Data Doctors Tech Tips
Tech Tips for Non-Tech People
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Your mobile devices are likely to be a ‘digital pacifier’ in most households today because, frankly speaking, they keep kids occupied.
It can be very effective in crowded restaurants or in any situation that keeping a restless child from turning disruptive is the goal.
But giving a small child full-access to the entire contents of your smartphone is a pretty bad idea, so you need to learn how to 'childproof’ devices before you hand them over.
The Android and iPhone platforms have lots of built-in option available that will control user access but they need to be turned on, but so many people don’t seem to be aware of how to do it.
You can control what apps the child can use, limit Internet access, lock down purchasing options and block the famous ‘in-app purchases’ if you just take a few minutes to set things setup.
They all have their own setup options and procedures, so if you need guidance, here’s a good starting point:
iPhone and Android: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2921718/2-easy-ways-to-child-proof-your-android-or-ios-device.html
We all know that phishing scams and various spam are commonly used by hackers to exploit victims, often using clever traps.
Most users keep their guard-up when it comes to scam e-mails, but that’s not the only screen that is likely to be presenting these traps.
A regular scam known as comment spam has been around for a while and it’s only going to get worse.
Early on, it was pretty simple to sniff out posts that promoted working from home or other completely out-of-context posts, but the scammers are getting much more devious.
Whenever you see a breaking news story hit the web or all your social media channels or even on legitimate news sites, comments from users are bound to follow.
Even when you see posts that are making a good point but they include links to learn more, being as suspicious as you are with email is important.
Even if you are certain that a comment is from a real person, you shouldn’t click on the posted link.
I suggest that you do your own manual search for the supposed info, usually by using the headline, just to stay safe from this common form of trickery.
Using your smartphone to make stop-motion videos has been possible for a while thanks to the many available apps, but the Stikbot app uses an entirely different approach.
Their free app will work like all the others that you may have tried by taking your first shot and using the ghost of the first image as a guide to setup the next frame.
For instance, you can make a fork move around your plate by keeping the plate lined up in every frame while you randomly move the fork around it in each frame.
Stikbot differs from others by adding optional stick figures that they sell for around 10 bucks.
The stick figures are designed to help make more interesting stop-motion movies because they have flexible arms and legs as well as suction cups on them all.
It’s an interesting combo of options for that emerging young movie maker:
Making use of a Wi-Fi connection on airplanes is pretty commonplace these days as virtually every airline offers a connection, making long flights more productive.
But keep in mind that everyone else on the flight is sharing your same connection, so it’s never going to be a very fast pipe, but it’s generally better than going without it.
Since we tend to travel with a lot of devices, it’s nice to connect them all the same time, but who wants to pay an extra charge for each gadget?
When you’re in that situation, remember that a laptop can easily be turned into a wifi hotspot so you can share that expensive connection to the rest of your devices.
Mac and Windows computers both have the ability to use Internet-connection sharing so you can also connect to Wi-Fi on your smartphone and tablet for the price of one device.
It’s not just useful on airplanes because many places will charge you by the device for their Internet connection, like a hotel.
Windows users may find that the built-in tool is a bit too complicated, so their’s an easier alternative in an app called ‘Connectify Hotspot’.
You can learn more here:
Mac - http://imore.com/how-turn-your-macs-internet-connection-wifi-hotspot-internet-sharing
Windows - http://howtogeek.com/112050/how-to-turn-your-windows-8-laptop-into-a-wireless-access-point
Connectify Hotspot - http://www.connectify.me/hotspot
Everyone that has used word processors and spreadsheets on a regular basis is likely familiar with using macros that record a combination of keystrokes and commands and assigned a key-combination for future use.
Did you know that iPhones also have a tool available which allows for a similar creation of macros? It’s possible with an app called Workflow!
The Workflow app provides users with the ability to create automated interactions between popular apps on the phone and it’s done by simply ‘dragging and dropping’ the tasks you want to work with.
With over two hundred different ‘actions’ you can setup processes between contacts, calendars, reminders, your browser, reminders, maps, music, photos, your camera and even things like AirDrop, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote and your iCloud account.
For instance, road warriors that often are in search of a nearby coffee shop can create a single tap function in Workflow to make it fast every time.
There are lots of existing workflows created by others that you can use in their gallery, so you don’t even have to create your own to get started.
Anyone wanting to kick their iPhone into high gear should look into the Workflow app in Apple’s App store.
I recently discussed coding with the parent of a young child who was interested in preparing their child with important tech skills.
IMHO it’s one of the best things you can expose a child to, as learning the language of coding will prepare them with valuable skills no matter what vocation they choose.
Coding is not just for programmers and web developers because it has become such a fundamental skill-set that will prepare anyone to leverage the digital world.
One suggestion for getting your child started is with MIT’s ‘Scratch’ project.
The Scratch system shows children ages 8 to 16 how to create programs through interactive stories, games, and animations.
It engaging and will help them learn to reason systematically, think creatively and work with others, which are essential tools for life in today’s digital environment.
And it’s not just for kids, so everyone should look into this incredible free platform at https://scratch.mit.edu
A fantastic feature in Google Docs & Sheets is something called ‘add-ons’ and it’s seemingly a hidden gem for most users!
Add-ons can include Avery Label or general e-mail merge for Mailchimp accounts as well as the ‘Hello Sign’ add-on for using digital signatures.
You can find add-ons that create a table of contents very quickly in the sidebar of documents or add-ons that can send a fax!
Enhancements that create charts, flowcharts, mind maps as well as music notation are just a few upgrades you can make to Google’s free online version of Microsoft Office.
To check out all the add-ons, just open any document or sheet and look for the ‘Add-ons’ menu towards the top and tap the ‘Get Add-ons’.
The great thing is, that once you add these features, they’re available in all your past or future documents and spreadsheets.
The add-on options will continue to grow as more developers create more tools, so be sure you check back regularly to discover all the new awesome free tools!
The Internet is crawling with sites that claim to know the best days and times to buy your airline tickets, but the reality is that it’s way too complicated to be that simple.
Those of you that typically plan trips in advance should look into the offerings from Hopper.
Hopper generates visual tips on the best time to fly and buy specific routes.
The app brings up reports on what prices are available for any trip you’re looking into and when you are flexible, show you the cheapest days to fly.
They also predict whether prices are most likely to go down or up along with the airlines that are generally the cheapest for your trip.
The app can also monitor your upcoming trip and check daily prices to find great deals and notify you when you should buy.
Anyone looking for solid information before booking your next a flight should download the app at: http://Hopper.com
For those that use Google Maps on a regular basis, you may have missed, like I did, an addition to the app that was subtle put useful.
You are no doubt familiar with the icon in the bottom right corner of the app, which when tapped, repositions your map to your current location.
Well, just to the left is the ‘Explore’ icon which is a helpful tool, especially when you are in unfamiliar places.
Tapping the ‘Explore’ icon will ask Google to find nearby places to eat, drink, see a movie, find live music or other popular attractions.
It defaults to show you what’s nearby within a 20-minute drive, but you can change what you want as the ‘near you’ distance including a 5 minute walk.
Not only does it start with what’s near you but also currently open, which you can change so you can plan for what will be open the next morning or tonight instead of now.
While there are a plethora of options that can show you what’s happening around you, nothing beats the convenience of having it right in Google Maps!
Today’s smartphones are modern marvels of technology with more computing power than the technology used by NASA in the 60’s to get man to the moon.
They include vert sophisticated camera technology which allows us all to take awesome images without a lot of technical expertise.
Automatic focus, automatic white balance, automatic exposure and automatic color correction are useful but they all mean nothing when the composition of the picture is bad.
Composition tricks like the ‘rule of thirds’ may be a mystery for many amateur photographers so there’s an app for that!
Camera 51 is the name of the app and it helps most people with the all important composition in picture taking.
By leveraging the technology in your smartphone, it can analyze your scene to provide on-screen guidance that suggests where you should point the camera.
If composition isn’t something you’re very good at, checkout the free Camera51 app: https://www.camera51.com/camera51-app
With the travel season just underway, your smartphone may be one of best ways to discover lots of interesting items near you.
Location-based ‘augmented reality’ within mobile apps will make you aware of interesting locations near you, even why they no longer exist.
My favorite app is ‘Field Trip’ from Google, which I discovered while testing my Google Glass.
The app is a tour guide extraordinaire and will provide you with interesting discoveries and unique places that may be hidden from others.
It will help you learn about local history, to places to shop, eat or have fun.
Select the information you want, and it will pop up on your phone, as you’re walking around wherever you are.
I’ve learned about many interesting tidbits of history near my home an office because of this app.
The app can be extremely helpful while visiting unfamiliar locations because it quickly shows you hidden gems as you are walking down the street.
What have you missed that’s right around you?
Now you can out with the Field Trip app: http://Fieldtripper.com
Those ‘smart’ doorbells which include high-def video and connect through wi-fi are becoming very popular, but it’s best to do some homework before you spend your hard earned money to get one.
The idea of a video that pops up on your phone when anyone rings your doorbell is attractive, but your homes wi-fi coverage is a crucial aspect no matter what device you plan on using.
Top options from companies such as ‘Ring’ or ‘Skybell’ have lots of complaints from users when it comes to reliability and performance particularly in the video area.
A weak or non-existent signal at your front door is going to result in unhappy results when the device relies on wireless signals.
Also watch out for any device that requires a power source when your existing doorbell isn’t hard wired.
Your video images can also be greatly impacted when your camera points into sunlight.
I’d highly recommend that you test the wifi signal at your current doorbell with your smartphone in airplane mode as your first step.
One of my first loves in mobile movie apps in the early years was an app that made awesome silent movies.
The app made it easy to create videos that had the 20's era silent movie look along with classic text slides and funky piano music.
The current version of the app is called 'Vintagio' and it has added lots of new filters to create movies that look like they're from 50’s through the 80’s.
This final version expanded the options for creating classic looking movies on iPhones and iPads.
The basic 'express' mode is for creating simple videos very easily, but I'd highly recommend going to 'Pro Mode' to create some really awesome gems.
In Pro Mode, you can change the speed of the movie, add a stock soundtrack or music from your own library to play along with it.
There are free competitor apps that seem like they do the same thing, but none of them that I've tried have come close to what Vintagio does for a mere 4 dollars.
If you’ve ever been at a large public gathering attempting to connect with your buds, say at a concert or music festival today’s tip is for you.
A couple of programmers have created what they call “the dumbest app ever created” that’s actually pretty useful in these situations.
It’s called ‘LookFor’ and it’s simply a way to turn your smartphone screen into a blinking beacon so that your friends can find you in a large crowd.
You just open the app, choose your color and hold it high in the air so you can tell your friends to look for that color blinking in the crowd.
LookFo can help you hail a cab, connect in a dark club or just about any situation where standing out in a crowd is helpful.
Now, you can reward this brilliant idea by buying the app for either your iPhone or Android device for 99 cents or you can do a search for one of the many free flashlight apps that may do something similar.
Look for flashlight apps that use your smartphone’s entire screen instead of the flash on the camera that also blinks.
LookFor app website: http://www.lookfor.cl
If you are a Mac computer user and you're paying attention, you've probably noticed some concerning security stories about varioius attacks.
So does this mean it's time to finally install an antivirus program on your Apple computer?
The answer primarily depends on the behavior of the users; Apple has been providing basic malware protection since 2009.
Those that keep their operating systems updated and only download apps from Apple's App store have a higher chance of staying safe.
Households with younger Mac users that typically are not afraid to do much of anything online, may find that the extra layer of protection that comes from name brand Internet security software provides some peace of mind.
No matter what you decide when it comes to installing antivirus software on your Mac, it should be pretty clear to everyone that the days of proclaiming “I have a Mac, so I don’t worry” are long gone.
Anyone connected to the Net is constantly a target regardless of what you are using to get online, so we should all act accordingly!
Web-mail services are handy because they allow your to not be tied to any specific device in order to get your mail.
Gmail is by far the favorite system for most of us and if you use it every day like I do, you should learn all the awesome keyboard shortcuts that can make things more efficient.
The available shortcuts can reduce the need to reach for your mouse to perform common tasks, which makes it more efficient.
A lot of the basic shortcuts start by tapping a ‘G’ (as in Gmail) followed by the shortcut character.
For instance, tapping the ‘G’ followed by an ‘A’ will show you all your mail.
‘G’ followed by a ‘D’ jumps you to Draft messages.
Tapping ‘G’ followed by ‘C’ pops up your contacts.
If you make use of ‘Starred’ messages, typing G followed by S shows them to you while G followed by T will pop up your sent messages.
With more than 60 shortcuts available, using gmail without a mouse will make things fly.
Here’s the direct link to all the Gmail shortcuts:
Anyone with home automation or smart devices in their home, like security webcams or connected thermostats knows that they rely heavily on a functioning wireless network.
Smart devices are a wonderful way to remotely monitor your home, business or rental property but they're pretty useless if the wireless network goes down.
In most cases, simply rebooting your router will reset things, but it's a difficult task to accomplish when no one is near the equipment to reset the power.
Some routers can be configured to routinely reset on a regular schedule, but if you want more control, install a 'remote power switch' like I've done.
They allow you to remotely restart anything plugged into them. You can also set them to monitor an Internet connection and automatically restart the power if your connection goes down.
Anyone finding themselves restarting their router on a regular basis may also find some tips in my troubleshooting guide along with a link to the remote power switch option at:
Virtually every airline offers offers Wi-Fi on their flights, but it can cost anywhere from $5 to $50, depending on the device you’re using and the length of the flight.
If you’d like to save money but still want to be productive the next time you fly, today’s tip is for you.
An alternative to paying for slow Internet access to get content you seek, is to ‘queue’ up your desired info prior to your flight using an app called ‘Pocket’ that will work on all your devices.
Pocket’s ‘read it later’ approach is one of the many tools that gathers content for later access without the need for an Internet connection.
Pocket will work with all your devices, which means when you save content on one device, you can read it later on all your other devices without being connected to the Internet.
The platform won’t let you watch saved videos when you aren’t connected, but Pocket will allow you to create a virtual newspaper with only the information that interests you for your next long flight.
Learn more at: https://getpocket.com
The use of phishing scams have become a primary tool for starting many of today’s sophisticated hacking attacks, even more so when a company becomes a target.
The attackers know that it will only take one person in the company to fall for a well crafted email for them to start their attack.
Whenever I work with business owners on cyber-security, a radical suggestion that I present to them is to quit using e-mail for all inter-company communications.
If you consider that most successful corporate phishing scams look like they’re from someone in the company, you can understand why victims tend to let their guard down.
If you can move your company away from e-mail for inter-company communications, it will make it very easy for all your employees to spot phishing scams.
A very popular option is located at Slack.com, not only allows for a more secure communicate channel, it can also improve efficiency in other ways as well.
The Slack platform works on any type of computing device and you can give it a try with an unlimited time free account!
So called ‘Smart LED bulbs’ were being shown by a large number of companies at CES this year, but one firm in particular, is focused on making lightbulbs do a lot more than just create light.
Sengled has a complete line of bulbs that incorporate other electronics in their lightbulbs that includes everything from wifi boosters to security cameras to speakers.
Pulse Solo, for instance, is a paired set of LED bulbs that have JBL speakers in them to light up your room and get you dancing. It’s designed to work with all your Bluetooth audio devices.
The ‘Boost’ lightbulb also has a Wi-Fi booster built-in, which can come in handy for blacked out areas of Wi-Fi in your house.
My favorite offering is called ‘Snap’, which has a camera, motions sensors & facial recognition built right into the bulb.
You can checkout all of these cool products at http://Sengled.com
Fitness monitors have been all the rage for the past couple of years, but they can get kind of expensive with prices that range from 100 to 300 dollars.
But it’s assumed that a dedicated device on your wrist is more accurate than just using an app on your smartphone, right?
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that many apps on a smartphone can be as accurate or in some cases, more accurate than expensive fitness bands for tracking daily steps and activity.
Their tests were performed on treadmills so it may not reflect real-life movements, especially when you don’t have your smartphone on you.
But, anyone trying to find the motivation to exercise through the tracking of their daily activities, isn’t required to purchase an expensive gadget.
There are many solid smartphone apps and lots of them are free.
iPhone users can checkout Argus or Moves or the Runtastic apps which work on both Android or iPhone devices.
IMHO, anything that keeps you motivated to continue to commit to daily exercise is a really good thing, so what are you waiting for?