Wednesday 31 August 2016

Free Video Calling For Android & iPhone

There are a bunch of video chat apps out there, the most famous probably being Apple's FaceTime. Microsoft has Skype, Android has Hangouts, even Blackberry has video chat in it's BBM software.

But none of them work well across platforms. If you've got an Android phone and your friend has an iPhone it just wasn't a great experience to try and video chat.

That's changed with Duo. Duo is a free cross-platform video chat app from Google, and it runs on Android and iOS, so people with an iPad or iPhone can use it too.

The interface for Duo is very intuitive and easy to use. Like most video chat apps you just choose who you want to talk to and they get notified of your request to chat.

Where Duo is unique is with their "Knock knock" setting. Instead of just displaying the caller's profile picture when they call, knock knock lets you see video from your caller's device before you accept the call.

This could be helpful in determining if a call is urgent, or if you can get back to the caller at a more convenient time. (eg: They could hold up a note saying "This is urgent!", or some other visible indicator you recognize. Knock knock is enabled by default but can be turned off.

Duo offers high quality video chat over WiFi or using your phone's mobile data. Google indicates Duo will seamlessly switch between cellular and WiFi, meaning your calls won't drop as you move from one to the other.

For those concerned about security, Google says the calls are end-to-end encrypted, which should prevent anyone from listening in on your conversation.

With decent video Duo could be a great way to stay in touch with friends and family who use different devices while on the go.

The Duo app is free, you can get it at Google Play or in the Apple app store. Given the price why not try it out with some friends and see if you like it?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Free Tips & Tools To Keep Your PC Running Better

Every few years I get a new laptop, and when I first turn it on I'm thrilled with the performance, however once I've been using it for a while some of that speed seems to vanish.

Sound familiar?

It's normal. As we add and remove programs the registry gets bigger, and more things begin to start automatically in the background. There are a few things you can do to keep your system running faster, and it won't cost you a penny.

First off remove any bloatware that came with your system. Computer manufacturers are notorious for loading a bunch of "Free trial" programs on everything they sell. It makes sense, the software manufacturers pay them for the privilege of having their apps pre-loaded.

Here's the truth: Most of it is junk. Unless you saw an app and went "Thank god, I have been looking everywhere for a program that does that!" you're best off to uninstall all the bloatware, it's just taking up resources.

Now let's look at what apps and processes are starting when you boot up your PC. Often things will be loading that you no longer use, or never knew were there and definitely don't need.

Microsoft offers a free utility called Autoruns, you can download it here.  No install is required, just double-click the correct version. (Autoruns64 for newer computers, Autoruns if you're on an older 32-bit system)

A window will open with a list of everything on your computer that is referenced at boot-up, and then tabs to let you sort by category.

Most people don't want to interfere with things that Microsoft requires to start their computer, so I suggest clicking on"Options" and selecting "Hide Microsoft Entries", just for safety.

At this point it's worth scrolling through the list. If you see anything you know shouldn't be starting automatically you can disable it by removing the checkmark next to it. If that turns out to cause issues you just fire up Autoruns again and put the checkmark back.

Doing this every 6 months or so can have a large impact on your computer's performance. I found references to software I had uninstalled over a year ago, and now things are a little snappier.

The next thing to look at is hard drive fragmentation. Windows puts pieces of files wherever it can find space, meaning your system has to go to multiple different points on the hard drive to load files.

Defragmenting your hard drive gets the files all in a nice row and can help speed things up.

With Windows 8 or higher you can schedule defragmentations to happen when you won't be using your system. To access this setting right-click on your C:\ drive in Windows Explorer, choose "Properties" and then "Tools".  Click the "Optimize" button to get the process moving.

I've had a lot of people complain their systems were slow and when I asked them what anti-virus app they were using the response was either "none" or "Well, it's outdated now but I use..."

That just won't do. These days bad guys write code to gain access to your computers, and from there they can use your computer to do nasty things without your knowledge.

They've monetized it, selling access to your information, storage, internet connection and more. All of these activities will slow down your computer, so if you've noticed a slowdown you should check that your anti-virus software is running and using current signatures.

Don't have anti-virus software, or don't want to pay $50-$100 for it? No problem, read my earlier post for how to get a free copy of Sophos anti-virus here.

One other item to keep an eye on is the amount of empty space on your hard drive. If you have less than 10% free space it can be having an impact on your speed. Windows writes a lot of temporary filed to your hard drive while it's working, and if there isn't much free space it can cause problems.

Depending on the size of your hard drive 10% might actually be gigs of free space which is more than you need free, but you should check.

Open Windows Explorer, right click on your C:\ drive and choose "Properties".

If you don't see a reasonable amount of free space it's time to do a little housekeeping.

The Disk Cleanup option will help you get rid of a few items to make some room, but that probably isn't a long-term fix.

Consider moving some of your larger files to external storage, on a USB drive, NAS, or to the cloud using services like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, etc.

I wrote an article earlier on free cloud storage services, you can read it here for some ideas.

One advantage to cloud services is they take care of backing up the data so you don't have to.
If you've got a ton of pictures and videos on your hard drive and that's the only place they exist you run the risk of losing them all, so using a NAS or cloud storage makes sense.

There are more things you can do to help keep your computer running it's fastest. Make sure it has access to good air flow, vacuum out any dust that might have accumulated in the fan vents, keep it out of prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. (Heat is not your computer's friend.)

These options are a good starting place for everyone, there are always more in-depth things that can help but I've tried to keep it fairly simple.

If you have any questions, or tips of your own on how to keep a system running quickly please drop them in the comments section.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 29 August 2016

Has Your Password Been Hacked? Check here.

Recently I wrote about the benefits of using a password manager, and why you shouldn't use the same password on more than 1 site.

Yesterday I received an email from Dropbox informing me that a bunch of passwords were stolen from them in 2012, so we are still learning of problems years after they happen.

Today let's check if your passwords have been hacked. Go to and type in your email address(es). The site will quickly tell you if passwords related to that login have been "pwned". (Hacked and sold/distributed on the internet), and what specific site(s) the passwords were stolen from. also will let you sign up and notify you via email if your credentials are stolen in future incidents that they become aware of. The service is free so I strongly encourage everyone to register.

Now let's talk about password length. For years the IT security group at your work has been insisting you use a password that is at least 8 characters long and complex because it's so hard to crack.

That's just not as effective any more. In fact, the new recommendation is that passwords be a minimum of 14 characters long.

What's even more surprising is that password length can easily trump complexity in making it much harder to crack. The reason for this is the increase in entropy. (A measurement of how unpredictable a password is)

Think the password you typically use is a good one? Try entering it in to the password meter at and check the score it gives you. Many people are surprised to find their "strong" password isn't as great as they thought. bases their score on a minimum 8 character password, but 14 is a better choice these days. Remembering a 14-character password isn't going to be fun so consider using a password manager.

Online security is a constantly moving target, but passwords are still the basis of most authentication. The bad guys know this and actively go after passwords because many people use 1 or 2 passwords for all websites, and rarely change their passwords.

The easiest steps to protecting yourself are to use a password manager that auto-generates new passwords for each site, and turning on 2-factor authentication (2FA) where you can.

The internet is far too convenient to not use, but not using it safely can cause a ton of problems.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 26 August 2016

Free Password Manager Helps You Stay Safe

Passwords are the oldest form of authentication on the web, and as such they are a big target for hackers. Security experts tell us to never use the same password on more than 1 website, and always choose a long, complex password.

"Can't I just pick one good password and use it everywhere?

I get that question a lot. The answer is simple and scary: Websites that store your password often do so in a reckless manner.  They don't encrypt the password. If someone breaks in to that website's database they can download everyone's information.

Think it doesn't happen? So did LinkedIn, until they had 164 million email addresses and passwords stolen and then offered for sale 4 years later. If you had your LinkedIn credentials stolen and they were also they keys to your banking or other web services that makes for a potentially bad day. Even security vendors like Avast have been hacked, so you can't consider anywhere really safe.

"I have over 30 websites I use, I can't remember 2 long, complex passwords, let alone 30!"

I completely agree, I can't do it either. Instead I suggest everyone use a good password manager.

A good password manager will not only keep track of what usernames and passwords you use at various sites, but it should help by offering to generate unique, long complex passwords for you when you register at new sites, then store that information.

One of my favorites is free, and you might not realize you already have it.

Google Chrome will not only keep track of your user names and passwords, it will autofill them for you when you visit a site, and it can auto-generate long, complex passwords for you at new sites.

The really great thing about using Chrome as a password manager is all the information is securely stored in your Google account, and synced over all your computers, tablets, and phones (You did turn on 2 factor authentication for your Google account, right?)

When you upgrade to a new computer, tablet, or phone all you have to do it log in to Chrome and all your internet passwords are ready to autofill, no complex export/import process required.

You can check your password settings in Chrome by going to From here you can turn on/off Smart Lock for Passwords and the Auto Sign-In settings, as well as view any passwords you have currently saved in Chrome.

If you'd like Chrome to auto-generate passwords for you when you register at a new website you need to turn that function on elsewhere.

1) Open Chrome and type chrome://flags in the address bar.

2) Press CRTL+F and enter "Enable password generation"

3) Change the drop-down from "Default" to "Enabled"

That's it! From now on when Google detects you are at a web sign-up page it will auto-generate a strong password for you. You don't have to accept the suggestion, but since it's already syncing the passwords to all your other devices why wouldn't you?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 25 August 2016

Windows Shortcuts

If you're using Windows there are a few handy keyboard shortcuts which might make life a little easier.  Some shortcuts are a combination of pressing the Windows logo key (We will just refer to it as Windows) and other key(s).

In no particular order, here are a few you might enjoy:

1) Lock Your Computer - press the Windows logo + L. Your computer will instantly lock, requiring your password (or fingerprint) to unlock it.

2) Delete  Permanently - After selecting a file (or files), hold down "Shift" + "Delete". This will bypass the recycle bin, permanently deleting the files. Use with caution.

3)  Create New Folders - In Windows Explorer press Shift + CTRL + N. A new folder will pop up, asking to be named.

4) Minimize Everything - Sometimes called the "Boss" shortcut, pressing the Windows + M will minimize everything on your desktop. Some people do this when their boss is lurking nearby and they don't want what is on their screen to be accidentally seen.

5) Move To Left Or Right Screen - Windows + Shift + Left or Right Arrow This shortcut assumes you are using two monitors and want to move an open window from the left monitor to the right monitor, or vice-versa.

6) Scroll Through Open Apps - Windows + T will scroll through your open apps, if you prefer this to using the mouse.

7) Zoom In/Out - Press Windows + to zoom in on your screen. Pressing Windows - will zoom out.

8) Open Task Manager - CTRL+SHIFT+ESC will open the task manager.

9) Copy - CTRL+C will copy a selected file, or highlighted text.

10) Paste - CTRL+V will paste a copy of a file text chosen using CTRL+C

Do you have some keyboard shortcuts you find helpful? Post them in the comments section so others can benefit from your experience.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Free VPN For Your Smartphone

If you have already heard of Opera you probably know it as another web browser you can use instead of Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Edge. While that's true, Opera now has another service many people should look at.

Opera is now offering a free VPN for your Android or iOS device. VPN stands for "Virtual Private Network", and it protects your data on the internet by using encryption to prevent people from snooping what you are doing. With Opera you can have a secure VPN that is free to use on your Android smartphone, iPhone, or tablet.

"But why would I want a VPN?"  Good question, and I have a good answer. Actually 3 of them.

1) Privacy - If you are not using a VPN then people on the same network as you (or the network administrators) can see the traffic going to/from your phone.

2) Security - If someone can see your traffic, they can attempt to steal your information and use it for their own purposes.

3) Bypass geo-restrictions - Maybe you want to access content that isn't available in the country you are currently in. Using a VPN you can bypass those restrictions and gain access to apps and content you might otherwise have problems reaching.

Opera's VPN lets you choose to route your data between Canada, the USA, Germany, Netherlands, or Singapore.

The interface is friendly and easy to use. In addition to providing you VPN service, Opera will also let you score the network you are currently connected to for security, and provide a side-by-side comparison for how it rates when using a VPN and not using a VPN.

In my case Opera rated my home network a B+ for security, because the administrator can see all traffic on the network. (Since it's my network I'm ok with that.) Once Opera was engaged though, the score went to an A+ because now all the traffic was encrypted.

Unlike other free alternatives, there are no data caps on Opera's VPN. In terms of ease of use I'd compare it to Tunnelbear, only without the 500MB data limit per month.

Since it's free I'd encourage everyone to at least try Opera VPN. You can download the Android version here, or the iOS version here.

Considering many people do everything from banking to emailing confidential documents on their mobile devices, who wouldn't like some additional protection?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 22 August 2016

Charge Your Cell Phone Faster - Tips

Once upon a time you could charge your cell phone weekly and that was more than enough to keep you connected, but those days are long gone.

Today's smartphones are more connected, use better screens, and run far more processes in the background. Most people have to charge their phone nightly, and if you're a heavy user you may be charging it during the day as well just to get through.

While batteries are getting a bit bigger there are a few things you can do to help charge your phone faster:

1) Use a wall charger instead of plugging in to your computer's USB port. Wall chargers will provide more power faster than the USB port can on your computer.

2) Use the adapter that came with your smartphone. This is especially important if your phone supports rapid-charging technology. Not all charging adapters are created equal.

3) Put your phone in airplane mode, or better yet, turn it off. Both disconnect you, but this simple trick can often cut your charging time in half.

Airplane mode will shut down cell connection, WiFi, bluetooth, and NFC connections, all of which provide a continuous draw on power.

Shutting completely down does all that but also stops the battery draw from background processes.

4) Consider using a mobile power bank. These are basically small rechargeable batteries you can carry in your pocket which will recharge your phone while you are on the go. There are a bunch of varying sizes, weights, and capacities to choose from.

It's a very handy way to ensure you stay connected during the day without being too hard to use, as long as you remember to recharge your power bank at night.

Battery technology is improving, but lithium ion battery technology started in the 70's and hasn't easily been able to keep pace with today's demands. Until a new kind of battery is implemented we need to figure out the best way to keep ourselves powered up.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Saturday 20 August 2016

A Post For Canadians & Fans Of The Hip

Most of Canada knows that tonight marks the final show by Canadian iconic band The Tragically Hip. (Final show as singer Gord Downie Jr. has terminal brain cancer.)

What some might not know is that the show is being broadcast live on CBC, and also streamed live on CBC's YouTube channel.

You can find details at

If you've never heard of The Hip you may want to check it out, it's sure to be an amazing show. The stream goes live in 20 minutes.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 19 August 2016

Important Feature In A Home Router

Most people have a router that provides WiFi, but may not have heard of an option that can improve their WiFi performance.

Older routers use SU-MIMO (Single User - Multiple Input Multiple Output), which means the router itself can only talk to one wireless device at a time. 

With SU-MIMO if the device you are currently on isn't the one talking to the router at that second, it has to wait until the router finishes talking to any devices ahead of it in the queue before getting a turn.

A modern household can easily have more than 10 WiFi devices running at any time, so this can really affect performance, and might partially explain why you aren't getting the full benefit of the internet speed promised by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The newer standard is MU-MIMO (Multi User - Multi Input Multiple Output) which lets your router talk to all the wireless devices simultaneously. It can provide a dramatic improvement in speed. 

Choppy streaming video and increased buffering can sometimes be attributed to SU-MIMO, especially if there are a large number of connected devices in the home. The greater the number of connected devices in your home, the greater the impact of switching to a MU-MIMO router can be. 

MU-MIMO is sometimes referred to as "next-generation AC" or "AC wave 2", but the terms are interchangeable.

If your router is more than 1yr old, or cost less than $200 it probably doesn't support MU-MIMO. You can check your router's specs online or in the manual to see if it uses SU-MIMO  or MU-MIMO.

The best bet is to look for a router that specifically states it supports MU-MIMO, Next-Gen AC, or AC Wave 2.

All WiFi devices are compatible with MU-MIMO routers, so you don't have to worry about replacing some of your older gear to make it work with the new standard.

Regardless of what type of devices you have, you should notice a performance improvement in all your WiFi connected systems if you switch to a MU-MIMO router. 

MU-MIMO routers are avalable from Qualcomm, Linksys, Asus, and a growing number of other vendors. Currently you can expect to pay about $200 for a regular MU-MIMO router, or more for enhanced multi-unit systems like Luma.

If your router is on the slower side, or you've recently upped your internet speed but aren't seeing the results, you may want to check if your router is MU-MIMO capable. Given the increased capabilities, not getting a MU-MIMO router might be wasting some of the money you spend on your internet connection.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 18 August 2016

Play Your Music From Your Big Stereo

Recently I covered the idea of setting up your own Plex Media Server to inventory and provide simple access to all the different media you own. Today I want to talk about accessing that and all your streaming music easily and inexpensively.

Streaming music from services like Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, and SiriusXM is quite common. The variety is great and the subscriptions range from free to a few dollars a month. 

Many people have bought bluetooth speakers to play their streaming music, and they are a great invention. Three issues really prevent bluetooth speakers from completely replacing your home audio solution:

1) Distance - A bluetooth connection has fairly limited range, often you need to be no more than 15-20 feet away from the bluetooth speaker or it loses the signal.

2) Cost - A good quality bluetooth speaker will easily run you $200 or more.

3) Sound quality - Even the best Bose bluetooth speaker can't quite match the sound quality of a full-blown stereo system with multiple speakers and a sub-woofer.

Fortunately there is a cheap and easy solution for all 3 bluetooth limitations.

Buy a Chromecast Audio.

The Chromecast Audio is a small disk from Google that connects to your home WiFi and your home stereo.

Chromecast Audio costs about $45. The device includes a small male-to-male connector cable.
It supports a standard 3.5mm headphone connection, RCA cable connections, or even optical connections if you want to go for the high-end of the spectrum.

One of these choices will definitely let you plug the Chromecast in to your current home theater or stereo system, so you can enjoy your music with rich, full-range sound.

Best of all the Chromecast Audio connects to your computer/media server/smartphone/tablet over your home WiFi, so you can be anywhere in your home (that has WiFi) and control the playlist, change stations, and control the volume. No more having the music cut out because you took one too many steps away.

All this without having to pair your devices to a speaker, and avoiding the annoyance of having to disconnect bluetooth on one device before you can play on the next.

There are a lot of choices for how you can play all your streaming music, but I haven't found a better one yet than the Chromecast for it's flexibility and price.

You can pick one up at Best Buy, or order it online directly from Google by clicking here.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Another Great Deal On VPN

Readers of this blog have read a couple of articles on the advantages of using a VPN, both from a privacy and security perspective.

For the next 3 days you can get a lifetime subscription to PureVPN for $79. That's 86% off the regular price of $597.

PureVPN offers a few features worth noting:

1) Split-tunneling. This means you can choose what data goes through your VPN and what goes through your regular internet connection. 

Perhaps you want your web browsing to go through your VPN, but you're fine with email going over your regular internet connection. No problem. Maybe you want to download torrents and prefer to have that be untraceable, but you're ok with other traffic not being encrypted.  PureVPN gives you that flexibility.

2) Supports 5 simultaneous logins with apps for all your devices. This means you can protect your laptop, smartphone, tablet, and 2 other devices at the same time. Many VPN vendors don't offer so many simultaneous connections.

If you've been considering a VPN take their services for a test drive. If you like it you might want to buy the lifetime subscription. 

To order the lifetime subscription click here. Hurry though, the deal expires soon.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 16 August 2016

24hr Sale On 2 Items

The good folks over at Boy Genius have put two great services on sale for 24hrs only.

1) A Getflix lifetime plan (30yr subscription) is on sale for only $29.99! We covered Getflix recently in this post, but in case you've forgotten Getflix is a smart DNS service that let's you get around geo-blocking for services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. At $29.99 you're paying $1/yr, an incredible deal!

The site will say it's $39.99 but when you go to check out you will see the price adjusted down to $29.99 To order Getflix click here.

2) HideMyAss is a VPN service to keep your internet traffic safe from prying eyes. If you want to ensure your internet service provider (ISP) can't see what you are doing online a VPN is a must.

In addition to blinding your ISP, a VPN offers the ability to circumvent some geo-restrictions. For more of an explanation on VPN's read this post.

Right now you can get a 2yr subscription to HideMyAss for $59.99. That's a 61% discount. To order HideMyAss click here.

Both deals are a great value. Personally I've been using Getflix for a few weeks and it's been fast and reliable, by far my favorite geo-unblocker out of the ones I have tried.

HideMyAss is used by a lot of people because it offers fast, reliable service with the ability to choose servers in 190 countries.

Hopefully you can take advantage of these discounts while they last.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Use Plex To Organize & Stream All Your Media

Like many people I had different media files stored in separate locations, and accessing them was an exercise in remembering what I put where, and what devices could play them.

I also have a fairly large CD collection I've acquired over the years, most of which were still sitting in a box from the last time I moved.

Then I discovered Plex and all that changed.

Plex is a media server that can import & index pretty much anything, and then give you very easy access to it all on any device or platform. Plex can stream to smartphones, tablets, PC & Mac, and gaming consoles.

I spent some time importing all my CD's and then Plex organized them, grabbed the album art, and let me make as many custom playlists as I wanted. No need to keep the CD's around, and I can stream them all from any of my devices.

Pictures? No problem, Plex will tackle those. Movies, television shows, or other video content? All covered, and Plex will take care of the transcoding in the background so you never have to worry about what can play on which device.

Still wondering if it's worth trying? Take a look at the Plex media server video for more information.

The Plex media server is free, you can download it here. In order to play content you'll need to get a Plex client for the type of device(s) you want, but the client is relatively inexpensive, usually around $4.99 and sometimes goes on sale.

Beyond just accessing your content inside your home you can purchase a Plex Pass which opens up a bunch of additional capabilities. You will be able to access all your Plex content outside your home, and share files or folders with people outside of your network. Want to give grandma read-only access to the folder with all the family pictures? Easily done with a Plex Pass.

A Plex pass also lets you sync content to your devices for offline playback, so you can take your music, videos, or pictures with you to use on a plane or other places where WiFi isn't an option.

Parental controls come with your Plex Pass, so you can ensure your children don't view inappropriate content. Perhaps Game of Thrones isn't something you want your 5yr old viewing. No problem, just lock it down, you can watch it but not the kids.

Plex offers 3 options for purchasing a Plex Pass. Monthly subscriptions are $4.99, annual subscriptions are $39.99, or you can purchase a lifetime subscription for $149.99.

The Plex developers are constantly adding new features. I haven't found a better media server yet, and the fact that the server software is free is an amazing bargain.

I've got Plex connected to my Amazon FireTV, smartphone, and ipad. getting it up and running was remarkably simple.

Plex offers a trial of their player apps with limited functionality so you can try before you buy.

If you're storing any sort of digital content (and who isn't these days) I urge you to give Plex a try.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 15 August 2016

Add-On Installer For Kodi

I'm a huge fan of Kodi, the successor to XBMC. For those not familiar, Kodi is a media center you can run on almost any device.

The advantages for using Kodi are substantial. You can watch almost any television show shortly after it's aired, often in high-def, and the commercials have been edited out.  You can also stream movies the same way, including some that are still in theaters. Think of Kodi as Netflix on serious steroids.

If you want to get the most content out of Kodi you'll need to install add-ons. My personal favorite is Exodus, this add-on delivers a huge amount of content and is pretty easy to navigate. Sign up for a free account and you can synchronize your watch lists across devices.

One of the hassles of using Kodi is managing and installing all the add-ons. This is where add-on installer is incredibly useful. With add-on installer you can browse for add-ons or search for them by name, then install them with a single click.

Here's how to install add-on installer. If you have already set up fusion as a source on your machine you can jump straight to step 7:

Launch Kodi
  1. Select SYSTEM > File Manager

  1. Select Add Source
  2. Select None
  3. Type the following EXACTLY and select Done
  4. Highlight the box underneath Enter a name for this media Source & type fusion
  5. Select OK
  6. Go back to your Home Screen
  7. Select SYSTEM
  8. Select Add-Ons
  9. Select Install from zip file
  10. Select fusion
  11. Select start-here
  12. Select
  13. Wait for Add-on enabled notification
The Addon Installer is now installed and ready to use. To use the add-on open PROGRAMS and select Addon Installer. Once opened you can search for any add-on that you wish to install.
From here it's simple to install Exodus or any other add on you wish. If you're thinking of becoming a cord-cutter and cancelling your cable subscription, getting familiar with Kodi should be on your to-do list.
Happy surfing!
-The Home Geek

Saturday 13 August 2016

Parental Controls For Your FireTV

If you've been reading this blog for a while you know I'm a fan of Amazon's FireTV. It's a very reasonably priced connected device for your TV that outperforms anything else in it's price point.

With this little box you don't need to buy a "smart" TV and you can get access to a huge amount of content on demand.

One of the great things about the FireTV is you can add apps to it. Kodi , Netflix, HBO Now, and Hulu are fantastic options if you wanted to augment or replace your cable TV subscription.

One of the concerns with the ability to add so many apps (and all the corresponding content) has been "How do I control who can see what?"

Amazon finally has an answer for that. Parents can now put a PIN on apps that will be required in order to launch the app.

Using this with the other built-in parental controls should offer parents the level of comfort that has otherwise been missing in the space.

You want to watch "Game of Thrones" but think it's not appropriate for your 10yr old to have access to? No problem, put a PIN on the HBO Now app, or Kodi if you have it, and they won't be getting to it that way.

Connected set-top boxes like the Amazon Fire TV are the future of television and movie viewing. As more networks realize their traditional models of distribution are dying (sorry cable TV) they are producing apps to be visible in the set top box space.

This shift will only accelerate as people demand more choice and control over the content they pay for.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek.

Friday 12 August 2016

$8.99 Windows 10 Note Taking App For Free

For the next 9 days you can get a copy of Nebo from Myscript for free on your Windows 10 device.

Regularly $8.99, Nebo is made for use with touch screen devices, and will let you hand-write, draw, and edit notes digitally. To quote Nebo's description:

"Structure your notes using titles, paragraphs, and bullet lists. Add interactive diagrams, editable equations, freeform sketches, and annotate pictures. Finally convert your captured ink to digital typeset document on demand. Nebo documents can be viewed on any device using practically any Internet browser and opened directly in your email client or Microsoft Word."

You can get your copy of Nebo from the Microsoft Store by clicking here.

All the reviews I could find on Nebo are overwhelmingly positive, however I did note they were all created within the last few days.

That said, why not give it a try while you can get it for free. I certainly wouldn't pay $8.99 for it when I could use OneNote for very similar functionality, but it's always good to have an alternative when it doesn't cost anything.

Screenshots below.

Happy Surfing!

-The Home Geek.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Avoiding Big Brother

Did you know your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is probably keeping an eye on you? Ok, they aren't sitting there watching you specifically, but they are likely logging your use of the internet.

The vast majority of ISP's keep logs on all their client activities, what web sites you visit, what files you download, what terms you search for, etc, all of which can be requested by 3rd parties.

ISP's also watch your online activities to lower your bandwidth (speed) based on the type of activity you are conducting. I've seen many people have their speed dropped while downloading a torrent file.

Online companies routinely collect information about you using tracking cookies and other methods if you connect directly to the internet.

So what can you do to keep your online activities private? The easiest way is use a VPN.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an encrypted tunnel that protects all data sent through it from logging or prying eyes. Your internet traffic goes to/from the internet through the VPN's endpoint, rendering your online activities fairly invisible.

Anyone trying to trace your location will only see the VPN's location, not yours, and with most VPN providers you can select what country you want Big Brother to see regardless of where you are. This can be helpful for accessing resources that might be blocked in your country.

There are cybersecurity reasons to use a VPN. If you are on hotel WiFi and not using a personal router, or you are using the WiFi at your local Starbucks pretty much everyone else using that WiFi can try to snoop on what you are doing. VPN's can stop that.

Most VPN providers intentionally don't keep logs of their user's activities, so even if they were compelled  to provide logs of your online activities they can't.

Use this technology in conjunction with a secure email service like Protonmail and your digital footprint becomes almost invisible.

You will take a hit to your internet speed because the VPN adds overhead, however if you want to ensure your privacy on the internet it's a small price to pay.

There are many free and paid VPN providers out there. Paid services usually offer faster connections and an easier setup process.

Some VPN providers offer enhanced services, increasing your online security with anti-malware capabilties, like F-Secure's Freedome. (F-Secure offers a 7-day free trial of Freedome)

I usually use VPN providers located outside of North America, and only ones that post their privacy policy, indicating they do not keep logs of client activity.

After all, if I'm going to pay for security it should actually be secure.

Happy Surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Combining Home WiFi & Automation

I've written about some new players in the home WiFi space recently. Eero, Luma, and Plume all offer high-speed WiFi throughout your home using multiple units to deliver better performance. The difference is incredible.

A new player is stepping on to the stage with a new take on this technology. Securifi is combining the ability to cover your home with fast, reliable WiFi and a home automation hub all in one appliance.

On the surface the Almond 3 sounds like a pretty incredible offering. It promises great WiFi throughout your home, will let you dive in to home automation without needing to buy a hub, and also promises easily managed enhanced security.

It's another in the line of self-updating appliances, so you never have to remember to check for new firmware and update it.

The Almond 3 is unique in the space (so far) for another reason, it includes a touchscreen on the units. You don't need to set it up using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The configuration is done on the unit itself using the touchscreen, and they claim the process only takes 3 minutes.

Securifi says the Almond 3 will support up to gigabit internet connections and offers AC wireless, so you're probably good on it's speed for quite a while.

One thing I did notice on the documentation: The Almond 3 works out of the box with zigbee devices for home automation, but if you want to also control z-wave devices you will need to purchase a separate USB dongle for that.

Overall the Almond 3 looks interesting, and I'd consider purchasing the 3-pack if I wasn't already waiting for my Luma order to arrive. I'd like to know the price of the approved z-wave USB dongle so I could compare it against the cost of a Wink home automation hub which supports both protocols.

The Almond 3 is in pre-order right now, so you can get a 3-pack for $299 USD once they ship. When the device goes to full release the price will increase to $399 USD. Unlike the Eero, Luma, and Plume will ship the Almond 3 to Canada for an additional $43.91 USD.

It makes sense for home automation and enhanced WiFi to start converging, and I expect to see similar offerings from other manufacturers in the near future.

If you're fed up with spotty WiFi speed and coverage in your home this looks like a good contender.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Turn On Your Guest WiFi...To Protect Yourself

Most home routers these days can offer guest WiFi, yet few people turn on this feature.

I believe the main reason people don't turn on guest WiFi is they don't understand the potential risk to their home network security. After all, you'd only have friends or family that you trust over, and what's the harm in them being on your WiFi?

And you'd be right, if you were 100% sure that their devices hadn't been hacked before visiting you.

But you really can't be. People are hacked all the time and often have no idea. Bad guys like to enable remote access on devices and leave it there so the owner has no clue they have been hacked.

Once a device is compromised it can be used to launch attacks on the rest of the network. Your phone could literally be attacking your laptop.

So what can you do to help keep your computers, tablets, and phones safe(er) from this kind of threat?

Turn on the guest WiFi on your router.

Guest WiFi lets you offer visitors an internet connection that is shielded from your personal devices. Basically they can't "see" anything on your regular WiFi, but they can still get to Facebook, etc.

Turning on guest Wifi on most routers is exceptionally easy. Just select the check-box or radio button to enable a guest network, pick a name for it (Call it Guest WiFi or whatever you like) and set the password, then hit the "save" button.

That's usually all it takes. There are often enhanced functions you can play with for guest networks, like restricting the type of sites they can visit or limiting how much of your bandwidth (speed) guests can use, but to just get basic safety set up it's very quick and easy.

It should take most people no more than 2 minutes to turn on their guest WiFi. Given the potential risk, isn't it worth 2 minutes to protect yourself?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 8 August 2016

Keep E-Mail Safe From Prying Eyes

Ever wish you could send someone an email and not have to worry about it being read by others somewhere along the way? Maybe you didn't realize sending someone an email doesn't mean it's necessarily protected in transit or on the recipient's email system.

Maybe you want to send your accountant your tax forms, or you're sending your doctor medical information. Maybe you're an international super-spy or just want to embrace your inner James Bond.

Whatever your reason people send sensitive information and documents over email every day, and often this email is unencrypted. Kind of scary when you start thinking about it in those terms.

There is another option, and it doesn't have to cost one cent.

Protonmail is an encrypted email service based out of Switzerland and subject to some very strict privacy laws as a result.

If you are trading emails with another Protonmail user everything (the email and any attachments) are end-to-end encrypted by default, and encrypted on Protonmail's hard drives.

If you're conversing with someone outside of Protonmail you can manually (in the free version) send them an encrypted email, with a self-destruct clock on it. Very Mission Impossible.

By default encrypted emails to non-Protonmail accounts expire after 28 days, but you have the option of reducing that down by varying increments to as little as an hour if you wish.

The recipient gets a message letting them know they have an encrypted email to view with a web link.

When they click on the link they are asked to enter the password (Which you theoretically called them with or otherwise established ahead of time.) and then they can view the message and any attachments.

From inside the message they have the option of responding securely or closing their browser displaying the email.

They can send attachments in the reply, and that's it. No option to forward etc.

The free level of service offers you 500 MB of space, and limits you to sending 150 messages per day.

Protonmail also makes free mobile apps for Android and iPhone which take advantage of its security. Because Protonmail uses public/private key encryption even the Protonmail admins can't read your email.

It's a great way to send confidential documents or have a sensitive conversation via email, much safer than using your gmail account.

If 150 messages a day or 500MB of mailbox space won't cut it for you Protonmail offers paid subscriptions that go up to 20GB of mailbox space and unlimited sending of emails.

I haven't found a need to go over the 150 emails per day as it's not my default email. I use it only when I need to exchange items with people that I'd rather not have to worry about being intercepted along the way.

Go ahead, give it a try. The price is certainly right, and we all have to send sensitive information to someone at times.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Saturday 6 August 2016

Check Your Hotel Safe - Security Advisory

Most people travel for business, pleasure, or both. The vast majority of hotels offer in-room safes as a courtesy to guests. On the surface it seems like a great place to store your passport, laptop, or other valuables, and you can set your own unlock code so it's easy to remember.

But there is a problem.

Most safes have a "default code" set at the time of manufacturing which is meant to be used by authorized hotel staff in the event that a guest forgets the personal code they set.

The default code is often 0000000, not a terribly high-security option, but there is a reason for that.

Manufacturers expect the hotel chains to change the default code when they install the safe. Unfortunately this doesn't always happen. People get busy, or lazy, or both and it can fall by the wayside.

How many people do you know that still have the factory default password on their home router? It's the same thing.

Oh come on, you're just being paranoid!  You might think so, but take a look at this video and make up your own mind.

So before you lock up anything in your hotel safe I suggest you try locking the safe with a personal code and then see if it can be unlocked by entering 000000. If it can, you may be better off using the hotel's main safe, or requesting they come program your in-room unit properly.

If I can find the usual default code easily enough, so can anyone else. Better 'safe' than sorry.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Friday 5 August 2016

Geo-Unblocking Sale!

If you missed our post last month on the extreme discount offer from Getflix here is your chance to get a great deal from another provider.

For the next 3 days you can buy a lifetime subscription to Unblock All for $39 USD. This service is normally $42.60/yr so it's an incredible deal.

The good folks at Boy Genius have facilitated the deal, and you can get it by clicking here.

The number of devices Unblock All supports is impressive, and their service includes step-by-step instructions for set-up on all the devices supported.

If you're not familiar with a geo-unblocking, it's a  service that lets you watch content that is restricted by country. Basically in the USA you will have one catalog of content on Netflix, and in the UK, Canada, or other countries you would have different content.

In many cases the US catalog is much larger than what is available in other countries.

Other services like Hulu simply aren't available outside of the USA, yet they are a great (and much lower cost) alternative to a cable subscription.

Using a geo-unblocking service makes all these streaming providers available to you. Unblock All claims to support 200 different services.

Unblock All offers a 7 day free trial, no credit card required. I'd suggest trying it out, and if it works for you consider buying the subscription.

At $39 it's cheaper than most geo-unblock 1 year subscriptions, so what have you got to lose?

Hurry though, the deal expires in 3 days.

Happy surfing!

- The Home Geek

How To (Really) Hard Reboot Your Laptop

The other night my wife was working late. It was budget time at her office and the deadlines were rapidly approaching.

I called it an early night and went to bed, leaving her undisturbed to focus on work, or so I thought.

A little after midnight I was woken to her apologetically asking for help with her laptop because it was freezing up, and when she tried to reboot it all she got was a black screen.

I closed the lid, removed the battery, opened the lid and pressed the power button (To drain any lingering power in a stray capacitor), then replaced the battery and powered it on.

Everything began working as it should, and I got a few seconds of praise for being so technically gifted.

The following evening she suggested I blog about what happened. I said that I thought pretty much everyone knew to pull the battery when their laptop wasn't cooperating.

She reminded me that most people actually don't know to do things like that, even though they seem self-evident to me. (A side effect of working in technology so long.)

If your laptop is acting up and becoming unresponsive you should try rebooting it. If that doesn't work and your laptop has a removable battery, remove it, wait a few seconds, replace it and boot up.

If your laptop doesn't have a removable battery (Macbook, Microsoft Surfacebook, etc) disconnect the power cord and try holding down the power button for 15 seconds. All the lights and fans should turn off. Leave it in that state for a few seconds, then try booting it up.

Most times pulling the battery or holding down the power button will fix the problem. If you are still experiencing issues after that it's time for more drastic measures, such as booting from a USB drive and running diagnostics, or taking it in for service.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 4 August 2016

New Apple scam - Locked devices fraud

There is a new hack/scam going on that Apple iPhone and iPad users need to be aware of. Hackers are breaking in to your Apple ID and use Find My iPhone to lock your mobile device and display a custom message demanding payment.

The image to the left (courtesy shows a sample of what the message can look like.

So is the device really compromised? No, you can swipe to the side and unlock it as you normally would. This attack preys on the non-technical user who is easily fooled.

What can I do to protect myself? Set up 2-factor authentication on your Apple ID.

What is 2-factor authentication? Please read the 2-factor authentication article here.

This is a good practice for online accounts anyway, and should negate this sort of attack.

What should I do if I see this kind of message on my phone?  Don't panic, your iPhone/iPad are still fine, you can swipe and log in with your code as you did before.

If you see this message you should immediately log in to your Apple ID and change the password. Do this before the attacker decides to wipe your device.

Once that's complete, set up 2-factor authentication on your Apple ID. At this point you can relax, you've protected yourself from this sort of attack going forward fairly effectively.

This sort of attack is nothing new, it just preys on fear and people using recycled passwords.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek.

How To Get "Verified" on Twitter

Getting a "verified" account on Twitter used to be an arcane secret. You opened up a Twitter account and depending on who you were and how important Twitter felt you were they would contact you if they believed you deserved the "verified" status.

Typically it was reserved for media stars and politicians, but no longer.

As of July Twitter has opened up an application process to get a "verified" account. Before you begin, review your account and ensure you are happy with all the information, including contact methods, picture etc. If you change any of these after being verified it can cause you to lose your "verified" status and you'll be starting all over again.

 So how can you try to get a verified account? Here's what you need to do.

1) Log in to your Twitter account and fill out a Request To Verify Account
2) Twitter will ask you to confirm the account you are requesting verification of:
If your account is lacking in any information (birthday, header image, website, etc) you will get a message saying you are not eligible for verification. Yes, you must have a website. Include any other websites that reference you to help establish your identity.

3) Provide an explanation on why you should be verified. It doesn't need to be "War & Peace" but a few lines explaining your impact on social media are required to provide context.

4) Click the "Next" and "Submit" buttons.

5) Wait. Twitter will review your request and let you know their decision. If they say "No" you can try again in 30 days.

While they have opened up the application process, it's still difficult for the average person to get a "verified" badge, so don't be too disappointed if your request is declined.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Don't Buy A Smart TV!

Smart TV's are all the rage now, and sales people try to hook consumers  by listing the "smart" features of one TV over another, usually at a higher price.

But it's all bad advice.

Manufacturers want you to buy their smart TV over someone else's, so they cram in as many features as they can at production time, and that's basically it.

The problem is the apps on your shiny new TV quickly become outdated, and the processing power of that TV set is frozen in time. As months and years go by your expensive smart TV becomes more and more antiquated until it eventually can't run the apps and services you really want.

At that point you are faced with the decision of whether to buy a new expensive TV set or not.

There is another option.

A different (and far less expensive) approach is to buy a television with the best picture you can afford and totally ignore the "smart" features. When the sales person starts extolling the virtues of one model over another where each has the same resolution and refresh rate, let them know you aren't willing to pay one cent for smart features, because you have a better solution.

You bought a streaming media player. Instead of paying hundreds extra for features hard-wired in a TV, you chose a small and easy to replace device.

Streaming media players are basically very small computers that do the same functions as the "smart" TV set, often more, and for a fraction of the price.

The streaming media player connects to your television through an HDMI port, and typically connects to your home network via ethernet (computer) cable or WiFi. At that point you can review the apps loaded on it or add new apps (like Kodi), usually for free.

With this approach you can replace the box any time you want to upgrade the hardware for significantly less than buying a new television.

My personal favorite streaming media player is the Amazon Fire TV. Typically this device is about $100 USD, although they do go on sale.

The trick with the Amazon Fire TV is Amazon doesn't ship it to Canada. If you live in The Great White North you'll need to make shipping arrangements or pick one up at Best Buy the next time you are in the USA. As an alternative B&H Video says they will sell you a FireTV and ship it to Canada for free.

I like the Amazon box because Amazon subsidizes the cost of the hardware in an effort to lure you in to their ecosystem. If you have an Amazon Prime Subscription and are using a geo-unblocking service you will get access to all the content Amazon gives away for free right off the bat in addition to Netflix, Hulu, or whatever other services you want to use.

There are many other options out there like the NVIDIA Sheild, but remember, you'll usually get what you pay for. The lowest price may not always offer the best results.

Load up your new streaming media player with Kodi and now you can watch basically any movie or television show (including networks shows like HBO or AMC) for free, with all the commercials edited out.

When a few years go by and the hardware won't support the new wireless speeds, or whatever the next hot app is you'll just replace the streaming media player and continue using your "dumb" TV set.

Since you didn't spend extra for a "smart" TV as the sales person suggested you'll be saving hundreds if not thousands.

At that point was the "dumb" television set really a dumb purchase?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek