Category Archives: Ways to use technology

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.

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.

Use your phone to stay safe

With all the concerns about women being safe whilst out, I’d like to mention HollieGuard, named after Hollie Gizzard who was murdered one night.

Hollieguard is an app for Android and iPhone that uses the features of your phone to help people out and about.

Capabilities in brief include monitoring your progress along a route, sending emergency messages and location to preset numbers, as well as transmitting audio and video.

User reviews vary widely in their opinions but the app developers do respond.

Do have a look

Offline Google Lens

I’ve often mentioned how useful Google Lens is for all sorts of tasks like identifying things, translation, etc. But what if you are out of mobile range or it’s a photo you got from somewhere else?

Well the good news is that if you photograph what you want to work on, then you can do that when the connection is back. Simply swipe up in the picture area to see all the photos on your camera. Now just tap on one and Goole Lens will process it as if you were pointing your phone at it.

Make reuse, don’t make refuse

Lots and lots of electronic devices get replaced because our needs change, people want the latest flashy devices or contracts come to an end. That means lots of stuff gets sent to waste.

I’ve been helping a few people whose needs are more modest to get computers that do all they want at a much better price by buying refurbished machines. It just pays to buy from a trusted supplier. These will offer a warranty and your consumer rights are unaffected.

Some items are actually as new, being returned items that the purchaser didn’t want. Others are graded according to their condition.

Besides their condition, you need to ensure that the device is powerful enough for your needs. For example, the processor might be an intel i5 but there are many generations and types. Types L and P are low power, whilst U is even less power-hungry thus less powerful.

Don’t let that put you off: search for some reviews to get an impression of the item you are thinking of buying.

Some places to look at are:

Laptops direct https://www.laptopsdirect.co.uk/content/refurbished-store

Dell https://www.dellrefurbished.co.uk/

Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=warehouse

There are plenty of others as well.

Compare the price to new items, as many people (especially private sellers) have a very inflated idea of what things are worth.

Finally, consider going onto a SIM-only contract on your phone: either when the handset contract ends or buy a handset outright like I do. Plenty of new and second-hand deals out there.

Create your own QR codes

You may have seen rectangles with lots of dots – like this one:

These are called QR codes and are a way to code information so that a phone camera can easily interpret it. The one above has my contact details in a Vcard format and anyone who scans it will add my details to their contact list.

This may not sound like too much use to you, but many sorts of information can be encoded. For example, details of an event that you are asking people to in one code and location details in another. Then you can put them into your email, letter or advertisement so that people can add it to calendars with no fear of errors, (as long as you get it right!)

Displaying your photos

With phones and digital cameras we take thousands of photos and store them on our computers never to be seen again. I think it would be nice to see them again – well maybe some of them!

So what options do we have?

On your computer it is possible to have a single picture or a carousel of them as your desktop background. In Windows go to settings – personalisation – background and choose a picture or slideshow. For a Mac it’s either:

Apple menu – system & preferences -desktop and screensaver. In the list of folders press the + key to be able to add your own pictures

Photos app, control-click the image you want as your background and share-set desktop picture from the menu

Android and Apple phones also have this facility, but the method varies between phones.

Alternatively load some on your tablet and pass it around.

If you want to see them more generally, then think about a digital photo frame. These vary in size and quality, priced from £40 up. Maybe spending a little more is wise. In my mind, the most important thing is aspect ratio. Most digital cameras take photos in 4:3 or 3:2 ratio (That’s width:height) . Your widescreen TV is 16:9. If you get a 16:9 frame, then you photos will either be black at the sides (waste of money) or stretch (so everyone looks, um, wider than they are!).

Finally, bring back the good old days of slideshows for family and friends. They were fun, weren’t they? Most computers these days have an HDMI port (Macs may need a convertor). So buy a basic HDMI cable of a few metres for a few pounds, connect your computer to your TV, sit back and watch the engrossed faces of your guests!

What can you do with an old PC?

If you have used your holiday-that-didn’t-happen money on upgrading your PC, what about the old one (assuming that it is working)?

Should you be running a business, I always suggest putting it in a cupboard in case the new one stops so you have a backup.

But there are other options and they are free. We can put some speed back into the computer by changing it’s operating system from Windows to Linux or Chrome. Both of these place lower demands on the computer so it will respond faster. Linux lets you use many of the programs that you are used to or similar ones, while Chrome connects your computer to the Google ecosystem and apps with cloud storage. Linux and Chrome have a different look to Windows but they are close enough for you to be able to sort it out (like last time you changed your model of car).

Alternatively if you have a desktop computer you can create a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device that you connect to your network to act as storage for all users and devices, maybe as a backup location as well. These NAS units don’t demand much from the CPU, so you might find it a good unit to have. You might put some larger drives into the NAS, but these are only £30-40 each.

If you don’t mind leaving your old computer running, consider using its power to help research projects. The most famous is SETI@home which is looking for extraterrestrial life but there are others for Covid-19 (folding@home), etc. These ‘distributed computing projects’ download a small chunk of data to be processed and sent back to the research effort. If you want to get involved, here is a list of projects.

Finally, consider donating it after you have removed all your data. This is one metasite listing UK organisations or just search the internet for ‘donate my computer’.

Your digital Legacy

If you are reading this, then a lot of your life is already digital: bank accounts, bills, social media and on and on. Sorry to be a bit grim, but what happens to all this when you are no longer here.

It is important to think how others will be able to sort out your estate and also to ensure what you want keeping is kept and what you want deleting is deleted.

The Digital Legacy Association has been set up to be a resource for advice to you, loved ones and professionals about this area, making things less stressful or expensive. Things like digital wills covering digital assets, writing down your master password for your password manager and codes for devices (storing this piece of paper very securely!).

It’s never fun to think about these things (Probably why 60% of people don’t make a will) but it will make things a lot better for those left behind (as does a will).

Keep track of your possessions

Having spent ages trying to find my car keys several times, I’ve been keeping an eye on Bluetooth trackers. These are little devices that you attach to your stuff and that talk to an app on your phone.

I did try some cheap Chinese ones but they turned out to be a false economy as they were useless!

However I spotted twin packs of the Tile Mate Pro at a good price on Amazon and took the plunge. Especially as the batteries are now user-replaceable

The free version of the app has let me link the ‘Tiles’ to the app. I’ve then put them on bunches of keys and some electronics.

When I use the app to find them, the tile in question plays a tune (you can select one of about ten) if it is range of the phone. In reverse, pressing the button on a ‘Tile’ makes then phone ring. If the devices are out of range, then you can see where it last was on a map through the app – even more, if your lost tile comes within range of any other tile user, you will get an email about where it was seen. However, it won’t tell you when a Tile goes out of range. Only downside is that one has to have location settings active.

The premium version adds a few features but I’m not sure I need them yet.