Creating a Windows PE Bootable USB Drive

Windows PE is a light version of Windows that you can startup on just about any computer with many benefits and uses such as:

  • Diagnostics. It’s very handy to have for basic diagnostics on computers that are having issues.
  • Linux Computers. If you have a Dell laptop with Linux OS installed, and the BIOS updates for the computer are only available as Windows .EXE program files, you can startup with Windows PE, install the BIOS updates, and then restart to Linux again.
  • Data Recovery. With a computer that won’t startup because of corrupt system files, you can startup with Windows PE and access the hard drive.

Creating a Windows PE Startup Disk

To create your own bootable Windows PE USB flash drive, follow these instructions.

Install the Windows ADK

Install Windows PE

  1. Start the Deployment and Imaging Tools Environment as an administrator.
  2. Create a working copy of the Windows PE files. Specify either x86, amd64, or arm:
    copype amd64 C:\WinPE_amd64
    
  3. Install Windows PE to the USB flash drive, specifying the drive letter:
    MakeWinPEMedia /UFD C:\WinPE_amd64 F:
    
    Warning
    This command reformats the drive.

Creating a Visual User Interface

The Windows PE boot disk described above starts up to a command prompt. You’ll probably want a familiar user interface. A popular one is FreeCommander.

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Source: Technet.Microsoft.comTechnet.Microsoft.com (12 May 2017)

Misguided Internet Privacy Concerns and Virtual Private Network (VPN) Services

What We’re Being Told

According to national news coverage, due to regulatory changes, we’re told that internet service providers can now track our personal web browsing, save it indefinitely, and sell this information to the highest bidder. As a result, increased concern about internet privacy has prompted a rise in advertising for Virtual Private Network (VPN) services. Top security firms and analysts are warning that this threat is real and consumers should be very afraid.

Common Sense

Let’s take a step back for a moment and apply some common sense here. What’s being reported in the news is that your internet activity is tracked based on the IP address of your computer, and the fact that your name is on the internet service account.

As someone in IT for over 30 years, I’m telling you this just doesn’t make sense. Watch how quickly this unravels.

First of all, if you’re like 95% of consumers, your ‘computer’ doesn’t have a public IP address. Your cable modem or DSL modem has an IP address, but not your computer. If you live in a household, apartment, dorm, or are visiting a coffee shop or hotel, in all of these situations, you’re likely sharing that same modem/router IP address with other people using computers, phones, and tablets. When guests are at your home, they are sharing your modem and router. How is an Internet service provider going to know who is who? They won’t.

Will the data they gather ‘about you’ be of any value to advertisers? No.

Even more precise cookie tracking ads only seem to be able to show you ads for products you’ve already purchased. Such ads are a waste of money. We don’t want to see ads for websites and products we already know about. That advertising is a waste of money for advertisers.

Your internet browsing isn’t all done from home, it’s spread across multiple service providers including home, work, school, public transit, free public wifi, the coffee shop wifi, using your phone as a hotspot, browsing while visiting a friend’s home. You’re not going to be tracked based on IP address.

In addition to all of the above issues, many of the websites we visit today have SSL encryption. Sites that use https rather than http, like banks, online stores, and millions more, encrypt all communications between our browser and the site, hidden from our Internet service provider and hackers. So, the information exchanged is private.

If you’re visiting a lot of anarchist websites, sites about manufacturing drugs, or websites that are primarily engaged in illegal activities, you and others sharing your modem may become ‘persons of interest’ but even then it would be difficult to discern between research done for a high school writing assignment and someone intending to break the law.

When you run all of your internet traffic through a single third-party VPN service provider, you’re handing over all your internet activity to one business — rather than anonymously to many. Why would you trust that business with your internet activity and not another?

Presumably with a VPN, much of your activity will appear to be from a single IP address which makes you easier to track and identify.

So, the privacy concern that’s being propagated in the mainstream media is misrepresented, and the solution they are prescribing makes the problem worse.

How We’re Actually Tracked Online

The ways that our activity is tracked online doesn’t really have much to do with an IP address. Cookies track what sites we visit, and our computing devices each have a kind of fingerprint. The triangulation of operating system, screen size, browser we use, and other factors begins to narrow down our unique devices regardless of how we get to the Internet. You’ve no doubt noticed that ads appear on websites that seem relevant based on products you’ve recently shown an interest in. This isn’t based on your IP address, it’s based on cookies and other factors. You can start paying for a VPN service, but those ads are still going to appear, and you’ll still be tracked. With mobile devices, you’re also tracked based on your location. A VPN service won’t prevent cookies, GPS tracking, and other privacy invasion issues.

When AntiVirus Software Advertises

One of the promises of today’s internet security software is to remove annoying pop-up ads caused by malware. Yet, sometimes antivirus software can be the source of misleading or confusing ads. Over the years, Avast has been one of the better antivirus programs available and even their free version ranks high in reviews. However, recently they’ve been looking for more ways to get consumers to buy additional services. For example, their antivirus software will report a frequent alert and warning about system performance issues. When you respond to the alert, they suggest buying their system cleanup software. Even on a computer with a fresh installation of Windows, and no other software installed except Avast, the error about system cleanup needed will appear. This is similar to what’s referred to as “scare-ware” which is software that scares consumers into buying when perhaps no serious threat exists. Avast software alerts users to passwords saved in browsers as a way of selling their password manager.

The ad below is an example of how Avast is now pushing out pop-up ads for their SecureLine VPN service. This pop-up ad began on 6 April 2017 and has been showing up daily. So, Avast is basically using their antivirus software as a way into your computer for purposes of advertising additional products and services. Unfortunately, the Avast SecureLine VPN isn’t rated well based on the cost and features it offers.

20170408sa1637-avast-ad-vpn-secure-private-web-browsing-internet-service-provider-912x624.jpg

Do VNP Services Really Offer Privacy?

The list of advantages provided in the Avast pop-up advertisement above offers an itemized list of benefits that VPN services supposedly provide. This just isn’t true. Take a look at the following claims:

  • “Surf 100% anonymously every time”
  • “Hide your online activity from hackers” 
  • “Leave no trace of your activities” 

These claims aren’t exactly true. Your searching activity will be known by the owners of websites you login to. Also, browsers save your searching history and may be storing that information in the cloud. Malware on your computer could be tracking your internet activity as well as login passwords. As explained above, there are many other ways to track a person’s browsing history that have nothing to do with a specific IP address.

Avast SecureLine VPN claims that you can “Access region-locked content easily.” That’s true. People visiting China or other restrictive countries may have trouble accessing some U.S.-based websites. VPN services can help by giving you access to content censored in some countries. However, that’s irrelevant for most consumers.

How Can We Protect Our Online Privacy?

The greater threats to privacy will come from malware, hackers, viruses, and security breaches like the 1.5 billion Yahoo accounts that were hacked, or the 11 million government military and cyber personnel files, criminal records, and health records that were recently stolen. The websites you visit are not your greatest concern.

Here are a few steps you can take to have greater privacy:

  • HTTPS Everywhere. Consider using the free HTTPS Everywhere browser plugin to encrypt your visits to websites. (Thanks to SJ for this suggestion.)
  • Limit Social Media Use. One of the problems with sharing so much personal information through social media is that hackers can use that information to guess passwords. Crooks know when you’re on vacation and plan robberies accordingly. Identity thieves can take all your online photos, and create imposter accounts, then commit fraud with your friends and family. (Thanks to NJ for the suggestion to add these cautions).
  • Mobile Hotspot. Rather than taking a chance with unsecured public networks, consider using the built-in mobile hotspot on your phone. Use your mobile device as a hotspot and stay off any networks that you don’t trust.
  • VPN. It should be pointed out that VPN services could be helpful when using unsecured public wifi hotspots at hotels or coffee shops. Using a VPN could help encrypt all your traffic to any local hackers who might be monitoring local network traffic at the packet level. Additionally, while communications is secure with SSL sites, it could be helpful to encrypt what websites you visit — at least not make it public to your internet service provider. (Thanks to Tim at FriendlyTechie.net for making this additional point.)

We’re Already Giving Away Our Privacy

Millions of people have relinquished their right to personal privacy with social media sites like Facebook, allowing companies to know our friends, interests, and many details of our life. This has inspired movies like “The Circle” — see trailer below.

Firefox Browser Plugin Updates for Security

You should regularly check your Firefox plugins to make sure they aren’t susceptible to security vulnerabilities.

This link will take you to the Firefox Plugins Check page:

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/plugincheck/

The link only works when using the Firefox browser.

Problems with Neat Receipts Cloud Scanning Software

After 14 years of building a very dedicated customer base and the world’s most successful and popular scanning platform, Neat has decided to scrap everything and start over with a new scanning solution. So far, reviews have been less than enthusiastic. Top company leadership are leaving and many employees are being laid off. (source)

This document lists some of the design problems with their new product as it relates to Apple users. This document will be updated over time with any new developments or discoveries.

  1. Apple Version Not Native. Rather than create an actual OS X application, the Apple version seems to have been developed on a non-standard emulator platform similar Adobe Air in the way it looks and feels. To find the program, you’ll look for it in Applications under the letter ‘N’ for Neat, but you won’t find it there. It’s in a folder named The Neat Company. To find it, look in The Neat Company > Neat Smart Organization System > Helium-shell > HeliumAppShell > and there you’ll find the familiar Neat program icon. This is where you’ll have to go if you need to drag the program icon to the Dock again, but don’t touch any of the other exposed program files because the entire fragile system will break down if you do.
  2. Columns Not Adjustable. The new program is broken into three primary columns. The left column shows the folders. The middle column shows the folder contents or the specifics of a particular entry. The right column is a preview window. These columns aren’t sizable or adjustable.
  3. Database Change. The database files are individually stored as PDF files in Documents > NeatScan > your name. Presumably if you mess with any of these files, the database index will be thrown off.
  4. Drag and Drop. In the previous versions of the Neat scanning software, it was possible to drag PDF files into the program and have them added, being scanned for OCR. In the new version, you must manually add files from the file menu.
  5. Item Type. When you change the item type from Document to Receipt (for example) the software goes through the ‘Processing’ step again.
  6. Slowness. To adequately test the speed of the Neat cloud-based scanning software, use a 100Mbps Internet connection, and a quad-core computer with 8 virtual cores, running on a solid state hard drive. When you test with this blazing fast computer, you’ll notice the system is slow to load receipt images — even with a database of only a dozen receipts.
  7. Zoom Issues. When you try to zoom in on a receipt using two finger zoom, the viewer zooms too fast.

Neat Receipts: Starting a New Year

Neat Receipts is a scanning hardware and software solution that integrates cloud services. Over a year or more, the scanning database can grow to over 1GB in size. This can eventually slow down your computer, and cause other problems.

So, it’s a good idea to consider keeping separate Neat Library files for each year. There can only be one default library file, but you can open other library files.

Below are instructions for creating a new Neat Library for a new year.

NOTE: These instructions only work with the older legacy Neat software. Their new cloud-dependent software is entirely different.

  1. Before starting the Neat software, copy the previous year’s library and put it in a folder for the new year giving the file a new name such as Neat Library 2016. It’s also good to have a backup copy of this file in case anything goes wrong, so you may want to put another copy elsewhere.
  2. Set the default library to the file created in step #1 above. Do this by going to the Neat menu, then Preferences. Under the General tab, you’ll find Default Library.
  3. Exit the Neat software.
  4. Start the Neat software.
  5. The recently created library file for the new current year should open as default automatically.
  6. Open the previous year’s file. It will try to synchronize (assuming you pay for the cloud storage). Stop it from synchronizing since you want to only synchronize the current year’s library file. To stop synchronization Double click on sync icon and turn off sync. Then close that file.
  7. Exit the Neat software.
  8. Start the Neat software.
  9. Now when you start Neat, the new year will open. If you open a previous year, it won’t synchronize.
  10. Remove any data from the previous year that still exists in the new year library file. Similarly, you can remove any data in the previous year’s library that belongs in the current year (if you had already started scanning in receipts for the new year while using the previous year’s library).

 

Moto G First Time Setup with Motorola Migrate

If you’re setting up a Moto G (2nd Generation) phone for the first time, after entering your language preferences, connecting to a wireless network, and logging into your Google account, you’ll be given an option to migrate all your files and settings from a previous phone to the new phone using the Motorola Migrate app available on the Google Play store.

Here are some general instructions:

  1. Stop Migration First. The Motorola Migrate app will start during the initial setup of the phone. You can actually skip this step for now, and go to the main applications screen.
  2. Update Motorola Migrate. You may need to update the Motorola Migrate program on your recently purchased device. Go to the Google Play store, search for Motorola Migrate, and choose update. The version that ships with your device may be an older version.
  3. Use Local WiFi. The Motorola Migrate application uses your local wireless network to transfer information directly between the phones. So, you will need a local WiFi network — preferably your own personal home network. Connect to your local wireless network.
    • Note: If you’re in an Enterprise environment, or using some other business or WiFi network, it’s likely the migration will fail since firewall and business network switch/router settings may limit this kind of activity.
  4. Migrate Data. Follow the on-screen instructions to migrate your data.

 

Universal Wireless Keyboards for iOS, Android, Windows, Tablets and Computers

Summary

As people are increasingly using a variety of computing devices, it’s often necessary to switch between different devices while working. Universal keyboards save space by letting you have a single keyboard at your desk, and switch between devices. So, with one keyboard you can work on your smart phone, tablet, and desktop. Using a single keyboard is helpful because it takes up less space, and you can learn one keyboard rather than three or more. Not all keyboards feature easy switching, so you’ll need to look specifically for that feature.

Typing Efficiency

Laptop keyboards generally have a non-standard placement for arrow keys as well as the CTRL, ALT, Option, Fn (function), and Windows Start key (or Apple Command key). Variations between laptop keyboards, desktop keyboard, and Windows vs. Apple can limit your ability to have high familiarity and efficiency when moving from one computing device to another. Having a single standard keyboard that works on all devices (home, office, mobile) can help.

Keyboard Models

  • Anker® T320 Ultrathin Keyboard – Compatible across Android, iOS, and Windows, enabling you to mix and match with devices.
  • Logitech Wireless All-In-One Keyboard TK820 with Built-In Touchpad – This innovative keyboard seamlessly integrates typing, touch and gestures. So now you have everything you need to control and navigate your computer in one device. With a large, built-in touch pad, you can type and swipe comfortably together. It’s a new way to navigate—especially in Windows 8.
  • Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810 – Type in style with this elegantly designed, Bluetooth illuminated keyboard for Windows 8. Press one button to instantly switch between typing an email on your Windows PC, taking notes on your Apple iPad or replying to a text on your Android smartphone. With sharp, bright, backlit characters, this keyboard lets you create and communicate more easily on more devices—even in the dark.
  • Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard – For iPad, iPhone, Android devices, and Windows tablets. Operating system switch allows you to easily switch between devices.
  • Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard for Windows Tablets – This is a nicely styled keyboard, but primarily for Windows Tablet computers.
  • Minisuit BluBoard – BluBoard supports devices running Bluetooth 3.0 on iOS, Android, Blackberry, Kindle, and Windows. Acer, Blackberry Playbook, Google Nexus, iPad, Mini 2nd Gen, Kindle Fire HD/HDx, Microsoft Surface, Motorola, Samsung Galaxy Note, Tab, and many more!

Photo Gallery

Below are images of the keyboards mentioned above.

Apple iCloud Sync Problems with Contacts and Calendar

You may occasionally experience synchronization issues with Apple iCloud, specifically with contacts or calendar entries.

Most of the time, when you add a contact or calendar event on your desktop or laptop computer, it will immediately and magically show up on all your other devices. However, sometimes it may be several minutes later and it doesn’t show up.

This can be a problem if you leave your home or office, thinking the recently added contacts will now be on your mobile device, but they aren’t.

This problem goes both ways. Sometimes items added to mobile devices don’t show up on their OS X equivalent apps.

So, here’s a trick that just might work:

  • On OS X, you can exit the Calendar or Contacts apps and start them again. This can help force a synchronization with iCloud.
  • On mobile devices, closing and re-opening apps may or may not work. You may need to add a new contact or event for the synchronization to be initiated.

Push technology is supposed to ensure that data synchronization and flow is forced to happen in real-time. However, it sometimes doesn’t work, so these tips can help in such situations.

These problems, and the solutions mentioned above, can actually happen on any synchronization platform (Windows, Android, Chrome OS, Linux, etc.) so it’s not necessarily an issue isolated to Apple.

For Google devices, a check-in can be established by sending an email or checking for new messages. This will initiate communications with their cloud services.

Enable Speech on iPad or iPhone to Hear Text

When you turn on the Siri text to speech feature, it’s possible to listen to web pages, emails, text messages, and other text. This is a huge time saver and lets you go about your work with hands and eyes free as you listen.

To enable speech on an Apple iPhone, iPad, or iPod, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap on Accessibility
  3. Tap on Speech
  4. Turn on Speak Selection by moving the slide button to the right until it has a green indicator.
  5. Tap on Voices
  6. Tap on English (or your language of choice)
  7. Select a voice to use. The enhanced voices will sound much more natural and may be easier to understand. These require a download.
  8. Once you’re done with the above steps, you can select text in any app on the device, and once the text is selected you’ll see an option to Speak. However, don’t exit the Voices selection yet.
  9. You will want to try out a few of the enhanced voices to see which you prefer. To do so, press the Home key twice to switch to another app. Or, press it once to go to the home screen and start an app such as email or Safari to browse the web. Now you can press home twice to toggle between the two screens — the app you want to read from and the Voices selection screen.
  10. Change to a voice and then switch back to the app to select text and choose Speak. Each time you’ll hear the voice you’ve just selected in settings.
  11. You will also want to adjust the speed of speech to see what speed is best for you. This is found under General > Accessibility > Speech. The Speaking Rate is illustrated by a turtle or a rabbit. When you adjust the speed, the default voice will read a sample. To hear how your selected voice (from step #9) sounds with the speed setting, you can go to a document as described in step #9 above.