Sunday 31 July 2016

Run Windows apps on Mac or Linux

Do you own a Mac or Linux computer, but want to run some Windows programs? There is a way without having to boot a virtual machine on your OS or buying a Windows license.

The folks at Boy Genius Report have a special deal for the next 5 days where you can buy a copy of Crossover 15 for a substantial discount.

Maybe you want to run some Windows games on your Mac, or use Outlook on your Linux machine. Crossover 15 promises the ability to run Windows apps at native speed without having to reboot.

If interested the sale can be found at:

Please read the terms & conditions to make sure this program is what you want before purchasing.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 29 July 2016

Last Day Chance For Free Windows 10 Upgrade

Just a reminder for all readers, today is the last day to claim your free upgrade to Windows 10.

If you don't know why you should claim your free upgrade you can read Monday's article on the benefits.

Perhaps the most compelling reason is after today you'll have to purchase Windows 10, and the list price for the home version is $119.

You don't have to upgrade right now, but Microsoft has already dropped mainstream support for Windows 7, although security updates will continue until 2020.

Windows 10 has a lot of benefits to it, at the very least I'd suggest giving it a chance...before you have to buy it.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Text from your computer

Texting is a huge part of everyday communication, but having a lengthy exchange with someone via text from your smartphone can be a little frustrating, especially dealing with autocorrect.

A good deal of the time I'm at my laptop, which would be really convenient to read and respond from. To that end I replaced my stock texting app with Mightytext.

Mightytext is an app that syncs incoming and outgoing texts between your android phone and your computer. With this handy little app you can read incoming texts on your computer screen, and reply to them using your keyboard without taking your phone out of your pocket. Overall it's a much more pleasant experience.

Text conversation history is saved in the Mightytext and displayed in a web browser. Individual chats appear on pop-up screens, alerting you to new messages. (Handy if your phone is on silent.)

In addition, Mightytext will alert you to notifications for Snapchat, Instagram, What'sApp and a few other apps. Photos and videos sync effortlessly, so you can easily view them on a larger screen.

You will receive on-screen notifications of incoming phone calls, battery alerts, and you can share photos or videos from your computer or tablet with ease.

Mightytext offers "power view" which lets you carry on several text conversations simultaneously.

The free version has a limit of sending 250 text per month. The pro version has no limits, lets you schedule texts, send texts to up to 25 people at a time, restore messages to your phone from computer/tablet, and many other features, most of which I struggle to see the value in.

If your texting habits are such that sending 250/month is sufficient I'd suggest Mightytext, the free version of the app is easy to use and has a clean interface. It's most appealing aspect is it just works.

If you're over the 250/month limit you may want to stick with your stock texting app, or flip back to it once you've sent your 250th text until the following month. Of course you could always just get the pro version if you live by text alone.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 28 July 2016

Why You Want An Amazon Prime Subscription

I was first introduced to Amazon Prime through the Amazon Subscribe & Save program, which lets you order things you probably buy at the grocery store or Costco.

For those not familiar with Subscribe & Save the deal is you can set recurring delivery schedules of things you know you need like paper towels, laundry soap, diapers, hand soap, etc. All items are at fairly low prices, and if your order contains 5 or more items they take off an additional 15%. Usually this makes for a pretty good deal and not having to lug heavy or bulky items around the store is great.

Diapers are even further discounted at 20% off, which was what made me sign up originally. (Costco couldn't beat the price.)

With an Amazon Prime account you get access to the Subscribe & Save program for free, but I soon found other benefits to having a Prime membership.

FREE SHIPPING: With your prime membership you get free 2-day shipping on everything Amazon sells directly. This came in handy when I wanted to order something delivered to a hotel while travelling, or was impatient to get a new gadget.

If your order ever arrives after the 2-day guarantee Amazon will extend your Prime membership by a month for free.

VIDEO: You gain access to Prime Video. Amazon licenses some great content, including HBO's old catalog so you can watch shows in HD with no problems. (I suggest "Vikings" if you haven't seen it yet.)

Amazon makes some award-winning content now, like "Mozart In The Jungle" or  "Transparent". If you never heard of these shows don't be surprised, especially if you live in Canada. Prime Video isn't available in Canada, although that is easily solved by using a geo-unblocking service like Getflix.

There is also a decent catalog of educational and entertaining shows for children of various ages. Creative Galaxy (a show that teaches children about art) is quite popular in our house, and their content on that front seems to be constantly growing, but not at the expense of quality.

Amazon allows Prime members to download Prime movies and television shows free for offline viewing. All Amazon, Android, and iPad devices can do this. It's a great alternative for your next plane ride when the airline wants to charge you to view their onboard content.

MUSIC: With your Prime subscription you have access to Prime Music, Amazon's streaming music library. What I like about Prime Music is I can create my own playlists from any songs Amazon has, and they have over a million.

Like Prime Video, with Prime Music you can download any songs you like for offline playback. This is great if you're going to take a long flight or road trip.

To get Amazon Music outside of the USA you will probably need to use a VPN like Tunnelbear to download the app. Once downloaded it should work fine,

STORAGE: Prime gives you unlimited storage for your photos in Amazon cloud drive. You also get an additional 5GB of storage for other files. All files are stored in Amazon's cloud. I use Amazon's photo storage as a free offsite backup for all our pictures, it helps me worry less about disaster recovery.

EARLY DEAL ACCESS: Amazon has daily deals on a range of different products. Prime subscribers have access to the deals 30min before the general public. In many cases the deals involve limited stock and are filled on a first-come-first-served basis, so Prime gives you a head start.

FREE BOOKS: If you own a Kindle, Fire tablet or Fire Phone (No one really owns the Fire Phone) you get to borrow one e-book a month from the Lending Library for free. There isn't a return date but you can't download a 2nd book until the original is "returned". (Removed from your Kindle.)

If you own a Kindle you also get the "Kindle First" program, which gives you one editor's pick book a month in addition to the Lending Library.

Works in Canada and the USA: Your prime membership works with both your Canadian and US-based Amazon account. If you are going to be in the USA and wanted to order a FireTV you'll enjoy the free 2-day shipping your Prime account gives you, even if you originally registered on instead of

With all these benefits I find Amazon Prime to be one of the few worthwhile subscription plans out there.

Amazon will let you try out a Prime membership for 30 days for free, so what have you got to lose? Give it a try and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Geo-unblocker Lifetime Subscription - 2 Days Left!

If you've been following The Home Geek for a while now you know I am a fan of geo-unblocking services and wrote about two of them a little while ago. Right now our readers have a fantastic opportunity.

For the next two days you can take advantage of an incredible deal facilitated by Boy Genius Report, which lets you buy a lifetime subscription to Getflix for $39USD. You won't find this offer on the Getflix website, you must use the link above to access the deal. Getflix normally charges $33.18 per year, or $56.88 for two years.

They say lifetime but when I looked at the license it's good for 30 years. $1.30/yr is still an incredible deal when most services are between $40-$50/yr. I'll worry about what to do next in 2046 when the license expires.

Geo-blocking is what providers like Netflix and Amazon put in place to prevent people from watching content outside of the physical region it has been licensed for. The most common scenario is someone in Canada wanting to watch Netflix content only available in the USA. (Or vice-versa).

Streaming providers don't want to geo-block content, in fact it goes against their best interests, however the content creators/providers demand licensing per-region to try and maximize their profit and have pressured the streaming providers to enforce the region restrictions.

There are a lot of unlocating services out there, and in the past I have reviewed two of them. I've moved away from Unblock-US due to a lack of support for my Amazon FireTV boxes, my preferred devices for watching streaming content.

Initially I was a fan of Unlocator, however this service has been suffering issues lately and doesn't seem able to keep up. For the last few days I've been unable to watch Netflix even when I selected their "Disable/Bypass" feature. 

After some back and forth with Unlocator's tech support, they did the digital equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and walking away. 

Sorry guys, that doesn't cut it in today's market.

Getflix offers a 14-day free trial if you want to take it for a virtual spin, however the lifetime subscription deal lapses in 2 days, so I encourage you to try it and buy before the deal runs out if you like it.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Use IFTTT To Automate Almost Anything...Free

Ever wished you had an easy way to automate things, either in your house or out in the world? If you have a smartphone you can!

IFTTT (If This Then That) is an amazing app/service that lets you connect seemingly unconnected things and systems based on conditions you set.

The instructions for setting what you want to happen based on conditions are called recipes, and there hundreds and hundreds of existing ones available for free, or you can make your own.

Want your coffee maker to start brewing as soon as your fitbit detects you've woken up? No problem. Automatically text your significant other when you're leaving work? IFTTT has you covered. Get an email when a stock you are watching goes up or down by a certain percentage? Absolutely.

With IFTTT you can set triggers for almost anything, the list includes Best Buy, BMW Labs, Facebook, Home Depot, The Weather Channel, Gmail, GE Appliances, Nest, Office 365, just to name a few. There are literally hundreds of different conditions and services.

How could this be helpful? One great example is if you have a Nest Protect smoke detector/CO detector and a Wink Hub. You can enable a recipe that turns on all the lights in the house (Assuming your lighting is automated)  if the Nest Protect goes off. That's a potentially life-saving feature and it's yours for free.

IFTTT can help you save money. You can have IFTTT watch certain products at Best Buy or Home Depot and alert you when the price changes. Pretty handy when you want a new item but forget to watch for it going on sale.

Sign up for a free account at and then load the free app on your smartphone. (Android or iPhone) From there you can start enabling existing recipes or building your own.

Obviously this service dove-tails nicely with other home automation products, it can automate controlling temperature, door locks, garage doors, moisture sensors, and safety equipment.

Wouldn't it be great to have your in-ground lawn sprinkler system not turn on when the forecast calls for rain? Or turn off all the lights in the house if your Nest thermostat goes in to Away mode? IFTTT can do that.

Here's how easy it is to create a recipe:

Choose a trigger channel for your recipe. In this case I chose Weather as my Trigger Channel

From the Channel Trigger you select what the individual trigger should be. Here I've selected "If Tomorrow's High Rises Above", and then entered 33 Celsius as the trigger temperature.

Once the trigger is created it shows a summary (below) of the condition(s) you have set and you click on "that" to define the action that should follow

You select an Action Channel, which looks very similar to the Trigger Channel selection. 

 For this blog I chose "Android SMS" as I wanted to receive a text if the temperature would be above 33.

At this point I fill in the phone# I want the test going to. The message text is pre-populated but you have the opportunity to change it to whatever you wish.

Once you click the "Create Action" button IFTTT shows you a full summary of the rule you've created.

That's all that was required, no fancy programming skills needed. I've now got a functional recipe to let me know when it's going to be really warm tomorrow.

Of course if you're like me you might create recipes that probably won't ever be used but are nice to have just in case. Programming the lights in the house to flash and your audio system to play "We Are The Champions" when the Maple Leafs with the Stanley Cup comes to mind.

The possibilities are endless. Feel free to share recipes you've created or ideas you have for using IFTTT in the comments section.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Supercharge Your Router

As routers become more mature the manufacturers seem to be removing many features in order to make them more "user friendly".

I have a suspicion this is being done not to make them more user friendly, but rather to reduce the number of things someone has to understand, thereby reducing the manufacturer's support costs. In the name of simplicity we are being denied security capabilities and many great features.

Fortunately we don't have to stick with the status quo. There is a free alternative that can turn most home routers in to the equivalent of a powerful enterprise-grade router, and it doesn't cost a cent.

DD-WRT can be loaded on literally hundreds of different routers, and once it is the results are amazing. You can check to see if your router is compatible here. I loaded it on my Dlink-DIR880L router a few months ago and was thrilled to see it's capabilities, far more than D-Link shipped it with!

The performance of my router increased once I loaded DD-WRT. If you didn't realize your router has a CPU and RAM just like your computer you're not alone. Routers are just small purpose-built computers.

Because DD-WRT is very efficient l found that most of the CPU and RAM in my router is now unused. This isn't a bad thing, it means the router is running so well it doesn't need as much horsepower as I have to get the job done. That translates in to faster routing, it's primary job.

Below is a snapshot of my current router load, I have 20 tabs open in my web browser, am streaming satellite radio over my ipad, have my FireTV box updating some add-ons, and I'm sure several other devices in the house are talking to the internet.

As you can see the load average on my router's CPU is below 1%, and the RAM is 86% free. That means my router has a lot of resources ready to deal with any increased demand I suddenly drop on it.

Now let's talk about some of the capabilities you get with DD-WRT that probably aren't on your current home router, including the ability to adjust the WiFi transmit strength.


Ever gone to work and wished you could grab a file off your home network to use? Or maybe you wanted to stream music from your home network at the office. With a VPN you can. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.

In this case the VPN creates a secure, encrypted, end-to-end tunnel between the computer you are using outside of your network, and your home network. Once it's connected you have access to all the same resources you do when you are home, including files and printers. VPN's keep out prying eyes, and as long as you choose a strong password, they are pretty safe to use.

Dynamic DNS

So using a VPN sounds great, but how do I connect to it? My ISP (Internet Service Provider) is always changing my IP address, and I can't remember all those numbers anyway.

No problem, DD-WRT supports several dynamic DNS solutions, including the FreeDNS service from  You register a name for free (Like with the service and the router will "phone home" to FreeDNS any time your ISP changes your address.

You just set your VPN to connect to the name you chose (in this case and let your router and FreeDNS take care of figuring out the rest.

Website Blocking

Most routers let you set rules to deny access to certain websites, and DD-WRT does as well. In addition DD-WRT will let you block access to websites containing any keywords you choose to enter.

In fact, you can set different rules for different devices, and have them run on different schedules (Days of the week, hours of the day). Suppose you wanted to keep the kids ignorant of Pokemon GO!. You could easily create a rule to deny any website that contains the word "Pokemon". Problem solved! At least until they go to a friend's house.


I've had several people ask me how to block certain IP addresses on their routers, usually because they want to get around geo-blocks for streaming services. (Think watching US Netflix in Canada).

With many home routers the ability to block an IP address or set of IP's has been removed. With DD-WRT you can easily block as many IP's as you want, just like a commercial firewall.

There are security reasons you may want to block IP's. I recently read an article that discussed an outbreak of ransomware originating from several IP's in Turkey. (Ransomware is bad software that encrypts all your files and demands a cash ransom to unlock them)

I blocked those IP's on the router and now I don't have to worry about anything on my network connecting to them, the router refuses all inbound & outbound connections to those addresses.

Other Services

There are a bunch of other things you can do with DD-WRT. It can filter out common ads, act as a WiFi HotSpot, run an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server, act as a web server, even change the transmission power of your WiFi.

Every option has a help tab to explain what it does and how it works. There is also an extensive Wiki that goes in to greater detail on the various capabilities offered by DD-WRT, you can read it here.

At this point if you want to learn more about installing DD-WRT you can click here for full instructions. When I installed DD-WRT the process took about 10 minutes, time I consider well spent.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 25 July 2016

Windows 10 Free Upgrade Ends Friday

If you've been putting off upgrading your PC to Windows 10 now is the time to get off the fence.

When Microsoft launched Windows 10 nearly a year ago they offered it free to all eligible clients (Basically anyone running Windows 7 or higher)  for a 1 year period.

The free upgrade ends Friday, if you decide to do the upgrade Saturday morning you will need to pay Microsoft. The home version starts at $119 and goes up from there depending on the version of Windows you are upgrading.

This offer initially generated a lot of confusion, in many cases people thought this meant that if they upgraded now they would have to send Microsoft a cheque after 1 year of use. Microsoft did a sub-optimal job of communicating with their clients, something they were known for before CEO Satya Nadella took the helm.

The reality is if you upgrade before the deadline Windows 10 is yours free for the life of the computer.

I've heard a few people complain about the upgrade being difficult to use, or being incompatible with some really old software they had.  Let's address both issues:

1) Windows 10 isn't really hard to use. There is a very small learning curve to understanding the new "Start" button if you're currently a Windows 7 user, but you should be comfortable with it pretty quickly.

If you're using Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 the new "Start" button should bring you a welcome sigh of relief. Removing the start button in Windows 8 can safely be filed under "Worst Ideas Microsoft Had", next to Windows Vista and Microsoft MOM.

2) Old software: Well yes, some old software isn't going to run well (or at all) under Windows 10, but most reasonably recent software should be fine. Personally I haven't experienced any problems other than having to replace my old anti-virus software, which you can do for free.

You don't have to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft will continue offering security updates for Windows 7 until January 14th, 2020, but you may find new software doesn't run well with your older operating system.

Personally I've upgraded 3 laptops and a desktop at home and had no issues, the upgrade process was surprisingly smooth and easy. If you haven't had the nag box pop up to help you upgrade you can manually start the process by clicking on

If you're considering upgrading I'd suggest you do it before Friday, because Saturday morning you're going to have to reach for your wallet.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Sunday 24 July 2016

Security Update - Flaw In Several Major Anti-Virus Apps

Researchers have found a security flaw in several widely used security programs affecting businesses and home users alike.

The problem stems from an incorrect version of "code hooking". Code hooking allows the programs to monitor or change the behaviour of the operating system.

If you want to replace your current anti-virus program with a great free alternative read this article on an option that can protect up to 10 computers at once.

The problem is known to affect 15 programs. The programs/vendors affected are:

  1. AVG Anti-Virus
  2. Bitdefender
  3. Citrix XenDesktop
  4. Emsisoft
  5. Kaspersky
  6. McAfee
  7. Symantec
  8. Trend Micro
  9. Vera
  10. Webroot
If you are using software from the above list check to ensure you are running the latest version of the program. Several vendors have released updates that patch the problem.

Personally I'd suggest just changing to a vendor not on the list, like Sophos.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Saturday 23 July 2016

Secure Your Home WiFi Or Get Hacked

The title of this article may sound drastic, but it's completely accurate. If you don't secure your home WiFi you are exposing yourself to unnecessary risk, probably in terms you didn't realize.

How bad is it? Here are just a few things someone can do to you if your WiFi isn't secured:

1.     All your files can be encrypted or erased. Family photos, financial documents, everything. It doesn't take much for someone to do either option, and then walk away leaving you to try and recover from backups, or demand a ransom in Bitcoin (very difficult to trace) to unlock or restore your files.

2.     Someone can plant malware on your systems. The possibilities here are endless, but I will offer a small list of worst-case scenarios.

·       They can turn on your webcam & microphone without your knowledge and start recording everything your computers see and hear.

·        They can access any confidential or financial documents stored on your systems and do whatever they like with them, including posting them on the internet.

·       They can steal your passwords (including banking) by installing a keystroke logger. From there they could move money out of your accounts, post inappropriate social media updates, or access content stored in a cloud provider like Dropbox.

·       They can set up a web server on your computer and store potentially illegal documents & images there. You get to explain to the police how illegal content got on your system when it's eventually discovered.

·       They can use your systems and high-speed internet connection to attack legitimate websites.

·       They can send and receive email as you. Potentially embarrassing or harmful depending on the personal or work contact involved.

3.     They can use your internet connection to download copywrited materials like movies, music, or television shows. This can lead to data overage charges if you don't have unlimited data on your plan. In some countries downloading copywrited material can carry large fines, and as the internet subscriber you may be personally liable. 

If this sounds far-fetched it really isn't, in fact all these have happened to people already. Someone just needs to be within range of your unprotected WiFi signal and they can potentially do all these things and many more.

It doesn’t have to be an unscrupulous neighbor. Some of the bad guys do what is called “War driving”, where they drive around neighbourhoods scanning for unprotected WiFi connections, and then use them for their own purposes.

The bad guys just have to park near your home and if your WiFi is unprotected they’ve got you.

So what should you do? Well there are two things that I tell everyone are “must do’s” to protect themselves.
  1. Turn on your router’s wireless security and use WPA2 encryption with a strong password. WPA2 is the current standard in home wireless protection and is difficult to crack. Most home routers support several protocols for security: WEP, WPA, and WPA2 are the most common.

    In WPA and WPA2 there are several variants, for home use WPA2 Personal should be sufficient.
     (NOTE: WPA is not the same as WPA2, it is regarded as insecure, make sure you use WPA2.)

    If you are using WEP encryption you need to change to WPA2. WEP is easy to crack due to a flaw in it’s design. If your router doesn't support WPA2 it's time for an upgrade.

  2. Turn OFF your router’s WPS button. WPS stands for Wifi Protected Setup, and in theory it is supposed to give owners a really simple and secure way of joining their devices to the network. The problem is many WPS systems use a PIN that never changes, meaning it can be hacked using a brute force attack.

    I used a free tool called Reaver to try this out about 2 years ago and was able to get the PIN for almost half the networks I scanned. It took little effort. To disable the WPS function you will need to poke around your router's settings. Look for a WPS tab and set it to "disabled" or "off".
Doing these 2 simple things will greatly reduce the chance that someone will misuse your WiFi.

You wouldn’t leave your home unlocked with the door open, so why do the digital equivalent with your network?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 22 July 2016

Wireless Light Switches Can Save You Thousands!

Part of my reason for installing home automation technology was I wanted to be able to turn certain lights on or off, or adjust their brightness wirelessly. To do this the first thing I needed was a home automation hub. (See this article on hubs.)

Once I got the hub running it was time to find light switches that would do what I wanted. After a bit of research I landed on the Lutron Caseta Wireless In-Wall Dimmer switch, which was available at Home Depot. At $64.98 per switch my wife thought I was a little nuts, until I explained how they could save us a lot of money and improve our home security. Here's how it worked:

In our house there were some 3-way light switches, usually at either end of a hallway, but no means of turning the main floor hallway on/off from upstairs, or turning the upstairs on/off from the main level.  We also wanted to be able to control the main floor lights from the basement.

We called in an electrician and he quoted us over $2,000 to do what we wanted. He explained he would have to cut holes in our ceilings to do it, so there would be repairs afterwards we would have to pay for.  Taxes in we were probably looking between $2,500 - $3,000 for what was supposed to be a simple change. Thanks to home automation I had an alternative.

When I researched the Lutron switches I found that they also sold their Pico remote controls with wall-mounting kits. These remotes look and feel like actual light switches, and can be used to control individual or multiple Caseta wireless switches. The best part was the remote with wall-mount kit cost $29.98 each.

This meant I could do exactly what we wanted without paying an electrician anything. Lutron had some fantastic step-by-step instructions and videos on their website showing how to install their switches and remotes to replace both single-pole switches and 3-way switches.

I installed all the switches and remotes, connected them to my Wink Hub and we were done! I even set up an extra remote by the main door that turns off all the lights in the house when we are leaving.

Because the switches talk to my Wink hub I can program lighting schedules, making it appear that someone is home even if we are not. I can also manually turn lights on and off remotely from anywhere using my smartphone.

For convenience I have some lights come on automatically at sunset, and have other lights dim when it's my oldest child's bedtime to serve as a visual indicator it's time to head to her room.

I was able to do exactly what we wanted for under $300 instead of $2,500 - $3,000. Since I saved at least $2,200 doing this I bought a couple of extra switches to enhance the home automation capabilities.

Using wireless switches can give you the freedom to rework your home lighting controls, both physical and virtual, to whatever you wish at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. Given it can be so much cheaper and offer you more capabilities it's worth considering next time you want to make some changes.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 21 July 2016

Negotiate A Lower Price For Your Internet

These days an internet connection is an essential part of life. Most of us want more speed, unlimited data, highly reliable service, and we want it for a reasonable price.

At the same time the ISP's (Internet Service Providers) need to maximize profits and satisfy shareholders. This is amplified when the ISP's are the major telcos, and are seeing profits decline for telephone and television service as consumers embrace lower cost options such as VOIP, Kodi & Netflix. (See this article on how to lower your monthly bill with these options.)

These opposing goals would be really problematic for the consumer, except there is so much competition for your business that you can comparison shop providers. What I suggest everyone do is make the ISP's compete for your hard-earned dollars. Below is an example of how you can save hundreds a year by making a few calls.

A week ago I noticed my internet contract was coming up to it's expiration date, so I did what I recommend everyone do on an annual basis; I got quotes from other providers, then I called my current provider.

In the end it wound up being a choice between Bell and Rogers. Here's how the pricing broke down:

Bell initially offered their Fibe 50MB downstream, 10MB upstream plan for $109.95/month + tax, with a $49.95 activation fee, $100 installation fee, modem fee of $99, and 250GB of data per month, with overage charges if I exceeded that amount.

Amortized over 12 months that would be $130.70/month, or $1,568.35/yr, assuming I never went over my monthly data allowance.

I indicated that  Rogers was being far more aggressive on pricing and asked what was the best they could do to win the business. We went back and forth a few times while I politely indicated the price they were discounting was still higher than what Rogers was offering.

In the end Bell offered me their Fibe 50MB downstream/10MB upstream service with unlimited data, no installation fee, and no modem fee for $64.95/month on a 12 month contract. The $49.95 activation fee was still required. They offered to maintain the pricing for an additional 12 months if I wanted.

In other words, for the first 12 months Bell offered to reduce the cost of their offer by $61.59/month. That's a savings of $739.08 for the year, 47% lower than their original offer! (Annual price of $829.35)

Next I called Rogers, who was my current service provider. The first rep I spoke with indicated that once my contract lapsed the monthly bill would increase $10/month.

I asked if they wanted to do anything to try and keep the business because I had an aggressive offer from Bell.

I was transferred to a loyalty/retention agent. After we spoke the agent offered me two choices:

1) I could keep my current 100MB down/10MB up connection with unlimited data for $3/month less than I was paying now, no installation or activation fees, no modem rental fees for a 1yr contract. My cost would be $59.99/month. (I was already on a heavily discounted plan.)

2) I could upgrade my service to the 250MB down/20MB up package with unlimited data, no installation/activation or modem rental fees (I was already a customer so not a big deal for them) and they would upgrade the modem for free. There would be a small change to my bill, my cost would increase $4/month from my current amount. This was conditional on a 1yr contract.

Rogers' advertised rate for the 250MB service is $97.99/month + $49.99 installation and $14.95 activation. Amortized over 12 months that's $103.40/month, or $1,240.82/yr. Because I called to negotiate I am saving $36.41/month, or $436.92/yr. That's 35% lower than the advertised price!

The decision for me was pretty academic, we put everything over the internet, our telephone, gaming, television, and a growing number of connected devices. I like my speed, so I was pretty easily upsold to the 250MB service and stayed with Rogers.

At least for the next 12 months.

I spent a total of about 30 minutes on the phone getting the offers. I strongly suggest you check your bill and shop your business annually. Agents have some discretion on the offers they give you, so always be cooperative and polite, the agents will be more inclined to give you the best deal they can.

Everyone should be negotiating for unlimited data, and renegotiating price every year. The ISP's profit from consumer complacency.

Isn't it worth a half hour to put at least $400 back in your pocket?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Security Bulletin: iPhone Password Theft Vulnerability


If you use an iPhone you should update the operating system to version 9.3.3 immediately.

Researchers have confirmed an exploit can be created to use a multimedia message (MMS) inside a Tagged Image File Format (TIFF). The phone owner doesn't have to do anything for the exploit to run.

From there the exploit could leak credentials stored in memory to the attacker.

You can read more about the issue in a Forbes article HERE.

Update and tell your friends.

Use This Free App To Improve Your WiFi Signal

A while ago I was noticing the speed on my home WiFi seemed to be slowing down. After a little investigation I found my router was using the same channel as almost all of my neighbours.

Why does that matter? When other routers are using the same channel it can pollute the signal, reducing the range of your WiFi and it's effectiveness. Think of a crowded room, the more people who talk at the same time, the nosier the room gets, and the harder it is to hear the one person you are talking to. It's similar with WiFi.

Simply changing channels can sometimes yield big results, restoring speed and extending range.

To help me figure out what to do I loaded WiFi Analyzer on my smartphone and let it do it's thing. This free tool will check the channel spectrum wherever you are and offer an easy to understand star rating system, showing you which channel choices are better than others for your location. You even get suggestions on what channels to change your router over to. The more green stars, the better the channel.

WiFi Analyzer offers more than just star ratings, although for improving your signal that is probably the easiest part of the app to use. In my case I found I was on the most used channel in the area. I logged in to my router and manually changed the channel to the least-used channel, and the improvement was immediate.

The app will not only show you what channels are better than others, but do a "lite" version of a site survey, showing you what other wireless networks are visible from where you are, what level of security encryption they are using, their SSID (Wireless Network Name), signal strength,  etc.

At times it can me interesting just to see what some of your neighbours are calling their WiFi and who is or is not securing it. In my last house one of the neighbours didn't secure their WiFi, so on the rare occasions I had internet problems I just hopped on their network until my service was restored.

At this point I must offer the standard "Secure your WiFi" warning. Not everyone who tries to connect to your WiFi is nice. In the case of my neighbour I could have accessed or deleted most of their files. I'll post another story on why you should secure your WiFi later, but for the moment please just do it if you haven't already, it can save you a world of problems.

There are other free analyzers out there. It doesn't really matter which one you use as long as you can understand the information it is providing, and use it to make your WiFi experience better.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Get US-only apps in Canada

The recent Pokemon GO craze ignited my curiosity about how people in Canada get access to apps on their phones that are geo-restricted to other countries. I'm sure I could have researched it but found it easier to just ask my brother-in-law how he did it.

This process works for Android phones, although it should be quite similar to do on iPhone as well.

1) Set up a new gmail account. During the setup process gmail asks what country you are located in, tell them you are located in the country that has the app(s) you want to download during the setup process. In this case I told Google I was in the USA.

2) Add your new country account to your phone. In Android go to SETTINGS  ----> ACCOUNTS ---> + ADD ACCOUNT.  Type in the new gmail address and password.

3) Install Tunnelbear on your phone. This handy VPN service gives you 500MB/month of free data. That doesn't mean you get extra data from your wireless provider, it means they will let you send 500MB over their VPN network. If you agree to tweet about them they offer an additional 1GB for that month. 500MB is likely far more than you need for just downloading apps.

4) Verify your Tunnelbear account by clicking on a link they will email you, then turn on Tunnelbear on your phone. (Fire up the app and flick the slider switch in the app to "On")

Choose USA from the map display. You will see an animated bear burrow down from your present location and pop up in the USA (Or whatever location you selected.) To let you know it's done the bear will growl. Your VPN is now active and all traffic to/from your phone appears as if it is originating in the USA.

4) Go to the Google Play store and click the 3 lines in the upper-left corner of the search box.

5) Press the drop-down arrow beside your existing email address and select your new US-based address.

Now you can search for whatever geo-restricted titles you want and download them to your phone. This is a pretty easy way to get things like the Amazon FireTV app for your smartphone if you happen to have a Fire TV.

Try it out for yourself, and grab whatever apps you wanted. There are a bunch that aren't available in Canada like Pandora, FireTV Remote, and others. Now they are available to you.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 18 July 2016

Free Stuff - The New Advertising

I've begun to see a trend from manufacturers and service providers that can benefit you at home. As the power of the online channel grows and companies become more focused on digital reviews to build brand trust they are turning to you for help.

More and more businesses are offering their products or services for free or deeply discounted in exchange for you posting an honest and unbiased review of their product/service in a timely manner.

I discovered the latest installment of this after receiving a knife sharpener from Etekcity I ordered from Amazon. In the box was a card inviting me to become an "Etekcitizen". The program lets me select from up to 9 products a year for free (including shipping) in exchange for my posting reviews on Amazon.

Sign up was fast and painless. I think this is a huge win since I tend to review everything I buy on Amazon anyway to help other consumers make more informed decisions, and rely on reviews from others to help me differentiate between similar products when looking to purchase.

Checking out the current offers I can choose from a couple of different digital bathroom scales, a digital kitchen scale, a digital MP3 & voice recorder, knife sharpener (Wish I had known before I bought it!), and a portable digital hanging luggage scale. (Handy for avoiding the gouging airlines do when your bag is 1 pound over the limit) The items change regularly.

Since I get to pick from the catalog it means I'll get stuff I actually want. The fact that they are giving it to me knowing I will use my public voice to help influence other consumers purchasing decisions leads me to believe they are confident in the product quality. (If the knife sharpener is any indication they are right to be confident.) If the products aren't any good I'll be declaring it publicly and what marketing department wants that?

So in the end I get something I wanted anyway delivered to my door without spending a dime.

Pretty powerful stuff, and I hope you avail yourself of it. Call it my little gift to you.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 15 July 2016

Catch People Snooping On Your Android Phone

Ever been out with friends and left your phone unattended? Maybe you were taking a bio-break or ordering a drink. I know several people who have done this only to find they have some very unusual Facebook or Twitter posts by the time they get back. Your friend's practical jokes can be frustrating and possibly embarrassing.

By now everyone should be protecting their phones with a passcode of some sort. If you haven't done this yet, stop what you are doing and put one on your phone immediately, then continue reading. Not having a passcode on your phone is inviting a host of problems, especially if it gets lost or stolen.

So now you've left your phone on the table while you walked away for a moment, but there is a password on it, great. Do you know if someone tried to unlock your phone, and who it was?

There is a solution. Third Eye is a free app that will take a picture of someone trying to unlock your phone using the front camera (after a number of failed attempts you set) and display the picture once the phone is successfully unlocked.

An aspect of this app I really like is every time you unlock the phone it will display the last time it was unlocked, so you'll be able to tell if someone guessed your password.

Third Eye isn't meant to replace apps that help you locate or remote wipe your smartphone, it's a tool to see who's trying to use it when you're not looking.

Considering it's free I suggest you install it and see if you find anyone snooping. At the very least it should give you a good chuckle when you catch someone.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 14 July 2016

Recover Deleted Pictures & Files

Ever been fiddling with your camera and accidentally deleted a picture, or accidentally wiped the contents of a USB drive that you really needed? Ever deleted some files off your hard drive when you only meant to move them?

Many people have done at least one of these things. I accidentally formatted the memory card in my camera halfway through my honeymoon. My bride was not impressed until I said "Don't worry, we haven't really lost anything."

As she sat there wondering if she had just married an insane person I explained that when you format a memory card or delete a file it's not really gone, the space it occupies is just marked as available for reuse.

So what do you do if this happens to you?

Turn off the camera and removed the memory card. If you wiped a USB drive, remove it from the computer and put it aside.

This is critical. As long as nothing has overwritten the files you have a very good chance of getting them back. If you start saving new data to the memory card (by taking new pictures) or new files to the USB drive or hard drive you risk overwriting the "deleted" files and losing them permanently.

Next, get the latest copy of Recurva from Piriform. This great little app will search the media (memory card, USB drive, or hard drive) and provide a list of all the files it finds, even if Windows says there are no files there. At that point you have the option of restoring all the files.

The free version of Recurva recovers files from physical media, although it doesn't automatically update or support virtual hard drives. There is no technical support with the free version, but if you stopped using the media as soon as you realized what happened you likely won't need it.

The Professional version of Recurva supports automatic updates, virtual hard drives, and comes with technical support. It's a good value at $24.95 but for many people the free version will be fine.

The free version of Recurva is amazingly easy to use. (I haven't tried the Professional version)

Given the risk of accidental file loss I suggest everyone install this tool on their computers before they need it. The last thing you want to do when you've had a data accident is try to remember what software will help you. (Although if you read this blog regularly you should be fine.)

I've used Recurva many times. It completely recovered my honeymoon photos, and I have recovered lost files and photos for friends on several occasions.

Hopefully you never need Recurva, but if you do you'll be glad you had it.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Protect Your Documents & Photos

Most of us have an ever-growing number of photos and documents that we would never want to lose. Those family photos are priceless. Those documents and scanned images would be nearly impossible to replace if they were lost. That's why we saved them to our hard drive in the first place.

But there's a problem. Hard drives fail. It happens all the time.

I've had 2 different friends call me in a panic because their hard drives suddenly stopped working and they had lost a ton of photos, documents etc.

In one case they were able to ship the drive to a data recovery company who had special hardware and tools to try and recover data in this kind of scenario. It's expensive, and it's not guaranteed to get back everything. So what can you do instead?

I suggest you get yourself a NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliance that supports RAID-1. RAID-1 is a method where the NAS writes all data to 2 hard drives simultaneously, providing a higher level of protection.

In this scenario if one of the hard drives fails, a perfect copy of all your data is still sitting on the second hard drive for you to access. You simply buy a replacement hard drive for the one that went bad and the appliance rebuilds the RAID array. No muss, no fuss.

Most NAS appliances can be configured to send you an email alert if it detects a problem with one of the drives, so you don't have to be constantly checking on the device health, it'll let you know if there is something wrong.

One of the great advantages of a NAS is it can be used by all the devices on your network, so you can store family photos or videos there and everyone can view them from their own computers. Map it as a network drive and instead of saving your photos and documents to your C:\ drive you save them to the NAS over the network. To make it easy I just mapped all our computers to our NAS by calling it the Z:\ drive.

I bought a D-Link ShareCenter on sale for $80, and then bought a couple of 1TB hard drives to put in the NAS. It supports drives up to 4TB in size, but I just don't need that much space yet. There are a bunch of other vendors out there, at varying price points. I just went with the D-Link because it fit my budget and I liked some of it's features.

So a NAS will help protect you from losing all your data to a failed hard drive, but it won't protect you if there's a fire, flood, or someone breaks in and steals all your technology. So how do we guard against that?

Time to embrace the cloud. There are a bunch of options out there you can use to keep copies of your critical photos and documents, and many of them are free. I'll touch on a few of my favorites, but feel free to search for more..

Dropbox, from is an easy to use cloud storage option. They have a local app for Windows or Mac you install and your dropbox folder automatically synchronizes with the cloud. You save something in the dropbox folder and it sits online.

Microsoft is also in the online storage game with their Onedrive service, which gives anyone with a Microsoft account (free to sign up for) up to 5GB of data in their Onedrive for free. If you need more they offer 50GB for $1.99 per month.

Amazon has an absolutely huge cloud service, so it should surprise no one that Amazon got in to the home user cloud space with Amazon Drive. Amazon will give anyone with an Amazon Prime account unlimited storage for photos, and 5GB of space for video or other documents. I like this choice for protecting my photos since I already have a Prime subscription. They also offer an "Unlimited Everything" plan for $59.99/yr if you just want to not worry about space ever.

Amazon also has their S3 offering. Typically this is more for business use but I mention it because the D-Link NAS I bought has the option to automatically back itself up to Amazon S3. This would take the onus off you to remember to occasionally copy the contents from your NAS up to the cloud for redundant backup as the NAS will do it for you.

GOOGLE DRIVE is available for everyone who has a free Google account. This option gives you 15GB (3X the Microsoft amount) of storage space to use as you see fit. So far this seems to be the largest free offer from the various popular providers.

Google also provides an app to install on your computer so you can drop & drop files/photos in to your Google drive and organize it however you like. If you're an Android smartphone user you're probably already saving copies of your phone pictures up to Google's cloud as they offer unlimited storage for that.

Finally we have Box. The folks at offer you 10GB of free storage in their cloud. As with all the others the interface is fairly intuitive and easy to use. Box touts their security aspect as setting them apart from other players in the cloud storage space, and many businesses agree. Whether that's a concern for you or not, 10GB of storage is a pretty healthy offer for free.

Some of you may be wondering why I suggest both an on-premise copy stored in a NAS, and a cloud copy for protection. The reasons are twofold:  1) A local copy will be faster to access, and is available even if your internet connection is down.  2) A cloud copy protects you from fire/flood/theft, etc.

If your budget is zero for this sort of thing I'd strongly encourage you to start with Google Drive just from a space perspective, and add other free services as you run out of free storage.

Whichever method you decide on you will have helped protect your data and photos/videos so you won't be the one making that panicked phone call down the road.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 11 July 2016

Get Paid For Using Your Smartphone

We all love our smartphones, they help us stay connected to work, family & friends, our homes, and a bunch of other things. One of the things that makes smartphones so great are the apps.

Many apps are free, but you "pay" for them by surrendering information in exchange, be it location, browsing habits, etc. You often have no say in how this information is collected and used if you want the free app, which can make some people very uncomfortable.

A way to avoid that is to purchase "for pay" apps, but as the name implies you have to part with some of your hard earned money to buy them.

What if there was something you could do to get paid apps without having to actually pay?

Well if you use an Android phone there is. Using Google Opinion Rewards you get credit in the Google Play store for filling out very short surveys on your phone.

I've been using the app for about a week now and have found the surveys can be as long as 8 multi-choice questions or as short as a single multi-choice question.

So how have I done after a week? Well I'm up to $4.21 in Google Play credits. In exchange I've probably spent a total of 3 minutes completing the surveys.

I should note the credits aren't just for apps, you can use them to buy anything in the Google Play store; games, music, books, etc.

Typically I find it takes under a minute to do a survey and I seem to get one a day. It's an easy and productive way to kill the time waiting to get your coffee order or in many other scenarios while I'm waiting for something to happen.

Wouldn't it be great to get paid for once instead of just paying for apps or music? Using this method you could quickly get a copy of the Nine email client by 9folders for free.

Seems like a good way to kill the time waiting for your morning Starbuck's to be handed over.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 8 July 2016

Best Android Email Client

These days many people want to connect their personal phone to their work email. There are many great reasons to do this, not having to carry 2 cell phones if your work provides you one, being able to stay on top of your email while away from your desk, and enhanced productivity.

There is a risk in doing this that people accept when they don't have to. Most companies will remote wipe any devices connected to an email account when a staff member leaves, voluntarily or otherwise.  This is standard business practice, ensuring company data doesn't walk away with the employee.

But what about all your personal data and apps on the phone? Well in many cases it gets wiped in the process. I saw one coworker lose all her photos because they remote wiped her device and she hadn't been backing them up to the cloud.

So do we stop connecting our devices to the office? Seems pretty harsh. There is a better way.

Enter Nine. This is a fantastic email client, probably better than what came with your phone and definitely better than Outlook for Android. (Sorry Microsoft, you need to do better.)

Beyond a great user interface Nine protects your personal data from remote wipes. If your administrator sends a wipe command only your company email, contacts, and calendar are removed. All your other data remains safe.

It doesn't matter what Mobile Device Management (MDM) software they use, Nine by default only allows the server to be an administrator over the company data, nothing else. The server will believe it has full control and thus let you join, but in reality your personal data and apps are completely safe.

Hands-down this one feature makes it worth using, but there are a lot of other reasons to use Nine.

Unlike many clients, Nine will allow you to sync all the folders and sub-folders you wish, keeping them as easy to navigate as they are in Outlook.

Nine uses a rich text editor, meaning you can compose HTML emails as easily as you do from your computer.

Security - Nine secures your email and attachments, supporting SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption.  Want to keep the kids out of your work email but still let them play Angry Birds? No problem, Nine can require a pass code to open. The code can be different from your device pass code.

Favorite folder - Nine allows you to tag your most commonly used emails and senders to a Favorites folder regardless of where you actually store them. This gives you quick and easy access to the emails you need the most.

VIP's - Nine lets you tag senders or domains as VIP's, determining how and when you want to be notified if they have emailed you. You can receive notification of email from a VIP even if your phone is on silent.

Custom calendar, notes, and tasks - Instead of trying to present these inside Nine the app syncs them to your phone's default calendar, notes, and tasks apps, letting you have choice on how you interact with them.

Nine should also help save you data. The app only downloads the first part of the message, allowing you to choose when to download the whole email. By default it doesn't download images automatically. (You can change this at any time) This helps conserve your data, and protects you from prying eyes who use email tracking technology like MailTrack. You can read the email, not view the images, and MailTrack will not know you've opened the message.

Nine can handle multiple accounts, so if you want to be able to read your work email as well as your hotmail account,, or office 365 account all in one app this is something to consider.

Nine won't work with your personal gmail account due to changes in how Google supports activesync, however it will work with a business gmail account, offering you the same level of protection.

There are more features and reasons to consider using Nine. It comes with a 2 week free trial, and I would encourage anyone who is connected or is considering connecting their personal cellphone to a company mail server to give it a try. After all, why risk letting your work wipe your data, it's yours after all.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 7 July 2016

Useful Gmail plug-ins

Your internet provider probably offers you a free email account, but if you use it you're tied to that provider. For that reason alone I always suggest people use a generic mail provider, allowing them to bargain-shop for internet providers as they choose.

To do this many people use gmail as their personal email provider, and I am no exception. Between the massive storage for your inbox (Google gives personal users 15GB of space) and the add-on apps you can find it's a hugely powerful tool.

 Gmail will accept individual emails up to 25MB in size, so you can receive some fairly large attachments. Added to that you have Google's powerful anti-spam service and it just makes for a great platform.

Great, but not perfect. Fortunately Google has set their service up so developers can create helpful add-ons that give even more functionality. Some are paid, many are free. I'm going to talk about 5 I find helpful in everyday life.

First we have MailTrack. This handy plug-in will notify you when an email has been read. A pop-up appears on your desktop letting you know the message has been read, who has read it, and if possible even what kind of device it was read on. (A friend who works for a large multinational was surprised when I asked him why his work still hadn't upgraded him from Windows 7)

MailTrack can let you know if the recipient clicked on any links you may have sent them, which I find handy at times when I am doing family tech support.

You have the option of receiving a daily summary listing all the email that has been opened or not, and links that have been clicked or not. 

Mailtrack has both free and paid subscriptions, I find the free service adequate for personal use. The control panel is straightforward and intuitive

The paid subscription removes an automatic signature that reads "Sent                                   with MailTrack" from your emails, however you can manually remove this.

Next we have Digify. This rather cool add-on has a little James Bond in it, and is made to give you control over your attachments. 

With Digify you can see who has opened an attachment you've sent, and how many times it's been opened. I'm sure some sales people I know love this aspect. 

Beyond that, you have the ability to un-send the attachment at any time, even after it's left your outbox. Handy if you meant to send an attachment to a friend and sent it to work by accident.

Finally Digify will let you send self-destructing attachments. You select how long the attachment should remain once opened and once the counter runs down the attachment is gone. Very Mission Impossible.

Ever wanted to schedule an email for later delivery, or be reminded if someone doesn't respond to it in a specified amount of time? Boomerang has you covered.

In addition to these handy features you can also "snooze" an incoming email. (make it disappear from the top of your inbox and reappear after a set time)

Ever wished you could read & respond to your gmail like you can with Outlook or other email clients? Now you can by installing Gmail Offline

This handy add-on lets you do just that. Installation is a snap and then you simply permit it to synchronize your mail while offline. Great for personal laptops, I wouldn't suggest it for your work laptop or a shard computer.

Wondering if someone is tracking the emails they are sending you? Check out UglyEmail. This add-on will show an eye with a slash through it (logo above) next to every incoming email that has a tracker in it. It won't stop the tracker from reporting back that you've read the email once you do, but at least you can make an informed decision on whether to open it or not, and when to open it. 

There are a ton of add-ons for gmail out there, with more being added to the Chrome store every day. Check them out and use the comments section to let me know if you found any that are really useful.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek