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Perfect Emojis and a Natural Smile

If you have a MacBook or MacBook Pro with Apple’s newer “butterfly switch”-type keyboard, and letters or characters repeat unexpectedly or do not appear or if keys feel sticky or do not respond in a consistent manner, you should check in with an Apple-authorized repair place to see if Apple will replace that keyboard, even if your laptop is out of warranty.

Small but important search tips for Google (and Bing) include: putting quotes around a phrase make it a literal search; using a minus sign in front of a word ensures the word is not included in search results; inserting a tilde (~) will include synonyms; and adding double dots or periods will indicate a range for pricing or dates.

There are times you just need to find the perfect emoji, but it can be hard to locate it on your device. Try emojicopy.com, where you can search and copy emojis into all sort of communications. And if you need to decode the string of emojis just sent to you, try pasting them into decodemoji.com.

Sometimes you want to ID a plant or bug with your phone. Try Google Lens, part of the Google Photos app on either Android or iOS, to pull information from a photo, like contact information or an event date from a flyer, in addition to seeing if you can ID plants and such.

Here’s an anti-identity theft tip: a natural smile in an ID photo may make it more difficult to fake being you. A somewhat neutral and natural smile seems to be hard for others to copy.

We’re all always looking for more security and privacy tools, and there’s a new one to clean caches and securely erase free space on your Windows computer. Called Privazer and coming from France, it will help you securely erase those traces of financial data you might not realize stick around on the hard drive. Try it at privazer.com.

Just as there is often hidden tracking data in digital documents, there are similar tracking items or dots in printed items. If you want to descend into the weeds of how printed documents can be traced back to their printer, see some recent work by researchers in Germany at dfd.inf.tu-dresden.de. If you feel comfortable with the command line in Windows 10, you can install a tool that “enables automatic extraction, decoding and anonymization of document color tracking dots.” This won’t guarantee that you can create tracking-free documents, but at least you will learn more about how not even printing can save you from being tracked.

Passwords and Private File Syncing

Got a great formula to make your passwords seem more random or tricky? Password hackers love formulas and most any formula you have learned somewhere is included in password cracking software that is easily available. Take seriously the advice of using truly random passwords, with letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, or random words strung together if you are willing to go long without making a sentence. If you have more passwords than will fit on the back of a business card, consider a password manager to keep track of your ever-growing list.

On a related privacy topic, you can create throwaway email addresses for all those obnoxious sites requiring an email address to use their service. Burnermail.io has an extension for both Firefox and Chrome web browsers that lets you create “burner” email addresses that forward to your real email address. If you start getting spammed from one of those sign-up sites, you can easily drop those spammers into a black hole. You can also see and protect against companies that resell your email address by using a burner email address.

As part of estate planning, or even just putting together your simple will, you want to include your “digital assets.” These include writing down the more obvious logins and passwords for banks, credit cards, and other online financial management services, including an always-up-to-date copy with your will. Most password managers have a way to add an additional emergency access user. If you use two-factor authentication, check how that will work if the second device used, like a cell phone or other authenticator, is no longer available. Plan for, or at least understand, how digital purchases can be shared to family, even if they cannot be transferred. And definitely note your social media and email logins and passwords to make it easier for your executor to notify contacts, friends, and followers.

Toby (gettoby.com) provides a graphical way to organize your bookmarks and tabs opened in the background that you promise you will get back to. It allows you to create topics or categories for your open tabs/bookmarks, lets you reorder and reprioritize them, and if you actually sign up for a gettoby account you can save and sync all those between different computers.

If you have wanted a personal alternative to file syncing services like Dropbox, Google Drive or the many others, you might want to look at Syncthing (syncthing.net). It requires some reading for the setup but you don’t have to share your files with any third party at all.

Home Pages and Tab Snoozes

What home or start page to have in your web browser is always a conundrum. Usually you want it to be where you tend to go much of the time. But sometimes it is good to have your home page teach you something. Try setting it to Wikipedia’s home page, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, with its “Did you know…” and “On this day…” sections.

Just as you can have custom ringtones for different groups of people, so you know when you really have to answer your cell phone, you can also have custom vibrations for when you have the ringer turned off. This way, you can ignore all but the most important calls, texts, or other notifications during those periods you should not be checking your phone anyway.

Shutting down and restarting Windows 10 is not quite what you thought it was. In Windows 10, Microsoft implemented a “fast startup” trick to make it appear that Windows 10 boots more quickly by saving a snapshot of current kernel memory to the hard drive that can be read from when you boot up again. But if you use Shutdown/Restart to clear out problems, you need to really use the Restart option.

That dock on the Mac screen has been around for so long we tend to forget that there are options to replace how it works. uBar (brawersoftware.com/products/ubar) is expensive at $30, but it might be one of the best ways to ease into the Mac world from Windows. Another, called Station (truenorthsoftware.com/station), works more to organize documents and apps in folders or nesting docks. DockShelf (thealchemistguild.com/dockshelf) lets you make little tabbed docks. If you want to go totally minimalist, you can use Spotlight, via its keyboard shortcut of Command and Spacebar, to find and launch pretty much anything in your Mac. And then you can hide the Dock and sweep everything off your desktop to revel in the beauty of your ever-changing desktop pictures that you have set to rotate through your Photos library using the System Preferences for Desktop & Screen Saver.

You might want to snooze some of those websites you want to read but aren’t getting to anytime soon. Snooze Tabby (snoozetabby.com), an extension for both Chrome and Firefox, will let you set a time, from 10 minutes up to a month, for when a particular website will pop back up for you to read or react. Why bookmark something that you only need to read once (just not right now)?

Autoplay, Machine, Emails, and More

At long last, the current version of Chrome (which you should have if you are using it on a regular basis, since it automatically updates) will block many automatically playing videos so you don’t embarrass yourself in a public space with suddenly blasting audio. Chrome will still play those from sites designed to play videos automatically, like YouTube and Netflix.

Learn Like a Machine

Machine learning projects for kids can help children (or adults young at heart) learn more about how computers can be taught to learn. Machine learning is what drives autonomous cars, helps decide on loan applications, recognize faces, and powers many recommendation websites. One place to start is the website machinelearningforkids.co.uk, which uses Scratch, a simple, block-like programming language, to help you learn more about machine learning. And it all will run in your web browser.

Do Not Disturb

You can control when you get bothered by your smart phone by using the Do Not Disturb features available for both Android and Apple phones. You likely know about Airplane mode, which pretty much cuts you off from calls, texts, and the Internet, but sometimes you want a select few emergency contacts to filter through. When you use Do Not Disturb features, you can silence everything or let through certain emergency contacts or types of messages. Different options are available on Android and iOS: dig through them to find what can really work for you without having your device annoy everyone at your next event or meeting.

Keep Your Cookies

Firefox now has an extension to isolate your Facebook cookie “crumbs” from following you around the other sites you browse. Straight from Mozilla, the parent organization that makes Firefox, you can get the Facebook Container Extension. Go to addons.mozilla.org and search for Facebook Container.

Early Morning Email

Timing your emails to get a response might seem like common sense, and research by Boomerang and Yahoo Labs shows that sending email to arrive in someone’s inbox in the morning hours, from 7 to 9 am (and earlier in the week), generates the best response. Of course, if you know your recipient has different work hours, adjust the sending to correspond to the beginning of their work day.

Colors, Updates, Backups and Privacy

Turn Up the Color

Noises have colors? They seem to when you are trying to use noise (sounds) to cover up distracting sounds while working. After disabling social media and email alerts, if you find you are still not focusing, try other colors of noise. You know white noise (a combination of all frequencies), but there is pink and brown (emphasizing lower frequencies), blue and purple (the inverse of pink and brown) and others. Research is showing that different work or focusing situations benefit from different colors of noise. And you shouldn’t be surprised that there are YouTube videos for productivity (youtube.com/results?search_query=
noise+colors).

Face to Facebook

You may have noticed that Facebook is expanding its facial recognition features. If you don’t want your face automatically tagged with your name (this is not anywhere near 100% accurate), you might want to turn this feature off. You will need to go into Facebook settings and find Face or Facial Recognition. For extra help, you can always Google “turn off Facebook facial recognition.”

Office Update

Office 2019, coming out this fall, is the 17th version of what most of us use for writing and calculating. Most of us will see this upgrade through Office 365 subscriptions but only if you have Windows 10. There is no announced equivalent new version for Macs. Promised are new Excel formulas and charts (no specifics, though) and animation features in PowerPoint. And if you are still running Windows 7 or 8.1, just continue enjoying Office 2016.

Google Backup

Google data backup is not something most think about. However, what if your account is hijacked or stolen and you lose all your data? You can get a full download of all your Google data straight from takeout.google.com. Log into your Google account, select which data types you want a copy of and wait until you get the email letting you know it is ready to download. Those archives will only stay around in Google land for seven days. Remember to add an alert or reminder on your phone or paper calendar.

Twitter Privacy

If you have a Twitter account, you might want to turn off many of their tracking settings, under their Privacy and Safety settings. You should look for turning off “Personalize ads” and “Track where you see Twitter …” And you should “Delete location information.” Again, for more help, search for something like “disable twitter tracking.”

Ad Blockers, Security Questions, Spam and SEO

The ad blockers are coming! Google will activate its built-in ad blocker for its Chrome web browser on February 15. This is great news if you use Chrome – yet I would pay attention to what might happen with third-party ad blockers like Ad Block Plus or ublock Origin. There may be issues.

One small but potentially useful trick for all those extra security questions you have to set up with many online services is to make up answers to questions such as “What is your mother’s maiden name?” Those services don’t check that your answer is correct for you, just that you type in the same thing. You could set up the answer to all those questions with something like “purple,” if you want.

If you are feeling a little annoyed about spam and have wondered how to “punish” those who send it, try wasting their time by replying through the services of Spamnesty. All you need to do is forward a spam email to sp@mnesty.com. Their service strips out your email address before their bot tries to engage the spammer in a time-wasting back-and-forth exchange. Read more at spa.mnesty.com. They do remind you to strip out personal information from any email you forward to them.

There are so many different places on your computer and on the Internet for you to hear security advice, but not all may apply to you. You might find it useful to look at the Security Planner put out by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab at securityplanner.org. It is comforting to see that they continue to update their advice as best practices change.

Email tracking can be made more difficult by turning off loading of tracking images and resources. Many email senders use the display of tracking images or even a one-pixel dot with a custom file name to determine if you have looked at an email. Most email programs let you turn off that display of tracking images, which are images loaded off the web. My credit card company keeps telling me that they need me to update my email address even though their emails are getting to me. That’s because they don’t “see” me reading their emails as I don’t allow the “loading” of tracking images.

I may have mentioned Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide before. It’s finally beed updated, and has wonderful info. Google that name or visit: support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7451184. You’ll still need to keep interesting content frequently updated.