Wednesday, January 22, 2014

LogMeIn Ditches Free Accounts

As a technology guru, I've often been asked to fix computer problems by friends and relatives who live quite a distance from me. In order to help them, I've often used a remote desktop connection software called LogMeIn. It was a great option, as it was free for non-business users. It was perfect for remoting in to my parents' computer so I could do a quick fix for them or show them how to do something for themselves without my actually being there.

Yesterday, LogMeIn announced that it will no longer offer its service for free and that those who have been using the free model would have to move to one of their subscription models. This came as an extra pain for users like myself who paid good money for their mobile app, LogMeIn Ignition under the promise that it could be used in conjunction with the free connection service. To be fair, LogMeIn is offering "significant" discounts to folks who bought the Ignition app, but users only have 7 days from their next logon to decide what to do.

Personally, I realize that LogMeIn is a business, needs to make money and has probably come to realize that the free model is not sustainable. The problem is, their subscription services don't exactly reflect reality. As someone who supports a few friends and relatives on an irregular basis, paying $99 a year for connectivity to 2PCs is not worth it. I might be willing to pay a small amount for a "lite" version of the service, had one been offered and had LogMeIn handled the announcement better.

The handling of the issue has been unprofessional to begin with. First, the amount of time given, 7 days, is not nearly enough. It would seem to me that 30 days notice would be about right. Second, purchasers of the mobile app were left in the dark about how they would be compensated and were merely given the promise that they'd be notified about their plans within a week. Obviously, LogMein should have had their plans completely cemented before they ran the announcement. Third, they made that announcement on their blog and, as if they knew a shit storm would ensure, they disabled comments on the post. Fourth, if reports are to be believed, calls to their customer service line are being met with long waits and abrupt hang-ups from frustrated customer service reps. Taken as a whole, it's a good indicator that LogMeIn doesn't really care about converting the free users to paid ones and intends to focus its resources on business users instead. And I can't say that I blame them. It makes sense financially.

If you're like me, you don't want to throw money at LogMeIn after this situation, so, you're probably going to want to switch to something else. There are a number of free alternatives to LogMeIn and, seeing that they've left a lot of users in a lurch, you can bet that there will be several more arriving soon. In the meantime, check out the list below if you're a disaffected LogMeIn user:

Free Alternatives To LogMeIn:

  • Teamviewer: It's a great product for personal use and it doesn't require someone to input a numerical code in order to gain access. Which is great, because my Great Uncle Max was never able to find the code that LogMeIn generated for him. Teamviewer does seem to do some checking randomly to see if you might be using it commercially, and you will get banned if they suspect you are. 

  • Remobo: It's a little more difficult to get working than Teamviewer and doesn't look as polished. It's still a decent product, though. 

  • Chrome Remote Desktop: This is the one I personally use. Obviously, this is done through the Chrome browser, so, if you're solidly anti-Google or anti-Chrome, this isn't going to work for you. 
If you know of any more free or even "freemium" alternatives to LogMeIn, please feel free to comment and let me know. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mining Some Dogecoin

Several years ago, a bunch of colleagues and I were forced to sit through a very long customer service seminar. At the end of the seminar, we were all given a pair of "Customer Service" tokens to give away to anyone whom we believed have provided us will excellent customer service. Instead of taking the task seriously, my colleagues and I began giving away the tokens for social things like picking up the tab at lunch or sneezing in the middle of a boring presentation. The challenge was to overwhelm someone with an allotment of coins. At some point, people outside of our department started getting tipped with our coins and got in on the joke themselves. Soon, people actually started to WANT the coins and began doing actual customer service actions to get them. What started was a joke somehow became somewhat serious.

That's sort of how I feel about Dogecoin which is currently the fastest growing crypto-currency. A cryptocurrency is a digital exchange medium whose implementation relies on the principles of cryptography to validate the transactions and generation of the currency itself. You've probably heard of the crypto currency called Bitcoin? Well, you can think of Dogecoin as Bitcoin for goofballs. It's a more social, more approachable crypto currency than Bitcoin. The strength in Dogecoin is in its marketing. Based upon some funny dog-inspired meme, Dogecoin has grown a community around it that isn't afraid to ask questions or be silly. By extention, Dogecoin pokes fun at the entire crypto currency and monetary system by showing that this joke currency actually has a lot of power behind it.

Once Bitcoin started taking off, I was way too far off of the bandwagon to get on for the ride. I watched from the sidelines as Bitcoin had its ups and downs in the market and I was so put-off by the elitist Bitcoin community, I just couldn't get started . When I stumbled upon Dogecoin (which I referred to it as Dodgecoin for about 48 hours) I found a community of helpful, generous, funny people who helped me get started, helped me set up mining (even though my equipment sucks) and even tipped me a bunch of Dogecoins to help me on my way.

From a strictly technical standpoint, Dogecoin doesn't offer anything that you can't already get from Bitcoin or any other alt-coins out there. The novelty of Dogecoin is in its community. It's currently very easy for anyone to mine and/or buy and there are so many Dogecoins out there that people are tipping each other hundreds, sometimes thousands of Dogecoins merely for making someone laugh or for providing useful information. It's a social currency and everyone is invited to the party.

I'd like to think that Dogecoin has the potential to reach the moon. But, if it doesn't, then the experience has taught me a lot about digital currencies and I've had some fun along the way. Those factors alone have made Dogecoin a worthy investment for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cannot Connect To Windows Store

Back in October, my frustrations with Windows 8 had gotten the better of me, and I installed the Windows 8.1 Pro preview. When the official Windows 8.1 release came out in late November, I noticed that I was having trouble accessing the Windows Store in order to get to it. I thought nothing of it and merely went on with my life, content with the Windows 8.1 Pro evaluation copy. Well, my disregard came back to haunt me last night when Windows informed me that my evaluation had expired and that I had to download the official Windows 8.1 release from the Windows store. In the meantime, Microsoft Windows promised to reboot my computer every 2 hours as punishment.

The only way to install the Windows 8.1 update is through the Windows Store. Microsoft doesn't offer a support web page where you can download the update as an ISO or an MSI. The Windows Store is your only option. Problem is, my computer could not connect to the Windows Store. I kept getting a message that said:

Unable to connect to the Store. A problem has encountered with the server or a timeout of the network connection. Wait a few minutes and try again.

And that was weird because my computer had no trouble connecting to the Internet in every other case. Every so often, when I tried again to access the store, the Windows 8.1 download page would come up, but the heading text would be placed over the Download button in such a way that I couldn't click it.

Microsoft offers a number of potential fixes for those of you who can't connect to the Windows Store. None of them worked for me, including running WSReset.exe (Windows Store Reset which resets the Store cache). I also tried a number of third-party cleaner tools like RegCure and Windows Store Troubleshooter to no avail.

Windows Store Can't Connect? Here's The Solution:

What solved the problem for me was simply putting ms-windows-store:WindowsUpgrade into the address bar of my browser. It immediately opened up to the Windows 8.1 download page within the Store app with a perfectly clear layout so I could hit the download button without any trouble. Once I got through to that page, I no longer got the Unable to connect to the Store error.

Some Notes About Upgrading To Windows 8.1

  • There's no way to uninstall Windows 8.1 Preview Edition

  • If you've got Windows 8.1 Preview installed, you can upgrade to the official Window 8.1 release without any trouble

  • You're going to have to re-install all of your apps.

  • If you're logging in to your computer via a local account, Windows 8.1 will force you to switch to a Microsoft account. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sister Steals Brother's Tablet

Over the Christmas break, I spent a fair amount of time staying with my folks. There was a lot going on, including the christening of my newest niece. During that time, I spent a lot of time playing favorite Uncle to my nephew and his sister (yet another niece). My nephew had just gotten a Kindle Fire for Christmas and was pretty proud of it. His sister, of course, wanted one as well and used every opportunity she could to take his from him and taunt him with it.

Watch how she deftly steals the Kindle Fire in the video and then how she antagonizes him with it. The way she kisses the Kindle Fire in a mocking way reminds me of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. I think, though, that my niece got the idea from the opening scene in Toy Story where Mr. Potato Head (as One-eyed Bart) kisses the money from the piggy bank. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Power Steering Problem

Bitter cold and piles of snow can have weird effects on a car. Not long after I freed my Mustang from its snowy tomb, the power steering went out. It's obvious when a car's power steering goes out, because taking turns feels like you're trying to steer a boat. In extreme cases, it can result in a complete lock-up of the steering. If you find that you've got a power steering problem, pull over as soon as you can, as continuing to drive is hazardous and may result in further damage to your car. Once you've safely pulled over, pop your hood and check your power steering fluid levels.

Power steering fluid doesn't typically need to be replaced all that often. Low levels of power steering fluid could be indicative of a leak or a problem with the power steering pump. Older cars may naturally lose some power steering fluid over time, in which case fixing the issue is simply a matter of buying some more fluid and topping off the reservoir levels. If you've had a sudden decrease in power steering, you've probably got a more complex problem than a slow leak. This is something that Stop Leak will not fix, so don't bother. If you can have a friend turn the steering wheel with the engine on while you observe the power steering fluid levels, you may be able to narrow down the problem.

There are generally 4 points of failure for a power steering leak.

  1. The pump
  2. The high pressure hose
  3. The return hose
  4. The steering rack
Of the four options, the steering rack is the most expensive to fix. And that's what was wrong with my Mustang. The power steering reservoir was empty after just one turn which indicated a fast leak. There's no quick fix for this, so I had to have the steering rack replaced, which is both expensive in parts and labor.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Surviving The Polar Vortex

I knew it was going to be bad when I woke up at about 4am Sunday morning to see snow crashing down from the sky. Some 24 hours later, my driveway was one huge snow drift and my street was covered in packed snow. There was little hope of my Mustang getting out of its icy tomb in time for me to get to work.

The car was covered in snow and ice, so I shoveled it out as best as I could. De-icer helped quite a bit in clearing up the glass and I don't think I would have been able to unfreeze the doors without it. At about noon, I tried cranking the engine on my Mustang and heard it slowly turn over like an elderly lady rolling over in bed. It soon roared to life, though and I was ready to start trying to get out of my driveway. Problem was, under all that snow I had shoveled was a few inches of ice. And Mustangs don't do very well on ice. So, the question is, how do you get a Mustang out of the ice?

How To Get A Mustang Out Of The Snow

  1. Pack the trunk. Mustangs are rear wheel drive, so you'll want to put as much weight as you can in the back. Pack your trunk with heavy items like sandbags or boxes of kitty litter.
  2. Break up the ice around your rear tires. I have, on occasion, used a trowel or a hammer to break up the ice. However you do it is up to you. 

  3. Use Your Floor Mats. Ideally, you'd use road salt or kitty litter, but, if those are not available, you can put your floor mats under your rear tires in order to get some traction, if you  need to.

  4. Turn off the traction control. Normally, traction control is used to retard timing, cut fuel, and apply the brakes on the wheel that is slipping. If you're stuck, you need to spin the wheels in order to gain momentum, and traction control will hinder that process. Make sure you turn it back on once you get out, though. 

  5. Rock back and forth. Alternating between drive and reverse will get you some momentum, which will help get you free.