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Saturday, January 11, 2014

1441. Remote Controlled Thermostats

I have a remote facility for my business that I only need to go into occasionally. When I do go in, it’s either broiling hot (in the summer) or freezing cold (in the winter), because I just don’t want to run the A/C or heat continuously. There must be some way I can control the HVAC system remotely, so I can turn it on before I get there? And to be honest, I’d love something like this in my home as well. Any suggestions?
As long as you have a WiFi/Internet connection available at the facility, you have a number of options. Ken has personally used two different solutions: One for his business, and one for his home. For home use, you cannot beat the Nest thermostat ( This amazing device connects to the Internet, and allows you to control it remotely using an app on your phone or tablet (or via a Web site that you can visit from any computer). It also has a special trick up its sleeve: Not only can you program its behavior so that it goes on and off at particular times of the day on particulars days of the week, but you can set it to learn your family’s schedule, so you don’t need to program it. It includes sensors that can determine when you’re home, when you’re asleep, and so on, so that it can react to your motion and program itself for you. If your daily schedule is erratic, like Ken’s is, you can change it manually as well, either from home or from away. It’s an incredible device, but it doesn’t come cheap. (And it’s important to note that Nest was recently purchased by Google—it’s unclear what that means for the company, but it’s hard to believe that even Google could ruin this wildly popular device.) The Nest thermostat works with most home HVAC systems, but check out their site for specific details on determining if it will work with yours.
If you don’t want to spend the cash for the Nest thermostat, or if you’re working with a business location, you might be better served to find one of the less-expensive options. These thermostats aren’t as pretty as the Nest, and they don’t learn on their own, but they work just fine. You can easily control them remotely, as long as your installation site includes a Wi-Fi connection.

Ken uses a Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat (you can find all their devices here: Although Honeywell makes several Wi-Fi-enabled models, the least expensive one is the RTH6580WF model, which works just fine. Ken has been using this model for a few months, and it has saved a ton of trips into town just to turn on the heat before someone needs to use the facility—instead, he can turn on the heat from wherever he is, using the Honeywell app for his iPhone. This thermostat works with most HVAC systems, but you should check on the Honeywell site for more specifics before purchasing the unit.  This thermostat costs half as much as the Nest, and it works, for the most part, just as well. Give it a try, if you need to control your temperature remotely.

1440. Laptop Battery Maintenance

Tom asks: I use my laptop plugged in all the time. Do I need to run it off the battery occasionally to keep it in good shape?

The answer is it depends.  Doug and I had different opinions on this so we went and did some research online. And came up with an answer that we both agree with.

The answer is for most modern laptops with modern technology keeping them plugged in all the time on its own isn't the problem. The problem is that heat is bad for batteries. So if your laptop gets warm as it's plugged in and the battery gets hot you are probably lessening the life of your laptop's battery and you want to do something to keep it cooler.

There are products out there to put fans underneath, raise it or whatever you can do to keep it cooler.  That extends it's life.

In addition lithium-ion batteries, the ones that most laptops use these days, don't like to be run down to zero. If you tend to use your laptop so it runs down so the battery is dead you're probably not doing your battery a good service in that usage. 

You're better off letting it get pretty low and then recharging it. There is something to be said for cycling through your batteries range of power but keeping it cool and not running it down to zero are probably one of the best things you can do for your battery - at least with the current technology.

1439. Add Gmail Notifications

Mark asks: I use the Gmail web client, and I'd love some sort of notification when a new email arrives. Is there any way to add that functionality?

Pretty much every mail client like Outlook and Mac Mail provides the ability to display a notification on the screen when a new email arrives.

In a web browser however that doesn't come automatically. Gmail makes it easy though, so if you want to read your Gmail account in the web browser window there's a setting on the general page that allows you to turn on notifications. Then when you receive an e-mail even if the browser window is minimized you'll see a notification on the screen telling you that a new e-mail has arrived.

 if you're using a mail client and the web browser the same time you probably don't want notifications from both because double notification for each email may become irritating.  

On the other hand if you are only using the browser this is a very useful tool.

1438. Rebuilding Mac Mail Indexes

I find that my Gmail account in the Mac Mail app on Mac OS X Mavericks is misbehaving. Unread message counts are wrong, and it's just acting weird. Is there anything I can do?

This has been driving me crazy since I first installed OS 10. Mavericks.  I've a bunch of Gmail accounts and none of them were working right in the Mac Mail app.

Apple is updated their Mac Mail app a couple times since Mavericks first released and to be honest it's still not working all that well for me. I've tried other mail applications on the Mac and none of them is as good as the Mac Mail app.

As far as I'm concerned they maybe prettier they maybe fancier but they just don't work is well for me.  So I'm trying to make Mac Mail work.  One trick I found online is  to rebuild the mailbox. That is select the mailbox from the list on the left and then in the mailbox menu there is an option to  rebuild mailbox that seems to work for me at least for awhile.

So give that a try to see if Mac Mail with Gmail doesn't work better.

1437. Searching in iOS 7

I recently upgraded to iOS7, and I can’t figure out how to search for stuff. I used to be able to go to the Home page and swipe to the left, and then type in what I was looking for. This no longer works. How am I supposed to search for an app, or text, if I can’t do this?

Ken admitted to being an app junkie, and he has far too many apps on his iPhone and iPad—he too was surprised to find, when he first installed iOS7, that he was unable to search for apps. (And that meant, of course, that he simply couldn’t find many of his apps.) As with many other technical situations, the trick to knowing how to search in iOS7 is in knowing the trick (and that’s purposefully circular logic). The new search technique is certainly not “findable”—you just have to know how to do it. Actually, searching in iOS7 is actually simpler than in previous versions, because you don’t have to first navigate to the home page. Instead, you can invoke the search functionality from any page of apps—simply swipe down somewhere besides the very top of any page. (If you swipe down from the very top, you’ll invoke the Notification Center, not the search functionality). Once you find the search functionality, you can search for apps, or text, or calendar entries, or email, or whatever you like. You can control what you search for, and the order in which iOS7 presents the matching items to you, by modifying the search settings (go to Settings, General, Spotlight Search).

1436. Sharing Audio Files Easily

I have a friend who is a composer and performer and would like to be able to share her tracks publicly. Is there an easy way for her to promote her own music online, and let her friends hear what she has created?

There are a ton of good sites where you can share your music online but my current favorite is one called Soundcloud.  Soundcloud allows you to upload your tunes and then distribute them to your friends, publicly or privately.

It's not meant for the illegal sharing of copyrighted music however but it does work great for your own music that you've created and you would like others to hear. 

Checkout Soundcloud it's a great way to hear new music and to promote your own music as well.

1442. Can I Trust Online Reviews?

I often find myself trying to decide between a number of different products, and being a smart shopper, I do my online research. I find lots of reviews on and other retail sites, and wonder if I can really trust the reviews. How do I know that people aren’t paid to provide reviews? Where can I go to find unbiased opinions?
Funny you should ask about unbiased reviews. Ken recently heard a news story about Yelp (a site that provides reviews and information about businesses). It turns out that there are accusations that Yelp has been treating business that pay Yelp for advertising differently than those that don’t. There seems to be proof that for advertisers, Yelp removes negative reviews and promotes the best reviews to the top of the list of reviews. For non-advertisers, Yelp seems to be removing positive reviews, and promoting negative reviews, as a means of “strong-arming” businesses into paying for advertising. If it’s true, it’s a horrible proof of the fact that you can’t believe anything you read online; if false, it simply reiterates the concept that you can’t believe what you read online (in other words, either way, it seems like you need to be skeptical about everything you read online).
So where can you turn? Are the reviews on Amazon unbiased? (We tend to take positive reviews with a grain of salt, figuring that reviewers got free stuff in trade for good reviews. Bad reviews on Amazon are slightly more informative, but not completely trustworthy either.) Probably not. Recently Doug uncovered a means of finding a self-moderated source of unbiased reviews. This won’t work for every product, but it turns out that many products receive their support via online forums. On these support forums, customers can post questions; other customers generally provide the answers to the questions. You would be amazed at how much information about the use of a product you’ll find on online support forums!
For example, imagine that you’re trying to decide whether to purchase a Samsung TV. Searching online, it’s nearly impossible to find reviews you can trust. On the other hand, check out the support forums here: It might take some digging, but you’ll find all sorts of comments if you have the patience to read through the messages. For your own searches, look online for the product, plus the words “Support Forum”.
We have two other suggestions: First, many product manufacturers provide Twitter feeds that they use for support. You may find it useful to follow the Twitter feed of the manufacturer of the product you’re researching, to see what people are asking about it. In addition, Ken swears by the product review site The folks who run the site do amazing research on consumer and electronics products. Very highly recommended!

Most importantly, always treat any online reviews with some amount of skepticism. Do the research, and you’ll end up making more informed purchases.  

1443. Windows XP Support Ending: Run Fast

Rumor has it that Microsoft is ending (or has ended) support for Windows XP. What’s up with that? Do I need to do anything about it?
Yes, it’s true. After 11 years (eons, in computer terms), Microsoft is finally “pulling the plug” on Windows XP. If you’re running Windows XP on any computer, you should pay attention: After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer provide updates or technical support for Windows XP. That’s it. The end.
Microsoft, of course, wants you to upgrade to a new computer running Windows 8.1, and for many people running Windows XP, that’s probably a good idea—if you’re using a computer you purchased when Windows XP was new, it’s likely 8 to 11 years old, and you’ll be amazed at how much faster and smoother computers run in the 21st century. Another option is to use the same computer, but attempt to upgrade it to Windows 7. (Buying a new copy of Windows 7 at this point might be tricky, and expensive. If you’re currently running Windows XP, it’s not guaranteed that your existing computer will run Windows 7 adequately, and less likely that it will run Windows 8.1. Upgrading to a new computer may be the only option, if your computer is quite old.)
Microsoft has this to say about the end of service: If you continue to use Windows XP after support ends, your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. Also, as more software and hardware manufacturers continue to optimize for more recent versions of Windows, you can expect to encounter greater numbers of apps and devices that do not work with Windows XP. In other words, they ain’t gonna help you, and no one else is, either.
The biggest issue is one of security: New malware gets released daily, and without support for updates to your anti-virus software, you’re more and more likely to “catch something” as you use the computer on the Internet. It’s also highly unlikely that any new device you purchase (a printer, for example) will include support for Windows XP.

For more information from Microsoft, visit one of these links:, or (Note that support for Office 2003 is also ending at the same time—if you’re using that very elderly version of Microsoft Office, it’s probably time to think about upgrading, as well.) Upgrading Windows and/or Office requires some level of expertise, and you may want to enlist some help from a knowledgeable expert or software/hardware consultant.

1444. My Windows Taskbar is Missing

One day, my Windows Taskbar simply disappeared. No icons, no Start button, nothing. I can’t figure out where it has gone. How can I get it back?
First of all, please note that although the task bar normally appears at the bottom of the screen, it’s possible that you have moved your Windows Taskbar to another edge of your screen. It may seem obvious, but look at all four edges of the screen before you give up. It’s really easy to inadvertently drag the Taskbar to an edge other than the bottom—all you have to do is click and drag on the Taskbar, and it happily obliges by moving to the edge you drag it to. (If you want to disable this behavior, right-click on the Taskbar and select “Lock Taskbar” or “Lock All Taskbars” in Windows 8). If you have dragged the Taskbar to the wrong edge, you can simply drag it back down to the bottom.
But, our gut feel is that this isn’t your problem, and that you’re really not seeing a Taskbar at all. The next step is to determine if you have enabled auto-hiding for the Taskbar. If so, it retracts into the edge of the screen whenever you’re not using it. Try pressing Ctrl+Esc (that is, the Control key and the Escape key at the same time)—this should display the Taskbar, even if you have turned on its Auto-hide behavior. (You can also simply press the Windows key on your keyboard, if you have this key available.) If this keystroke displays the Taskbar, right-click on it, select Properties, and then uncheck the “Auto-hide the taskbar” option. You can find many online articles on this topic (clearly, it happens to a lot of people); we found this one useful:
If all these suggestions don’t help, you may need to seek professional computer help to either reset Windows or reinstall—hopefully, that won’t be required!

1445. Keep Apps from Running Automatically on Mac Reboot

Someone at Apple thought it was a good idea to have all the apps that were running when I shut down my Mac again run when I restart it. I guess if you crash and if you need to restart immediately that's helpful but it makes me nuts. Is there someway to make that not happen.

When you do a normal shutdown a dialog box will open you will see a check box next to the "Reopen windows when logging back in.".   Un-check this.  Now when your system boots up none of the extra open windows will be reopened.  Only the programs in your start list will be opened.

The steps may be different for the specific OS level you are running and we have seen problems with this technique if you have OS 10.9 Mavericks.

Here is the link for a complete description of how to do this using a Terminal Command. 

The Terminal Command is  Defaults write -g ApplePersistence -bool no 

To reverse this use Defaults write -g ApplePersistence -bool yes

1446. Clearing Web Browser Toolbar Clutter

I recently went to visit a friend and noticed in her browser that she had like seventeen tool bars loaded and it took up most of the  browser window space. There are a couple of easy ways to solve this problem. Perhaps you can list them and help people out who can't even see the page to try to browse because of all the toolbars.

Ken I am sure you are exaggerating the fact that you couldn't see any of the web site content because of the toolbars, but you are right there can be many toolbar's that either all of a sudden they appear or they grow over time.

Sadly these are usually caused by Malware or what we are calling Fly-by-installs. That's when you only want to upgrade Java and after you do this you have a bunch of new unwanted programs installed and they take over the browser heading.

The easy way to remove a toolbar ius to right button click in the toolbar area and remove the check boxes next to the toolbar you want to remove.

If these toolbars are the unwanted ones, you cn remove them from you system by going into the options of your browser and look at the Toolbar, extensions, or manage add-ins section. The specifc way to do this varies based upon your browser.

You can also go to the Program and Features section of your Control panel and uninstall these Fly-by-Installs.

1447. Examining Two-Factor Verification

Recently, someone hacked my Gmail account, deleted all my email, and changed the password so I couldn’t log in. This has been a terrific hassle. The folks at Google helped me recover my account, but I lost all my emails and I don’t want this to happen again. What can I do?
We’re so sorry for your hassles, and wish the world wasn’t so full of bad people who want nothing more than to make your life miserable. Unfortunately, it is, there are, and they do. Obviously, using a strong password (made up of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and keyboard symbols, longer than 8 characters) will help a lot. Unfortunately, even a strong password can’t keep a dedicated hacker from getting into your account if they want to get in there.
The real problem comes when someone breaks into your email, and given that “golden key,” starts resetting passwords on your other accounts by sending password reset emails to your email account, which they now own. This is what’s really scary: Lose your email access, and you can lose everything. Clearly, it’s imperative that your email account is as well protected as possible. If we can make one suggestion louder than any other, this is it: Use a strong password for your email account that you use for no other account. That way, should someone find out your Target password (for example), they couldn’t use that to hack your email.
The fact is, however, that all passwords are breakable. No matter how strong a password you use, it’s possible that a dedicated hacker will figure it out, using a computer to generate millions of passwords per minute until they break into your account. In order to be completely secure, you need something more than just a password: This is where two-factor authentication steps in.
Think of it this way: When you use just a password to protect a site, your protection is based solely on something you know (your password). If someone else finds or guesses that password, they also have the one thing that is required to access the site. If you could add something you have (that no one else has) to the mix, so that anyone accessing the site needed both “the thing you know” and “the thing you have” to access the site, just knowing your password wouldn’t be enough. Two-factor authentication provides this second level of security, by requiring you to specify both a password, and a randomly generated number that changes regularly, in order to get into a protected site.
The trick is, of course, getting that randomly generated number so that both you and the site know what it is, but no one else. You can find several different authenticators available, but most two-factor authentication relies on Google Authenticator, an app that runs on a mobile device that provides the regularly changing random number. You install Google Authenticator on your mobile device, tell it what site you’re trying to protect, and then, when you attempt to log into the site, you supply both your password and the number that Google Authenticator ( provides. You can cache your credentials for some sites, so that you only have to provide the two-factor authentication once a month, for example. There’s no doubt that using two-factor authentication is a lot more effort, but it’s totally worth it.
It’s important that you take an extra step: You must save the “I lost my mobile device but I still need to log in” emergency values that the authenticator provides, so that you won’t lock yourself out of your account, if you happen to lose your device. Don’t skip this step!

For a mostly up-to-date listing of all the sites that support two-factor authentication, check out this article: Here you’ll find useful documentation on two-factor authentication, and a list of many of the sites that support it, including Gmail (which is where this discussion all started). It’s well worth the hassles imposed by two-factor authentication to minimize the risks involved in using password authentication.