Blog: Tech News & Tips

STEM Toys for Kids

We don’t have kids in our home anymore, so when I want to get a gift for a little one, I go online and see what I can find. We’re a tech company so my favorite gift is almost always a STEM toy. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Generally, I’ll do some research to see which toys have won awards, which are well-liked by parenting magazines, which are highly rated online, and which my friends or family may have told me about.

Yup, I’ve done the work so you don’t have to! And, just so you know, if you purchase anything from the links on this page we may receive a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Why are STEM toys good for kids?

STEM toys help kids develop a love of learning while they figure out how things work. Some people think that STEM is only about teaching kids how to code, but it is so much more than that. These toys help kids develop:

  • Spatial awareness
  • Reasoning skills
  • Engineering thinking
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Engineering design
  • Problem-solving skills

Think about an infant playing on the floor with pots and pans. Can this bowl fit into this pot? Can this pot go on top of this plastic container? How high of a tower can I make with all of these cookbooks? That’s the learning process in action! STEM toys build on that early learning.

What are examples of STEM toys?

Learn more about the benefits of STEM toys for your kids:

The Best Tablets for Kids

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Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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White Elephant Gifts

It’s that time of year where we are getting invited to lots of parties and they all seem to be having a White Elephant gift exchange. ** (And it’s not the kind where you can bring a toilet plunger that looks like a shotgun…) What are the best White Elephant gifts under $30? Well, Geek For Hire has some ideas!

Just so you know, if you purchase anything from the links on this page we may receive a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Creative White Elephant Gift Ideas:

Portable Power:

I don’t know about you, but our family always seems to be running out of juice. That’s where a portable battery pack comes in handy. What to look for:

  • Charging ports – It’s handy to have two or more ports to charge your devices.
  • Milliamp Hours – more is always better, 10000mAh should be the minimum you consider.
  • USB-C – Do you need a USB-C port? Not all portable chargers have one. Read the description carefully.
  • Size – The most useful charger is the one you use. I keep one in my purse that is teeny. It’s a square about four inches long and ½” per side. It’s useful for 1 phone charge when my battery is running low. When I travel, I carry a slightly larger one with 20000mAh that can totally charge a device 2 or 3 times.Portable Battery Pack for White Elephant gifts
  • Weight – is it light enough to carry around? My favorite one with the most charging power feels like a brick. The one I use most often can go in my front pocket.
  • Reviews – even if you’re not buying on Amazon, it is helpful to look at the reviews there. Remember, a rating of 4.8 stars with 1000 reviews is better than a rating of 5 stars with one review.

Smartphone Screen Magnifier:

Who else is watching videos on their smartphone? A screen magnifier is a fun way to watch Netflix when you don’t have access to a tablet or laptop. Here are some things to look for:

  • Screen size – most are 12”, but some are a little larger.
  • Does it come with a flat screen or is the screen curved? Some even provide a 3D experience.
  • Does it appear to be sturdy and easily portable?
  • Speaker – do you need or want a Bluetooth speaker? This will add complexity and require power. It will probably add to the price as well.
  • Read the Reviews!

Wearable sound:

You’ve got a whole bunch of options here. I have a headband with Bluetooth speakers that I use to help me fall asleep at night. If you like to listen to music or podcasts when you’re hiking or running, a hat with speakers built right in could work very well.  Or, you also check out earbuds:

  • How will they be used? Earbuds are more versatile if they can be used to make and answer phone calls. Some are made just for listening to music or an audiobook.
  • Many earbuds come with a storage case that is also used for charging. See if you can get a set with a fast-charging USB-C.
  • Controls – can you increase/decrease the volume from the earbuds, or do you need to do that with your smartphone? How large are the control buttons? Can you adjust by feel or do you need to take it out of your ear?
  • Interchangeable buds? Does it come with different-sized earbuds to provide a perfect fit?
  • Remember to check the reviews!

Portable Cord Organizer:

One of the best gifts I gave this year was a portable cord organizer for my nephew in grad school. He loves it because it fits easily in his backpack with his laptop, and helps keep everything protected and organized. (It’s pictured below.) Here’s what to look for:

  • Weight – you want something that doesn’t add measurably to your backpack or suitcase.
  • Size – how big does it need to be? Will it hold your phone, portable battery pack, and earbuds, or just your cords?
  • Closure – Do you want a zippered case to keep everything inside or something with strong elastic to keep it all in place.
  • Remember to read the Reviews!

Conclusion:

Have I given you some creative White Elephant gift ideas? It’s easy to get a useful item for a gift exchange with just a little bit of research. It’s a lot of fun when it’s your gift that keeps getting “stolen”. Now you know how to pick white elephant gifts everyone will fight for!

** There are so many options for gift exchanges. Whether you call it the Yankee Swap, a Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, or White Elephant, you’re sure to have a lot of fun. Make sure the White Elephant gift rules are established in advance, with a dollar amount, process for exchanging the gifts, and a theme. Your basic White Elephant Gift exchange is where everyone brings one wrapped gift that is under a certain dollar limit. Each person then draws a number out of a hat and they select a gift in order. Each person can select one of the unwrapped gifts, or “steal” one from one that has already been opened. Here are the “official” White Elephant rules.

There’s also the White Elephant Dice Game. It’s a little more complicated – you roll the dice and follow the instructions. Rules here.

 

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Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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Smartphone Apps for the Best Gratitude Journal

Ahhhh, November. The month for giving thanks and appreciation for all we have. A whole month given over to feeling grateful! Do you ever need a little help feeling gratitude? Would a gratitude app help? Even with social media overrun with “ThankfulThursday”, “MondayMotivation”, and “GratitudeAttitude”, sometimes it’s hard to remember to count our blessings. What are the best Gratitude Journals? I think the best gratitude journal is the one that works the best for you. Here are some ideas.

 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 

I’m grateful that I was able to spend some time in Maine recently and could take these amazing photos with my iPhone!

Smartphone Apps:

We’re an IT company, so of course, my first suggestion involves technology! I’ve found several Gratitude apps which can help you make practicing gratitude a part of your daily life. Each of these apps will remind you to start your gratitude practice unless you turn the notifications off.

If you’ve been thinking about a Gratitude Journal for kids, they might be more comfortable starting with one of these apps

All of these apps can be found in the App Store or Google Play, or both.

Gratitude:

The Gratitude app has over 17,000 ratings with an average rating of 4.9/5 stars. It uses “Identifiers” to track you but says it doesn’t link “Identifiers” to a specific user, so that’s a little confusing. The app gives you a place to write a daily gratitude journal with a prompt, in case you need it. It can also prompt you with daily affirmations and has daily memes for motivation, thinking better, and, of course, gratitude. I like that it lets me start using the app without registering. I think this is the best gratitude app. Gratitude is $30/year.

Morning!:

This app only has 123 ratings with an average 4.7/5 stars. It doesn’t explicitly say what data it uses to track you, but it does link your contact info and “identifiers” to you. They have a place for you to record entries in the morning and at days end. It also has a Quote of the Day which you can click on. I liked the simplicity of this one. Morning! is $6 as a one-time purchase.

Grateful:

I’m not recommending the Grateful app even though it has 2700 ratings and 4.6 stars. It links your purchases, usage data, and identifiers to you. The free version limits you to 15 entries which is probably enough time to figure out if it works for you or not. (Then it’s $15 year.) When you open the app, you’re prompted to answer a new question each day. When you complete that, you’re asked to sign up again. All of my attempts to move around the app to learn more about it were met with a request to sign up.

365 Gratitude App:

When I opened this app, it started by asking me a whole bunch of questions; my mood, relationship status, parental status, work, etc. I found it a little intrusive. Once I answered all the questions if presented the “perfect plan” for me. Then it presented several messages as if it were a friend texting me, ending with asking me to select the emoji which represented my mood today. This app has 2100 ratings with an average of 4.7 stars. They link your contact info, identifiers, user content, and usage data to you. They also use usage data to track you. 365 Gratitude is $35/year.

5 Minute Gratitude Journal:

This app has 14,000 ratings with an average of 4.8/5 stars. It does require you to create an account before you can use the app. Once you log in, you’re presented with a journal prompt for what you are grateful for, what you plan to do today, and what your daily affirmations are. It tracks your contact info and user content. It gives you the option to add another entry for the evening. This app is $25/year.

Reflectly:

This app is $30 for the first year and $60 per year after that. They have 78,000 ratings of 4.6 stars. This app has you select a mood emoji and then emoji’s for the things you are grateful for. This app will automatically send you quotes and affirmations throughout the day unless you turn notifications off. The data they link to you includes purchases, contact info, identifiers, and usage data.

Meditation:

If you want to start a gratitude meditation practice rather than journaling, many of the meditation apps include guided meditations for gratitude in their free versions.

  • Calm is a great app for morning meditations. They have several apps which focus on gratitude. The meditation leads you through prompts of things you might be grateful for. This app has 1.4million ratings with 4.8 stars. It links contact info, identifiers, purchases, health & fitness info, and search history to your identity. $60/year for the premium version. (This is the meditation app I use.)
  • 10% happier has 100,000 ratings with an average of 4.8 stars, and they link the same information to you as the Calm app. It has meditations for relaxation, sleep, focus, happiness, health, and gratitude. It costs $100/year.
  • Simple Habit has 75,000 ratings with an average of 4.8 stars. Again, they link the same info as the Calm app. The premium version is $90/year. They have meditations for gratitude, focus, self-confidence, etc. I like Simple Habit primarily because of the calming voices of the people doing the meditations.

Old School:

Of course, you can always go old school and just grab pen and paper. Write down one or more things that you’re grateful for each day. In support of Small Business Saturday, head over to your favorite bookstore and pick up a beautiful new gratitude journal to help with this new habit.

You can also look online for a gratitude journal template, a printable gratitude journal, or gratitude journal prompts. These are all great ways to get started.

I start a new list every month on a fresh piece of paper. I write a short blurb every morning of what has brought me joy that day or the day before. Looking over those lists at the end of the month, or even months later fills me with gratitude for my family, my home, my community, and, of course, my Geek!

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a free report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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When will the Global Chip Shortage End?

Buying a new computer or printer these days is getting more … challenging. Semiconductor chips are built into just about everything. In fact, in early September, we had a customer who needed more RAM in her machine. With Chris’ help, the order was placed with Crucial, the retail division of Micron Technologies. But, because of the chip shortage, they kept getting emails saying the order was delayed, then delayed again, and again. When they called to find out what to do, Chris urged them to sit tight. Sure, we could get the RAM from another company, but they’d likely have delays as well, and the quality wouldn’t be as good as Crucial. Boy, I really wish we were talking about a potato chip shortage…

(Many of our readers don’t know what semiconductor chips are or what they do.  From IQS: “A semiconductor is a physical substance designed to manage and control the flow of current in electronic devices and equipment.”  If you’re up to more reading, here are a couple of links: How is RAM made?, What is a Semiconductor?)

In case you’ve never seen one, here is a photo of a motherboard (Apple calls theirs a logic board) from an old Dell computer. I’ve noted the location of some of the many chips. Note that this motherboard is 15 or 20 years old and everything is MUCH smaller now.

The chip shortage will impact computer repair such as adding RAM or replacing a motherboard
Computer chips on a motherboard

The big question is “Why do I care that there is a chip shortage?”, i.e. WIIFM?

Some of the common items that depend on semiconductor chips include computers, smartphones, gaming machines, cars and trucks, TVs, radios, and even washing machines, refrigerators, and electric toothbrushes. (There is already a serious backlog with monitors. We’re seeing delivery delays of 2 or more months!) Your local phone company and electric utility depend on chips to provide reliable service. Just getting this blog onto the interwebs takes chips. If the supply chain issue doesn’t get solved, it could be a very serious problem.

Why is there a semiconductor chip shortage right now?

It starts with the transportation supply chain. As I write this, it’s mid-November 2021. I keep reading about shipping ports in the US and throughout the world that have huge backlogs with dozens of container ships anchored off the coast.

Sallie Hopper‘s friend Kana took this picture of her son Koji 13 miles south of Long Beach Harbor, CA. This isn’t even the end of the line. Talk about bumper-to-bumper traffic!

A surfer with container ships lining up south of Long Beach, CA

These ships can’t unload until there is an available berth in the port and qualified people to unload and distribute each container. What is causing the chip shortage? It was like a perfect storm.

Covid

  • First, Covid limitations were put on employers throughout the US (and the world), closing facilities and/or restricting employee hours.
  • Then, because so many people were newly working from home, there was a huge uptick in ordering office equipment. This wasn’t on anyone’s forecasting list. Thousands of computers, monitors, video cameras, and printers were ordered and delivered within a very short period of time.
  • At about the same time people started getting sick with Covid and greatly reduced the number of qualified employees that could manufacture chips. This also limited people who are qualified to move shipping containers, drive trucks, and load cargo onto trucks or ships, or trains.
  • A resurgence of Covid in Asia shut down ports in mid-summer 2021. That has added to the shipping backlog throughout the world.

Ever Given

  • And then the Saga of the Ever Given. A container ship blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week in March, 2021. This caused a backlog of more than 800 ships and all their cargo waiting to get through. According to CNBC: “In 2020, more than 50 ships per day on average passed through the 120-mile long waterway, accounting for around 12% of global trade.” They interviewed Douglas Kent, EVP at the Association for Supply Chain Management. He noted that: “It’s definitely going to continue to backlog ports and other delivery mechanisms as a result, and then, of course, the chaos that disrupts thereafter.”  Image from Wikipedia:Ever Given stuck in Suez canal - image from Wikipedia

Trucking Industry

  • Also, there has already been a shortage of truck drivers for years. Seriously, who wants to drive day and night in all kinds of weather, with little mini-Coopers that you can’t see who cut you off? The answer is fewer and fewer people. In response, the entire trucking industry has raised its pay scale and added more benefits for drivers. That has helped, but not enough. Still, most truckers are paid by the mile, not by time. Sitting around waiting for containers to be moved from the ship is unpaid, but still on-duty time. In the past year, the situation has gotten more dire, with people staying home and ordering a plethora of items online. (This is another reason for the push towards autonomous vehicles.) Even the NYTimes says the trucking industry is the “biggest kink in the supply chain.”
  • California may be having more transportation issues than other states because of its strict emissions standards. Older trucks, available for loading, are not allowed to enter the state.
  • And let’s not forget about the weather. The interstate highways have already had several sections closed in October 2021 because of weather. This image from The Morning Call shows a Pennsylvania highway shut down during a snowstorm:

    Highway shutdown - trucks bumper to bumper - McAll.com

Semiconductor Industry

  • Why is there ever a shortage of anything? Supply. Demand. Inaccurate forecasting. Loss of control over basic materials.
  • For semiconductor chips, just like the trucking industry “even before the pandemic, demand for them exceeded supply. Earlier this year, economist Rory Green called semiconductors “the new oil,”  and says “Taiwan and South Korea are the “new OPEC”: supply, demand and bottlenecks to global growth will revolve around Taiwan and SK chip production. They will not hold effective monopoly power over production forever, but their technology lead, R&D spending and capex plans preclude any change to the duopoly in at least the next five years.”
  • And Popular Science notes that “while these chips were an American invention, the number of US manufacturers currently creating them has declined severely. In 1990, 37 percent of chips were made in America, says James Lewis, senior vice president and director of CSIS’s Strategic Technologies Program. By 2020, that number was only 12 percent.” Combine that with global transportation issues, and you can see where we’ve run into trouble.

When will the computer chip shortage end?

I’ve been hearing a lot about the silicon chip shortage all year and actively reading the news since September. Here’s what some of the experts are saying:

Fall 2021 Predictions:

  • 10/28/2021 – Arstechnica: “Earlier this year, the chip shortage seemed like it might ease sometime in 2022. Now, that forecast appears to have been optimistic. “The shortages are going to continue indefinitely,” Brandon Kulik, head of Deloitte’s semiconductor industry practice, told Ars. “Maybe that doesn’t mean 10 years, but certainly we’re not talking about quarters. We’re talking about years.”
  • 10/15/2021 – “The global chip shortage could persist for another two to three years before ending, the President of Hisense, one of China’s largest TV and household goods makers, told CNBC.” Sharp, Toshiba, and Hitachi are among the brands sold by Hisense.
  • 9/27/2021 – CNBC: “The global chip shortage will become less severe in the second half of 2022, AMD CEO Lisa Su said on Monday, though she warned that the first half of the year will be “likely tight.””
  • 11/2/2021 – Reuters: The AMD chip shortage seems to be almost non-existent. “Our supply chain team has worked to make sure that we have months and years of forecast ahead into our supply chain,” Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster said on the sidelines of the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal. “Everybody has had to increase their focus on the supply chain but we did so from the very beginning of the pandemic.”

Summer 2021 Predictions:

  • 7/23/2021 – From CNN: “While I expect shortages to bottom out in the second half [of the year], it will take another one to two years before the industry is able to completely catch up with demand,” Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger told analysts on Thursday.”
  • 7/29/2021 – Reuters“The global chip shortage that is hindering production forecasts of giant companies like Apple Inc (AAPL.O)and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) is here to stay until the first half of 2023, the chief executive of STMicroelectronics (STM.BN) said on Thursday.”

Bottom line:

It looks like the chip shortage may start to ease somewhat in 2023, but we’ll still see supply issues for the next 2-5 years.

Conclusion: What should I do?

First, take care of the electronic equipment you have that may be using chips. Call your appliance person and have them give your washers, furnace, and other appliances a good once over. Make sure you do regular oil changes and tune-ups for your car or truck. And, yes, make sure your Mac or PC gets an annual tune-up. Chris can tell you what you can do to lengthen its life.

If you do need to purchase something right away, be prepared to:

  • Choose a different option
  • Wait longer than normal, in some cases several months longer. (We have a customer who needs a specialized motherboard for their security gate. The part comes from China. Current estimated delivery date is 30+ weeks from now!)
  • Pay more than you would have in 2019 or 2020

If you can, wait until 2023 or later to purchase a new car, household appliance, or computer. This way, you should be able to get exactly what you want.

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a free report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

More Tips Here:

  • Are VPNs worth it? More here.
  • Are you interested in learning more about Extreme Privacy?
  • We have seen a lot of Facebook hacking lately. Here’s what you should do ahead of time to keep your account safe.
  • And here are the 10 Password Mistakes you don’t want to make!

What is a USB C Cable?

All of a sudden, I am noticing a lot of devices with a USB C cable. In fact, two devices I’ve purchased in the past year have come with a USB–C charging cable. One is a Verizon hotspot and the other is a magnetic charging platform for my phone. What is a Type C USB?

I’ve also noticed that many of the new computers our customers are ordering come with a USB-C charging cable instead of the standard clunky charging brick.

Photo of USB C Cable, Lightening Cable, and Micro USB cable

What is a USB?

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and the technology has been around since the 1990s. It was developed by several different companies including HP, Intel, AMD, and Microsoft. They worked in collaboration so that consumers would have a standard device for charging mobile devices. USBs are designed to work with devices that can be connected and disconnected at any time. The connected device will identify itself to the computer and automatically get and connect the right driver with the device.

What is USB-C and how is it different from other standard USB cables?

USB–C technology is relatively new. It was developed in 2013-2014, also in collaboration between competitive companies, this time including Apple and Google.

Most of the other USB cables only provide power and data. USB-C has all that, plus provides more power for faster charging, faster data for the capability for crisp video, and faster backups.

USB C cables are part of the reason why Thunderbolt docking stations are so popular. You can connect just one cable from the dock to your laptop and get fast powerful charging and all the data and video you could want.

Most Important Feature?

In my opinion, one of the best features of USB-C is that it is symetrical and omnidirectional! Like a Lightning cable, it will always work. No matter how many times you try to plug it in, it will always go in the correct way. For me, it’s the little things with good design that bring the most pleasure.

Chris says the best thing about USB-C is that it is fast-charging and delivers data (video, etc.) much faster.  It’s all about speed with the Geek!

What are some problems with a USB-C?

The biggest problem with a USB-C connector is that it is new and most people will need an adapter in order to get it to work with an older computer. However, when you use a standard USB plug, you won’t get the same charging speed or video speed.

Conclusion:

If you’ve been wondering why you can’t use your old cables to charge your new devices, now you know! Soon just about every portable device will use USB-C for charging (including iPhones in  Europe).

And keep on the lookout for a Geek For Hire review. I’ve ordered several USB-C cables to test out. I’ll report on those results in the near future.

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a free report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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How To Find the Best Black Friday Tech Deals

When you’re looking for the best Cyber Monday or Black Friday tech deals, it can all get a little overwhelming. There are so many choices, and so many different stores to check out! That’s why we recommend doing a whole bunch of pre-planning in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the whole holiday shopping season.

Just so you know, if you purchase anything from the links on this page we may receive a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Six Steps to make Black Friday shopping less stressful:

First, Set up some Ground Rules:

  • Make a list of some of the things you’ve wanted, but have been waiting for a good deal. Add the minimum features you want and the maximum price you’re willing to pay for each item. For example: Ultrawide Curved Monitor $450 to $500
  • Resolve not to make any impulse purchases. (Or to limit impulse buys to a set dollar amount.)
  • Set a firm budget for each item.
  • If you’re looking for the best things to buy on Black Friday, there isn’t a pre-set list. It’s whatever is already on your list. If you’re happy with your phone, you don’t even need to look at the ATT Black Friday deals!

Comparison shop ahead of time

  • Take your list and check out prices on various website
  • If you’re looking for Black Friday PC deals or other Tech deals, check out Dell, Best Buy, Staples, and Amazon. Remember to review our PC buying guide first.
  • You can also set up a Google alert to monitor Black Friday deals for the tech items you are interested in.

Even if you don’t shop on Amazon you can still check out their reviews:

  • On Amazon, search for a specific product. For example “soundbar deals” or “printer deals”. Or you can target Black Friday TV deals.
  • Refine the results to only look at items rated 4 stars or higher.
  • If you’re a Prime member, click the Prime button near the top left.
  • If you have a favorite brand, click those buttons as well.
  • Look at the number of ratings. A product with 1000 reviews and 4.8 stars gets more credence than a product with two reviews and 5 stars.
  • Finally, look at the 1-star reviews. Are any of those are deal-breakers?black friday tech deals - six steps to take out some of the stress

If you’re buying on Amazon – additional things to look for

  • Is the item available as a Prime item with free shipping or other benefits?
  • Can you buy a product from more than one seller?
  • Look at the seller’s ratings. Do they have any one-star ratings? Has anyone complained about not receiving an item, or about their customer service?
  • Make sure you compare the total price plus shipping for the item.
  • Make sure you double-check the “Arrives By” date.
  • Read the Bad reviews.

Bookmark sites that have your favorite Black Friday tech deals:

Most browsers use CTRL+D to set up a new bookmark. Then you can quickly check prices on different sites for Black Friday printer deals or the best Black Friday video game deals.

Set up a separate email ahead of time for shopping

You should use a separate email that is only used for shopping. Make sure your password is super secure. That means 12 or more characters with a good mix of lower and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters. The password on this account should be changed at least once every month. When I want a new email account I head over to Gmail.

Support Local Businesses:

Black Friday is also “Buy Nothing Day” and the day before “Small Business Saturday”. If you can, think about supporting the small businesses in your town or neighborhood, even if they don’t have a special deal going on. Small, local businesses have had a tough time the last year and a half. This holiday season is a great time to help them out!

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a free report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

More Tips Here:

A Bluetooth-Connected App to Solve Your Puzzle Cube?

What with Bluetooth this and Bluetooth that, have you ever thought about a Bluetooth-connected app to help with solving a puzzle cube? Last year, Santa dropped a non-smart, non-Bluetooth puzzle cube into everyone’s stocking. They were all different. Some were super easy, and others, like the triangle-shaped one, were diabolical! We had fun sharing them, but they are all so mixed up now. I don’t think that they will ever get solved again!

UPDATED: originally published on 5/26/2021. We sometimes post links to products where we may earn a small commission. This won’t change the price you pay, in fact, sometimes we know about additional discounts! As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

A little history:

The original puzzle cube was invented by Erno Rubik in 1974. It took him a month to solve it! Mr. Rubik is Hungarian and has degrees in Architecture and Design.

“Puzzles bring out important qualities in each of us: concentration, curiosity, a sense of play, the eagerness to discover a solution.”

You can read more in his book Cubed.

What’s interesting to me is that Rubik spawned a whole new puzzle industry. There’s a snake cube puzzle, a puzzle ring, even puzzle cubes with famous paintings!

Is there a Bluetooth-connected Puzzle Cube?

I’ve just found out that there are several STEM toys that keep your brain active with improved cognitive mapping skills, increase eye-hand agility, AND help you solve the cube. There are several. The most well-known are the Rubik’s Connected Cube, and the GoCube. They are both physical cubes that connect to your smartphone. They track your progress and help you learn how to solve the puzzle faster.

Want to see how the GoCube puzzle works?

The GoCube was introduced back in 2018 with a Kickstarter campaign. It was designed to help people learn how to solve the puzzle cube faster, and, more importantly, to learn where your logic is breaking down. Before long, you’re moving up to higher and higher levels. GoCube also has a community of other “cubers” worldwide. They’ll match you up with someone at your level to compete against. Awesome!

Here’s their original video from the Kickstarter:

You CAN do the Cube:

If you just want to learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube fast, head over to Ruwix. Have you been wondering: how does a Rubik’s Cube work? Ruwix is dedicated to helping you learn the logic behind the madness. This site will even show you how to form the Rubik’s Cube White Cross and the yellow cross. I think if you keep at it, you’ll learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube in 20 moves or less too. Hashtag: #YouCanDoTheCube 

What I love about the GoCube:

  • I love that the GoCube lights up
  • I like that it can sense the position of each square exactly and help you “see” the position spatially. Then, it helps you solve it without making you feel like an idiot.
  • I love that it helps kids of all ages learn logic and spatial awareness.

What I don’t:

  • My only knock is that the GoCube seems a little expensive. Keep on the lookout for discounts. If GoCube has a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal, I’ll update this post.

Conclusion: Should you get a connected Puzzle Cube?

These connected puzzle cubes are great STEM toys that help you learn at the same time. This would be a very cool gift for the holidays! You can purchase it directly from GoCube or Amazon. If you’re thinking about getting more than one, scroll down on the GoCube page for their BOGO deal. 
GoCube Puzzle Cube logo

 

 

 

 

 

Information about Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a free report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. He’s the geek for you! Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

More Tech Tips:

  • Are VPNs worth it? More here.
  • Are you interested in learning more about Extreme Privacy?
  • We have seen a lot of Facebook hacking lately. Here’s what you should do ahead of time to keep your account safe.
  • And here are the 10 Password Mistakes you don’t want to make!
Tagged

Scary Tech Monsters and Spam Risk – Phishing and Hacking

Whether you know it or not, you are a spam risk.

It’s that time of year to be more aware of all the monsters out there. I wish I was just talking about the cute kids in a Frankenstein costume. I’m talking about the scary tech monsters, the phishers, the scammers, the spoofers, and the hackers. And, unfortunately, they don’t just confine themselves to making their mischief around Halloween. These are year-round monsters!

Some of the ways they can attack you include emails, text messages, phone calls, and social media. We’re talking about the Chase text scam, the Publisher’s Clearing House email scam, the Paypal email scam, and the Wells Fargo email scam, just to name a few. These all add up to more spam risk in your inbox.

But first, let’s define some terms:

Tech Terms Defined:

Scam:

“…an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust.” (from Wikipedia)

Hacking

Hacking is when someone uses social engineering to obtain information from you or installs a virus onto your computer or phone. Here is Wiki’s formal definition of a hacker:

“A hacker is a person skilled in information technology who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means. Though the term hacker has become associated in popular culture with a security hacker – someone who utilizes their technical know-how of bugs or exploits to break into computer systems and access data which would otherwise be unavailable to them – hacking can also be utilized by legitimate figures in legal situations. For example, law enforcement agencies sometimes use hacking techniques in order to collect evidence on criminals and other malicious actors. This could include using anonymity tools (such as a VPN, or the dark web) to mask their identities online, posing as criminals themselves.” (from Wikipedia)

Spoofing:

“Email spoofing is the creation of email messages with a forged sender address.” (from Wikipedia)

“Caller ID spoofing is the practice of causing the telephone network to indicate to the receiver of a call that the originator of the call is a station other than the true originating station. This can lead to a caller ID display showing a phone number different from that of the telephone from which the call was placed.” (from Wikipedia)

For example, I got phone calls from a Denver physician and “Account Services” last week. When I answered, the recorded voice wanted to sign me up for an extended warranty for my car.

Also, when you get a spammy email “from” yourself, someone has spoofed the message to make it appear that it is coming from you.

We’ve also seen emails from CustomerService@Amazan.com. This is not technically spoofing, but at first glance, you do think the email is coming from Amazon.

Phishing:

“Phishing is a type of social engineering where an attacker sends a fraudulent (“spoofed”) message designed to trick a human victim into revealing sensitive information to the attacker or to deploy malicious software on the victim’s infrastructure like ransomware.”  (from Wikipedia)

I’ve created a Free Report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it.

SpearPhishing:

“Spear phishing involves an attacker directly targeting a specific organization or person with tailored phishing emails. This is essentially the creation and sending of emails to a particular person to make the person think the email is legitimate. In contrast to bulk phishing, spear phishing attackers often gather and use personal information about their target to increase their probability of success of the attack.”  (from Wikipedia)

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Whenever you receive a text, email, or phone call, take a minute to think before responding. Here are our suggestions to protect yourself from spam risk:

Email Scam:

If you’re like me, you receive multiple emails every day asking you to do something. How to tell if an email is fake? There are several steps that you should follow:

  • First, make sure the message is actually from the person or organization that it says it is from. Look at the email address to make sure it is correct and not subtly different. (For example: Amazan instead of Amazon, or J0hn instead of John. In one case I exchanged an “a” for  the letter “o”, in the second case I exchanged the number “0” for the letter “0”.)
  • If you reply, you should also scrutinize the “To” address. If your friend’s email has been hacked, the “To” address may go somewhere totally different.
  • Don’t click on any links in an email. If it is a company telling you that you need to contact them by clicking this link, call or email them using information that you already have. If it’s from a friend, ask them to confirm that they have actually sent you something.
  • Never click on short links like bit.ly, TinyURL, ow.ly, etc. It is too easy to hide malware in a link that appears to come from a legitimate source. (More about URL shorteners.)
  • Do check your spam folder in your email every week to 10 days to make sure a friend’s email didn’t get sent there by accident.

Phishing Text Scam:

Text messages have become a more common way for scammers to attack. Sometimes they’ll send it just to you, and sometimes it will be a group text. When you look at those group texts, you might notice that they all have a similar phone number to you. Here is just one of the spam risk text messages I’ve received. Remember that the phone company is not going to reward you for paying your bill:

Everyone is a spam risk. The hackers just send out texts to a bunch of sequential phone numbers.Here’s an image of the Wells Fargo text scam. It’s my favorite scam text:

 

I haven’t received a scam message from a known contact yet. I’m sure that more sophisticated text scams are coming. Just be careful before replying to any text message.

Bogus Phone Calls:

Phone calls are where we are seeing the most issues. You receive a phone call and the person on the other end sounds legit. They create an urgency about a virus on your machine or an unauthorized charge on your bank card. Whatever it is, they’ve convinced you that you need their help RIGHT NOW! So you confirm your date of birth or give them access to your computer.

I’ve found that the best thing to do is to never answer phone calls from someone I don’t know. If it’s a real person, they’ll leave a voice mail. Even if it’s not a real person and they leave a voicemail, I can tell it’s not someone I want to call back.

If you do answer a call like this and don’t realize right away that it is a scam, the best policy is to never provide personal information or allow them access to your computer.

Studies have shown that older people are more trusting in general, and tend to get hacked more frequently. (Malwarebytes 9/2021 Report, LexisNexis 7/2021 Report) So, if you’re “of a certain age”, be extra careful about providing information to someone you don’t know.

  • If they say they are from your bank, tell them that you’ll call your bank on the number you already have in your contacts to confirm what they’re telling you.
  • If it’s “Microsoft” or “Apple” or “Dell” calling to tell you that there is a virus on your computer, thank them and hang up. Then run your virus scanner just to be on the safe side. You’ll get a call from a friend saying you’ve been hacked before a major corporation will let you know!

Social Media:

I’ve written several articles about hacked Facebook (and Social Media in general). Check them out here, here, and here.

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

More Tips Here:

Women In Science – A Book Review

When you were a kid, did you ever lay down on your grandparent’s floor flipping through the pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica? Who cared that the book was 20 or 50 years old? The information was just so interesting! That’s how I feel reading Women In Science by Rachel Ignotofsky.

If you follow me on social media, you know that I love to celebrate women in the Science and Technology fields. (Women in STEM rock!) I was brought up by strong women – my mom (the Professor) started a Masters in Science program from scratch, and my stepmother was the first woman Stockbroker in the state of New Jersey. I didn’t really have a choice but to always be learning! Ms. Ignotofsky has streamlined the process of learning about interesting scientific women by researching 50 of them from 350AD to the present day.

Just so you know, if you purchase anything from the links on this page we may receive a small commission. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What I loved:

  • She provided little snippets of information that float around her creative illustrations. (See the image below of a sample page from the book.)
  • She thoroughly researched each woman and captured the most important details in a one-page overview. Who influenced each person? What was their education? What obstacles did they need to overcome?
  • In addition to the 50 women, she included a brief acknowledgment of 14 other women scientists.
  • She has several pages dedicated to additional information about Lab Tools, STEM statistics, and a great glossary. (The glossary includes more of her illustrations!)
  • Ms. Ignotofsky created a general Timeline with dates of interest from Hypatia (a mathematician living in Alexandria around 400AD) to today. The timeline includes the first women to reach different milestones, along with different US laws which are aimed at reversing discrimination towards women in various forms.

What I didn’t love about Women In Science:women in science - sample page from book

How can you choose just fifty women? What about Mileva Maric? She was a physicist who is said to have contributed enormously to Albert Einstein’s work. (Sarcasm alert: She was probably called Mrs. Albert Einstein.) How about Alexa Canady? She was the first black woman to become a Neurosurgeon. But in just a short 127-page book, there really wasn’t the space to include information about many more women.

Conclusion:

Even such a short book sparks the mind to go looking for more. Just type “First woman who…” into Google and see what turns up. What a wonderful rabbit hole to fall into!

Google search for first woman who ....

 

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a Free Report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

More Tips Here:

What To Look For When Buying A Computer

In the past few weeks, we’ve had more than a few people ask us what to look for when buying a computer. Is it pent-up demand after a year of hanging out at home? Was it for Back-to-School? Is it pre-planning for Black Friday? Is it the regular paycheck again and can finally afford to replace that old Windows 7 machine? (If you’re looking for a new MacBook or iMac, check out this article for Chris’ recommendations.) Whatever your motivation, if you’ve been wondering what to look for in a computer, here’s our advice.

Computer Purchasing Tips:

Laptop or Desktop:

We live out west where “fire season” is almost the same time as “hurricane season”. It starts in early summer and lasts through October or November. Because we never know when we’ll be evacuated, we lean towards laptops. We’ve found that there is not a whole lot of performance difference between desktops and laptops anymore. When someone says “Your next computer should be a desktop”, we respectfully disagree.

If you do prefer to have a computer on your desk, get an external monitor or two, a docking station, a wireless keyboard, and a mouse. With this setup, it will work just like a desktop.

What to look for when buying a computer - image of laptop, 2 monitors, wireless mouse and keyboard

Here’s my setup with the laptop and two monitors.

Because laptops are more portable by design, if you do get evacuated, you can just toss the computer in your laundry basket and head out to your vehicle. (More advice on how to keep your tech safe during fire season.)

Do you want a Touchscreen: 

We find that touchscreens add extra complexity and end up making the total cost of the machine more expensive without useful functionality. Unless you have a real need for a touchscreen, we’d advise against getting one. (My current laptop has a touch screen which I almost never use. Partly because the lid is always closed!)

How much Storage:

Choose a Solid-State Drive over a traditional Hard Drive. SSDs are much faster than a physical hard drive. In addition, they are more robust because they have no moving parts. Check to see how much storage you are currently using, then double it or more for your new machine. You’re not going to take fewer photos in the future! And, as technology changes, those photos will be larger. I have a 2 TB SSD which seems to work well for me. (More information about storage, SSDs, and hard drives.)

How much RAM:

I always get confused between “memory” and “storage”. RAM is memory. When you’re buying a computer, get at least 8 gigs of RAM as two separate sticks, not one. If you’re the type of person who opens a bunch of windows and tabs, you’ll want to bump that up to 16 gig or more of RAM.

What kind of Keyboard:

Do you want a 10-key Keyboard? (A 10-key is the number pad generally to the right of the rest of the keys. Accountants and anyone who works with numbers use them.) I once got a USB-connected 10-key accessory because my computer didn’t have one. It worked, but it was cumbersome. If you think you’ll want one, make sure it is a part of your ordering process. Do you ever work in the dark? Think about getting a backlit keyboard. Do you like the clickity-clack of an old-style typewriter?

The size of the keyboard can also dictate the size of the laptop. If you’re an expert typist, a smaller keyboard may work well for you. If you tend to make a lot of typos, look at a larger machine.

Do you want a Video Camera:

If you do a lot of Zooming, Facetiming, or Google Meeting, think about getting a video camera. There is not as much of an ordering backlog as there was six months ago. Most laptops come with a camera already built-in. A higher quality external camera can be added later.

What size Battery:

One of the things to look for in a computer is battery life. Get the largest battery offered for the machine so you can continue working a long time without being plugged in.

Also, order a second power brick. Keep one on your desk and one in your laptop case to simplify travel. (And, if one of them stops working, you’ll already have a spare.)

How long of a Warranty:

When you’re buying a personal computer, don’t forget about the warranty. We’ve noticed that computers tend to have issues with their component parts at about the 3 ½ to 3 ¾ year mark. Get at least a four-year warranty from the manufacturer. Don’t get a warranty from the store. Sometimes, when you buy a new computer at a store, like Best Buy or Costco, they won’t offer a manufacturer warranty. In that case, get the longest warranty the store offers.

Against our advice, a recent customer got a one-year standard warranty on an inexpensive machine. They had a lot of questions that the warranty covered, but if they spill coffee on the laptop next year, they’re out of luck.

Read the fine print! Not all warranties provide coverage on liquid spills or falling off the rooftop of your car while driving. Don’t sign until you ask a ton of questions!

What kind of Processor:

The Core I3 processor is pretty slow. Chris recommends the Intel Core I5 or I7. (The I9 is also available. It’s smokin’ fast and a lot more expensive.) There’s more info about the Intel processors here. We’ve found that in most cases the AMD processors tend to perform poorly.

How much will a new computer cost:

Expect to spend at least $1000 on a machine that will still serve you and that you’ll still like in three years. Like most things, computers are a “you get what you pay for” kind of thing. There are “cheap” machines which are, unfortunately, sold for more than they are worth. Do your research and let us know if you need help. Also, most of the major manufacturers (Dell, Lenovo, HP) have payment plans. Ask! If you purchase a new computer for less than $800, expect to be disappointed.

What else do I need to know?

How long do laptops last?

Computers are still pretty robust. Expect to get four to ten years out of a good laptop or desktop, with more and more problems occurring after the four year mark. (FYI, we have a 2008 iMac that is still going strong.)

I really don’t know what to look for when buying a computer!

Need help? One of the services we provide is to work with different manufacturers to get the best machine possible for our customers. Chris will listen to your requirements and design a machine that will work for you. Because of our long association with Dell, Chris is generally able to get a 30-50% discount on those machines. He gets less of a discount with other manufacturers. We have a one-hour design fee for this service. If you’ve already done some selecting, schedule a consultation with us. Chris can review the design and make suggestions before you actually purchase the machine.

Information About Geek For Hire, Inc.

I’ve created a Free Report to protect you from “phishing” scams. Click here to receive it!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has provided computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PCs for the past eighteen years. Angie’s List and the BBB rate Geek For Hire very highly.  You can find more on our website, or give us a call at 303-618-0154. Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3 support) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

Here’s a link to our Covid19 Policy.

We’ve been using Amazon Prime for the past few years.  We like the free and fast shipping.  With Prime, we have access to online streaming too. Prime is usually $119/year, but you can get a free 30-day trial by clicking on this link: Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

More Tips Here:

  • Are VPNs worth it? More here.
  • Are you interested in learning more about Extreme Privacy?
  • We have seen a lot of Facebook hacking lately. Here’s what you should do ahead of time to keep your account safe.
  • And here are the 10 Password Mistakes you don’t want to make!