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How to Ask for Tech Support So You Get Good Answers Quickly

Need help with something? On occasion, we all need tech support. Speaking as the people who are sometimes on the other end of those requests for help, we have some suggestions on how to get the support you need as quickly as possible.

For instance, think about what we have to do if we receive an email message along the lines of “I keep getting a note that my backups aren’t working.” All we can tell from that message is that something may be wrong with the user’s backups. But without knowing what app they’re using and what the specific error is, we can’t even begin to recommend a solution. We’ll have to go back and forth to figure out what we need to learn to address the problem. By the end of the (possibly lengthy) process, the user and we may be quite frustrated.

So here’s a simple set of steps you can use to get to the heart of a troubleshooting problem whenever you’re communicating with tech support.

  1. Describe your setup as it relates to the problem. Whenever possible, be specific about what apps you’re using and include screenshots or videos. In our example above, this might involve saying, “I back up with Time Machine to an external hard drive. It has been working fine, but now I’m getting this error.” (Obviously, if you’re talking on the phone, it might not be possible to share a screenshot, but you can read it to the support rep.)
  2. Next, explain how you’ve tried to resolve the problem so tech support doesn’t automatically tell you to repeat the same actions. (They may anyway, just to confirm that you did everything properly, but it’s still a help.) You might say, “I clicked OK and let Time Machine try again, but I got the error on the next backup too. Then I launched Disk Utility, selected my Time Machine drive, and clicked First Aid.”
  3. Finally, explain what happened (or failed to happen) when you took the actions in the previous step. For instance, “First Aid also reported an error.”
  4. At this point, you may need to repeat Step 2 and 3 for each thing you tried, but you’ve given the support person enough for them to start recommending other courses of action. (In this case, we’d have you erase the drive using Disk Utility and see if that eliminated the error. Even if it did, we’d recommend that you get a new backup drive since you don’t want to depend on a potentially flaky drive for important backup data.)

The steps are a little different if you’re trying and failing to figure out how to accomplish some task. Try this script:

  1. I want to _____. State what you’re trying to achieve, and as before, make sure to say what apps you’re using. For instance, “I’m using Preview to read a PDF, and I want to print it with four pages per sheet of paper to avoid wasting hundreds of pieces of paper.”
  2. I tried ____. As before, explain what you’ve already attempted, as in: “In Preview’s Print dialog, I tried choosing 4 from the Copies Per Page menu.”
  3. What happened was _____. Finally, explain what happened after what you tried, and why it was wrong. “That caused me to get four copies of the same page in the preview, rather than four different pages.”
  4. Again, you may need to repeat Steps 2 and 3 for everything you tried, but in this case, we have all we need to explain that you need to click the Preview menu in the middle of the Print dialog, choose Layout, and then choose 4 from the Pages Per Sheet menu.

One last thing. It’s always important to explain your overall goal, rather than just ask a specific question. In the example above, for instance, saying that your goal was to reduce paper usage was helpful because we could then suggest that you select the Two-Sided checkbox near the top to print on both sides of the paper, cutting your paper usage in half.

So next time you need to contact tech support, make sure to use these tips, and you’ll likely get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.

(Featured image by Christina Morillo from Pexels)


Social Media: Do you have frustrating interactions with tech support? Follow our advice on how to talk to a support rep to get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.

Apple Updates 13-inch MacBook Pro with Magic Keyboard and Twice the Storage

In a move that completes the transition of the MacBook line from the troubled butterfly keyboard to the Magic Keyboard, Apple has released a new 13-inch MacBook Pro. The company also doubled the amount of storage in each of the standard configurations while keeping prices the same, and it ramped up the specs in the model with four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Like the MacBook Air that Apple released several months ago, the most notable change in the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is the replacement of the butterfly keyboard with the new scissor-key Magic Keyboard introduced last year in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. So far, that keyboard has been well-regarded. Unlike the MacBook Air, however, the 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to include Apple’s Touch Bar, though now with a physical Escape key and a separate Touch ID sensor.

Apple doubled the onboard storage across all base configurations, so the 13-inch MacBook Pro now starts at 256 GB, and you can choose from configs that include 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and even a whopping 4 TB.

As in the past, there are two models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, one with two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side and another with four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two on each side. The two-port model receives the Magic Keyboard and additional storage, but is otherwise unchanged from last year’s model. It still features 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors running at 1.4 GHz and 1.7 GHz, respectively (the faster processor is a $300 option), and 8 GB of RAM, upgradeable to 16 GB for $100.

However, Apple beefed up the four-port model with faster 10th-generation processors, either a 2.0 GHz quad-core Core i5 or, for $200 more, a 2.3 GHz quad-core Core i7 that should provide even better performance.

These new processors also feature updated Intel Iris Plus Graphics that Apple claims improve graphics performance by up to 80% and can drive the company’s 6K Pro Display XDR screen.

Finally, the four-port model now starts at 16 GB of RAM (up from 8 GB) for the same price, uses faster memory than before, and can be upgraded to 32 GB of RAM for an additional $400.

The two-port model of the 13-inch MacBook continues to start at $1299, and the price of the four-port model still starts at $1799. Both are available now in silver or space gray.

If you’re looking for a new laptop, which should you choose? With its new processors, more and faster RAM, and improved graphics performance, the four-port model provides a particularly attractive package for the price.

For those who would prefer something less expensive, however, the new MacBook Air may be more compelling than the two-port model of the MacBook Pro—it largely comes down to whether you would prefer the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar or the MacBook Air’s function keys. Contact us for help choosing the right Mac for your needs!

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: In the market for a new laptop? Apple has introduced new 13-inch MacBook Pro models with better keyboards and more storage, plus faster processors and RAM. Check out the news at:

iPhone Not Charging Reliably? Clean Its Lightning Port with a Toothpick

If you’re plugging your iPhone in regularly but getting low-battery warnings when you shouldn’t, consider the possibility that something is preventing your iPhone from charging successfully while plugged in. If there’s no lightning bolt badge on the battery icon when the iPhone is plugged in, that’s a sure sign that no power is reaching the device. Another hint that failures could be happening intermittently would be a lack of charging in the Last Charge Level graph in Settings > Battery when you know the iPhone was plugged in. Luckily, the solution is often easy. Take a wooden (not metal) toothpick and gently poke around inside the iPhone’s Lightning port for pocket fuzz. You’d be amazed how much crud can end up in there. If cleaning doesn’t solve the problem and you use only a single Lightning cable to charge, try another one.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Customize What Appears in New Finder Windows with This Tip

When you’re in the Finder, choosing File > New Finder Window does, as you’d expect, open a new Finder window. But what folder appears in that window? By default, new Finder windows open to Recents, which is a built-in smart folder showing recently opened documents. If you’d prefer to see items in a fixed location on your drive, go to Finder > Preferences > General and choose any location from the New Finder Windows Show pop-up menu. We’re partial to Desktop or Documents, but you can choose whatever folder makes sense with your workflow.

(Featured image by Snapwire from Pexels)

Ever Wondered Which Words to Capitalize in a Title? Use Capitalize My Title!

When you’re writing a blog post or email newsletter, you’ll eventually hit the question of how to capitalize words in a title. There is no one right way, but just as with poor spelling and grammar, randomly capitalized titles can reduce reader trust in your knowledge, competence, and expertise. The trick is to pick a capitalization form and style guide to follow. There are two capitalization forms: title case (where important words are capitalized) and sentence case (which is capitalized like a normal sentence). Then there are a handful of major style guides, including the Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. It’s never a bad idea to pick one and learn its rules, but for a quick shortcut, turn to the Capitalize My Title Web site. Click a style guide tab at the top, select a capitalization form, and paste or type your title. The site automatically applies the appropriate rules to your title. Press Return to copy it to the clipboard for pasting into your document.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Do You Know Who Can Track Your Location? It’s Worth Checking Periodically

Sharing your location works well when you’re out with friends or family and want everyone to be able to see where everyone else is. It’s easy to enable in various spots in iOS 13—in Messages, in Contacts, in the Find My app, and so on. You can share your location for an hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely, but beware of this final option. If you’re with a group for a weeklong trip, for instance, sharing indefinitely makes sense, but it’s easy to forget to turn it off, at which point those people can see where you are at all times. We recommend that you periodically audit the list of people with whom you’ve shared your location. To do so in iOS 13, open the Find My app, tap the People button in the bottom toolbar, and look through the list. For anyone you want to delete, swipe left on their name and tap the trash button.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Audiovisual Tips for Better Videoconferencing

Whether for work or socializing, we’re all spending a lot more time in video calls these days. But—surprise!—it turns out that many of our group video calls could be more pleasant, less embarrassing, and overall better if we follow a few basic audiovisual tips.

Make Sure You Have Decent Lighting

Natural light is best, but room light is generally fine too, especially if it’s coming from the side. Overhead light isn’t quite as flattering, but whatever you do, avoid light that comes from underneath your face or you’ll look like an old-time movie villain. Also, avoid sitting in front of a window because the bright light behind you will make you look way too dark. Pull a shade or try to put your computer against the window so the light hits your face instead.

Arrange for a Decent Background

You may not have many choices for where your computer is located, and thus for what’s behind you when you’re on a video call. If you’re using Zoom or Skype, you can employ a virtual background (pick one that’s appropriate for the context, and for goodness sake, don’t use an animated background). Otherwise, make sure that what’s behind you is tidy and wouldn’t embarrass you if the people on the call were to visit in person. Or, take it up a level and put a pleasing arrangement of art or photos on the wall behind you. Even if they are too small to be seen well, they will break up a monotonous blank wall.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Yes, it’s tempting to schlub around all day in pajamas or ratty old sweats. Resist the urge and wear the same type of clothes you’d put on if you were meeting with these people in person. That includes pants—if you get up in the middle of the call without thinking, you don’t want to advertise your taste in boxers. You don’t want your boss and colleagues to have a mental image of you as a total slob. For bonus points, avoid tops that are bright white, black, or have distracting patterns.

Think Like a Movie Director

Particularly if you need to use a phone, tablet, or laptop to participate in a video call, think about your camera angles. It’s best to have the camera at roughly the same height as your face, if possible, so if you can avoid it, don’t put your laptop in your lap or hold your phone at your waist. And if you’re using a phone, don’t walk around such that the changing background distracts everyone else.

And Like a Movie Star

It’s sometimes hard to remember that everyone can see you even though they’re not in the room, but you’ll come off as more alert, confident, and engaged if you sit up straight, get close enough to the camera so your face fills the screen, and smile. Seriously, you’re on Candid Camera, so act like it. You’ll almost always have a thumbnail that shows what you look like, so make sure you like what you see. Oh, and don’t touch your face repeatedly.

Look at the Camera, Not the Other Participants

This one is tough. The camera is usually at the top center of your screen, so if you look anywhere else, it seems like you’re avoiding eye contact. It can make you look shifty or inattentive. But it’s hard not to look at the other people or at your own video thumbnail. The best trick is to resize and position your video window so the person you’re most likely to look at is right under the camera.

Pay Attention and Don’t Multitask

Look, we get it—a lot of meetings are boring. But it’s both rude and distracting to the speakers if you are clearly doing something else or worse, leaving and coming back. Focus on the screen, and show that you’re paying attention by nodding your head, smiling, and all the other little things you’d do if the meeting were taking place in person. If you truly can’t stay engaged, turn off your audio and video so no one has to see and hear you. If you need an excuse for that, say that your Internet connection is being a little wonky, so you want to cut down on bandwidth usage.

Mute Your Mic When Not Talking

The more people on a call, the more important this tip is. All videoconferencing apps have a Mute button you can click so others in the call aren’t distracted by you coughing or sneezing, your children playing in the other room, or other extraneous noise. Just remember to unmute before you start talking. It’s hard to remember at first, but you’ll get good at it.

All this may seem like a lot to think about, but once you get your environment set up properly, you’ll be a bright spot in the video grid at your regular meetings. And then maybe you can forward this article to your family, friends, and colleagues so they can up their video game too.

(Featured image by Marcus Aurelius from Pexels)


Social Media: On your video calls, do you look like a shifty character in a low-budget horror flick? With our audiovisual tips, you can level up and make your calls more pleasant, less embarrassing, and more productive.

Apple Introduces New iPhone SE Starting at $399

Four years after the release of the original iPhone SE, Apple has introduced a second-generation iPhone SE with aggressive pricing that starts at just $399. Whereas the original model used the svelte, easy-to-hold iPhone 5s case design with a 4-inch screen, this new iPhone SE repurposes the larger iPhone 8 design with its 4.7-inch screen. But Apple didn’t just rebrand the iPhone 8. The new iPhone SE sports several important updates that make it a compelling purchase for the price, including a new processor and eSIM capability.

Most notably, Apple upgraded the iPhone 8’s A11 Bionic chip to the faster, more capable A13 Bionic chip that powers the latest iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro models. Apart from pure speed, the A13 Bionic provides additional computational photography capabilities. Even though the iPhone SE has only a single rear-facing camera, unlike the multiple cameras on the backs of the iPhone 11 models, it still supports iOS 13’s Portrait mode and all six Portrait Lighting effects. The A13 Bionic will also likely increase the quality of iPhone SE photos beyond what the iPhone 8 could do with the same physical camera.

There are two additional changes of note from the iPhone 8, one good, one less so. On the positive side, Apple added eSIM capability, which makes it possible for an iPhone SE to support two cell numbers, each with its own carrier and plan. That’s primarily helpful for those who frequently travel overseas. Less welcome is the switch from the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch to Haptic Touch, which simply registers long presses with haptic feedback. But all of Apple’s 2019 iPhone models moved to Haptic Touch, and iOS 13 supports Haptic Touch well, so it’s not much of a loss.

Other important specs from the iPhone 8 that remain unchanged include:

  • Touch ID: The new iPhone SE continues to rely on the classic Touch ID sensor embedded in the Home button for unlocking and authenticating. In a time when we may be wearing masks a lot, Touch ID may be more welcome than Face ID.
  • 4.7-inch display: The iPhone SE’s screen is smaller than the 6.1-inch and 5.8-inch screens in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. But it’s still a Retina HD screen with True Tone—few people will notice much of a difference in quality.
  • Cameras: The iPhone SE’s rear-facing camera has a 12-megapixel sensor with optical image stabilization, and it can record 4K video at up to 60 frames per second. The front-facing camera is 7 megapixels and supports 1080p video at 30 fps.
  • Battery life and charging: Battery life should be similar to that of the iPhone 8, so you should be able to go all day on a charge. If you do need to top up, the iPhone SE supports fast charging, and it’s also compatible with Qi wireless charging pads.

What makes this second-generation iPhone SE compelling is its pricing. For a 64 GB model, the price is $399. 128 GB costs $449, and 256 GB is $549. In comparison, you’d pay $200 more for 2018’s iPhone XR, $300 more for the current iPhone 11, and $600 more for today’s iPhone 11 Pro. Those phones may have Face ID and take better photos, but it’s great that Apple is finally offering a budget-friendly iPhone once again.

Some people will be disappointed with the size of the new iPhone SE. Yes, it’s a lot smaller than the iPhone 11, and a bit more pocket-friendly than the iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s significantly beefier than the original iPhone SE. If you were hoping that Apple would bring back an iPhone for those with smaller hands and smaller pockets, sorry.

The new iPhone SE will be available for pre-order starting on Friday, April 17th, with deliveries and store availability starting a week later on April 24th. For the body color, you can choose black or white, or you can go for the bright red PRODUCT(RED) version, the proceeds from which will go to help the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response through September 30th.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: Looking for a new iPhone that won’t break your budget? The new iPhone SE is basically a souped-up iPhone 8 for $300 less than the iPhone 11. Read more at:

Apple Releases COVID-19 Screening Tool App and Web Site

In partnership with the US Centers for Disease Control, Apple has released a free COVID-19 Screening Tool iOS app and nearly identical Web site. The interactive screening tool poses a series of questions about symptoms, risk factors, and recent exposure. Then it offers customized CDC recommendations, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended, and when to contact a medical provider. In addition, the app and Web site provide useful information about COVID-19, advice about how to keep yourself safe, and details on what to expect from testing. There’s nothing here that the CDC and other health agencies haven’t published elsewhere, but the screening tool can provide some peace of mind and reduce unnecessary load on overworked healthcare providers.

(Featured image by Apple)

You Can Now Export and Download Apple Card Statements

Apple’s credit card, the Apple Card, offers a nice mix of integration with Apple Pay, daily cash back, and an elegant interface in the Wallet app on your iPhone. Until recently, however, it was impossible to get your transaction data out of Wallet except in PDF form. Apple has now added exports in either CSV or OFX format. CSV is appropriate for importing into a spreadsheet, whereas many financial apps can import OFX files. To export your data from Wallet, tap your Apple Card and then tap Card Balance. Under Statements, tap the statement you want to export, tap Export Transactions at the bottom, and choose a format. For CSV, tap the Share icon in the file preview, and for OFX, Wallet automatically opens a share sheet. Use AirDrop, Messages, or Mail to send the file to your Mac, where you can work with it in whatever you use to track your finances.

(Featured image by MARK S. on Unsplash)