Working from Home, Ad Blockers and Making PDFs

Working from home, social distancing and adjusting to how we use the Internet all are topics of concern right now.

When using video conferencing software, turn off the video to improve your audio quality or at least reduce the video quality (aka bitrate—usually some number with bps or just p after it.) Schedule who needs the most Internet at particular times of the day, cut out streaming music to see if that helps, and check for the latest firmware for your Wi-Fi router.

Use a case and screen protector on your smartphone to make it safer to wipe down with alcohol wipes. Double-check if your internet service provider has lifted data caps and what their late payment policy is for the next few months. Finally, be careful of the scams that are already out there playing on all our fears.

It is annoying when you are told to stay current with updates and yet companies like Microsoft sometimes mess up their updates. Luckily, if you want to stay even just a week behind the curve in Windows 10 Home, you can now do that in the Settings area for Update and Security, Advanced Options; or search for “pause” using the Windows 10 search box down by the Start button/icon. You have to be running at least the Windows 10 May 2019 update, which you can check for in the Settings, titled “About.” Windows 10 Pro will let you pause updates for up to 35 days.

If you remember SETI@home, or even were a part of it, you may have heard they are shutting down volunteer participation at the end of March. Still, there are many other ways to contribute your computer’s unused CPU time, running software that perform scientific calculations spread out over millions of PCs. If you would like to participate in this type of citizen research help, visit boinc.berkeley.edu. Another project is foldingathome.org, which focuses on disease research, specifically on protein folding. This now includes how key proteins on COVID-19 are structured. Hopefully, your computer can contribute to understanding the virus’s vulnerabilities.

Ad blockers, like uBlock Origen, provide security benefits, as well as more privacy. Many people use ad blockers to speed up website loading, as those third-party ad suppliers increase page loading time when they assemble and provide the sites’ ads. But ads can be placed that are fake security alerts, and ad blockers will help prevent those fakes from showing up. Many sites may detect your ad blocker, and you will have to decide whether you want to disable it or continue on the site where some things may no longer work.
To see how these fake security alert operations work, search for “Jim Browning Tech Support Scams” on YouTube. It is wonderful to see the tables turned and to learn how these call centers work.
To make a PDF in Windows 10, there is a “printer” you can select named “Microsoft Print to PDF.” No matter what application you are in, if you are able to print something, you can “print” and save it as a PDF.

Take a peek into the brain teasers and logic puzzles that some of the top tech companies have used during HR interviews at gpuzzles.com. Look under the “Interview” menu to find them organized by company name.

Working from home, social distancing and adjusting to how we use the Internet all are topics of concern right now.

When using video conferencing software, turn off the video to improve your audio quality or at least reduce the video quality (aka bitrate—usually some number with bps or just p after it.) Schedule who needs the most Internet at particular times of the day, cut out streaming music to see if that helps, and check for the latest firmware for your Wi-Fi router.

Use a case and screen protector on your smartphone to make it safer to wipe down with alcohol wipes. Double-check if your internet service provider has lifted data caps and what their late payment policy is for the next few months. Finally, be careful of the scams that are already out there playing on all our fears.

It is annoying when you are told to stay current with updates and yet companies like Microsoft sometimes mess up their updates. Luckily, if you want to stay even just a week behind the curve in Windows 10 Home, you can now do that in the Settings area for Update and Security, Advanced Options; or search for “pause” using the Windows 10 search box down by the Start button/icon. You have to be running at least the Windows 10 May 2019 update, which you can check for in the Settings, titled “About.” Windows 10 Pro will let you pause updates for up to 35 days.

If you remember SETI@home, or even were a part of it, you may have heard they are shutting down volunteer participation at the end of March. Still, there are many other ways to contribute your computer’s unused CPU time, running software that perform scientific calculations spread out over millions of PCs. If you would like to participate in this type of citizen research help, visit boinc.berkeley.edu. Another project is foldingathome.org, which focuses on disease research, specifically on protein folding. This now includes how key proteins on COVID-19 are structured. Hopefully, your computer can contribute to understanding the virus’s vulnerabilities.

Ad blockers, like uBlock Origen, provide security benefits, as well as more privacy. Many people use ad blockers to speed up website loading, as those third-party ad suppliers increase page loading time when they assemble and provide the sites’ ads. But ads can be placed that are fake security alerts, and ad blockers will help prevent those fakes from showing up. Many sites may detect your ad blocker, and you will have to decide whether you want to disable it or continue on the site where some things may no longer work.
To see how these fake security alert operations work, search for “Jim Browning Tech Support Scams” on YouTube. It is wonderful to see the tables turned and to learn how these call centers work.
To make a PDF in Windows 10, there is a “printer” you can select named “Microsoft Print to PDF.” No matter what application you are in, if you are able to print something, you can “print” and save it as a PDF.

Take a peek into the brain teasers and logic puzzles that some of the top tech companies have used during HR interviews at gpuzzles.com. Look under the “Interview” menu to find them organized by company name.

As it is tax-filing time again, follow the IRS’s advice to recertify your online account, if you have one with them, at sa.www4.irs.gov/ola.
Remember, we IT people are here to help. Talk with me to see how I can help without coming to your home or office. There is remote access software that lets me see your computer and work with you that way.

Facebook Info and Google Tips

Facebook is revealing more information about what they track across the Internet, and they also have options available to control how they track you. Their new tool is called “Off-Facebook Activity,” and you can find it under “Settings” then “Your Facebook Information.” You can even cut down on future tracking, but all that really does is limit whether Facebook will combine data from third-party sites with what they already know about you from your Facebook activity.

Here’s a tip for being better understood on phone calls. As the phone’s microphone is very sensitive to the direction of sound, you should try to keep it at the same distance and position relative to your mouth. Maybe anchoring your thumb on your jawline will help keep your phone from moving around so much as you move your head around. Or consider using a headset, Bluetooth or corded phone to avoid muffling your voice.

If you need a distraction and are curious about what is trending in Google searches, check out trends.google.com. You can see what others are looking for, either now or in the past, here and in other countries. For more fun, explore how the interest in certain terms has changed over time.

On Google Maps, you (and others) can create collaborative maps, something that might be handy when planning a group vacation or local tour. Start at maps.google.com and sign in to your account. Then use the “hamburger” menu icon (the three horizontal lines) to get to Your Places, then Maps, where you can click on Create Map. After working through what you want to add, don’t forget to share the map (choose between view-only or edit modes).

Google Earth View (earthview.withgoogle.com) has added a thousand new satellite images that can be downloaded for you to use as your desktop background on any computer. While browsing the Earth View Gallery, you can click the Download Wallpaper option, which appears in the top right corner of each image when you hover your mouse there.

Facebook is revealing more information about what they track across the Internet, and they also have options available to control how they track you. Their new tool is called “Off-Facebook Activity,” and you can find it under “Settings” then “Your Facebook Information.” You can even cut down on future tracking, but all that really does is limit whether Facebook will combine data from third-party sites with what they already know about you from your Facebook activity.

Here’s a tip for being better understood on phone calls. As the phone’s microphone is very sensitive to the direction of sound, you should try to keep it at the same distance and position relative to your mouth. Maybe anchoring your thumb on your jawline will help keep your phone from moving around so much as you move your head around. Or consider using a headset, Bluetooth or corded phone to avoid muffling your voice.

If you need a distraction and are curious about what is trending in Google searches, check out trends.google.com. You can see what others are looking for, either now or in the past, here and in other countries. For more fun, explore how the interest in certain terms has changed over time.

On Google Maps, you (and others) can create collaborative maps, something that might be handy when planning a group vacation or local tour. Start at maps.google.com and sign in to your account. Then use the “hamburger” menu icon (the three horizontal lines) to get to Your Places, then Maps, where you can click on Create Map. After working through what you want to add, don’t forget to share the map (choose between view-only or edit modes).

Google Earth View (earthview.withgoogle.com) has added a thousand new satellite images that can be downloaded for you to use as your desktop background on any computer. While browsing the Earth View Gallery, you can click the Download Wallpaper option, which appears in the top right corner of each image when you hover your mouse there.

If you need to save or print out a list of installed programs in Windows, you can use Geek Uninstaller (geekuninstaller.com). It’s also a useful tool to uninstall software in a more complete way than the official uninstaller might or if you’re having trouble with the official uninstaller.

Virus Updates and Trackpad Hacks

Despite ending support for Windows 7 on January 14 of this year, Microsoft will continue updating the virus signatures for Microsoft Security Essentials, their anti-virus software. This doesn’t mean total protection, but Microsoft seems to be realizing that not everyone is going to jump to Windows 10 by the middle of January. Google’s Chrome browser will continue to be supported on Windows 7 for at least 18 months. Firefox is likely to do the same, if their long support for XP years ago is any guide.

Keeping the look of Windows 7 when you are in Windows 10 is possible with Open Shell (the successor to Classic Shell). Go to fairviewtowncrier.com/links for the link.

If one of your resolutions was to try out some on-line learning, you’ll need help searching for the right massive open online course (MOOC). There are so many of these online courses that they have their own search engines. Start with Course Root, one of the more comprehensive, to figure where you could begin. MOOC-List provides a very comprehensive set of filters to narrow down to your almost perfect course, including a special section of self-paced courses. And, yes, Google is in this game with its own set of courses. Go to fairviewtowncrier.com/links for links to these sites.

Rather than having to search every day for new results for the same old search, check out Google Alerts (google.com/alerts), which will let you set up a search so you are emailed when new results show up. They include some suggestions that you can experiment with and a preview of what that alert would currently show. Don’t forget to check out the options part too.

More than 100 PBS stations now stream through YouTube TV, increasing the number of ways to get their content when you have cut the cord.

Despite ending support for Windows 7 on January 14 of this year, Microsoft will continue updating the virus signatures for Microsoft Security Essentials, their anti-virus software. This doesn’t mean total protection, but Microsoft seems to be realizing that not everyone is going to jump to Windows 10 by the middle of January. Google’s Chrome browser will continue to be supported on Windows 7 for at least 18 months. Firefox is likely to do the same, if their long support for XP years ago is any guide.

Keeping the look of Windows 7 when you are in Windows 10 is possible with Open Shell (the successor to Classic Shell). Go to fairviewtowncrier.com/links for the link.

If one of your resolutions was to try out some on-line learning, you’ll need help searching for the right massive open online course (MOOC). There are so many of these online courses that they have their own search engines. Start with Course Root, one of the more comprehensive, to figure where you could begin. MOOC-List provides a very comprehensive set of filters to narrow down to your almost perfect course, including a special section of self-paced courses. And, yes, Google is in this game with its own set of courses. Go to fairviewtowncrier.com/links for links to these sites.

Rather than having to search every day for new results for the same old search, check out Google Alerts (google.com/alerts), which will let you set up a search so you are emailed when new results show up. They include some suggestions that you can experiment with and a preview of what that alert would currently show. Don’t forget to check out the options part too.

More than 100 PBS stations now stream through YouTube TV, increasing the number of ways to get their content when you have cut the cord.

Jumping cursors on laptops can often be tamed by turning off trackpad features, including many of the multi-gesture two-, three- and four-finger flicks. On a Mac, go into System Preferences, then click on Trackpad. Start unchecking boxes for gestures you don’t use. In Windows 10, use the one-line search box to find Touchpad and start with changing sensitivity to low. Also look for and turn off gestures. Dangling bracelets and other jewelry might also be creating problems, as could other wireless and Bluetooth devices close by. And make sure your antivirus is up to date and consider running a full scan, just in case.

Tips for Phone and Computer Security

The iPhone has a reputation of being hard to hack, but how can you know for sure? There’s an app for that. Although Apple has strongly limited access to data that security tools would like to access to tell if the phone has been compromised, a new app called iVerify includes a series of detailed how-to guides that help users lock down their settings to improve privacy and reduce the chances of getting hacked. Find it on the App store for $2.99.

Did you know that your Wi-Fi router may have a guest network option? This could be a great option for paying guests, in case you rent your space, or for visiting family and friends. Check your router’s documentation to make sure this option is available. If it’s AT&T, Spectrum or Verizon, ask them how to set it up. A guest network will keep your shared devices, such as printers and shared folders or drives and other smart devices, from being seen and used by your guests. They will only be able to use your internet, not anything on your local network.

If you are trying to kick the Google habit—Gmail, YouTube, Google Fonts, Google Search, Chrome, Android, etc.—you can install the Nomoogle browser extension for Chrome and Firefox. The first thing it will suggest is not to use Chrome. Go to NoMoreGoogle.com for privacy-oriented alternatives and gcemetery.co for replacements for killed-off Google products that you wish were still around. There are also ways to use Android phones without Google apps (see fairviewtowncrier.com/links for more information).

There are some easy ways to improve the security of your computer, including encrypting your hard drive and external backup and storage devices. Power off your computer when you are not using it, keep your local backups off line if possible and only connect them when you do backups, and only turn on Wi-Fi when you need it (and turn off Bluetooth if you don’t need it). These are in addition to disabling the camera and microphone, which I see many have already done with tape and such.

Facebook does not need to listen in on you to still be creepy in how it offers up relevant ads. By combining location data with the infamous Facebook pixel to track what you have been browsing on other websites, along with where your Facebook friends and family are and what they are doing, you shouldn’t be surprised when Facebook accurately predicts your habits and behaviors with targeted ads.

Tips for Holiday Wishlists and More

For the coming holiday season computer purchases for Mac or Windows, look for desktops or laptops that have 8 GB of RAM, ideally a solid-state drive, and at least two USB ports (you might want to buy a USB hub to expand that number). And avoid the lower end and slower processors like the i3 unless you really only do one thing at a time and most of your time is on the web. If you can, bring a picture of what ports and plugs you currently use on your computer to help the sales person steer you right. Finally, plan for backup.

Yahoo! Groups will officially cease to exist on December 14, with all of that content going away. They claim you still can use and create new groups, but you will be communicating with all group members via email. That defeats the purpose of having content up for new members to browse through the collected wisdom of the group.
Looking to waste less time on social media? Pick one day a week as a no-media day (or one day a month). Start a new hobby or revive an old one. Use the increasing number of built-in functions to track your app time. Resist the pressure to like and follow, but if you do, follow light-hearted and non-human content. Reward yourself for cutting down on your social media use.

Clean your computer and phone screens with a non-scratching cloth, such as a microfiber cloth or even a 100% cotton t-shirt, and commonly available rubbing alcohol. Turn off the laptop, computer or phone, then spray the cleaning solution on the cloth before actually rubbing the screen. Don’t press hard, especially on laptop screens or any flat panel displays. Let it dry, and turn it back on after you have cleaned off some of the other dirt and turned over the keyboard to shake out the cookie crumbs.

Google hasn’t upped its free storage cap of 15 GB since 2013, and that means that you might finally fill up your account and have to start paying for Google One. Business accounts have existed for some time, but now Google is pushing their $2 per month plan for 100 GB of storage (or $3 for 200 GB), so you can still keep those cat videos.

For the coming holiday season computer purchases for Mac or Windows, look for desktops or laptops that have 8 GB of RAM, ideally a solid-state drive, and at least two USB ports (you might want to buy a USB hub to expand that number). And avoid the lower end and slower processors like the i3 unless you really only do one thing at a time and most of your time is on the web. If you can, bring a picture of what ports and plugs you currently use on your computer to help the sales person steer you right. Finally, plan for backup.

Yahoo! Groups will officially cease to exist on December 14, with all of that content going away. They claim you still can use and create new groups, but you will be communicating with all group members via email. That defeats the purpose of having content up for new members to browse through the collected wisdom of the group.
Looking to waste less time on social media? Pick one day a week as a no-media day (or one day a month). Start a new hobby or revive an old one. Use the increasing number of built-in functions to track your app time. Resist the pressure to like and follow, but if you do, follow light-hearted and non-human content. Reward yourself for cutting down on your social media use.

Clean your computer and phone screens with a non-scratching cloth, such as a microfiber cloth or even a 100% cotton t-shirt, and commonly available rubbing alcohol. Turn off the laptop, computer or phone, then spray the cleaning solution on the cloth before actually rubbing the screen. Don’t press hard, especially on laptop screens or any flat panel displays. Let it dry, and turn it back on after you have cleaned off some of the other dirt and turned over the keyboard to shake out the cookie crumbs.

Google hasn’t upped its free storage cap of 15 GB since 2013, and that means that you might finally fill up your account and have to start paying for Google One. Business accounts have existed for some time, but now Google is pushing their $2 per month plan for 100 GB of storage (or $3 for 200 GB), so you can still keep those cat videos.

Google Maps, on iPhone and Android, now lets you turn on more detailed voice guidance if you are walking to your destination. Open the Google Maps app and go to your Settings. Choose Navigation, and then scroll down until you see Walking Options, then go to Detailed Voice Guidance. Slide the switch to enable the feature, and then explore your surroundings.

Protect Your Computer and Yourself

Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) are a necessary addition to protecting your computer (and other electronics) from both power spikes and power drops or brownout conditions. UPSs are a combination of a battery and a surge protector, with some of the outlets just providing surge protection and the remaining ones designed to provide battery power. The sizing, and thus the cost, depends on how many devices need power and for how long. I suggest that you look at powering the computer and monitor, maybe your modem/router and other networking equipment if you really need a few more minutes of internet, but not your printers and other accessories. Figure the minimum time needed as how long you would take to save files and turn off your computer. If you have multiple computers, have multiple UPSs, and don’t use extension cords off the UPS—it voids any warranty or damage protection offered by the unit’s manufacturer.

If you have a Google account and use Chrome, you should check into their Password Checkup tool to make sure you are using strong and secure passwords. It will also look for your email address in known data breaches and tell you if you are using the same password across different sites. And it will help generate unique and secure passwords, so you don’t have to think of them, and then it will store them for you. You will need to turn on sync within Chrome. Firefox has a similar tool called Firefox Monitor.

If you email sensitive data, either personal or for business, you should be aware of the following guidelines: double-check the email addresses you are sending information to; never share passwords; learn phishing, spear phishing, and whaling attacks; call someone when an email from them looks a little off; all work laptops, tablets, and phones should have remote wiping capabilities turned on in case they are stolen or accidentally left somewhere. One online test place to start is phishingquiz.withgoogle.com.

Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) are a necessary addition to protecting your computer (and other electronics) from both power spikes and power drops or brownout conditions. UPSs are a combination of a battery and a surge protector, with some of the outlets just providing surge protection and the remaining ones designed to provide battery power. The sizing, and thus the cost, depends on how many devices need power and for how long. I suggest that you look at powering the computer and monitor, maybe your modem/router and other networking equipment if you really need a few more minutes of internet, but not your printers and other accessories. Figure the minimum time needed as how long you would take to save files and turn off your computer. If you have multiple computers, have multiple UPSs, and don’t use extension cords off the UPS—it voids any warranty or damage protection offered by the unit’s manufacturer.

If you have a Google account and use Chrome, you should check into their Password Checkup tool to make sure you are using strong and secure passwords. It will also look for your email address in known data breaches and tell you if you are using the same password across different sites. And it will help generate unique and secure passwords, so you don’t have to think of them, and then it will store them for you. You will need to turn on sync within Chrome. Firefox has a similar tool called Firefox Monitor.

If you email sensitive data, either personal or for business, you should be aware of the following guidelines: double-check the email addresses you are sending information to; never share passwords; learn phishing, spear phishing, and whaling attacks; call someone when an email from them looks a little off; all work laptops, tablets, and phones should have remote wiping capabilities turned on in case they are stolen or accidentally left somewhere. One online test place to start is phishingquiz.withgoogle.com.

Two-factor authentication is something that helped a recent client recover email and Apple ID passwords that had been reset through a scam call. Two-factor authentication works by sending a one-time password (usually numbers) to enter as part of logging in on a new device or, more importantly, when you are resetting a password.