Tuesday, June 28, 2016

UnderCover Anti-Theft App for the Mac Starts Acting Up: The Problem and Solutions

By the recommendation of my friend Eric Cheng (a photographer, techno genius, and now a drone genius) I bought the UnderCover App for my Macs several years ago.  It was one of the first anti-theft applications for the Mac.  I've been impressed with it. 

Their website is at:
http://orbicule.com/undercover/mac/


From their site:

According to a recent FBI report, 97% of all stolen computers are never recovered. Many people we know have had their Macs stolen, often in 'safe' situations. That's why we developed Undercover: a unique theft-recovery application designed from the ground up for Mac OS X.

Undercover transmits location information from the stolen Mac. This information includes the coordinates from wireless location tracking, and the internal and external IP addresses, enabling the police to accurately trace the Mac's physical location, in collaboration with the Internet Service Provider.


I don't know how Undercover compares to other apps like Lookout or Prey.  I can tell you that it seems to work fine with my Macs,  unlike some free tracking apps that I've used (and paid for) which never seemed to work when I was testing them.   

Recently, however, on one of my Macs, I started getting notifications from Undercover every time I woke my Mac up from sleep.  It became incredibly annoying.  


I wrote them and (as always) very quickly received a reply:

Hi Norbert,

Thanks for reporting this! If the registration screen keeps popping up even after entering your account's details again, it's best to verify that Undercover has no problems uploading information to your account at undercoverHQ.com: has it recently submitted a location? (You can check that in the Info tab, under Status > "Located...ago".)

If that all looks OK, the easiest way to prevent the registration app from coming up again would be to remove it (this won't do any harm: you no longer need that app, as your Mac is registered just fine):

- Choose "Go To Folder" from the Finder's "Go" menu
- Enter the following path: /usr/local/uc/bin
- Remove the Undercover Registration app in this folder

Do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions!

Kind regards,
Winnie


For me, the last step worked.  Thanks, UnderCover. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hot Tub and Spa Maintenance: Simple Ways to Keep Your Water Sparkling Clear


I bought a hot tub for the first time six years ago. I was apprehensive about how much maintenance it would need. Never fear, after five years of experience, I can say that hot tubs these days require surprisingly little maintenance and chemicals. Here's what I do to keep the water in my hot tub (spa) sparkling clear.

I have a fairly small, 275-gallon spa made by Sundance. I've had absolutely no problems with it, except in year three; I noticed a small, slow leak forming. I used the product Leak Seal by Leisure Time, and for once, this product actually worked. I have not had any more leaks for the past two years.

Perhaps the most important thing that I do is ask anyone using the hot tub to shower first.

If my water is clear, then I do the following:
1. Once or twice each week, add 2 oz. of shock (I use Leisure Time Renew Non-Chlorine Shock).
2. At the same time, I will add ½ oz. to 1 oz. of Clorox Bleach.
3. I will check the pH of the water, using Nature2 W29300 Spa Test Strips.

4. When the hot tub is filled for the first time, and for the first few months, I will include a Nature2 Spa Stick Mineral Sanitizer. To tell the truth, I don't know if this spa stick does anything, but my feeling is that it helps keep the water clear and helps keep the pH and other chemistry levels from bouncing around too much. I only use this spa stick for the first six months or so per water change.

5. If the pH levels, or other levels are off, I put in the proper chemicals. Most of the time, I won't have to add any chemicals other than the shock and chlorine for weeks and even months.
Usually, this is all I have to do for a couple of months. At some point every two or three months, the water starts getting cloudy or green more quickly. At this point, I will switch filters. I have four spa filters, both paper and polyethylene, which I rotate. When one filter is dirty, I will spray it off and let it dry. This goes into storage, and the next filter in line goes in the hot tub.

With the above procedures, I usually keep the water in the spa for a good two years before emptying the spa and refilling it. I empty and refill the spa when the water starts turning green or cloudy very quickly after being shocked – and after I've cleaned the filters, below.

Cleaning the filters is necessary but does not work that well. I just try to spray the outside of the filters with a garden hose and a hose attachment. All this does, really, is spray off some of the algae, hair, and skin particles. Most of the hair and dirt seems to be driven into the inside of the filter by the hose. I will try to spray the filter with a 50% bleach/50% water solution and then let it dry. Each filter will last 2-3 months before I have to rotate it – so I'll go through four filters every 9 months or so. Each filter can go into the hot tub twice with the above rinsing. After that, I've discovered that filters lose their effectiveness. I recently treated all my filters with Leisure Time Filter Clean, and this really worked well to clean the filters.

Sometimes after the above weekly treatments, the water will turn cloudy or green quickly. If the water is green, this means that algae is somewhere in the system. I'll replace the filter (if the water is green, usually the filter shows algal growth), and I will add up to 1 oz. of Clorox bleach to the water. The bleach is basically the same as chlorine, and it kills algae cells. I will wipe down all corners and sides of the hot tub with a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 16 parts water); this kills algae growing on the sides of the hot tub.

Do NOT use more than one ounce of Clorox bleach or chlorinator – using more can damage the finish of your hot tub. For all the above, check with your spa manufacturer or retailer – they may recommend that you NEVER use chlorinator or Clorox bleach.

Once in a long while, the water in my hot tub has remained cloudy despite my best efforts. When this happens, using Leisure Time Bright and Clear works wonders. It clears the water right up.


About Spa Chemicals:

I mention Leisure Time products a great deal in this blog post. I am not a shill for this company – I have just found that their products work well for me.

You can buy all kinds of spa chemicals, but in my research online, I've discovered that many household chemicals can be used in place of “formal” spa chemicals, and they are much less expensive.

1. Chlorine bleach (Clorox) can be used instead of pool chlorinator.
2. To raise pH of water, use baking soda instead of buying a pool chemical called “alkalinity increaser.” Baking soda works just like the stuff that you can buy from Leisure Time is just baking soda, from what I understand. Here's what one forum poster wrote:
Use baking soda instead of Alkalinity Increaser: Alkalinity Increaser" can cost $3/lb. A 4lb bottle will cost $10-$12 dollars. This infuriates me because the ONLY ingredient is Sodium Bicarbonate--Baking soda. Just get Arm and Hammer Baking soda instead!!!

3. Raising alkalinity of your water also raises pH – it is difficult to just raise pH and not alkalinity. One Internet poster states the following:
To raise the pH you need sodium carbonate (soda ash). Buy it in bulk if you find you need it. I buy 50# bags for 13 dollars from my pool distributor.
I found soda ash on Amazon (used for tie dyed shirts) but I am hesitant to use it much, because it hardens into a hard concrete-like paste when I add water to it. I sure don't want this hardening on the pipes in my hot tub.

4. To lower the pH in my hot tub, I've used Leisure Time's Spa Down. It is so inexpensive that I have not looked into household alternatives.

5. For this hot tub, I have not been concerned about adding calcium – but another, older hot tub uses test strips that do measure hardness and calcium levels. I've therefore added Leisure Time Calcium to this tub. Here's a note on the Internet that I found:
Be sure to also make sure your hardness level is correct 250-400ppm. Otherwise the water will take it from the parts in your tub it can, namely the heating element and seal to your hot tubs pump. Of course it is the same chemical as we use in swimming pools so buy that larger cheaper package. Calcium Chloride.


Some more tips:
Most hot tubs these days can be switched from 110V to 220V for power for the pump and heating. I highly recommend that anyone with a hot tub hire an electrician so that the hot tub can be powered from 220V rather than 110V. First, make sure that the hot tub can be powered from 110V and 220V (it was simple to change this on our hot tub). Having the power outlet changed to 220V wherever your hot tub is located can be done, but it can cost $1500 or more to get this done.

When the hot tub was powered by 110V, it took a long time to heat up. It took about 1 hour per degree to warm up the hot tub on 110V. If I were filling the hot tub, it could take a good 24 to 48 hours for the water to heat to 100 degrees. With 220V, the hot tub water heats up far more quickly – about 6 degrees per hour. So with 220V, I can leave the hot tub on 96 degrees all day, then just turn it up to 103F about an hour or two before using the tub, and it will go up to 103F that evening. I can't do this with 110V.

Cleaning filters:
Soak your hot tub filter in a 3-gallon bucket of hot water. Add a quarter cup of chlorine bleach to kill any germs and to whiten your filter.
Thoroughly rinse the filter with a hose. Be sure to wash out all traces of chlorine bleach especially if you use an alternative spa treatment like Baquacil.

Keeping Your Hot Tub Cover New:
My vinyl hot tub cover is expensive, and I don't want to have to replace it often. Every two months I wash the hot tub cover with a soap solution (just dishwashing soap solution) and then I spray it with a product called 303 Aerospace spray protectant. This stuff supposedly protects the vinyl from getting aged too quickly by UV and sunrays. My cover is five years old and going strong, so I guess that this stuff works.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Using a VPN is a Great Idea, but Not With GMail, Ebay, and Especially Paypal

I've been using the Torguard Virtual Private Network service.  It's far easier and simpler to use than I thought it would be.  I simply paid ($12 per month or so; they often have 50% sales) an annual fee, downloaded a small software package to my Mac, and then I was on.  All my internet traffic, when the Torguard app is connected, goes through their servers. 

They have servers all over the world.  I usually use the Los Angeles server, but when I was in Australia, I used the Sydney server.

At one point, I could not get into my Amazon account from Australia -- Amazon kept redirecting me to their Australia storefront.  I was able to solve the problem by logging into Torguard's LA server from Australia -- thus "tricking" Amazon into thinking that I was logging in from the US, rather than Australia.


Here's the Torguard app for Macs.  The Los Angeles server is chosen. 
Here's the Torguard VPN app while it is running.  The Public IP address masks your real IP address. 

Why use a VPN?  There are several other reasons.  Here are some reasons from:
https://www.bestvpn.com/blog/38176/vpns-for-beginners/

1.  Your ISP cannot know what you get up to on the internet
2.  You appear to access the internet from the IP address of the VPN server
3.  It is safe to use public WiFi hotspots because the internet connection between your device and the VPN server is encrypted.

This is a huge reason to use VPNs.  If you are using public Wifi hotspots, then you will want to use a VPN. 

Note: All your data is being transmitted through your VPN's servers -- so an evil VPN could see your data.  This is a concern -- I use Torguard because they are well-known and have been recommended by several sources. Supposedly your data is encrypted through the process.  There is a web page that shows you how to make sure that your data is encrypted:
http://www.online-tech-tips.com/computer-tips/check-vpn-connection-actually-encrypted/

Here's a huge disadvantage to using a VPN that I've discovered.  If you are using a VPN and log into a GMail or Ebay account, then GMail, Ebay, and Paypal will know that you are using a VPN (they log your IP address and match it to known VPN sites).  Since many hackers use VPNs to cloak their identity, Ebay, Paypal, and GMail will immediately challenge your ability to log into your account

Just yesterday, when I logged into GMail to access my email account through Torguard, I was challenged by GMail.  I was asked to provide an access code that was texted to my cell phone.  If I was overseas, then I would not have access to my cell phone's texts, and I would not be able to log into my email account.  Fortunately, GMail will let you log in again if you are not using a VPN - you are not permanently blocked from your account.  In this case, I turned off my VPN, tried to log in using my hotel's wifi network, and I was not challenged.  Gmail told me that someone suspicious had tried to log in a few minutes ago and asked if that was me. 

PayPal treated the situation far more suspiciously and created a huge headache for me (and for all its users, which seems to be a recurring habit of PayPal).  When I tried to log into my Paypal account using a VPN, Paypal immediately SUSPENDED my account.  I was no longer able to log in, period.  I had to verify my identity in several ways, and finally had to wait until I got home to provide a billing statement, copy of my drivers license, and bank statement to prove that I was the owner of the account.  When I was challenged by Paypal, they first asked me to verify a code sent by text (which I could not do, as I was overseas).  Before that, however, they presented a few other ways to verify my identity, such as linking a bank account and credit card.  They ended up rejecting two or three credit cards and bank accounts.  It was frustrating in the extreme, and Paypal locked up several hundred dollars of funds for several weeks in this manner.  I am not a fan of Paypal, and you might want to read the accounts in the website www.PayPalsucks.com to learn about how Paypal treats its customers terribly. 

I will say that Paypal has become pretty much the only way for friends and acquaintances to send cash to each other.  I've recently tried alternatives, and I had a REALLY BAD experience with Google Payments/Wallet.  I will write about that experience in another post. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review of Amcrest 720P Wireless IP Camera System IPM-721S

This is a review of the Amcrest 720P WiFi Wireless IP Security Surveillance Camera.


I have used half a dozen different Foscams, a couple of Android motion detection apps that will send alerts and images if motion is detected, and now this Amcrest. 

I like this camera, but I am surprised that no one has commented on features that do not work with this camera.  It was easy to set up using the QR code, and I am using it behind an AT&T U-verse modem/router combination -- and then a Netgear router.  Therefore I am happily surprised that I can view this camera's real-time image, and use pan and tilt settings, through the phone app and a web browser at their amcrestcloud.com website.  Barry from Amcrest tells me that this is due to P2P. 

I have not been able to get through the U-verse modem/router to control any other IP camera remotely.  I don't even know if U-Verse has forward-facing IP addresses to allow this.  I used to have Comcast service and could indeed control my cameras from outside my local network -- this was using a cable modem and my own router, no company combo router with another router added to the mix. 

However, several important features do not seem to be working with the Amcrest camera.  Here are a few:

(I sent an email to Amcrest Tech Support, but they did not reply for over a day.  Mario Romero finally replied but in the meantime, I called and reached "Barry" in tech support.  I've posted both of their replies."

1.  Turning off the camera in amcrestcloud.com does not work at all.  If the power to the camera is on, the camera is always on. 

Answer from Mario Romero in tech support:
The turn off feature refers to Global motion detection on the Cloud service and not the camera physically being turned off. We are working with our cloud to have it rephrased in manner to help alleviate confusion.

Barry in tech support said that this does not work, period. 


2.  Turning schedules on or off in amcrestcloud.com does not work; setting schedules have no effect on either starting or stopping motion detection.  It seems to be always on.

Answer from Mario Romero in tech support:
There was glitch that has been corrected recently affecting schedules. How recent did you attempt the scheduling portion on the cloud.

I tested this again, and it still does not work as I expected.  I was always getting motion detection alerts (emails) even if the schedule was turned off.  I suspect that if you schedule the camera to be OFF during a period of time, this only turns off the video recording to the cloud.  You will still receive motion alerts via email.  This is OK with me but I wish that their cloud site made this clearer.  At some point, Gmail might label all these motion alerts as spam and maybe even blacklist the emails, so this is a concern. 


3. You cannot set motion detection on or off using the web remotely or the camera app.  You can only set motion detection on or off if you are using your local home network. 

Answer from Mario Romero in tech support:
The smartphone has the ability to do it also, but there is a glitch where it will turn off the motion detection scheduling currently. I would reccomend to use the local web UI or the cloud service to change the setting. There is a way also to have the local web ui available remotely but may involve port forwarding on your router/ modem.


4.  The camera seems to go to B&W depending on low light level.  I have not tested this extensively, but it sometimes gives me a B&W picture, and sometimes the picture is in color.

Answer from Mario Romero in tech support:
This does occur depending on lighting  in a room. The IR lights(Night Vision) are designed to kick in when lighting is at a certain point. you are able to disable the the night vision through the cloud,app, and local web UI and re-enable when you like also. If you have ever heard a clicking sound, it because the night vision is kicking in/out.


5.  I have set the camera up to send emails to a gmail address.  For some reason, Gmail interprets all email alerts from this camera as coming at some time 16 or so hours before the actual time.  The time stamp within the email is correct, and is what I've set the time for in the camera setting (Pacific Standard Time).  However, the Amcrest is evidently sending emails with an "email time stamp" that is way off. 

Here's an example from one recent email alert:
Gmail says that the email was sent at: May 29 (8 days ago)
But the email body contains an image and the following information: Alarm Start Time(D/M/Y H:M:S): 30/05/2016 05:18:05

The email body has the correct time. 


Answer from Mario Romero in tech support:
the time stamp of the camera can be looked at and verified. I have seen this occur also, and a soft reset helped the situation. Please unplug the camera from power for 5 seconds, then plug it back in.  (Norb's note -- this has never worked, I've tried it several times). 

But Barry said that this was a known bug, they are working on it.


In summary, this Amcrest IP camera works well and is easy to set up.  I was able to view it remotely using the camera app and my web browser at the amcrestcloud.com site.  However, there are some features that don't work -- and should work -- such as turning the camera on and off; motion detection on and off; and correct time stamps accompanying emails.

A few more notes:
1.  The video recording to the cloud is nice, but any videos are deleted from their cloud site after 4 hours.  This makes the video recordings useless.  It's a pretty smart way for Amcrest to convert users to paid users, where the video recordings are stored on the cloud for a longer period. 
As one reviewer on Amazon states:
It is only 4 hours of clock time, not recording time. It's enough for you to evaluate if you want to subscribe. If you want to catch a burglar, it would only have your recording if he came in the last 4 hours.


2.  The only way to turn off motion detection on the camera -- and to avoid getting a constant stream of motion alerts flooding your mailbox -- is to physically turn off the power to the camera.  You cannot turn the camera or the motion alerts off using the cloud site or the phone app. 

Notes:
Amcrest tech support 888.212.7538
their website states that email is the best way to reach tech support, but I found that calling was far better, and quicker.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sharing a Wifi Signal, Making Your PC into a Wifi Hotspot

Update 5-13-16:
I bought a $19 Edimax BR-6258nL travel router.  To frequent flyers and others who have been doing research on WISP routers and whether a WISP router can indeed work with a wifi hotspot that requires a login page -- YES INDEED, this travel router works just fine. 

I am loving it, and I have to say, Comcast and their wide network of Xfinity hotspots.  I am at my summer house in Washington State, and one of the things I did after the first year of ownership here, was to cancel my Comcast service, which supplied my internet and TV. 

It's been an education, and interesting to get by without paying Comcast $80 per month (which I only used when I was at our summer house, which is sometimes not very often).  I get high-def TV using an antenna (thanks to the great TVFool.com site) but the far-away stations get lost at low tide.  That's OK.  Internet access has been more of a problem; in past years, I've used an iPad with Verizon cellular data access here, which can get expensive.

Because I am a Comcast subscriber at my other house, however, I am able to log in and use Comcast's many Xfinity hotspots, which really are nearly everywhere.  At my house, I get an Xfinity wifi signal, but using it requires logging in to the hotspot through a login page.  My iPad and smartphones for some reason were not able to log in.

I describe, below, using a Windows laptop to log into a wifi hotspot that requires logging in -- and then becoming a wifi hotspot itself.  However, the Edimax BR-6258nL travel router does this too, and it is does it all much better, far more consistently, with far faster data speeds, than the Windows laptop. This is called "WISP" mode -- and it does this: borrows existing wireless Internet and broadcasts it using a different network name(SSID) and password. 

I've now had two days of near-continuous internet access through what used to be a very spotty Xfinity connection.  The Edimax travel router picks up the Xfinity hotspot signal easily, and it rebroadcasts it as a traditional wifi hotspot with an SSID and password (not requiring a login page). 

The initial setup was a bit tricky.  Thanks to the always useful flyertalk forums for hints that this would work, and in particular, thanks to Colin Robinson and the following web page for showing the process of setting up this router step-by-step:

https://www.worksmartandtravel.com/2016/sharing-wifi-easy-way/

I got stuck on the last steps of setting up the Edimax router, and here's the solutions provided by the above website:

6. Click on the wireless network you want to connect to. If the connection is encrypted, enter the encryption password in the field below the SSID name. Then click next
7. Wait a few seconds again, then on the next screen click on Setup Internet Automatically.
 8. Since most public WiFi-Hotspots are assign IP address dynamically, make sure you have Dynamic IP selected on the next screen, then click on next.
9. On the next screen, for public WiFi-Hotspots there’s no need to enter or change any of the settings. Just click on the apply button at the bottom of the screen.
10. If all is well, the next screen will display “Congratulations! Your devise is established” just click on the “I want to surf the internet now” button. Your web browser will now automatically redirect to your default home page or to the Hotspot logon page. 

On clicking on “I want to surf the internet now” button, you maybe redirected to a Hotspot logon page.  Double check your laptops wireless connection to make sure you’re still connected to the EdiMax travel router and it did not directly connect to the hotspot.  If you are still connected to the EdiMax travel router, logon to the wireless hotspot in the normal way.  

Your EdiMax travel router is now connected to the Hotspot and you can share your Internet connection through its own wireless signal with other devices .  Just connect these devices to the EdiMax to share the internet connection. 


*****

I travel a lot, so getting the internet when I am traveling is an obsession. 

There are many ways to get the internet when traveling.  I've been using an iPad 3 with Verizon data, and the iPad can be turned into a wifi hotspot.  I have cell phones with Sprint and other networks, and those cell phones can be turned into wifi hotspots.  The only problem is that getting data this way can be expensive, especially if you forget about turning off automatic updates on your laptop.  Those updates can suck up 500 Mb of data instantly and without you knowing it -- costing you half a month's allotment of data, costing anywhere from $15 to $30 and even more. 

Macs have a way to share an internet signal that lots of folks know about.  If a Mac is getting the internet through a wired Ethernet cable, then it is fairly easy to turn that Mac into a wifi hotspot.  Go to System Preferences --> Sharing, and click on Internet Sharing.  Unfortunately, with a Mac, if you are getting the internet through Mac's wifi card, then you cannot also share that wifi signal.  In another writer's words: The one big limitation is that you can’t both be connected to a Wi-Fi network and host a Wi-Fi network at the same time.

Here's a scenario.  You are in a hotel, and the hotel allows you to use the wifi in your room, but you are only allowed to log in for one device.  You have three devices that need internet data -- your MacBook, your smartphone, and your iPad.  What to do? 

You could get the wifi signal through your MacBook, and then share that internet connection through the MacBook's Bluetooth connection, to other devices.  I've spent hours attempting to do this with no luck -- with a couple of Android phones and an iPad 3. 




Sharing Bluetooth on a Mac -- this NEVER worked for me

If you have a Windows laptop, however, you CAN receive wifi on it and then share that wifi signal!  Again, from another writer: Windows has a useful feature that allows you to create a virtual Wi-Fi adapter interface, making it possible to both connect to a Wi-Fi network and create a Wi-Fi hotspot using the same physical network interface at the same time. This feature is hidden, but you can access it using the Virtual Router software — this uses the same Windows features as Connectify, a commercial application.

I've downloaded and tested the Windows-compatible application "Virtual Router" which can be found at:
https://virtualrouter.codeplex.com/

Here's the description:
Virtual Router is a free, open source software based router for PCs running Windows 8, Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2. Using Virtual Router, users can wirelessly share any internet connection (Wifi, LAN, Cable Modem, Dial-up, Cellular, etc.) with any Wifi device (Laptop, Smart Phone, iPod Touch, iPhone, Android Phone, Zune, Netbook, wireless printer, etc.) These devices connect to Virtual Router just like any other access point, and the connection is completely secured using WPA2 (the most secure wireless encryption.)

Virtual Router was amazingly simple and easy to use.  I installed it, it gave a simple window showing the network name, and I entered a password and chose "share wifi signal."  BOOM, the Windows laptop became a wifi hotspot.  I was able to connect my MacBook Pro to this wifi hotspot immediately.  I did have a few problems initially with the MacBook Pro disconnecting from Virtual Router -- but after figuring out the best places to put the two laptops -- the connection has rarely dropped in the past day.  The Windows laptop serving as a wifi hotspot does not transmit too far -- about 20 feet, through a wall. 

However, I've not been able to connect my Android phones to Virtual Router, nor an iPad 3.  I was able to connect the iPad 3 once, after restarting the Windows machine and restarting the Virtual Router software.  However, the connection kept getting dropped for the iPad, whereas the connection remained steady for the MacBook. 

I've therefore tried Connectify, which took a long time to install, and required the Microsoft .Net 4 framework.  I kept getting a fatal installation error, so could not install Connectify. 

I am sure that there are other devices out there that do the same thing, so there's no reason to lug a Windows laptop around, but I have not tried these yet. 

PS I'd like to actually give compliments to Comcast and its Xfinity wifi hotspots, which are all over the place!  If you are an existing Comcast internet customer, then when you drive or travel to other places, you might see Xfinity wifi hotspots.  Just log into those hotspots with your usual Comcast username and password -- and voila! you will be on the internet.  I've been driving around the US quite a bit recently, and I've seen an Xfinity hotspot nearly everywhere that I've been. 

There are also tons of free wifi hotspots around the US.  Examples are McDonald's, Starbucks, and Fred Meyer stores.

PPS There is a product called the Cradlepoint MBR-95 router that I've personally tested and used extensively.  It has a feature called "Wifi as WAN."  This cool router can take a wifi signal from, say, a coffeeshop or another wireless access point, and broadcast that wifi signal over a much larger range.  For instance, I have a Sprint Overdrive Pro wifi hotspot, which takes a Sprint cellular data signal and lets me browse the web on my laptop.  When I am traveling and in one place for a while, I will set up the Sprint hotspot up, and I can roam around a room using that wifi hotspot. However, the range is limited.  The MBR-95 router can take the wifi signal from the Sprint hotspot and then re-broadcast it over a much wider range.  It is a true router, so I am able to plug in devices like security cameras in using Ethernet cables or over wifi.

The Cradlepoint MBR-95 router doesn't seem to work with cell phones that have been set up as wifi hotspots, for some reason.  It also will not work with Comcast's Xfinity hotspots -- because these hotspots require a separate login via a webpage.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Verizon SIM card in iPad Still Works After Ten Months of Inactivity

Back in August 2014, I wrote about a problem that many folks with iPads with Verizon cellular data service had. 

Here's the post:
http://norbertwu.blogspot.com/2014/08/tips-to-cancel-your-month-to-month.html
This was two years ago -- and maybe the problem has been solved. 

Here's the problem:
Many folks bought an iPad 3 or higher, with Verizon service, because Verizon allows folks with iPads to use their iPad as a wifi hotspot at no extra charge. The other promises from Verizon were that you could buy their data for a month at a time, could cancel your account anytime with no penalty, and there would be no activation fees.

You would never think to ask that if you chose not to use Verizon data on your iPad for a few months, that Verizon would inactivate (“burn”) your SIM card and then refuse to give you a new card unless you paid for it (and got involved in other costly complications, such as being forced to enroll in a postpaid plan that involves a two-year commitment, charges activation fees, etc).

That was two years ago...today I discovered that perhaps this is no longer a problem. 

Perhaps Verizon has fixed this problem in a bid to be more customer-friendly.  Today I tried starting up my iPad 3 with a Verizon SIM card that I had not used for 10 months or so.  I fully expected that the SIM card would be burned.  Instead, when I went to Settings-->Cellular Data and View Account, I was taken to a page that offered me a free 500Mb trial of Verizon cellular data for my Ipad.  I clicked through, and received the free trial as per this screen.  Verizon did not even ask for a credit card.  Wow.  Perhaps enough folks have complained to Verizon about the problem described here that they fixed the problem.  Maybe Verizon has lost enough customers and is finally starting to be nicer to their customers.  One can only hope. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

AT&T Customer Survey Hell: Please Take a Survey to Tell Us Why You Won't Take Our Survey

Switched to AT&T U-Verse -- and Barraged by Spam and Marketing Calls and Emails!  ARRGH!!!

I decided to lower my bills for my landline phone and internet service.  I have had a copper landline for 20 years with AT&T, and the bill kept going up and up for basic limited service.  It started at about $10 and was now $35 per month with all the taxes and dubious fees.

I have had internet with Comcast, and they kept raising the price on me also.  So I decided to switch to AT&T U-Verse service for my phone and internet.  I could no longer get DSL from AT&T, and after research, it was apparent that once I cancelled my copper landline service from AT&T, I would never get it back.  But it was time.

I called, and I got U-Verse phone and internet service for a bargain rate for the next 12 months.  The technician came out to our house and strung in a new line, and was very professional.  I was able to get the internet and phone up and running the same day, and the entire process took just a couple of hours.   Now I have to rent a special AT&T modem, rather than being able to use a cable or DSL modem that I can buy from Fry's or Amazon -- which sucks.  But I'll just switch back to Comcast in a year. 

Unfortunately, AT&T has since barraged me with marketing emails and calls from both their marketing departments AND given out my new phone number to spam callers like cruise companies.  Before the installation day, we got about six calls from AT&T telling us to put the installation day and time in our calendar.  After getting the new phone service, I had to go onto my AT&T account page and block a bunch of AT&T marketing numbers from calling.  The phone was ringing and ringing until I learned to block all the AT&T marketing calls.  What a hassle.

Now AT&T is deluging my email inbox with marketing emails and requests for me to take a survey.  I HATE SURVEYS.  Hey big companies: it's not difficult to find out what your customers think of you -- just look at some forums.  Don't bother your customers endlessly with surveys -- it's pretty easy to figure out what good, professional, efficient customer service is.   Too bad AT&T is synonymous with BAD customer service.  Some companies just can't figure it out. 

Here's the email I got from AT&T today.  Their reply when I unsubscribed is so outrageous and ridiculous that I actually laughed.  Take a look.

Here's the email:



So I clicked unsubscribe in the email.  This took me to a web page where I was asked if I was sure that I wanted to unsubscribe.  When I said yes, a web page popped up -- asking me to participate in a survey as to why I wanted to unsubscribe from their survey!  Jesus -- when will this end?!!