Solving Surges

It doesn’t take much of a power surge to upset the delicate electronics in most of our devices. At worst, a power surge can fry their insides, and that alone should motivate you to have everything connected to an outlet through a surge protector. While even they are not immune to surges, you can reset them in many instances.

In very non-technical terms, the surge shows up in much the same way a tripped electrical circuit shows up: something doesn’t work because it’s not getting any juice. Generally speaking, you can go to the electrical panel in your home or small office building and find a circuit switch that’s positioned halfway between “off” and “on”. You can reset the circuit switch by pushing it fully to “off” and then back to “on”. Tripping the circuit is a built-in protection.

Similarly, the surge protector takes the hit for any devices plugged into it. Again, in non-technical terms, the resistors in your surge protector sop up the extra energy, and you need to release it. You can follow these steps to verify a surge protector issue and restore the flow of power to your devices.

  • Plug something – a small lamp usually works best – into the wall outlet to make sure power is flowing to it. If there’s no power, check the circuit breaker, if you can, and reset it if it tripped.
  • Plug that same thing, which you know is working, into the surge protector. If it doesn’t work…
  • Unplug the surge protector from the wall outlet and unplug everything connected to it.
  • Wait 30 seconds. This will allow the resistors to drain.
  • Plug everything back in.

This process usually solves the problem. If it doesn’t, there could be a problem with the surge protector or the device. You’ll need to go back to the source – the most basic connection – to resolve the situation. One of our clients had a number of devices, including the transformer that brings the internet into his home and his router, plugged into a surge protector, which in turn, was plugged into a battery-backup power supply – with a built-in surge protector. After going through the procedure, he determined the problem was with one of the plugs in the battery backup unit. He was able to restore everything to operation, though he may need to replace his battery backup.

Battery backup units with surge protectors can range from $50 to $150 – give or take a few bucks – depending on the number of outlets they have and whether they have USB and coaxial cable ports. Surge protectors can be had for $35 and up, and nearly all have multiple plugs. You can also find single-outlet surge protectors which are ideal for plugging in at Starbucks or your hotel room – whenever you’ll have either option.

Contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to discuss the best protective systems for your needs.

‘Free’ is Not Always Free

Anyone who’s known us or done business with us for any length of time knows that there’s no such thing as a free anything. If you use T-Mobile to access the Free Conference Call service, you likely got a rude – though not necessarily expensive – wakeup call about the fallacy of free.

The problem, as one of our clients discovered, was that the dial-in phone number for Free Conference Call was not on his T-Mobile plan. He had to use the service for business calls, and it cost a penny a minute. We investigated the charge and eventually found he got a text message about it. This wasn’t a big deal cost-wise, but it was a huge annoyance. After all, he expected it to be “free.”

In reality, it’s not a free service. Your carrier may be subsidizing the cost of the call because it helps them keep your business or gives them a platform to sell you additional services. The company that provides the service may be subsidizing it as a way to encourage you to use paid services.

Regardless, it begs the question of what else are you paying for? We might get some more specific answers from the Congressional grilling that the heads of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google underwent, but we suspect the substance won’t be any different from what we’ve discussed before. In just about every aspect of our online lives, we trade privacy for convenience.

Google, Amazon and Facebook are probably the biggest beneficiaries of this trade. Google is synonymous with online searching, and Amazon turns up as the top listing (or they buy top-of-the-page ad space) for just about anything you want to buy. Facebook will display ads for products you’ve searched for on Google or other websites and will show you ads depending on product pages you’ve liked or comments you’ve made. Oh, and did we mention that if you use a YouTube video to learn how to do something, Google can send you ads for a product you may have watched in the “how-to” video, which you can buy on Amazon.

You get all of this information for free in one sense, but you’ve paid through the nose in another sense. All of them have collected information about you, which they sell to companies who want to advertise products and services to sell. The info is sold for pennies per click, but, as they say, they make it up in volume. Through cookies, they retain info on your browsing history. That helps them direct you to products and services you are interested in. That’s your convenience. But they also know where you’ve looked and used algorithms to figure out what you might be willing to pay for whatever it is they’re selling. You could wind up getting “special offers” for goods and services at higher prices.

You can decline cookies, erase your browsing history and take similar steps to protect your privacy. But you really can’t hide from everyone, and your searching will be more difficult.

Are there alternatives? Yes, there are plenty of them. You can go back to Yahoo, which used to be the search engine of choice before Google, or you can use Microsoft’s Bing or an independent such as Duck Duck Go, which claims to protect your privacy when you search. You can try to find smaller or more local providers of goods and services independently of Amazon. You may wind up with fewer choices and fewer options.

We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with other providers of searches and goods and services. Leave a comment and check back to share information. You may not get anything that’s truly free, but you may free yourself from hidden costs and know more about what you’re paying for.

Too Many Gadgets

It’s confession time. We have too many gadgets in our house, and the byte-load finally bit us by causing disruptions in service and performance. Who was the big culprit?

We fingered Google in our house, but the accusation came after a long process of elimination. We’ve had a performance issue for the past few years, noticing that even though our network showed four bars, we didn’t have four-bar performance. Over that time, we took things apart, looking at captures; that’s our technical term for what’s actually online.

We started by investigating our router and then started changing switches. Eventually, we started removing devices – all Google devices. The problem went away. We had read on the internet that a lot of people had similar problems. They all involved Google Home, Google Nest, Google Hub and Google Chromecast. Here’s what was happening. When the devices awoke from a sleep mode, they sent large packets of data through the network, which disturbed performance if it didn’t crash the network.

The weird part was that it affected our cable TV boxes. I noticed it especially while having the TV on in my office.  There would be times when the TV would simply go out. Once we removed the Google devices from the network, the problems disappeared.

The Google devices are now tucked away on a shelf, and we’re making more use of Alexa. However, we should hasten to add that our Google problem could have been exacerbated by having a large number of devices on our network. We’re a highly connected family, but we’re not much different from the norm. Many households have computers, phones and tablets for all family members, and many of those devices could have been added since the start of the pandemic as we’ve increased our online activity. We also may have added more smart TVs.

As a result, it’s easy to overload your network’s capability and impact the performance of every connected device. If you’re having a problem, removing Google devices like we did might solve your problem. But you might also need to upgrade your router and other network components to meet your needs and wants.

We can help you get the performance you need. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about your network, the devices on your network and your performance expectations. Sometimes, less is more, but sometimes, too, you need to add more to get more. A smart look can make your smart devices seem like geniuses.