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Bytes and Beyond

You're about to be scammed

Online criminals are targeting hospitals, government agencies and companies with cruel extortion schemes. The attackers stealthily encrypt the files of their victims and demand large sums of money for returning a decryption key to recover the data.

Most of these schemes start with a scam e-mail. Current targeted spam e-mails can be fiendishly clever, inserting themselves into legitimate conversations and business transactions to cause maximum damage. To protect yourself against such scams, you have to stay one step ahead of the attackers' game.

Bytes and Beyond

Helping from home: Handling remote support

"Hey, sorry to bother you, but you know so much about computers. I have this problem ..." If this is the start of a phone call by a friend or family member, it usually means they are in real trouble. Good thing there are such things as remote support tools – they save you the hassle of a half-hour drive to fix what may be a trivial problem.

There are about a dozen remote access tools for Windows on the market. Among the free choices, the best choices are TeamViewer, AnyDesk and miscellaneous Virtual Network Computing (VNC) clients, UltraVNC being the most popular among the latter.

If you are already used to a particular remote access tool, it's probably best to stick with it. VNC software can be a problem to set up with less-experienced users because of NAT issues with routers between the two computers.

Bytes and Beyond

Why I prefer SoftMaker Office


Due to company policy, I have recently become a Microsoft Office user at work. At home, I continue to use SoftMaker Office. Switching back and forth has proven to be less of an issue than expected. Quite the opposite: Writing in TextMaker and editing spreadsheets in PlanMaker emphasizes the feeling of being home.

At work, I have to make do with the tools I am issued. At home, I choose my own toolset and that continues to be the software that makes me the most efficient.

Bytes and Beyond

Abort, Retry, Fail?


A long time ago, there was an operating system designed so poorly that when it encountered a horrible error, it would confront users with three bad choices: abort, retry or ignore. It basically meant that the situation was utterly hopeless.

Whenever I encountered this message, I knew that whatever my choice, the result would be similarly bad and I usually chose "abort." Little did I know that this was the precursor to the dreaded "Cancel" button.

When a dialog offers you the option to cancel, it's usually a crucial decision which requires a firm commitment. Some users feel unprepared for this, prompting them to cancel at any opportunity: "I don't understand what will happen if I confirm this, so I better press Cancel." This is not always the best choice.


Bytes and Beyond

Voice assistants: trick or treat?


First of all: Please don't expect me to provide you with a balanced view about voice assistants. Alexa & Co. have annoyed me far too often for me to stay fair and balanced. I didn't even need my own assistant to reach this point: Visits to friends with more or less Smart Homes were sufficient.

Of course, voice control and home automation aren't always pointless – in certain situations Bixby, Cortana, Google Now and Siri can be really helpful. If both hands have to remain on the steering wheel or if your arms are stuck in plaster, it is really practical when an assistant takes you by your word.

Like so many digital inventions, voice assistants can be as much a curse as a blessing. Let me help you weigh the pros and cons.



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