Category Archives: Hardware

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.

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!

Battery care

Batteries are an important part of our lives, whether in phones or laptops. The technology is evolving, as is best practice to maintain your batteries in their best health.

An early contender was NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) followed soon my NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride). NiCad couldn’t store much power for their size, in both NiCad and NiMH, the power drained away quite fast and had another big problem. This was that they could lose capacity quite easily, due to overcharging. When most laptops used NiMH batteries I recommended taking the battery out if using it mostly on the mains. Otherwise the battery gets ‘cooked’ and won’t hold charge. Then the battery tells the computer it doesn’t feel well and the computer won’t start unless the battery is removed.

NiMH is still used for conventional rechargeable batteries like AA

Battery technology has moved on and for devices built around rechargeable power (Phones, tablets and laptops) Lithium-ion is the current market-leader. This is more efficient for its size, retains charge longer and can be moulded around other components. This means that it is quite hard to remove the battery, but fortunately modern devices have circuitry to prevent the overcharging of batteries. Nevertheless there is still a downside, which is the number of full recharge cycles affects the capacity of the battery. So, unlike NiCad and NiMH, it is a bad idea to run Lithium Ion batteries right down. Recharging at 20% or so will prevent a full recharge cycle and preserve your battery for longer

The latest technology is Lithium Polymer, which is safer than other batteries. These batteries can also be made in much thinner sizes and also hold more power for their size, although they have a shorter life. Apple uses this type of battery quite extensively. These batteries tend to be in pouches rather than rigid container and the main downside is as they get to the end of their life, they tend to expand. I’ve seen a phone with the back pushed off and had a laptop which ‘blew’ the back off when I took the screws out.

Function keys acting oddly?

On my laptop function keys I usually have to press shift to get the second function e.g. flight mode). But sometimes they act as if shift is pressed. Annoying when I press F2 to rename a file and my Wi-Fi shuts down!

This is caused by a feature called ‘Function Lock’. If you press the Function (Fn) key and Escape (Esc) at the same time the computer switches between the primary (lower) and secondary (upper) functions – and doesn’t tell you.

It’s a bit like leaving Caps Lock on, WHERE YOU NEED TO PRESS SHIFT TO GET lower case.

So if things seem to be inverted, try Fn-Esc

Driving in my car

More and more we hear of the dangers of using a hand-held phone in the car. Some modern cars have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto that connect your phone to the car’s systems. These let you use the system on the car display screen or by voice.

But what if you don’t have either of these? There are some great apps out there that can help.

Smart Dash Cam uses your phone camera to record a continuos loop. It detects a collision and saves the recording.

Drive Mode Dashboard is mainly aimed at two wheels but works for cars as well. It presents a simplified screen with maps, speed, direction and other stats.

If your main need is navigation, then Google Maps is very good but have a look at Here WeGo on the app stores. It warns you of speeding and also provides offline navigation for when you are abroad.

Keep your stuff safe and avoid stolen items

Hopefully we have all got lots of presents. Let’s keep them safe. For protecting/tracing other items, then the UK National Property register at https://www.immobilise.com/ lets you register valuables and helps Police get your stuff back to you.

There is always a danger of buying electronics that are not sold by the rightful owner. One useful site is imeipro.info. This lets you check the IMEI number of a phone (basically its serial number) against a list to see if it has been stolen. It also lets you register that yours has been stolen.

You can find your IMEI by dialling *#06#, on an Android by looking at settings-about phone-all specs-status-imei or for an iphone settings-general-about. Make a note of the number.