Brighthouse ISP Changes to Spectrum

[Bright House Networks, now Spectrum, is the near-monopoly provider of “high-speed” internet in the Brevard County, Florida area. This article may or may not apply for other regions or providers.]

If Brighthouse was your Internet Service Provider (ISP) you have probably heard that they are changing identities to Spectrum. Here is what I know about the change that may affect our members in the Brevard County area.

  • Brighthouse’s “Lightning” internet service (50 Mbps) is now the default Spectrum service, and the speed has been bumped to 60 Mbps (Megabits per second)
  • For customers subscribing to internet only (no bundled TV or phone, etc.), Lightning service formerly cost $74 per month. The new 60 Mbps service is priced at $59.99. (January 2017)
  • If you subscribed to a lower speed, it looks like your price went up from $54, but your speed also went up. A lot.
  • If you already had a cable modem capable of the new speed, you do not need to get a new modem.
  • You do not need to subscribe to Spectrum’s $5/month WiFi if you already have your own WiFi router.

If you are paying the old, higher, price for Lightning, you need to call Spectrum and ask in order to get the new lower rate. They will really push their TV bundles and other options. Make sure you know what services you actually want to buy before calling.

When we called to get the new rate, they said okay, but you have to get a new modem, but there’s no charge for the modem, and they will come out and install it for free. I had purchased  my own cable modem previously, but we agreed to the new one.

So sure enough, a tech comes out and hooks up the new modem. The thing is enormous!

SB 6141 (White) vs. the Huge, Black, Spectrum-provided Wi-Fi modem

The white modem is the one I bought, which works up to 100 Mbps. The big black one is about three times the size. I had to build a shelf for it in my closet. It doesn’t mount on the wall.

Next, we find out that in addition to the agreed rate for internet service, Spectrum is now charging us $5/month for WiFi, which is provided by the black behemoth. That was a surprise, and we called back and insisted that we didn’t want to buy their WiFi service. Spectrum says okay, but you have to return our modem. I had come extremely close to selling my own modem on eBay, but I still had it.

I think Spectrum would have sent someone out to pick it up, but my wife took it to the office in person. There was a big, slow line at the customer service desk.

At least some of those people said they were cancelling their service, probably due to price increases on their service(s).  The good news is that someone poked their head out and asked if anyone was simply returning equipment. They went ahead and processed those quickly. If you do take something back to Specturm, be sure to get and keep a receipt for it.

Spectrum told a friend that Spectrum had unnecessarily installed a lot of modems because they had been mis-trained for the transition from Brighthouse. That’s believable, but I could also believe that they just wanted to upsell customers to their WiFi service and that they lied by omission to get it onto customer’s monthly bills.

 

 

 

Basic iPhone Gestures

I’ve met several people who say they just want to use Facebook or email, but are having problems using their iPhone. They are often surprised by the results of their actions, and sometimes flail away at the screen in frustration.

Trying to use Apps on the iPhone (or iPad) without understanding the basic gestures is like hopping in a car, wanting to drive across town, without being quite sure what those pedals on the floor do.

Here’s a quick rundown of the iPhone controls and what to expect from them. I’ve seperated gestures you make on the touch screen from operations involving the power button, the home button and the whole phone. Many of the functions I have indicated below can be customized in Settings, but these are the default actions. Gestures may have special meaning within certain Apps, but these are the most common usages.

Starting at the very beginning, here’s how  to use the power button, located on the upper right side of your phone. Holding the power button for 3 seconds brings up the Slide to Power Off screen. If your phone is powered down,  you will need to hold the power button for a few seconds until you see the Apple logo and the phone begins powering on.

Here’s  what you can do with the Home Button at the bottom center of the iPhone/iPad. Touch ID is only available in the iPhone 5s and newer. For a click, press hard. For a tap, just touch it lightly. Only a light touch is needed for the fingerprint sensor.  If anybody knows some function that requires only a single tap of the home button, please  leave me a comment.

There are a few things you can do with your whole phone, without pushing any buttons. When you phone is asleep, lifting it to a vertical position momentarily turns on the screen so you can see the time, date and notifications.

Here are the gestures for the iPhone touch screen. These are the most commonly used and the area where people have the most trouble. In particular, the iPhone is very sensitive to any sideways or vertical motion of your finger when you touch the screen. If it notices any motion, your gesture is interpreted as a swipe instead of a tap. Tapping is probably the most common gesture, so it’s important to master it. When tapping make sure you move your finger up and down only, without sliding it sideways at all.

One of the most common problems with the touch screen is unintended actions. The screen is very sensitive to the slightest touch. In fact, it will sometimes sense a touch if your finger is just near the screen. So, keep all your fingers away from the screen until you actually want to do something.

Remove your finger promptly when tapping or you will get a Press & Hold. If you want to use Press & Hold, you don’t have to press hard, just rest your finger — again, no sliding. This is probably most useful to open the sharing menu for a photo.

These are special, iPad-only gestures:

For a device with such an easy-to-use reputation, this is a pretty big list. But, make sure you understand these and you will have a much easier time using your device.

Unsolicited Testimonials

Here are some of the unsolicited rave reviews the MacMAD blog has received just in the last few days.

Thank you for publishing this awesome article.
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I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!

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Thanks for posting this awesome article. I’m a long time reader but I’ve never been compelled to
leave a comment. I subscribed to your blog and shared this on my
Twitter. Thanks again for a great article!

You may notice a pattern here. The authors are apparently not all fluent English speakers. Also, the comments are all perfectly generic. They don’t mention the content of the articles at all and may seem weirdly inappropriate to the content.  (The “prescient vision” comment was on the rather mundane article How to Turn on an iMac.) Some of the comments use language almost identical to other comments. And, of course, they are all highly complimentary.

These are all examples of blog spam filtered out by Akismet recently. The senders hope that bloggers will be flattered and allow these comments on their site. The usernames or homepage links invariably refer to some shady source of Viagra, cheap watches, etc.

I really don’t know why the spammers bother. I would think that surely, all WordPress sites have installed Akismet by now. If you didn’t filter this stuff out, your blog would turn into a gigantic spammy link farm within days.

 

Twenty Years Ago – 1996 Mac Setup

I just found this photo of my computer desk from 1996.

Computer Equipment on Desk
Laserwriter, Power Mac 7200, Modem, Optical Drive & Heavy CRT.

Here’s my reasonably well-equipped computer setup from 1996. From left to right:

  • The miracle piano. My wife was using that. It connected to the Mac via MIDI. I don’t know of a modern piano teaching system comprable to it
  • Apple LaserWriter NT printer. Apple’s last LaserWriter came out in 1996. My new printer is about the same size and speed. It’s  cheaper, more reliable, and has WiFi, though.
  • A microphone. That was a rarely used accessory. Who knows what was going on that day.
  • Yellow Touch-Tone desk phone
  • 9600 baud modem
  • Removable media optical drive — I think 100 Mbyte capacity
  • Power Macintosh 7200 – 90 MHz Power PC 601, 500 MB hard drive, CD-ROM, floppy drive
  • A big, heavy CRT – probably a Bill Bernett after-the-meeting special
  • A joystick, probably for the game F/A-18 Hornet
  • Blue mousepad. Hey, I still have that mousepad. I should probably get a new one occasionally
  • Another telephone, Model 500 black dial phone. This phone stayed in use longer than the yellow one. It was still working when my landline was disconnected entirely about 2015.

 

 

Fight Calendar Spam

Recently, I have been receiving mysterious spam calendar invitations like the one below. You may have received them also.

fullsizeoutput_6b35I never saw a corresponding email. Even worse, the only options are accept or decline. Either one sends a message back to the spammer, confirming my email address! This junk is coming through your iCloud account. Here are instructions for preventing this type of spam from The Dangling Pointer blog.  

Since this is associated with your iCloud calendar, it affects both iOS and Macintosh.

They probably didn’t get your email address from anywhere. It appears they are trying big lists of likely email addresses @icloud.com.

 

Magnetic Car Mount for iPhone

I like this small magnetic mount to hold your phone on your car dash. It clips onto the air vent. The magnet only grips your phone because you must stick a piece of steel (supplied) onto the back of your phone. That metal piece is thin enough so that it doesn’t interfere with even the very thin Apple iPhone case.

Mount clips onto air vent
Mount clips onto air vent

The magnetic attraction is strong enough to hold your phone in place unless you crash.

The clip holding the mount to the air vent isn’t quite as strong. It has beefy rubber jaws and a strong spring, but sometimes the mechanism sticks, resulting in a less-than-tight grip. I lubricated mine with some silicon spray and worked it back and forth, and it gets a good grip now.

iPhone stuck to magnetic mount

I like this mount because when you get in the car, you can just stick the phone up there. No fooling around with clamps, etc.  — it just sticks on and you are ready to go. In most cars, it won’t block your view out the windshield or your view of the instruments. It’s ideal if you use your phone for navigation. You have a few inches of flexibility up or down as to where you place the phone for the best positioning in your car.

 

Use Apple Pay at Gas Stations

contactless

I like the convenience of Apple Pay and have been looking for places that accept it. It seems like paying for gas at the pump with Apple Pay would be convenient and more secure than using your credit card directly.

Gas purchases are unlike other purchases because you normally have to present (scan) your card before pumping gas, and before the total value of the purchase is known.

There seem to be three levels of support for Apple Pay at service stations:

  1. Go Inside and Prepay ,”Preauthorize”, a maximum limit (BP, Kangaroo, CircleK, WaWa)
  2. Download an App that works with Apple Pay (Exxon-Mobile’s Speedpass+ App)
  3. Apple Pay works at the pump (requires new hardware at the pumps) (Texaco/Chevron)

Method 1 is  pretty useless. Any convenience factor is destroyed by having to go inside first. At BP, Discover actually rejected the transaction, but it went through on Visa. After pumping gas, I went back inside to get my receipt. The clerk was unable to print a final receipt. The only reason I would ever do this again is if my phone was the only method of payment I had with me.

When I heard about the Speedpass+ App in method 2, I was skeptical about needing an additional app, but it does have advantages. Since it doesn’t require any new hardware at the pump, it can roll out immediately to all Exxon Mobile stations. The App knows which station you are at via GPS. You tell it what pump you are at, and you can complete the transaction without holding your phone up to the pump. So, you can pay without getting out of your car, if you want to.

Method 3 is probably what you were expecting from a gas station that accepts Apple Pay at the pump. You hold your phone near the pump. Your phone and the pump talk to each other via NFC. Once you begin the transaction, you have 45 seconds to start pumping gas. Chevron/Texaco is leading the pack by rolling this out extensively.

Any method of using Apple Pay is more secure than swiping your card and will prevent your card number from being stolen by scanners on the pump, or by hacked or compromised pumps. This is because Apple Pay does not give the merchant your real credit card number, but rather a one-time credit card number valid for that transaction only.

 

 

 

 

Tutorials Online

There are several sources of helpful Macintosh and iOS (iPhone and iPad) tutorials available to you online.

Apple has a series of short tutorials on various subjects. They used to have video tutorials. I don’t see those anymore. Instead, they have short well-illustrated tutorial pages. These are accessible from the Apple Support page.

If you prefer video tutorials, take a look at www.themacu.com . The videos on their Quick Lessons blog are free. There’s a nice list of interesting topics. You can buy their longer tutorials through the App store. Their App is called TMU Tutorials. Macintosh “All Access” is $19.99.

ScreenCastsONLINE has quite a complete collection of thorough Mac and iOS tutorial videos. A subscription to ScreenCasts Online is $21 per quarter.

There is also a free ScreenCastsONLINE YouTube channel with useful tips of the week.

If you watch someone else using an App, you usually have that Aha moment when you think “I could do that!”.  So, take a look at some of these useful tutorials and get more out of your Mac, iPad or iPhone.

 

 

VPN – Virtual Private Network Meeting Topic

MacMAD’s October, 2016 Meeting topic is VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Here are some accompanying links and information.

People generally use a VPN for these reasons:

  • Security and privacy when using a public network, such as at a coffee shop or hotel.
  • To allow access to online content which is subject to geographical restrictions.
  • To allow remote access to a private local network such as your home network or your employer’s network
  • Provide privacy at home (prevent your ISP from knowing what you are up to)

VPN Features to Look For

  • Automatic connection and reconnection – prevents accidental leakage of unencrypted data
  • Choice of VPN endpoint – What country would you like to be in today?
  • Self Installation/Configuration – Avoids lots of technical settings

Client and Server

VPNs follow a client-server model. The client app usually runs on your computer or portable device. The server can be either a commercial VPN service or you can run your own VPN server at home on your router (some models) or on another computer. There are many (hundreds) commercial VPN providers. The following list is not at all complete.

Commercial VPN Providers

VPN Software

VPN Protocols

Your choice of protocol will probably be determined by what your server or provider supports.

  • PPTP – (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) Old, do not use. No longer supported in macOS Sierra. or  iOS 10.
  • L2TP – (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) needs IPSec or similar to be secured.
  • IPSec – (Internet Protocol Security) A modern protocol.  Can work in conjunction with L2TP.
  • IKEv2 – (Internet Key Exchange version 2) A modern protocol.

Here’s the MacOS VPN Dialog in System Preferences

vpn-dialog
MacOS Network Preferences — adding a VPN interface

 

openvpn-1
The iOS app OpenVPN