October 21, 2020

Got An Old Laptop Laying Around With An Unsupported Operating System Or That You Just Don't Use Anymore?

Every once in a while I've thought about getting a Chromebook, but I never got around to it. One day I stumbled upon the possibility of converting an old laptop into a Chromebook-like device. I had a couple of old laptops laying around, and decided to find out if they could be converted.

There is a company called Neverware (https://www.neverware.com/) that provides free software to convert an old laptop to a "CloudReady" PC for home use. They also have professional versions. Their website explains: "CloudReady is an operating system built and maintained by Neverware. Based on Google’s open source Chromium OS, CloudReady uses web apps and cloud storage instead of traditional software and local storage."

Before you jump into converting a laptop, there are a few things to consider.

What are the minimum hardware requirements? Is your laptop compatible? Will everything still work after converting (like the built-in microphone, for example).

Neverware helps out by providing a list of certified computers:
https://guide.neverware.com/supported-devices/

If your computer is on the list, select the link to see what will work and what might not work. One of my laptops, which was running Windows 7 (which is no longer supported), was on the list, but had a caveat that the internal mic might not work. That turned out to be true. My other laptop was too old and had insufficient hardware and was not on the list.

Next, before proceeding, it is strongly recommended that if there is anything you might want to keep that is on the laptop, back it up to somewhere else. Once you commit to converting your laptop to a Chromebook-like device, everything on the computer will be wiped and replaced by the new operating system.

You don't have to immediately commit to converting the computer. You can actually test-drive the operating system by running it from the USB installer that you will need to create (minimum 8G thumb drive).  Here's the link for the free Home edition: https://www.neverware.com/freedownload#home-edition-install

Once you've created the USB installer, your next step is to change the startup options on your laptop so that it will attempt to first boot from the USB drive. This means figuring out how to get into the setup mode when booting your laptop. Usually, on Windows computers, when your laptop first starts booting there is a quick message on the bottom saying something like "Press <F2> for Setup". I am not familiar with Apple laptops so I don't know if something similar is available on those. Otherwise, Neverware provides the likely key to press during boot but that may not be correct for your model. That information is also typically in the user manual that came with your computer.

Once in setup mode, you will need to change the startup drive from your hard drive to the USB drive. Different computers and operating systems have slightly different ways of doing that, so I will not attempt to tell you how to do that except to say that many require moving the drive that should be checked first to be at the top of the list.

After you have made this change, shut down the laptop, insert the USB installer, and turn the laptop back on.

Once the laptop boots you can follow most of the instructions that Neverware provided - except - if you want to test-drive first, do not click on the bottom right and select install. Instead, choose "Let's Go". This will allow you to run from the USB drive. Note that running this way will likely be a bit slower than running from the hard drive - so don't let that affect your decision.

If, after test-driving you like what you see, and you have backed up whatever you wanted to keep from the laptop, then go ahead and follow the install instructions.

Just note the following: You will not be able to access the Google Play Store. You will be limited to the Chrome OS store for apps. Most popular ones can be found there.

Enjoy extending the life of your old laptop.

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

October 04, 2020

The Scams Just Keep On Coming. Please Be Careful.

There seems to be no end to the many different ways bad actors try to scam us. Perhaps it is to get us to click on a link that will take us to some website that will attempt to capture personal information or put some virus or malware or ransomware on our phone or tablet or computer. Perhaps it is a phone call from someone who claims they need remote access to our device to fix something. They are getting better at it all the time, making it harder and harder for even the smartest and most diligent among us to not be scammed.

Here are just a few of the many scams around at this time.

A Package Delivery Problem

One of the most popular ones right now are the texts and emails claiming to be from USPS or Fedex or UPS or other carriers. The message typically claims there is a problem either with a package you sent or one that is supposedly coming. A link is provided. Look very closely at who the sender is (text number, email address) and at the link (probably not to that carrier’s actual web address). Do not click on that link. If you do, you have most likely provided valuable information to the scammer before you are even asked to provide more personal information. You’ve just confirmed that your cell number or email address is real and a live person is associated with it. Congratulations. You are now marked as a target and your information will probably be shared with other scammers. Don’t click on the link. If you are expecting a package or have sent a package, contact the carrier directly to determine if there actually is a problem. Note that the same advice applies if you get a phone call claiming to be from a carrier. In that case, ask them for the package number and what carrier they are calling from and say thank you for the information and that you will call the main number of the carrier to research further and hang up. You can then look up the legitimate number of the carrier and call them to determine if there is really a problem with a package or if someone is trying to scam you.

Answering Calls From Numbers You Don’t Recognize

This is another one that keeps on happening and frustrates me a lot - because I have been giving this advice to everyone I know for many years. Pay attention. If you don’t recognize the phone number, don't answer. Answering can lead to all kinds of problems. Never, ever, answer a call if you do not recognize the number as belonging to a friend or relative or doctor or someone you actually know. If it looks sorta like a number you might know but is not exactly a number you know, don't answer.

Here Are A Couple Of Scams:

Computer Problem

The person at the other end says they are calling about a problem on your computer. They claim to be from Microsoft or Norton or some other company. They claim they can prove to you that there is a problem and instruct you to get onto your computer and type something that displays something they claim is proof of the problem. Then they say they can fix it and need you to give them remote access in order to fix it. Don’t do it. Hang up. Never give a stranger who calls you remote access to your computer. They can do damage to your computer. They can steal information from your computer. They can demand money from you to fix the problem that they created on your computer and possibly harass you to pay. If you unwittingly pay, they then have your checking information or credit card information and can try to get money directly from your account if you don’t continue paying or maybe even do damage to your credit rating.

Stranded

A friend or relative is supposedly stranded and needs money wired to them.

This one might also come in the form of an email or text. One of the most popular ones is targeted at seniors who might not really know that the person at the other end of the call or email is not really their grandchild (for example). Please do not fall for this scam. You will be asked either to wire money or for your banking information, which can result in your money suddenly disappearing from your account. If this is an email or text, try to actually reach this person by calling them or their parents, for example, to see if they are OK. If you've unfortunately answered a call from an unknown number, ask for all the details. Ask your supposed grandchild their name and age and where they are or other questions only your grandchild or niece or whoever should know. Unless that person has already been hacked and the scammers have that information, they won’t be able to provide the right answers. Put them on hold and try calling their phone to see if they answer or call their parents to see where they might actually be. There is the rare occurrence that someone you know is really in need, but unfortunately there are many more instances that this is a scam – so be careful.

Do Not Answer The Phone If You Do Not Recognize The Phone Number

This bears repeating: Do not answer the phone if you do not recognize the phone number. Unlike in the past when we all had “dumb” phones that only made and received calls and had no display, nowadays just about everyone has a phone, whether it be a cell phone or a home phone, that displays what is supposedly the ID of the person calling. If it is not the number of a friend or relative or your doctor or some other number you recognize, do not answer. If it is a legitimate call they will leave a voice message. Well, even if it’s a con they might still leave a message or it may be a robocall, and you hopefully will figure that out and not call them back if they are not someone you actually know or were expecting a call from.

Some Protection

Some phone carriers/internet service providers are providing some free assistance in helping to reduce scams getting to you, but the scammers are always multiple steps ahead, so you need to be vigilant.

If you have phone service bundled with your cable service, for example, your provider probably offers NoMoRoBo for free. This is a service that will monitor your incoming calls and, if the calling number is in their database as a robocall or scam call, your phone will ring one time and then stop – and you will know that they stopped that call from getting through. I recommend enabling this free service if it is available. 

Most cell companies are not yet offering NoMoRoBo or similar services for free. There are a variety of apps that claim to flag scam calls and some cell phone service providers provide some level of alert for incoming calls that are suspected spam. 

The best advice is to not answer any calls from unknown numbers. Do not click on links – even if they appear to have been sent from someone you know – if they are even the least bit suspect. Check directly with the sender, if they are someone you know, to confirm that they sent the link before actually clicking on it.

In Closing

The scams just keep on coming. Please be careful.

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

 

April 07, 2020

Yet Another Data Breach

Long time readers of The Kuper Report know that I have been writing about data security, or the lack thereof, for many, many years. One would think that by the year 2020 organizations had gotten their acts together and addressed such matters -- and made sure the private personal data of their customers were protected. Sadly, this has not been the case.

On March 31, 2020, Marriott International, who I have written about in the past regarding privacy and security issues, announced that the following customer information was likely compromised:
  • Contact Details (e.g., name, mailing address, email address, and phone number)
  • Loyalty Account Information (e.g., account number and points balance, but not passwords)
  • Additional Personal Details (e.g., company, gender, and birthday day and month)
  • Partnerships and Affiliations (e.g., linked airline loyalty programs and numbers)
  • Preferences (e.g., stay/room preferences and language preference)
They also indicated that the security breach affected approximately 5.2 million guests.

For more information about the latest Marriott breach, see Marriott's support site.

As I have written many times before about privacy and security breaches, it is way past time that these issues were addressed and resolved. These breaches keep happening, frequently at the same companies. As I've also previously reported, breaches have occurred (and likely will continue) with voting machines. These serious privacy and security data breaches affect peoples lives.

When will privacy and security be taken seriously and dealt with properly by individuals, corporations, and the government? To purposely be redundant: It is way past time.

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Links to some previous articles regarding data privacy and security issues are below. Read them to understand that these problems have been going on for many, many years and should have been resolved a long, long time ago.

May 2006: Data Security: An Oxymoron

August 2006: Data Security: An Oxymoron - continued

January 2007: So how secure is your PC?

March 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: Stolen Data from TJX (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores) since 2003 Used in $8M Scheme Before Breach Discovery

April 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: More Security/Identity Breaches and Issues 

May 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: University of Missouri Hacked For Second Time This Year

May 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: IBM loses tapes with personal information on current and former employees

September 2007: Privacy and Security Watch: Are you giving away your personal or corporate data to thieves?

May 2008: Updated: Privacy & Security Watch: Beware of fake emails appearing to be from the IRS

June  2008: Privacy & Security Watch: TJX Fires Employee for Disclosing Security Problems

June 2008: Privacy & Security Watch: Diebold Summer Sale Offers Used Voting Machines 


December 2014: Data Security - Still an Oxymoron these many years later

November 2018: Another Major Data Breach


December 2018: 100 Million Quora Users Affected by Data Breach

June 1019: Commentary: "Data Security" is Still an Oxymoron and An Ongoing Threat 


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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

March 28, 2020

As we all deal with the CoronaVirus


As we all deal with the CoronaVirus in one way or another, technology has helped in a variety of ways. For example, this newsletter is available (and has been for the longest time) without having to leave home or go to a mailbox, because it is available via the internet. Keeping up with the latest news about the virus and how to deal with it is available 24/7 via the internet and some cable TV stations. Just about everyone has a phone which enables the ability to be in touch with others, even when in isolation --be it a home phone that can only make and receive voice calls, or a cell phone that also has the ability to see the person at the other end of the conversation with the right tools. There are even free apps to have video gatherings.

Technology is also being used to speed up testing so that folks don’t have to wait a week or more to find out if their test came back positive or negative.

Those are some of the good things about technology in these trying times. There is another side, though. TMI (too much information) can also be a debilitating thing for those who are already anxious or depressed, or it can create such conditions in those who previously were not or were only slightly debilitated in that way. Those folks should try to find a way to disconnect from the 24/7 barrage and instead use technology to find calming messages and music and entertainment. There are free apps for meditation and such as well.

Technology is a powerful tool. Use it wisely.

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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

January 18, 2020

Review: Amazon Echo Auto



I recently received an email from my auto insurance company offering to provide me with a free Amazon Echo Auto for my car. I decided to take advantage of the offer.

In the box was the Echo Auto, an air vent mount, an auxiliary cable (to plug directly into the car), a micro-USB to USB-A cable (as power cord), and an in-car power adapter that plugs into the car’s 12-volt outlet (formerly known as the cigarette-lighter outlet).

Initially, after reviewing the connection instructions, I decided to first try and see if it would work just with my cell phone, since it requires that I have a cell phone with a data plan in order to work in the car.

Like any other Amazon device, I first needed to power it up and install it with the Alexa app. I did that at home, using my phone’s Bluetooth connection to communicate with the Echo Auto. I then proceeded to talk to it just like any other device and it worked using my phone’s speaker. It occurred to me that it probably would have been much easier, from a user perspective, if somehow Amazon could add to the Alexa app the ability to use Alexa on my cell phone, rather than having to buy another device.

Eventually, I got around to setting this up in my car. An audiophile friend of mine joined me.

The first thing that we both found annoying was the air vent mount, which is required in order to hold the Echo Auto. It blocks up most of the vent.

The Echo Auto needs to be able to connect to your cell phone via Bluetooth, and your car needs to have Bluetooth connectivity.  My car has both a USB power outlet and also an audio input, so I was able to directly connect the Amazon Echo Auto to both, skipping one Bluetooth connection option. This left the car’s 12-volt outlet free for other devices I may wish to plug in. This also meant I had two (2) cables hanging from the device that was mounted on and blocking my vent. Not a pretty site.

In order to actually use the device in the car, my cell phone had to be on and Bluetooth needed to be enabled. I also needed to select the Bluetooth source on the car’s console. I spoke to Alexa. We (my friend and I) immediately noticed how low the volume was. We quickly discovered that the Echo Auto maxes out at level 6 (on a scale of 1 to 10) and will not get any louder. This required turning up the volume on the car audio. That is a serious safety problem, because if I (or someone) switch the audio source (say, to radio or SiriusXM), those sources will be at very high volumes and scare the driver and potentially cause an accident.

As I mentioned, it requires that you have a cell phone and a data plan in order to work. I was not impressed. Perhaps it is intended for listening to Amazon music, but if you can listen to it on your cell phone and your car has Bluetooth, you can accomplish this with your cell phone. Otherwise, you can ask your cell phone anything with your voice and get the information you need either from the phone’s speaker or, if you wish, by connecting to the Bluetooth audio in your car to hear the answers or the music or whatever from your car’s speakers.

Although it is shaped differently, it appears to essentially be an Amazon Echo Input (reviewed in The Kuper Report (https://www.thekuperreport.com/2020/01/review-amazon-echo-auto.html) back in August 2019) modified to work with a cell phone. This got my (and my friend’s) curiosity peaked. So after packing the Echo Auto back up (I saw no need to have it in my car), we went back to my home and decided to do one more experiment.

I previously connected an Echo Input to my stereo. We were curious if we could simply replace it with the Echo Auto and get the same results. I needed a USB power connector to plug it into an electric outlet, since the Echo Auto only came with a power connector for the car. I have several, so that was not a problem. I connected the Echo Auto to the stereo and proceeded to ask it questions and to play music. It worked just like the Echo Input, but with one glaring exception: It still would not get louder than volume level 6, and so I had to crank up the volume of the stereo to hear it. This, of course, meant that if I did not first lower the volume before switching to a different input on the stereo, it would be way too loud.

In the end, I cannot recommend this product. I have no idea why it was created. The Amazon Echo Auto seems to be a solution in search of a problem.


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In the event you missed previous articles about Google and Amazon devices, you can find them here:

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/11/review-google-home-mini-vs-amazon-echo.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2018/12/part-2-review-google-home-mini-vs.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/01/google-home-adds-feels-like-temperature.html


https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/04/alexa-why-arent-you-doing-what-i-ask.html

https://www.thekuperreport.com/2019/07/real-youtube-app-added-to-amazon-fire-tv.html



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Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report

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