Science fiction for today

kubrick_archive_2001_dress-rehearsals_spaceship_crew-2When I was growing up, the idea of ‘video calls’ was really far out and radical. On my travels round Australia and Asia in my twenties, I had to schedule a rather expensive phone call with my folks about once a week, or wait for those wonderful, tissue-thin airmail letters to arrive at Post Restante, half way across town.

Today, I have regular Skype calls with friends around the globe and we can see each other to chat for as long as we like, for free. With Christmas coming up, I thought it would be fun to introduce you to some of the many (free) video calling services out there so that you can easily share the festive season with far-flung friends and relatives (or those just round the corner). It’s sci-fi for today.

There are lots of great packages you can use, and most have mobile versions too, so you can video call from your smartphone or tablet, as well as your computer. Here are three that we like:

26456e06d545876f253b1538938624241. FaceTime: if you both have iPhones or iPads, then Apple’s FaceTime is a great thing to use. It’s simple to use because all Apple products come ready equipped with the app, and it connects with your contacts, so instead of phoning someone, you can just FaceTime them instead. If you live in a world of friends and family who mostly own iDevices, this is perfect for you.

facebook-messenger2. Facebook Messenger: yes, you may not realise it, even if you’re a regular Facebook user. But download the Facebook ‘Messenger’ app and not only can you send messages directly to your Facebook friends but you can talk for free and make video calls too! I just tested it out with my 16 year old son – it worked really well, but he was less than thrilled to see my face suddenly appear on his phone. This works just as well if one of you is using Android and the other iOS (iPhone). Not so easy to do on a computer.

skype_logo-svg3. Skype: this is the daddy of video calling services. Skype may be owned by Microsoft now, but it still has a strong identity of its own. On your computer, just open your internet browser (Safari, Chrome, Edge etc) and search for Skype.com. The webpage will open and you can set up an account for free, then download the desktop application that’s right for your computer (choose Mac or Windows). You can use Skype on a phone or tablet too, so you can use it anywhere you have wifi. Once you’ve downloaded the programme, you can log in and search for friends and family. You can make voice and video calls, send text messages or even use it to send panasonic-image-skype_video_chat2large files like photos. If you’re feeling especially clever you can make group calls too.

So there you have it. You don’t need to be Captain Kirk or Dr Floyd to use a videophone – the technology is simple, free and right there at your fingertips.

Snap happy

cornwall-2013-28It’s starting to feel decidedly autumnal, which means it must be time to tackle the task of getting all the photos I took on my summer holidays off my phone/ camera and on to my computer. For some people this is slightly daunting and so gets put off until the point when your camera can’t take any more pictures because the storage space is full. But it’s really quite simple and if you do it regularly you’ll find you can organise your photos into lovely albums that make it easy to find and show off your best shots to your friends.

pict0099Alternatively (or as well) you can use a cloud-based service to store your photos, and these can be set up so that they upload photos automatically from your phone. This means that should the worst happen (a spilt cup of coffee, leaving your laptop on the bus…), you’ve still got your lovely pictures safely stored elsewhere.

Here’s how to do both:

Manually upload your photos using a USB cable. The process for importing and transferring photos from a mobile device basically hasn’t changed for a decade. The process varies slightly between ecosystems and operating systems, but it’s typically a matter of plugging your phone or tablet in to your computer using a USB cable, and clicking the Import button, (or some version thereof). Once imported, you can delete the photos from your phone and free up space to take more.

Here’s how it works on my Mac: plug my phone into the computer with a USB cable and the Photos app (or iPhoto, depending on the age of your computer) opens up (you need to tick the box that says ‘Open Photos for this device’ to make this happen each time)screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-54-13The app will show all the photos on your phone, separating them into those that are already on your computer and any that are new.
Choose the photos you want to import by clicking on each image, or choose ‘Import new’ to upload all of them. Then click ‘Import selected’ and the process of uploading begins. This could take a few minutes depending on how many pictures you’ve got.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-10-55-46The process will be much the same if you’re using a PC and the Windows Photo app. Once the pictures have been imported, it’s a good idea to organise them into albums, so that you can find them easily later.

google-drive-logo-2esegzlUse a cloud-based service to have your photos automatically uploaded as you take them. This is a fantastic way to make sure you never lose any of your photos, even if you drop your phone in the swimming pool. There are hundreds of cloud storage services, and you may already be subscribed to one. If you’ve got an iPhone the chances are you already have an iCloud account and if you’ve got an Android phone, you’ve probably got a Google Drive or Google Photos account. Another dropbox-logopopular and easy to use service is Dropbox, and they all work in much the same way. The key is to make sure that you are signed in to the same account on your phone as you have on your computer, and to turn on the ‘automatic upload’ facility.

dropbox-camera-uploadI have my photos loading to Dropbox automatically which means that every time I am in a wifi area, any new pictures will be sent to my Dropbox account. To do this, I have the Dropbox app installed on my phone. Then in the settings section of the app (look for the little ‘cog’ icon) go to ‘Camera uploads’ and make sure this is set to ‘On’. Once this is set up, it means that if you delete a photo from your phone, it will still be on your computer, in your Dropbox account – genius! So you can take as many pictures as you like on your holiday and you should never run out of storage space.

icloud_ios7Google Drive and iCloud work in a similar way – just go to the settings in the apps and choose the ‘auto-add’ function for Google Drive, or switch ‘Photos’ to ‘on’ for iCloud. For this to free up space on your device, do not check the box next to iCloud Photo Library, but do check ‘Photo Stream’.

Be careful with iCloud  – if you use the relatively new iCloud Photo Library to store your photos, deleting images from your phone or iPad will remove them from the cloud too. You can find more information about how to use iCloud here. And we will talk more about this slightly complicated system another day.

As always, if you have any comments or queries, please get in touch. Until next time… happy snapping!

Protect yourself from password amnesia

james-bond Passwords used to be something used only by spies in on-screen thrillers and children in their games. But it’s a fact the more time we spend online with computers and other interactive devices, the more passwords are becoming indispensable. And, with every year that goes by, my ageing brain finds it harder to remember them all.

There are three ways to deal with this problem. The first way might be slightly counter-intuitive and very low-tech, but, as we suggested in the last post, just write your passwords down somewhere and keep them safe. Although if it’s a PIN or something that relates to a bank account be VERY careful.

The second way is the one I use, really because it’s so simple and is built in to my computer’s operating system. I’m afraid it’s only available for Mac users though as it uses Safari’s password management system and iCloud Keychain. Here’s how it works:

Next time you go to set up a new online account, say for Amazon, when you get to the password box, Safari will suggest a password for you:Safari password

You can choose to accept that one, or you can choose your own. Either way, Safari will remember if for you, as long as you hit the ‘Save Password’ button that pops up.Save password

Now, the brilliant thing is the next time you go to that site, Safari will automatically fill in your password for you. And, if for some reason it doesn’t, there is an easy way to retrieve that long, complicated password:

In the top menu bar, click on Safari -> Preferences -> Passwords. In the search window in the top right corner of this box, type in the name of the site (Amazon for example) and up will come your login name (usually your email address) and the password shown as **********. Password reminderTo reveal the password, check the box in the bottom left that says ‘show password for selected sites’ and voila!

The last reason I love this method is because if you have your Apple ID set up on all your iDevices, your passwords will sync across your iPhone and your iPad, which is a fantastic time saver and frees up your memory for the good stuff.

The third, and probably most robust way to remember passwords and keep them secure is to get a password manager.

PasswordKeeperThis is an excellent way not only to avoid the wasted hours spent trying to remember that clever, ‘unforgettable’ password you set up for your Ocado account, but it also goes a long way to protect you against hackers.  If you use the same password on lots of websites, the risks to your security increase dramatically. A breach at one site could expose all of your accounts. If that password is a lame one like “123456” or “password,” a hacker could get into your account just by guessing. The problem is, avoiding same passwords and lame passwords is really hard—too hard for most of us to manage without help. But the solution is simple—install a password manager and change all of your passwords so every single one is different, and every single one is long and hard to crack. Of course, if a major hack attack does expose thousands or millions of email accounts, including yours, there’s nothing you can do except change your password pronto. But a password manager will change all your logins to crazy-tough passwords like G2#iywoYXq$2T34d or %N!46vY758WEr#*8. And because the password manager remembers the passwords for you, all you need to do is remember one password to access all the rest.

There are lots of different password managers to choose from, so we’re just suggesting three here. All of these can be used for free, although more features (like syncing across all your devices) can be obtained for a small annual fee (around £10). Be sure to read the small print before you sign up – some offer the product for free but limit the number of passwords you can store – up to around 15. If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a lot more than that.

  1. LP-LogoLastPass 3.0  has been around for a while, and is still a great, completely free password manager. It has a breadth of features not found in the competition.
  1. Powerful biometric authentication is the star feature in 1U Password Manager. If that sounds lik1Ue techno-babble, it essentially means that the app scans your face and/ or fingerprint to check that it really is you logging on, and the rest works like magic. The password manager itself is pretty basic though, and it could use some user-interface work. But it’s worth a look, if just to marvel at the technology.
  1. DashlaneI’ve really saved the best ’till last. With secure sharing, an emergency contacts feature that passes on your data if something happens to you, and automated password changing, the full programme of Dashlane is not free, but remains one of our top picks for password managers. And even the free version works on Android, iOS, Windows and Mac.

So, no more weak password worries or time wasted searching for forgotten passwords. Please get in touch if you have any questions, queries or comments.

 

 

 

 

Weak wi-fi woes

wifi-home-networkIt can be so disappointing – after a long day, you’re looking forward to catching up with the episode of The Night Manager you missed last week, only to find that you can’t get a wi-fi signal in the room you’ve set up as your TV snug at the top of the house.

We get a lot of requests for help to improve wi-fi signals at home – home networks can get quite congested with kids streaming things on their iPads, gaming and home-working, not to mention the tall houses in London that mean routers can struggle to push signals to the furthest reaches of your home. So, what to do about it? Is it possible to boost a weak wi-fi at home? Of course it is. And as with all things technical, there are many options – some simple, some needing a bit more effort and cash.

Here’s a few things you can try yourself.

Move, it, baby!

router

While routers are hardly eye candy, they shouldn’t be tucked behind cabinets or sofas. For the best wi-fi signal, routers should be placed in open spaces, where there are no obstructions or walls. If the router has antennae they should be positioned vertically. The higher and more central the router is located in the home, the better its coverage will be. And bear in mind wi-fi isn’t keen to compete with other electronic devices – particularly microwaves and cordless phones. And the signal will be weakened by thick walls, steel beams, washing machines and other low-tech realities of life. There are routers that are developing curved wi-fi signals, but let’s not go there yet!

Channel hopping

You may find in compact London that there are dozens of other wi-fi networks crowding your precious signal, so it might be worth changing the channel on your router to find one less crowded. This should give you a better chance to catch up with that episode of The Night Manager whilst the kids are battling online monsters on their iPads.

Power (line) to the people

wireless_home_2010Search Amazon for ‘wi-fi booster’ and you’ll find dozens of items for sale, starting around the £20 mark. And probably the easiest of these gems to use are power line adapters. We particularly like the Devolo wifi range – they’re a bit more expensive but super-easy to set up. These clever little devices use the household wiring of your home to send the broadband signal around the house. Plug one into a socket near your router. Attach said router to the power-line adapter with an ethernet cable. Plug another power-line adaptor into a plug socket in your office eyrie and bob’s your uncle. Almost.

Of course, if you can’t fix woeful wi-fi yourself, just give us a quick call. Umair joined us as a Tipster in January; he’s our network expert, tempting your wi-fi signal to the very furthest corners of your house. He’s getting quite excited about the new curved wi-fi signals too!

 

 

The joys of YouTube

You Tube logoI read recently that people upload 100 hours of video to YouTube every minute, and that if you tried to watch every video currently on there, (assuming no new videos are uploaded while you are watching) it would take you 60,000 years!  So it’s no wonder you can lose yourself for hours onSneezing panda YouTube,  watching anything from the latest movie trailers, music videos or just laughing at funny animals – this is one of my all time favourites (click on the panda picture) – be sure to have the sound turned on.

But YouTube can be really useful if you don’t know where else to look for help with something (I learnt how to re-grout my shower from a lady on YouTube) and that includes help with your home IT. Lots of people post tutorials that are designed to solve your IT issues, but they can be of variable quality and sometimes you Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.59.38can end up more confused than when you started. Also, with so many videos on YouTube, you can spend hours searching for precisely the information you need and never quite find it.

So this blog post is really just a shameless plug for the new Fingertips promotional video, that talks about some of the ways we can help with your cropped-small-helpdesk-finger1.jpghome technology. You can watch it here, or on the home page of our website. Please let me know what you think of it, or just send on your favourite YouTube videos for us to enjoy.

Top Tips – iOS 8

8Just when you were getting used to the features that were introduced on your iPhone or iPad last year with iOS 7 (see our earlier blog), Apple have released iOS 8 and we’re being encouraged to upgrade. I finally took the plunge with iOS 8.0.2 hoping that the early bugs have been ironed out, and there are some clever new functions. To help you through the bewildering array of new features, and point you in the direction of those that will be most useful, we’ve compiled some top tips.

BackupFirst though, I know a number of people whose device got stuck midway through the update and they had to restore it using iTunes. This is pretty easy to do and shouldn’t be a problem at all – as long as you have backed up your device before you start the upgrade. I know we’re always banging on about backing up, but it can save so much heartache if anything should go wrong. If you’re not sure how to make a back up, have a look at this Apple support page.

So, you’ve upgraded to iOS 8 and nothing much seems to have changed on the face of it. Here are some highlights – and things to watch out for:

photo search1. Photos – an excellent new search function: go to your Photos app and touch the search icon (a little magnifying glass), then type in what you are looking for – such as ‘Jan 2012’, ‘Spain’ or ‘Chiswick’ – and all the relevant photos will be shown.

If you delete a photo, it isn’t immediately removed from your phone or iPad – it goes to a ‘Recently deleted‘ folder for 30 days; from here you can either permanently delete it, or if you change your mind, you can restore it to an album.

 

 

2. Email – flag, move or delete emails with just a sideways swipe – if you just quickly swipe to the left it’ll delete straightaway, so be a bit careful with this or you’ll be hunting in your trash folder more often than you’d like.

You can set up notifications for when someone replies to an important mail: touch the flag icon at the bottom of the mail, touch ‘notify me‘ then ‘notify me again. Then as soon as you get a reply, a message will appear on your screen to let you know.

New contacts from email: if you get an email from a new contact or someone who has changed their details, a box will appear at the top of the mail when you open it, giving you the option to ignore or add to contacts – so simple!

Family sharing3. Family sharing – this is big news for Apple and should be a really useful function, especially if you have a number of iThings in your family and you want to keep track of who is buying what. Family sharing means that up to 6 people can share purchases from the iTunes store without sharing an Apple ID. Once you’ve set up who is in your family, you can share photos and calendars too. The best thing is once you enable ‘Ask to Buy‘ you will be sent a request when your children want to buy from iTunes, iBooks or the App Store. You have control because you hold the purse strings.App request

4. Messages – predictive text is the big new innovation here – your phone or iPad will ‘learn’ how you communicate with different people in both messages and emails, and provide suggestions for your next word as you type. If you find this slightly annoying, you can switch it off – go to SettingsGeneralKeyboard and slide the button next to Predictive to off (no green showing)

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 16.27.17You can also share your location using Messages now – if you’re meeting a friend and they can’t find you, just go to Details in your Messages conversation and choose ‘send  my current location‘ if you are staying still, or ‘share my location‘ if you are moving around. Your friend will receive a map and can find directions to you, or track where you are going.

5. Apple Tips – there are loads more new functions we Tipscould tell you about, but Apple probably do it best. So have a look at a new app that will have popped up on your device when you upgraded to iOS8 – imaginatively called Tips. Here you’ll find lots more information about how to get the most out of your device, and Apple will be updating it over time, so keep watching it!

 

 

The Cloud with a silver lining

So you’re off on holiday for half term and you want to take the entire series of Breaking Bad to watch on your iPad (just incase the weather is terrible). The problem is you’ve only got 1GB left on your iPad so you can’t fit it all on. There is a solution though – in the Cloud.

We’ve all heard the term “Cloud” computing but how can it help you watch your favourite TV shows? In essence, the Cloud gives you access to loads of content that you can’t squeeze on to your devices, by storing films, songs and files on a computer that you reach via the Internet. If you’re an Apple user, you can access your stored media through iCloud, and for Android users, Google Drive does the same.

cloudWhat makes the Cloud so great is that you don’t need to download the film you want to watch on to the computer (or iPad/iPhone/tablet); you merely need to have access to the Internet. Apple and Google provide these services for free (up to a certain amount of storage) because it encourages their customers to buy from their online stores – the iTunes store or Google Play.

If, on the other hand, you’re off on holiday and you want to watch Breaking Bad during the flight, you can download it to your iPad or computer. Then simply wipe it from the device after you’ve watched it, to free up space. Don’t forget, the purchase is always linked to your account, so you still own the programmes, and you can still stream it once you’re connected to wi-fi. Google drive

Another great thing about the Cloud is that if you were to buy a TV show on the iPad and start watching the first 24 minutes of it, but then you want to go across to another device (linked to the same account), you’ll be able to continue right from where you left off.

icloudTo use to all this clever functionality, just make sure that you have your device settings configured correctly; on an iPhone or iPad, go to the Settings menu, choose ‘iTunes & App Store’ and switch the slider to green for Music and Videos.

For Android users, go to SettingsAccountsGoogle [your username]. Then locate ‘Drive’ in the list of things your device can sync to and make sure it is ticked. That way, anything in your Google Drive account can be accessed via your phone or tablet.

Happy half term!