Have you ever squinted to read the text on a website? Or tried to tap on a link to an article over and over, only to have it open an ad instead? Many of us can't read the small print, or hear as well as we use to. Some of us have tremors in our hands that make fine motor movements difficult. Wouldn't it be nice if our computer, phones, and tablets were just a little more forgiving?
The good news is that most of our devices–iPhones, Androids, Macs and Windows PCs–have something called Accessibility Settings that can make it easier to use them. In fact, there are so many different options available (with different instructions depending on the device), that I can only go into basic descriptions of them here, covering each of our five senses.
Our computers, tablets, and phones all have the ability to change the brightness of the screen. But, did you know that they also have ways to adjust the contrast to accommodate varying degrees of eyesight issues? In addition, you can zoom in and out on a screen to see it close up. One step better than that, however, is to change the size of the text and icons so they're always at a readable size. If you don't feel like reading text of any size, you also have the option to have your device read it aloud in something called System Speak.
One more thing: Have you ever missed a call because you just didn't hear or see it ringing? Well, your phone also has the capability to flash whenever there's an alert.
Of course there are volume buttons on your device to adjust loudness, but if your hearing issues are a little more robust, you'll be glad to know that most phones are equipped to integrate with hearing aids. In addition, you can turn on captions when video chatting with others. I've used captions when FaceTiming with a friend in a noisy environment. Very helpful indeed!
For those of us who need assistance with our fine motor movements, there are numerous functions that can help us operate and navigate our devices more easily.
•On phones and tablets with a touch screen: adjust how the screen registers your taps and gestures. Settings include (but aren't necessarily limited to) tracking sensitivity, dwell control, movement tolerance, and customizable gestures.
•On computers: you can adjust the size of the pointer and the speed that the mouse moves it across the screen. You can also set the speed for double clicking the mouse or touchpad to something that YOU find comfortable–not what some 25-year-old programmer thinks is the right speed.
These are just some of the motor skill accessibility features that can make life easier for those of us with stiff joints, tremors, or reduced reaction time in our hands.
Smell & Taste
Starting with the iPhone 15, Apple has introduced a feature that can enhance the flavor and scent of your device. New iPhones now taste more delicious and smell more daisy fresh than the leading Android phone. (Not really, but wouldn't that be fun?)
Keep it Simple
iPhone users also have the ability to set up their device in something called Assistive Access. Here, you can choose just what items you want to see on the screen in a bigger, more focused way. Assistive Access makes using your iPhone simpler to navigate and understand how to use it.
So Many Options to Help Us
I wish that I could've gone into detail about how to set up all of the available accessibility features. Unfortunately, there are just too many, and I would be writing until next year. However, if you'd like to explore what features are on your devices that can help you with sight, sound, and touch issues, I'd be happy to help you set them up. Please feel free to Contact me!
Most of you have heard me at one time or another answer a resounding "yes" when asked if you should download and install updates to your software. Not only are there important security patches in the updates, but there are usually beneficial performance enhancements, as well. For this month's blog, I'd like to focus on some of the performance enhancements that come with the latest versions of Mac and Windows computer operating systems.
What to Expect: MacOS Sonoma 14
While there are a lot of fancy new additions (many that you'll probably never use), here are some of the ones that will come in handy:
•Improved autocorrect accuracy. (Maybe it'll stop correcting "Jim" to "Him.")
•Enhanced dictation that allows you to use your voice and keyboard together to type
•Newer Macs can now be paired with made-for-iPhone hearing devices
•One-time verification codes sent to Mail will now auto populate into Safari without leaving your browser
To see all of the new features, go to System Settings and click on General, then Software Update. Note: at the time of this writing, Sonoma was still at version 14.0. While I haven't heard of any bugs yet, I usually advise people to wait until at least 14.0.1 before downloading. In the meantime, you can (and should) still keep updating your current operating system.
What to Expect: Windows 11 latest version
Microsoft doesn't seem to do major overhauls as frequently as Apple, so we're still receiving updates to Windows 11. That's okay, as even these little upgrades contain valuable features. Here are three of my favorites:
•Windows Backup app: Allows you to back up more than just files to OneDrive. Now you can also backup your settings, credentials, and apps. This operation acts more like syncing to iCloud on a Mac, enabling you to easily install those items when you buy a new PC. Note: The Windows Backup app is not the same thing as Windows File History, which performs true backups (full and incremental) to an external drive.
•Quick Assist: I love this new feature! Quick Assist is an app that allows you to share your screen with another Windows user for remote support. (Only do this with someone you trust!) You can even allow the other person to control your screen. When I help others, I can request access to a client's screen by providing a simple one-time access code. Of all the various methods I've used to help people remotely, Quick Assist is by far the easiest for my clients.
•Copilot: This is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) assistant that helps cut through the clutter and gets you answers to what you're looking for. All year long I've been enjoying the AI experience in Microsoft Edge's Bing search engine. It gets me more specific answers, without all of the junk that Google delivers with a search. I'm excited to use this iteration of AI in Windows Copilot, located on the Task Bar, to help me find things on my PC and the web.
I know updating can be a bit of a hassle--especially when you're prompted to do it when you need to use your computer for something important. However, if you plan a little ahead, you can click Yes when you're done using your device. Then, next time you use it, you'll have your security patches and performance enhancements ready to go!
You're Not Alone
At first, I thought my wife and I were just getting hard of hearing. Night after night of watching shows and movies on TV, we found ourselves turning to each other and asking things like, "Did you catch what she said?" and, "Go back–I didn't hear that." It turns out, we aren't the only ones having trouble hearing the dialogue while streaming content, and it's not due to hearing loss. The sound issue with streaming content has gotten worse recently, and many people are struggling to hear what's going on.
It's Technology's Fault
There are several reasons why we're having trouble hearing dialogue:
1. Movies are generally made to be seen (and heard) in a movie theater with huge and expensive speakers that are able to handle a very large range of sounds–whispers to explosions. When we stream the same movie through Netflix, for example, on our TV, the audio gets what's called "down mixed." This is a compression of the sound, designed to enable it to be heard through much smaller, cheaper speakers like those on your computer, phone, and yes, your TV.
2. Most TV speakers are not well made. Despite, or rather because of, the high-tech nature of the video screen, the speakers get short shrift. Manufacturers focus on picture display quality. In addition, they make the screen as flat and lightweight as possible. This only leaves a small amount of room to add the speakers, many of which are facing behind or down underneath the display, rather than toward the listener.
3. Streaming shows do not have to comply with the same loudness restrictions as broadcast TV shows. I still remember watching Magnum P.I. and Seinfeld at one steady volume level back in the day. I generally heard all of the dialogue. Now, while watching Jack Ryan or Stranger Things, we find ourselves viewing with one finger on the volume button. Turn it up when the character is speaking in a dramatic, mumbly whisper, then immediately turn it down when the music soundtrack or explosions blast us. I continuously fail at trying to keep the volume at one single level.
What Can We Do?
1. Turn on captions. Many cable and streaming devices have remote controls with a built-in microphone these days. Simply hold the button down and say, "Turn on captions." Interestingly, captions aren't just for older adults, either. According to research content provider, YPulse, over half of Millennials and Gen-Z watch TV with captions on, too.
2. Add a soundbar. This is an enhanced speaker that generally sits right at the base of your TV, making up for the subpar speakers that came with your flatscreen. In fact, many of these soundbars even have a "dialogue boost" setting for even clearer speech.
We don't have to put up with inaudible dialogue anymore. We can take back control of the situation, without feeling like the problem is our fault for not having top-notch hearing. If you need help with turning on captions or choosing the right soundbar and setting it up, please feel free to contact me.
I’ve been seeing a lot of situations like this lately: Many of my clients will click on a link from an email or a website, and suddenly a warning pops up in their internet browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc). The message looks something like the image on the left. On top of it all, the client's screen is now frozen, often with an annoying and repeating audio message.
Sometimes, the warning looks even more official, with Apple or Microsoft branding on it. Of course, it's a total scam though. The perpetrators want to scare you into calling their phone number, where a concerned technician will offer to rid you of said viruses. They will then ask you for access to your computer and proceed to either steal your data or charge you to "fix" the problem. Or both.
In my last blog, I talked about how we sometimes end up with these fake warning messages. However, today, I want to impart 3 takeaways:
1. Getting this warning message does NOT mean you have an actual virus
2. No legitimate tech support will ever contact you in your internet browser to tell you that you have a virus
3. All you have to do to "unlock" your screen is to quit your browser (command + Q keys on a Mac, or alt + F4 keys in Windows)
I hope this info will save you any future anxiety from such scammers. If you have any questions about these fake warnings, please feel free contact me.
One of the easiest ways to get scammed or pick up malware these days is through something called “clickbait.” Like the name sounds, clickbait is an internet device designed to catch our attention and cause us to click on it to find out more information. Often, this scourge (like the one shown here) comes in the form of what looks to be an advertisement or news article. This practice is also known as "malvertising."
“Priscilla, 72, Admits What Elvis Used to…”
“iPhone Users, Don’t Forget to Do This By Monday!”
“7 Ways to Retire Comfortably With $500,000”
“Acclaimed Doctor Says Do This One Thing Every Day. Loose Belly Fat Now!”
“Where Are These Stars of the 1970s Now? Number 5 Will Shock You!”
The sad part is that you don’t even have to go to a nefarious website to get stung. A large number of good websites have these bad ads, too.
For the sake of this example, let’s take ordinary, reputable news sites, such as MLive, CNN, or the Weather Channel. These organizations make money by selling a lot of advertising on their sites. In order to bring in the most revenue, they contract out the selling of ads to a sophisticated network of advertising tech companies, which in turn place millions of ads on millions of websites. In fact, it’s these ad tech firms that decide who sees what ads on which websites—not MLive, CNN, or the Weather Channel.
The technical term is called “programmatic advertising.” In this system, advertising tech companies use computers to automate a lightning-fast auction process whereby advertisers bid on available ad spaces on websites. The software programs also ensure that advertisers can target specific ads to specific groups of users. Ever wonder how you see a bunch of ads for cars after doing a Google search for one?
The benefit (and, here, I mean only to the websites and advertisers) is that advertisers get to show the ads they want to the people they want, and websites can keep their ad spaces full.
The problem (and, here, I mean only to you the user) is that quite a few odious ads make their way to good websites. With the millions of transactions happening rapidly in the auction process, the advertising tech companies have their hands full. It’s their responsibility to prevent bad ads, but it’s very difficult to keep a few from slipping through the cracks.
What can you do?
The scammers try hard to get your attention. Their ads look very enticing, or often look like real news articles (even I really wanted to click on the picture of the submarine). To keep yourself from getting burned, I recommend a few things:
•Before clicking on a news story (particularly those at the end of a legitimate news article or in the margin) look for words in faint text that say things like “ad,” “sponsored,” or “from around the web.”
•If the ad or headline seems out of character for the legit website you’re on, it’s likely trying to sell you something or scam you.
•To prevent malware, download Malwarebytes and add their browser guard.
•If one of those scary alerts pops up telling you that your computer is infected and you need to call a phone number, don't panic–you're not really infected yet. It is a scammer trying to get you to, but all you need to do is quit your browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.).
•Don’t click on ads. Just don’t. Why play Russian Roulette?
Stay Safe Out There
I know it seems like navigating the internet just gets harder and harder, but if you stay vigilant you can keep yourself out of trouble. Now that you know some of the telltale signs to look out for, and understand that even good sites can have bad ads, you can now read a news article or look up the weather without being the fish that gets caught by clickbait.
HOW TO ORGANIZE (AND FIND!) YOUR PHOTOS
Here we are at the third part in our 3-part series. In March, we discussed how to organize our computer files. In April, we took a look at why it’s important to delete old apps and accounts. This month, we’ll tackle that age old problem of gathering all of our photos together in one place. For many of us, we have photos on our phone. We also have some photos on our desktop, in a Photos or Pictures folder, and a bunch in emails and texts that people have sent us. It’s time to take control of the situation and get these photos wrangled.
WHAT APP DO I NEED?
What type of phone you have is how to decide which photos app you’ll use. If you have an iPhone, then you’ll want to use Apple’s Photos app for your organizing, because the pictures you take automatically go to the Photos app. You can use Photos on either your iPhone or Mac computer. If you have a Windows PC, then you’ll access the Photos app using iCloud.
If you have an Android phone, you’ll want to use its Google Photos app. To access Google Photos on either a Mac or PC, go to the internet at www.photos.google.com.
When using either app, you can then set it to sync with all of your devices. This way, a couple of minutes after you take a picture with your phone, you’ll be able to see it on your computer, too.
HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR PHOTOS
Once you snapped your beautiful pictures of the grandchildren, or the fort at Mackinac Island with your phone, the photos immediately become a part of your photo app. In Apple Photos, the main directory, where all of your photos are stored, is called the Library. In Google Photos, it’s just called Photos. Both apps arrange your pics chronologically to make it easier to find them.
To organize your pictures even further, you can create albums. Put all of your Mackinac photos into an album and call it Trip to Mackinac 2023. Did you have a family reunion? Put all of your pictures from that celebration into a new album and call it Family Reunion 2015. See where I’m going here?
You can even create shared albums, where people you invite can upload their pictures from the event to that album. This way, you have the photos that everyone took on that trip or at that event. Now you can pick and choose the best ones.
WHERE’D AUNT BETTY GO?
Albums make finding photos from a particular event a snap. But what if you just need to find pictures of a particular person? A few weeks ago, I was searching for photos of my Aunt Betty. I began by scrolling chronologically through my Library, going back, back, back, to my oldest pics. After scanning the first couple hundred photos with no luck, I began to panic. Where’d my 96-year-old aunt go? That’s when I remembered that I could search my Library using a filter for people’s faces.
In Apple Photos, look at the navigation pane on the left and click on People. Here’s where the app has scanned faces of people it has seen regularly in your library and placed them together for easy cataloging. Click on the person you’re looking for, and you’ll see photos of that person in your library.
In Google Photos, you’ll want to click on Explore in the navigation pane on the left. There, you’ll find a section labeled People & Pets.
Note: In both apps, if you ever need to add someone to the People section, locate a picture of that person (or pet) in your Library and click on the “i” for information.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Another nifty way to find a particular photo is to search by location. In Apple Photos, click on Places in the navigation pane on the left. In Google Photos, type the location in the search bar at the top. The apps differ as to how they determine the location of where the photo was taken—camera settings, landmarks in the background, manual entry of the place under Information, etc. Nonetheless, searching by location can be a very handy tool.
MORE TO EXPLORE
These are the fundamentals of organizing your photos and finding them. Unfortunately, going into detail about each app just isn’t feasible here. Each step would require its own article. Just know that both Apple and Google can help you get your pictures housed under one roof and allow you to find them easily. I encourage you to give them a try, and if you ever need help, please feel free to contact me.
Why It's Important to Delete Old Apps & Accounts
Last month was the first part in our 3-part series on organizing your digital life, and I wrote about file organization. This month, I’d like to discuss another gem when it comes to decluttering our devices (and our minds): deleting your old, unused apps and online accounts. We’ll also see why this type of spring cleaning is more essential than you might think.
First of all, when I talk about “apps,” I’m referring to anything that we may call “programs” or “software.” How did we get so many of them on our computers and phones? Surprising isn’t it?
You may have collected these apps over time in a variety of ways:
HOW TO FIND OLD APPS
It’s good to go through your device periodically to see what you don’t or can’t use anymore.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
WHY IT’S REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT
Moreover, it’s especially important to remove those unused applications if you have login accounts tied to them (and many do). In fact, you should think about deleting all of your unused online accounts, whether there’s an app associated with it or not. “But I don’t have that many,” you may think. Oh yeah? Take a look at how many passwords/logins you have.
Where did they all come from? Of course, we have our important passwords that we use frequently, such as our Windows or Apple ID, or our patient portal login info. But we also tend to collect many other account logins, just like we tend to collect unopened plastic wear from takeout dinner orders.
These old accounts can contain a slew of your identity details, personal data, credit card information, and (hopefully not) your favorite re-used password. Why have more targets for attackers than absolutely necessary? It’s also likely that you’re still receiving spam from some of those old accounts.
HOW TO FIND OLD ACCOUNTS
If you’re wondering just how many accounts you have, there are three good ways to find them:
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Note: simply deleting the app from your device does NOT delete your account. Once you’ve found an old online account, you’ll have to go to its website, login, and then find out how to delete it. You can usually do this under your account settings on the site. However, as many sites have different procedures, you may have to do a bit of looking around.
With any luck, your account is so old that the company already deleted it for you!
Stay tuned next month for Part III in our series when we take a look at finding photos and deleting duplicates.
As we know, it’s all too easy to let our technology get out of hand to the point where we feel disorganized and stressed out. I’ve previously mentioned two of the biggest areas of discontent–managing passwords and disposing of old cords and devices. Over the next three issues, I’ll discuss other technological culprits that leave us feeling overwhelmed: messy file organization, the clutter of unused apps & accounts, and storing & finding photos. I’ll begin this month with file organization.
Organizing Our Computer Files
Maybe you’re the type of computer user who saves and keeps every file you have on your desktop. While having a cluttered desktop will slow down a Mac to some degree (not so much on a PC), the bigger issue this creates is that you won’t be able to find something quickly when you need it.
Or, perhaps, you throw everything into a single folder, or many separate folders. This is a step better than just leaving them on your desktop. But, it can still be hard to locate that one file you’re looking for unless you’ve organized these folders into something called “subfolders.”
I recommend using your Documents folder as an optimal storage location. Think of your Documents folder more as a filing cabinet. In that filing cabinet, there are folders and subfolders (like a hanging file folder system, to continue the visual reference). Name each folder according to the topic, and name each subfolder as a smaller subject within that topic. Then save each file you have in the subfolder it pertains to. For example:
Above is a screenshot of a Finder window on a Mac, showing the Documents folder, its folders, subfolders, and their individual files. I have a folder named after my Google IT Support Certification class. In that folder are files and a subfolder for class notes. The class notes subfolder has a file with notes on Modems and Routers.
You can get to the Finder by clicking on this guy:
On a Windows PC, you’ll find the Documents folder in File Explorer. Click on this icon to use File Explorer:
In this example, I’m using the Documents folder within Microsoft’s OneDrive, seen below. There’s also a different Documents folder located in your user folder on your C:/ drive. Don’t get them confused, as they are not syncing their contents with each other. I recommend using just one of the Documents folders as your main “filing cabinet.”
Pro Tips for Both PC and Mac!
Give your files names that make sense to you and distinguish them from other, similar files. Instead of “Letter,” try to be more specific: “Kathy Recommendation Letter.”
• Add dates to the end of file names that you create a lot of: “Meeting Notes 020423.” (The date being February 4, 2023 in this example.)
• Sometimes you want to have easy and quick access to a file. To keep it at the top of an alphabetically sorted list in a folder, you can add a symbol in front of it: “*Important Ideas.” (The asterisk will come before the letter A in the list.)
• Having your folders and files stored consistently in the same manner will go a long way to cutting down on the anxiety we face when we can’t find something. It will also save you time that you could be spending on more productive activities—like collecting branches that fell in the last ice storm.
Be sure to let me know if you need help getting your files organized. Once you start, you’ll never go back.
Next month, I’ll explore part II in this series: How to Declutter your Unused Apps & Accounts.
Do you have trouble finding that Zoom link that your friends, family, or doctor sent you a week ago for a meeting today? Can't locate it in your backlog of emails? Here's a neat little tip to solve that issue: copy and paste the link–the moment you get it–into a calendar appointment. Then, when it comes time to join the Zoom call that day, just click on the link in your calendar appointment. See images below. (Note: calendar apps can vary in appearance, so it may not look exactly like this on your computer, but the concept is the same for all.)
So Much Junk Mail!
So you donated to a political campaign back in October, yet you're still receiving junk email from the entire party and all of its causes months later. Worse, you'll probably receive this "spam" in perpetuity. In my situation, I've been inundated with golf-related junk email. I must have signed up for an account with a golf company or association, and they shared my email with as many "partners" as they could. Removing yourself from existing mailing lists is possible, but it can be time consuming and often only somewhat effective. You should only unsubscribe from trusted, legitimate senders. The rest, you'll have to block through your email settings, which is complicated and a topic for a future article.
Hide Your Email
How do you, then, prevent more spam from invading your inbox? If you have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you can use a nice little feature called, "Hide My Email."
•What this does: It creates a random, unique email address that automatically forwards to your private email address.
•When to use it: Whenever you sign up for something online, or through an app, and are required to enter an email address (e.g., when creating a new account).
•Why it works: Senders never see your real email address. In addition, if the sender's emails get to be too much, simply delete your "Hide My" email address from your iCloud settings and be done with it. Then, that sender won't be able to spam you again.
•How to start Hide My Email: You must first have iCloud+, which is any iCloud account that subscribes to more than the free 5GB of iCloud storage that comes with an Apple device. See plans and pricing here. You must also be running OS 12 Monterey or later on a Mac, or iOS 15 or later on an iPhone or iPad. The Hide My Email option will appear whenever you create an account while using the Safari web browser.
The next time you decide to donate to a campaign, or any set up an account, and you don't want the company to see or share your private email address, use Hide My Email. Your inbox will thank you.
Don't Have an Apple Product?
If you are a Windows or Android user, it's also possible to achieve a similar hiding of your email through Firefox Relay. For more information, click here.