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!

Something phishy?

phishingYesterday I received an email from Lloyds Bank, telling me that my account will be frozen and my funds put on hold, unless I sort out my password, that has been entered incorrectly 5 times. The email asked me to download a file that would allow me to confirm my details and so release my funds. The strange thing is that I don’t even bank with Lloyds, and I’m sure that if I did, their email address wouldn’t be ‘Lloyds-Bank@mac.com’.

Luckily I’d been researching for this post about phishing scams so I was aware that this is exactly the sort of email to be wary of. Anyone with an email address is liable to receive these ‘spam’ or ‘phishing’ emails, that try to plant a virus in your computer and in one way or another, take your personal data to commit identity theft. There are all sorts of different scams that try to do this, so here are some tips for what to look out for and how to avoid accidentally having your personal security breached.

  1. Be careful of emails that come from unrecognised senders, emails that ask you to confirm personal information or that aren’t personalised. Don’t let alarming messages panic you into downloading something that could be a virus.
  1. banksNever click on a link or an attachment in an email from someone you’re unsure of. An email may look as though it is from your bank or credit card company, but in reality banks will phone you or send a letter if they think there is a problem with your account. If you want to check that everything is fine with your bank account or credit card, either log in to your account on their website directly or give them a ring. They will appreciate hearing about these scams too.
  1. secure-web-site-lock-iconNever send your personal data such as bank account passwords or other financial information in an email. If you need to communicate this sort of stuff, only do it on a website that you know is secure – look for a lock icon in the browser status bar, or check that the URL (website address) starts with “https:” where ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’. Generally banking websites don’t ask you for your whole password, just selected characters from it.
  1. Don’t be fooled by “Your chance to win” scams. Lots of phishing emails now entice you to click on links that promise ‘a free iPad’ or ‘a luxury holiday for two’ – these could embed a virus into your computer that allows the scammer to follow your keystrokes to access your innermost secrets. The only winner from these emails is the crook.
  1. Make sure you’ve set up some security on your computer. There are many ways to set up firewalls, spam filters and anti-virus software – some of which are free with your computer software, others you need to pay for. But the £10 – £60 you’ll spend is well worth it when you consider what a phishing scam could cost you in both cash and hassle.

I’ll be having a look at computer security in this blog soon, so look out for that if you want more information. Or just give us a call to discuss what you need.

Don’t fall into the In App trap

bike raceKeeping the kids occupied in a restaurant or on a train journey is a lot easier now that most of us have smartphones or iPads. But increasingly there is the risk that they’ll enter a new world, upgrade their character or even buy a better weapon – any of which could land you with an unexpectedly large bill at the end of the month.

So why is this and what can you do about it?

photo copyIt’s all about in-app purchases. These are optional extras inside a game (or any app) that may include extra levels, extra items to increase a function within gameplay or you can simply pay to remove intrusive adverts that appear within the app.

Do I have to buy the ‘in-app purchases’?

No.  An in-app purchase may offer the ability to speed something up but if you’re patient, you don’t need to pay for these items.  If you don’t mind adverts popping up when you complete a level or earn the weapon you need to fight that villain – the game will continue to be free.

As a result of some recent controversy involving both Apple and Google and the ease of accidentally racking up huge bills, there are now simple ways to switch off or restrict the ability to make in-app purchases – here’s how:

photoOn the iPhone:

Open SETTINGS, go to GENERAL

Go to RESTRICTIONS

Tap ENABLE RESTRICTIONS

You’ll be asked to enter your PASSCODE ( or set one up if you haven’t already)

Now you’ll be able to turn the IN APP Purchases option to   OFF as shown.

Set PINOn Android devices:

Go to the Google PLAY STORE app

Enter the MENU

Open SETTINGS

Under USER CONTROLS select SET OR CHANGE PIN.

Enter your PIN or set one if necessary

Choose USE PIN FOR PURCHASES

That’s it!

WIth thanks to this week’s guest blogger Nick Hutson, Tipster since September 2013.

 

 

Update today to prevent hacking

ipad and iphoneThose of us who love our Apple devices, for the way they all play together so nicely and are so simple to use, can sometimes be a bit smug about their invulnerability to viruses. (see our earlier post: Happy new mac). That may be true, but it was revealed this week that Apple had ‘seriously dropped the ball’ on security and that iPhones and iPads running the iOS 7 operating system and laptops running OS X have been vulnerable to hacking.

This meant that if you were browsing the Internet when out and about, hackers could potentially intercept your personal and security information on its way to various websites, such as banking sites or Facebook.

The good news is that Apple has issued software updates for both operating systems, and these have fixed the problem. If you have noticed your Apple computer or mobile device asking you to update the software – do it now! It’s always a good idea to install Apple’s updates when they come out, (see our earlier post:Don’t download that update yet) and this one is really important to protect your online security and prevent identity theft.

If you aren’t sure how to find out whether you have the most up-to-date software, follow these simple steps:

photoOn a mobile device, go to Settings – General – Software Update. Your device will tell you if you need to install the update and will walk you through the steps; the latest version is iOS 7.0.6.

On a laptop, click on the Apple icon in the top left of your screen and go to ‘Software Update’. This will open a new window in which you will see if any updates are available. The latest version is 10.9.2.

Once you’re up-to-date, you can browse the Internet with wild abandon, confident that Apple’s encryption systems will be keeping your information secure.

What’s your Plan B?

BackupFor most people, backing up the computer doesn’t rank high on your to do list, a bit like going for a check-up at the dentist or reviewing your pension. But like those tasks, if you put it off for too long, you could find yourself with a much bigger headache later on.

All computers are susceptible to viruses, damage, theft or simply old age – any of which could result in you losing your library of photos, movies, music and other precious files. So you need a backup. The question is how to back up and to where?

The answer to ‘how to back up’ is best answered by the type of computer you have.

Time Machine1If you’ve got a Mac bought after 2007, you’ll have ‘Time Machine’ as built-in software that lets you save a full copy of everything that’s on your computer to wherever you choose (see below). Time Machine then keeps on looking at your files to see if any have changed, and backs those up too. So if you accidentally delete a file, or you want to go back to an earlier version, you can retrieve it through the Time Machine.

file-history-windows-8If you’ve got a PC running Windows, you’ll also have built-in software – File History in Windows 8, or System Backup in Windows 7 or earlier. These work in a similar way to Apple’s Time Machine – you tell the computer which files you want to back up, where to copy them and how often, and the software will do the rest automatically.

The next question is ‘where’ to store your backup and this is where it can get a bit more complicated. There are 3 main options – CDs or DVDs, external hard drives or the ‘Cloud’.

DVDbackup1. You can use CDs or DVDs to make a single copy of your valuable files and then store them somewhere away from your computer. You’ll need to replace these every few months as you add to your computer library, to keep your backup up-to-date.

hard drive2. External hard drives come in many shapes and sizes. Choose one based on how much storage space you need and your budget. If you’re using Time Machine or Windows backup software, it’s a good idea to have an external hard drive that has at least twice as much space as the data you want to store on it, so that there is room for regular backups.

skydrive3. A ‘Cloud’ backup stores your data ‘offsite’, protecting your files against something like a fire, or theft of your computer. It’s essentially your own space on the Internet. Again, there are hundreds of options for a cloud backup: some are free and included with your computer software (iCloud, SkyDrive), whilst others are free for small amounts of storage and then you can buy more space if you need it (eg Dropbox, just cloud, CrashPlan).

cloudboxThere is another backup solution that combines an external hard drive and the cloud – it’s known as NAS or network attached storage. A NAS device links to your wi-fi so that it can back up more than one computer in the house, and it can act as a central library for your music, movies and photos to be accessed by any device connected to your home network. The  great bonus with some NAS devices is that they also give you access to your files when you are away from home.

Once you’ve decided how and where to back up your files, you can relax, safe in the knowledge that your digital world is protected. We strongly recommend that you have at least one of these solutions in your home; to be doubly safe, use two.

Keep track with GPS

Angry birdsYou may have heard in the news this week that using GPS on your phone means that people like the CIA and Rebekah Brooks can find out more about your life than you might want them to. Apparently Angry Birds and Google maps are particularly ‘leaky apps’.

But having your GPS or ‘location services’ switched on can sometimes be a real godsend.

Find My iPad2If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad you can use your GPS to find your device if you lose it. The ‘Find my iPhone’ app allows you to pinpoint its location on a map, lock down all it’s functions and even send it a message to say ‘Call me on this number’. You simply sign in to the app using your Apple ID, switch on ‘location services’ for the app in your Settings, and your device is then traceable.

ADM2Google recently developed a similar app for Android – Android Device Manager. This does all the same things as ‘Find my iPhone’, and this week the much-needed password protection was introduced, making a big improvement to its security.

If you’re worried that the GPS function is using up too much of your battery life, only have it switched on for the apps that really need it, like maps and camera. For the rest of your apps, you can activate location services as and when you need to.

 

F is for Filing

How many ‘New year, new you’ articles have you seen since January 1st? New year resolutions have mostly gone out of the window by now – I fell off the wagon a week ago. But a quick look at your computer desktop or filing system may persuade you to start a new way of sorting your digital documents, music, movies and photos.

Here are some top tips for taking control of your digital world.

  1. First of all – if you share a computer, create a different account for each person that uses it. Then you are in charge of your own files and no-one else can delete your contact lists or favourite recipes. Welcome_Sceeen_Full_20060812
  2. Then, it sounds obvious, but for your documents, use the Documents folder on your computer and make new folders for every topic, such as holidays, school, work or utilities. Right clicking on your desktop is the easiest way to make a new folder. Don’t be put off by a lifetime’s backlog – just create a folder called filing to 2013 and start your new organised system off with this year’s files. You may never sort out the chaos of yesteryear, but at least you’ll be able to find the most recent tax return or school report.Documents folder
  3. When it comes to photos, it’s best to do your filing from within a programme and let it do all the organising. iPhoto on a Mac or Windows Photo Gallery are both excellent, but beware of other systems that come free with your camera or printer. They are not as good and, if you change your equipment in the future, it may be hard work moving your photos. See also https://fingertipsblog.com/2014/01/10/a-new-broom/ for how to slim down your photo library.iPhoto 500
  4. Movies are very similar – we would suggest using iMovie on a Mac or Movie Maker on a PC – part of the Windows Essentials package – and making folders within your chosen programme. These programmes will sort your video files by date so that you can easily find what you’re looking for.Movie Maker
  5. Delete old and useless files – just like de-cluttering your house, be ruthless to free up space on your hard drive.trash
  6. When you download a file from email or the Internet, it will go to a designated folder. There is a folder called Downloads, but we change our settings so that everything is saved to the Desktop. Whatever you choose, don’t leave downloads where they land – file them or delete them. Downloads
  7. Don’t keep any files on your desktop – apart from the ones you are using at that moment. You won’t be able to find anything and it slows down your computer.Messy desktop
  8. Most importantly, back up all your files. There are lots of different ways to do this – but we’ll get to that another day.

Mistaken identity

Our household now has more Apple devices than people and when that happens it’s easy to get your iLife in a tangle. Recently my iPad was inviting me to my husband’s meetings and over Christmas my son’s iPhone photos automatically uploaded onto the family computer. Granny was a bit upset.

The secret to controlling what you share is your Apple ID.

Unlike your computer, your iPhone or iPad can only have one owner and it knows who you are by an email address that you have registered with Apple, called your Apple ID.

iCloud

When your device is online it can be set to constantly send your data (your emails for this address and your diary dates, contacts, photos, videos and browser bookmarks) to Apple, who store it on their server and forward it on to any other device registered with the same Apple ID. Apple call this your iCloud account.

Where it goes wrong is when someone is using a device registered to a different person’s Apple ID. The new user may have added their own email account, but the device will still upload photos and sync diaries with the registered Apple ID.

So, unless you want to share every detail of your life, everyone should have their own Apple ID.

iTunes store

At the risk of complicating things, it’s worth pointing out that the account you have with Apple for buying music, movies and apps – your iTunes Store account – is a different thing altogether. Often you will have registered the same email address (as your Apple ID), but the two are quite independent. So if you want to you can have a single iTunes account for all the family, allowing you to educate younger generations about real music and proper movies, without receiving Facetime requests from their friends.

A new broom

How many pictures of Granny at Christmas do you really need? Or your dog doing something funny in the garden? The reality is we’ve all got too many photos and the prospect of sorting through them to work out which to keep and which to delete is so daunting that few of us bother.

PhotoSweeperBannerWe’ve recently discovered the PhotoSweeper application for Mac, which makes this seemingly huge task much easier and quicker.

PhotoSweeper looks at your iPhoto, Aperture or Adobe Lightroom photo libraries to find either exact duplicate photos or ones that are similar. It has lots of different settings that allow you to choose how it selects the pictures, and how it decides which to keep – for example you can pick partial matching based on the time the photo was taken, or the composition of the pictures. Once you’ve chosen the settings, PhotoSweeper makes a comparison of all the shots you’ve imported, and identifies groups of identical or similar pictures.

Photosweeper1You can ask it to mark the one in each group that it ‘thinks’ is the best one, and delete the rest. If you really can’t face deleting them altogether, you can save them to a different folder.

PhotoSweeper is great for times when you’ve taken loads of pictures of the family, in the hope that everyone will be smiling in at least one of them, or when you’ve imported photos from other computers and cameras and you’re not sure whether you already have them in your library.

We spent a couple of hours last week using the app and got rid of almost 1500 photos from our library of 12,000 – saving around 3GB of space. That already makes it worth the £6.99 we paid for it.

The perfect night in

With the winter nights at their longest, it’s the perfect time of year to stay in and watch a movie. These days all you need to watch the latest releases is a broadband connection and a tiny set-top box.

Apple TVIf you have an Apple iPad or iPhone, then the obvious choice is the Apple TV. This little black box costs £99 and connects to the Internet by wi-fi. Movies from Apple are a little bit pricey, but there is a good selection and you only pay for what you watch. There are also other TV services such as Netflix available on a subscription basis.

Roku screenIf you’re not an Apple person, then a better option might be Roku. These set-top boxes start at £50 and, in addition to Netflix and BBC iPlayer, offer Sky Movies for £9 a month with the Sky Sports channels on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Both Apple and Roku also let you play your own music, photos and home movies on your TV from your phone or tablet. However, if that sounds like a feature you’ll never use, then the best deal of all is Sky’s own Now TV box. This is actually last year’s Roku box with a few features stripped out. Unlike its rivals it’s not full HD, but it only costs £10, so you could have an Apple TV and a Now TV for the ultimate Now TVchoice of movies.

All of these options only stream content from the Internet. If you want to record your own programmes then you’ll need a bigger, more expensive set-top box such as YouView, which also gives you access to BT Sport.

Happy viewing!