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Identify Suspicious Email Messages

I have family members who are sharing concerns with me about alarming email messages they receive from time to time. They’ve even admitted interest in messages that congratulate them for winning unexpected prizes.

Oh, boy…

I’m hoping this post can help people examine these messages and avoid negative consequences. Please share or discuss this matter with your friends and loved ones who could be vulnerable to these sorts of exploits.

As a seasoned email user, I can usually spot a suspicious message quickly. Poor grammar. Choppy sentence structure. And poor quality images of company logos.

Recently, I received a phishing message that impressed me with its design. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t the usual mess, either.

Let’s examine impressive parts of the message:

  1. The message begins with a decent PayPal logo image.
  2. The overall design layout looks professional. The white message body and gray footer area are typical of professional designs.
  3. Most of the text reads fairly well, especially if you are skimming because you’re alarmed.
  4. The last paragraph encourages the reader to seek assistance by clicking Contact on PayPal web pages. This is subtle. You might drop your guard if the message clearly states you can seek assistance in a way other than clicking links inside the message.

Let’s look at the suspicious parts of the message:

  1. The “Your Payment Processed Has Been Declined” is the first indication of a bogus message.
  2. I am addressed as “Dear Client”. This is not immediately suspicious, but if you look at the footer, you’ll see that my correct email was used. If PayPal had my email, then they probably know my name and would use in the message greeting.
  3. The first paragraph has odd sentence structure.
  4. The second paragraph includes a capitalized “Please” in the middle of a sentence.
  5. The blue button reads “Review Your’s Accounts”. And it is not properly vertically centered between the paragraphs.
  6. The third and fourth paragraphs do not have white space between them like that between the first and second paragraphs.
  7. The salutation “Sincerely” seems more personal than professional given the message’s subject matter.
  8. Here’s the biggest clue for me: I don’t actually have a PayPal account.

Don’t fall for this stuff. Think twice or even three times before you take an action on a message designed to frighten you.

2018 Mac mini Disappoints

2018 Mac mini next to a Shame meter

On October 30, 2018, Apple debuted an updated Mac mini. The Cupertino kids did an admirable job updating the product, and the new price ($799, previously $499) seemed within normal Apple tolerances.

But the devil is in the specs.

If this is a desktop computer, the entry level specs aren’t impressive. And once you bump the options into mid-level desktop territory, you’re in for sticker shock.

In my opinion, a desktop computer serves as a desktop with these minimum specifications: A Core i5, 8 GB RAM, and 1 TB storage.

Let’s compare’s Apple entry level device with something more serviceable:

Mac mini
(entry level)
Mac mini
(desktop minimum)
Core i3 (4 core)Core i5 (6 core)
8 GB RAM8 GB RAM
128 GB SSD1 TB SSD
$799$1,699

Bumping the specs in just 2 areas adds $900 to the cost. Does upgrading a processor and solid-state storage really cost more than two entry level Mac mini devices?

I had hoped that the cost with the upgrades I sought would have been $1,199. If it had, I’d have placed my order.

Apple gives lip service to creating devices that provide the experience its customers desire. That gets interpreted as lip service when you look at the paltry entry level specs.

C’mon, Apple. You shouldn’t seek to fleece your customers to provide the expected “experience” you propose.

HP PageWide Printer Error

I recently purchased a Hewlett Packard PageWide 477dw printer. This product offers interesting new, more efficient printing technology with output every bit as good as a LaserJet.

But concerns emerged literally right out of the box. I plugged it in, and it immediately displayed an error message.

Perhaps “Hide” Should Read As “Run & Hide”

Printing functionality is disabled. Please contact HP.
Error code: 0xc6fd0802

I researched a found only a single abandoned HP Support forum thread. So I unplugged and replugged, and that seemed to fix the issue.

Or so I thought.

I kept coming back about every 10 to 15 days. Solving always required unplugging and replugging. And web searches only ever found that one abandoned thread I mentioned earlier.

Cringingly, I called HP Support. And I was pleasantly surprised. They gave me a few pointers that I knew wouldn’t work (I suspect they felt the same way). But at the end of the call, they did not close my support ticket. They promised to call back after a few days. And they did. On that call, I confirmed the error had not returned, and I asked them to keep the case open. And they did. A week later, they called, I said there had been no error, and they asked if they could close the case. Hesitantly, I agreed.

The next day, the error returned! Figures.

I called HP Support, gave them the closed case number … and they immediately agreed to send a replacement.

I am impressed. HP came through for me.

I hope anyone suffering through this problem can find this page and get to a similar satisfactory resolution.

Recipe: Cream Dessert

Low Carb: Desserts

A low-carb diet does not mean you can’t enjoy a sweet dessert. This one is easy after you make it a few times. Soon, you can just eye the measurements and enjoy.

The ingredients might sound a little weird, and they won’t be cheap in the store. But it’s good.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tbsp Lala Sour Cream
  • 2 tbsp Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 2 drops stevia drops

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix ingredients.
  2. OPTIONAL: Top with Lily’s Dark Chocolate Chips (low-carb with stevia).

Low-Carb Diet Tips

Considering Low-Carb

Low-carb, Paleo, or Keto. Call it what you want. Believe it or don’t. If you’re getting started in this diet, here are a some tips … in totally random order.

  1. It ain’t cheap. Eating this way will cost you more money. So adjust your budget accordingly. But keep perspective about the increased food costs. Going to the doctor for chronic health conditions related to carb-heavy eating will also cost you (a lot) money.
  2. Eating at restaurants will be challenging. Everything is wrapped in bread or tortillas. Friggin’ everything! Avoid it by ordering a salad. Or a meat plate with a low-carb side. Or the chicken wings. Or even the sandwich without the bread. Yeah, you’ll get an odd look, but everyone will get over it.
  3. Brace yourself for eating more fat. Yep. After being indoctrinated about low-fat diets since forever, you’re going to doing a one-eighty degree turn. Don’t underestimate the impact of that, but stick to your guns. And remember if you go low-carb and maintain low-fat eating, you’re gonna starve.
  4. No, you can’t stuff yourself. You’ll see low-carb diet guidance that says you can eat until you’re full. They didn’t say “stuffed”! You can’t shove 20 pieces of bacon into yourself and become leaner or feel better. Remember, moderation is your friend.
  5. Don’t mix low-carb eating with common carb eating. That’s a recipe (no pun intended) for obesity and health problems.
  6. Don’t argue about low-carb eating. If someone starts to argue that your diet is “not smart” or “dangerous” and that some carbs are “healthy,” then stop. Stop before you lose a friend. The low-fat diet is beyond guidance, it’s a religion for most people. You are not going to change blind faith. Your comeuppance will be when they see you becoming leaner and feeling better.
  7. Get accustomed to new flavors. The low-carb sweet replacements won’t taste like the high-carb versions you enjoyed before. They’re different, not bad. Examples include Zevia sodas, fat-bombs, and almond flour muffins.
  8. You’re gonna be making more food at home. If you don’t love spending time in the kitchen, start with some simpler recipes. Look them up online.
  9. Leverage the web and social media. There are many social groups and recipe websites out there. Find a group with a dedication level similar to yours. Most low-carb dieters are kind and supportive, but some can belittle you if you don’t follow the diet as strictly as they do.
  10. Remember that obesity is a sign of malnourishment. That’s right. If the body is taking in fuels it can’t use efficiently (i.e., carbs), then the body will suffer. Since the widespread adoption of low-fat diets, obesity has skyrocketed.

Low-Carb at Starbucks

Low Carb at Starbucks

If you like plain black coffee, then low-carb at Starbucks shouldn’t be too difficult. But if you’re cursed with a sweet tooth, it isn’t so easy to skip the sugar on your way out. But you can use Splenda at the condiment bar. And you can ask the barista to add Stevia. Yep, they have that.

If you prefer handcrafted drinks with 40+ grams of carbs, try this:

  1. Cold brew coffee (this is generally less bitter than brewed iced coffee)
  2. Heavy cream (a creamy texture can make up a bit for sweetness)
  3. Sugar-free syrup, such as Cinnamon Dolce or Vanilla (be warned that the sugar-free vanilla syrup has an ingredient that can cause a bit of an insulin response)

And this is less expensive than the high-sugar handcrafted beverages.

If you like to grab a bite to eat at Starbucks, then here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Try the Egg and Cheese Protein Pack. Just skip the little piece of bread. If you feel small servings of fruit will exceed your daily carb allowance, then you should probably skip this menu item.
  2. Try the Sous Vide Egg Bites. They’re quite satisfying.

While these menu items are relatively low-carb, they’re not super low. But they fit fine in my diet.

Are Star Wars Fans Ruining Star Wars? [Rant]

Star Wars: What's The Big Deal?

When Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit theaters in December 2017, a lot of fans revolted. Now, summer 2018 sees the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story is released, and legions of fans have now lost their minds.

I think the fans are no longer interested in experiencing stories, and now they only want to see specific backstories of any characters they feel are interesting. And it better be the exact version of the backstory they expect. Any any story story advancement had better be exactly as expected, too. And we’d better see everything spelled out as expected for the original trilogy trio (Luke, Leia, and Han). If anything unexpected occurs, then there will be extraordinary fan backlash.

SPOILERS AHEAD

So we saw the demise of Snoke at the hands of Kylo Ren. That was a delightful twist, unless you were a Star Wars fanatic who badly wanted to learn more about Snoke. Like who his mom was, what public school he went to, and what intergalactic bully turned him into a deformed force-user bent on taking over the galaxy when the Empire couldn’t pull it off.

Um, who friggin’ cares? I want to see a story. I like surprises. And I feel the new characters deserve the primary focus of the current trilogy. Comparatively, there was nothing wrong with The Last Jedi (we all remember the trainwrecks of Episodes I and II, right?). And it was much more ambitious than the retread that was The Force Awakens.

And what’s up with the hate for Solo? Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover did excellent jobs with legendary characters. They brought a new dimensions to the characters of Han and Lando. Youthful optimism, smugness, and a bit of rivalry. And they went up against an interesting set of antagonists.

But the fans want Lucasfilm management thrown out. And even Disney stock has taken a hit. All of this hate over popcorn movies?!

C’mon, fellow Star Wars fans! Grow. Up. Please.

PS- I hear you. I have no idea why I take the time to write this stuff, either.

Keyboard and Mouse Utilities For macOS That Windows Users Will Love

Finger at Keyboard

A year ago, I decided to move from Windows to Mac. As an iPhone user, this made sense. My mobile and desktop computing resources integrated very well and solved a lot of workarounds and incompatibilities that plagued me as a Windows user. And to be brutally honest, I got tired of fixing my Windows machine. Macs are not perfect (by a LONG shot), but they’re predictable which makes them more dependable.

Problem

Being a long-time Windows user, I brought a lot of muscle memory problems and habits with me as I started the Mac. Since I must use Windows for work, I have a KVM to share keyboard, mouse, and monitors. So I use a Windows keyboard and PC mouse with my Mac.

Here were my biggest problems:

  1. I like using the Forward and Back buttons on my mouse, especially for navigating websites. (On Macs, these mouse buttons are dead.)
  2. I prefer natural scrolling on the MacBook trackpad and directional scrolling on the mouse wheel. (On Macs, you are prevented from configuring these differently. It’s bewildering.)
  3. I like to press the Home and End keys to go to the beginning and end of a text line, respectively. (On Macs, these actions take the cursor to the top or bottom of the message body.)
  4. Closely related to the above, I like to press Shift+Home and Shift+End to select (aka, highlight) text to the beginning and end of a text string respectively. (On Macs, these actions take the text selection to the top or bottom of the message body.)

As any Windows user will tell you, Macs don’t work that way.

Solutions

I tried to get used to it. I really did. But in the end muscle memory won, and Mac lost. But not without some help.

Scroll Reverser

Scroll Reverser Preferences Panel

This utility is simple, and it’s free.

Scroll Reverser breaks the connection between the mouse scroll setting and the trackpad scroll setting. It allows me to have directional scrolling when I use mouse, and natural scrolling when I use the trackpad. Perfect!

Learn more about Scroll Reverser.

BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool Configuration Panel

This utility is a fairly simple power user’s tool, and it costs $4.99 (or more if you wish) with a 45-day trial period.

BetterTouchTool (BTT) allows you to override default actions on your keyboard, mouse (including Magic Mouse), trackpad, MacBook Pro TouchBar, and even the Siri Remote. I leverage the keyboard and mouse functionality. My mouse navigation buttons work in any application with a navigation history (web browsers, Finder, etc.). My keyboard brings familiar behavior to the Home and End keys. What a relief!

Quick Tip: Like any power user tool, the interface could be confusing to some. When adding a new shortcut or key sequence, click into the text fields and then press the keys. BTT will record the key or key combination. As you click into the text fields, you are also offered commands in a pop-up list. At first, I thought those listed commands were the only ones available.

Learn more about BetterTouchTool.

Degraded Sound Quality on CarPlay When Using Waze

Waze, a Sad Face Emoji, CarPlay, and Music

Waze recently updated its app with several new features including a nice new feature where you can get the app’s attention by saying “Okay, Waze.” But it might have a downside.

I have a car stereo with Apple CarPlay, but I still prefer to use Waze rather than Apple Maps. Unfortunately, Apple does not allow third-party apps to draw graphics on the stereo’s screen via CarPlay. So I have a setup that allows me to see Waze on my phone while playing music or podcasts over CarPlay.

One day, I noticed that when I switched the phone to Waze, the music sound quality tanked. If I switched back to any CarPlay-enabled app, the sound became noticeably better. Finally, it occurred to me that I had updated Waze and enabled it to listen for “Okay, Waze.”

I turned off that feature, and the sound degradation issue ceased. I could switch to and from Waze without the sound quality suffering.

Granted, this is a fairly unique circumstance, but it might save someone somewhere a frustrating headache.

Sexual Harassment in Tech (and in General)

Sarah LaneI usually don’t post on topics like this, but sexual harassment is not a political topic and it’s not up for interpretation. It’s always wrong.

So many of my fellow males excuse their behavior with “Hey, I was just joking” or “She shouldn’t be so touchy about it.” That’s not the right way to look at it. It’s not whether the guy thinks the behavior is one way or the other, it’s how the person on the receiving end perceives it.

Just because you didn’t mean for it to be damaging doesn’t mean it wasn’t damaging.

Be sensitive. Be considerate. Have empathy.

Tech podcaster Sarah Lane recently published a thoughtful and very candid article on Medium (her article contains mature themes). It’s worth your time to better understand how some behaviors and remarks are received. And how our culture intimidates women who speak out about it.

Sarah Lane currently co-hosts Daily Tech News Show with Tom Merritt. They are a remarkable team, and the podcast is one of the best tech news sources available.