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Your Wireless Network

Is your wireless network password-protected? If it is, do you know the password?

Let’s discuss this.

If you have a wireless network in your house, you are able to access the internet on a network from your computer devices without having to plug them in to a modem. This gives you the freedom to work from different rooms and to have more than one device on the network at a time. Very convenient.

You can password-protect your network, and I recommend that you do so in order to control who can access it. With an unsecured network, you allow anyone in the neighborhood to join. This is not a good idea.

While you may fear that others on your network can “see” into your computer (this does not happen randomly; you have to designate files and folders to be shared), the more immediate issue is an ethical one: just as you pay for internet service to come to your house, your neighbors, too, should pay for their own service.

With a protected network, you need only enter your password once on each device; devices can remember the password. Thank goodness!

Here are some issues to consider about your password-protected network:

  • Unlike your other passwords, your wireless network password is one you will share with others. House guests may ask you for it so they can use their laptops, so be prepared to share it. Do not make this the same password as the ones you use for more personal accounts like email or bank access.
  • It is possible that your network is protected but you don’t know the password. (I run into this a lot). It seems that cable and DSL installers often enter a password into your device when they set up your system and fail to tell you what it is. They figure that your device will remember it so you’ll never need it. Right … until you get a new computer or have house guests. You may never unearth an unknown password, but you can reset your modem and create a new password.
  • If your network does not “reach” the whole house, you may consider purchasing a range extender. You plug this device into an outlet halfway between your modem and the “dead zone” and it picks up the signal from the modem and “sprays” it further into your house. If your network is called “mynetwork,” your extended network will be called “mynetwork_ext.” You should give the two networks the same password so your guests can easily access whichever network their device detects.

For those of you who recognize that some devices — smart phones and some tablets — can access the internet through 3G, you know you do not technically need a wireless network at all. However, you should be aware that

  • A good network connection can be faster than a 3G connection
  • Using 3G uses your data plan
  • Using 3G drains your battery at a faster rate than does a network connection
  • Some features work better (or only) through a network, i.e., Facetime downloading some apps, location services, etc.

Now you know.

Hacking vs. Spoofing

We all use the internet with a healthy amount of fear. Identity theft. Erroneous credit card charges. Scams. Viruses. Scary stuff.

How can you stay safe?

You are probably already doing what you can: your computer has an antivirus program, you download the updates, and you scan your computer regularly. Further, you do not respond to suspicious ads, you do not agree to send money to people you don’t know, nor do you randomly reveal personal information. Good start.

There is another thing that you can do on a regular basis: change your passwords.

(I know what you are thinking: “No, please not the passwords! Anything but the passwords. I can barely remember the ones I already have.”)

Ok. Maybe you don’t need to change all of your passwords right away. But let me give you an example of why you should at least know how to change your email password.

Ever receive an email from a friend you know didn’t send it? The message contained an ominous looking link, or the email’s content was for products you know your friend would not be soliciting. It’s called “spoofing.”

Spoofing is annoying. It may feel like an invasion of privacy, but in the world of internet invasions, it is relatively benign. It is not hacking.

Hacking is illegally getting your password and actively gaining access to — and possibly compromising — your accounts.

Spoofing is an automated “robot” picking up your email address and placing it in the “From” field of its own email. It enters some content, and sends the email to the addresses in your contact list. It is not actually targeting you personally.

That said, it is still uncomfortable.

If you suspect that your email account has been spoofed (you’ll know because you get an email from yourself, or fifty friends contact you about a strange email they got from you), check your “Sent” folder for emails that you didn’t send. If you see any, you should change your email password immediately. This will lock out the unauthorized “robot” and re-secure your account, at least for the time being.

Of course, if you change your email password on your computer, be sure that you change it on your smartphone and your tablet too.

I can’t tell you here how to change your email password — each email service handles it differently — but you can Google your service (AOL, Gmail, Comcast, Bellsouth, etc.) for directions. Nor can I tell you here how to change your passwords for other password-protected sites you frequent; each bank, store, and service has its own protocol.

Be vigilant about protecting your computers and your privacy. One way is to learn how to change your email password, in case you get spoofed.

What’s New?

We all know the frustration of purchasing a computer only to find that in short order it is obsolete. You can’t put a camera in the original iPad. You can’t make a touch-screen monitor out of a traditional monitor. But when it comes to software — the programs that your hardware runs — you can upgrade without buying new hardware. You just have to buy the new software.

Software can be divided into two categories: Programs and Operating Systems. Programs are Word, Sykpe, Excel, Picassa, Quicken, Internet Explorer, and Safari, to name a few. Operating Systems on Windows (in order of their release) are XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Operating Systems on a Mac (in order of their release) are Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion.

2012 will be a big year for Operating Systems: new systems with significant (and really cool!) features will be released for both Windows and Macs. Unless your system is really really old, you should not need to purchase new hardware to take advantage of these upgrades.

Here is an overview:

Windows 8

Windows 8 — likely to be released in October — represents the most significant change to the look and feel of the Windows operating environment in many years. Your programs will work the same as they do now, but the Start Screen and how you navigate to your programs and files will be more intuitive and more fun. Rather than a Start Button, your whole screen will be divided into customizable “tiles” so you can more readily see and access what is on your computer.

Windows 8 will work on desktops, laptops, and tablets that currently operate in the Windows environment. It will work with a mouse or a trackpad, but will also work beautifully with a touch screen monitor, if you choose to invest in one.

Windows 8 will also feature a picture password, a Windows Store from which you can purchase Apps, and a new version of Internet Explorer.

Mountain Lion for the Mac

Following the 2011 release of Lion, Apple is set to release Mountain Lion in late Summer. Mountain Lion will bring to the Mac desktop and laptop many of the features Apple has already made popular on the iPhone and iPad: messages, reminders, notes, the notification center, and the game center. And of course, all of these new features in Mountain Lion will be in full sync with your other Apple devices through iCloud.

As neither Windows 8 nor Mountain Lion has been released yet, there are still unanswered questions.

  • ¬†How much will each cost?
  • If I don’t currently have the latest operating system, will I be able to “skip” a generation or will I need to upgrade to the current one first?
  • Will the programs I currently use work in the new operating system?
  • If I’m happy with my system or just don’t want to bother, do I need to upgrade at all?

All good questions.

As more information is available, I’ll be better able to address your concerns and help you decide what is right for you.

Much has already been written about the new releases, however, and there are video demos of both available online. If you are interested, Google the one(s) that interest you and learn what there is to know so far.

Should be an exciting year.

Where’s My User’s Manual?

If you have bought a new computer device lately, you have no doubt noticed that something is missing: the User Manual.

What you’d probably like is a book that thanks you for purchasing your device, tells you that it is easy to use, assures you that you will love it, and finally illustrates everything you need to know in clear detail.

Stop looking. You won’t find it. But a manual is not completely missing either. User Manuals (also called User Guides) are now in electronic form. How ironic! If you can find it and use it, you probably don’t need it. Ugh.

Irony or not, you may as well understand where your User Manual is. Here are some possibilities:

In the Device Itself

  • On some Windows computers, the User Manual is in the “Help and Support” area that is accessible from the Start Button. The whole manual, just as you would expect to see it in book form, is a searchable, scrollable, and printable document in your computer.
  • In the iPhone and iPad devices, the User Guide is already installed: Click the “Home” button, then “Safari,” then the bookmark icon, then “iPhone/iPad User Guide.” This a not a document, but a tappable and visual listing of all of the features and how to use them. It is quite informative.
  • In the newer Mac computers, there are some settings in the “System Preferences” area that will visually demonstrate what the different settings mean. Check out the “trackpad” settings for a good example.

On a Disc that came with your Device

  • Some devices with a cd-rom drive come with a disc that contains the User Manual. The advantage of this separate disc is that a lengthy manual does not take space on your hard drive. The disadvantage is that you do not have the information with you unless you have the disc. If you find that you refer to the Manual often, you can choose to copy the file from the cd onto your hard drive.

On the Internet

  • The internet is where you look up most information these days; why not look up information about your computer as well?
  • Contained in the brief documentation that might come with your device is a website address where you can find the rest of the useful information about your purchase.
  • If there is no such reference, or you no longer have the documentation, you can do a Google search for it. Be sure to enter the make and model of the device and include the words “User Manual” (or “Guide”) in the search field. To search for the answer to a specific question, rather than access an entire User Manual, just narrow your search to include only the topic that interests you.

For those of you who would still prefer to have a tangible book, you are not completely out of luck. Books do exist for some machines (smart phones, tablets, some computers); you can find them in the Computer section of a local book store or on the internet. One company understands your frustration; its series of computer books is called the “Missing Manual.”