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  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: August 31, 2016

    Bogged down with digital clutter?

    Start purging junk from your digital life with these tips.

    A few times during the year, I get an urge to purge. Whether it’s spring cleaning my closet or taking an hour on New Year’s Day to archive all of last year’s emails, I find it incredibly gratifying to dump (or sometimes simply hide) stuff I don’t need. There’s a whole lot of hippie rhetoric about how clutter-free environments lead to clarity of mind, and I’m not necessarily saying I believe it all, but I sure do feel less stressed when the junk is gone.

    How to start purging your digital life

    If you enjoy a good purge and have a messy digital life, here are some suggestions and tips for getting rid of some old data.

    DESKTOP

    The computer desktop becomes messy when we stick a file there for convenience, usually so it will be in our line of sight and we’ll remember it exists.

    When we repeat this behavior over and over, the principle defeats itself. How can you see and remember a file among a heap of others, all crowding the desktop?

    The easiest way to clean up the desktop is to view all the files in a list, rather than looking at the graphical representation of the desktop itself. In other words, open a Finder window in OS X or File Explorer in Windows. It makes it easier to spot files that are ready to be deleted. You can much more easily see their file names, file type, and date they were created or last edited. You can also turn on the preview option for images, PDFs, and other files because taking a glance at them might help you determine whether they’ve come to the end of their usefulness.

    Also, don’t leave your year folders on the desktop! It will only clutter it again. Put them somewhere you’ll remember easily, such as within the My Documents folder or maybe in a file-syncing folder, like the main Dropbox folder.

    EMAIL

    No one has time to sort through their email messages one by one. Don’t do that. Instead, apply the same concept that you used to clean up your desktop to sweep old emails out of sight. Create a new email folder (or a label in Gmail) called 2015. Create another one called 2014. Scroll through your inbox or filter it by date and select everything from that year. Now move all those messages en masse to the corresponding year folder. Your messages are still in your email account. You know where you can find them. You can read them and reply to them any time. But your inbox is now much cleaner, and you can feel good about that.

    PHOTOS ON YOUR PHONE

    I have a really quick and easy way to move photos off an iPhone (or any smartphone) that involves using cloud storage. If you follow the steps in that article, you shouldn’t have any trouble cleaning up your phone. Quite a few cloud storage apps have a button that quickly and efficiently copies all your photos to the online account, which means you can delete the photos from your phone. If cloud storage is not something you want to use, you can check out devices such as the SanDisk ¡Xpand to do the trick for you.

    APPS (MOBILE)

    To sort through your apps and decide which ones you don’t want, first start by backing up your phone (see how to back up an iPhone), just in case you delete something accidentally and want to restore the data in it. In many cases, your data will be in a cloud account, and it will restore as soon as you reinstall the app and log into the account. But not all apps work that way, and it’s a good idea to back up regardless.

    Now, go to the screen that’s farthest from your home screen. The reason is that your homescreen probably has apps you do use, whereas the screen that’s hardest to reach likely has apps you don’t use.

    BROWSER TABS

    Are you a tab hoarder?

    Do you leave open dozens of tabs in your browser, sure that any day now you’re going to read all those articles or watch all those videos you opened? here are a number of solutions for managing excessive browser tabs. An easy one is to bookmark all your open tabs, which is generally a one-click option in the browser. All your tabs will be saved so you can open them again any time, but you can close them for now, dump the cache, and start over with a fresh browsing session.

    FRESH START

    Few people have good habits of purging their digital junk, but that’s to be expected. Digital junk is new. We don’t yet have a lot of established rules of hygiene. But try cleaning out your desktop, email, phone, and browser. It can be as rewarding as cleaning out your physical junk.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: August 29, 2016

    Looking back onthe past few years, it has become abundantly clear what the trend is for document storage. People are storing documents, photos, and other data in the “cloud,” a buzzword for the nebulous array of services that offer storage in data centers around the world.

    But the cloud isn’t always the most private place to store data.

    US courts have basically  authorized the NSA and FBI  to hack into user accounts  without consent or a warrant.

    US courts have basically authorized the NSA and FBI to hack into user accounts without consent or a warrant.

    Don’t get me wrong. In terms of data longevity and access, cloud services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, offer clear advantages over portable drives.
    Servers have near 100 percent uptime, allowing access at any moment. Distributed data centers mean that catastrophic events won’t necessarily result in data loss from the user’s point of view.

    That said, a careful reading of a provider’s privacy statement should give you pause. Google, for example, crawls your documents in order to serve up ads and provide contextual services, such as Google Now. And most US-based companies will hand over access to your data to the US government if served with a subpoena or national security letter.

    That’s not the least of it. Data breaches and (spear) phishing attacks can expose your data to hackers, who sell it to the highest bidder, or use it for extortion.

    More ominously, US courts have basically authorized the NSA and FBI to hack into user accounts without a company’s consent or a warrant.

    It’s enough to make you want to break out your tinfoil hat and never store anything online again. But there is a way to leverage the convenience and security of cloud storage, while maintaining privacy. It just means taking a hit to the convenience side of things.

    The trick is to encrypt your data before uploading it. That way, even if the data is stolen, it is unreadable to the attacker, company, or government without the key to decrypt it. Password managers, such as Dashlane and LastPass, use this methodology in their products. As a case in point, LastPass had user data stolen last year, but because that data was encrypted, it was considered safe as long as users employed a strong passphrase and/or two-factor authentication. (Weak and/or reused passphrases are often the biggest weak points.) The hard way to encrypt all of this data is to encrypt each file you upload independently. But keeping all those individual passphrases synched can be tedious, even with a password manager. This can be simplified a little by using PGP public keys to encrypt each file, but even that can be tedious, as you have to manually encrypt each one.

    The other, more attractive, option is to use an encrypted container or compressed archive file (like a ZIP or tarball). Windows users can utilize VeraCrypt to create encrypted containers. Linux users can use Tomb (https://github.com/ dyne/Tomb), which is a front end for cryptsetup and LUKS. Tomb’s features include an easy-to-use command structure, and the ability to hide keys in images or print them out to QR codes. (Tomb has an experimental Android app, too, but it requires your phone to be rooted.) If you prefer the archive route, you can encrypt the archive with PGP.

    The downside to the container/ archive approach is that you have to download the whole archive or container each time you want to access a file within it.
    Whatever method you choose, encrypting your data before it heads to the cloud is a good practice to adopt in the era of security breaches and mass surveillance. You can’t control whether or not someone gains access to your cloud storage account, but you can control how hardened the data within it is.

    Encrypting files with GPG is a cinch  with Seahorse’s plugin for Nautilus.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: August 27, 2016

    On Google Maps, the search giant is with you every step of the way. But you can do something about it.

    Where you go, Google goes. If you have location services turned on, then Google Maps has keeps track of every step you (and your smartphone) take. Your Google Timeline, introduced last year, can be a true walk down memory lane, but it can also lead straight to you and leave the door to your privacy wide open.

    With Timeline, not only can Google Maps show you where you’re going, but where you’ve been. There might also be photographic evidence since Timeline syncs with any shots uploaded to Google Photos.

    How to Get Google to Quit Tracking You

    If you’ve turned on location services, Google is constantly pinging your phone from cell towers and Wi-Fi and using GPS to see where you are. The frequency with which it finds you can be every few minutes or every few seconds, painting a pretty accurate picture of where you are at all times.

    If this all seems less helpful and more harmful, you can remove your location history and tell Google to quit it already and stop following you. Here’s how.

    ANDROID

    When you upgrade to the latest version of Google Maps, and check out your Timeline (Hamburger icon > Your timeline), Google will ask you to turn on Location History. You can then check out where you’ve been. I signed in on a borrowed Galaxy Note 4, so the only thing it had tracked was my location at the office.

    If you’d rather not have your Android phone tracking your location, go back to Your timeline and tap on the three dots on the upper-right corner.

    Select Timeline Settings Scroll down to Location Settings. Tap “Location History is on.”

    A pop-up window will appear; tap the checkmark next to “On” Tap “OK” on the window that appears.

    You can also navigate to Hamburger icon > Settings > Google Location Settings > Location and toggle it to off.

    You can also get rid of everything under “Delete All Location History.” A pop-up will warn you that everything is about to be deleted, which might affect how Google Now and other apps that use Location History work.

    If that’s okay with you, check the box next to “I understand and want to delete” and then Delete.

    APPLE IOS

    For iOS, go to Google Maps, make sure you’re signed in, and scroll to Settings. Tap Location History, where you’ll see a slider that can go from On to Off. Slide it Off.

    How to Get Google to Quit Tracking You

    To erase the past, navigate to Settings > Maps History and tap the “X” next to the location you want to delete. On iOS, there is not currently an option to delete everything at once.

    To only enable location tracking while you’re using the app (not in the background), go to your iOS device’s Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Google Maps and select While Using the App. This can be helpful if you want the phone to remember where you’ve been for future searches but not be constantly tracking you.

    WEB

    You can also clear your history from a desktop. Go to Google Maps and sign in to your account. Select Menu and then Your Timeline. You’ll see every place you’ve been while Google Maps has been with you.

    You can delete just one day by selecting the day on the top left and clicking the garbage can icon.

    To delete your entire location history, go to the Timeline, click the gear icon on the right side of the screen and select “Delete all Location History.” Like on mobile, a pop-up will ask you if you really want to do that. If so, check the box next to “I understand and want to delete all Location History” and then “Delete Location History.”

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: August 25, 2016

    You can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free, thanks to a surprising loophole.

    Nicole Kobie reveals the backdoor Microsoft has left open and how to take advantage

    As the 29 July cut-off loomed Microsoft bombarded Windows 7 and 8.1 users with its free Windows 10 offer – convincing as many as one in five Windows PC users to upgrade. While the company is falling short of its own target (one billion devices by 2018), it’s still an impressive achievement, even if it means that the majority of Windows users remain on an older version of the operating system.

    How you can still get Windows 10 for Free

    Many of those who didn’t take up the offer were probably quite happy with their current version of Windows. But for anyone who missed the deadline, or found they couldn’t update due to hardware restrictions – such as a lack of free hard-drive space or an incompatible Wi-Fi card – there is still a way to get Windows 10 for free.

    Upgrade to Windows 10 for free

    So how can you still upgrade for free after the deadline has passed? The answer lies in a loophole Microsoft has left open for those who use assistive technologies. These are tools designed to help people with disabilities to use Windows. Examples of these tools include high-contrast colour settings (see screenshot above right), voice-activated controls, and the Narrator mode that reads on-screen text out loud (see Secret Tips on page 48 for more assistive tools).

    First, you should back up your entire PC to protect your data in case anything goes wrong during the upgrade process – we suggest you use EaseUS Todo Backup Free (download it from www. snipca.com/21134 and see our Workshop on page 38 of Issue 480 for instructions on backing up your PC).

    Next, visit www.snipca.com/21387 and click Upgrade Now to download a Windows 10 upgrade file to your PC. Depending on which browser you use, you’ll need to go to your Downloads folder to locate the file or click the file that pops up in the bottom-left corner of the browser window. Double-click the file and you’ll be prompted to confirm you want to run it; click Yes.

    Click the Upgrade Now button in the Accessibility section to install your free Windows 10 update

    The Windows 10 Update Assistant window will pop up on screen and your PC will start downloading the update. This can take some time depending on your broadband speed. When this has finished, the Assistant will run you through a series of options to complete the upgrade, including language, clock and security settings. Be aware that these can all be changed after you’ve installed Windows 10 (for Windows 10 settings were think you should change).

    Once you’ve gone through the settings options the installation process will reboot your PC and upgrade it to Windows 10.

    Do I have to prove I have a disability?

    The free offer is not limited to any specific assistive technologies and Microsoft does not request proof that you genuinely need them.

    Microsoft has yet to disclose when this loophole will be closed. But as we were going to press, a post on Microsoft’s official Windows thread on Reddit (www.snipca.com/21386) hinted that the company might at some point start insisting that Windows users contact its Disability Answer Desk (www.snipca.com/21393) in order to access the free upgrade link.

    The post explains that Microsoft sees the assistive technology upgrade route as being “based on an honour rule”. In other words, people should not take advantage if they are not a deserving cause. It’s probably naive of Microsoft to think people wouldn’t exploit this window of opportunity – especially considering the Windows 10 upgrade process was rife with problems, meaning many who began the process weren’t able to complete it before the deadline passed. This leaves two options – use the loophole or pay £100 for the operating system.

    We’ll keep a close eye on developments over the next few weeks for any news on changes to the process. For now, though, the only thing stopping you are any qualms you may have about taking advantage of the extended offer when you have no need of assistive technologies.

    But don’t worry that you’re using up a limited resource that has been set aside for more deserving causes than yours. There’s no limit to the free licences, so by making use of this offer, it’s not as though you’re preventing someone who really needs it from doing the same.

    Why is Microsoft doing this?

    It’s not entirely clear but we suspect that Microsoft wants to avoid the bad publicity that would be generated by forcing disabled people to pay £100 to upgrade. And perhaps it’s feeling guilty for neglecting assistive tools in Windows 10. The first version of the operating system offered only a cut-down selection. For example, its default web browser, Edge, didn’t support certain screen readers. Users who relied on these were advised by Microsoft to use Internet Explorer instead.

    Worse still, many people using assistive hardware – such as specially designed mice and keyboards – found that their equipment stopped working after they upgraded to Windows 10.

    Many of these missing features were addressed in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (see our cover feature, Issue 481), which arrived after Microsoft’s deadline for a free upgrade to Windows 10 had passed. The company, therefore, extended the deadline for users of assistive tools.

    Microsoft is considering making it harder to receive the free upgrade by requiring users to contact its Disability Answer Desk first

    “For the general public, the free upgrade offer for Windows 10 [ended] on 29 July,” Microsoft announced. “However, if you use assistive technologies, you can still get the free upgrade offer even after the public deadline expires as Microsoft continues our efforts to improve the Windows 10 experience for people who use these technologies.”

    Call us cynics, but we suspect that it benefits Microsoft to leave the door open. Creating the 29 July upgrade deadline in the first place generated a buzz, and keeping an alternative route open helps to maintain the interest. Some people will think that exploiting this loophole helps them ‘beat the system’. Microsoft won’t complain. Should this lead to more people using Windows 10. This unexpected opportunity could just be enough to tempt those who were sitting on the fence. If it proves popular, Microsoft may not even close the loophole at all.

    AND THERE’S YET ANOTHER WAY.

    We’re starting to think we wouldn’t believe Microsoft if our lives depended on it because, almost unbelievably, a second method of installing Windows 10 for free has emerged. The trick, as initially reported on technology website Thurrott. com (www.snipca.com/21389), involves using your Windows 7 or 8.1 product key.

    Microsoft may well close this loophole at some point but, for now. to take advantage of it you need to find your product key. It should be either on a sticker on your PC, or on your Windows installation disc (or on its sleeve). If you can’t find it, use NirSoft ProduKey to recover it.

    Co to www.snipca.com/21392 and click ‘Download ProduKey in Zip file’. Right-click the downloaded file to unzip it, double-click ProduKey.exe, then click Yes to open it You should see Windows 7 or 8.1 listed, along with its product key (blurred in the screenshot above).

    To use the product key you’ll need to use the Windows 10 download tool from Microsoft (go to www.snipca.com/21390 and click the ‘Download tool now’ button). This will download a tool called MediaCreationTool. Double-click it, then click Yes when prompted and the Windows 10 Setup will run. Accept the licence terms, choose ‘Upgrade this PC now’ and then wait for Windows 10 to download and install (this could take an hour or two).

    Once it has installed, you will be prompted for your product key. Enter your Windows 7 or 8.1 key here.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: April 20, 2016

    With 80 million users worldwide, many of us now prefer watching Netflix to traditional TV. Robert Irvine explains how to get the most from your monthly subscription

    Unlock hidden film and TV genres

    When you click Browse in the top-left corner of the Netflix website, you can choose from familiar TV and film genres such as Action, Comedies and Romance. But if you’re after something a little more specific, it’s possible to jump straight to one of thousands of hidden ‘micro-genres’. There are two ways to access these sub-categories, which include Action Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Military Documentaries and Steamy Romantic Movies. The first is to go to the Netflix Hacks section of the What’s On Netflix blog that discovered the trick (bit.ly/netflix389) and click the link – with accompanying code – for the desired micro-genre. This will take you to the relevant section of the Netflix website – you can also just add the code to: www.netflix.com/browse/genre/[code].

    Alternatively, you can install the Netflix Super Browse add-on for Chrome (bit.ly/sbchrome393) or Firefox (bit.ly/sbfirefox393), which adds a Super Browse menu to the website that includes all the secret sub-categories. You can either browse the alphabetical list of micro-genres or search their titles for particular keywords.

    Search the entire global library

    Netflix is now available in 245 countries (or ‘territories’, to be precise), some of which have a much bigger selection than the one on offer in the UK. You can access these regional variations using a VPN (although Netflix is clamping down on such tools), so it’s useful to know what’s available to watch and where. To find out, head to the unofficial Netflix online Global Search Tool (uNoGs for short, unogs.com) and enter the name of a movie, TV show, actor or director to view matches from across the world. Choose a title to see which countries are currently streaming it, and which VPNs you can use to access content in that territory. Most of these require a subscription, but some – such as Unblock-US (www.unblock-us.com) – offer a free trial. However, we’d recommend using Smartflix instead – see the next tip for details.

    You’ll be surprised how many popular films and series, including Star Wars, Harry Potter and Monty Python, aren’t available on our local Netflix, but can be viewed in places as far afield as Belize, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

    Usefully, uNoGs tells you which language movies are subtitled in, and lets you view only those with English subtitles.

    Beat regional Netflix restrictions

    You can avoid the hassle and cost of using a VPN to beat regional Netflix restrictions by using an amazing free program called Smartflix (www.smartflix.io). This lets you stream more than 14,000 films and TV series from around the world to your Desktop simply by signing into your Netflix account. Smartflix uses the uNoGs database mentioned in the previous tip to put the whole global Netflix catalogue at your fingertips, regardless of which country the content is licensed in (the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Netherlands are the most prominent territories). Simply search for a movie or TV show, or browse the global library by popularity, user rating or genre, then click a title to start watching it.

    Smartflix is free while the service is still in beta (although obviously you need a Netflix subscription) and will only cost $2.99 (£2.10) a month when it officially launches.

    Add extra features to Netflix

    Despite a smart redesign last year, the Netflix website is frustratingly basic. You can make its pages more interesting and useful by installing the excellent Chrome extension Flix Plus by Lifehacker (bit.ly/flixplus370). This offers lots of clever ways to customise Netflix and improve your viewing, and lets you choose which ones to apply in its Options menu. For example, before you start watching a film, you can view a trailer on YouTube and show ratings from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes; while for TV shows, you can hide potential spoilers for forthcoming episodes and click the Random Episode button for a surprise choice. Flix Plus also lets you rearrange your watch list, so that titles that are set to expire soon are placed at the top.

    Discover what’s new on Netflix

    Netflix has a New Arrivals section on its website and a Recently Added strip in its mobile app, but neither is particularly reliable or up to date. When the eagerly awaited Season 4 of the Netflixproduced series House of Cards was released on 4 March, many viewers couldn’t even find the new episodes, let alone play them. To ensure you don’t miss any fresh content, check out New On Netflix UK (uk.newonnetflix.info), which – despite its scrappy design – is an invaluable resource for staying abreast of the streaming service. The site is updated every day with details of the latest additions to Netflix, and also lists the films and shows that have been removed. You can browse by day or month, view upcoming titles, use The Randomiser tool to discover something new and follow New On Netflix UK on Facebook and Twitter for instant updates.

    Make subtitles more legible

    By default, subtitles for Netflix TV shows and films are displayed as yellow text with a black shadow. If you find this text difficult to read and detrimental to your viewing, it’s easy to change your subtitle settings. Hover your mouse over your username in the top-right corner and choose Your Account from the drop-down menu. In the My Profile section, click ‘Subtitle appearance’ and choose your desired font, text size and subtitle colour, and whether to use a coloured background. Click Save to apply your preferences or ‘Reset to default’ to undo them.

    Watch films and shows with friends

    It’s very frustrating when you have to wait for someone to catch up with a Netflix series so you can freely discuss the latest episodes without spoiling any surprises. To avoid this first-world problem, install the Chrome extension Showgoers (bit.ly/showgoers378), which lets you sync your Netflix viewing to watch TV shows and movies at the same time as friends, no matter where they are. Just start playing a film or programme, then click the 3D-glasses icon to launch Sync mode and generate a link. Share this with someone and, when they click it (they’ll also need Showgoers installed), their Netflix player will open the same content at the same position as yours, so you can watch in tandem. When you play, pause, or jump to a new time in the movie or show, their Netflix player will follow suit. It certainly saves a lot of biting your tongue and “I can’t believe you’re only on Episode 3” grumbles!

    SECRET NETFLIX SHORTCUTS

    Relax your mouse hand when you’re watching Netflix and use these keyboard shortcuts instead.
    F – Switch to full screen (and back)Enter – Pause and resume playbackPage Up – PlayPage Down – PauseM – Mute (and unmute) the sound[up and down arrows] – Increase and decrease the volumeShift + [left arrow] – Rewind by 10 secondsShift + [right arrow] – Fast-forward by 10 secondsCtrl+Alt+Shift+D – view statistics about your streamCtrl+Alt+Shift+S – launch the Control Panel (above) to fix buffering issues.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: April 20, 2016

    Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Wayne Williams reveals who’s snooping on your online activities and explains the best ways to protect your privacy on the web
    You’re never alone when you go online; there’s always someone or something observing what you do, even if you’re not doing anything particularly interesting. Many of these ‘spies’ are perfectly harmless, merely tracking your activities for analytics or advertising purposes, but others have more sinister and intrusive motives.

    In this article, we take a closer look at exactly who’s watching you on the web and explain how you can use the latest tricks and tools to put a stop to this unauthorised and unwarranted spying.
    Over the following six pages we’ll reveal what the spies behind each of the methods want, how they spy on you, what they do with the information they collect and the best ways to thwart them. We’ll also name and shame 10 of the worst offenders for spying on your online activities – the list may well surprise you.
    SOCIAL NETWORKS
    What do they want?Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ want to know your likes (and dislikes), who you know and where you go on the web.
    How do they spy on you?As well as cookies, social networks use buttons scattered across the internet to track your browsing. These function in the same way as web bugs, telling those services where you’ve been. Worryingly, you don’t have to click a button (by ‘liking’ a page, for example) for it to register your arrival and report back to the network.
    What do they do with it?Social networks are forever seeking to build up a profile on you, to ensure you see content relevant to your interests and – of course – tailor their advertising accordingly. Facebook also uses various tracking methods to recommend people you might know, but haven’t yet connected with on the social network. So if you’ve ever wondered why someone you bumped into at an angling convention appears in your potential friend suggestions, now you know.
    How you can stop themThe brilliant browser add-on Privacy Badger (bit.ly/badger393) from non-profit organisation the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) automatically blocks spying ads and invisible trackers. Socialnetworking buttons are replaced with alternative buttons that still work, but don’t track you (unless you choose to click them), which means you don’t get left with big empty spaces on the page. The way these replacement buttons works depends on how the original widgets were implemented. Typically, clicking them will either take you to the relevant sharing page or enable and load the original (hidden) social widget.
    Use Privacy Badger to stop sites spying on you
    1 When you install Privacy Badger, it adds an icon to the top of your browser. Browse the web as normal and the add-on automatically detects all spying ads and invisible trackers found on a site. Clicking the icon displays a colour-coded list of potential trackers. These are initially all green (not blocked).
    2 You can manually manage each potential tracker. Drag a slider to the centre to block cookies from it (amber) or slide it all the way to the left to fully block that ad domain (red). Over time, Privacy Badger learns which trackers to deny and which to allow, and takes action automatically.
    3 Click the Settings cog to open the Filter Settings page where you can choose which action to take with trackers. You can whitelist domains you trust and enable or disable social-widget replacements, which swap social-networking buttons with non-spying versions. Privacy Badger can be disabled on any site.
    ANALYTICS TOOLS
    What do they want?As Wikipedia explains: “Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of web data for purposes of understanding and optimising web usage”. Essentially, website owners use analytics tools so they can understand more about the people visiting their website. The data collected by tools such as Google Analytics (www.google.co.uk/analytics) includes the location visitors are browsing from (and on what devices), which site they’ve come from, the keywords they used to find the site, which pages are most popular, the average duration of a visit, whether they’re new or returning visitors and much more.
    How do they spy on you?An embedded piece of JavaScript code is used to collect the information. Every time someone visits a website with this code, the data is (anonymously) recorded and passed to the collection server.
    What do they do with it?This varies depending on the site owner, but knowing which pages are most popular and getting an idea of the type of people that visit that website can help keep the content relevant and interesting. For example, if analytics reveals that a page about trout on your angling site is getting more views than any other, then it makes sense to add more content about trout.
    How you can stop themGoogle Analytics is by far the most popular source of this kind of data collection – virtually every site you visit uses the tool. If you don’t like the thought of being analysed in this way (albeit anonymously), you can use the official Google Analytics Opt-out Add-on (bit.ly/goptout393) to stop your data being collected. This works with Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera, and automatically blocks the Analytics JavaScript code.
    MALWARE WRITERS
    What do they want?It depends on the type of malware, but usually the people behind online threats are out to make money from you in one way or another. This could be by accessing your credit card details, or by logging into your accounts with websites such as Amazon and making purchases. If they take over your PC, they could use it as part of a botnet for criminal purposes. They might just want to spy on you because they can – malware can be used to spy through mobile phones, webcams and even baby monitors.
    How do they spy on you?There are lots of different ways. Keyloggers, for example, log your keystrokes and pass them on. This gives the hacker access to anything you’ve typed, including passwords, personal information and credit card details. Remote Administration Tools (RATs) let a hacker control your PC remotely, which can include turning on a webcam. Android malware now exists that can make calls and take photos using your device, even if you shut it down (see bit.ly/avgmobile393).
    What do they do with it?Again, it depends on the type of malware and the hackers behind it. If they can make money from you in some way, then they will. Otherwise they will just invade your privacy and see what opportunities arise.
    How you can stop themDon’t open suspect email attachments or run dubious programs. Protect your PC with strong anti-malware software, and install something similar on your phone, such as Bitdefender Antivirus Free (bit.ly/bitdefender393). If you have an Android device, avoid installing apps from questionable sources.
    SpyDetect Free (bit.ly/spydetect393) is a useful tool designed to detect processes on your computer that might be recording your keystrokes. Click the Check Now button and it will tell you if you’re being spied on or monitored.
    OTHER WEBSITES
    What do they want?Websites linked to the one that you’re currently visiting (either visibly or invisibly) want to know more about you so they can maximise their appeal.
    How do they spy on you?Cookies are the most common method. These tiny pieces of code store information about you, which isn’t a bad thing per se because they allow the site to recognise you, so you don’t have to log in every time you visit, and your personal preferences and customised pages will be stored.
    There are different types of cookie – session cookies only last for the duration of your browsing session and are cleared when you close your browser. Persistent cookies remain on your system after you’ve left the website and are sent back to the server the next time you visit. Secure cookies are served when you visit a site using an ‘https://’ address, while third-party cookies come from domains other than the one you’re visiting. Some cookies are used across multiple sites, which allows third parties to track your browsing habits.
    What do they do with it?Behaviour tracking, which involves using cookie data to build up a profile of the sites you visit and the searches you perform, is used by websites to serve up more relevant adverts.
    How you can stop themYou can block unwanted cookies in your browser. In Chrome, open Settings, click the ‘Show advanced settings’ link at the bottom and click the ‘Content settings’ button under Privacy. You can manage cookies there.
    In Firefox, click the three-line hamburger button in the top-right corner and select Options. Click the Privacy option on the left and manage cookies there.
    Cookies are, for the most part, harmless and serve a useful purpose so you don’t want to block them all – only third-party ones. Very occasionally, you might find blocking cookies has an unforeseen negative consequence. If a website doesn’t behave as expected, you may need to re-enable its cookies.
    To save time, you can use the free program CookieSpy (www.cookiespy.com) to view all the cookies across all your browsers, and delete any you don’t want.
    ISPs
    What do they want?Your internet service provider likes to keep an eye on how you’re using its network, to make sure you’re not abusing it in some way – whether for criminal activity or simply because you’re using it “too much”.
    How do they spy on you?ISPs can track which websites you visit, and they can also read anything you send over the internet that’s not encrypted, because they route you to your destination. They can identify different types of traffic, too – including BitTorrent.
    What do they do with it?Probably nothing. Just because they can spy on you, doesn’t mean they are. If you do a lot of torrenting, they can impose traffic shaping (slowing down your connection), although this is less common these days. However, they can pass on information about your browsing habits to the police and the government, when requested, which is a bit of a worry if you’re up to no good.
    How you can stop themUse the secure HTTPS versions of websites where possible (look for the padlock next to the browser’s address bar). Installing HTTPS Everywhere (bit.ly/https393) for Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Android will automatically route you to the secure versions of the most popular sites.
    Browsing the internet via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) will keep your activity secret from your ISP, although you then have to trust the VPN itself. Some good free choices include CyberGhost (www.cyberghostvpn.com), TunnelBear (www.tunnelbear.com) and Spotflux (spotflux.com).
    ADVERTISERS
    What do they want?They want you to buy things and click their advertising across the web. An interesting offer or flashy advert isn’t always enough to draw you in, so they use all sorts of tactics to get you to click. A growing number of web users employ ad blockers these days, so advertisers have to make sure they maximise their options.
    How do they spy on you?Tracking cookies are the most common method. Advertising firms place ads across hundreds of thousands of sites. When you first visit a site containing one of these ads, a cookie from that advertiser will be saved on your PC. When you go to another site displaying an ad banner from the same advertiser, your browser returns the cookie and receives a new one. The advertiser can use this “breadcrumb” trail to track which of their adverts you’ve seen and, using this information, will know which sites you’ve visited. It doesn’t even need to be a full, visible advert that returns a cookie – a 1×1-pixel invisible GIF (better known as a web bug) works just as well.
    What do they do with it?Advertisers spy on you so they can tailor their advertising to tempt you with relevant products and services. If you’ve ever visited a website and seen ads related to an item you looked at elsewhere, you’ll know you’re being successfully tracked. Advertising firms may also pass your details to other advertisers and marketing companies.
    How you can stop themMajor ad providers let you opt out of behaviour tracking. Go to the ‘Your ad choices’ section of Your Online Choices (bit.ly/adchoices393) and choose which advertisers to block cookies from. Google’s Ads Settings page (bit.ly/googleads393) shows what the search giant knows about you and lets you opt out of interest-based advertising. You can do the same kind of thing with Microsoft (choice.microsoft.com) and Yahoo (bit.ly/yahooad393).
    Most web browsers have a Do Not Track option you can turn on in the settings, but this is a voluntary arrangement and websites have no obligation to honour your wishes.
    Using an ad blocker such as Adblock Plus (adblockplus.org) or uBlock Origin (bit.ly/ublock393) will remove adverts from all the web pages you visit. In addition, the software can disable tracking to make you more anonymous to advertisers.
    SEARCH ENGINES
    What do they want?Google and Bing want to get to know you, and spy on the sort of things you search for online so they can build up a user profile.
    How do they spy on you?Search engines use several methods to keep an eye on what you do, including using cookies, and they also record and store what you’ve searched for. If you’re logged into your Google or Microsoft account, then Google or Bing can link the details directly to you.
    What do they do with it?They use the information to better target their results and advertising. You might think that two people searching for exactly the same thing on Google will see the same results but, in fact, they probably won’t. Google weights its order of results based on all sorts of factors, but it also prioritises the sites you’ve visited previously. If you don’t believe us, try performing the same search while logged into and out of your Google account, and compare the results.
    How you can stop themDisconnect Search (disconnect.me/search) anonymises your searches to prevent any connection being made to your Google (or Microsoft) account. You can also switch to using alternative, privacy-focused search engines, such as DuckDuckGo (duckduckgo.com) and the new Oscobo (oscobo.co.uk), which don’t track you or store your searches.
    Keep your browsing private using Oscobo
    1 Oscobo is a new privacy-focused search engine that’s aimed at users in the UK and promises not to track you. As well as typing your query into the search box, you  can set Oscobo as your default search choice or install the extension, which adds a search box to your browser.
    2 Enter some search terms and, as you would expect, Oscobo returns a list of results. We found it fast and the results (from Bing/Yahoo) were pretty good. The thumbnails show you previews of the sites before you visit them, and Oscobo displays the latest results from Twitter in a sidebar.
    3 You can switch to searching for Videos, Images or News. If you’ve installed the extension, you can perform a search on Oscobo whenever you like by clicking the button and entering your terms. Scroll to the bottom of the site and click Privacy to find out more about the search engine.
    GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
    What do they want?They want as much data as possible about individuals and companies, which they can use to prevent crime and acts of terror (such as the 2015 Paris attacks), and potentially for other purposes, too.
    How do they spy on you?In lots of ways, including bugging phones, tracking your location via cell towers, use of backdoors in software and services, and receiving data from ISPs and tech firms. Spying software has even been found embedded on hard drives from a number of well-known manufacturers. NSA security contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations barely scratch the surface of government spying activities.
    What do they do with it?In most cases, they just hoard it, but if you use a potential trigger word in your communications – such as “bomb”, “murder”, “assassination”, “nuclear”, “infrastructure security” or “wild trout fishing” (well okay, not that one) – you may find yourself under supervision.
    How you can stop themUse encryption. As you’ll have seen from the recent FBI vs Apple row over a terrorist’s iPhone, the government has problems cracking encrypted devices. You can encrypt content on your Windows PC using VeraCrypt (veracrypt.codeplex.com), which we had a Workshop about in our last issue. You can also use a VPN.
    Interestingly, Facebook and Twitter now alert you if they suspect you’re being spied on by a government. You can also scan your computer for signs of surveillance software using Detekt (resistsurveillance.org).

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: April 20, 2016

    15 Tips For Cross-Device OptimisationCraig Sullivan presents the key rules to remember when optimising and testing your sites to ensure compatibility on a range of devices
    I started messing around with HTTP log files and user agent strings over 15 years ago, analysing and attempting to understand all the different devices rocking up at the early John Lewis ecommerce websites. What advice would I give myself, if I could go back in time?
    It would be this: Every website or product you work on from now on will be broken – you just don’t know where, on what device or browser, or how severely. If you hunt these defects down, you’ll make easier money for your clients than almost all your other work put together.

    It’s taken me 15 years to realise that despite the tendency of customers to complain quickly, the vast majority won’t report bugs in your device experiences. If you get a small number of complaints, you probably have a major disaster on your hands. If you don’t get any complaints, it’s likely still broken.
    We can’t rely on website visitors to be our ‘canary in the coal mine’ for device and browser problems – we have to take responsibility, and become smarter and more proactive in how we test. Device compatibility is a right not a privilege, and getting it wrong is a form of neglectful discrimination.
    This article outlines the key rules to remember for cross-device optimisation and A/B testing. Tackle the optimisation tips first. If you’re making basic mistakes with device compatibility, performance and usability, there’s no point bothering with A/B testing. Find and fix the broken things first. Then, when you’ve got enough traffic to run A/B tests (at least 500 conversions or checkouts a month) – you can make some new mistakes.
    1. DON’T ASSUME RESPONSIVE SOLVES EVERYTHING
    I once built a tiny mobile site that’s not responsive, yet now takes the best part of a billion Euros in revenue every year. For the tasks required, it’s perfect. It’s not responsive in fluid layout terms, but it is responsive to the needs of almost everyone who uses it. Know the difference.
    Sometimes people think that ‘responsive’ is a sign of digital mastery. It’s just an attribute that conveys nothing of quality – like saying ‘we have a website’ or ‘our website lets you click things’. It’s no guarantee of a great cross-device experience.
    I see many responsive sites that have a superficial slickness but fail on usability because the team has ignored customer knowledge. One good example is an ecommerce site that went responsive and lost 40 per cent of its revenue. It had built a great mobile experience but the desktop version sucked, and that’s where 80 per cent of the money came from. Knowing where the golden goose is helps if you want to avoid killing it!
    2. DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST
    Optimising a site does not start with hacking at the page content. It starts with doing your research so when your lips say ‘customer journey’ , what comes out isn’t a fairytale. It’s vital to know the visitors, their tasks and goals, entry points, device mix, paths, flows and abandonment areas first. It is very difficult to solve a problem you don’t understand.
    Using analytics data with UX research, surveys or feedback is a rapid and lightweight way to remove bullshit, ego and assumptions about ‘the journey’. One hour of informed data is worth a thousand hours of unchallenged opinion.
    Further reading: ‘Conversion research in one hour’ (netm.ag/batman-279); ‘Session replay tools for research’ (netm.ag/replay-279).
    3. DO TRACK PEOPLE, NOT DEVICES
    Unless you’re using an analytics set-up that tracks users, you’ll just end up tracking devices instead. Companies complain that their ‘mobile’ traffic isn’t converting – and we find that the traffic is actually converting, just on a completely different device.
    People may use their phone to browse and add a product to their basket, but find it’s tricky to get through the checkout, so finish the sale on their laptop. The site thinks of these as two people: a mobile customer and a desktop customer.
    So your conversion problem is actually an attribution issue. How can you credit the sale to a device experience if the customer uses more than one device? Google Analytics has a user view you can switch on (for logged-in users) that lets you track people, not devices, and there are many analytics tools to help you make sense of this.
    4. DON’T IGNORE THE WIDER CONTEXT
    In this hyper-mobile device world, context is everything. What you need from an airline app might be very different 48 hours before your flight compared to when you’re running for the gate. For that person with the phone, you need to consider the factors that impact the experience. These might include the tasks, goals, device, location, data rate, viewport, urgency, motivation, data costs, call costs, or even the weather at the time of their visit!
    5. DO GET OUT OF THE OFFICE
    Making better products shouldn’t involve long days spent in the office. Why not break up the work day with visits to coffee shops and pubs? This is one of the cheapest ways to find customers for UX research. Offering a beer or coffee in exchange for feedback on your prototype or design is a priceless return on investment. And don’t forget the website – if you have traffic, you can recruit people and run tests with them online too.
    Further reading: ‘UX tools to rule them all’ (netm.ag/tools-279).
    6. DON’T ASSUME EVERYONE USES iPHONES
    In most analytics set-ups, iPhone models are lumped together, suggesting these are the main customer devices. If you just look at models in your data, this will skew your thinking; you need to split devices by OS or platform to see the real picture. Google Analytics might say my top model is the ‘iPhone’ but even a handful of top Samsung models may add up to a much larger audience.
    Every time someone is tempted to focus on their own personal device preference instead of the customer mix, direct them to the diagram above right (it’s worth sticking it up on your office wall) to remind them what the data says.
    Further reading: ‘The ultimate guide to using Google Analytics for cross-device optimisation’ (netm.ag/diagram-279).
    7. DON’T FORGET CALL TRACKING
    A mention for a free and rarely used technique. If you have touch devices that can make phone calls, you can track calls. Simply add an event (or pageview) to your analytics data each time someone taps a phone number to call you. Then you’ll know how many calls you get, exactly what web page people called from and which marketing campaigns or sources drove the most calls.
    I used this data to analyse a PPC account for a large company. When we factored in the sales coming from phone calls, it completely changed our bidding. The saving was 40-70 per cent lower bills for PPC but the same amount of revenue.
    8. DO USE REAL DATA TO TRACK WEBSITE SPEED
    Not many people know that Google Analytics collects real visitors’ measurements of how slow your pages are, every day. Rather than imagining the performance (as you browse your site on a Wi-Fi connection), you can let the data tell you where it sucks. Look at the DOM timings report: this records how long the webpage structure and content takes to load. Making sites quicker is a game changer. There is a huge correlation between performance and conversion rate so if it’s slow, you’re spending marketing money just to send people to your competitors!
    Further reading: ‘Interpret site speed’ (netm.ag/metric-279).
    9. DO COPY THE TESTING METHOD, RATHER THAN THE CREATIVE
    When you look at the tests other companies have run, you have no idea if they completely borked the test or not. Their data, method, QA or sample size might show they made elementary mistakes. They might have run the test for too short a period of time or not checked if it was collecting data accurately. You just don’t know.
    And even if you did have all the background info, you still couldn’t predict if their method would work for you. Your customers, marketing, website and everything else are completely different. In short, the best practice rules for testing are mainly about copying the method and not the creative.
    Further reading: ‘The endless suck of best practice and optimisation experts’ (netm.ag/suck-279); ‘When conversion optimisation best practices fail’ (netm.ag/fail-279).
    10. DON’T TEST WITHOUT PLANNING
    There are millions of things you could test in places all over your site. If you just ‘get started’ you might eventually get an optimal website – but the heat death of the universe will get you first.
    If there is stuff broken in your experiences, you need to fix that first (before testing) as otherwise it will drag everything else down. Once you have the basics of performance and device compatibility, use analytics to identify opportunities.
    ‘Just changing stuff’ isn’t a good enough reason to test; you need evidence or insight to drive a good test. The best learning comes from having great questions to channel into your testing.
    11. DO ESTABLISH YOUR HYPOTHESIS
    The Hypothesis Kit is one of the most useful things I teach:
    Because we saw [data/feedback] we expect that [change] will cause [impact]. We’ll measure this using [data metric].
    Asking people to frame their question or A/B test in this way forces them to think about why they are running the test and how success will be measured.
    Further reading: Hypothesis kit 3 (netm.ag/kit-279).
    12. DO RUN A TEST CALCULATOR FIRST
    It’s really good practice to run a test calculator before you A/B test. If it says it will take around nine million years to finish, you can do something more useful with your life.
    13. DON’T STOP AT 95% CONFIDENCE
    It’s a very common noob mistake to make with A/B testing. You should decide your test time in advance, then run it for that time, stop it and analyse it. Most of the tests being run in the real world are completely fictional – and that’s why people get disappointed when the promised ‘lift’ in conversion does not arrive. Calling tests wrongly or waiting too long for results are common problems that should be avoided.
    Further reading: ‘Statistical significance does not equal validity’ (netm.ag/stat-279); ‘Why every internet marketer should be a statistician’ (netm.ag/market-279).
    14. DO SEGMENT BY DEVICE CLASS
    If you have different devices or breakpoints in your design, the A/B test will look completely different. If you’re not sure how your design looks on all devices, how can you be sure it works at all? If you don’t analyse and segment the data by the different device classes or ‘breakpoints’ , how will you know the behavioural shift? One of my clients stores the exact design the customer saw in their data layer, which is very useful.
    Always understand how you’re targeting or segmenting people across mobile, tablet and desktop device classes. There is no ‘average’ visitor – not when the device experience varies so hugely.
    15. DON’T FORGET QA TESTING
    If you haven’t worked out your device mix, you are probably not QA testing your A/B tests either. That means quite a few of them are probably broken – and if your A/B tests are broken, your data and decision-making is likely flawed. About 30-40 per cent of all my test designs fail basic QA, even with high-quality developers – that’s JavaScript for you! Assume it’s broken until proven otherwise.
    SUMMARY
    Here I’ve covered a number of tips for improving your cross-device experiences. When you’re starting out, knowing your device mix and understanding the customers behind those devices is vital. The next stage is to work with data to help you prioritise your efforts. Making a good testing list (with the aid of Google Analytics) cuts the effort for developers, but will increase the number of defects you remove on popular devices.
    Designing great cross-device experiences is a careful balance of data, intuition, empathy and experimentation. If you allow these to occupy the space usually filled by ego and opinion, good work will flourish. As Stephen Hawkings said: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: April 20, 2016

    Having problems with your internet connection? Let us help you with some handy troubleshooting tips
    When our internet connections evolved from clunky dial up connections to ADSL and fibre optic cable we not only got far greater speeds and data limits, but also much improved reliability. Internet connections no longer suffer from the same level of unpredictability dial up connections once had, and for the most part we can relax in our fully connected homes, able to socialise, play games and stream movies. It’s great, but it’s not perfect.

    Despite a much better quality of service, internet connections are still fallible. It’s likely we will all encounter problems from time to time, either with the connection itself or the hardware we use with it. That could mean drop outs, poor speeds or the inability to connect at all. Even fibre optic connections, currently the best consumer option available, can experience problems.
    These problems can often be traced back to your ISP, and may be the result of problems beyond your control. However, there could be other causes that are more local, even some that may be caused by your own set up or hardware. These are problems you can troubleshoot yourself, and knowing about these and how to deal with them can save a lot of phone calls, as you can get yourself back online, without having to wait in a call queue or for an engineer to turn up at your home. We’re going to take a look at these problems, and we’ll guide you through some of the tests and solutions you can use yourself.
    Self-diagnosis
    As with most things you’re trying to troubleshoot, it’s always best to start with the basics, and by this we mean very basic. It’s amazing how many experts end up messing with settings and taking all sorts of convoluted steps when a problem simply stems from a loose or faulty connector. It happens to us all at some point, and  the best way around this is to check the fundamentals, no matter how advanced in terms of IT skill you may be.
    Check The Power
    It’s very basic concern, but you should always double check power cables and switches, especially if you’re helping someone else solve a problem. Yes, you’d think something as simple as flipping a switch or plugging in a cable would be taken care of, but don’t rule it out. People often overlook such rudimentary things, especially users who are trying to convince you that they’re more proficient with PCs than they are.
    Even if you’re troubleshooting your own connection, double-check anyway, you just never know. What if someone else unplugged the power or did so accidentally? What if the power socket in the wall is actually faulty? Not checking this will make a mountain out of the proverbial molehill, so it’s best to take the few seconds to make sure.
    Always check the various parts of your set up have power, including the router and any extenders or access points you may be using. Check that connections are solid and ensure there’s no damage to the cable itself. Damaged power cables are a commonly overlooked cause, not only causing the problem with the connection, but also representing a safety risk.
    If you suspect a cable may be faulty, but can’t be sure on visual inspection, try another cable. Many routers and other devices use common plugs and connectors, so you should be able to find an alternate cable.
    Check Router LEDs
    Assuming your power is all good, the next thing to check is your router’s status. Check the lights on the device; first the power light, just to ensure you’re getting power to the device, then check the WAN (or internet) indicator that shows if you’re getting an external connection into your router and you’re connected to your ISP. If it’s not lit or it’s red, you’ve got a problem. A healthy connection will be green, and will flash if there’s any activity on the line.
    Other lights to check are the internal LAN indicators, which will show you if you have any activity on your wired connections, and the wi-fi light. The latter indicates the connectivity of wireless devices and the status of the wireless network. Again, these should be green will probably be flashing to show interaction.
    If any of these lights are not on, you’ll need to double check physical connections and try power cycling the router. Yes, the classic IT suggestion of turn if off and on again does actually apply here, as power cycling a router can solve all sorts of problems and is the most common and reliable way to fix such woes. Even a brand new, perfectly healthy router may need resetting every once in a while. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the router is faulty. Even if there are no warning signs, it may be best to try this anyway. Always wait a few minutes before powering the router back on, though.
    It’s also a good idea to turn off connected devices before you reboot the router. This includes PCs, laptops and so on. This ensures there are no active connections sending requests that could interfere with the router’s boot up sequence. Once the router is fully restarted and ready, turn on your other devices.
    Cable Connection
    Problems with your connection may not be down to your router, but could instead be a faulty or loose cable coming into your house or on the wall socket. A lot of cable or ADSL connections utilise external junction boxes, as well as boxes on the wall inside your house. These have specialised connectors, sometimes screw-in cable, as well as network connections. If these are loose or damaged or even dirty, it can cause you connectivity problems. This also applies to ADSL filters, which are essential if you have ADSL and a phone line. Faulty ADSL filters can greatly affect a connection, to the point of cutting it off. If you’re not using one, you can also have problems, so ensure you have one fitted if needed.
    Check any external and internal cables and wall sockets for any problems or loose connections, and if there’s any build-up of dirt or damp, ensure you clean it, and try to keep it so in future.
    Depending on your setup and your ISP, it may be best to let an engineer do this, so you may want to check with your ISP first before you crack anything open and start to tinker.
    Factory Default
    If a simple reset of the router doesn’t do the trick and you’re sure there are no external problems in the home, you could try performing a factory reset. This will reset the router to its out of the box state, wiping any changes to the setup, thus eliminating any problems that may have occurred due to changes made after installation. Once this is done, you can then set it up again, and in many instances, this will solve a variety of problems.
    The method of performing a factory reset will vary from router to router, but it usually involves locating the reset button, which will almost always be seated inside a tiny hole that requires a long, thin object, such as a paper clip or pin, to press. Hold this down for several seconds, and then let go.
    Power up the router and your network may no longer work. Because the router is back to default, chances are you’ll need to go setup your ISP and network details. These can be the same as before, so all devices will contact without any changes needed.
    Upgrade Firmware
    Like many other devices, routers run firmware in order to operate. This firmware is often upgraded, implementing bug fixes, security tweaks and even new features. Firmware can also add support for new hardware, BIOS revisions and improve OS support, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of it, and ensure your router is up to date.
    Most current routers allow firmware updates from within their setup menus, and you can apply any updates by clicking a button and following on-screen prompts. Some older models may require separate downloads of firmware from a support website, which is applied separately. Consult your router’s documentation for the proper instructions, and always double-check you’re grabbing the right firmware for your model of router.
    Regardless of how it’s done, always ensure you create a backup of your router settings, just in case. This can make getting your router up and running much easier if there’s a problem.
    Device Config
    When you’re having connectivity problems, it’s often a problem that may manifest itself on one or two devices, but not all. You may have a perfectly fine internet connection on one device, but another could be struggling to connect. If this is the case, it’s likely that you have some sort of configuration problem, either with the device itself or the router.
    First, check the device, be it a PC, laptop, mobile device or games console. Ensure the network settings are correct and that all passwords and names are entered correctly. If you’re trying to fix a computer and using wi-fi, try deleting the wi-fi connection and creating a new one. Also, try the device with a wired connection, to see if the problem is only with the wireless setup. If it works, this at least narrows down your focus.
    From the router side of things, check that any problem devices aren’t being blocked by firewall rules or exclusion from any managed access list. A good way to ensure a device isn’t experiencing problems with IP assignments or possible conflicts is to assign a static IP, which is reserved for the system in question. This IP is then entered on the device and no other device can use it.
    Try changing your wireless channel to another, less used one. By this, we mean one that isn’t used by any neighbouring networks, as using the same channel can cause interference. There’s a simple way to check what channels your neighbours are using. First, open a command prompt and then type the following:
    netsh wlan show networks mode=bssid
    Press return and the system will scan the surrounding wireless networks for information, including the channel that’s in use. You’ll be given a list, which you can scan through. With this information, use a different channel, one that either not used or used least.
    As well as checking the wireless channel, you should also consider changing your router’s frequency if possible. Many routers now support a dual frequency range. This includes the standard 2.4GHz and the more recent 5GHz. 2.4GHz is the most common, and routers without dual capability will likely support this. The problem here is that 2.4GHz is a frequency used by many other household devices, such as cordless phones, TV signal sharing devices, microwaves and all sorts of other hardware. This can cause a lot of interference, so switching to 5GHz, which is used far less, can help.
    If your router has any internal diagnostics, run them. These may check its health, and other aspects such as connection settings, DNS and so on. Just doing this can instantly reveal what your problem is.
    Signal Strength
    A very common problem with home wireless network connections and loss of internet is signal strength. If your device is struggling to find and keep a decent signal, you’ll obviously have problems connecting to the internet reliably.
    Most modern routers are perfectly able to broadcast a solid signal throughout most mid-size homes. However, if your house is bigger, you have particularly thick stone walls or suffer from interference due to other devices, you may have problems.
    There are ways around this, though. First, consider the placement of the router. It’s always best to position it centrally in your home, or at perhaps centrally to wherever the majority of your equipment is located. This will ensure the best possible catchment area.
    However, in some homes you may need to employ a signal range extender. These are simple devices that can relay an existing signal, strengthening it and extending the range of your router and wi-fi network. These are very useful for large homes or offices and can also help bypass thick walls and other interference. They can be found in various forms, including router-like devices and plug socket units that, unsurprisingly, plug into a spare power socket.
    You can also use power line networking to bridge a gap between rooms or distant locations. These kits relay your internet connection through your home’s electrical conduits, eliminating the need for drilling holes or stringing cable around the house.
    Browser And PC Problems
    Although it’s always tempting to blame your ISP or connection for internet problems, that’s not always correct, and sometimes your problems can come from your PC itself. You may have problems with your browser or its settings, and your PC’s setup may be at fault. So, before you call your ISP, always check your PC’s settings, and make sure nothing has changed. If you’re only using wi-fi, try plugging in to a wired connection to see if you get a signal.
    If you’re having a problem in your browser, such as pages not loading, try another browser. Often internet problems can be down to a specific browser problem and nothing more. Trying another browser will test this, and if another works, you know your problem lies with software, not your internet connection itself. This will save a lot of time on the phone or messing around with your hardware.
    Other areas you should always check include your firewall settings, as well as your antivirus, as these can often contain plug-in modules that actively scan web pages as you browse. These have been known to affect connectivity and page loading. Try disabling such tools temporarily to see if this is the case.
    The usual PC housekeeping is important too, so ensure your PC is scanned for viruses and malware and clear out temporary files and unwanted history. Remember, malware can easily mess up your internet connection, so a safe, secure and clean PC is a very important goal, not only for security, but for smooth internet access too.
    Call Your ISP
    Of course, there’s always a good chance that the problem is with your ISP – or at least a problem only your ISP can solve. Once you’ve eliminated as many local problems as you can, you’ll haven no other choice but to call for help. By following these tips, though, at least you’ve ruled out a lot of possible causes, which will help you explain the problem when you do get someone on the phone.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: April 20, 2016

    Ads keep web content free, but many are annoying, intrusive and even dangerous. Robert Irvine reveals how to block ads that dodge traditional filters

    More than 22% of British web users now use ad-blocking tools such as Adblock Plus (adblockplus.org) and uBlock Origin (bit.ly/ublock393) – up from 15% in 2015. Rather than responding to this rising trend by making their ads less invasive, many advertisers are now employing devious methods to evade ad blockers. Here, we explain how to combat the worst offenders.

    Adjust your ad blocker’s settings

    If your ad blocker regularly lets through adverts, it’s possible that your settings aren’t configured for optimum blocking. Notably, when you install Adblock Plus, the option to ‘Allow some non-intrusive advertising’ is pre-selected on the ‘Filter lists’ tab, which means the add-on won’t block ‘acceptable ads’. Adblock Plus says this option encourages companies to use non-intrusive forms of advertising, but it has also been accused of taking ‘back-handers’ to allow ads from big firms including Google and Microsoft (a method of funding it now explains on its website: bit.ly/adblockplus393).

    If you’d rather not see any ads at all, and don’t care about funding small websites (you heartless beast!), then untick the box.

    All ad blockers subscribe to constantly updated filter lists to determine which content to block. If you don’t have the correct list, then you’re likely to see lots of ads. To check, go into your ad blocker’s settings and make sure that the EasyList filter is selected and up to date. You can also choose additional lists if you think you need them, although this may adversely affect the performance of your browser.

    If ads are appearing on one website but not on others, make sure that the site hasn’t been added to your whitelist. This exempts the domain from filters, and you may have inadvertently added it to your whitelist when temporarily disabling your ad blocker.

    Block ads in Windows 10

    One of the trade-offs for Microsoft making Windows 10 free is that the operating system pesters you with adverts, and there’s nothing that your ad blocker can do about them. Fortunately, by performing a few simple tweaks, you can disable these ads yourself.

    First, let’s get rid of the ads for apps that recently started appearing in the Start menu. Microsoft prefers to call them ‘suggestions’ because developers don’t actually pay for them. Open the Settings menu, click Personalisation, then click Start at the bottom of the left-hand column. Find the option ‘Occasionally show suggestions in Start’ and switch it to Off.

    To stop ads appearing on your Lock screen, click the ‘Lock screen’ option in the Personalization column and disable the option ‘Get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen’. We promise you won’t miss any “fun facts”!

    You should also clear the unique advertising ID, which Windows 10 uses to build a profile of you so it can target you with ads. Go to Settings, Privacy, General, and flick the slider next to ‘Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps’ to Off. Next, open your browser and go to bit.ly/optout393. Find ‘Personalised ads in this browser’ and ‘Personalised ads wherever I use my Microsoft account’ and set them both to Off.

    Mute audio adverts on Spotify

    The free version of Spotify (www.spotify.com/uk) is supported by audio and banner adverts, which seems fair enough until you’re subjected to the same annoying commercials over and over again. If you want some relief from these repetitive ads, but don’t feel like paying £9.99 per month for Spotify Premium, there’s a sneaky tool you can try called EZBlocker (bit.ly/ezblocker393). This automatically detects when an ad begins, then mutes the volume for the duration, without affecting other sound on your PC. The program can also block banner ads and mute video ads, although it can’t prevent them from playing. Note that EZBlocker only works in Windows 7 and later, and that some security software wrongly flags it as a threat.

    Stop adverts appearing in software

    Most ad blockers run in your browser to filter adverts in web pages and online videos, but they can’t prevent ads from appearing in other programs. A more versatile option is Ad Muncher (www.admuncher.com), a powerful ad and pop-up blocker that used to cost $29.95 (£21.15), but is now completely free.

    Ad Muncher is a standalone program rather than a browser add-on, which means it can block ads in other software that connects to the web. It works quietly in the background, so you don’t need to worry about configuring settings or filter lists, unless you want to. For example, to block text ads as well as image-based ones, open  Ad Muncher’s Options panel, click Filtering and deselect ‘Leave small, text-only adverts alone’.

    Block all ads on your tablet

    Ads on a phone or tablet are considerably worse than in a Desktop browser because they obscure the entire screen and the tiny ‘x’ buttons that close them can be tricky to find and tap. So we were delighted last year when Adblock Plus launched Adblock Browser (adblockbrowser.org) – a dedicated ad-blocking browser for Android and iOS – and equally pleased that Google and Apple haven’t removed it from their respective stores. It works just like a normal mobile browser with the obvious exception that it blocks all ads in web pages, although – like its parent tool – it lets you allow ‘acceptable’ ads if you want to.

    You can also configure different filter lists, which is useful if you’re using your phone abroad and find yourself targeted by foreign ad servers, and use the browser to block malware domains, social-media buttons and hidden trackers. There’s even an option to disable the anti-ad blocking messages you might otherwise encounter while using Adblock Browser.

    Don’t be forced to disable your ad blocker

    Lots of websites now detect when you’re using an ad blocker and either ask you to temporarily disable it or force you to do so if you want to access their content. If you resent being bossed around in this way, you can get around the restriction by using a tool called Anti-Adblock Killer (bit.ly/anti392), which we recommended in last issue’s Best New Browser Tools section. It’s compatible with Chrome Firefox, Opera and Safari, and Adblock Plus, Adblock and uBlock Origin, and works by disguising your use of an ad blocker so that sites don’t refuse you entry.

    For Anti-Adblock Killer to work effectively, you’ll first need to install a userscript manager such as Greasemonkey for Firefox (www.greasespot.net) or Tampermonkey for other browsers (tampermonkey.net). Once this is done, go to bit.ly/adblock392 and click the Subscribe button to add Anti-Adblock Killer to your ad blocker’s filter list. If you’re using uBlock Origin, you’ll also need to go into its Options, click the ‘3rd-party filters’ tab and tick the box next to Anti-Adblock Killer.

    The team behind Anti-Adblock Killer emphasises that it isn’t a “universal solution for all anti-adblock scripts”, but it works on many sites that now forbid ad blockers, although not on streaming services.

    ONLY BLOCK ADS ON SPECIFIC SITES

    If you disagree with ad blockers because they deprive the web of essential revenue, but you still find ads irritating, there are other options available. One is to only filter adverts on big sites that don’t need the money. For example, Facebook Adblock for Chrome (bit.ly/facebook393) lets you use the social network without putting yet more dosh into multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s overflowing bank account. Then there’s Search Engine Ad Remover for Firefox (bit.ly/search385), which strips the confusing ads that surround search results in Google and Bing. Best of all is Clean YouTube (bit.ly/cleanyoutube393) for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, which ensures you never again have to sit through a 30-second commercial or annoying pop-up message when you’re trying to watch a video.

  • admin
    Written by No Comments
    Last Updated: March 27, 2016

    Amazon Kindle Secret Tips

    Reset the furthest page read, share free book chapters and get updates before anyone else

    Share free book previews

    The latest version of the Kindle software, which arrived in February adds new ways to share, letting you send a free preview of a book’s opening passages or chapters to friends (and they don’t need a Kindle or Kindle app to read them). First, tap, hold and drag to select a section of text. Next, tap Share, followed by the method of sharing. To share via email, for example, tap E-mail, then tap Add (beside To), type the email address, tap Save, then tap to change Subject or Personal Message (optional). Finally, tap Send. (more…)