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Updated with a new patent by Google about this very subject. Updated again with a link about how much information Alexa keeps. Updated again with a link showing that Amazon pays employees to listen on Alexa recordings. Updated again with a link about Best Buy shutting down their smart home servers.

Imagine if the FBI asked you to put a device in your house that is always listening. The FBI promises us that it will only listen for certain things, such as gunshots or the voices of people on the FBI’s most wanted list. In exchange for this device that is always listening, you are getting greater safety. After all, if someone fired a handgun in your house, the FBI device can automatically dispatch the police much faster than you could dial 911. Would you volunteer for that?

Just change a few words and you have people not only volunteering but paying money to do so. Imagine if Google asked you to buy a device for your house that is always listening. Google promises us that it will only listen for certain things, such OK Google. In exchange for this device always listening, you are getting some convenience. After all, if you wanted to make coffee, OK Google can automatically start your coffee maker faster than you could.

And what convenience! I can unlock my door with my smartphone. I can turn on my lights without using my legs. I can find out about something without the hassle of typing.

Here is the bottom line: Can you really trust a for-profit business to permanently respect your privacy? (Especially one whose business it is not to respect your privacy.) Can you really trust that these devices will always be secure?

Smart homes are a dumb idea. And I can also say smart cars are a dumb idea as well. These are all solutions looking for a problem.

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This post has been updated.

A lot of people think I dislike Apple products. I once had no problem with the quality of Apple products, but that has changed. Now, because of how lousy the quality is and how horribly Apple treats the customer, I strongly recommend you avoid any and all Apple products like the plague. I am going to links to Youtube videos that show how Apple has no problem lying to you and treating you like dirt. No other company can treat people the way Apple does and stay in business. View full article »

Here is a problem that happened to a customer. Windows would freeze for a half-second then unfreeze for a few seconds, and repeat forever. It would not freeze in safe mode. Disabling or uninstalling the video card driver fixed the problem, but that caused other problems. This was a HP all-in-one. The fix was to update the BIOS (actually the UEFI). After a BIOS update, the problem was fixed. I would also disconnect the internet and do a clean install of the video card driver. You have to disconnect the internet because Microsoft thinks they know better than you and will try to reinstall the video card driver.

Some other websites mentioned that you need to update the video card driver to fix this problem. I actually did that first. But it didn’t fix the problem. On a hunch, I tried updating the BIOS. Since this computer came with Windows 8.1, on HP’s website I had to select Windows 8.1 as the OS before the BIOS updates appeared. (P.S. I do realize it really is an UEFI, but the HP website still calls it the BIOS.)

What Are Cookies?

I know many of my customers keep asking me “What are cookies?” So, I am going to create this blog post to answer that and to help you understand.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small files with a few characters that website can create. Each individual cookie has a name and a website identification. Each individual cookie also has an expiration date that can be whatever the website wants it to be. Cookies can be set to expire as soon as you leave the website. After the cookie expires, the web browser automatically deletes it. A cookie can only be created if your web browser accesses a website. For instance, facebook.com cannot create a cookie on your computer unless you go to facebook.com or unless the page you are viewing gets data from facebook.com.

1st party cookies are those created by the website you actually visit. 3rd party cookies are those created by websites which are accessed by the website you are on. Many, but not all, 3rd party cookies are created by advertisers.

It is important to remember that websites cannot access cookies for different websites.  For instance, the website facebook.com cannot view the cookies that google.com created.

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I have a QNap NAS with a virtual Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials on it. I use this virtual machine only as a backup. Recently I had a need to shrink, or compact, the virtual hard drive image file on it. I found this board post that described a way to do this. But it seemed overly complicated. And for me it would require a hard drive larger than 2 TB to do it. The only hard drive I had that large was in the NAS itself. So I needed a better way. This is the steps I used for my QNap virtual machine, which is based QEMU. The steps should work with any virtual machine, including Microsoft Hyper-V, Oracle VirtualBox, and Synology’s virtual machine. These steps should only be used if there is no other easy way to shrink the virtual hard drive image.

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Here is a problem that affect some Xerox printers, especially older Xerox WorkCentre printers. You update your internet settings, and suddenly scan to email does not work anymore. You’ve updated your SMTP settings and are absolutely sure it is correct. It turns out, this is a simple DNS problem. If any of your DNS servers is in the range of 0.0.0.0 to 1.1.1.1, scan to email won’t work. So if you set your router’s DNS servers to Cloudfare’s DNS server of 1.1.1.1, 1.0.0.1, it will mess up the Xerox scan to email feature. You can assign a static IP and DNS in the printer manually, or you could just use your ISP’s default DNS servers in your router.

Here is a problem that affects Microsoft Publisher 2016, 2019, and Office 365. You can open Publisher, but after you try to start a new document or open an existing one, it crashes. The problem is likely caused by a bad printer, bad settings in the registry, or both. There is also a chance it could be caused by corrupt Office files.

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There is a new type of technology out there that allows hard drive manufacturers to increase the capacity of hard drives.  It is called shingled magnetic recording.  These hard drives should be avoided at all costs, at least for several years. Before buying a hard drive, look up the model number on the manufacturer’s website. Make sure the specs do not mention shingled magnetic recording or SMR. These types of hard drives are now being found in capacities as low as 2 TB.

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This is a general overview of the different and audio video standards for computers, movies, Blu-Ray players, and so on. It will not delve into how each standard works.

The first thing you must know is that the real world is not digital, but analog. A synonym for analog is infinite and for digital is finite. What this means is that we must convert the analog real world to a format our electronics can process. This is where a codec comes into play. Codec is short for coder/decoder. A codec is an algorithm that converts the analog real world into groups of 1’s and 0’s. Newer codecs do a better job of this conversion and thus have a smaller file size or are closer to the real world equivalent.

The second thing you must know is the difference between lossless and lossy. Like the names suggest, lossless does not discard any data in the algorithm. The quality is therefore higher but the file size is higher too. Lossy algorithms discard data to achieve a smaller file size. Ideally a lossy algorithm would appear the same as a lossless one.

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The 0xc0000001 blue screen in Windows is related to the hard drive controller. If you ever get this blue screen, the first thing to check is if the drive standard was changed in the BIOS or UEFI. If it was AHCI but you changed it to ATA (or IDE), change it back and see if the blue screen goes away. This blue screen can also appear after you clone a hard drive. Some computers do not support SSD’s even if it using the SATA cable. And if you clone a hard drive to one using the M.2 interface, this problem can appear.

By the way, if you accidentally bricked your CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive with a firmware upgrade, you will need to use ATA/IDE mode to unbrick it.

Fortunately, in Windows 10 there is an easy way to change your hard drive controller type. There isn’t much to like about Windows 10, but this is one thing it does make easier. Before you make the change in your BIOS, use the MSCONFIG program to boot into safe mode the next time. Change the setting in the BIOS, boot once in safe mode and use MSCONFIG to undo the safe mode setting, and then you should be able to boot as normal. However, if you cannot get into Windows or the BIOS, hopefully you can get into the Windows recovery environment. (I still say that the absolute dumbest thing Microsoft ever did was disable the pre-boot F8 button.) In the recovery environment, look for the startup settings in the menu options. When the computer boots, choose safe mode in the blue screen of menu options.

If 0xc0000001 persists, then you will have to try the SFC command, system restore, registry backups, and the other usual generic repairs.

Here is a problem that still affects every version of Windows 10, including the most recent March 2019 (1903) update. It only affects Windows 10 and solid state drives. And I think it only affects Intel computers, although it is not an Intel flaw. I am not convinced it is a Microsoft flaw either. Microsoft has an advisory this flaw about dated July 29, 2015. So the flaw is now over 4 years old. The flaw is in the storahci.sys file. Here is the fix.

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Recommendations

People ask me all the time what products I recommend. Here is my list of different computer and software recommendations. This list was last updated April 7, 2021.

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