All on line accounts (including email) have passwords. If you have not changed them recently, you are at greater risk of being ‘hacked.’

Most security experts advise changing passwords every 90 days. Until recently this seemed like overkill, but the situation I described in my last column illustrates why changing passwords frequently is important.

I assisted two customers who had their Frontier email accounts hacked. They probably had not changed their passwords in a very long time.

Frontier has used Yahoo as their email provider for several years. If you have a Yahoo email account, you probably recently received notification of a pending class action settlement “relating to data breaches occurring in 2013 through 2016.”

In 2013, malicious actors gained access to all existing Yahoo accounts (approximately three billion worldwide). In 2014, approximately 500 million, and in 2015 and 2016, approximately 32 million. So this illustrates how important it is to change your passwords frequently.

Using a complex password is also important. I see way too many people using simple words or easily guessed combinations of information such as telephone numbers, street addresses, or names of children.

A complex password should be at least 8 characters long and include a mix of uppercase and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols such as @./|$*&-_. It should not should be a just a sequence of numbers or contain any words found in a dictionary.

So something like “password1” is really bad. To create a complex password you can replace letters with symbols or numbers that are similar, for example “p@$$W0rd1.”

Another way is to come up with a sequence of words that makes sense to you, then use the first letter of each word. For example “Excellent advice for you from Peter Newell Affordable Technical Solutions” becomes “EafyfPNATS.” That is a fairly random sequence, but to obfuscate it even further, substitute numbers and symbols: “ea4yfPN@T$.”

Remembering clever complex passwords like this might not be so hard if you didn’t also have to change them often.
The problem is compounded because you absolutely should not use the same or similar password for different accounts, and when you change passwords the new ones should not just be variations of the old ones.

The natural response is to write them down. Experts warn against it but there is just no way most people will remember a large number of passwords that change frequently. If you do write them down on paper, you shouldn’t keep the paper near your computer.

Another way is to keep them in a file on the computer. However, if anyone gets access to your computer, they have all your account information. A simple way to solve this problem is to put the information in to a passworded file. This can be easily done using a spreadsheet program such as Excel or LibreOffice Calc.

Password Managers are another solution. All you need to know is the master password. This is a topic for a future column.

If you have not changed your passwords recently or are not using complex passwords, I advise you to change them as soon as possible. For assistance with all things technical, you can contact me at 315-376-8879, solutions at,

Original newspaper column published September 2019

A question recently posed on Quora went something like: “If the polarity in AC changes (i.e. no positive/negative, hot/ground), why is there a hot and ground wire in the real world (worse yet neutral)…”

I am an Electrical Engineer but I am not a licensed Electrician. This is a discussion of concepts, not specific advice on electrical wiring.

Current can be thought of as flowing through a single point, but voltage (also called potential difference) is always between two points. There is no ‘polarity’ at one point. Only with respect to some other point.

With AC (alternating current), the direction of current flow in the wires and the polarity of the voltage between the wires changes in a sinusoidal pattern. The voltage reaches a positive maximum at a particular instant and half a cycle later it reaches a negative maximum.

In AC wiring, “hot,” and “neutral” really have nothing to do with polarity. “Hot” and “neutral” define the relationship of the wires with respect to ground.

“Ground” itself is a relative term. It could refer to earth ground or some other common point. For example, most vehicles have a negative “ground” system so you could say the positive battery terminal is “hot” with respect to “ground,” but the system could be just as easily designed to have the positive terminal connected to chassis of the vehicle and then the negative terminal would be considered “hot.” Either way, the chassis is not connected to actual earth ground.

In the AC power distribution system, the secondary winding of a power transformer feeding a home or business with single phase power is center tapped. The center tap is connected by a wire to earth ground at the power pole. This establishes a definite relationship to “ground” at that location.

You typically see three wires twisted together going in to a building. Two “hot” wires that are insulated, with approximately 220V between them, and one bare “neutral” wire connected to the center tap. Half of the standard 110V circuits are connected to one of the “hot” wires and the neutral. The other half of the circuits are connected to the other hot wire and the neutral. If you have a 220 appliance like an electric stove or clothes dryer, it is connected across both “hot” wires.

There is also a local ground wire. All of the outlets and appliances have a connection to this local ground.

Creating a “neutral” wire by connecting one side of the power circuit to ground enhances safety because there is one less “hot” wire. If everything is working properly then you should be able to touch the “neutral” wire with no problem because back at the breaker box “neutral” and “ground” are both connected to the same point.

However the neutral wire is part of the power supply circuit which means current flows through it. The wire and the connections have some resistance. This means that at the point where power is being used there could be a small voltage difference between the neutral and ground. It should be extremely small unless there is a problem with the wiring.

Call an Electrician if you have wiring problems, but call me for computer and general technical assistance. Affordable Technical Solutions. 315-376-8879.

Original newspaper column published October 2019

In the early 1900s, hams were considered irritations and nuisances to the “real” communicators – the commercial sector and the military. Amateur Radio was almost outlawed, and ultimately relegated what were then considered “useless” frequencies above 1.5 Mhz.

Hams rose to the challenge and figured out how to effectively use the higher frequencies. They also demonstrated that they could actually be of use as a service.

In 1913, college students/hams in Michigan and Ohio passed disaster messages in the aftermath of severe storms and flooding in that part of the country when other means of communications were down.

A Department of Commerce bulletin followed, proposing a dedicated communications network of radio amateurs to serve during disasters. A magazine article noted that amateurs – who were once considered nuisances – were now considered to be essential auxiliary assets of the national public welfare.

The American Radio Relay League was formed in 1914, and disaster response communications provided by radio amateurs became more organized and useful. In 1920, Amateur Radio was used to help recover a stolen car, of all things!

Soon, the use of Amateur Radio for natural disasters emerged, with hams active in deadly flooding in New Mexico and an ice storm in Minnesota.

More organization followed, such as a “MoU” with the American railroad system for Amateur Radio support when the railroad’s wire lines were down.

A major New England flood had amateurs supplying the only efficient means of communications from the devastated areas to the outside world, prompting the chairman of the Federal Radio Commission to say the future of radio depends on the amateurs.

In 1935, the ARRL Emergency Corps was formed with the goal of having an Amateur Radio Emergency Station in every community — a goal that remains just as urgent today as it did then! Just look at today’s emphasis on the neighborhood and community as “first responder” and on self-reliance in the post-disaster survival chain.

In 1936 the ARRL Emergency Corps provided essential communications during major flooding across a 14-state region, solidifying Amateur Radio’s status as a critical disaster response communications asset and public service.

Amateur Radio was shut down during World War II, but communications techniques pioneered by hams were put to use during the war. Many hams joined the War Emergency Radio Service, which provided some disaster communications during the war period. After the war, the ARRL reconstituted its disaster response communications programs and networks, and the first Simulated Emergency Test was run in 1946.

The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) was formed by the government for civil defense (CD) purposes during the Cold War.

The roles, procedures, protocols, equipment and techniques of Amateur Radio in public service, disaster, and emergency communications continue to evolve, fueled by advances in Amateur Radio technology and its application, and lessons learned from each and every incident that involves amateur communications support.

Commercial and government communications infrastructure has reduced the need for Amateur Radio emergency communications. But these systems still do fail. Many readers of this column experienced just such a failure during the recent torrential rainstorm.

As the ARES Section Emergency Coordinator for Northern New York, I encourage anyone interested in radio communications for emergency preparedness (and just for fun as well) to get involved in ham radio. For more information, contact me at 315-376-8879 or, and visit the Northern New York Amateur Radio Association web site

Original newspaper article published November 2019

Microsoft will discontinue support for Windows 7 on January 14.

Don’t panic.  Don’t just run out and buy a new computer. You have options. Call me.

“End of support” does not mean Windows 7 will stop working, just that there will be no more security updates from Microsoft.

Over time Windows 7 will  effectively become less secure as additional security flaws are discovered but not patched. Microsoft will issue updates for Windows 8 and 10. Thes updates will be analyzed by hackers to determine what security flaws they fix, and then malware will be written to attack the flaws. Unpatched systems including all Windows 7 computers will be vulnerable because they won’t be updated.

This was a major concern when Microsoft ended support for XP in 2014, although I did not really see this happen with my customers. Many continued to use XP for quite a while without an increase in malware problems. However, it may be worse this time. Windows 7 program code and structure has more similarity to Windows 10 than XP did to Vista and 7.

Most people still using Windows 7 like it and do not want to give it up, especially if they have already tried Windows 10.

If you are a casual home user and your computer has adequate malware protection and you are careful, I think you can get away with continuing to use Windows 7 for a while. But eventually it will become so outdated it just won’t work well on the Internet.

Unfortunately if you are using your computers for business, and particularly if your business or organization is subject to privacy or security regulations, then you probably have little choice but to stop using an ”unsupported” operating system if you want to be in compliance.

Possibly more significant is that within a couple of years support for other software on Windows 7 will be dropped. In particular, out of date Internet-based applications will start to have problems. Anyone who has tried to use an old web browser has already experienced this.

So what can you do?

Many users just go out and buy a new computer with Windows 10, but this is a costly option which may not be necessary. There are alternatives.

You can continue to use Windows 7 for a while as long as you are careful, have all the available updates installed, know your system is clean, and have good antivirus software.

You can update your existing computers from 7 to 10. It is much less expensive than buying a new one. Another advantage is that is you keep your programs, settings, and data.

Most computers in the last 10 years can handle Windows 10. The most likely hardware upgrade required would be an increase in RAM.

But another great option for those who don’t like Windows 10 or Microsoft’s tendency to force you into updates and changes you don’t want, and don’t “need” Windows,  is to dump Microsoft  altogether and switch to Linux.

Web surfing, email, word processing and all the other common things most people do with Windows can be done just as easily with Linux. The graphical user interface of a Linux distribution such as Linux Mint is designed to be very easy for Windows users.

Since Linux is not Windows, it is immune to all Windows malware because programs written specifically for Windows will not install and run.

My favorite Linux distribution is Linux Mint.  The graphical user interface is very similar to Windows and most users have no trouble switching.

So far, I have switched about 30 customers from Windows to Linux. Many of them are still economically and happily using their 10+ year old Windows Vista PCs converted to Linux, but some have just had it with Windows problems on newer computers and dumped Windows 8 or 10 for Linux Mint.

Windows 7 End of Support Information from Microsoft
Switching from Windows to Linux
General Information about Linux on your PC
$79 Risk Free Linux Conversion Offer

Original Question on
Which Linux distribution has the best GUI for novices in 2020? Will it dramatically speed up an old Windows 8 laptop?

My Answer:

“Best” is matter of opinion. I happen to like Linux Mint

According to many references it is the most popular, especially for Windows converts. The desktop is very similar to classic Windows.

An advantage is that because it is so popular there is a very large user community which means it is likely you will find lots of help and answers on the forums.

Some people will say ZorinOS is better for beginners from Windows. I tried it a few years ago and it was OK but I found the documentation was a little lacking at that time. I have not looked at it recently.

According to Slant – Zorin OS vs Linux Mint detailed comparison as of 2019

When comparing Zorin OS vs Linux Mint, the Slant community recommends Linux Mint for most people.

As to the question “What are the best Linux distributions for desktops?Linux Mint is ranked 5th while Zorin OS* is ranked 39th.

The 4 distributions ranked above Mint (Debian, Slackware, Arch, and Salix) are definitely not suitable for beginners coming from Windows.

6 Best Linux Distributions for Beginners in 2019  rates only Ubuntu above Mint, primarily because it “has great documentation and community support.” But I think Mint is better because all the the desktop environments (Cinnamon, Mate, and XFCE) are a lot more like classic Windows. And XFCE in particular is very lightweight so it runs well on older hardware.

Mint is based on Ubuntu so aside from differences in the desktop environments it is almost the same. Software written for Ubuntu also works on Mint.

I have converted computers for many customers. Mostly old Vista and a few old XP computers to Mint XFCE because it is the most lightweight Mint distribution. Most have had no problem making the transition.
On the same hardware Mint XFCE is faster than Vista and much faster than Windows 10.

I expect I’ll be doing a bunch more conversions now that Windows 7 will no longer be “supported” by Microsoft. Any Windows 7 PC will have hardware that runs Mint very well.

Mint XFCE uses about 350MB of RAM. Windows 10 uses about1.3GB! Mint Cinnamon uses a little more but I had it on an old Vista laptop with 2GB RAM and it ran fine until the hardware failed.

So yes, Mint would speed up an”old” Windows 8 laptop, especially one that didn’t have much RAM.

Link to my original post on Quora      About Quora  Q & A