Reading List in Google Chrome

How do you save web pages you want to read later?

Until recently I’d been saving web pages in a variety of places, including Facebook and Twitter bookmarks. I still use those, but now I’ve become better organised. Sites I visit regularly are bookmarked in Google Chrome (so they synchronise across all my devices) with my top sites on the favourites bar as icons only.

I don’t know how long Google’s [Reading list] has been available, but I’ve only recently discovered it. If it’s not showing you can activate it after typing the following command into the address bar and pressing [Enter]. You can also use the same command to disable it.

chrome://flags/#read-later

Anything I want to read later now gets saved into my [Reading list] by bookmarking and choosing that option. Most recent pages are saved to the top of the list and get moved to the bottom of the list (below a divider) when you’ve read them. You can then delete them, keep for future reference, or transfer to another bookmarking service.

For long-term bookmark storage I use Pocket, which I’ll write about at a later date.

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Google Photos (OCR)

I’ve been using Google Photos for ages, but it was only recently that they added an optical character recognition feature. Basically, if you take a photo of text on your smartphone, check it out in the Google Photos app or (after it’s been uploaded and synchronised to the cloud) computer web browser and you get the option to optically scan the text in the photo and convert it to editable text. It will even read it aloud for you.

While we’re on the subject of Google and text, there’s also another app that’s very useful, one that I use all the time. One of the features of Google Keep is that you can record audio notes that are automatically transcribed into text. It’s remarkably accurate and useful for those times when you have an idea and are unable to type. I used it for this blog post and it required minimal editing to finish it off.

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Dining Table School Class

Home schooling and Zoom classes have been a regular part of our home life for many weeks during the coronavirus lockdown, but yesterday I had the new experience of actually teaching a primary school lesson from our dining room table by video call.

Going into schools as a Salvation Army Officer is something I’ve always enjoyed; either leading an assembly, taking a class, or simply attending an event. Fortunately, it’s something I can continue now I’m retired. So I was pleased to be invited by a friend to teach a Reception Class at Morgans Primary School, Hertford.

I spoke about the Salvation Army and Easter, answering questions such as: Is it a real fighting army? Why are there so many celebrations and holidays around Easter? Is the Easter bunny a Christian thing?

It seemed to go well and I look forward to further opportunities in the future, and hopefully in person at Freddy and Matilda’s school when life returns to normal.

Note: It was the first time I’d used Google Meet and I preferred it to Zoom.

Marriage Allowance Tax Benefits

In the UK, the HMRC allows you transfer £1,250 of your personal tax allowance to your husband, wife or civil partner. This reduces the overall amount of tax you pay as a couple, and it can be backdated for a number of years. It’s a genuine scheme that may benefit some (but not all) couples, although they don’t advertise it very well.

It’s easy to claim this via the HMRC website, or (as we did recently) by telephone. The only problem we encountered was a long wait to get through to someone, but when we did they were very helpful.

There’s nothing to pay, and possibly lots to gain.

Beware googling ‘marriage tax allowance’. Some shyster firms will charge you for applying (they try to look official), but it’s FREE to apply. Follow our guide and the correct links below to do it safely and at no cost. Source

Unfortunately, there are many companies who offer to do it for you, and charge you up to (and sometimes over) 50% of any backdated tax refund. This could be over £500 for something you can easily do yourself, they simply require the same information you have to give HMRC. They are totally legal scams.

The HMRC website and the one quoted above are really helpful.

Note: I’m not an accountant and this post isn’t financial advice, merely pointing out something you might benefit from and a danger to be aware of. Please do your own homework and make your own financial decisions.

Make a donation: If (as a result of reading this) you save some money, please consider making a donation towards the running costs of this non-profit and free from advertising blog. Click here. Regards, John.

Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

Microsoft Editor

Like me, many of you will probably have been using Grammarly to check your spelling and grammar across the web, it was (and still is) certainly a useful tool. But, there’s a new kid on the block, namely Microsoft Editor.

Previously, I had Grammarly installed as an extension in Google Chrome (my browser of choice) until Microsoft’s editor came along. It works in the same way, checking your spelling and grammar in real time. Initially, it wasn’t as good, but it’s now been developed and is equal to Grammarly (if not better).

If you have Google Chrome synchronisation activated, it also works across all your devices and platforms.

My only contact with Grammarly now is via emails from them telling me I haven’t done any writing recently, and how they miss me. I must unsubscribe.

Four by Four and Four by Sixteen

IMG_20200427_164436

Photography (a smartphone is all you need by the way) and writing, whether personal or for work, are two of the things that are currently helping me maintain my mental health and sanity in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Partly by accident, but also by design, I’ve developed a way of posting them on social media and here. I take four square photos and then stitch them together with an Instagram app to make a four by four photo which I share then to Instagram (and automatically to Facebook and Twitter). I repeat this three more times, and then stitch the four stitched photos together into a four by sixteen photo. The above stitched photo is today’s offering from my afternoon walk in Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend.

I then add all the individual photos to a Google Photos album, and you can see the ones from today here. I’m particularly pleased how the dandelion shot turned out, I spotted it in a ray of sunshine that didn’t extend to the background, making it stand out dramatically.

I also took four photos of some fungi on a tree stump that I’ve stitched into a standalone four by four one. Again, you can see all the individual ones here.

IMG_20200427_164208

Oh, and even though I concentrated on nature, I was with my family. Here’s the one shot I did take of them (Naomi was taking photos of the children), and I immediately loved it.

20200427_160023

 

Rising Sun Country Park

IMG_20200418_164514

The Rising Sun Country Park is a wonderful place to visit, just two miles away from where we live in Wallsend. It’s somewhere we’ll miss when we move away from the area on my retirement in a few months time. It’s also the location for a parkrun.

In the current coronavirus pandemic the main facilities and car park are obviously closed, but it’s still open for exercise and there’s plenty of space for social distancing. We had a lovely walk round part of the country park yesterday. The above photos are some that I took while out with my family.

You can see all the photos taken on my smartphone by clicking here.

Debunking Chromebooks Myths

acer chromebook on the white desk
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

If you’re having to self-isolate or work from home (or simply not going out so much) in the current coronavirus pandemic you might be considering some new computer equipment. A Chromebook is an excellent choice, but you might have some reservations or even believe some of the myths.

For a start, Chromebooks are not just a browser with a keyboard. There’s so many apps (probably the same ones you use on our smartphone) that you can install to do all the things you do on a laptop. You can easily stream music and watch movies, even in full HD if you go for that option. Editing photos is a breeze.

“Ah, but I can’t use Microsoft Office!” Sorry, yes you can! You can use the Microsoft Office Mobile App or Office 365 online, and there’s an app for OneDrive.

You might think that Chromebooks are cheap and not worth buying. Not true. Yes, you get what you pay for, but there are some excellent budget models as well as very high-end ones.

Finally, you might think switching to a Chromebook is complicated. Sorry to disappoint you again, if you can use a laptop and a mobile you can use a Chromebook. You can also access your work on all three and synchronise etc.

Oh, and I didn’t mention that they’re stylish, light, have an incredibly fast start-up time, and a battery charge lasts forever! See also here.

Note: You can also make your own Chromebook from an old laptop, it just won’t have the same battery life etc.