This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of the Badger Farm & Oliver's Battery Community News. Here I have added much more information than I had space for in the original.
When Santa receives letters like this, I do hope he has a techie-elf in his workshops to help him find a good computer. But if not, here are some pointers he (and you!) can use.
My choice is the Intel Core series, which come in four flavours: i3, i5, i7 and the newer i9. The latter two are for gaming and other intensive tasks such as media creation. A Core i3 is great for light use – the internet, office work and basic photo editing – but a Core i5 will, in general, be more powerful. cpubenchmark.net ranks the performance of nearly 3000 processors so you can check you’re getting a good one.
The extra bits. You'll often see a processor described as, for example, Intel Core i5-9300H Quad-Core Processor. This can give you clues to how good it is:
4Gb is adequate for day-to-day computing but 8Gb or more will definitely make a difference.
Internal storage comes in two types. The traditional HDD (hard disk drive) is a mechanical device so runs slower. The newer SSD (solid-state drive) has no moving parts and runs much quicker but is more expensive, although prices are dropping. One option is to have two internal drives: install Windows and all your applications on a small (128Gb/256Gb) SSD so that they run super-fast and have a larger (1TB) HDD to store everything else.
One of the most intensive tasks for the computer is displaying everything on the screen. To take the pressure off the CPU, all computers have a graphics processing unit. 'If you want to play high-end games or do serious 3D modeling, you need to get a laptop with a more powerful, discrete graphics chip from Nvidia or AMD that takes over from the Intel GPU when you launch graphics-hungry programs. However, most mainstream users can get good enough performance from Intel's built-in' (aka Integrated) 'graphics.' laptopmag.com/articles/intel-hd-graphics-comparison
Screen size is obvious: weigh up portability, battery use and, most importantly, usability. Think about the screen resolution too. Look for at least 1920x1080 Full HD. 1366x768 HD screens may be priced more attractively but you could pay for the lower resolution in a lack of clarity and possibly with eyestrain.
Make sure there are enough USB – preferably the faster 3.0 – ports to connect all your devices (mouse, external hard drive etc). If you want to connect to a monitor or a TV you may need an HDMI port too.
Be aware that, as most software is downloaded these days, not many laptops come with a CD/DVD drive.
Christmas Greetings from my own techie-elves! I hope they help you as much as they help me :)
As well as being Winchester Computer Tutor, since the spring I've been the editor of a local newsletter, the Badger Farm and Oliver's Battery Community News. I've enjoyed redesigning the newsletter and when setting up my first edition I took a long time choosing the fonts. Font choice is like housework – no-one notices when you do a good job, but everyone notices when you don't!
The right font can make a difference in the way you get your message across, not just in publications like Community News, but in work and personal documents and even in emails. If you're designing a website, font choice becomes even more critical:
‘it can have a real effect on your site's bounce rates and conversion rates, especially if you choose a font that's hard for your visitors to read.’ kinsta.com/blog/best-google-fonts.
Windows 10 comes with around 100 fonts already installed, with a few more available from the Microsoft store. While that sounds like a lot, you may still feel that you can't find the perfect font for your project. So where can you get new ones?
It takes time and effort to design a great font, so many cost a lot of money and have restrictions on, for example, commercial use. There are sites that offer free fonts, but some are notorious for pirating copyrighted fonts or including malware, so you must choose carefully.
If in doubt, go with the big boys. And they don't get bigger than Google. With over 900 free fonts at fonts.google.com, your problem may be that there's too much choice. You can use the search tools to find fonts based on their type (serif or handwriting, for example), language or other characteristics. You can also use the font pairings recommendations to find fonts that work well together. When you've found your ideal font, select, download and install it: HowToGeek will guide you through this process.
If the Google fonts don’t meet your needs, other reputable font sites are dafont.com, fontspace.com and fontsquirrel.com.
Some of my favourites for fun projects are Ink Draft from the Microsoft store; Courgette, Parisienne, Poiret One from Google; Kingthings Wrote, Montez and 1942 report from Font Squirrel. The medieval section of FontSpace has a great collection of illustrated letters and there's a party atmosphere in the Mexican section of daFont!
One word of warning – too many fonts can slow down your computer, so don't get too carried away.
Summer means holidays. Holidays mean photographs. Lots and lots of photographs.
If you're like me, when you get home and go through them, you'll find a few that you want to do more with. Or one special one that would make a perfect painting, but you just don't have the artistic skills. And if you're really like me, you'll wonder if there's some technology to help you make the most of them.
The free versions of both apps have their limitations. With Prisma you need to pay to unlock HD quality and many of the styles while Deep Art shows ads while it is processing the image and places a small watermark in the bottom corner of the final picture. But I think the end results are worth it.
I’ve rebranded my column from Computer Corner to Tech Talk. Why? To reflect how computers have evolved from “the PC sitting on your desk” to “the tech you carry around all day”.
Think back to the days when the family would crowd round (or fight over) the only computer in the house. When you used dial-up internet and waited for 10 minutes for a song to download. How things have changed. Now, you catch up with your favourite shows on iPlayer while tweeting on your tablet and messaging on your phone. Then you jump onto your laptop to do some research or your console to play a game with friends. Switching from wifi to mobile data, you carry on regardless of whether you’re in the house, on the bus or even half-way up a mountain.
Interestingly, this was Apple’s dream back in the early eighties. “What we want to do at Apple, is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes ... And we really want to do it with a radio link in it so you don’t have to hook up to anything and you’re in communication with all of these larger databases and other computers.” One of the keys to the success of this dream is the communication with the “other computers” or what we now term the Cloud.
The Cloud still has an air of mystery but is just a short way of saying “software and services that run on the Internet, instead of locally on your computer” (Re/code). With the average broadband speed now 825 times faster than that old dial-up connection, it’s now not an issue to store huge amounts of data elsewhere and access it on the fly.
So, when you store pictures on Google photos, you’re using the Cloud. When you read email on your iPad, you’re using the Cloud. When you post to Facebook, ask Siri a question, update a shared document, stream a Netflix movie … well, you get the idea!
Using the Cloud means that, whichever device you have to hand, you can carry on exactly where you left off. Of course, it helps if the apps you use synchronise across all your devices. If you’re invested in the Apple world, you should find that everything works beautifully. And Windows and Android play nicely together, a cooperation that I imagine will only get stronger as Microsoft is moving to use Google’s software in its Edge browser.
“Cloud is about how you do computing, not where you do computing.” Enjoy the freedom that it brings.
As winter approaches, it’s a good time to look back and see how well I’ve stuck to my News Year’s Resolutions. Some haven’t been great. But “Get more organised” – that’s a YES! How? With the help of Trello.
In essence a virtual pinboard, in Trello you can organise almost anything. From a simple list of chores at home to a complex Kanban-based project at work, Trello helps you manage information in a clear, visual way. I’ve used it as a recipe catalogue, a holiday planner and for information sharing on my “Tech tips” board. Other people have used Trello for lesson planning, product roadmaps, keeping up with friends, job searches, party planning, tracking life goals. There are so many ideas on trello.com/inspiration.
Getting started with Trello is easy: add a board, personalise it with a background picture, add some lists and finally add your cards. Give each card a title, then open them to include more details – notes, checklists, pictures, links, labels, documents and dates. The Getting Started Guide on help.trello.com walks you through everything from adding your first board to using Trello like a pro while the Trello Features board shows many of the features in action. For a step-by-step introduction, watch the Getting Started With Trello video.
If you have a group of friends or colleagues who want to work together on a project, you can create “teams” to allow them to collaborate on a board. Assign each card to a person and you can easily share information and track progress on everyone’s tasks.
Trello has been developed to support a wide range of users and this is reflected in its flexibility. Each board can have its own Power-Up which extends its functionality. While most of these are more useful if you’re using Trello at work, some like TreeView, Voting, Calendar or, especially, Custom Fields help you tailor your personal boards to best fit your project. See them all at trello.com/power-ups. Another useful add-on is the Chrome extension; click this to add any webpage as a Trello card. But you’re not limited to using Trello in a browser.
My only complaint is that boards with a few hundred cards warn of slow performance. But given that, even in the free version, you can have unlimited boards it’s easy to split your information into smaller boards which can be linked in an overview board. You can easily move cards between boards using the "Move..." button on the back of cards.
If your New Year’s Resolution this coming year is “Get more organised”, you might want to give Trello a go.
Genealogy was transformed by the internet. Information that once took cross-country trips to record offices or churches to find can now be accessed with a few clicks. It’s probably why genealogy is now one of the most popular online activities. If you want to give it a go, where can you start?
If later you find you want to either share your tree or have extra functionality, you can export your tree from this to an online or a paid package.
Start building your tree by talking to family and recording their information. Once you’ve got the bare bones, you’ll want to fact-check and add to it. I suggest starting with familysearch.org. While some of its finds are locked behind the paywall of its sister site findmypast.com, its collection is comprehensive and transcriptions of many records can be viewed for free. Then there’s ancestry.co.uk; from 1970s phone books to Tudor probate records, you’ll find something about your ancestors here. For details that are behind the paywall, take advantage of the occasional times they offer free access or login for free at the library.
There are also sites where genealogy is done for passion not profit. Run by volunteers, they focus either on making records available free or on amalgamating information to move you forward in your research. A few to check out:
“Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking.”
A few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined giving up on Windows Live Mail. But in January 2017 Microsoft ended support for this much-loved program, leaving it susceptible to security vulnerabilities, so I decided to hunt for a replacement. If you make the same choice, this may help.
If Windows 10 Mail is too simple, Outlook too expensive and Thunderbird too different you may find that eM Client becomes your new favourite.
Until recently, when a family member died you would look through their filing cabinet to find details of their accounts, browse their address book to find their contacts and inherit their physical photo albums.
But my accounts for banks and utilities are online. My contacts are in Google and Outlook and my photos in several places, to keep them safe. Then there are my email accounts and accounts for all the social media, shopping, travel sites I use … the list seems endless. I must get organised so I don’t leave my children a digital nightmare.
The first thing I’ll do is put together a prioritised list of my accounts and give clear instructions on what needs to happen to them, particularly any that have a financial aspect such as Paypal and my online subscriptions. As this is sensitive data, I need to be careful where it’s saved. I considered Mega’s encrypted cloud storage and Turtl’s encrypted note-taking software but decided the best option is to keep copies on two (one live, one backup) USB drives. I’ll plug these in to my computer when I’m editing them, but otherwise keep them in a secure box.
There’s conflicting advice on whether passwords should be included in this list. Even when it’s not a criminal offence for an executor to access my account, it’s often against a site’s terms and conditions. I hope that over time this will be legally clarified, but for the moment, I’m going to have to decide for each account individually.
Some companies allow me to specify what happens to my account after my death. I’ll start by using Google’s Inactive Account Manager and setting up a legacy contact in Facebook – as I do more, I’ll add their details to the comments here, along with useful links.
For photos, I’ll download the ones I want kept and save them on an external hard drive, along with my exported contacts from Google and Outlook.
Finally, as I password protect my desktop on my computer, I’m going to add a trusted person in Windows 10 settings > Accounts > Family & other people. They won’t be able to log in to my desktop, but they will be able to use the File Explorer to access my documents.
Yes, there’s a lot to think about! I’ll be reading “Death in the Digital Age”, “Digital assets - What happens to them when I die?” and “My Digital legacy” as a starting point for more information. But I hope that my efforts now will avoid later hassle for my children.
I wouldn’t advocate, as some suggest, taking the side off your desktop computer to give it a thorough clean unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing. But there’s no harm in running over the outer casing with the soft-brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner, particularly near the fans as these can accumulate huge amounts of dust. Just turn the computer’s power off first!
I do suggest spending an hour or two going through your computer and dejunking. Delete unneeded documents and tidy up your photos. Weed out old emails. Declutter your desktop. Check your Downloads folder: it’s amazing how many files end up in there—sometimes with multiple copies. Open the Apps & features area in Windows Settings and remove any programs you know you’ll never use again.
One of my favourite clean-up tools is ccleaner. I mainly use it to tidy up less-accessible files, such as cookies, browser history and the temporary files created by my programs. This not only gives me more disk space, it can make a noticeable difference in the performance of my browser. If you don’t want to install new software, the Disk Clean-up tool, included in the System or Administrative tools in all versions of Windows, will do a more basic clean-up. However, ccleaner also offers extra tools to, for example, find out which types of file are using your disk space and to identify and delete duplicated files. This LifeHacker article has excellent advice on using ccleaner.
For pictures, I found ccleaner a little lacking. Since writing this article originally I've tried a number of different tools for finding duplicate images. My favourite, which I've used to safely delete many gigabytes of duplicate photos on my laptop is the modestly named Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder. Specify your Pictures folder—or, ideally, a sub-folder as this can take a very long time to perform the initial analysis on a large folder—click Search and ISP shows you all your duplicate photos, along with information to help you decide which copy to keep and which to delete. Simple, effective and free, what more could you ask for?
As a bonus recommendation, if you want something that covers more than just pictures and is more flexible than ccleaner or you could try Clone Spy.
One final note: after you’ve cleaned everything up: it’s an ideal time run a backup! And then sit back and enjoy your freshly organised computer.
Even accompanied by a steaming glass of mulled wine, there’s one Christmas job I find tedious – addressing Christmas card envelopes. My answer? Use Microsoft Word to automatically create address labels. Here’s how.
Start by creating a list of all your names and addresses. Create a new Word document and insert a table with columns for Name, Address 1, Address 2, City, Postcode and, if you’re sending abroad, Country. The next job is to fill in the table and then save the document. The good news is that this a job you’ll only need to do once as you’ll be able to use the same information next year!
When that’s done, create another new document. Then, in the Mailings tab click on Start Mail Merge, then Step-by-Step Mail Merge Wizard and a new Mail Merge bar will open on the right-hand side.
Step 1: Click on Labels and then Next: Starting Document.
Step 2: You need to tell Word which labels you’re using, which turns out to be the trickiest part of the process! Select Change document layout and then click on Label options… In the window that appears, select the label manufacturer and product number. I use Avery-compatible 14-per-sheet labels and had to Google to get the right product number (it was J8163). Click OK to confirm that Word can change the layout of your document then click Next: Select recipients.
Step 3: As you’ve already created your address list, select Use an existing list then Browse… Choose the document that has all your addresses in, then click Open and OK. Word will place the «Next Record» field in all but the first label. Next, click on Next: Arrange your labels to design your label.
Step 4: Add an Address Block… You can play around with the options in the Insert Address Block dialog box but I find that the default ones usually work well. When you’re happy with the layout of your address, click OK and «AddressBlock» will appear in the first label.
At this stage, you can make your labels look festive; maybe change the fonts or insert a picture like these from pixabay.com. Click Update all labels to copy your design into the other labels then Next: Preview your labels.
Step 5: If you’re not happy with how your labels look click on Previous: Arrange your labels to make changes. Otherwise, click Next: Complete the merge.
Step 6: Click Print… then OK, select your printer and OK again to enjoy your beautifully presented labels.
Wishing you a very happy (and tedium-free) Christmas!
Recently, someone in Jakarta changed the details of my Paypal account. Adaline Alexander from Alabama purchased three songs on my iTunes account. And in a moment of madness, I bought an $800 Dell laptop for Loretta Lestrange from New York.
Of course, none of these things actually happened. But someone wanted me to believe that they had, to trick me into giving them my details. According to PayPal, “approximately 90% of all email sent worldwide falls into the spoof, phishing, spam, and general junk category.” So how do you spot a dodgy email?
For more tips, take a look at www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/how-to-spot-an-email-scam.
Browser extensions are little programs that extend the functionality of your browser. They’re easy to add (see the great instructions on LifeWire) and can make your browser a safer, more productive or more fun place. There are thousands available and the ones that work best for you will depend on how you use the internet. Here are four of my favourites to give you ideas.
uBlock Origin: Adverts are a mixed blessing. Reputable sites use advertising revenue to pay for valuable content they make available for free. But when websites allow the adverts take over, you can use an adblocker like uBlock origin to do something about it. By default, uBlock is very simple: it hides all the adverts on a page. If you decide you want to support the website, just a couple of clicks will show the ads. uBlock also warns you if you click on a link that will take you to one of the questionable sites it’s aware of.
LastPass: Although there have been some recent concerns about security vulnerabilities in password managers, the advice is still that “the benefits … outweigh the risks”. I rely on LastPass to remember all my passwords; this extension automatically pops the right password in the right place, allowing me to login with ease. It also recognises when I use a new password and will save it if required.
Dream Afar: I love the simplicity of Chrome. But to me, the New Tab page takes that simplicity too far and is just … boring! To fix that, I’ve installed Dream Afar. The stunning pictures can be set to change daily or hourly, while choosing a one-minute update interval pretty much guarantees you’ll see a different image each time you open a new tab. Love a photo? Download it with a single click and keep it forever. Add to that an easily accessible search bar, a list of my most visited sites and quick links to my Chrome bookmarks, apps and history and you have what I think is one of the best new-tab extensions out there.
Save to Pocket: If you’ve ever found yourself reading an article or watching a video when you really should be doing something else, just because you’re afraid you won’t find it again, help is here. A single click on Save to Pocket will save the page to a read-it-later list at getpocket.com allowing you to easily go back to it when you’ve got some free time!
My other favourites include OneTab and Wayback Machine. What are yours? Share in the comments.
In 2009, when my Dad forwarded this chain email to me I replied, “Thanks for the heads up, but actually, this is a hoax ... see www.snopes.com/computer/internet/hackermail.asp. It's always worth checking on snopes - a site which exists to debunk urban myths and other such things - before forwarding them on.” But that was eight years ago, so why am I raising it now?
There has always been misinformation flying around the internet, but it has never seemed more prevalent than it is today. From hoaxes through dubious sites luring you with click-bait to increase their advertising revenue to “fake news” designed to sway your opinion it’s undeniable that we live in a world where we need to fact-check more than ever.
While the internet can be an outlet for widespread misinformation, it also inspires a community developing tools to fight back. Tools like:
The advice I gave to my Dad all those years ago still holds true. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t trust everything you read on the internet.”
A picture can inspire, can calm or can amuse. And if you spend many hours in front of your computer, what better showcase for the pictures you love than your desktop? Fortunately, Windows makes it really easy to create your own exhibition. Here’s how!
The first thing to do is create a folder for your chosen pictures. Open File Explorer and navigate to an appropriate place—probably the Pictures folder. Right-click and select New > Folder. Give this folder an appropriate name, eg Desktop pictures, then close File Explorer. Now right-click anywhere on the Desktop and select Personalise. In the dropdown menu underneath Background, select Slideshow. Click Browse under Choose albums for your slideshow, navigate to the folder you’ve just created and then click Choose this folder. Choose how often you want to change the picture and then Choose a fit—I find Fill usually works best. The final tweak I like to make is to click Colours on the right-hand side and then tick the box next to Automatically pick an accent colour from my background.
Now the folder’s ready, it’s time to get some photos in there. The obvious thing to do is to use your own photos so you’re constantly reminded of that wonderful holiday, that amazing sporting achievement or the cute antics of your cat. Just copy those pictures into the Desktop pictures folder you created earlier and sit back and enjoy.
But what if you just want something different, perhaps views of places you’ve never been? Sites like Pixabay and unsplash.com have an amazing variety of quality-controlled, copyright-free photos submitted by the community that you can download for free and use for whatever you wish. Just be aware that some of these sites include a few sponsored non-free pictures in their search results to help finance themselves.
Personally, I’m currently inspired by the stunning high-resolution images, like the one above, from the Windows 10 lock screen. These are so easy to download using the SpotBright app from the App Store. Read more about this on Windows Central.
Don’t forget that you can ring the changes just by swapping the photos you have in your folder, or by choosing a new folder. Feeling stressed? Immerse yourself in some calming beach scenes. Feeling artistic? Show off your Prisma creations. Feeling festive? Get your desktop “beginning to look a lot like Christmas”.
And on that note, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas. If you didn’t get a chance last year, enjoy my advent calendar with a different festive video every day.
In my spring article on spring cleaning your computer I wanted to recommend tools which, while great in themselves, needed to be downloaded from freeware sites. The trouble is, these sites offer traps for the unwary so here are some tips on how to more safely use them.
Trap 1: misleading search results
Search for a program and some search engines such as Bing and (these days to a lesser extent) Google, will show adverts at the top of the page. Beware of clicking these. The second result when searching “chrome download” on Bing is uk-download.com which admits that “When you choose to download the software that is available on this site, you may be presented with offers from third-party advertisers.” Make sure that, where possible, you download from the official website. And if something’s not free on the official site, be very suspicious of sites on which it is free.
Trap 2: too many buttons
Looking to download a program, you go to its page on a freeware site and only to see multiple buttons: “Update Drivers Now”, “Download Now!”, “>”, “GET IT NOW”.
Which is the right one to download your program? To find out, install an ad-blocking extension such as Adblock Plus or, my favourite due to its low memory use, µBlock Origin. These remove advertising content, giving you a very clean webpage with only one button … the one you really need. Note that the new Microsoft Edge doesn’t yet support extensions so you currently can’t use this trick on that browser.
Trap 3: bundleware
Now you’ve clicked the right button and downloaded the setup file you go to run it. STOP! Some developers “bundle” other programs with their own. And some freeware sites, like the notorious download.cnet.com, will take clean programs and add in extra software—called PUPs or Potentially Unwanted Programs—that you really don’t want. Why do they do this? They get paid for it! So, whenever you download something, don’t just open it. Use Show in Folder to find it in your Downloads folder, right-click it and run anti-virus and anti-malware scans.
Trap 4: express install
If offered a choice between Express and Custom Install, always use Custom; it’s not just for “advanced users”. Custom allows you to choose exactly what does and doesn’t get installed—check all the options carefully—and should prevent you ending up with anything that’s slipped through your previous checks.
A final tip: to avoid these traps, whenever possible use ninite.com, “a safe, centralized place to get the freeware you need”. Read more on howtogeek.com.