GEEK FREE

AI PC: Hype or Real Benefit

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By Joe Callison
20 May, 2024

AI PC: Hype or Real Benefit

There is a lot of buzz about artificial intelligence (AI) and new AI personal computers being introduced in 2024. A resurgence in new PC sales is expected this year with the promise of upcoming AI features throughout the industry in both hardware and software. Microsoft will undoubtedly go big on AI at the Microsoft Build 2024 event held on May 21 through 23. Continue reading →

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Alternatives to 3rd-Party PC Utilities

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By Joe Callison
13 February, 2024

Alternatives to 3rd-Party PC Utilities

I (and Microsoft) have never recommended using any of the many utility programs offered in advertisements and popups to boost, clean up, optimize, update, or fix drivers, etc. for your PC. I found them unnecessary for the most part and potentially dangerous to use. They are also the favorite types of programs produced by malware creators. The operating system already provides the ability to do any of the useful functions needed if you take the time to learn how to find and use them. Granted, that is not as convenient as a program that simplifies the tasks or even does them automatically for you. If you want this convenience, it is now available from a more trustworthy source. Microsoft has added a couple of new apps to the Microsoft Store that were originally developed for non-USA markets:

Microsoft PC Manager

This app gathers several of the built-in tools and apps available in Windows in one app to simplify the user experience. It was originally developed to be an alternative to products like CCleaner. An article detailing information on the app is:

Microsoft’s PC Manager app is now widely available to free up your system resources

Microsoft PC Cleaner

This app is also an alternative to CCleaner but more targeted to perform the file and app cleaning tasks to speed up your PC. I did not find it available on the Microsoft Store yet as of today. Information on what it includes can be found at:

Microsoft’s official PC Cleaner app is now on the Microsoft Store – and makes big promises about speeding up your PC for free | TechRadar

If you want the convenience of these types of apps, then they are the safer ones to choose.

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24 and AI

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By Joe Callison
22 January, 2024

24 and AI

It appears that 2024 will be the year that artificial intelligence (AI) goes mainstream. Microsoft is readying the planned 24H2 Windows 11 update for the debut of AI throughout the operating system for computer systems with neural processing units (NPU) in addition to the central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU). These new computer systems are beginning to be released now and by mid-year will probably be shipping with AI-enabled Windows 11 pre-installed on them. Upgrades to incorporate at least some AI in existing Windows 11 systems should be available in the fall with the release of 24H2. Microsoft is hinting at future requirements for full implementation of AI that may include a minimum of 16GB of RAM and neural processing capability of at least 40 trillion operations per second (TOPS). This level of performance will be available in new Intel Core Ultra and AMD 8000 Series processors that will show up in computers later this year, which is expected to boost sales of new computers.

AI-enabled computing can greatly speed up search, analysis, or generation of huge amounts of data. Concerns about results generated by AI include the quality, validity, or potential bias. This will be heavily dependent on how the AI model is built and trained by humans. Like many advancements in technology, it can be used for good or it can (and will) be used for evil.

I have done some experimenting with the ChatGPT and Bing Chat and have found it useful in research-type internet searches, and appreciate how it includes the references for the information presented. I framed some questions to test for bias or assumptions and did not find any evidence of it. Both sides of controversial issues were typically presented in the results. ChatGPT even responded that it is not programmed to make assumptions but only to use facts. It is still up to the user to evaluate the validity of the material presented. Just because the majority of articles in the databases searched state or reference something does not make it valid. Authors of articles tend to cite data or views they agree with and the quantity of references citing the same data or views can be biased by popular opinion more than facts. This may be a problem if people depend too heavily on AI for things such as medical self-diagnosis for example.

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Chromebook Automatic Update Support Improved

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By Joe Callison
31 October, 2023

Chromebook Automatic Update Support Improved

Chromebook share of the laptop market has averaged about 1 out of 8 of the laptops sold over the last 4 years, primarily because of use by elementary schools. The comparatively low initial purchase cost has been a major driver, even with the relatively short 5-year automatic software update support for new models. This seems to have been of little concern for many schools where students were allowed to take them home because they tended to wear them out by then and needed to be replaced anyway. Schools that can not afford to buy new ones every few years or others considering Chromebooks will be happy to know about Google’s recent announcement further increasing a previously planned support period of 8 years (in line with current Apple and Microsoft support) to an industry-leading 10 years support, beginning with models from 2021. This should be good news for senior citizens who may have been avoiding Chromebooks because of the short support period, especially if they were aware that bargain Chromebooks were being sold on Amazon with as little as 2 years of support left. Now even two or three-year-old models will have a more reasonable amount of support time left.

With the change in support, Chromebooks may be an attractive alternative to more expensive Windows or MacOS-based offerings. Chromebook models with screen sizes larger than 14 inches may be harder to find, but an external monitor or TV might also be usable with a USB-C to HDMI adapter if the Chromebook model supports video output through USB. For most senior computer users, a Chromebook should fulfill their computing needs quite well.

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Computer Services Ending or Beginning in July

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By Joe Callison
8 July 2023

Computer Services Ending or Beginning in July

IMPORTANT! If you have used Google Hangouts, Google +, Picassa, or other now unsupported Google features in the past, you may have photos or videos stored in Google Album Archive which will disappear on July 19. If you want to save them or are unsure if you have anything stored, the Google Takeout link in your Google account is how you can download them. Follow the steps below:

  1. Click on your Google account photo (or letter in a circle if no photo) at the top right of any Google page you are signed in to (Chrome, Gmail, etc.) and then click Manage your Google Account.
  2. Click Data & Privacy in the list on the left side of the home page for your account.
  3. Scroll down the page to “Download or delete your data” and click on “Download your data”.
  4. On the Google Takeout page, click the “Deselect all” blue text above the list of products. Then scroll down the list to AlbumArchive and click the checkbox to select it.
  5. Scroll down to the bottom of the list, making sure nothing else is checked, and click the “Next step” button.
  6. The default settings are Export once, File type .zip, and File size 2GB which can be left as is. Then click the “Create export” button. Google will email a notice when it is done, with a link in the email to download your files that will expire in 7 days from when the email is sent. Clicking the button will download your files and also open a “Manage your exports” page. It should not be necessary to click the Download link on this page as you should already have the download. The Google Takeout page will also list your last export and have a download link if you can’t find the email.

For users of Windows 7, 8, or 8.1: These unsupported operating systems have also lost support from Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and probably any other Chromium-based browsers. Firefox is not a Chromium-based browser and has released its last Extended Support Release (115 ESR) on July 4 which will be supported for a minimum of 60 weeks. At that time they may also decide to end support of these operating systems. You can still upgrade the unsupported Windows operating systems to Windows 10, which will be supported until October 14, 2025, for free by using the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool download available at this link Download Windows 10 (microsoft.com)

Ending support does not mean they quit working, but they no longer receive any updates, including security updates. Some websites, like financial or medical, may also quit opening in unsupported browsers for security reasons.

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What to Know About Buying a Laptop in 2023

GEEK FREE
By Joe Callison
12 February 2023

What to Know About Buying a Laptop in 2023

It is getting very difficult to provide recommendations for new laptops to people because most are not designed for long-term use anymore. Planned obsolescence seems to be the goal, whether the products are Apple, Windows, or Chromebook based. They seem to be following the same pattern as Apple and Android smartphones both in their construction and lack of long-term support. Operating systems are generally supported with security updates for about 3 years after they come out. Updating the operating system is expected yearly and is generally possible for about 5 years before the hardware no longer meets all of the requirements of the latest operating system. Most are not designed with repairability in mind. Even replacing a battery can require a difficult and expensive teardown.

It used to be a given that laptops had upgradeable RAM and storage drives as a minimum. Now many models have soldered-in RAM or eMMC for memory that can’t be upgraded and is impractical to repair. Some even have soldered-in storage drives. These components have hundreds of individual microscopic solder connections. Any single connection that fails can cause the laptop to no longer function. It may not be easy to determine if a laptop model has soldered components. It may be mentioned in detailed technical specifications or in some of the better technical reviews.

The top-selling laptops are from major brands like Apple, HP, Dell, and Lenovo. They all have several tiers of models with various features and prices, from budget to gaming capable.

Apple has MacBook Air (M1, M2) and MacBook Pro (M1, M2) models.

HP has HP (no name), Pavilion, Envy, Spectre, Omen

Dell has Inspiron, Vostro, Latitude, G Series, XPS, and partner Alienware

Lenovo has IdeaPad, ThinkBook, ThinkPad, Yoga, Legion

I prefer to order computers directly from the manufacturer’s website rather than a big box store or Amazon, Sam’s, or Costco. That way I can look at the details of the configuration and even change items if I want. Just watch out for the sneaky $9.95 per month warranty that Dell put in their fine print that starts billing the second month. After much complaining by customers, they may have changed that by now.

The low-budget non-Apple models are generally of plastic construction, rather flimsy, and are often provided with lower resolution displays, such as 1366 x 768 (HD) instead of 1920 x 1080 (Full HD). The higher resolution display is much preferable. Touchscreen is an unnecessary option for laptops in my opinion unless designed for tablet mode (two-in-one, flex, etc.). The better laptops have at least some carbon fiber or aluminum in their construction.

Windows laptop processors are generally either Intel or AMD. They range in price and performance from low to high as follows.

Intel – Celeron, Pentium, i3, i5, i7

AMD – Athlon, Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7

A good experience can be expected with an Intel i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor or better. Intel i3 or Ryzen 3 should be the minimum to consider for even a very low-budget Windows laptop. Chromebooks can get by with lesser processors.

The amount of RAM in most new Windows laptops is at least 8 GB these days, which is enough for most users. If you must get a model with soldered-in RAM, it might be wise to get 16 GB unless there is a socket for expansion beyond the basic 8 GB of soldered-in memory.

The storage drive should be at least 256 GB for most Windows users. The typical actual used amount I see for a user is around 60 GB. You want to allow for at least double that amount without exceeding more than about 80 percent of the drive capacity, so the smallest available size meeting that typical usage example would be 256 GB. If you want to store a lot of photos, music files, or videos, it would be best to put them on an external drive.

If you care about the audio quality of a laptop, look for models with either front or top-facing speakers and a premium audio name like Bang & Olufsen, Harman Kardon, Beats, Dolby, or DTS.

A 2023 mid-level 15-inch laptop with 11th or 12th generation i5 or a Ryzen 5 processor, 1920 x 1080 display, 8 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD should be available in the $600 to $800 price range.

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Virtual Credit Cards (Safer On-line Shopping)

GEEK FREE
By Joe Callison
3 December 2022

Virtual Credit Cards (Safer On-line Shopping)

Many seniors are hesitant to use credit cards for on-line purchases and for good reason. Some merchants are fraudulent, some have poor security for keeping your account information safe from hackers, and malware on your computer can steal your information while you use it for transactions. Having to get your credit card canceled is a nuisance and it takes time to get a new one issued. A recently introduced option that is growing in popularity is the virtual credit card. Continue reading →

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Downsizing My Computer

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By Joe Callison
2 November 2022

Downsizing My Computer

I am getting ready to replace my old full-sized tower-type computer that I built over 13 years ago and have replaced parts and upgraded over the years. Having that capability was the primary reason I wanted a full-sized tower. Continue reading →

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Swollen Li-ion Batteries

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By Joe Callison
27 July 2022

Swollen Li-ion Batteries

A relatively recent phenomenon that is becoming more and more of a problem as our electronic devices have been designed to be ever thinner and lighter is a swollen battery. This is because the lithium-ion battery packs are no longer encased in hard plastic and are not designed to be user replaceable. They are thin, soft rubbery bags that are often glued in place and can only be safely replaced by professionals or very knowledgeable users. As a result, we don’t really think about them until they show serious signs of problems. If we are lucky, those signs are just a decrease in time they can run without charging, inability to hold a charge while not being used, higher than normal temperature when charging, or inability to stay on when the charger is unplugged. An extreme battery failure may even prevent the device from running, even with the charger connected. Continue reading →

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DIY Repairs

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By Joe Callison
11 July 2022

DIY Repairs

You may be surprised to learn that my favorite hobby is not computers, though it does explain how I got into repairing computers. I have always been interested in studying how things work, how they fail, and how they can be fixed. It can be mechanical, electrical, or structural and I am interested in learning about it. In my engineering profession, my favorite assignments were the occasional opportunities to do troubleshooting or failure analysis and come up with fixes. I often thought I would have enjoyed specializing in forensic engineering, except for appearances in court as an expert witness. Because of these interests, I really enjoy resources like the following. Continue reading →

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Computer Lifecycle

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By Joe Callison
21 May 2022

Support for consumer computer hardware and software used to be typically 10 years, because that was the normal contractual requirement in business and government purchases, which drove the need for stocking replacement parts and repairs and for software updates. In recent years this has changed, probably because of the explosive growth of the consumer electronics market. Now support for consumer products can be as short as the warranty period. Continue reading →

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Windows Settings for Ease of Use

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By Joe Callison
17 January 2022

Windows has a number of settings that can make it easier to use computers, especially as we begin to lose manual dexterity and visual acuity with age. There are a few settings that I recommend every senior computer user consider to possibly enhance their user experience. I have used Windows 11 screenshots because people getting new computers are more likely to need or want to make these changes and the settings look different than they might be used to in Windows 10. Continue reading →

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Google Changes

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By Joe Callison
5 December 2021

Google has made changes recently that may require action if they apply to you, i.e. if you use any of the Google services such as Google Photos, Gmail, or Google Fiber TV.  Continue reading →

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Shopping for a New Television?

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By Joe Callison
5 September 2021

Labor Day through New Year’s Day is the best time to buy the current model year televisions before the next year models are introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January and available to consumers by spring or summer. Most television manufacturers set the prices that authorized retail dealers can sell their televisions for, so any discounts should be the same wherever you shop but selecting a dealer with a price match guarantee is a good idea. Amazon does not do price matching according to my source of information.  Continue reading →

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Introducing Windows 11

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By Joe Callison
12 July 2021

Introducing Windows 11
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-11

Much to my surprise, Microsoft chose to name their “new and improved” version of Windows as 11 instead of creating a catchy new name- a missed opportunity in my opinion. I guess they were still stinging from the Millennium Edition and Vista names that did not go so well. Now let’s see if they can actually get the new version out to computer manufacturers soon enough to be pre-installed in new computers for this holiday shopping season or if it will have to be installed later as a free upgrade. Continue reading →

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Linux as an Alternative Operating System

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By Joe Callison
10 June 2021

For decades computer hobbyists looking for a free or low-cost alternative to Microsoft Windows or Apple macOS operating systems have turned to Linux. Because of its reliability, modest hardware resource requirements, and low cost, it is now widely used for embedded operating systems for smart devices and a large percentage of computer servers powering companies and the internet. In recent years, improvements in the distribution process by organizations such as Ubuntu have made it more accessible to even those with modest computer skills by using bootable “live” CD or USB downloads that let you try it out without installing on the computer unless you choose to do so. Of course, the performance will be much faster when installed rather than running from the CD or USB files.   Continue reading →

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Advantages of New WiFi Standards

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By Joe Callison
21 April 2021

Wifi technology and the routers and wifi adapters using it have advanced a lot in recent years. It is difficult to explain the nuances of wifi technology without getting geeky, so bear with me a little as I attempt to explain some of the terminologies as simply as I can. Continue reading →

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Smart Home Device Privacy and Security

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By Joe Callison
7 March 2021

The use of voice-activated devices, smart TVs, and other smart devices, are becoming more and more common in our daily lives. So much so that we usually do not even give a second thought to reviewing the terms and conditions for privacy and security information when installing them, or bother to look at the relative settings when setting them up. Perhaps we are being a little too trusting of the companies producing the devices to look out for our best interests.   Continue reading →

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Technology and Covid-19 Vaccination

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By Joe Callison
26 January 2021

Kansas City area county health departments are all employing technology to help roll out the Covid-19 vaccinations. Below are links to websites and images of the areas for signing up to be notified when it is your turn to be vaccinated and the vaccine is available. Using your computer, tablet, or smartphone to sign up for notification is the most efficient method. Telephone numbers may be available also but may involve long wait times. These surveys are for notification only, not appointments for getting the vaccine.   Continue reading →

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Free Creative Programs for Beginners to Professionals

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by Joe Callison
18 November 2020

There are some great free open source programs available that I consider good enough to not only recommend to beginners to try out, but that will satisfy the needs of most professionals. Of course, if you find a program useful and want to support the developer(s), you are encouraged to donate to them.   Continue reading →

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Understanding Internet Speed

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By Joe Callison
10 October 2020

How fast is my internet connection? Am I getting what I am paying for? These are common concerns for consumers, especially if they think their internet connection is too slow. We will look at this from the top-down, starting with the service from the internet provider to the residence or business, then the modem/router that provides the local network over wire and wi-fi, and finally the adapters in the computer devices connected to the local network.   Continue reading →

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Solving Video Conferencing Camera and Microphone Problems

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By Joe Callison
29 August 2020

Solving Video Conferencing Camera and Microphone Problems

Because of privacy concerns, the use of cameras and microphones on electronic devices has become complicated. The operating systems (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS) have settings to either allow or block apps from using the camera and microphone. By default, they are initially blocked until you change the settings. If you access video conferencing through an internet browser (Edge, Chrome, Firefox, or Safari for example), the privacy settings of the browser will also initially block access until you change the settings in the browser. This is often done when first accessing video conferencing through a browser when a message appears for you to either allow or block access to the camera or microphone (two separate messages). Doing so will change the browser settings for you, but sometimes you just get a message that says you need to change your browser settings to allow access.  Continue reading →

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Mac Computers: a Love-Hate Relationship

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By Joe Callison
8 August, 2020

Full disclosure: I do not own or regularly use a Mac computer. I have provided technical support and upgrade services for several clients with Macbook Pro, iMac or iPad devices over the years and have virtual MacOS systems running on my Windows computers to help increase my knowledge and skills to support them.   Continue reading →

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Don’t Waste Your Money

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By Joe Callison
1 July 2020

We all like bargains, but sometimes they may not be the good deal they appear to be. Some to watch out for are below.  Continue reading →

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TV-Internet-Phone Service Providers

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By Joe Callison
27 May, 2020

Some members have been wanting us to talk about television/internet/phone service providers in the area. It is a very complex subject because they all have advertised promotional prices for bundled packages that do not include a lot of other fees, taxes and other extras that apply, nor do they advertise what the normal price will be after the introductory rate for the first year or two that it typically lasts.   Continue reading →

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Pet Peeves During Covid-19 Lockdown

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By Joe Callison
2 May, 2020

Maybe it is from watching too much television these days, but I am really getting irked by what I see as potentially bad deals often taking advantage of senior citizens.   Continue reading →

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Smart Television Apps

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By Joe Callison
31 March, 2020

As we are for a time mostly isolated from face-to-face contact with people, many of us with computers, tablets or smartphones have learned to use video chat and conferencing to keep in touch with family, friends, and associates. If you have not tried it yet, you are encouraged to take part in one of our upcoming virtual SenCom meetings. Be sure to frequent our website kcsenior.net for information.   Continue reading →

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New Microsoft Office App for Tablets and Phones

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By Joe Callison
21 February, 2020

Many of you know that Microsoft Office apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are available as individually downloadable apps for free in the Android Play Store and Apple App Store for tablets and phones. If you only use one app, such as Word, that may still be your preference, but if you would rather have more of the Office suite available through one single app, you can now have it that way for both Android and iOS. Just search for Microsoft Office in the store and select the app called Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint & More and make sure it is from Microsoft Corporation. After downloading and installing the app, it will appear as a red on white icon simply called Office. If you have a white on red icon called Office Mobile that looks similar, that was just an old link to get you to download the individual products. I uninstalled that app from my phone to avoid confusion.   Continue reading →

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My 2019 Laptop Buying Dilemma Revisited

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By Joe Callison
26 January, 2020

I can’t believe a year has passed since writing about “my 2019 laptop buying dilemma.” During the after Christmas 2019 holiday sales I finally gave in to buying a new HP Envy 17t after a $200 price reduction. It had enough of my desired features at the right price to go ahead with the purchase:
Continue reading →

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Rich Communication Services (RCS)

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By Joe Callison
5 January, 2020

Short Message Service (SMS) has been used since 1992 for sending text messages over mobile phone carrier service. It is limited to 160 text characters per message. Some enhanced message services were developed that could handle up to 1600 characters per message, but a real advance in capability came into use after about 2005 with Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). This expanded the capability of text messages to also contain files such as photos, videos, audio and documents. The data limit per message was initially 300 KB and then later increased to 600 KB, which is not enough for high resolution photos or video so they are compressed into smaller, grainier images. Since internet servers are utilized for storage and transfer of data between carriers, MMS is not real-time. Another breakthrough has begun to be rolled out in 2019 with Rich Communication Services (RCS). Theoretically the data limit per message is over 10 GB, but in practice may be limited to something less by the carrier service used.   Continue reading →

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