4. Click the ‘Security’ tab. From there you can check which WiFi encryption you’re using.
Security type

If your home WiFi network is determined to be encrypted with WPA2, ensure the password to your network is secured with a strong password, and that your computers all have at the minimum, an antivirus and two-way firewall.

Now, if you’ve determined that you’re using WEP, you should immediately upgrade to the stronger WPA2 encryption.

How to upgrade from WEP to WPA2
Start by checking to see if your wireless router supports WPA2. If you’re not sure, do a Google search on your wireless router’s name and add the word “specs” or “specifications” to the search phrase.

If your router doesn’t support WPA2 (or at the very least, WPA), consider investing in a new wireless router. Like most consumer electronics, WiFi routers have become increasingly more powerful and less expensive. Additionally, WiFi speeds continue to evolve, so if you have a new computer, a new router may make the difference in your Internet connection speeds ( as well as your security. )

If your router does support WPA2, here’s how to upgrade from WEP to WPA2. The instructions below are for Cisco Linksys routers, so steps may differ depending on the manufacturer of your router.

1. Open your Web browser and type in your router’s IP address in the URL bar (the default IP address is usually
192 in address bar

If you don’t know what your IP address is, click ‘Start,’ then ‘Run,’ then type ‘CMD’ (without the quotation marks) and press ‘Enter.’

When a new window opens, type “ipconfig” and press enter. This will reveal your router’s IP address under ‘Default Gateway’.
ipconfig_default gateway

2. Next, enter your router user name and password when prompted. If you have never created a username and password before, try “admin” as the user name and leave the password field blank. If that does not work, contact your provider or you can refer to this site to determine the default username and password. And if all else fails, purchasing a new router and starting from scratch may be a solution.
authentication required

3. Once you’ve accessed the router setup dashboard, click on the ‘Wireless’ tab and then choose “Wireless Security.”

4. From there, click the drop-down menu for “Security Mode” and select “WPA2 Personal” and select “AES” for “WPA Algorithm”. (Note: Consider changing the password (WPA Shared key) to your router if you’ve been using a weak password.)
security mode

5. While you’re still logged into the router setup dashboard, this would be a good opportunity to change the default username and router password. The router password is what allows an administrator access to the router dashboard itself. Click on the “Administration” tab then click on “Management”. From there, create and confirm your new password. We recommend that you use a different password for the WPA shared key and the router password.

6. Save your settings. Please note that other devices connected to this router will require that you enter in the new password.

It’s definitely worth it
Ultimately, if you’re still using WEP security, you’re needlessly making yourself vulnerable to hackers. We think spending a little time (and if necessary, money) to switch to WPA2 security is well worth it!

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How to stop autoloading programs in Windows 7 and Windows 8

1_auto_loadAfter reading my article on killing unwanted processes, Joe Balbona asked how he could keep those processes from loading in the first place.

There’s no direct correlation between the programs that load when you boot and the processes slowing down your PC six hours later. Many autoloaders (programs that automatically load when you boot) do their thing and then close down properly. And some programs you load manually long after the boot leave processes running even after you’ve closed them.

Nevertheless, most Windows PCs load way too many programs at boot time. These definitely slow the boot process. Some remain running and can slow Windows. And some may cause conflicts and instability, although that’s rare.

So let’s see how we can trim your autoloaders.

The fact that you like a program doesn’t  necessarily mean you want it running all the time? For instance, regular readers know how much I like KeePass. But I turned off its autoloader because I just didn’t see the point. A password manager only needs to run when you need a password. On the other hand, your antivirus program needs to watch over your PC constantly, so it’s a legitimate autoloader.

Windows 8 significantly changed how we manage autoloaders. I’ll therefore give you two separate sets of instructions.

Windows 7 and earlier versions

Click Start, type msconfig, and press Enter. This brings up the System Configuration page.


Click the Startup tab for a table listing your autoloaders. Now you can uncheck those you don’t want.

But first, you have to figure out what each autoloader does. Usually the program’s name makes it obvious. But sometimes the names aren’t clear.

If the name isn’t helpful, you can usually get an idea by examining the Manufacturer and Command columns in the table. These will tell you who published the software, and where the file is on your drive (usually the folder for a program you installed). If all else fails, use your favorite search engine to find more about the name.

Remember that you can always experiment. Uncheck something and see if that makes things better or worse. The last column, Date Disabled, provides a record of what you’ve just unchecked.

Windows 8

In the old-fashioned Desktop environment, right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager. Once it’s up, click the Startup tab.

This table doesn’t give as much information as the old Msconfig one, but it’s easier to read. And if you know where to look, the information is there.


One particularly useful column is the last one: Startup impact. It tells you—in admittedly vague terms—how much that program slows boot time. This can help you decide what to remove.

To disable an autoloader, right-click it and select Disable.

And take a look at the other options on that context menu. Open file location shows you where the program is located on your hard drive—a good clue about who put it there. And if you really can’t figure it out, select Search online to see what the Internet says about this program.

Unfortunately, this Startup tool lacks Date Disabled information. If you’re going to experiment with disabling various autoloaders, make a note about which ones you just disabled. That way, if something fails, you can fix it.

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Great Buy! 24″ iMac

iMac for Sale

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How to synch Google Calendar with Outlook 2010 and 2013

Using this method you can set up one way syncing from Google Calendar to Outlook. Outlook will periodically check the Google Calendar for updates, and if any new or modified events are found, they will be downloaded and displayed alongside with your Outlook appointments.

Copy Google Calendar’s URL

  1. Log into your Google account and click Calendar on the Google bar.

If you are logged into your Gmail account, then you will need two clicks instead of one. As you probably know, about two months ago Google rolled out the new update and all of a sudden the Calendar button disappeared from the G-mail page’s task bar. Anyway, click on the Apps launcher icon and select Calendar from the list of apps.

  1. Hover over the needed calendar in the calendar list at the left-hand part of the screen, click the drop-down arrow that appears to the right of the calendar name, and then click Calendar settings.

This will open the Calendar details page.

  1. If your google calendar is public, then click the green ICAL icon next to Calendar Address. If it is private, click the ICAL button next to the calendar’s Private Address.
  2. Copy the calendar’s URL. Now you can paste this URL into any other application that supports the iCal format (.ics) and access your Google calendar from there.

Synchronizing with Outlook 2010 and 2013

Method 1:

  1. Open your Outlook and switch to Calendar > Manage Calendars ribbon group.
  2. Click Open Calendar button and choose “From Internet…” from the drop down list.
  3. Paste your Google calendar’s URL and click OK.

Method 2:

  1. On the File tab, select Account Settings twice.
  2. Switch to the Internet Calendars tab and click the New… button.
  3. Press Ctrl + V to past the Google calendar’s URL, and then click the Add button.
  4. Click Close to close the Accounting Settings dialog.
  5. In the Subscriptions Option dialog box, type the folder name for the imported calendar and make sure the Update Limit checkbox is selected. If you want to transfer the attachments within your Google Calendar events, select the corresponding option too and then click OK.

That’s it! Your Google calendar has been added to Outlook and you can see it under “Other Calendars“.

Note! Remember that the Google Calendar imported in this way is read-only, the lock icon is displayed in the lower right hand corner of all imported Google Calendar’s events, meaning they are locked for editing. Changes made in Outlook are not synced with your Google Calendar. If you want to send the changes back to Google Calendar, you need to export your Outlook Calendar.

Calendar Sync / Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook

Updated on 1-Aug-2014.

Google officially announced “Google Sync End of Life“, including the Google Calendar Sync, last year. And on 1 August 2014, our good old Google Calendar Sync has finally come to an end, alas.

Initially, this section contained a backup download link for Google Calendar Sync and instructions on how to make it work with new versions of Outlook 2010 and 2013. But since all that stuff is of no use any longer, we have removed it.

I’m explaining this so that you won’t be confused if you come across mentioning of that magic link in early comments to this post. Even if you find it somewhere else, it would be of no avail because Google Calendar Sync has stopped functioning altogether.

So, what alternative does Google offer to us now? I guess everyone already knows – Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook plug-in. This new sync app supports all versions of Outlook 2003, 2007, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013 and automatically syncs e-mail, contacts and calendars between Outlook and Google apps servers. It can also simultaneously copy data from a company’s Exchange servers.

A fly in the ointment is that Google Apps Sync is available only for paid accounts as well as for Google Apps for Business, Education, and Government users. If you are one of those lucky customers, you may find the following resources helpful:

Download Google Apps Sync for Outlook – on this page you can find the latest version of Google Apps Sync and watch an introductory video that will help you quickly get started with this plug-in.

Work with your Google Calendar in Outlook – detailed guidance on how to set up and use Google Apps Sync with Outlook 2013 – 2003.

Free tools and services to sync Google Calendar with Outlook

In this section, we are going to look into some free tools and services and see what benefits they provide.

gSyncit – free add-in to sync Outlook calendars, contacts, notes and tasks with Google

gSyncit is an add-in for Microsoft Outlook purposed for syncing calendars (as well as contacts, notes and tasks) between Outlook and Google. It also supports synchronization with Evernote, Dropbox and some other accounts.

An advantage of this tool compared with the sync method that we’ve just discussed is that you are free to edit Google calendar events imported in the Outlook calendar.

The gSyncit tool has a free and paid version. Both versions allow 1-way and 2-way syncing of calendars, tasks, contacts and notes. The main limitation of the free version is that it allows syncing with only one calendar and displays a pop-up window on Outlook start making you wait for 15 seconds. Apart from that, this is a nice tool, intuitive and easy to configure.

How to configure Outlook and Google calendar syncing with gSyncit

  1. You start by clicking the Settings button on the gSyncit tab on the Outlook ribbon.
  2. In the Settings window, choose what items to sync on the left pane and then click the New button.
  3. After that you create a new mapping by specifying 3 essential things:
  4. For additional options, switch to the Sync Options tab and check the options you want. For the 2-way syncing, select both “Sync Outlook to Google” and “Sync Google to Outlook“:
  • Click the Verify Account button to enter your credentials and verify your Google account.
  • Click Select Calendar… under Google Calendar section to get the calendar URL.
  • And finally, click Select Calendar… under Outlook Calendar section to choose the Outlook calendar you want to sync with. It may be something like “\\personal folder\calendar” or “\\account_name \calendar”.

Of course, there are a handful of additional options on other tabs, but in most cases the settings on the Sync Options tab absolutely suffice.

  1. Now you only need to click OK to save a new mapping that will link your Outlook and Google calendars together.

Once a new mapping is created, you simply click the appropriate button on the ribbon and your Google calendar will get synced with Outlook straight away.

If you’d rather have automatic syncing, head over to the Applications Setting tab > Sync Options and configure your preferred synchronization intervals. You can also enable automatic syncing when Outlook starts or exists:

If you want advanced options, the following ones may come in handy:

  • Synchronize all appointments or within a specified time range only (Sync Range tab).
  • Sync Outlook appointments from certain categories only (Categories tab).
  • Remove duplicate appointments (Sync Options tab).

Summing up, if you are an active user of both calendars, gSyncit is definitely worth your attention as a tool to automate Outlook and Google calendar syncing.

gSyncit Pros: easy-to-configure, allows 2-way syncing of calendars, tasks and contacts; additional options such as pre-configured automatic syncing, removing duplicate items etc.

gSyncit Cons (free version): displays a pop-up window on Outlook start preventing Outlook usage for 15 seconds, supports syncing with one Outlook calendar only.

SynqYa – free web service to synchronize calendars and files

You may consider using this free service as an alternative way to handle your Google and Outlook calendar synchronization. A really nice feature is that it allows two-way syncing, i.e. from Google to Outlook and in the reverse direction. Synchronizing between Google and iPhone is also supported, which adds one more argument in favor of SynqYa.

The sync process is pretty straightforward and requires just two steps:

  • Sign up for a free synqYa account.
  • Authorize access to your Google calendar.

Wrapping up, this service seems to be a decent alternative if you don’t have the admin rights on your computer, or if you are reluctant to install any Outlook add-ins, or if your company has a strict policy with regard to installing third-party software in general and free tools in particular.

SynqYa Pros: no client software, no installation (admin rights are not required), syncs Outlook, Apple iCal and other calendar software with Google Calendar.

SynqYa Cons: more difficult to configure (based on our blog readers feedback); syncs with one calendar only; no option to check for duplicates, meaning if you have the same appointments in Outlook and Google, you will have these entries in double after syncing.

Calendar Sync for Outlook and Google Calendar is one more free tool that may work a treat (thanks Sam for contributing!).

Paid tools to sync Outlook and Google calendars

Added on 1-Aug-2014.

Originally, I did not plan to include any commercial tools in this article. But now that the former top player (Google Calendar Sync) is out of the game, it probably makes sense to review some paid tools as well, given that our readers have already started discussing such tools in comments and how they compare to each other.

Below you will find a quick overview of the syncing tool that I tried personally and liked. I will probably add some more tools in the future if you find this info useful.


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8 Signs Your PC Might Be A Zombie


Zombies are making a killing on TV (The Walking Dead), in movies (World War Z), and in books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). There’s even a zombie game/fitness app, Zombies, Run!

But zombies aren’t so entertaining if your computer becomes one.

In PC terms, a zombie is a computer that’s been taken over without the owner’s consent by a third party (or group of people). Once your computer is among the living dead, it often becomes part of a ‘botnet,’ or a network of other zombie computers. Rogue hackers control botnets to perform orchestrated denial of service (DOS) attacks and to widely spread email spam and malware, among other misdeeds.

Botnet attacks have been around for a long time but are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. So far this year, there have been several high-profile cases that illustrate the power of botnets. Through the global ‘Pony’ botnet attack, for instance, criminals stole about $220,000 in bitcoins and other digital currencies. And a large botnet recently infected Internet-connected home appliances —including refrigerators!—to send out more than 750,000 malicious emails.

Here’s the really scary part: Your computer could be part of a botnet, and you might not even be aware of it. And if your PC doesn’t have at the minimum, an antivirus and two-way firewall, you’ve just increased the chance that your PC could be a zombie. Here are 8 signs your computer might be a zombie, and what you can do to bring it back to the land of the living.

8 Signs Your PC Might Be a Zombie
1. Your computer’s performance is noticeably slower, even when you don’t have many applications open. Criminals want your computer to carry out illegal actions, and those actions require the use of your computer’s processor and network. So if your computer and/or your Internet connection speed have become sluggish, it may be because of a zombie.

2. You receive unexplained error messages.

3. Your computer crashes frequently.

4. You discover messages in your outgoing email folder that you didn’t send. A tip-off might be if you receive bounce-back notifications from people you don’t know or haven’t emailed.

5. It takes your computer longer to shut down and start up.

6. You discover an unexpected loss of hard disk (or flash storage) space.

7. Your Web browser frequently closes for no obvious reason.

8. Your access to computer security websites is blocked.

How to ‘Kill’ a Computer Zombie
If your PC has become a zombie, there may be ways to resurrect it.

• Update your antivirus and/or anti-spyware software and scan your computer’s hard drive to find and remove the malware. Keep in mind some types of malware will prevent your antivirus software from running. In that event, download additional antivirus software and try to run each one until you find a program that will get past the zombie’s self-defenses.

• Often, zombie/bot malware hides from security software scanners by installing a rootkit. A rootkit is a stealth piece of software that’s usually malicious. There are free rootkit detection software programs you can download.

• Set your computer’s personal firewall to its maximum-security level. This will require applications seeking access to the Internet to notify you, enabling you to track all incoming as well as outgoing traffic. In turn, this can help you identify repeated requests from the same application to access just a few destinations—a telltale sign the application is a zombie.

• If that’s the case, do a search of the application’s name to see if others have identified it as malware. Try to create a list of all files associated with the suspicious application and where they’re located on your storage drive. Remove the application and any related files immediately and restart your computer. You may have to do this several times, because one piece of malware may have several variants on the same computer.

• You’re not going to like this one, but here goes: If you’ve discovered your computer is a zombie and want to make sure you’re completely zombie-free, you should completely wipe the hard drive or flash drive and reinstall the operating system and applications. Make sure your important files are backed up first, of course.

• Once you’ve restored your computer’s storage drive, applications, and documents, run your security software again just to make sure nothing is amiss.

Better Safe Than Zombified
If your computer has become a zombie, it’s probably because you clicked on a malicious file attachment or installed an application you weren’t 100 percent sure about.

To reduce the risk of your computer being compromised again, keep your security software running and updated and your personal firewall at maximum level. Check emails with file attachments closely; you can often tell that the sender didn’t actually email it to you by the stilted language, improper spelling, or other signs. Delete spam email messages without opening them. Don’t download applications if you have any concerns about their safety.

If you take these preventative steps, you can spend less time worrying about your computer and more time watching The Walking Dead. That’s the kind of zombie we like.

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To Xfinity WiFi we’re all hotspots, but you don’t have to be

Everything we’re told about digital security says that you should never let strangers roam your network without your permission. But if you’re a Comcast customer, that’s exactly what will happen as the company’s Xfinity WiFi service rolls out. Fortunately, there’s a way to bar the door.

With Xfinity WiFi, we’re all hotspots now

14102019444 70917d2f16 o Mike Mozart via Flickr
Comcast says it’ll give plenty of notice before your modem is Xfinity-WiFi-enabled.

If you live in a major metropolitan area in the East Coast or in the Midwest, chances are Xfinity WiFi’s already operating in your area. The service takes advantage of the dual-band (2.5GHz/5GHz) Xfinity Wireless Gateway 2 modem (model DPC3939) it’s been distributing to customers for the past year. (Other modems Comcast uses also have the capability.) Comcast reserves one band and antenna for your own use, and one to serve as a public Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot.

There’s an easy way to tell whether the public hotspot’s enabled on your modem: You should see an “xfinitywifi” public SSID broadcast from your own router. To access it, users will need a Comcast Xfinity login and password.

Comcast has already installed 1 million Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the nation, with plans to reach 8 million by the end of the year. Target metropolitan areas include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C., Comcast says.

xfinity login
All you’ll need to log in to Xfinity Wi-Fi is your Xfinity login and password.

Comcast customers at the “Performance” (25-Mbps) tier or above will be able to surf on any public Xfinity WiFi hotspot for an unlimited amount of time, for free. (If you’re a Comcast customer at a slower tier, or not a customer at all, you can try it free for two one-hour sessions, according to a Comcast spokesperson.)

To ensure your bandwidth isn’t monopolized, only five people will be able to sign onto an Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot at one time, the spokesperson added.

Is sharing safe?

The security questions are more difficult question to answer. According to Comcast, if someone logs on and begins downloading pornography, for example, such actions will be linked to that person’s account. You won’t be liable, the spokesman said.

But whether that person will be able to access other devices on your network, including your hard drive, is a separate question. And Comcast’s response isn’t reassuring.

Comcast encourages users to set strong passwords, and it supplies antivirus software to its customers. If the company does detect an unusual amount or source of traffic, such as a customer who may have been infected by a virus and turned into a zombie, or ‘bot,” that customer will be notified.

That doesn’t answer the question of whether an elderly customer blissfully surfing away on an unprotected PC will be unduly exposed by Xfinity WiFi. Comcast recommends that customers use antivirus protection plus a firewall and take advantage of its gateway’s 128-bit WPA and WPA2 encryption. “If a consumer doesn’t put the in the necessary precautions, to at least take some of these steps, they’re not doing everything they can to protect their account,” the spokesman said.

xfinity wireless gateway
The Xfinity wireless gateway.

Comcast says that users should have been notified of their router’s evolution into an Xfinity hotspot via email, mailers, and even a press release. If you don’t want Xfinity WiFi, however, you have to opt out. Here’s the process, as noted by Dwight Silverman:

  •  Log into your Comcast account page at
  • Click on Users & Preferences.
  • Look for a heading on the page for “Service Address.” Below your address, click the link that reads “Manage Xfinity WiFi.”
  • Click the button for “Disable Xfinity Wifi Home Hotspot.”
  • Click Save.

You can also call Comcast and ask that they put the modem into “bridge mode.”

The answer: buy an approved third-party router

The easiest way, of course, is to simply ditch Comcast’s modem entirely. PCWorld contributor Eric Geier gets into the nuts and bolts. To its credit, Comcast makes the process simple from its end as well.

First, check Comcast’s site to see whether your existing cable modem is expiring, as Comcast may not tell you. An older modem may be hobbling your premium-broadband service. Proceed to Comcast’s dedicated site to buy a new cable modem. (Cox has its own list of compatible modems, as does Time Warner Cable.)

On the Comcast site, you’ll find prices as low as $70 (new from Amazon) for the Arris/Motorola SB6121 bare-bones modem. (On the low end, of course, you’ll need to supply a separate router.) Have a look at the specs, too: the SB6121 can transfer 172 Mbits/s down and upload up to 131 Mbits/s. That’s more than enough for most small families, especially if your service is only rated at, say, 16 Mbits/s. But if you’re thinking of upgrading to the Extreme 150 tier, for example, that might be pushing it a bit. The $90 Arris SB6141 downloads up to 343 Mbits/s at a time.

arris motorola surfboard sb6141 box shot
One great alternative to the Comcast Xfinity gateway is this simple, inexpensive cable modem from Arris and Motorola.

You can also pay more, if you wish, to buy a true gateway with integrated router capabilities, including the most recent 802.11ac technology for higher-bandwidth wireless streaming and MoCA capability for using your existing coax runs as wired networking cables.

It’s fairly certain the third-party gateways on the Comcast site won’t suddenly sprout Xfinity WiFi capabilities. Simply buy Comcast’s low-end recommended modem and attach your own router to it—either one you already own, or a new model.

The most annoying part of the process may be returning your existing router, and phoning in your new router’s MAC address to ensure it can be identified by your cable provider.

Eventually, of course, any new cable modem you purchase will itself become obsolete. That doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon, however. Last Halloween, CableLabs released the specifications for DOCSIS 3.1, which sets the stage for whopping 10-Gbit/s connections. As Light Reading notes, end-to-end deployment trials will likely begin in 2016. And most cable operators are thinking of DOCSIS 3.1 in the context of a world where video is passed entirely over IP streams, which may be far in the future.

So far, Comcast hasn’t given any indication that it will penalize users for not adopting its Xfinity WiFi router. In other words, you can opt out of supplying a public WiFi hotspot, and still take advantage of other Xfinity hotspots in airports and elsewhere. (Or Starbucks, for that matter.) And with 4G cellular plans becoming cheaper, there’s always the option of tethering to your phone, too.



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Simple mouse and keyboard tricks for efficient file management

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: keyboard shortcuts will set you free.

Yes, they’re a pain to learn, and many of us are used to sticking with a mouse. Nevertheless, being familiar with even a handful of shortcuts will help you get around your system faster—plus it has the added benefit of making you feel like a power user.

Even if you’re a tried and true mouse-only user, I’ve got one old—yet little known—trick for you too. All of today’s shortcuts center around file management with File Explorer/Windows Explorer and will work with Windows 7 and up.

Alt-ernative keyboard shortcuts

These shortcuts only work once you’ve been navigating for a while in an open File Explorer window.

Navigate File Explorer quickly with the Alt and arrow keys.

Going up one folder level

Let’s say you are looking at a group of folders such as Documents>Vacation Plans>2014>Summer. But now you need to get back up to the Vacation Plans folder, which is two levels up from where you are now.

Instead of clicking through with your mouse, you could just press Alt-Up Arrow (hitting the up arrow twice) to take you back to view the contents of the Vacation Plans folder.

  • Alt-Up Arrow: Move up the file tree by one level.

Back and forth

Now, let’s say you changed your mind and want to go back inside the 2014 folder. Just hit Alt-Left Arrow, which is just like hitting the back button in File Explorer. And that means, you guessed it, hitting Alt+Right Arrow is just like clicking the forward arrow in File Explorer.

  • Alt-Left Arrow: Go back.
  • Alt-Right Arrow: Go forward again.

Right-click hat trick


Your mouse also has a right-click trick to help you copy, move, and create new shortcuts for files. This trick works in Windows XP and up.

Let’s say you want to copy a file from the Desktop and move it to OneDrive. The standard way to do this is to right-click the file on the Desktop, select copy, open OneDrive, right-click again and select paste.

That’s an awful lot of steps so try this instead: Right-click the file on the desktop and drag it into OneDrive. Then release your mouse and a new contextual menu pops up with options to copy, move, or create a shortcut to your file in OneDrive. Select the option you want (in this case copy) and you’re all done.

Much faster.

These are pretty minor tricks, but learning them will make you just that little bit more efficient on the desktop.


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