Check Your Privacy Settings

After recent operating system upgrades, it’s time to check your smartphone’s privacy settings. On an iPhone, go to Settings, then Privacy; on an Android, if you are running system 11, go to Privacy (but your phone vendor may have modified this location). If you find Permission Manager, you’ll find everything bundled together there. Decide whether apps need your location info and which apps should have camera and microphone access. Also check whether Bluetooth is on all the time and if apps are allowed to refresh in the background.

People with Android phones that are four years old (and older) may have problems with quite a few website secure connection certificates after September 2021. If your phone has Android 7.1.1 or lower, you might want to install and use Firefox web browser instead of the built-in browser. To check your Android version, go to System, then About Phone; or you might find it under Settings, then near the bottom tap on System, Advanced, System Update.

Adobe Flash will be dead by the end of this year. Look for and remove Adobe Flash players. There is also a Microsoft Update that came out at the end of October that should take it off your PC (KB 4577586). Mac users should also uninstall Flash Player. And remember that any website asking you to update your Flash player is likely lying—don’t do it. You can find more general information at get.adobe.com/flashplayer.

There are an increasing number of services offering “dark web scans” to see if your personal and financial information is available on the part of the internet comprised of websites not indexed or found on many search engines. Instead of using these services, you should try to limit the usefulness of that data to someone else if your personal information is leaked. Your best protection is to take basic security steps: use unique passwords and a password manager, learn how to use two-factor authentication, utilize credit freezes, and cancel old credit cards.

Microsoft will soon start force upgrading Windows 10 1903 to Windows 10 1909 to keep computers protected from security threats after this version reaches its end of service next month. Find your version by going to the box down by the Windows icon (lower left corner of the screen), typing “winver” and clicking on the first result. A window labeled “About Windows” will open and list your version number.

When to Repair and When to Replace

When deciding between repairing a broken computer and buying a new one, you should consider the age of your computer, the repair cost, the cost of the replacement, and the cost of the new software that you might have to buy. Generally, if the computer is more than five years old, the repair costs may not be worth it, especially if you are spending more than 20% to 30% of the cost of a new or refurbished replacement. For a new Mac running the latest operating system (Catalina), you might have to purchase new versions of software. For both Windows and Mac, if you don’t have the installation discs for additional software like Office or QuickBooks, you will have to buy them again. In the end, repairs are great for keeping hardware out of the landfills, but sometimes a cheap repair may not be the best choice.

Google’s Arts and Culture division makes it possible to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Started in 2017 with a project at the British Museum, the group has been working with academics to explain the translation process and provide feedback on the tools and models created for three phases of translation: extraction, classification and translation. You can have fun by translating English into hieroglyphs that you can email. Your results are limited to the available translatable hieroglyphs. For instance, there is no equivalent for “machine learning.” I know because I tried. You can explore more at experiments.withgoogle.com/fabricius.

Gmail users have been able to schedule an email to send at a specific time, and now users of Outlook can do the same thing. After composing an email through outlook.com but before sending it, click on the drop-down arrow to the right of “Send” to get to “Send later.” You can set the date and time for your email to go out. It will be in your drafts folder until sent, so you can edit or delete it.

In the latest iPhone operating system, iOS 14, Apple has added a small green or orange dot to indicate when your camera or microphone is being used (green for the camera, orange for the mic). This dot is in the upper right-hand corner of the screen near the battery indicator. To check what apps will use your camera and microphone, go to Settings, Privacy, and then Camera or Microphone.

You can change the search engine used by the Windows 10 start menu. Of course, there is not a Microsoft setting, but there is an app called Search Deflector. The app’s creator says it’s “a small system utility that redirects searches made from the start menu or Cortana to whatever browser and search engine you prefer, removing ties with Microsoft Edge and Bing.” It’s available at github.com/spikespaz/search-deflector. If you’re looking to switch to a browser that doesn’t track you or collect your information, you could make DuckDuckGo (duckduckgo.com) your default search engine.

Check Your Data and Dinosaurs

Were dinosaurs living near your house millions of years ago? You can find out at dinosaurpictures.org by clicking on the link to their interactive globe of ancient Earth. Be prepared for changes in water levels and locations.

Internet Explorer 11 is finally going out of support next year, but it’s dropping out of Microsoft Teams support next month. Some of you may still use IE 11 because you are used to it or you have sites that seem to work best in the browser. It is time to switch to Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi or any browser based on Chromium from Google.

If you have a digital voice assistant, such as Alexa, you may want to tell it to delete conversations on a regular basis. Saying “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” should take care of it—but you have to find the buried setting: open Alexa on your phone and go to Settings, Alexa Account, Alexa Privacy, and Review Voice History. Toggle to “Enable deletion by voice” and start a daily habit. Other assistants have abilities like this, but they are buried or enabled with different methods.

Likewise, you should download and check the data (and settings) you have posted on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. I would include Google as another place to check. As each service has different ways to do this, the best advice is to access the site’s help section and search for some variation of “download archive” or “download settings.” It may seem intimidating, but it is good to know what details of your life each service is keeping.

Smartphone photos must be backed up if they have value to you. You can backup online (for $2–$3 a month) or to your computer. Check that your backups are actually being backed up. Many online services have a way for you to see what is stored on their sites. If you transfer photos to your own computer, make sure they are backed up to an external hard drive, for example.

An intriguing news comparison site, Ground News, helps check and adjust news sources to burst news bubbles and counter biases, or to see how reporting changes over time. For their full suite of features, you need to subscribe, but you can start to explore what they offer at web.ground.news.

Move Your Music, Swap Your Window

Google Play Music is going away by the end of this year, which means you need to back up your music or transfer it to another one of Google’s products, such as YouTube Music. Backing up your music (and other Google info, if you want) is done through visiting takeout.google.com. Once logged in, select the data to include (your music is under Google Play Music) and then click through the next two screens and wait for the download to be prepared for you. If you would rather just transfer music to YouTube Music, you can do it through music.youtube.com/transfer or through the YouTube Music app on your smart phone.

If you plug in your laptop and it does not charge, there are a variety of things to check. Start at the outlet. Check the end that plugs into the power inverter box; pull it out and put them back together. If you can remove the battery, do so (having powered down the laptop first), and unplug the power into the laptop. Hold down the power button to clear any still stored electricity and then, leaving the battery out, plug in the power and turn on the laptop. If it powers up, you might need to replace the battery. Make sure you are using the right power adapter; if the plug fits, it doesn’t mean it can actually charge your laptop. Look for damage or feel if the plug hole feels looser than it used to. You might want to try a new charger, ideally one from the laptop manufacturer.

While trying to explore the variety of different time management strategies, I discovered a survey at Todoist (see link at fairviewtowncrier.com/links). They are pushing their own product, but it might help you figure out how to choose between all the buzzwords. The beauty of the advice is that they recognize the role of paper in planning for some people.

If you are bored some afternoon while looking at your screen, live-streaming webcams can suck you in as much as cat videos. Starting with random views can be fun. Try window-swap.com, which almost makes me want to have a second monitor. Then there is Africam.com, where the live channels menu is a good place to start. Webcamtaxi.com will let you pick streams through a variety of classifiers. I’ve already spent some time looking at airports. And, finally, there is a Reddit community of purportedly controllable webcams (see link at fairviewtowncrier.com/links). I presume these are all family friendly, but I can’t guarantee it

Video Chat Tips and Windows Update

I have seen some videos that help kids better handle video chat, and I would like to propose that adults follow much of the same advice. Suggestions include choosing the right time of day (when you are calmest and not hungry); having a list of ice-breaker questions to fall back on; having a short agenda; and keeping siblings separate (not all adults are adult). You can always follow-up with targeted emails to track tasks with specific individuals.

While traveling, you can use your smartphone as a WiFi hotspot, which shares your phone’s data with other devices needing to get online. Learn how before you need it. On iPhone and Android, go into settings and find the hotspot options. There are limitations to the number of WiFi devices that can use your hotspot at the same time, and you will want to avoid streaming video too much.

I am still trying to find a fairly universal way to watch streaming media with friends without having to be with them physically. Metastream is a service I have been using lately, as it works with Netflix, Hulu and YouTube, and it seems to handle others that aren’t officially listed. You do need an extension for Firefox or Chrome and, obviously, all people watching need to have their own accounts for paid or account-required services.

If you love to escape into fantasy, you can now watch every animated movie put out by Studio Ghibli. If you aren’t familiar with this Japanese production house, I recommend you start with Spirited Away, the Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature Film in 2003. In the US, HBO Max has exclusive streaming rights; so if you have access to that service, go for it.

The big Windows 10 update, aka May 2020 or version 2004, has been blocked on some computers due to out-of-date drivers and software—and it’s failed on others just because. Before implementing this update when offered by Windows, consider backing up your computer, plan for your computer to be out of commission for the duration of the update (it could be hours), and don’t install this before any major deadline. Make sure you have all hardware driver updates for the make and model of your computer. They are supposed to come through Windows Update, but I have found that it can be good to also use the manufacturers’ branded support tools. Make sure you have 30 to 50 GB of free space, just in case, and unplug all extra devices from the computer.

Avoid COVID-19 Scams, and Tour Museums Around the World

All crises generate scams, both online and over the phone. This is true with COVID-19, so it bears repeating: don’t click on links in Facebook or Twitter posts. Go to fairviewtowncrier.com/links and click on the “Scams” link to review before trying for that free iPhone or seeking help for getting your stimulus check. And if you get a phone call, when in doubt, hang up, look up the offer online, and only then call back.

Museums
Museum visits still are possible over the Internet, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the British Museum, the Vatican Museum (where I stayed in the Sistine Chapel way longer than I could in real life), and a great architectural tour of the Guggenheim Bilbao from Google. The best parts, for me, are the lack of lines and that these online museums are always open. Even North Carolina museums have exhibits online, such as the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Art. For links to these sites, visit fairviewtowncrier.com/links.

Facebook
Some of you may stay away from Facebook to avoid having your data gathered in their databanks. What you may not know is that they often create shadow profiles to collect and store personal information gathered from others on Facebook who have mentioned you or shared your email address and other contact information when asked to by Facebook.

Facebook also purchases massive troves of data. It helps them fill in gaps in their increasingly detailed map of networked friends and relationships, which feeds their uncanny ability to target ads down to the individual level. Unfortunately, you can’t find out if Facebook has created a shadow profile or delete it.

Microsoft 365
Microsoft has rebranded Office 365 as Microsoft 365, but current subscribers won’t see much of a difference. There will be a new Microsoft Family Safety app, as a limited preview, that is supposed to help manage screen time across Windows PCs, Android, Xbox and iOS devices, along with tracking when a family member arrives or departs locations such as home, school or work.

Microsoft 365 is a subscription service, and is only worth it if you like keeping up with the latest versions of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, etc. and if you have three to six devices needing Office. If this is your situation, the yearly $100 fee is cheaper than buying a separate version for each computer or device.

MacBook Pro Tip
If your new MacBook Pro, with four USB-C ports, seems to be overheating at times, try plugging the charging cable into the right side and hooking your other devices into the left.

Disable Windows Tracking
SharpApp (mirinsoft.com) can help you disable tracking functions in Windows 10, uninstall preinstalled and sponsored apps, and re-enable privacy settings undone each time you go through a major Windows 10 upgrade. It is powerful and flexible but not totally intuitive. Take it in small steps.