Category Archives: Blog

Keeping secrets from Alexa and Google Assistant

Now, I love my Amazon Echo, but I also love my privacy. So I like to keep what is stored about me to a minimum.

So for Alexa, to to Amazon.co.uk, sign in and click ‘accounts and lists’. On the right-hand side click’ manage your content and devices’. This will let you delete things you have said, smart device history and manage how your data is stored and used.

With Google, go to myactivity.google.com and sign in. You will then see recent activity across all of Google’s services. Use the filter to view just those for Assistant. Then review or delete entries as you wish. If you remove the filter and go to ‘web & app activity’ you can manage what is or is not collected, such as voice and audio activity.

Control Android phones from Windows

Although mobile phones are getting bigger they can be a bit fiddly to type on. Windows 10 and later comes with a useful little program originally called ‘your phone’ where you can see and create text messages, manage photos – and if your computer has Bluetooth make and receive calls using your computer like a giant headset.

The program is now called ‘Phone Link’ but one or the other will be installed on your computer. Unless you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, you’ll need to pop to the Google Play Store to get ‘link to windows’ and put it on your Android phone.

To set it up, open the app on your phone and click ‘Link your phone and PC’. On the PC start Phone Link, press ‘get started’ and it will take you through it.

Use email aliases to reduce spam

So often we have to supply an email address on a web site and who knows where that will go.

Mozilla has made it easy for you to set up aliases that forward email to your real email address. If the alias starts attracting too much spam, then shut it down.

Firefox relay is an addon for firefox, Chrome and Edge. Add it to your browser and sign in with a firefox account. Then you can have up to five aliases for free or many more for 75p a month.

Accessing Gmail through Outlook, etc.

Many of us use Gmail through a local email client like Outlook or Thunderbird. Google has good security but in order to use some clients, we have to set Gmail to allow ‘less secure app access’.

Google is turning that option off from the end of May. It claims that many people just sign into their accounts with their email and password, which are frequently stolen in data breaches. You can still use Gmail through a web browser, so not all is lost in the short term.

To get access back for your preferred email client, you may be able to ‘sign-in with Google’, which is what Google would like.

Other methods include using an app password. This is a long and unique code and makes things more secure. Login to your Google account, click your image and ‘manage your Google account’, then choose ‘security ‘on the menu on the left and in Signing in with Google’, switch on two-stage verification. Follow the instructions and then return to the security page, which should now have an option for ‘app passwords’. Choose ‘mail’ whatever email program you use. Now choose the device that you will access Gmail on, for example ‘Windows Computer’ and press ‘generate’ to get a 16 character password. Now open your email client, like Outlook, and put the 16 characters in as the password. You should now be able to work with Gmail. Remember you need a different code for each device, like your phone.

Here’s a short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cINrnBkm2eI

Shopping for less

We are all feeling the squeeze at the moment, but what can we do?

I’ve been working with a number of internet tools that may help.

Firstly we can get cashback with a number of sites like topcashback. You download their browser addon and create an account which give you – cash back – when you shop online across thousands of sites like Currys and Argos.

Second is voucher collectors like pouch, which is another extension. When you are at the checkout, this looks for vouchers across the web to get your price down.

Thirdly is camelcamelcamel, a price tracker for Amazon. This has a number of features.

One shows you the price history of the item you are looking at (either by their website or the Camelizer extension) so you can see whether you are getting the bargain you hoped for.

What I find more interesting is that I can set price drop alerts. Select the product in question and set as target price. When the item goes below that, then I get an email.

Passwords – again

To mark World Password Day, I thought I’d run through some statistics and hints:

  • 76% of people use the same password up to 14 times;
  • The average password has 8 characters or less;
  • 68% of people are worried that they will forget their login information;
  • 92% of passwords include readily available information.

Which means if a hacker gets hold of your simple password they could get into every on-line account you have!

So use a combination of UPPER and lower case, numbers and symbols, like 0C^7G0xSaqoqB9st. OK, quite hard to create or remember yourself but password managers generate and remember them for you.

So use a password manager like bitwarden (free) or lastpass (mostly paid for).

And if you can, turn on 2FA (two-factor authentication) where after login you are, for example, sent a code by SMS that you enter to prove it is you. Some people say 2FA by SMS is insecure but it is better than nothing.

Dispose of USBs and memory cards

It’s easy to just throw these in landfill but that can cause problems if they are burnt. There are better alternatives.

This symbol means that the item is covered by the WEEE directive and will be recycled:

WEEE symbol

If the devices still work, then make sure you securely wipe them with a tool like Disk Wipe – there are others. Then you can sell them or give them away.

If they are dead in the water then they can be taken to somewhere that recycles electronics (find them at recycle your electricals), and it’s not just council places.

Use your TV as a computer monitor

I have three monitors but one of them went on the blink. They aren’t made any more so I decided to replace them all (Don’t worry, they went to good homes).

Maybe one of those fashionable wide monitors could replace all three? It would be an elegant option, but looking at the cost made it very unattractive and I would still be stuck with a limited vertical height (which isn’t so good when running simulations).

Three monitors would be cheaper but what else could I do? I’ve had a 55” 4K television for a few years and plugged my laptop into it as a test. Incredible! Nice and crisp text when up close and so immersive. Now your computer may not be capable of 4K or UHD resolution (3840*2160) so do check what display resolution you are getting.

You could just stop at this point and use the TV as an occasional monitor but my main computer is in the office and I needed one there. So I did some measuring up and saw that I could fit a 43” 4K TV onto my desk.

Next stage, look at prices to find they are much better value than monitors. Measured where the screen would be relative to me sitting down both vertically and horizontally, then down to the TV shop to see which suited me best. I got some odd looks with my tape measure out but I needed to be sure.

You need to check that the TV will take a 4K HDMI input (HDMI 2.0 or higher) and that it actually does have a 4K display. Then see if it has a gaming preset that will speed things up. Finally to make things crisp, turn the TV’s ‘sharpening’ to zero, which is a bit counter-intuitive.

So now I have a massive screen where I use four windows for general work or a big single one for video editing, etc. Oh, yes, I bought a Hisense 43A7GQTUK.

Happy days!