Category Archives: Uncategorized

Now you can encrypt WhatsApp backups

WhatsApp has a great reputation for secure end-to-end communications. It also offers a ‘chat backup’ facility to save conversations to Google Drive or iCloud. Really useful if you are swapping your phone, resetting it or whatever. The trouble is that they are sitting out on the web unencrypted.

Now you can also run Whatsapp on your PC or Mac. Just download the program, run it and follow the instructions to link your phone. It will then mirror your phone which is still needed to connect to WhatsApp. I find it much easier to copy photos and generally keep up to date.

Buying a new computer: Here’s some technical stuff

Cheap computers can be poor computers. So here are a few ideas of technical specs to maximize value-for-money:

Generally go for an AMD Ryzen or Intel Core i3/5/7 processor (or ‘chip’). Ignore Pentium, Celeron or AMD A series as they are old and slow. The Intel Atom is slow but very conservative with power so is good for small hybrids. For the ‘Core’ chips, the higher the number, e.g. i3-8227, the better. AMD chips are a bit cheaper and the AMD Ryzen ‘x’ gives better performance than the equivalent Intel Core’x’.

A Core i3 or Ryzen 3 is fine for most jobs, Video editing can benefit from an i5 and an i7 is for extreme gamers. The chips have one or more letters at the end. K – unlocked, U and Y – optimised for battery life not speed, H – high performance for laptops.

As replacing the chip is right up there with triple heart-bypass surgery, go for the best one you can.

RAM needs to be at least 4gb. It’s easy and cheap to upgrade if you need to keep costs down now.

1Tb HDD (hard drive) is the norm. More can cost a lot more and less saves you little. It can be upgraded and a new 2Tb HDD is about £70 (Aug 2020). There are drives called ‘SSD’ which are much faster but more expensive. A normal SATA HDD drive is fine for most people. Get the biggest HDD or SSD you can – at least 256gb and that still won’t go too far. 32Gb is far too small. Really.

Some computers have dedicated graphics. These are higher quality if you do a lot of graphics work or games. For email and general office work, they are not essential.

Screens vary enormously in image quality (brightness, colour accuracy, etc.)and it is hard to make a recommendation. The resolution varies by size, but 1920*1080 (the same as a High Definition TV screen) is good to have. Again, get the best you can afford. You can also often connect another screen or TV to expand the desktop. Look for an HDMI socket.

Best to put the model you are interested into a search engine and add ‘test’. This will get you some expert reviews, but bear in mind these are from when the computer was first released and quality comments may refer to a much higher price. If you use the word ‘review’ you will just get customer comments, which are much less valuable.

Buying a new pc is a bit like buying a car: there are hundreds of variations (processor, memory and much more). So when reading tests or comparing prices, make sure they refer to the variation you want.

Finally, I never buy any extras like internet security, extended warranties or software when I buy a computer. The ones that are pushed hard at you are rarely the best value, so I’d do my own research at home.

Project Activate

Although targeted on a limited group, I just had to share this in case it can help someone you know. For people who can’t speak or use their hands, it turns facial gestures into speech. So closing your eyes could trigger “I’m tired”

To quote Google research:

“Text a loved one, get a caregiver’s attention, or laugh along with friends. Project Activate is designed for people who are unable to speak or use technology with their hands, including those who have ALS, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis, and those who have had a brainstem stroke or cervical spinal cord injury. This app enables you to activate customized preset communications by making facial gestures, such as smiling or looking up.

With your face, you can
• Play a text-to-speech phrase
• Play audio to express yourself or control a smart speaker
• Send a text message
• Make a phone call

With direct access, a loved one or carer can
• Customize communications
• Adjust the face gesture sensitivity”

It has a limited range of gestures at the moment but a brilliant idea.

Quick photo editing

Now I like being creative with my photos, so I use Affinity Photo for my photo-editing. A real alternative to Photoshop with outright purchase for £48.99 or less (they have lots of sales!).

But there’s a learning curve, so what if you just need to tweak a photo before, say, emailing or printing? The built-in photos app in Windows 10 has some surprising capabilities. Open the program and load a photo. Now click ‘Edit and create’ at the top-right, then ‘edit’.

Now you can crop, rotate and straighten, change the colour balance and brightness – simple to use and free!

Take a look at my video guide to the Photos app: https://youtu.be/jadQZIUnTrE

Adding signature boxes to documents

If you are involved in creating documents that need signatures, here is a great tip for adding signature boxes to Word and LibreOffice writer.

Go to the area where you want the person to sign and select Signature line’ from the insert menu.

A box like this will appear for you to add details:

and what pops out is a signature area. This can be moved around and more created.

It can also be used to digitally sign documents, but this is not yet common. What I do is keep a scan of my signature kept safe on my computer that I insert into documents emailed to me, save and send back.

Find your Android device

There are various apps and services that claim to help you find your phone. Google has just launched it’s free service. If you have a google account on your devices it will automatically find them.

Either download ‘find my device’ from the Google apps store or go to https://www.google.com/android/find

How you will see all the other Android devices on different tabs. You can see the location on a map, make it play a – very loud – sound, lock it or erase it.

I have Tile devices for finding a wider range of things like car keys, but they require (1) attaching a small unit and (2) cash.

One doesn’t need the app installed on the target device as well, only on the thing doing the finding.

Set up a guest network for visitors

Everyone seems to need to be on Wi-Fi all the time. So when people come to your home or office, they like to logon.

But if you let them logon to your Wi-Fi, then either you have to tell them your complicated secure password – which they then enter wrongly again or again- or set it to something simpler to make it easier for them.

And if they do get on, then they can access anything on the network, which you may not want.

So see if your router offers a guest network. This is one which has a different password and lets users connect to the internet, but isolates them from your main network.

I’m not aware of any of the free routers from your broadband provider will offer this (except possibly Virgin Cable) but a good router with a guest network can be bought for £70 or so.

Have you got a website? Have you got SSL?

SSL is a technology that makes websites and transactions more secure. When you are on a site with SSL you see a padlock and https:// before the address to let you know.

But, you may say, I don’t do transactions on my website, so why should I care? The reason is that Google prefers sites with SSL in its search results.

So everyone needs SSL. The good news is that this can be free by going via Let’s Encrypt. There are various higher levels but the free one secures your communications and reassures the visitor that you are who you say you are.

So if you don’t have SSL on your website, talk to your web provider and get it FREE.

Converting file formats

I often get sent files to examine which are in a format that I can’t open, or I need to convert it to text.

I’ve tried the online service at www.zamzar.com. There are loads of formats that it will convert between. The free service does have a limit to how much you can convert each day but there are subscription options. If you really get to use it a lot.

On a fibre link, files uploaded and downloaded fast, whilst the conversion process is a few seconds to minutes depending on how much you uploaded.

Digitize your old photographs

We’ve all got loads of old photos. Getting them on computers would save so much space. We’ve got options and I’ve tried them all except the last.

If you want decent quality then a good negative scanner is the way to go. However good ones are expensive, it’s a pain to load the negatives and they are slow to scan. But one must suffer for art!

But maybe you don’t have the negatives. You can use a document scanner on the actual photograph but these again can be slow and you then have to edit the resulting scan to extract the photograph.

A dedicated photoscanner can be an answer. I use one that I bought from Maplin in a sale. Good points are that it’s small, scans to an SD card so is portable and is pleasantly speedy. However, the maximum size of the photo is 7*5 and although it will scan negatives, I wouldn’t bother: 300DPI won’t cut it for a negative. The output isn’t brilliant but can be adjusted if you want by a photo editing package. Best thing is that you can sit watching the TV or something and just feed the photos in.

However, if the photos are stuck in a book or just too large then what do we do? Google has come to the rescue with an app for Android phones and tablets called Photoscan. You move the device over the photo whilst it scans, removing glare, improving resolution and so on. That’s far better than just photographing a photograph. One downside is that it integrates with Google Photos but that does give you some editing tools to remove dust and things.

Or you can just send them to a service and pay them to do it.

But if you do put them on your computer, then please create an archive copy on something else in case your computer dies.