What to Look for in a Computer

Purchasing a new computer can sometimes be daunting.  The sales person at most local computer stores thinks of how to make the biggest commission, not about what would work best for you as a user.  It is better to know what you want before you go into a computer store.

Knowing if you want a laptop or desktop is important; most users today use laptops when they need to type a lot. A tablet or a desktop might be a cheaper option.  There are utilities available that allow you to transfer data on your devices, i.e., “drop box.”  Regardless of the type of system, pay attention to:

  1. RAM: how much?
  2. Hard drive: speed  (higher number than 7200 is better); size is normally not important today.
  3. USB access: most accessories today connect via USB or wireless.

Knowing what type of operating system you want is important. If you have old software, make sure it’s compatible. It may be better to not use the latest and greatest because of the number of bugs that are found. This happened when Microsoft brought out Windows ME and soon after came out with Windows XP.  The newer software was better, but Microsoft came out with Windows 8 only to have the world say Windows 7 is the most stable of the two.

  1. Windows 7 or 8:  (32 or 64 bit)
  2. Home or Professional version: Laptops and shared PC of more than 3 users should use professional.

With Microsoft and Google competing for you to use their free products, you may not need to purchase office applications.  When making the decision to buy software, think about this:

  • Is it more cost effective to just buy the application you need, i.e., Microsoft Word?
  • Most free online applications require Internet access.

Regardless of what you purchase, remember that the technology world is ever changing.  It will be better to spend less on your hardware or software knowing that in two or three years it may be obsolete.

Seattle’s new smartphone app: “Find It, Fix It”

The City of Seattle recently rolled out a new app, “Find It, Fix It,” offering mobile users another way to report issues to the City of Seattle.

With Find It, Fix It, reporting an issue is as easy as snapping a photo with your smartphone, adding detailed information, and hitting submit. The map’s “drag and drop” feature or the phone’s own technology can be used to pinpoint the location.

The app offers the following service request categories:

Abandoned Vehicles: report vehicles parked in a public right-of-way more than three days.
Graffiti: report graffiti, including what it is on — parking meter, utility pole or building — so it gets automatically routed to the appropriate department for response.
Pothole: report a pothole.
Parking Enforcement: make an inquiry regarding a parking concern.
Other Inquiry: this miscellaneous category is for making an inquiry or request, which will be processed by the City’s Customer Service Bureau. Mobile users should choose this category to provide feedback.
The app also provides a link to m.seattle.gov, the mobile version of the City of Seattle’s website.

Android users can download the app from the Google Play Store and iPhone users can download it from the App Store.

Gigabit Squared

Seattle is continuing to work with Gigabit Squared on bringing high-speed fiber Internet to Seattle residents. While make-ready work moves forward, we have responded to a lot of resident questions. In an effort to answer those questions, we have updated the frequently asked questions here.  Keep looking for more information as it becomes available here in Brainstorm, and at www.seattle.gov/mayor/seafi.

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime, Anything

The director of the Sinmin Digital Opportunity Center explains how microenterprise is helping fund the lab and their role training trainers.

The director of the Sinmin Digital Opportunity Center explains how microenterprise is helping fund the lab and their role training trainers.

A fully connected world will enable anyone, anywhere, anytime to learn and do anything.  This was the vision presented by Dr. Stan Shih, founder of Acer computers, at the opening of the APEC Digital Opportunity Center workshop in Taiwan last month.  I had the pleasure of joining people from 12 different countries working on digital equity and using computer labs to create economic opportunity.  In Sinmin, Taiwan Digital Opportunity Center, the computer lab is being used to help women bring their jewelry to market on e-commerce sites.  Vibrant packaging for locally grown tea has been designed in the computing center alongside youth learning to build PC’s. Once a year, students from digital opportunity centers in the area gather for a tech mini-Olympics. They compete for best time in events like PC troubleshooting and graphics creation. This is sponsored by Taiwan’s Institute for Information Industry, which has also led the project to bridge the digital divide in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation region. (The United States is a member of APEC.)  Since 2004, they have helped establish 101 centers in 10 APEC partner countries with 28 in Latin America and 72 in Asia.  This includes 11 Mobile Centers in Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand and three centers for the visually and physically impaired.  You can read more about the APEC  Digital Opportunity Centers (DOC) at the overview page or the APEC ADOC program website.

More to come next month about some of what the workshop participants shared about great work going on in all their countries,  best practices, challenges and strategies for sustainability.

Submitted by David Keyes, Community Technology Program Manager


Seattle’s Top-Three Cable Complaints

Seattle has more than 165,000 residents who subscribe to cable television services.  If you’re one of them, you may be familiar with these common complaints the City’s Office of Cable Communications (OCC) received over recent months.

Complaint #1:  I’m not happy that the City doesn’t allow competitors and gives the cable company a monopoly!

Many residents mistakenly believe the City only allows one cable operator to provide service in an area.  Actually, the City issues non-exclusive cable franchises, which means any company can apply for a franchise to offer cable services in an area – even where there is already a cable provider.  More information on why there is so little cable competition (in Seattle and across the nation) is in the August 2013 Brainstorm article Why Don’t I Have More Cable Options?!.

Complaint #2:  When I call my cable company I have to wait on hold for a long time before I can speak with a customer service representative.  It’s such a waste of my time!

Cable customers with Comcast service report waiting on hold anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, and sometimes even as long as 30-40 minutes, when they select the option to speak with a customer service representative.  Many also report having their phone connection cut off as they wait, causing them to have to redial and start waiting all over again.

This is a frustrating situation, but Seattle customers do have some recourse!  Under Seattle’s Cable Customer Bill of Rights (CCBOR), a long hold time is a violation of the Courtesy standard which requires “All Cable Operator employees shall be friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and provide timely services.”  Did you know you can request a $5.00 account credit as compensation for the violation?  It’s true!

Complaint #3: The cable company representative gave me wrong information!

Cable customers report being given wrong information from customer service reps, or speaking with customer service reps who cannot answer their questions.

If this happens to you, you also have recourse under the CCBOR’s Courtesy standard requiring “All Cable Operator employees shall be friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and provide timely services.” Seattle customers can request a $5.00 credit to their account in cases where they are given bad information or a customer service representative was not sufficiently knowledgeable to help with standard account issues.  It’s true!

The most important thing you can do in any situation with the cable company is to always make specific notes of your call.  Write down the name of the customer service rep(s) you speak with, the date and time you talk to them, and what they promised you or the information they did not have.

Remember your rights under Seattle’s CCBOR!  Seattle residents are more fortunate than most cable customers because we are one of the few places were expanded cable customer service standards are part of City law.  But because cable company customer service reps also serve customers outside of Seattle, Seattle residents have to be proactiveYou need to know your CCBOR rights, inform the customer service rep when there is a violation, and specifically request the credit for the violation.  If the customer service rep doesn’t know about the CCBOR (that’s another Courtesy standard violation – of $5.00!), ask to speak with a supervisor instead.

In any situation when you can’t resolve a dispute directly with the cable company, Seattleites can contact their Office of Cable Communications for help.  The office has a Cable Line at (206) 684-8498 which can take messages 24 hours a day, and has an on-line complaint/comment form at the website www.seattle.gov/cable.

Using WiFi: Connect With Care

From the City of Seattle, Office of Information Security – Bryant Bradbury

WiFi in airports, hotels, train stations, coffee shops, and other public places can be convenient, but they’re often not secure, and can leave you at risk.

Whether using a tablet, laptop, smartphone or netbook, there are precautions you should take to make sure your personal information is safe.

First and foremost, connect with care. If you’re online through an unsecured network, you should be aware that individuals with malicious intent may have established a Wi-Fi network with the intent to eavesdrop on your connection. This could allow them to steal your credentials, financial information, or other sensitive and personal information. It’s also possible that they could infect your system with malware. Any free Wi-Fi should be considered to be “unsecure.” Therefore, be cautious about the sites you visit and the information you release.


Here are six tips to remember when using WiFi:

  1. Keep an updated machine. Having the latest security software, operating system, web browser and apps can help protect you from the malware and other threats you may encounter when using WiFi.
  2. Don’t assume that the WiFi connection is secure. Many hotspots don’t encrypt the information you send on the WiFi network.
  3. Do not log into accounts, especially financial accounts, when using public wireless networks.
  4. Do not log onto sites that don’t seem legitimate, (clues could include the URL being misspelled, or not matching the name that you were given by the place of business).  It’s not uncommon for cybercriminals to set up a WiFi network called “free WiFi” in airports, hotels, and other public places.
  5. A cellular 3G/4G connection is generally safer than a WiFi connection.
  6. Consider turning off features on your computer or mobile devices that allow you to automatically connect to WiFi.

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Passwords are now easier to crack with new tool for hackers–for the truly dedicated and devious. Includes info on new hacking tool and references to Wired and other articles on passwords. “…It’s actually harder for programs to guess a long password made of random words (it uses the example, “correcthorsebatterystaple”) than it is to crack a shorter cocktail of letters, numbers and symbols (like “Tr0ub4dor&3″).”