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Disable, Reveal, Summarize… and Turn it Off!

By now, you might have an extra computer or laptop lying around the house. Put it to use as your guests’ or grandkids’ computer so you don’t have to worry about changes made to your computer behind your back. It will lessen your stress, as will turning on the guest network feature in your Wi-Fi router, if you have that capability.

Use the Windows Task manager in Windows 10 to disable programs that start up automatically from slowing down the boot-up process. Right-click on the Task Bar along the bottom of the screen, then select Task Manager. When the Task Manager opens, you might have to click on More Details in the lower left. Then click on the tab across the top, labeled Startup. Here you can disable things that automatically load while Windows starts up. Things you disable are not uninstalled, making it easy to re-enable them if you get over-zealous. You will have to restart the computer for these changes to take effect.

Shortened URLs, like those from bit.ly, are increasingly common, especially in scam emails. But you have no way of revealing where they go without clicking on them. However, you could copy that shortened URL into the website https://unshorten.it/ and you will see a preview of the site, along with an assessment of its safety as provided by Web of Trust.

On the Mac, there is a hidden feature to summarize long blocks of text, Go into System Preferences, then Keyboard. Click on the Shortcuts tab, then click on Services in the left column window. Scroll down the right column, looking for Summarize under the section for Text. Check it and close out of System Preferences. Now, you should be able to highlight a block of text, click on the name of your application (up by the black Apple logo) and look under Services for Summarize. It may not be perfect but it is worth a try.

If you find you are running out of space for photos on your iPhone and you don’t really want to pay for iCloud storage, then consider the Google Photos app. It will upload your iPhone photos to your Google account, and Google offers free unlimited space for photos up to 16 megapixels each. Read more at https://www.google.com/photos/about/.

When nothing else turns off your computer, you can always press the power button for five seconds until all lights go off, then turn it back on. It may take a bit longer to boot up, since it’s checking files and such. If this becomes a regular occurrence, though, there is likely something else wrong and you should have it checked out.

Protecting data while travelling can be done in a variety of ways. First, learn how to use your phone as a hotspot, rather than relying on public hotspots. Don’t use those public computers in places you don’t know. Find out what countries will search or demand from your devices and consider not bringing sensitive data with you. Make sure that you use https type connections when you connect to any websites and learn if your email program uses encrypted server connections. This means that you should also use a VPN while traveling.

Falling asleep with podcasts is one of those contradictory pieces of advice. You are told to stay away from your devices for at least half an hour before you go to bed and yet, there are podcasts that might help you fall asleep. So, try some and then figure out if on balance they help you more than they drive your partner crazy. In other words, they probably work best if you sleep alone. No particular order to this incomplete list: http://www.sleepwithmepodcast.com/ ; http://classictales.libsyn.com/; http://thedailymeditationpodcast.libsyn.com/; http://meditationminis.com/; https://www.sleepandrelaxasmr.com/; and a podcast without a website called “Deep Energy 2.0”

Make sure if buying a used cell phone to check if it is stolen. Get the device’s ESN or IMEI number from the seller so you can check it at <https://stolenphonechecker.org>, a site set up by the industry trade group CITA. And, if the seller won’t give you that device number, beware.

Is that priority really important enough to carry it forward? I thought my grandmother had a great idea, start making your to-do list at noon with all the things you had already done, so that you could cross them out. But, Tim Ferris, one of those noted business people with a wide podcast following with his “The Time Ferris Show,” has another trick for prioritizing tasks. Ask yourself, for each item on your to-do list, “if this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?” Then prioritize the yeses.

Joys of joy, talking to myself while working on a computer is supposed to be making me smarter. Ulrich Boser, in an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn”, lays out why asking yourself questions, out loud, helps solidify new knowledge. Now, I will never shut up, I can just say, “I am learning all the time.”

Some wonderful advice from Apple for shooting photos and video on iPhone, geared toward iPhone 7 is at <https://www.apple.com/iphone/photography-how-to/>

With all the recent concern about ISPs being allowed to sell their customer’s data, it is good to see what you can do and understand what ISPs are currently saying. Some major ISPs, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, have already come out saying they will not sell their own customer’s data (I suspect it is more valuable to them and they can always change those terms.) So you should just test your safety level at https://www.letsgetsafe.org/ part of the https://www.fightforthefuture.org/ project. Also, use EFF’s (Electronic Frontier Foundation) HTTPS Everywhere plugin to try to make sure you are using an SSL website version, if they are available, https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere. It is much harder for an ISP to know what you are doing at a site that is using SSL, all they will know is that you went there. Finally, although not a perfect solution, more people are exploring VPNs to carry their Internet traffic beyond the data gathering eyes of their ISP. Besides, a VPN should always be used when using public Wi-Fi hotspots, especially at airports, hotels, and convention centers.

If you want to set up email Encryption in Apple’s Mail application, take a look at this helpful article https://www.macobserver.com/tips/quick-tip/macos-using-email-encryption-apples-mail/

Laptops don’t belong near steam sources, like dishwashers. A tale of caution, many people use their laptops in the kitchen, likely placing them on the counter above the dishwasher. While the dishwasher is running, especially during the during the drying cycle, it will exhaust out a lot of vapor. If a laptop is anywhere near that moisture and its fan(s) are running, that vapor will get pulled in and over time corrode the internals. You might not notice anything wrong until you gently bump that laptop and little internal connections all fall apart.

Safe disposal of data on solid state drives is a little different that with conventional drives. With conventional drives, you could reformat it with software that wrote zeros across all the platters or physically destroy it by drilling holes. For reasons I don’t quite understand, erasing an SSD doesn’t work, but you can encrypt it and then throw away that encryption key. Then nothing is readable. You might need to use a SATA to USB cable to handle a drive that you have pulled from a computer. In Windows, if you don’t have a Pro version, you can download Veracrypt (hosted with codeplex which will be shutting down by the end of this year) https://veracrypt.codeplex.com/ and on a Mac, you would use the Apple provided FileVault. The important trick is to make sure you encrypt the correct drive. Not that it would be bad to encrypt your regular drive anyway.

iOS Workflow is a great productivity tool that is now free after Apple aquired it earlier this year. It can help you automate tasks on an iPhone or iPad and is available through the App Store. With a little bit of work, you could take an image from Photos, convert it, then upload it. More information is at https://workflow.is/

Warning and reminder: Windows Vista is no longer supported by Microsoft and the same is true for nearly all other software makers. Microsoft ended their support on April 11th and so you should figure out how to upgrade for safety sake on the Internet.

Taping over the camera on a computer still leaves the microphone open. In Windows, you can use the Device Manager to disable that internal microphone, located under the section called Audio inputs and outputs. This works fine unless you already have some kind of RAT (Remote Administration Software) maliciously installed.

Safety when leaving your desk includes locking your computer with a password. Soon you will be able to tether your phone to your Windows 10 so that when you walk away (taking your phone with you) your computer will lock. When you come back you unlock it with a password. However, there are many ways to do this without involving a phone and waiting for the next version of Windows 10. The first one is to hold down the Windows key (the one with the four square “flag” on it) and tap the letter “l”, as in lock. Or, you can set your screen saver to activate quickly and to prompt for a password when you come back. Another option is to make sure your computer prompts for a password when you wake it from sleep and then set a keyboard shortcut for sleep. Of course, if you have a laptop, this is much easier, just make sure your laptop, Mac or PC, goes to sleep when you close the lid, then prompts for a password when you open it back up.

If you are mapping out travel with Google Maps, you can make lists of points of interest, like restaurants and places to visit, and share them. Interesting, this only seems to be available in the iOS or Android versions of Google Maps, not through a normal web browser. The basic process is search and find places in Google Maps and then “save” them to a new list, named however you want. Since these lists are private to begin with, you have to go into Sharing Options to make them shareable with a link you send to the people in your group.

Often you want to just download video from the web, video that you “could” just play on-line but you want it on your computer. Here is an article link to quite a few services and applications that can help, depending on what video service you are wanting to download from, <http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/18-free-ways-to-download-any-video-off-the-internet/> or try the bit.ly equivalent of <http://bit.ly/1yvTvWT>.

Sometimes you need a web browser that keep as much of your surfing private, more than the private surfing option available in Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Edge. The first, and probably most likely to keep information private, is the Tor browser, from <torproject.org>. Due to how it works to make your traffic anonymous, it can feel a bit slower than your regular browser. Nothing will hide everything, but it goes a long way. Other options include: Epic Browser <epicbrowser.com>; SRWare Iron <srware.net> (click on the American flag in the upper right corner to get the English version of the site); and Comodo Dragon Browser <comodo.com> (scroll to the bottom of the page and look in the lower left column for Comodo Dragon to click on.)

Using the Facebook app on smart phones is going to become more annoying in public if you don’t use ear buds or have video auto-play disabled. Facebook will have sound fade in and out as you scroll through all of those cat and cute animal tricks videos. You can disable it; within the Facebook app you start by tapping the three horizontal line button so you can then go into either Settings – Account Settings – Sounds (for iOS) or App Settings (for Android) and then slide off the slider for “Videos in News Feed Start With Sound.”

Facebook may be finally making it just a bit easier to see all of their settings that control privacy by putting together a Privacy Basics at https://www.facebook.com/about/basics that will lead you into stepping through their Privacy Checkup to see some of your basic settings.

Another alternative to Photoshop, that runs on Mac or PC and is free, is Krita <https://krita.org/>. Apart from letting you edit images, it has tools to more easily let you paint and create digital artwork. Have fun creating.

Even though google became a verb some years ago, there are other search engines to use with different advantages. DuckDuckGo.com is a favorite for not tracking any information about your searches. For video search alternatives to youtube, there is vimeo.com, and yahoo.com does rather well as an alternative for image searches at <https://images.search.yahoo.com>. And, you can even search for sound effects at < http://www.findsounds.com/>.

Public WiFi networks are pervasive and tempting to use, and there are some steps you should take to keep your device and internet traffic safe. When using any network other than one you trust, you should always turn off file and printer sharing. If you are joining a network in Windows, always set it to public. And, turn off WiFi as soon as you are done. Make sure that you are using SSL, that the web address starts with https, especially on any site you are logging into. Luckily, most common social media sites have moved to SSL-based logins. And, maybe you should find out how to use your own smartphone as a hotspot for safer browsing, just avoid streaming long movies <G>.

With email, don’t neglect the closing as it may have an equally important effect on getting a reply. Boomerang, a company that makes email productivity programs, has studied email closings to see what differences they would elicit. Business emails that ended with “thankful closings” like “thanks in advance” got the highest response rate. <http://blog.boomerangapp.com/2017/01/how-to-end-an-email-email-sign-offs/>

If you occasionally need to encrypt a file before you send it off to someone, you should try whisply <https://whisp.ly/>. It lets you encrypt a file and share it out through Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft’s OneDrive. And, you can even add a PIN or password to further protect that file.

There is another way to organize email, there always is just keep everything in the inbox and then search for what you need, or you could try using four priority folders in addition to the inbox. They would be, today, this week, this month, and informational. As new messages come in, you sort them by when they need to be handled, or pitch them in the trash.

There are some good free video editors on the Mac, you don’t have to pay for high-end software if your needs are mostly to trim clips, assemble clips into a storyline, lay over music or other audio, correct colors, or insert transitions between clips. Various ones to look at include: Davinci Resolve 12.5 at https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve (the Studio version costs nearly $1,000 so go for the free one), OpenShot at http://www.openshot.org/ which has a PC version also, Shotcut at https://www.shotcutapp.com/ also with a PC version, and there is always Blender at https://www.blender.org/ though geared towards 3D creation can handle video editing.

Some day you might want to see how much information a site can collect from you and your mouse pointer. When you are ready, visit https://clickclickclick.click/ (yes, that domain really does end with dot click, it is one of the many top level domains other than the dot com) Run it for a bit, switch away to something else, move your pointer around, and read what they are finding out using JavaScript. The only real way to stop this data gathering is to block scripts and then you may find out how many sites lose functionality.

If you don’t have to have Office or don’t want to get caught on the subscription treadmill called Office 365, you might want to check out a few other free office suites. Anyone with a google account should try Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to see if their word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation needs can be met right there. It works best if you have an internet connection. If you would rather run the software on your computer, install LibreOffice from http://www.libreoffice.org/ There are Mac and Windows versions reminiscent of the layout of older editions of Microsoft Office. A final online collaboration oriented suite is Zoho Docs at https://www.zoho.com/docs/ and if you are careful you should be able to find their free plan, good for up to 25 users.

On a Mac, you might decide you want to hide that big banner of an OS update to Sierra. Simply right-click or hold down the Ctrl key and clicking anywhere in that banner and regular click or left-click on Hide Update.

I waited long enough, now a great online paid course on dealing with procrastination is free and on Youtube. Rather than put that really long link here, I would suggest you search on Youtube for “how to stop procrastinating full design” and make sure the video is by “Successful by Design.”

In Windows 10 there are many privacy related settings scattered around in different settings panes. Luckily, there are some 3rd party apps to help manage them. Spybot makes Anti-Beacon at https://www.safer-networking.org/spybot-anti-beacon/ good on Windows 7 through 10, to pull many settings together. If you want to work with XP or Vista you should look at Windows Privacy Tweaker from https://www.phrozensoft.com/2015/09/windows-privacy-tweaker-4