Hackers ‘R Us

You get an email from Mary Jane, your best friend since third grade. It’s just one line that says “Hey, you’ve got to see this!”, followed by a link to a website. You click on the link. It’s an ad for some kind of fad diet. Weird, why did she send this? The next time you see her you ask. “I didn’t send that!” she says. Oh no, you’ve been hacked!

Yes, it’s true. You may be thinking the hacker is some freak living in his mother’s basement, or a shadowy figure in some remote country. Sadly the hacker is much closer to home. It’s you. “What? That’s crazy, why would I hack myself?”

It all started with that email, which you now know did not come from your friend. It came from someone who happened to have both her and your email address in her address book. She got hacked and the malware (unwanted bad software, commonly called a virus) installed on her computer and started sending emails from and to every name on her contact list. By choosing every possible sender and recipient from that list, the odds of someone actually opening it and clicking the link are much higher. You were fine up until you clicked or tapped on that link.

When you did that you got sent to a site that was probably itself hacked. The web page that loaded contained a program written in a language called JavaScript. It’s invisible and starts executing as soon as the page loads. The goal is to install itself into your computer and immediately start looking for email addresses to send itself to. So when you clicked the link in the email, you unknowingly hacked yourself.

We’ve all got that friend who has too much time and an Internet connection. Every day you get new emails with links to YouTube videos, pictures with the latest meme, and other trivia. Sometimes they are funny enough that you click on them just to see what the latest discovery is, and BOOM!

Getting rid of malware is hard, and ultimately expensive. I’ve seen people actually go out and buy a new computer because they were hacked. That’s pretty extreme, and not necessary, but getting a geek to clean out a virus can also be so expensive that a new computer is a viable option. The best practice is to avoid getting hacked in the first place.

There are plenty of websites with tips on securing your computer. This one is typical, and as good a place as any to start. You can do a lot just by being careful. Assume that any email containing a link might be bad. If it’s from a sender who normally would not send that type of email, if the wording is strange or awkward, or if it’s from someone that you would normally trust, like your bank, don’t click. Double check with the friend to confirm she sent it. If it’s the bank or some other trusted source, don’t click the link. Instead open your browser and go to the website for that source. Remember that no legitimate organization will ask you for your password or other login information via email, or even by phone for that matter.

By virtue of numbers alone, Windows computers are far more likely to get hacked. That’s because there are so many more of them, making them rich targets. Macs can also be hacked, though it’s usually by means of embedding the malware in software you have downloaded. “Pirated” software, programs that are normally expensive but are found free or cheap online, is a favorite place for this. Be vigilant and keep your computer’s operating system and programs updated. There are huge numbers of people making malware with the goal of getting money from you, either directly or by using your computer to do it. Don’t be that person frantically sending out emails saying “Don’t open any emails or Facebook messages from me. I’ve been hacked!”

Version 1.5 just published

I have just received notice that version 1.5 of our My 15000 app has been approved and is ready for sale. It may be as much as 24 hours before it shows up in the store as an update. There was a lot done in this version, but most of it is on the inside where it doesn’t show. Here’s a brief summary of what’s new:

  • Videos can now be downloaded. If you are going to be without Internet, on an airplane for example, you can now download videos to watch offline. You will always get the best quality video, even if you download over a poor connection. These saved videos do consume space on your iPhone or iPad, and if iOS runs out of space they are subject to being deleted. You can delete them yourself once you have viewed them. Downloading happens even when the app is not running, so you can start a lot of downloads before bed and have them go all night if need be. This new feature is controlled by a new bar at the top of the screen:
    Mode Bar
    The first time you tap the bar it will present a screen explaining exactly how it works. After that you can tap the “i” in the circle at the end of the bar to see it again.
  • Videos can now be resumed. If you stop a video before finishing, and then come back to it, you will have the option of resuming where you stopped or playing from the beginning. This will save time trying to find out where you left. If you are within 5 seconds from the end there will not be an option to resume.
  • A 15000 V3 (Quilt Maker) theme has been added for new color choices. You’ll find it on the Settings tab.
  • A series of Troubleshooting documents has been added to the Resources tab. These are PDF documents (printable) that give you tips on solving some of the common problems that have come up over the years. We’ve also added direct links to the App Store for all of our apps, as well as all of the Janome apps.

Note that this update requires iOS 11 or later. That’s the only way we could add the download feature. If your device is on iOS 9 or earlier, you will not be able to get this update. Not to worry! You will still get new videos as we add them, but your app will no longer be updated.

On asking for help and offering help

In both sewing and computers, sooner or later there will come a time when things just aren’t working. It usually happens when you are up against a deadline, such as finishing a quilt to be judged or digitizing a gift. What to do? Usually it means going to the Internet to ask for help. That can lead to some of these common mistakes:

  • Being too vague – When you ask a question, be specific. “Why does my thread keep breaking?” has dozens, maybe hundreds of answers but it’s likely that only one of them applies to you. By providing more information, you’re more likely to get a useful answer, without having to go back and forth supplying the information you left out. “I’m sewing a blind hem on my Janome S9. The fabric is lightweight cotton and the thread is some polyester I got from the dollar bin at Walmart.” This will get you an answer quicker, and it will likely be the right one.
  • Using a shotgun approach – Posting your question to every Facebook group you ever joined, as well as all of your email groups, may seem like a good idea. However most of the people in those groups are in multiple groups and it’s irritating if they answer your question in one group, only to see it again in another two or three. This practice, sometimes called “cross-posting”, just clutters up lists. Rather than get you an answer quickly, it may cause some people who might be able to help to just skip over it entirely.
  • Asking for help prematurely – This happens a lot with computer problems. Someone gets an error message in Windows and sends me a screen shot in an email wanting to know what it means. Though I’ve been using computers for more than 50 years, I do not have every possible error and corresponding fix committed to memory. I’ll have to go to Google and search for the text of the message. Do that yourself before asking for help and you may not even need to ask for help.
  • Be courteous – Yes, you are frustrated, desperate, and maybe angry. Even so, it’s rude to grab the latest post in a thread about how to best bind the edge of a quilt and post a reply with “How do I put a buttonhole in velvet?” This annoys everyone in the thread and is not likely to get you a usable answer.
  • Be responsible – Questioner: “My machine is skipping stitches.” Response: “When was it last serviced?” Questioner: “It was right after Bobby’s third birthday. He’s in college now, so that would be …” Clearly this is not a quick-fix question, and the answer is obvious. In a similar manner, if you are using a software package you bought 4 years ago, and you have never updated, you should check for updates first. Software always has bugs, and all responsible publishers provide updates to fix them.
  • Me too! – A post is made asking a question. The first reply is “I have that problem too! What’s the fix?” This doesn’t help the person who asked the question, and now we have two questions to answer, at least potentially. If you have the same problem there’s no need to post it. Just watch the thread for any potential solution. If it doesn’t work for you, then it would be good to re-post the question and note that the fix did not work for you.

Most folks on the Internet are more than willing to offer help. Sometimes that help is not really helpful. Consider these scenarios:

  • Relevancy – The question “Why is the bobbin thread showing on my embroidery?” may get a response like this. “My brother-in-law’s aunt had the same problem, only it was with thread breaking when sewing a leather vest together. She had to use bear grease on the needle.” Not only is this not helpful, it has wasted the time of everyone who bothered to read it.
  • Jumping the gun – I’m on my computer most of the time, because I use it to create and maintain apps. If an email help request comes in I try to respond when it arrives, but sometimes I don’t read the question fully and supply an answer that is incomplete or outright wrong. I’ve tried to mend my ways by waiting until I have time to consider the response, though often others will have already responded with incomplete or wrong answers. Sometimes folks will continue to respond after I have posted, echoing the same answer. This is not necessary, and it just clutters up the list.
  • Echo – If a question is asked and answered with an answer you agree with, it’s not necessary to post “Yes, that’s right.” If the posted answer is incomplete or flat out wrong, then a follow-up would be appropriate.

Diane and I have been answering sewing and computer questions for a long time, and we plan to continue as long as we’re able. This blog does not permit comments, which is by design. Comments that include questions may get missed. We have two main places to ask questions:

  • Our email discussion list on Groups.io – membership is free and it is dedicated to all models of Janome sewing machines.
  • The Support Page for our apps. While we created it specifically for questions related to our apps, I have attempted to answer every question submitted. The only time this fails is when the supplied email address doesn’t work, and I have no way to reach the questioner.

We do monitor some of the Facebook groups, and will occasionally throw in a comment or suggestion. However the endless stream of ads and vacuuming of our personal information has put us off spending much time there, and we have stopped publishing on Facebook.

RSS – a nice alternative

Years ago many people started their day with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. Newspapers have all but disappeared, and connected individuals read Facebook with their coffee. We’ll leave the debate about the validity of the information posted there to others, but there’s no disputing that your morning news is heavily seasoned with advertising. There is another alternative.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary if you’re old school. It’s a kind of custom newspaper that is built just for you, every day. Like most of us, you probably have a number of websites that you visit daily, many with blogs like this one. You probably just want to see what’s new. Most blogs feature what is called a “feed”. It’s like having a service that goes through all the newspapers, clipping out only those articles that interest you. You can read them whenever you like, on a computer, phone, or tablet. We’ve been using RSS for years, and now that we’re blogging we want to let you in on the secret. To get started with RSS here’s what you’ll need:

  • A feed subscription – this is like a magazine subscription, except it’s free. You subscribe by selecting the feed for your blog. Some blogs, like this one, will have a prominent button like the orange one in the sidebar, that you can click to subscribe. Others may have a link, sometimes at the bottom of the web page.
  • A feed aggregator – this is a service that keeps track of all your subscriptions and making sure that you have the latest post in each one. Some, like Feedly that I use, have a free option. Free almost always means ads, but not the focused and intrusive ones that you’ll find on Facebook. Other aggregators may charge by the month or year. Whether you use a free service or pay, you need one of them to do the heavy lifting for you.
  • An RSS Reader – Readers are specialized software that contact your aggregator for the latest information. There are dozens available, for every type of computer, phone, or tablet. Most aggregators also have a web-based reader or app available to subscribers. Google “RSS reader” for options.

Once you have the basic tools you can start looking for RSS icons or links on the sites you visit most. Most readers will present the articles in a list with a brief synopsis. You can click or tap to go to the full article on the web. This saves you a lot of time and you won’t miss anything. It’s a great way to start the day with your morning cup of java.

A blog? Whatever for?

The Internet is awash in websites and services that are free. How can sites, such as Facebook, make money when they have no products to sell? It’s simple, really. The product is you. Vast amounts of information are gathered every time you visit and that information is sold to advertisers or others who want to use it for their own purposes. We have had our own page on Facebook which we use for product announcements and communication. Under new rules recently passed in Europe, any company that collects data from its users must disclose exactly what is collected, and send to anyone who requests all the data that they have. On Facebook there is no control over what is collected or how it is used, so we have decided to move to our own private blog and deactivate the Facebook page.

A second reason for moving is requests for help. Frequently people would ask for help by posting comments on our Facebook page, which was not read very often. This blog does not permit comments, but we do support help requests through our discussion list, which is linked in the sidebar. This allows us to respond in a much more timely manner.

Now you know the “why” of this blog. We will try to update it on a more regular basis. Thanks for reading!