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Welcome to this week's edition of the Computer Kindergarten Newsletter.
Today is Sunday, April 6, 2014

In this Issue:
Special Feature: Credit Card Services You Don’t Need
Special Series: Windows 8 - Start at the Start Screen
Special Feature: Intro to the Mac - Getting Started with OS X Mavericks - Multi-Touch Gestures
This Week's Topic: Speed Up a Slow Computer – Defrag
Special Feature: iPad Basics - Wi-Fi and Security
Websites of Interest: National No Housework Day; ASPCA; World Health Day; Super Simple Learning

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Special Feature: Credit Card Services You Don’t Need

By Jay Cross of wisebread.com

Everyone who has opened up a credit card in the last five years has been pitched on various supplementary “services” from the company in question. The offers sound enticing and even logical at times, but are they really justified from a hard dollars-and-cents standpoint?

Everyone’s financial situation is different, but generally speaking, the answer is NO.

Here are six credit card services that you (usually) do not need.

1. Identity Theft Coverage

This is typically framed as a way to avoid liability for fraudulent charges made after your credit card is stolen. It sounds appealing, but many consumers fail to realize they are essentially ALREADY covered from this by 1968’s Truth in Lending Act. This law states that if you report the stolen card immediately, your maximum liability for fraudulent charges is $50. As such, it makes zero sense to pay $5 per month (or anything) when, even in the worst case scenario, you are only out $50.

While some identity theft plans offer coverage for more extreme circumstances (such as losing other cards or your Social Security number), you would generally be better served investing in a paper shredder and monitoring your credit report than paying the fees your credit card company would charge.

2. Missed Payment Insurance

This was actually offered to me a few days ago while activating a credit card. The salesperson gleefully exclaimed how I could “put my payments on hold for up to two years” in case I lost my job or ran out of money. The cost? Something like $5 per every $100 on my outstanding balance. It actually sounded moderately appealing at first, until I paused and thought about it.

“Why would I ever be unemployed or unable to make credit card payments for two years?”

For one thing, I (like many credit card holders) rarely carry balances month-to-month. It might make sense if you carry huge balances, but even in that case, you probably ought to ask WHY you’re carrying those balances. Furthermore, a modest savings account would seemingly provide all the missed payment insurance you would need in a cash crunch.

3. Credit Score Tracking

Given the overall importance of your credit score, this is definitely a number worth knowing. Do you really need 24/7 access to it, as many credit card companies now offer in exchange for additional fees? It’s debatable (and there are definitely circumstances where it COULD make sense), but probably not.

Although credit scores do change dynamically to reflect your most up-to-date activity, obsessively monitoring it every single day is unlikely to reveal anything of importance. You would be much better off simply getting your free yearly credit score and report from AnnualCreditReport.com in the beginning of the year, and then perhaps paying one of the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Trans-Union) for second and third peeks later on. Experian, for instance, offers $1 access to your score in connection with an easy-to-cancel trial.

4. Debt Consolidation

Typically offered by third-party organizations rather than credit card companies themselves, debt consolidation is far from the silver bullet its supporters make it out to be. Consolidating debt lowers your immediate monthly payment (which we always hear), but it also lengthens the amount of time you stay in debt and enlarges the total amount that you pay (which we almost never hear.)

Think about it — what creditor would voluntarily rewrite debt if it only benefited the borrower? No one would. Taking this into account, you should realize that debt consolidation doesn’t lower your debt. It simply moves it around and makes it (temporarily) more comfortable. Approach debt consolidation with caution.

5. Credit Score Repair

A number of credit card companies (sensing that many consumers have low credit scores) are beginning to offer credit score repair services. The offer is appealing to people who don’t understand credit and thus believe “the experts” can push a few buttons to raise their score overnight.

Yet in truth, credit scores are no mystery. Your credit score is comprised of five things and five things only:

Payment history (35%)
Amounts owed (30%)
Length of credit history (15%)
New credit (10%)
Types of credit used (10%)

Repair services don’t have any shortcuts or special tricks. All they can do are the same common-sense things you could do yourself by consulting the list above (paying your bills on time, repaying outstanding balances, ceasing to apply for new credit for a while, etc.)

6. Balance Transfers

Before someone rushes to say how insane I am for calling balance transfers unnecessary, let me state that I do find them worthwhile sometimes. More often than not, however, they amount to little more than a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

Because those highly sought 0% “teaser periods” often last just 3-6 months (and most borrowers will not pay off their entire balance that quickly), credit card holders might be left to either stick with the astronomical new APR or “rate-chase” by balance transferring to a new 0% card. This can actually compound your credit problems because constantly applying for new credit reflects poorly on your score.

If you can pay off a balance IN FULL during the teaser period, it can be a smart move. If not, it’s likely a waste of time and money.

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Special Series: Windows 8 - Start at the Start Screen

From cnet.com

Once you log in to Windows 8, you'll be facing the new Start screen. This is where your Metro apps live, and where you'll be doing the vast majority of your navigating.

The Charms bar lives hidden under the right edge of your screen. On touch screens and touch pads, you can reveal it by swiping in from the edge. With a mouse, move the cursor to the upper-right corner and it will appear. Hot keys on your keyboard will work, too. Win + C will open the Charms, and there are specific combinations to access its features -- such as Win + Q for Search.

Opposite the Charms bar, the left edge lets you flip through recently used apps. Swipe in from the edge to go to your last app. If you make a sharp U-turn with your finger, you'll get the recently used apps sidebar. If you're using a mouse, move the cursor to the upper-left or lower-left corner to reveal the sidebar.

The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 is remarkable for its unique interface, its fast page-load times, and its surprisingly effective security policies. It also has Do Not Track turned on by default, setting the stage for a battle between Microsoft and advertisers.

Interestingly, it's IE 10's hardware acceleration and JavaScript engine that power the smooth app transitions on the Start screen.

Socialization, sync, and sharing are big parts of the Windows 8 experience. The People app is where all your contacts will integrate from across multiple services.

The Windows Store, with its hidden top-edge navigation pulled down in this screenshot, is where you'll go to get the new Metro-style apps. Unlike Google and Apple app stores, though, the Windows Store is really for apps only. Confusingly, Music, Video, and Xbox games -- but not Windows games -- must be purchased through their built-in app marketplaces.

One of the coolest things about Windows 8 apps is the semantic zoom. Pinch to zoom on the screen or a touch pad, or use the scroll wheel on your mouse, and many apps will reveal a top level to their content that allows you to easily jump around within the app. This can also be used on the Start screen to skip across app groups.

On Windows 8, the Windows 7-style traditional interface lives as an app called Desktop. Many legacy programs, and some advanced Windows configuration tools, will launch into the Desktop. It still has Charms and recent-apps bar access, though, so it's quite easy to jump between the two.

After almost 20 years, the Windows Explorer (not to be confused with Internet Explorer) gets rebranded as File Explorer in Windows 8. It also introduces some excellent new tools specific to each library.

From the moment the Start screen is staring you in the face, you can start typing away. It's a subtle but incredibly powerful search tool that makes the Metro interface much more accessible to keyboard junkies.

The Devices Charm comes preloaded with support for extending your display to a second monitor.

You can right-click with a mouse on your apps to get extra context-menu style options for them. But how do you do it by touch? It's quite simple: just swipe down on a tile to select it, and swipe down again to deselect it.

Windows traditionally gets bogged down in its own muck over time, with clean installs generally performing better than older ones. It's not clear if that'll happen with Windows 8, but in case it does, Microsoft has included in PC Settings two options for renewing the OS's lease on life.

Refresh keeps your files as it reinstalls Windows 8, while Remove everything and reinstall wipes the slate entirely clean. Convenient!

In our next edition: The Charms Bar

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Special Feature: Intro to the Mac - Getting Started with OS X Mavericks - Multi-Touch Gestures

From gcflearnfree.org

Mavericks allows you to use many different multi-touch gestures with your mouse or trackpad. These include pinches, taps, double-taps, and swipes. Each gesture performs a specific task, and by learning different gestures you can increase your productivity.

In order to use multi-touch gestures, you will need the right equipment. If you have a laptop, the built-in trackpad can be used. For desktop computers, you can either use the Magic Trackpad or the Magic Mouse. One of these may have been included with your computer; if not, they can be purchased separately. Most mice are not touch-sensitive and cannot be used for multi-touch gestures.

Examples of Gestures

Some gestures will vary depending on whether you're using a trackpad or a Magic Mouse, and there are a few that only work with trackpads. Some apps may not support all gestures, but apps made by Apple (such as Safari) tend to use them more. Therefore, you may want to practice the following gestures with Safari before you try them with other apps.

Pinch to Zoom (trackpad only): Place your thumb and forefinger on the trackpad and move them apart to zoom in, or move them together to zoom out.

Smart Zoom: Tap the trackpad twice (double-tap) with two fingers. If you are using a Magic Mouse, double-tap the mouse with one finger (make sure you are just tapping the mouse, and not clicking). The app will zoom in to the area where the mouse pointer is.

Swipe to Navigate: Instead of using your web browser's back and forward buttons, you can swipe to the left or right with two fingers (on a trackpad) or one finger (on a Magic Mouse). You can also do this to scroll through different screens in Launchpad.

View Launchpad (trackpad only): Place your thumb and three fingers on the trackpad and move them together to open Launchpad.

There are many more gestures that you can use. To learn more, check out the About Multi-Touch Gestures page on the Apple website. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4721

 

In our next newsletter: Natural Scrolling

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Today's Topic: Speed Up a Slow Computer – Defrag

As your Windows computer ages, its speed can decrease. You will notice an increase in response time when you give commands to open programs, files or folders, use the Internet and other tasks. There are several things you can do to speed up your computer.

In our ongoing series, Speed Up a Slow Computer, we will present articles discussing some of the steps you can take to speed up your slow computer.

Important: Before making any changes to your system, always create a Restore Point. If anything goes wrong with the changes you make, this will allow you to revert back to a point when the computer was operating correctly. Please visit our Newsletter Archives to read our article, All About Restore Points:
http://computerkindergarten.com/021311.html

Speed Up a Slow Computer – Defrag

When a file is stored on your hard disk, it's often split into separate fragments. Fragmentation occurs naturally when you use a disk frequently: creating, deleting, and modifying files. At some point, the operating system needs to store parts of a file in noncontiguous places on the disk. You can't see the fragments, and you can't stop this fragmenting from occurring, but it can slow down the speed at which data is accessed because the disk drive must search through different parts of the disk to put together a single file.

However, you can defrag your system. This is the term used for reorganizing the data on your Hard Disk into a more logical sequence, which means taking all those scattered fragments of files and piecing them back together where they belong. This helps free more hard drive space and makes the accessing of files a speedier process; your Hard Disk will work quicker and more efficiently.

To defrag the drive, open My Computer, right-click the drive icon, and choose Properties. Click the Tools tab, and click Defragment Now.

This will probably be a lengthy process, depending on the size of your hard drive and number of files.

Question: Defrag Does Not Work

I am trying to defragment my computer. When I open Disk Defragmenter and do an analysis, it tells me I should defrag but every time I try, it stops on 2%. What am I doing wrong?

Answer:
You are not doing anything wrong. It is possible that some program is running in the background which is causing defrag to terminate. Try this:

Turn your computer off and back on again. Before the computer completely restarts, right after the first beep, press the F8 key (on the top row of the keyboard). You should then see a list of startup options.

If the computer goes to the desktop without showing the startup option, you did not press the F8 key at the right time. This is a tricky process; the key has to be pressed at exactly the right time. Turn the computer off and then restart. As soon as the computer begins to start, keep tapping the f8 key until the Startup Options appear.

Select Safe Mode.

Start Disk Defragmenter again. It should run all the way through this time. After it is complete, shut the computer down and start it again. It will come back in normal mode.

When Windows starts in safe mode, it opens a minimum of auto start programs and drivers. Any programs that are causing your defrag to cease working may not be running in safe mode.

 

In our next edition, Disable Indexing Services.

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Read Past Issues of this Newsletter Online

You can now read past issues of this newsletter at our website:
http://www.computerkindergarten.com/

Click on the This Week's Edition link on the left.

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Special Feature: iPad Basics - Wi-Fi and Security

From gcflearnfree.org

Once you're more familiar with the iPad, you may want to take a minute to review and/or customize your device's settings. Settings control everything from the way your iPad works, to the data it shares with apps and other devices. You can open Settings by tapping the icon on your Home screen.

Settings gives you easy access to many different things, including settings for your apps, email accounts, iCloud, and more. To view or edit your options, tap an item in the left pane. Right now, we will focus on Wi-Fi for controlling your internet access.

Wi-Fi

Under Wi-Fi, you can turn your iPad's wireless connection on or off, and easily join nearby networks so you can access the internet. Once you join a network, your device will connect to it automatically whenever it's in range. If there are no networks in range, it will connect via 3G or 4G instead, but only if you have a 3G- or 4G-enabled device (and a contract with AT&T or Verizon).

To Turn Wi-Fi On or Off:

Tap the Settings icon on your Home screen.
Tap Wi-Fi in the left pane.
Next to Wi-Fi, tap the control to turn it ON or OFF.

Joining Networks

To join a network that's in range (for example, your home's Wi-Fi, or a nearby public hotspot), look for it under Choose a Network. Then tap the network you want to use. If the network is secure, you'll need to enter a password in order to connect to it.

If the network isn't secure, you can connect to it without a password, but you should think carefully before you do (especially if it's a public hotspot; for example, Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop). Anything you view or share over an unsecured network is not necessarily safe from prying eyes.

If the network doesn't appear on the list, it may be out of range, or it may be closed (in other words, hidden). To join a closed network, tap Other, then follow the steps to connect to it. You'll need to know the name of the network, the security setting, and also the password.

In our next edition:
General Settings

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Websites of Interest:

National No Housework Day
April 7 is your chance to do anything, except housework.
http://www.squidoo.com/no-housework-day

ASPCA
April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month and ASPCA Day is April 10th.
http://www.aspca.org/

World Health Day
Sponsored by United Nation's World Health Organization (WHO), World Health Day focuses upon a different health theme each year.
http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2014/en/

Super Simple Learning
For kids, education-grounded songs and videos that focus on math and phonics skills.
http://supersimplelearning.com/