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.

Cookies, New Systems, Chromebooks, and Vacations

Clearing browser history and data manually or automatically can help reduce tracking cookies. Of course, each browser has its own method and to save space, I suggest that you Google or search the internet for “clear browser history” and the name of your browser (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome – or another browser you use).

I like to use the metaphor of getting used to a new car whenever someone says they cannot get used to an updated program or operating system. When you really want to use a new tool, you might complain but you still learn how to use it, as you know it will help you accomplish a given task more quickly or better.

Batteries

Microsoft has improved app-specific battery usage in Windows 10. Go to Settings > System > Battery > Battery Usage by App, where you can find how much battery specific apps are using. This also is where, per app, you can (counter-intuitively) uncheck the box that lets Windows decide when the app can still run in the background.

Chromebooks

Chromebooks are wonderful and often inexpensive laptops, but two common software packages don’t run on them. But now one of them, Office, is finally available for an increasing number of Chromebooks on the Google Play Store. Just beware, if your screen size is larger than 10.1 inches, you will need an active Office 365 subscription.

Vacations

Vacations often lead to overflowing inboxes when you get back – that is, if you are actually doing what you are supposed to do on a vacation and not working. However, you might be able to manage it better by first telling people via an email autoresponder that you will be back a few days later than you really plan on. Do not start new projects a few days before you leave. If you can swing it, at least check in a few minutes every other day to weed out spam and forward emails to those who can handle your tasks while you are gone. And if you can set filters for certain very important people, learn how to implement that to avoid missing things that should not be missed.

Upgrade Now, Go Gray, Blast Off & More

Microsoft is ending their last way to get a free Windows 10 upgrade, the one where you could claim you needed their “assistive technologies” built into Windows. This free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 ends December 31. If you’ve been holding off but wish to upgrade, do it this month.

There is a cute brain hack that might make it easier to take time away from your smart phone. Go gray, turn off color. Both Android and iOS have features, usually in accessibility, to turn the screen to grayscale and it is amazing how that alone can dampen interest in always looking at the screen.

Google Maps has moved into outer space. There are five planets and nine moons you can explore without suffering the heavy Gs of a space launch. Simply go to Google Maps on a computer (not on a phone), make sure you are in satellite mode, zoom out until you see the planet Earth and a list of the planets and moons listed on the side.

A thousand (and maybe one) fonts can be sorted and previewed, with some interesting results, at The Anatomy of a Thousand Typefaces (getflourish.github.io/anatomy-of-typefaces). It could be more productive than staying on Facebook.

It might be time to discover different music or to find out what people are listening to outside the U.S. Both Spotify and SoundCloud offer ways to find the top 50 songs in different countries, as do other services like indie artist favorite bandcamp.com. And even services like Tunein.com and Shazam.com have ways to find and filter music popular in other countries.

If you’re using a Mac and a PC and miss being able to copy and paste between the two, you can now make that happen. With a Google account and a login and app downloaded from 1clipboard.io, you can have your clipboard and history of previous clips shared and used between all your computers. Of course, some might ask why you use so many different computers, but that’s a different column.

When using Google Docs and your fingers are getting tired, turn to its built-in Voice Typing. You must have the latest version of the Chrome browser on Mac or Windows and, of course, a microphone (something all laptops have built-in, as do all-in-one computers). Open a Google doc, click on the Tools menu and then click on Voice Typing. Activate the microphone icon, and be aware of ambient noise. You can turn off the mic icon when you don’t want your voice transcribed. Somewhat similar features are available in the smartphone versions of Chrome.

Encrypting your hard drive is a great security trick and may even be “required” in some industries. But don’t forget to encrypt those backup drives and USB sticks also.