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Keep in Touch While Social Distancing

Posted & filed under Networking Solutions, Software.

Quarantine doesn’t have to mean you’re on your own all the time. Sure, back in the days of the plague or pox, people were stuck. But now, we have technology to let us remain connected even while social distancing. Here’s a roundup of top options for fun with family and friends.

You can’t have an actual party at your home right now, but a virtual house party could be fun.

The Houseparty app (houseparty.com) allows up to eight people to connect online in a video chat “room.” There’s no need to call people (like on FaceTime) – you get a notification when friends are online. Plus, you can switch between rooms easily. It’s like wandering from the kitchen into the backyard.

Zoom (zoom.us) is another app that lets you have a virtual get-together. Only the host needs to have a Zoom account, and the other participants follow the link to the video conference. Free meetings are capped at 40 minutes, though, for groups of three or more.

If your friends and family are on Google, you can bring up to 150 of them together in a Google Hangout (hangout.google.com). Long a go-to for international calling, Skype is another video chat option.

Connecting Online during Social Distancing

Social Distancing Chat

Maybe you want to catch up but really don’t need to see each other’s faces. Perhaps you don’t want to have to get dressed!

Take texting up a notch with Slack (slack.com), which can keep clubs and teams together during quarantine. You can easily share files, instant message, share gifs, and also jump on a video call.

Discord (discordapp.com) is another app that combines text chat, voice chat, video chat, and more. A favorite already with gamers, Discord offers helpful templates to get started. People also use this app to live-stream art creation, read stories, play music together, and even host digital conventions.

Nextdoor (nextdoor.com) helps you connect with your neighbors. Did you see a coyote? Want to know when garbage pickup is coming this week? Hosting a virtual garage sale? This is social media specific to your ’hood – and you don’t have to go out of doors to get caught up.

Movies with Friends

Another way to chill together online is by enjoying a movie or binge watching a TV series.

With Watch2Gether (watch2gether.com) you can create a room and invite friends and family to watch YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, and SoundCloud. You could even use this app to replicate the group gym class experience. PopSugar, for instance, offers a wide range of free videos available on YouTube.

If you have a Netflix account and a Google Chrome browser, you can tune in together with Netflix Party (netflixparty.com). The app lets you chat back and forth while viewing. The best thing is that all party members are watching the video in sync. No one ruins that big moment by texting a response a few seconds early!

Other Great Options

Looking for more active virtual fun? With Rave (rave.io) you can host a virtual dance party. You can sync music videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Reddit, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Viki with friends in real-time, or create a playlist of songs, then text and video chat simultaneously.

If you’re wishing you could meet someone new, try Quarantine Together (quarantinetogether.com). This dating app starts out by asking you if you’ve washed your hands today. Then, it will match you with someone else for a text chat. After 20 minutes of texting, you’ll be sent a video chat URL.

Really, there’s no excuse for being a hermit during quarantine – unless you want to be, of course!

If you need help setting your devices up with any of these apps or the video or voice technology, our experts can help – remotely. Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.

Setting Your Scholar Up for Online Learning

Posted & filed under IT Security, Software.

Schools around the world have closed their doors during the COVID-19 crisis, students from kindergarten through graduate school are being asked to learn online. It’s a change for everyone, but having the right technology in place can help with the transition.

Your student may have been using the Microsoft Office suite of software at school. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint at home, check if your school is providing licenses or free software.

If not, buying a subscription to the online Microsoft 365 package allows you to pay monthly or yearly, and it’s much more affordable than in the past. One month is about the cost of two café coffees.

Otherwise, your student may be able to get work done using Google’s suite of tools. Teachers may accept links to Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. These free options are also useful when your student needs to work on a group project. People can collaborate online in real-time using the G-Suite software.

Online Learning

Teleconferencing with Teachers and Peers

Your student is likely to need to download teleconferencing software such as Zoom or Skype. Beware! Cybercriminals take advantage of every opportunity. Noticing the increased demand for these services, they’ve set up bogus sites. Make sure that you are downloading from the legitimate sources: www.skype.com or www.zoom.us.

While we’re talking about teleconferencing, you might pass on these best practices:

  • Use headphones to limit audio distractions.
  • Join calls from a low-traffic setting with simple backgrounds.
  • Ask others at home to avoid downloading, streaming, or backing up while the student is live online.
  • Connect to the router with a network cable, or at least be as close to the wireless router as possible during the call.

Considering Cybersecurity

In addition to setting up fake teleconferencing sites, cybercriminals have other ways to exploit the situation.

Remind any students learning from home that they need to keep their username and password private. This is a lesson that never gets old.

Are you still using Windows 7 on a home computer? This popular operating system (OS) reached the end of its life in January 2020. Yes, it may still work, but it is no longer receiving security updates from Microsoft, and the bad guys know Windows 7 is vulnerable. Continuing to use this OS puts you at risk. Without new upgrades, you’re no longer protected from vulnerabilities or exploits.

You probably already know to avoid using public wireless networks. Although your students can’t go to a coffee shop or public library right now to get online, reminding students to secure their online activity is critical.

This is a good time to review your Wi-Fi setup. Too many homeowners don’t change the default username and password on their routers. Big mistake. You should also:

  • hide your Wi-Fi network from public view
  • set your network up to encrypt transmissions
  • update router software regularly

A Focus on Learning

There’s one more thing parents and guardians might consider. At school, the computers prevent students from going to certain sites or downloading files, but you may not have the same blocking and filtering set up on your home devices. This can be addressed in settings.

If you have to share a computer, set up a student-specific user profile to:

  • prevent your student from getting distracted during learning
  • limit exposure to malware and cyberthreats
  • avoid them accessing any of your work files

You may feel isolated during the coronavirus quarantine, but you’re not alone. Our tech experts can help you set up and secure your technology for work or school from home. Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.

Tips for Trouble-Free Online Meetings

Posted & filed under Networking Solutions, Tech Tips.

Online meetings are the new norm for many, but that doesn’t mean people magically know how to enjoy a trouble-free online conference experience. These tips can power more successful meetings.

Many businesses today are working from home with a reliance on Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or GoToMeeting. But even with these platforms offering voice or video capabilities, there can be tech problems. These tips can minimize the trouble and enhance business collaboration.

Online Meeting Tips

1. Go Wired

Connecting to Wi-Fi offers flexibility and mobility. Yet when it comes to an online meeting, prefer a wired connection. Enjoy a more reliable meeting connection by plugging your laptop or desktop into the internet router using a network cable.

If you need to use a mobile device and can’t connect via cable, reduce Wi-Fi obstacles. Call in from as a close to the wireless access point as you can. Wi-Fi signals are a form of radio wave, which means they can be hindered by:

  • large metal objects near the router
  • thick walls
  • other electronics
  • Wi-Fi congestion from your neighbors’ access points

So, that important meeting is not the one you join from a cement-bricked basement, not when your Wi-Fi router is in an upstairs bedroom and your neighbors are all relying on Wi-Fi signals, too.

2. Prioritize Your Meeting

When you have a scheduled meeting, announce it to the rest of the household. Ask kids not to get on Xbox or stream movies at the same time as you connect to your meeting. See if you can’t persuade your partner, who is also working from home, not to download large files or new software at the same time as your meeting.

Program your devices to back up at times that won’t compete with your work hours. In the office, your IT team scheduled updates or security patches outside of business hours. Now that you’re doing it all at home, be smart about when you do upgrades. Depending on your home internet speed, trying to do too many things at once can cause trouble for everyone.

3. Test Connections Before the Meeting

You may feel that all you’re doing is meeting online right now. Why would you need to test audio and video each time? Well, every time you unplug a device such as a microphone or headset the settings will return to the default. That means the next time you connect you aren’t set up the way you want to be. You were expecting to listen in using your USB headphones, but the last time you unplugged them your computer switched back to the next available audio input (e.g. your monitor or built-in laptop speakers). 

By checking the connection first, you also make sure you have the most up-to-date platform software. You don’t want to be late to a call because your device has decided it needs to re-install Skype right at that moment.

4. Use the Right Equipment

Headsets and external microphones limit the ambient noise. You’ll hear better. Plus, it will make your contributions easier to hear, too.

Muting your microphone when you’re not talking also helps – it reduces the noise pollution. Problems can arise when your mic picks up other people talking through your speakers. This precaution also saves you from apologizing when your dog barks ferociously at the FedEx delivery person.

5. Pick the Best Setting

Plan the best place to take that online meeting. The closer you are to your wireless access point, the better your connection.

Plus, you want to avoid high-traffic areas, as you’re more likely to be distracted. A child or furry colleague could make an unplanned appearance.

Select an area with a simple background, too. Sitting in front of a window may seem like a good idea, but it makes your face darker and more difficult to see on video. Ideally, you want to be in a well-lit room with a plain wall as your background.

6. Take Full Advantage of Online Meeting Features

You may have done conference calls in the past. Everyone called in, spoke when necessary, and that was that. But much of the top business collaboration software offers added features:

  • Call recording provides a record that can be checked later.
  • Call transcripts give you an efficient way to capture all that happened in a meeting.
  • Some platforms let you add virtual backgrounds to video calls.
  • You might also enable an interactive shared whiteboard, presentation slides, or co-browsing.

Online meetings are efficient and cost-effective. With the current health crisis forcing many of us to adapt to connecting virtually, implementing these ideas can help.

Need help setting up your online meeting platform or deciding on the solution that’s right for you? We can help.Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.

How To Keep Your Tech Squeaky Clean

Posted & filed under Tech Tips.

Our tech is something we use every day, but did you know it’s also the most disgusting? Your screen may look clean, but studies show that a mobile phone can be 18x dirtier than a public restroom – ew! It gets worse (sorry)…that keyboard you tap at while eating your morning toast? It’s probably the biggest bacterial threat in your house, with about 20 000 times more germs than a toilet seat, more if you share it with children.

It’s not just sickness we’re up against, because as dust builds up inside gadgets, they also slow down, malfunction or overheat. Your device essentially chokes on ick, as vents and filters are clogged by sucking in pet hair and floating debris.

Cleaning Tech

Here’s how to clean your essential tech items without damaging them:

1. Skip the household cleaners: Most cleaning products are too harsh for our technology and can end up causing permanent damage. You want something that can kill germs and remove everyday grime, without scratching or leaving behind a scented residue. Your best bet is Isopropyl Alcohol. You’ll find it in the first aid section of supermarkets and pharmacies, or at the hardware store.

2. Power down completely: Turn your tech off all the way, not just sleeping, and unplug from any power sources. Switch wireless keyboards, mice, etc off underneath or remove the batteries.

3. Remove any cases or covers: Undress your device as much as you can, but leave screen protectors on (unless there’s grime underneath). If your screen protector needs replacing, have a new one ready to apply.

4. Grab a microfiber cloth: Dampen the cloth with Isopropyl Alcohol and wipe screens and external surfaces gently. Older build-up may require extra effort.

5. Go deep: You can use a toothbrush or cotton tip to clean between most crevices, but some areas will need a bit more ‘oomph’ to clear. You’ve probably seen people use vacuum cleaners on their keyboard, but these are often TOO powerful and may suck keys or internal parts loose. They also generate damaging static electricity. Another option is to use a tech-specific vacuum, but these are usually underpowered.

Insider tip: Use a can of compressed air to blow the dust out. You can get these from many stores and they come with a long nozzle so you can really get in and direct the pressure. You’ll be surprised what flies out, so it’s best to do this outside! We don’t recommend using compressed air on your computer’s internal fans though, as this can make them spin too fast and damage them.

How often you clean your tech is up to you and your lifestyle. But it’s a good idea to blow out computer internal dust at least twice a year and wipe your tech down 1-2 times per week to reduce germs and grime.

Remote Working with G Suite

Posted & filed under Networking Solutions, Software.

Migrating to the cloud is no longer a “maybe” solution for many businesses. With many countries mandating staying home, remote working requires a fresh look.

The good news? There are great solutions available, and you’ll see benefits not just today but also when you’re back in the office in the future. We recommend Google’s G Suite to enable business collaboration and communication while working remotely.

G Suite for Remote Working

Advantages of a G Suite Solution

G Suite offers enhanced productivity, flexibility, and transparency, all without sacrificing security.

Productivity

G Suite provides access to Docs, Spreadsheets, Forms, Websites, App Scripting, and more. Using G Suite, internal and external users can collaborate and see changes made.

This simultaneous, real-time collaboration saves on emailing documents back and forth. Avoid the inefficiency of someone having to correlate different versions of a document.

Further, G Suite provides a single dashboard. Users can access the creation tools, as well as email, calendars, and Google Hangouts. People don’t have to keep several different applications open. It’s all available in a single, integrated solution.

Flexibility

G Suite is available on any device, iOS or Android. All your remote workers need is a working internet connection. With this cloud-based solution, you can let them log in to G Suite and get everything done in one place.

Everyone can:

  • share access to the business Google Drive
  • use Google Cloud Search to find the needed files
  • synchronize work calendars on Google
  • easily hop on video calls or chat in Google Hangouts

And they can do that from wherever they are, whenever they want.

Google even touts a “99.9% service level agreement.” Google maintains its systems while making its applications continually available, which means “no scheduled downtime or maintenance windows.”

Transparency

With G Suite, all the business data lives in one place. Users can share files but still control access. Your IT admins can decide what access to allow remote or guest users, and they can secure that access from within the G Suite Admin Console.

With G Suite audit logs, IT admins can review actions taken by users. The logs provide information about what resources were used, by whom, and when. This can help with cybersecurity, plus it provides peace of mind that people are complying with procedures remotely.

G Suite offers reporting for international information security controls, accounting, financial services, health privacy, government, and payment card industry standards.

At the same time, although you are using G Suite’s services, your data doesn’t belong to Google. All personal information and intellectual property remains your own, even that meme you made about the “joys” of home schooling.

Getting Set Up on G Suite

Google offers many of these solutions separately for free (or ad supported). Still, G Suite is worth the investment: you pay per user for a more comprehensive solution which adds:

  • professional domain name – instead of jenny@gmail.com she could send from jenny@yourbusiness.com;
  • unlimited cloud storage and archiving;
  • administrative control to manage all user accounts in a single dashboard;
  • better management of mobile devices;
  • the ability to set up two-factor authentication for greater security.

A cloud solution helps your remote workers work smarter and faster. G Suite is a secure, simple-to-use cloud platform. Our tech experts can help you effectively migrate to G Suite or another cloud-based solution. Contact PGP Computers today at 763-691-1957 or contact us.