Data Doctors Tech Tips
Tech Tips for Non-Tech People
We give quick, one minute tech tips each weekday! Join us on a radio station near you as we talk tech. It's Tech Tips for Non-Tech People! You can post questions on Facebook anytime!
We’ve given you tips in the past on extending the battery life on your smartphone, but did you know that most of those suggestions will also extend the life of your laptop battery?
Turning down the screen brightness is the #1 tip as powering the screen is almost 50% of the drain and just like your smartphone, turn off Wifi and Bluetooth if you aren’t using them.
If you have devices plugged into a USB port that you aren’t using, unplug them so your computer isn’t constantly querying them for updates.
Extreme temperature is the number one killer of batteries, so never turn your computer on or charge it when it’s hot or cold to the touch.
Waiting until the battery has reached room temperature will dramatically lengthen the life of the battery.
You should also avoid using your laptop on a pillow, blanket or any soft surface that might block the cooling vents and cause your laptop to heat up.
And screen savers that display your favorite photos might be fun, but they eat up your battery, so switch to a blank screen for the best results.
Ever want to meet with someone at a mutually convenient location because they are kind of far away?
If you happen to be familiar with the area, you could probably figure something out, but if not, you waste a lot of time trying to figure out where to meet.
The good news is, there’s an app and a website for that! Android users can use an app called Meet Me Halfway.
Just put the starting points into the app and the actual halfway point will be determined with a whole host of possible meeting places.
You can use physical addresses, zip codes or the city to get started and tapping on a pin will tell you if the facility is currently open or closed.
You can filter your results for specific types of establishments so you can hone in on the type of meeting place you prefer.
If you want more details, you can open the location in Google Maps or share the location with the person you’re meeting
Another option is the MeetWays.com website which works for computers and mobile devices.
There’s a component to surfing the Internet that’s known as a DNS server that plays a critical role in getting you to the sites you want to visit.
DNS stands for Domain Name System and it acts like a traffic cop giving your computer directions whenever you type in a web address.
Your DNS settings are generally determined by your Internet Service Provider, but there are some significant benefits to changing from your defaults.
You can increase reliability and Internet speeds and if you’re a parent, you can automatically block adult content or malicious websites for your children.
One of my favorite free services is OpenDNS because it’s fast, reliable, easy to setup and gives you total control over what you want to filter and what you want to allow through.
My recommendation is to change the DNS settings in your home router so that everything in your home has improved performance and protection.
For specific directions, check the support section of the router manufacturer’s website or get some help.
Speaking a foreign language can be pretty intimidating, especially when you are self-conscious about how you are pronouncing words.
Hearing someone else say it properly can greatly improve your confidence, but calling a bilingual friend on the phone every time you want to hear a phrase isn’t very practical.
A site called http://forvo.com is setup to be your multi-lingual virtual friend that can help you pronounce words in over 300 languages.
This crowdsourced site allows people from around the world record how they say things in their native tongue, so even if the word or phrase isn’t in their database, someone will record the proper pronunciation for you.
If you’re about to embark on a trip to a foreign country, you can download the audio for words and phrases you want to rehearse and listen to them whenever you want.
If you need to translate from English first, ask Google to translate it then go to Forvo.com to hear how it’s pronounced!
Now you can go forward with confidence when you order that next meal in a foreign cafe!
If you’ve ever done research on the web, you know that you shouldn’t assume the information you find on a single site is totally accurate.
Finding similar sites to verify or dispute the information you’re researching is one way of validating, but finding those related sites can get laborious.
That’s where a search engine called http://www.similarsitesearch.com can speed things up.
It’s a search engine that focuses on finding sites that are similar, related or alternatives based on keywords, topics and categories.
Just put a website into the search engine and it will bring back a list of sites that are similar ranked by their popularity.
It’s truly a quick way to get a massive list of potential resources for just about anything you’re researching.
You can help the site improve its rankings by giving each suggestion a thumbs up or thumbs down based on how accurate you feel the results are.
It’s one of those resources that you’ll love when you need it, so bookmark it!
Do you find yourself being more productive at your local coffee house than you do in your office or home?
Is it the coffee that makes it more productive or is it the environment?
Well research suggests that it may be the ambient noise that’s making you more creative or productive.
Totally quiet environments or a really loud distracting one can be counterproductive, so the low rumble at a coffee shop may be just right.
If you want to test the vibe of a coffee house on your productivity without leaving your desk, there’s an app and a website for that!
It’s called http://coffitivity.com and it’s simply a way to generate ambient sound that recreates a coffee house, lunch lounge or campus cafe wherever you are trying to be productive.
If you find it helpful, you can even download the Android or iPhone apps to take the ambience with you on your next plane trip.
Some people have posted that they use Coffitivity to drown out the distracting noises in their workplace, but your mileage may vary!
Getting involved in causes you believe in is an important part of contributing to your community and often times, raising money for that cause comes into play.
While all the traditional methods of raising money are valid, leveraging social networks and digital tools can greatly increase your chances of funding success.
One of the sites that’s specifically setup for online fundraising for a cause is called http://razoo.com
Whether you’re raising money as a non-profit, a foundation, a corporation or as an individual, as long as it’s for a recognized 501(c)(3), Razoo can make it easy to get started.
They also charge one of the lowest fees for these types of sites so more of your donations will go to your cause.
They even have the ability to embed your campaign on a Facebook page or a website so you can easily promote your fundraising and get the word out.
Every donation to these campaigns is tax-deductible and if you have an ongoing fund raising need, it’s setup to accept recurring donations.
BTW, It’s also a great site to find local charities to donate to!
Smartphone apps are great, but how many of them have downloaded and forgotten about? How well organized are your apps, so you even remember that you have them?
That’s the challenge an Android app called http://everything.me takes on and it’s a really interesting way to interface with your smartphone.
EverythingMe monitors your usage of apps throughout the day and rearranges them based on the time of day so you’re presented with the apps you use most when you use them most.
It also reassembles similar types of apps in Smart Folders and has a much faster search system when you are trying to find an app.
In the morning, your weather and news apps will be presented but when you hit the road, location specific apps will come around.
At night, more of your entertainment apps will become prominent. It also makes you aware of apps that you haven’t downloaded yet, but could be useful based on what you already use.
It takes a little time to get used to the new arrangement, but I’m finding it to be super helpful.
I’ve always been a music junkie and I’m constantly on the prowl for new technology that enhances or extends the experience.
We all have lots of different speaker systems throughout the house, but wouldn’t getting the same music to play on all of them at the same time be great?
An interesting gadget that’s getting some attention these days is from a company called Beep.
If you didn’t pre-wire your home for music everywhere or don’t have the budget for the Sonos system, take a look at Beep.
It’s a wireless device that plugs into speakers and let’s you synchronize your music everywhere in the house.
You can plug it into an old boombox, clock radio, powered computer speakers or any device that has a standard audio input and then control it from your smartphone.
It’s simple to setup and each Beep device has it’s own on/off and volume wheel, so you can control them individually or all at once.
Beep https://www.thisisbeep.com is a crowdsourcing project, so the device is still a prototype and is scheduled for a fall release, so you’ll have to be patient.
If you ever want to download a YouTube video so you can watch it when you’re not online or if you want to convert a music video into an MP3 file, it’s actually a piece of cake!
There are a number of sites that offer this service, but the one I like to use is http://dirpy.com because its simple to use and really quick.
All you do is copy the Youtube video link and paste it into Dirpy to get a screen of download options.
If you just want the audio, choose the format quality and click the download button.
If you want the entire video, you can choose low resolution to save space or HD to get the 720p version of the video...it’s just a click away.
Once you download the audio or video you want, just put it into your various libraries or sync it up with your mobile devices and you’re good to go.
If you’re about to go on a long trip with young children, it’s an easy way to grab lots of content that’ll keep em occupied for free!
I recently had a friend ask me to help them find an online appointment setting app for their small business, because they were spending way too much time doing it via e-mail and phone.
The parameters they gave me was that it needed to be simple, free and able to allow customers to pay online in the future.
My suggestion? A site called http://www.acuityscheduling.com
If you’re in any kind of a business that requires you to set appointments, having a single place where your customers can book their own appointments can save you a ton of time and Acuity Scheduling does just that.
The basic service is free, but if you want customization or the ability to take credit cards via the scheduling system, you’ll need to spend $10 to $20 a month.
The flexibility and simplicity of the site allowed me to help my friend get setup in less than 15 minutes so that all they had to do was create a book an appointment link from their website.
You can sync with popular calendar apps, create group appointments and it even knows which time zone everyone is in.
You may have noticed that most sites on the Internet these days will allow you to use one of your social media accounts to sign up for a free service.
They present it as a much faster way to get into the site, but you’re exchanging your profile info for faster access to the info you seek.
Many apps will do the same thing and before you know it, you’ve unwittingly given permission to dozens of companies to access your profile info.
Buried deep in the settings of each of your networks is the ability to revoke access, if you know how to find it.
To make it easier, checkout a website called http://MyPermissions.org. My Permissions makes it really easy to find the setting for all the major networks.
Just click the icon for Facebook, Twitter, Google or whichever network you’re on and you’re taken right where you need to go.
They also allow you to sign up for alerts whenever a new app gains access to your profile and offer mobile apps so you can clean on the go.
You’re surfing along and suddenly an ominous looking window pops up and informs you that you’re computer is infected. It looks a lot like a Windows screen, so you click OK on the clean up my computer button and you’re toast.
The program takes over your computer and doesn’t allow you to do anything, but of course they offer to fix the problem if you’ll just tap in your credit card digits.
These very scary and convincing scams are fooling people into paying and we’ve seen a huge increase in these malware attacks in recent weeks.
They use names like Windows Ultimate Booster and Windows Safety Master and if you click on anything, including the cancel button, they still do their damage.
If you see anything of this nature pop up on your screen, don’t click on anything in the warning. Instead, press Ctrl-Alt-Del to bring up the Task Manager and end the process to avoid infection.
If you’re not familiar with this process, we’ve got a link to a step-by-step instructional video so you can sidestep this scam; it’s posted at DataDoctors.com/radio
It’s time for another Data Doctors Tech Tip!
So many legal documents or registration forms come to us as PDF files these days because it’s a universal file format.
But when someone sends you a PDF form to fill out, do you find yourself printing it, filling it out by hand and scanning it back into your computer just so you can return it?
Or have you ever been sent a form to fill out that had lines so small that writing in the allotted space is nearly impossible?
Wouldn't it be great if you could just type into the PDF instead? Well you can with a resource called PDFZen.com
PDFzen is an online resource so there’s no software to install or configure. Just upload any PDF form and you can instantly type into it, highlight text, draw or sign the document and even add comments all right from your web browser.
It can even be used on your smartphone or tablet and there’s no sign up or registration required to get started.
PDFzen, yet another bookmark worthy tip from the Data Doctors!
Having the ability to remotely access your office or home computer from anywhere in the world is an extremely handy option to have setup.
For the past 10 years we've recommended a great product called LogMeIn because it was simple, secure and best of all it was FREE.
That’s right I said WAS free because they've decided to drop the free service in hopes of converting you to a paying customer.
If you like the service and feel like the additional features you get with a paid account is worth the $99 per year, you’re all set.
For the rest of you, if you want a free remote access alternative because you don’t use it enough to justify the cost, check out TeamViewer.com.
Teamviewer works with Windows, Mac and Linux systems and the commercial version is used by many tech support companies, so it’s very flexible and powerful.
If you’re the go to IT person in your friends and family circles, this tool makes helping them so much easier!
Whether you’ve been a long time LogMeIn user or you've just been thinking about adding the convenience of remote control, checkout Teamviewer at http://www.teamviewer.com/
If you’ve ever been tasked with the chore of transcribing a recorded interview or voice message on your computer, you know how inefficient things can get.
You have to open multiple programs and bounce back and forth to start and stop the audio in order to properly capture all of the words.
Whether you have to do this on a rare occasion or on a regular basis, I’ve got an awesome free utility for you to bookmark.
It’s called oTranscribe.com and it’s brilliantly simple.
Just upload the sound file to their web interface and suddenly, everything you need to get the job done is in one place.
The online word processor has the sound controls built right into the page and all of the commands can be used with just your keyboard.
Want to start and stop the audio? No need to reach for the mouse, just tap the Escape key. Need to slow down or speed up the audio to match your typing speed? No sweat!
http://otranscribe.com - bookmark this one!
We’ve all come to expect a certain level of performance when we use the Internet and when things don’t work the way we expect them to, frustration sets in.
Not knowing whether it’s your computer, the Internet connection itself or some other confusing technical term like a DNS server or a firewall blocking access makes solving the problem complicated.
This can be especially problematic on the road, when you need to get work done via a hotel or coffee shop wifi connection that’s just not working for you.
That’s where a free diagnostic tool for Google Chrome can be a big help. The connectivity diagnostic browser app is a quick and simple way to do what it suggests: diagnose all of the items that impact your connectivity.
Once you install the app, just on click it and an extensive test is run to check 9 different connectivity items and lets you know if any of them is causing your problem.
Even if you don’t understand what its telling you, the information can be very useful when you call someone for help!
Last week, I explained why it’s so dangerous to use the same password on multiple sites, but this always leads to the question of how the heck can I remember so many passwords?
The answer is you can’t, you need to use some form of password manager to create long, secure passwords for each of your online accounts.
Password managers are designed to create and manage all your passwords across all your devices and websites in a secure manner so all you have to remember is one password.
They all have password generators, auto form fillers, encrypted storage of your passwords, 2 factor authentication and integrate with your browsers and mobile devices.
Password managers can get a little complicated to initially setup for non-technical folks, but once its setup, they’re pretty simple to use.
One of my personal favorites is from LastPass which comes in both free and premium versions. Start with the free version and pay the $12 a year if you wan the premium features.
This issue is too important to ignore, so get help setting it up if you need it.
It’s time for another Data Doctors Tech Tip!
Data breaches are nothing new and pre-date computers; there are news articles from the late 1800’s about thieves stealing important records.
Where there’s data, there are thieves and 2013 was one of the worst years on record for the volume of records exposed by data breaches.
It’s extremely important to understand that if any of your accounts are ever breached, you can never use the associated password ever again.
Hackers long ago started compiling huge databases of stolen passwords, because they know how many people use the same password on multiple sites.
Whenever they go after targets, they don’t have to start by guessing, they just simply check to see if the hashed password exists in the stolen password database.
If you aren’t sure if any of your accounts have ever been breached, there are couple of websites that we’ve posted at DataDoctors.com/radio that will allow you to a quick check based on your e-mail address or username.
Keeping track of lots of complicated passwords is hard, so on Monday, I’ll share some tips on how to securely manage lots of passwords!
USB drives are about as common as floppy disks were back in the day and if you’re like most people, you have a drawer full of older units that are just too small for today’s huge file loads.
If you do, here’s an interesting way to repurpose those old USB drives: turn them into a dog ID tag!
A user on the Instructables.com website came up with the suggestion as a high-tech way for a lost dog to be easily identified.
Simply create a text file, word document or PDF file that contains your preferred way to be contacted in the event your dog gets lost and copy it to the USB drive.
Unlike a standard tag, you can provide lots of additional information like vaccination records, whether the dog is child friendly or gets along with other dogs, or if the dog has been microchipped.
Attach it to the dog’s collar and wrap it with duct tape to help protect it and you’re all set.
A chipped dog has to be taken to a vet to be identified, but a USB drive can be used by just about anyone to identify the owner.
Much of what you do on the Internet is sped up through a process called ‘caching’ which keeps elements of previously visited websites in a temporary space on your computer.
Caching allows sites to load faster because it doesn’t have to pull every image, frame, video or body of text down from the Internet.
Loading these elements from your local hard drive is so much faster, but sometimes this can work against you.
If you’ve ever gone to a website looking for information that you can’t find or a site that doesn’t load properly, it's possible that your just looking at an incomplete cached version of the site from your computer.
The next time this happens, give this a try: hold the CTRL button down and tap the F5 key at the top of your keyboard.
This universal shortcut works on all the major browsers and is a command that tells your computer to skip the cache and download everything from the website.
It’s a really quick way to troubleshoot strange website behaviours because if everything loads properly, you’ll know its time to clear the browser’s cache