Mac system prefs to explore, touch screens equal battery drain, multiple browsers, reverse lookup phone numbers

Mac System Preferences you should explore include: set Notifications to Do Not Disturb during certain hours to focus on work; setting up Hot Corners under Mission Control to trigger nearly anything, like putting your screen to sleep; program certain “abbreviations” to expand into full text using Keyboard’s Text tab; and explore what your Trackpad is capable of under each of its three tabs, unchecking actions you don’t find useful.

As more and more laptops come with touch screens, it is important to know that touch screens drain your battery more quickly. Disabling the touch screen does not work, according to research done by laptopmag.com. So, before buying a touch screen laptop, spend some time at the store “playing” to see if repeatedly raising your hand to the screen actually works for you, instead of using a small old fashion mouse.

Don’t forget to have and use at least two web browsers. If you find a website not working in Chrome, for example, try the same site in Firefox, or Safari if you are on a Mac.

Verify the phone number of a caller by looking it up with google. If you are called by “Microsoft” reverse lookup their Caller ID number, 800-123-4567 (or whatever). Legitimate numbers will link to a real page at Microsoft or whatever company claims to be calling you. And, when you end up at a tech support site, look in the address bar to make sure you are at the real company.

Windows 10 upgrades can be “reserved” now for when it is officially released July29th. I would wait until a few months later to actually install it, unless you are not having enough fun in your life. If you have been hoping that it will be different from Windows 8, it will, but it does not go back to Windows 7. If you want that Windows 7 look and feel again, install Classic Shell from classicshell.net.

Signs you do need a new computer: you can’t install the latest operating system or the latest version of your software; you can’t connect your latest gadgets because you don’t have the right ports; it is way more noisy than it used to be indicating fans and motors going out of balance or failing; or you are spending time fixing and replacing hardware on a regular basis, apart from getting malicious software removed. Bottom line, computers are not like cars, older computers just won’t keep up on the Information Highway (apologies for resurrecting an old phrase.)

There is an interesting collection of hard drive sounds, hard drives failing, at datacent.com. Click on the Sounds menu tab and see if you can find the ones that even sound musical.

20-20-20 rule, Windows 10 coming, computer performance tricks

The 20/20/20 rule is important to learn for better eye health. Every 20 minutes you should look off 20 feet or so, for 20 seconds. Even better is getting up and moving around. Having a window to stare out of helps. If you have trouble keeping to some kind of schedule there is software that can help you, Time Out for the Mac (from dejal.com) or PYV at protectyourvision.org are some of the free programs with options to customize break frequency, duration and actions.

With Windows 10 due to come out this summer and as Microsoft is offering free upgrades for Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers, you might want to check if your PC can handle it. The short answer is that if you are already running Windows 8.1 you should be fine and most all Windows 7 computers I have seen will also work. The free upgrade path only lasts for the first year Windows 10 is out and so you have to decide when you want it. My usual advice is to wait for all the early adopters to find the faults for Microsoft to fix and then jump on the bandwagon in early 2016.

Cut down Facebook notifications to reduce being constantly “annoyed” even though you feel you need to plug into FB all the time. Check under your settings or click on the Notifications “globe” icon and then click settings to find and click on Notifications. Then edit each Notification and set it how you want. If you have a smart phone and use its Facebook app, you should also look at its push notification settings.

Regardless of how fast your computer is, how well you have matched your software to your needs, or how many monitors you have, there are things you can do to improve your computer performance. Pay attention to your body position and take frequent breaks. At night, use f.lux (justgetflux.com) to reduce the “keep you awake” blue part of the spectrum. Try a standing desk. Improve your typing; even though you may be self-taught, touch-typing is still likely to be faster. There are quite a few online tutoring sites. The other part is to speed up your reading speed and learn how to bookmark sites you want to come back or don’t have time right now to read. Memorize shortcuts for any task or action you do repeatedly and frequently. You don’t have to learn all of them, just figure out the most common ones. Finally, there are some tasks that are still faster with paper and pen, not everything must be done on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Browsers slow down as you keep more tabs open, and there are add-ins to help you with those tabs without just bookmarking them. One that I like is OneTab for Chrome or Firefox, and find it wonderful for keeping available site that I plan to get back to but don’t really want to bookmark as I only plan to read those articles once.

Long-term data, ejecting external media, Facebook face recognition

Keeping your data around for the long-term means that you should understand a bit more about how long different devices or media might last. Hard drives, solid-state drives, USB flash drives and CD/DVD discs are the physical options you have to keep your data with you. For short term, consider flash drives for data you are just moving around or want to keep for some months or up to a year. Conventional and solid state drives should be good for five years, less if you are using them all the time. It is not clear if solid state drives will loose data if just kept on the shelf. CD/DVD discs were originally thought to last 100 years or more, that estimate has been dropping as people buy cheaper discs and disc burners are becoming cheap. No matter what medium you use, you need to check it a couple of times a year and copy it to something new when needed or maybe every five years. If you don’t, you might find that ten years later you no longer can read your 3.5” floppy diskettes, for example. Cloud storage is only as good as the life of that company providing you that service. So, how long do you want those digital photos to hang around?

If you are counting on a surge protector to absorb power spikes you should be replacing them at least every five years, and more frequently if power spikes have tripped them. Each power spike degrades the surge protection, so review how many times one has tripped and saved your devices, then buy replacements as needed.

Should you eject external storage devices, like USB drives, before pulling out the plug? There is a reason for that warning on the Mac when you pull out that flash drive without having ejected it or dragged its icon to the Trash icon. The Mac tries to improve flash drive responsiveness by not immediately writing date to that external device. The trade off is that you might loose data if you don’t force the Mac to finish that writing up. Thus, you need to eject that flash drive to ensure no data lose. I always eject hard drives, even in Windows, just to make sure I don’t loose data, it is one of those two second tasks that makes life safer.

Facebook’s face recognition or “suggestion” can be turned off. When your Facebook friends upload photos, software is running to recognize and suggest matching faces and yours might be one. Although you can’t prohibit being tagged in photos, you can turn off Facebook’s ability to suggest you as a match. Since it is turned on by default, you have to open up Settings, among other places, under the slightly darker upside down triangle in the upper right of the top blue bar in FB. Then click on “Timeline and Tagging” and look for “Who sees tag suggestions…” and click on the Edit link to its right. Change it to “No One” and click the Close link. Then you are good. While you are in Settings, take a look around at the other sections to see what else you could actually control.

Mac location changes, Google SEO truthiness, security summary, lesser known hardware specs

You can automate Mac settings based on your location by using the free app Control Plane. When you have a Mac laptop, there are times you actually go to different locations, with different printers, sound muting needs, file sharing changes, maybe even turning on password prompting. With Control Plan you can set up different contexts for Control Plane to recognize your location and thus change what happens when you “enter” or “leave” that location. No surprise, it is at http://www.controlplaneapp.com/

SEO (search engine optimization) can be the life and death of some websites. There is a large, not always honest, industry around how to push certain sites to the top of Google results, using a variety of methods to make a site look well linked and “popular.” Google is working to measure and grade sites on their actual truthfulness so that those with more accurate and relevant information to your search, will rise to the top. This should help push down many of those sites that game the Google system but only exist to deliver ads or even malware.

When using public computers, like those at the Library, or even a friend’s, it is good to follow certain rules when using them. When you use your webmail account, make sure to uncheck the little box that keeps you logged in. And, actually log out of any site you use, don’t just close the browser window. You don’t want someone else to have fun on your Facebook account. To avoid having to clear the browsing history, use a private or incognito browsing session. And, take a second to think about what you are doing on this “unknown” computer, can it wait until you get back to your own?

Here is a roundup of good security mantras from the pros. Strong, unique passwords and two-factor authentication do make it much harder to be compromised. New devices are not automatically more secure; always check for updates after unwrapping anything that uses any kind of network. All software will have vulnerabilities, and even though SSL connections may have flaws, using SSL or HTTPS connections on the web will make you just that much safer. Intricate cyber attacks are very unlikely; many of those massive data compromises actually start with one human “gaining” the trust of another to achieve data breaches. So, use strong, unique passwords, keep software updated and uninstall software you don’t use, use HTTPS or SSL connections, and learn something new to keep from going crazy.

Here are some lesser-known computer specs that affect performance. Processor cache is a fast memory place used by the processor for recently, frequently used data, so the more the better for each of the different levels. Hard drive speed, often 5400 or 7200 RPM can affect how fast programs load and this is why solid state drives (SSD) can be so wonderful. SSDs are around four to five times more expensive per GB of storage but that can make it a wonderful upgrade as most decent processors from three or four years ago are still good if you can feed them data fast enough. And, there is always the issue of RAM, whether it is enough and whether you have enough. As many of the less expensive computers use RAM for video tasks, reducing screen resolution make improve the perceived speed of things showing up on the screen. Maybe you don’t want to buy that 4K or HD monitor without making sure your computer, new or old, can handle all those pixels.

File encryption, controlling social media sucking time, trello.com

File encryption tools exist to keep your work private if someone gets hold of your computer. With files or even your entire hard drive encrypted with a key passphrase only you know, you can protect sensitive financial, medical, or other personal data. The Pro versions of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 have built-in encryption, as does OS X, but you have to use a third party program for Home versions of Windows, or you just like to use something different. Among the variety of options that exist for Windows and OS X you can find 7-Zip (usually thought of as a file zipping tool), GNU Privacy Guard, and VeraCrypt.

It should come as no surprise that there are ideal lengths for different online content, if you want people to pay attention. The latest figures I found show tweets should equal 100 characters while a Facebook post does better at 40. Email subject lines should fall between 28-39 characters while a blog post should be readable in 7 minutes or scan about 1600 words. If you are hoping for people to read, listen or view what you produce, pay attention to what lengths grab your attention and keep you reading, listening or watching.

Google Earth Pro is finally free and has some tricks that can make it very useful. It comes with a variety of accessible data sets, including property parcel data, and a large collection of demographic and geographic information. You can also generate virtual tours as videos that, no surprise, can be uploaded to Youtube.

Cut wasted time on social media by setting a plan and sticking to it with a timer. It is easy to say that you have to get on Facebook or Twitter to expand your business contacts but without setting a more precise plan, like getting ten new people to call and then logging off, you may want to start using a simple egg timer to keep you from straying way off into the weeds. A great way to keep focused is to learn how to save interesting but unrelated information for later reading. This is a great reason to use a tool like Evernote or save links with a bookmarks tool or service.

To organize project with a group of people or just your own life, take a look at Trello.com, an online “web board” for placing cards with tasks in lists or categories to help you shepherd large projects with many different little tasks through to completion. Its focus is on group projects but you should be able to use it for anything that otherwise you might pull out notecards, sticky notes, or big sheets of white paper and multi colored markers. And, accounts at trello.com are free, forever they say.

Laptop Comparison Chart at productchart.com, need I say anything more once you look?

Patching, posting, scamming, repairing

Update or “patch” many Windows programs at one time with Patch My PC. Windows checks for its own updates but not all software will do the same unless you are actually using that program. And, most of us postpone such updates anyway. If you use Patch My PC, you can have it check for needed updates for over 100 commonly used programs. Go to www.patchmypc.net and click on the Free Tools menu to find the installer.

“To Post or Not to Post” is a humorous decision tool from onlineclasses.org that can help you figure out the wisdom of posting on any particular social media site. Look under their Resources section at the top to find this and many other decision and information graphics.

Scams are all over, including on Facebook. Here are some common ones that might even tempt the most suspicious of us. They include: see who has viewed your Facebook profile; enable new or hidden Facebook features with additional software; get free giveaways or amazingly deep discounts on new products; or see shocking pictures or videos that you must install some software to view. Be careful if you have to install additional software just to see that latest juicy bit of scandal.

Repairing your Windows Registry is one of those decisions that challenges many people and is often over sold as a fix to speed up your PC. The Windows Registry is a common location to store many bits of information used by Windows, programs, settings, etc., and Microsoft has tried to make sure that it remains trouble-free with multiple copies and built-in methods to resolve conflicts. Nearly all computer slowdowns are more likely due to insufficient hard drive space or disk fragmentation, not enough RAM for the number of running programs, bloatware or adware running in web browsers, and not quitting out of software you aren’t currently using. If you want to clean up your Registry of orphaned entries, then CCleaner (the free version works fine) from www.piriform.net, has a good tool for cleaning your Registry, along with its other tools for cleaning out many temporary files and disabling programs from automatically starting up.

I have talked about using password managers, like lastpass or 1password, to store complex and different passwords for all those websites requiring logins. To secure that password manager you also need another strong password that you don’t have to write down and yet that you can remember. Rules include, make it long, use characters other than just lower case letters, use only part of a word rather than any entire word, and use memory triggers that only you would know of. And, think of making up fake answers for those obligatory password recovery questions. One exception to the rule of not telling anyone your master password would be to keep a copy of that password in your safe, in case your estate needs access to your online accounts.