LaptopUpdating Your Application Software

Windows is called the "Operating System". Almost every other thing on your Computer is "Application Software" and it is important to keep your application software up to date and "patched".

We all have different software installed on our computers, many have a "Check for Update" option but many don't.

An online tool by Secunia can be found here http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/online/ . This is the online cousin of their often recommended free tool Secunia Personal Software Inspector or PSI.

This tool will analyse your computer and check whether there is a new version of the software installed on your computer available and if so help you install it. Note that this is just the bare minimum version. The PSI version you can download does a far more comprehensive job and still free for personal use.

A very useful tool I've been using for some time now is CCleaner

I run it almost everyday sometimes more than once a day. If any programs are "playing up" or seem to be running slowly I run this and very often my problem is solved.

I urge you to be careful using the Registry Cleaner, always take a backup in case you delete something you need.

Optimization and Cleaning

CCleanerCCleaner claims to be the number-one tool for cleaning your Windows PC. It protects your privacy online and makes your computer faster and more secure. Easy to use and a small, fast download.

How to Clean Old Ball Style Computer Mouse

Mouse with Ball RemovedIf your old computer mouse has a ball in the bottom of it cleaning it and the mechanism inside that it rolls around on can get rid if the jerkiness you may be experiencing with your computer. Give them a clean and you'll probably notice a significant difference.

Really you should get a new optical mouse. A cheap good quality optical mouse can be bought for $20.00. They are far better than the old ball mice. But in the meantime.

But first Clean your mouse's bottom!

It's probably best to turn your PC off before you do this, although I seldom do.

Turn your mouse over, if it has a ball you'll see a wee bit of it poking out the bottom or a round hole where it does. There is usually a disc around the ball that you twist a quarter off a turn or so to remove. The ball will then fall out and roll under the nearest piece of heavy furniture, head down to your nearest electrical shop and buy a new optical mouse.

If it doesn't give it a wash with a damp cloth. Now heck inside the hole in your mouse. You'll find two or three wheels and/or rollers that the mouse runs on. They are probably covered in gunk, the same gunk that collects on the bottom. Scratch it off, I use my finger nail, you probably want to use a thin flat blade off a small pocket knife or some other bit of small flat metal.

Invariably bits will drop off into the inner workings, give it a few sharp taps on your desk to clean them out, give it a shake and a few more taps.

You might find that after this it is actually worse to use. Open it up again and make sure you've got all the stuff off the roller/wheel from right around it and from both ends, and make sure you've shaken all the loose gunk out.

Better yet "Get a mouse with glasses".

A Hungry MouseSignificantly Improve Your Computer Experience by Cleaning Your Mouse

One of the easiest and fastest ways I've found to improves almost everyone's computing experience is to clean their mouse's bottom. This isn't hard, anyone can do it, but of course first catch your mouse.

Whether you use your mouse directly on your desk or, on a mouse pad, the bottom, the base that sits on the pad/desk, is going to collect dirt that eventually will make it "sticky". When you move the mouse it won't glide smoothly and will "grab" you probably won't notice it as the grime slowly builds up over time.

Using a mouse with a dirty bottom makes the computer feel sluggish and jerky. If you find yourself picking up your mouse and whacking it on the desk, cleaning it might solve your problem.

Samsung Galaxy Siii

What Happens if you Lose Your Cell Phone?

Last weekend my No 1 Daughter's cell phone was stolen which brought to light some issues you might like to also consider.

Privacy - Can the thief access all the information on the cell phone?

Most cell phones these days are "smart". As well as being a device to make calls and send and receive texts they can connect to other internet related services such as email and online document and photo storage and social media accounts such as facebook and twitter.

Once I've put in my pin number on my phone I can access:

  • both my personal and business email accounts
  • personal data stored in three different online storage accounts
  • personal Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Google+ acounts
  • and, and, and...

All by just touching a button. Sometimes I'll have to put in another user name and password but often I don't.

None of us want other people reading our emails and looking at our photo's but more importantly we don't want anyone sending texts or emails or posting to social media anything that appears to be coming from us when its not.

Loss of Information and Data

You can store an awful lot of information on a cellphone, phone numbers, videos of your sisters birthday party, photographs taken on Christmas day, perhaps your whole music collection. If your phone is the only place they are stored you've lost them.

Lookout LogoI highly recommend Lookout Mobile Security as a tool for your Android Smart Phone.

Yesterday morning I couldn't find my cell phone, it wasn't in any of the usual places, car, dressing table, kitchen bench or side table and I thought I'd checked down the back of the couch. I tried ringing it from another phone but couldn't hear it anywhere.

So I thought I must have left it at the golf club and headed off to work. First thing I emailed our lovely club secretary and she volunteered to ring it and wander around the clubhouse to see if she could hear it.

Then it dawned on me, I'd installed an application called Lookout which is primarily a virus protection tool but also has a function that allows you to find you phone over the internet!

Optical Mice are Much Better

Old computer mice have a ball in the bottom that rolls around in an enclosure when you move it over the mouse mat. If you still have one of those please do yourself a favour and buy a new optical mouse. Three Blind Mice" is an old nursery rhyme not an effective computing device.

These fire light at the surface they are sitting on and read whats refected back to tell the computer where to move the cursor, hence the name "optical" they can see where they are moving.

Make sure you try before you buy, if you have small hand try a "notebook" mouse if you have larger hands you might like something a bit bigger than standard.

You can get a new good quality optical mouse for as little as $20 and a wireless one for as little as $50. Like most things you get what you pay for - Microsoft make very good mice as do Logitech. I suggest you compare the price of what you are considering to a similar model from either of those brands, if its significantly cheaper it might not

If you are buying a wireless mouse be aware that some models eat batteries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although some new ones are supposed to last six months I had some old ones that needed new batteries every week or so.

I don't know about Apple PCs but otherwise pretty much any new mouse will work on any modern PC. If your old mouse has a round plug on the end (PS2) that's a very old mouse. Check to see that you have a spare USB port for your new mouse or you'll need to get a USB to PS2 adapter.

While you're at it consider a mouse and keyboard combination, good cheap ones from about $50.

The Google search engine has become so successful that "to google" is now almost synonymous with "to search on the internet",

QuestionYou do not have to sign up, enrol or pay to use the basic Google search engine. All you have to do is type www.google.com into your browser address line and then in the box that appears in the middle of the screen type a few words to indicate whatever it is you want to find out about.

Over the years the people at Google have become increasingly clever at getting the software to help you find what you are looking for. Its not going to be right 100% of the time but I manage to find an acceptable answer almost every time.

The first few listing will often be advertisements, written at the top will be "Ads related to your search question", the ads also have a different coloured background. By all means read them or even click on them, this is how Google makes money, by providing a platform that companies can advertise on.

After the ads the results of your search or answers to your question as determined by Google will appear. Before you click on anything skim read the wee bit of information you will see displayed in the first few you can see. You'll soon get used to identifying those that are useful and those that are no good. If what you can see is poorly written maybe you don't want to click on it.

Try starting your search questions with "what is", 'where is" or "who is". Google will then know that you are looking for a thing, a place or a person.

If you surround words with quote marks Google will search for the whole phrase. type "how do I use google search" with and without the quotation marks and you'll see you get slightly different results.

To limit the number of results you get, provide more information in the search box. If you are looking for something from New Zealand, put NZ or "New Zealand" in the search box, that will help narrow down the results.

Experiment, try questions you know the answers to, to see whether google agrees with you, google your own name you might find out something interesting about yourself!

If you don't like Google there are many others, Yahoo, Bing, Ask Jeeves and many, many more. I used Google to find this site that has a list of them http://www.thesearchenginelist.com.

Next time you want to know the answer to a question try googling it, if that doesn't work, ring me and I'll google it!

Surprising How Often A Reboot Solves Computer Problems

Windows Shut Down ScreenI often get calls from colleagues, friends, and family saying "my computer wont work!" Depending on my mood I might say "what do you mean it doesn't work" but my first answer is usually "turn it off and turn it on and then see if it works. Ring me back if it doesn't". Occasionally they will ring back to tell me that fixed it, usually they don't because it has fixed it and they are busy doing whatever it is they were trying to do.

I haven't kept statistics but it sure feels like nine out of ten times this works. If it doesn't, another half the time turning it off and on a second time, after its restarted but before you do anything else, will sort the problem.

Do you care why this works?

Computers Hate Heat

Hot CoalsThe innards of computers generate quite a bit of heat, and the harder they are working the more heat is generated. And the hotter they get the harder they have to work.

Heat and moisture are the arch enemies of computers, they hate moisture and really, really don't like being too hot. The little electrical pathways are so small that the physical expansion caused by excess heat can really muck them up. That heat has to be dissipated otherwise eventually, bits start to melt and then catch fire. I've never had one catch fire but I have burnt myself on the bottom of a laptop.

In modern computers the processor will "scale back" if it gets too hot in an effort to help cool things down. So the computer will slow down and when that happens things wont happen as quickly as they should.

If the fan in your computer is whirring away constantly even when you're not doing anything it may be a sign its getting too hot. Even if its not I rarely find a computer that doesn't have at least some dust clogging its airways.

Turn your PC off before you do this, and unplug it from the power.

On a desktop computer you will usually find two or three places on the back (sometimes sides) of the box with holes or vents designed for air to get in or out. On a laptop they could be on the sides, the back, the bottom, or all of the above. Often you'll find them blocked with dust, you need to get rid of it. A brush can do the job, a vacuum cleaner is better. Of course its better if the dust doesn't go inside but inside is better than blocking the vents.

If you are feeling adventurous you can clean inside the case as well. Look at your manual or look online for instructions on how to get inside. Often its a matter of removing a couple of screw and sliding the side off but sometimes its a bit more complicated. BEWARE if your PC is still under warranty there will probably be a sticker telling you you'll invalidate the warranty of you open it up, don't. If it's still under waranty it's probably still OK inside.

If you use a laptop make sure that the vents aren't blocked when you're using it. Ironically the worst place for most laptops is just that, on your lap. Your lap blocks the vents in the bottom. You can buy trays designed for the job, I put mine on a dinner tray.

Don't be ashamed of your cleaning abilties or get cross with your better half for not vaccuming enough,. Computers literally suck air in and push it out again and the dust in the air just gets stuck in there. There are also static electrical charges that help attract dust.

I've recently revived an old laptop of mine that would simply stop after a few minutes use, it was just getting too hot. I had to take it to bits to clean out the air flow channels which involved undoing a zillion tiny wee screws and took me a whole day but now it runs fine. There was a wad of dust completely blocking the air flow, it looked like a centimetre thick felt pad, it took me a few seconds to realise that it shouldn't be there!

For me it was worth the effort as the laptop was useless as it was and I wasn't going to spend any money on it, but I don't recommend taking a laptop to pieces unless you are prepared to scrap it. And if you are paying someone else to look at it make sure you get a quote first.

chromecastChromecast is my new favourite thing!

Some friends have recently had a problem. SkyTV doesn't broadcast professional golf anymore!

More non golfers this may be a blessing, but for some golfers it's akin to the END of the WORLD.

An international company called Colliseum Sports bought the worldwide rights to PGA golf and they use the internet to deliver the coverage. It's the same company that owns the rights to the English Football.

So that means you have to get a subsciption to their service to watch your sport. OK if you can afford it, but that's when the problems have begun for some.

Some people who signed up didn't realise that it's delivered over the internet and exactly what that means. Essentially it's not broadcast over TV signals. it comes into your house the same way the internet comes into your home so you can only view it on devices connected to the internet, and even then you may not be able to see it on some devices.

Viewing it on a computer is relatively easy but most of us don't want to view our sport on a wee computer screen in the back bedroom.

saveLast week two people asked me the same question "why can't I open attachments my friends are sending me?".

In both cases the file names ended with .docx. The solution is very simple, download and install the "Microsoft Office Compatibilty Pack"

When I told one friend this they said they had already done that but it still wouldn't work. After a bit of investigation I found that they had indeed downloaded it but hadn't installed it.

One of my pet peeves is people typing their message into a Word document and then emailing that as an attachment. Why don't they just type the message into the email message? But they do and so we want to be able to read them.

Security Software is Essential on Your Computer.

virus

You absolutely MUST have some form of security software on your computer. If you don't your computer is already infected with viruses or malware. And you MUST keep that software it up to date, that means ensuring that the automatic update feature is active and working. Out of date security software is almost as bad as none at all as it will give you a false sense of security

All those annoying Spam messages that you get are almost certainly being sent from computers that are infected with a virus or malware. The owners of the computers often have no idea that their PC is part of a "botnet", a group of computers being directed by a third party to do something, very often sending spam. It doesn't appear in their normal email outbox, it is all but invisible and undetectable to you or I without a good tool. Botnets have been intercepted containing millions of computers. In November 2011 the US Department of Justice took down a botnet Dubbed "DNS Changer," the collection of compromised computers numbered over four million machines.

Microsoft Security Essentials is Free

Microsoft's Security Essentials is a perfectly adequate and free anti-virus / anti-malware software. This is what I now use on all my personal computers. You can download and install it for free from here http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/windows/products/security-essentials.

See this link for a comprehensive review of the Microst Security Essentials product from Fred Langa on the Windows Secrets Site.

I'm finding more & more useful things my smartphone can do.

Flynn van Os (who goes to school at Otumoetai College) has written a free application for most smart phones called Schemes that anyone use to schedule messages to be sent in the future.

Schemes Logo

I use Schemesto send reminders. When my daughter goes out at 7:00 pm and is supposed to be home by midnight I can compose a text message at 7:00 pm that Schemes will send for me at 11:30 pm reminding her she should start heading for home. And I can send myself another one timed for midnight to wake me up to check she is home!

If she isn't home I could program Schemes to send a message every 30 minutes saying "where are you?" and go back to sleep. I said I could, I didn't say I do, it's called responsible parenting.

Click here for Schemes on GooglePlay

Schemes is a simple tool that allows you to send scheduled messages via SMS, Facebook, Twitter or Email (Gmail only!). Whether you want to send that happy birthday text at midnight (or a minute before midnight if that's your thing), Tweet about your favourite time of the day, make a Facebook status without your friends on the other side of the world missing it, or send that important business email right on the hour, Schemes will do it for you!

But don't take my word for it, I'm biased, Flynn is a relation, read other's reviews at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.oxapps.schemes

Do you want to be more productive on your computer?

Keyboard Shortcuts can save you a considerable amount of time

The CTRL is an abbreviation for Control, and it's the main key on your Windows PC that you use for keyboard shortcuts. If you have a Mac, you also have a Control key, but your primary keyboard shortcut key is Command. Like Alt/Option and Shift, these are modifier keys. When you press them, nothing obvious happens. When you press them along with another letter or number, however, you can make your computer do things faster. We're going to talk about some handy shortcuts you can use with these keys.

control-fControl+F (or Command+F on the Mac)

Obviously we have to begin with Control+F since the statistic is begging for it. Control+F, or Command+F on a Mac, is the keyboard shortcut for the Find command. If you're in a web browser and want to search text on a web page, pressing Control+F will bring up a search box. Just type in that search box and it'll locate the text you're typing on the page. Control+F may work in other applications, too, when you need to find something. For example, Microsoft Word and other word processing applications use this keyboard shortcut.

Do You Want to be Avoid being Forced to Change Your email Address?

Laptop with emailFor many people email is now an important part of keeping in touch with family and friends. For businesses it is now another way for your customers to get in contact with you and tool for you to use. If you are using the "free" email address provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) you will probably lose it if you want to change your provider or they go out of business. These days you can keep your telephone number, if you want to change from Telecom to Clear or from Vodafone to 2Degrees, but there is no such thing as email address portability.

Your ISP or Internet Service Provider is the company that provides your connection to the internet and they they will almost certainly have given you an email address. Telecom is still the ISP with the most customers in New Zealand. For many years they operated under the brand name Xtra and their domain name is xtra.co.nz. It is registered to Telecom NZ, they control it. The bit in front of the @ is the bit that tells Telecom to direct that message to you, but it's not really "yours", Telecom own it.

If you decide you want to take advantage of a cheaper or faster offer from a different provider. You will lose your old email address and the new provider will give you a new email address. You will then have to tell that to everyone you communicate with. You'll also have to change it with all the internet sites you've joined or subscribed to, and you may have to do it almost instantaneously. Your contacts are used to getting email from your current email, if they get an email from a new address they may not recognise it and classify it as spam. Someone may have your old address recorded on a piece of paper somewhere but have so far haven't used it so they aren't in your address book on your computer.

Your old provider is under no obligation to keep your old email address for you, they may allow you to continue to use it, they may disable it or worse they may allocate it to someone else. Don't risk missing out on news from loved ones or new customers and get yourself an email you can exercise a degree of control over.

If you get yourself another email address you control you can begin the process of advising people of your new address in your own time and reduce the chances of missing out on that important message, invite to a party, birth of a child or the best new customer ever.

Options to Get an Email Address You Control

chair on beachI am always trying to do things "smarter", more efficiently, faster, more accurately, cheaper. Sometimes I'll sacrifice a little of one for more of the others. Technology often helps.

Internet of Things

You are going to hear more and more about IoT, the Internet of Things. It is already here, electronic devices are already linked together over the internet with no wires, sharing data and interacting to do what you want them to do. Most TVs you can now buy are "Smart" they can connect to the internet, I can tell my TV to turn off if my cell phone gets further than 20 meters away. Many air conditioning units now come internet enabled, if you can control them over the internet you can use IFTTT to make other devices do things at the same time. Cell phones, cars, fridges are all available in New Zealand right now that are internet enabled.

Phillips Hue light bulbs are IoT, about $320 for a starter kit of three bulbs and a controller are here, now, in New Zealand. You can turn them on and off and even change the colour from anywhere in the world you can get an internet connection. You could give your son-in-law in England the code for your bulb and tell him to turn your Hue light on when your daughter gives birth, blue for a boy, pink for a girl. If you are reading this you have email and you could do that - today. Its not the future it's here, now.

Using technology can help make your life easier and more fun. Don't be scared of it, embrace it, learn about it and make it work to your advantage.

Making The Internet Work For YOu

At work I made a conscious decision to receive correspondence by email wherever possible. I notified everyone we dealt with that we wanted to receive invoices, reports, any correspondence by email. Almost all happily obliged.

Receiving correspondence by email meant I didn't have to scan the letter to file it electronically I could just save the email. Time saved. Using rules in my email system that can be automated, more time saved, far more accurate, no additional cost.

Of course I got more emails and less letters in the PO Box. Then about half way through last year I found that more and more I was going to the PO Box and finding there wasn't anything there. I'd wasted 15 minutes. About the same time I discovered NZ Post has a system where they will email you if you have mail in your PO Box, or not. So no email no mail, no trip to the PO Box 15 minutes saved.

So then instead of going to the PO Box every morning I only went if I got an email saying there was mail in there. Saves me time saves me money. But for it to work I had to check my email before I left for work to know whether I needed to go to the PO Box. I get a lot of emails! If I was running late and didn't have time to scan through all the email I'd have to go to the PO Box anyway, grrrr.

Then I discovered IFTTT. If This Then That is a service that connects other services together using applets - little applications. If something happens on one service, in my case receiving an email from the PO Box, then it does something else, it puts an 8:00 am appointment in my cell phones calendar.

My phone reminds me if I have an appointment, it makes a noise and the light flashes, at some stage in the morning when I grab my phone to head off to work if the light is flashing I can see that I need to clear the PO Box. If it's not I don't. Nice and simple. And it just works, I no longer have to think about it now its been set up. It took me minutes to get it set up it was reasonably easy, IFTTT guides you through the process step by step.

IFTTT is free for personal use and it can connect to an astonishing number of different services. One I just saw is "Open the garage door when your BMW enters the driveway". I think I need a garage door opener and a new BMW for that to work. But I've realised I could create one that sends my daughter a text telling her to open the garage door for me when I get close to home because I can link IFTTT to the GPS on my phone. But she's just left home and gone to Varsity so that wont work.

Depending on the physical location of my phone I can use IFTTT to do other things, I could send a txt message to my colleague Jonathan "Make Coffee"  whenever I drive into the office car park, that might be a good idea. Because I know my wife's password I could send her a  txt "Buy Heineken" whenever her phone was near a supermarket, that's definitely a bad idea.

It can send you an email if the weather forecast is for rain, it can do all sorts of things that are useful, time saving, or just plain fun!

The point is that you can use technology to help you make your life easier and often for free.

Microsoft recently released an alternative to IFTTT called Flow. In the business we are using that to automate many processes. Of course Flow integrates beautifully with Microsoft programs and allows you to do things you just can't do with IFTTT but doesn't yet have the vast range of applets that IFTTT does.

GCFLearnFree.orgOne of the things I love about the internet is that there are millions, if not billions of good people using it to share good information. One such group is GCFLearnFree.org.

For more than a decade, the GCFLearnFree.org program has helped millions around the world learn the essential skills they need to live and work in the 21st century. From Microsoft Office and email to reading, math, and more, GCFLearnFree.org offers 125 tutorials, including more than 1,100 lessons, videos, and interactives, completely free.

Are you new to the Internet? Are you wondering what's so important about being connected online? Maybe you just want to know what's new and how it can benefit you. This introductory course will guide you through the basics while providing up-to-date information on the latest online tools and technologies.

Click here >> http://www.gcflearnfree.org/internet101 for Internet 101 a good place to start getting "au-fait" with this new fangled technology that really can make your life better!

You may be surprised at some of the things that you can now do "online". And even if you're an "old hand" you may learn something new, I did.

How to Clean Your Desktop Computer Keyboard

Unless you are a typist, your keyboard is probably the second most used part of your computer, after the mouse. If you're missing any keys or some are "sticky" or jamming you are making your computer experience less pleasant than it need be.

If you are using a laptop the following isn't really for you, but did you know you can plug an ordinary mouse and/or keyboard into your laptop?

Keyboard & MouseYou can buy a new, good quality, Microsoft or Logitech branded keyboard from about $20 and a wired keyboard and mouse combination from about $40. Remember that if you do decide to get a new keyboard (or mouse) it will almost certainly work with any computer you buy over the next few years so it might be worth spending a little extra on a good one. New computers generally come with basic low cost mice and keyboards.

It's probably best to turn your PC off before you do this, although I seldom do.

The most often recommended method is to buy a can of compressed air that you use to blow the dust out. Usually effective but look out for dust in your eyes and mouth, not pleasant.

But we dont want to spend money if we don't need to so you can try tipping it upside down and banging it on your desk, whack it on the ends, whack it on the side and shake it. You may be surprised at how much muck has collected under the keys and comes out. Next time you'll probably want to do it outside, but that involves upplugging the thing!

You can also use a vacuum cleaner to suck the muck out from under the keys. But if you suck one of the keys off it's not very pleasant digging through the cleaners dust bag to get it out. If you like you can hold a piece of fine mesh, chicken netting or similiar over the end of the vaccuum cleaner nozzle to stop them going through. Personally I use the crevice nozzle on a vaccum cleaner, never had one sucked up yet.

If the keys are just dirty use a damp (not wet) cloth to clean them but beware, you might wash the numbers off and if water gets in the mechanism it wont like it! If that is the case leave it out in the sun or in the hotwater cupboard to dry.

On most keyboards it is possible to pull the keys off to get underneath and they'll click back on again but I seldom bother. I don't have anything valuable enough that will fit down there.

If you have to pull the keys off you used to be able to buy special little tools. I have had success with a paperclick bent into a U shape with the tips of the U folded inwards onto themselves to make wee hooks. Does take a bit of effort and no guarantees you'll get it back on again!

You can get new keyboards for laptops and if you're competent with a screwdriver you can replace them yourself but it's almost always a fiddly job and every one seems to be different so consult someone experienced or Google "replace keyboard for insert your model here laptop".

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The information on this site is intended as a guide only. The information is of a general nature and does not and cannot ever constitute personal advice.
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