I discovered a feature that was added to Windows 10 recently that I knew nothing about, but it’s really good.
I know that Windows 11 is going to be adding a “widgets feature,” but in reading an article about it, I read about the new “News and Interests” widget-like app that got added to Windows 10 about four months ago. (It’s very similar to the upcoming widget in Windows 11, but that will be more robust.) As I said, I knew nothing about it, tracked it down and saw it was not enabled (I assume by default), and enabled it and tweaked some preferences. It’s not perfect, but I like it A LOT.
Basically, the widget app sits on your Taskbar toward the right, and when you merely hover your mouse pointer over the icon, a window pops up with news, weather, your stocks information and more, which you can adjust a bit to your preferences.
To access it, you right-click on the Taskbar and look for “News and Interests” near the top of the pop-up list. There will be a right-arrow, and you click on that to open the options. I selected “Icon only” and “Open when hover.” (The “Icon and text” option added the temperature, which was nice but I thought unnecessary, especially since the temperature will show when the window pops up, and it took up real estate on the Taskbar.) To change the preferences of the kind of news and interests it will show, you just click on the “…” in the upper right corner. It’s very nice.
This is what the icon looks like in the Taskbar – it’s the yellow circle.
Well, in fairness, this may be what the icon looks like. The icon is actually a graphic of the weather, and it was sunny day at the time. At night, it'll be a crescent moon icon.
And right now, it's a bit overcast here in West Los Angeles, so we don't have a nice sunny icon, but instead there's something different. Mind you, I can also look out my window and see that it's overcast, but as long as you need to have an icon and it's for a news feature, why the heck not?! --
This may seem geeky, and admittedly it sort of is, but it's extremely easy to set up (I explain the very few simple steps), and solves what is for a lot of people an annoying problem.
A while back, I read about an interesting feature that was going to be added to the Chrome-based browsers, but though it hadn't yet there was an easy way for individuals to add it early themselves. I tried it out, and it not only was indeed extremely easy to add (I'll explain how in a moment), but I use it often and think it's terrific.
The issue it resolves is that when you have a lot of browser tabs open, sometimes one of them will begin playing audio that you want to mute -- it could be a webpage where an embedded video has automatically begun playing, or you have a page that's been playing audio for a while and you open another tab with audio and you want to mute the previous one, or any number of reasons. But the problem is that with all your tabs open, you don't know which one is playing the audio you want muted (or paused).
What this workaround does is add a small icon extension on the far-right of the top your browser when it recognizes audio is being played.. (In the graphic below, I've marked the icon with a purple circle.) --
And from there, you can control the audio, no matter how many tabs are playing sound. You click on the icon and a window pops open that displays a list all the various audio that is currently playing in your browser, along with controls for each.
Options for managing the audio differ from site to site -- some let you only pause the audio, but other sites give you full audio controls. I'm not quite sure why, but I suspect it's determined by the original websites themselves, not the extension app.
Also, it doesn't just work with audio-only sites, but on YouTube videos, as well.
(For reasons I don't understand, the extension icon does not show up when I load SiriusXM radio in my browser, but it does for everything else I've come across.)
This is what the pop-up window looks like when you click on that icon in your browser. (I opened up audio on three different websites to give a more extensive example) --
If you want to pause or mute (or unmute) the audio on any of those pages, just click the appropriate control. Or in the case of the YouTube clip playing, you can fast-forward or reverse from this drop-down list.
So, how do you add this extension to your Chrome-based browser? It's very easy -
1. Open a Chrome browser and in the Address Bar type in the expression – chrome://flags (or if you use the Microsoft Edge browser, which is based on Chrome, just type in -- edge://flags) Know that you'll get a "Warning!" since this app is beta experimental. But feel comfortable ignoring the warning, because this is a perfectly safe addition.
2. In the “Search flags” box you'll see at the top, type in -- Global Media Controls
3. Scroll down to the extension called "Global Media Controls for ChromeOS"
4. In the dropdown box you'll see to the right of that, select “Enabled.”
5. Click Relaunch Now to restart browser.
From then on, the audio control icon will show up on your browser whenever audio plays. And you can manage all audio (and pretty much all media) right from there, without having to search tab by tab to find it.
Much as there's SO much political news to deal with, I nonetheless thought I'd go with something different this morning instead. A tech warning.
I did something very stupid yesterday. Fortunately, it didn't go any farther than that, and there was no problem. I could have done something disastrous. But happily had the presence of mind to double-check before it was too late, and all's well. But that's why the warning. And a warning with an added asterisk that I've been writing a tech column for over 20 years and should be fooled like like, making it all the more stupid, but also making it all the more clear how vigilant one has to be.
Yesterday, I got a pop-up message that my Flash software might be out-of-date, and would I like it to download the update. (Flash software is what allows graphics to be animated, among other things, mostly for games but also some online applications.) Now, the notice seemed a bit odd, since I didn't recall ever getting a pop-warning notice before, but I have had to update my Flash software, though usually manually. And I didn't exactly remember what prompted me to update it -- just a random, periodic manual check, perhaps? Or a graphic animation wasn't working, maybe. Or a notice that it was out-of-date when a Flash animation came on screen? Or...a pop-up like this, possibly.
I didn't recall. I did know, though, that I have auto-updates set on much of my software, and I also have software that checks for when updates are available. (I manually run one of those checkers every Sunday, in fact, and had done so that very morning.) So, I was surprised, but though it reasonable enough to download the update which looked absolutely real with the Flash logo and everything.
That said, I'll admit to further being surprised that it automatically downloaded the Flash update before I even had a chance to click "Download." And that did make me wary -- but not as wary as I should have been, since I figured it was just related to my various auto-check programs about updates.
What also struck me was weird was that I thought I'd read that Flash was going to be discontinued, though I figured I might have been confusing it with another similar type of software known as Java. In fact, Java was discontinued.in 2018, I believe. So, I thought that that was probably what I was thinking of.
Important note: When you have a lot of yellow caution warning lights, they're there for a reason. So, stop. And I usually do stop at that point, since I was wary about a lot of things. But there were enough answers to my wariness that I movie forward foolishly.
Foolishly, yes, but for all this above, I still hadn't taken a direct action that was actually stupid. All this I've just described was automatic on its own. What was stupid is that I went to the downloaded file and double-clicked on it to run. What on earth I was thinking, I don't know. I could have opened the door to disaster.
Fortunately, like all software, another pop-up box then appeared telling me about the file and asking me to confirm the download. And that's when I fortunately looked closer and took a step back.
It actually all looked fine. But there was one line that looked off. It showed the location where the server was located that would be installing the file. Fortunately. It was something like "Netvork Tekhnolodzhiz - Tov." Now, of course, lot of techies have senses of humor of come up with funny names for their servers. Just that morning, I've updated one of my pieces of software using the popular Major Geeks. (Another reason I was in the "updating software" frame of mind, probably...) And I do know that some servers are overseas. And I could have just missed the spelling if I wasn't at least (happily) wary enough to look. And that didn't look right. At all. So -- fortunately and joyously -- I held up clicking on the "Install" button and went back to my web browser and did a search for "Netvork Tekhnolodzhiz - Tov."
I still don't know what it is. But that's because there were a lot of listings, some for that, some for other things different, with lots of various explanations -- but one word that showed up in the first few listings was..."Ukraine."
I didn't look any further. I didn't care if it was legitimate. If my Flash player was going to be out-of-date, so be it. I could always check into it later on. And if worse comes to worse, ask my tech guru Ed Bott, who would probably say, "Are you nuts???!!!" -- and who is probably shaking his head in agony while laughing at the same time (since I did say I was safe...) while he's reading this.
I mean, seriously -- "Ukraine"!! Why not put a skull-and-crossbones on it with "666" superimposed underneath and have ominous organ music blast out of my speakers? Ukraine. Thank goodness it wasn't something even slightly less blatant, like...oh, Moldova. Perhaps the only time I was actually thrilled to see "Ukraine" appear during this election cycle.
So, after seeing "Ukraine" -- and I mean instantly after -- I immediately went back to the pop-up screen, immediately clicked "Cancel" and not only immediately deleted the file, but permanently deleted it, immediately. And immediately closed all the pop-up screens where it was asking me about the file. (Which I hadn't seen before, but is another dead giveaway that someone is trying to get you to do something you shouldn't.)
And by the way, I later did a search and it turns out I was right -- Flash is being discontinued in December, 2020 -- only four months away.
So, other than feeling like a total idiot for not stopping immediately when I had all those "yellow caution warning lights" in my gut -- and mind -- and then actually clicking on the file, all is well. No problem was caused, because I did finally hold off and looked into what finally was enough to seem wrong.
How did I get that download? I'm not sure, but I think it came as a result of a search I was doing for a question I had. I was clicking on sites that seemed like they might have an answer -- all of which were ones that I either recognized or appeared reasonably legitimate -- except for one that had an odd name. But it was an odd question, and it was only information I was looking forward, I wasn't planning on clicking on anything. But I'm sure it was that website, and when I simply accessed, it sent that download. Which I idiotically clicked on. And then stopped, fortunately researched it and then happily canceled out.
So, that's the warning.
You probably know it. And probably follow it. But it's still good to be reminded of things being especially clever and catching you off-guard even when you're fairly wary. I mean, as I said at the beginning I've been writing a tech column for over 20 years, and I just did something incredibly stupid and naive (though "naive" is too kind a word. It' was mind-numblingly idiotic.) But if there are just enough reasons to move forward, that's what sometimes gets done. Which is a good reason to repeat the "Important note" yet again --
When you have a lot of yellow caution warning lights, they're there for a reason. So, stop.
It's sort of the way I feel about people who foolishly are thinking of voting for Trump and anyone in the Republican Party.
Ah, great! I knew I'd be able to get around to some political opinion this morning. Phew!!!
I was going to call this another "Tech Tip," but then I thought some people would skip past it, and this is one to check out and save what it offers for future reference.
I've written here from time to time about my friend Ed Bott. Ed writes a wonderful tech column, efficiently-named, "The Ed Bott Report," here on ZDNet which is deeply informative, eminently readable even for non-techies (except on occasion when he goes Full Bott, but he let's you know when that's about to happen so you can rush off to safety) and even sometimes funny. How smart and good is Ed? When people use the expression for someone knowledgeable about a topic and say, "He wrote the book on..." -- well, Ed actually really truly wrote the book on Windows 10. When Microsoft wanted the definitive guide for its initial release of Windows 10, they went to Ed. Windows 10 Inside Out for Microsoft Press. (He sent me a few chapters to read through before going to publication -- his theory was that if I could understand it, most anyone could...) You can find it here -- 4-1/2 stars, for a tech book, no less. (To give full credit, it's co-authored with two other gents, Carl Siechert and Craig Stinson. It's not that Ed couldn't have done it, I'm quite sure, but I suspect that given the voluminous nature of the project and deadlines once the coding and material was finally available to be studied, Microsoft probably wanted to be sure the book would be published before, oh, say, Windows 10, the 8th Edition was being released years later...)
Note: Ed knows far more about techie stuff, and is actually a well-rounded soul, most especially as a maven on Pink Floyd and All Things Wilco. Indeed, when we've been at that IFA tech event in Berlin and had a day off to travel -- and when Ed Bott says, "Trust me on this, Bob" (whether about sites, directions, restaurants or even how to say something in a foreign language neither of you speak), you don't debate the options but trust him. Of course, when it's about tech, and he adds, "Just do it," that's when you know before even doing it that your problem has been resolved.
Anyway, the point of all this is that Ed has a wonderful column today that, even if you don't read it (since it's really more of a collection of information than an article), you should bookmark it for later use. It's titled, "Windows 10 how-to: Ed Bott's free tech support and trouble-shooting guide." I'll let him explain it better since...well, this is tech and Ed explains all such things better. He begins by noting --
"Being a Windows expert doesn't mean you have to memorize every shortcut and secret. You just have to know where to find those details when you need them.
"That's the point of this page, where I've collected the links I regularly use to find information and download tools and utilities. These include essential information, troubleshooting tools, and download sites, as well as some of my most popular FAQ pages and tips."
Okay, just to repeat, Ed actually is a Windows expert, and has probably memorized every shortcut and secret. But for everyone else, this is just a monumentally invaluable article. Just save it for later reference, and jump here whenever you have a problem or issue. As Ed says, and it's something I've followed for years when writing my own tech effort (I hesitate to call it a "tech column" in the same article about Ed Bott...), half the battle isn't knowing everything, but knowing where to find it.
And this is a great place to start for finding things. You can find the article here.
And while you're there, do yourself an additional favor and click on the link in his byline for "The Ed Bott Report" to get all his columns and bookmark it for future reference to check out once in a while and see what he's been writing about. He's really good. Honest.
If you have installed an ad-blocker extension on your Chrome browser, here's a very important article from ZDNet to read. The short version is that there are several fake ad-blockers that 20 million users have downloaded, creating an infected botnet which gives the software control of the systems. The most popular of these is called AdRemover.
Most of these have rewritten code from a popular ad blocker called uBlock Plus. There are a few uBlock incarnations, depending on the generation, and I use one that goes by uBlock Origin. So, if you do want to use an ad blocker or switch to one, I think that's a good place to start.
In the meantime, if you do have an ad blocker working with your Chrome browser, check out the article. If you don't use Chrome or don't use an ad blocker -- or already use one of the uBlock apps -- you're fine. No need to read anything...though it's actually sort of an interesting article.
One piece of positive news in all this -- even if you have been using one of the fake ad blockers, Google has taken the extensions out of its Chrome Web Store, and that automatically disabled the applications that have already been installed.
I came across a couple of easy-to-follow and very valuable articles with tips on safe browsing from traversing the Internet. Many are pretty basic, but I find it's often good to just feel comforted that you're doing things properly in a convoluted world. But there are also good suggestions on things you probably aren't doing and might be wise to consider. Both articles are from last year -- I'm only getting around to writing about them now -- but though some information in them might be out-of-date, most isn't, and the tips are basically evergreen which are good to be aware of all the time.
The first is "17 Safe Internet Browsing Tips" which covers topics like security settings, password managers (offering suggestions on which are the best), how to come up to secure passwords that are easy to remember, how to avoid phishing emails (the kind that try to trick you into thinking they're from a real business), setting up a VPN for anonymous browsing and more. You can find it here.
The other is a "Guide to Using Public WiFi Safely and Securely" from the Comparitech site. It's so standard today to sit down at a coffeehouse, connect to their WiFi without a second thought. But there are a great many issue to be aware of. For instance, how to distinguish between secured and unsecured networks, rather than just connecting on the fly. Also, ways to keep sensitive information protected, setting up VPNs (a popular topic, as you can see...), and importantly a discussion on different ways you can be hacked when using public WiFi (for instance, the restaurant where your sitting can have their name spoofed, and so by mistake you've connected to the wrong one). You can read the guide here.
Some of the suggestions here, while very smart and valid, might not be things you want to do -- like turning off your mobile phone's WiFi until you're ready to use it. Smart as that is, it's also more inconvenient than most people tend to want. But it's still good to at least be aware of the reason for the suggestion so that you are kept apprised of Internet safety and generally on the alert.
It's also a good idea to keep links to articles like these so that you can give yourself refreshers every once in a while.
Though "tech stuff" often makes many people skip past such stories, two major bugs have made their appearance which would be good for you to know about. So even you you don't generally read about tech, do consider checking this out.
Different from most bugs, these are not software related, but hardware -- in the chips made by Intel and ARM (used on mobile devices). And so they affect Windows, Apple and Android devices alike. Called Meltdown and Spectre, they aren't precisely "bugs," though more a case flaws since it's how the chips are actually designed to work.
(The very short version is that when you initiate a command, the CPU on the chip is accessed, and it makes a guess what you're next-likely command will be that speeds up the process. That micro-second time its waiting makes the data on the chip vulnerable, like passwords, and someone malicious can fool the chip into initiating that delay.)
The good news is that a hacker still has to infect your system with a virus to allow for them to act further, so the more you can do to protect yourself from that initial infection the better. Also, this aspect of chips has been around for over 20 years, and there is no record of anyone because hacked by it -- though now that the information is known, it's more likely. In addition, though, software and hardware makers are already sending out fixes that can be installed.
Microsoft, for instance, has already sent out a patch for Windows. Browsers are particularly vulnerable, and the Chrome browser has a fix in its next update that's coming in weeks. Microsoft and Mozilla browsers will be patched, as well, though no date is set. But all software should be always kept updated. Apple no doubt will be patching its software, as well, but they haven't responded yet to journalists' inquiries. So adorably self-protective of them...
Here are two, very readable articles from C/NET which you might have useful:
This first here is an read an easy-to-read article that describes all this above in far-better detail.
The other article offers some easy heads-up tips on how to protect yourself, which can be read here.
If you subscribe to the Netflix streaming service, know that you can easily download movies and TV shows to your mobile phone or tablet. (Note: not all video is available to download, it must show a “Down arrow” icon.) Open your Netflix app, click on the Menu icon and select “Available to download.” Even if you don’t have an Internet connection – like if you’re on an airplane – you can still watch offline. Just click on “My downloads” to access what you’ve saved.
Todd Haselton is a terrific tech writer who I first crossed paths with on my jaunts to the IFA tech show in Berlin. He writes now for CNBC, as I mentioned here a while back.
He has a very interesting -- and especially easy -- solution for a problem that I suspect a great many people deal with: home WiFi that's unable to send a strong enough signal through your home.
Todd was having the same problem himself (yes, even high-techies come up against glitches in the real world), and -- like most people in the aforementioned real world -- went to friends for advice. What he came across surprised even him. Setting up "mesh networking."
Not to worry!! In fact, I was reticent to give its name, because I'm sure that will terrify a lot of people. But if you read his article, you'll see how easy he says it actually is. And it sounds extremely easy -- just not "Easy for Someone Who Knows What He's Doing." It took him all of 10 minutes (actually less), and even if that's because he's someone who knows what he's doing, it still sounds extremely easy for normal human folk.
You can read his article here for the solution.
Google Maps has introduced a new feature that could be a very nice help for people who have a hard time remembering where they parked their car.
After you've parked, open the app and tap on the blue dot that shows your location. A window will pop up that gives you the option to "Set as parking location." That's it. Easy!
Actually, it gets even easier, because the app uses the Google Street feature to show a photo of where your care is, when you tap on the icon.
But there are other features. A bar will show up at the bottom of the Google Maps screen called "Parking Location." If you tap on it, other options open up to you -- like leaving notes, such as the precise location of your car in a parking garage. And the ability to Share your location with someone who you might want to meet at your car.
It's available for both Android and iOS.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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