Essential Chromebook Apps

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Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

When I first got my Chromebook I downloaded loads of apps, but I’ve deleted many of them because you can do most things you want in the Google Chrome browser.

Amazon Prime Video and Netflix: Although you can watch movies and TV series in the browser, there are some apps that work better as apps and these are two that I do use. Other content providers are available.

Chrome Canvas: This is an excellent, and possibly little-known, drawing app that comes with the Chrome OS. Yes, you can use it in a browser on any operating system, but there are advantages of using the app on a Chromebook, not least the fact that the app defaults to full screen.

JotterPad: This is a wonderful distraction-free notepad app that I use on my smartphone and tablet as well as on my Chromebook. It’s free, but does have in-app purchases. Two of these are one-off payments to unlock extra features, but if you want to connect to a cloud services there’s a monthly payment. I’ve paid for the two one-off benefits, but haven’t bothered with the cloud integration as you can easily share the notes manually with other apps and services. There are many adjustments you via settings, so an altogether essential app for me.

Nimbus Screenshot & Screen Video Recorder: This is a Chrome browser extension rather than an app, but I include it here because it’s useful on whichever device you use this browser. It does what it says on the tin with many different options.

Photoshop Express & Snapseed: Everyone knows about Photoshop, and so their app for Android devices is pretty much a must-have. Snapseed is not so well-known, but it’s a neat little photo editing app to have in your Android tool box. Take your pick, or install both.

VLC: This media player is simply essential on any device, make sure you have the app on your Chromebook.

ZArchiver: If you work with ZIP files this is an essential app.

Note: I hope this selection of Chromebook apps is useful to you, and remember the apps can be used on any Android device.

Recognising Birdsong

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Photo by Jozef Fehér on Pexels.com

In her recent guest post (Digital Wellbeing) Sue Thomas mentioned birdsong. I’ve always been fascinated by birdsong and can recognise a few, but birdwatching has never been one of my hobbies. Perhaps it should be with my retirement coming up in a few months time.

Coincidentally, I’ve just come across a recommended app for recognising individual birdsong, so I thought it might be useful to share it here. It goes by the unfortunate title of ChirpOMatic, but it’s been thoroughly recommended by WebUser magazine.

It costs £3.99 (although it’s worth every penny) and there are versions for both Android and iOS. The link in the text is for Android, but I’m sure iPhone users will be able to find it easily.

10 Tips for Top Sleep

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

First of all, let me say I’m not an expert on sleep, although I’ve read widely about it and written about The Need for Sleep on this site.

Sleep can be elusive at the best of times, but in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic, it can be even more difficult with so many emotions and thoughts going through our minds.

Here are tips I’ve found helpful and I try to apply them whenever possible. Although I don’t always get it right, especially with three young children.

  1. Stick to a specific sleep schedule, try to settle down and wake up at the same time each day. Remembering that a lie-in at weekends won’t make up for and lack of sleep during the working week, and might well make it harder to get up on Monday morning.
  2. Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine too near to bedtime as these can be detrimental to good sleep. The latter two are not a problem for me as I’m teetotal and don’t smoke, but caffeine can be. I don’t usually drink coffee after 12 noon (2.00 pm at the latest) although I still drink tea, and so to reduce my caffeine intake before bed I’ll often drink decaffeinated tea. Another option is herbal tea, which I try to drink at least once a day, usually with a teaspoon of acacia honey to sweeten.
  3. It’s often tempting to eat late into the evening, but this isn’t always a good idea. I’m also at an age when my bladder can wake me up in the night, so I try to balance the need to be hydrated with my overall fluid intake.
  4. Exercise is good, but not too near bedtime. We all know that exercise is beneficial for our overall health and wellbeing, but it’s better done earlier in the day.
  5. Naps are good and can help to make up for lost sleep, but it’s best not to take these after the middle of the afternoon as these can then make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  6. Make sure you unwind before bed if possible, schedule it into your daily routine. Reading or listening to music can be helpful ways to relax.
  7. Avoid screen time before bed and, if possible, keep smartphones and tablets out of the bedroom. You can also use a blue filter to reduce the detrimental effect of screen light while winding down to sleep. Many devices and operating systems now have these built-in, or there are apps you can use. You can also turn the brightness down.
  8. A hot bath is good for helping you to relax and unwind, but also the lowing of body temperature that occurs after a bath helps you to become sleepy.
  9. Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, and get rid of anything that might distract you. If it’s not completely dark you could try an eye mask.
  10. This last tip depends on you as an individual and may vary in different circumstances. If you can’t sleep, do you get up or simply lay resting? I usually apply the rule that if not sleeping is making me anxious it’s probably better to get up for a while before returning to bed, otherwise I stay put. But always avoid the temptation to check your smartphone.

Finally, in all of this don’t forget the old adage, that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Sleep well.

Boring, but potentially useful!

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As the title suggests, this post is boring, but might be potentially useful. It’s simply about the consistent naming of computer files in order to help you improve productivity whilst using a laptop or whatever.

Life (by its very nature) comes in unexpected ways, sometimes throwing things at us that we can have difficulty dealing with, even if normally organised. One area of life that I can keep relatively organised is my computer, even allowing for the dreaded blue screen of death that could occur at any time.

Windows 10 has recently made it easier to locate files, but it’s still helpful to have a system. I use folders extensively and always make sure everything saved in OneDrive, to make sure it’s immediately backed up to the cloud. I also like to keep the contents of most folders in alphanumerical order and to assist this I prefix many files (such as letters, scanned documents, sermons and the like) with the date in a specific form.

I’m writing this on Wednesday 4 March 2020 (in my lunch break) and so today’s files will be prefixed with 200304 (the date in reverse order). This ensures files are kept in alphanumeric order and I can easily locate specific files on a specific date.

A boring post I know, but I hope this simple idea helps you.

Note: the screenshot above is my backup of posts on this site named in the way I’ve described. Click to see an enlarged image.

Avira Free Antivirus Software

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I wrote about Windows Defender in 2017, suggesting that you didn’t need to pay for anti-virus software because the one bundled with Windows 10 does a good job and integrates perfectly with the OS. Since then Windows Defender has been improved* and does a really good job of keeping you safe online; so there’s really no need look for an alternative, and especially no need to pay good money for protection.

I know many of you remain unconvinced about free anti-virus software, and so even this post won’t convince you. But for the rest of you, please trust me when I tell you that free software really does do the business!

However, you might say that you really don’t trust Microsoft (despite the fact that you trust them with Windows 10 on your computer in the first place), in that case here’s a great free alternative.

I haven’t used Avira, but I have it on good authority that it’s the best free alternative to Windows Defender. It blocks all kinds of threats (including spyware, adware and the like), offers real-time protection and updates, and can repair infected files. It doesn’t hog system resources (unlike some paid-for products) and is speedy and efficient. There are even free add-ons that can boost your protection.

So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to stick with the free Windows Defender that comes bundled with Windows 10, and certainly don’t pay good money for what can actually be inferior. But if you must have something else, you can’t go far wrong with Avira!

* I think Windows Defender is called Windows Security now. That’s the label on the settings window and taskbar icon anyway. It was the anti-virus software recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019.

Closer to the Edge

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Having recently posted about the updated Edge browser from Microsoft, here are some of its features that might convince you to try it. It’s being rolled out now and replaces the original Edge released originally with Windows 10. Microsoft is particularly keen to get users of Google Chrome to change, especially in the light of privacy concerns, although I’m not sure if there’s much difference in that respect between huge corporations.

So, the first benefit of Edge is the ability to import browser data from Chrome. In order to get you to switch, Microsoft has made this process as painless as possible with many options when you install Edge for the first time, or you can do it later. You can also synchronise your data across devices (although fairly standard these days) and switch easily between multiple accounts.

One of the criticisms of the original Edge was the lack of add-ons, but now you can install extensions from the Microsoft Store, but (and this is probably a clincher) from the Chrome Web Store. You can also switch between light and dark modes.

There’s easy customisation of the home, new tab pages, and news feed. A built-in task manager enables you to identify and kill resource-hungry processes. You can hear web pages read aloud at different speeds and jump backwards and forwards from one paragraph to another. You can also turn websites into standalone apps and pin sites to the taskbar.

One ‘good news/bad news’ issue is that although Edge is multi-platform, a Linux version will likely to be some time arriving on the scene.

Why not have a go with it? If you alter too many settings, you can easily reset Edge to default settings. Oh, and did I mention, there’s a dark mode!

A great browser from Microsoft?

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“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” is a question posed by Nathanael (a disciple of Jesus) in John1:46. The same question is often directed at Microsoft, and the surprising answer is often yes! Admittedly, Windows 8 was something of a dog’s breakfast, especially because its predecessor Windows 7 was much better, but Windows 10 (there was no Windows 9) is remarkably good in my humble opinion.

However, Microsoft web browsers have never had a good reputation. The old joke went that Internet Explorer was only good for one job, namely downloading the vastly superior Mozilla Firefox (or more recently Google Chrome). But that negative reputation could well be about to change.

Microsoft Edge first came out with Windows 10 and was better than Internet Explorer, but many people again only used it to download Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. So, what’s all the fuss now?

Well, last month (January 2020) Microsoft released an updated version of Edge and it’s being rolled out to users now. It’s totally revamped, Chromium-based, and it looks like they’ve finally got it right – a browser that’s fast, secure, open-sourced and packed with useful features. Some have gone as far as suggesting that it’s as good as, if not better than Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Part 2 of this post Closer to the Edge can be found here.

Windows is NOT the only OS

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I’ve previously posted about making your own Chromebook from an old laptop (or netbook) using CloudReady, well here’s another way to do it using Linux.

Now that I have my own Chromebook, I’ve installed Linux on both an old laptop and netbook; Linux Mint on the laptop and Puppy Linux on the netbook, although there are many Linux operating systems (or distros) to choose from.

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You will need to download and install your Linux distro of choice onto a USB flash drive, and then use it to boot your laptop. This is a little bit technical, but don’t let that put you off, find a geek to help you (or ask me nicely and buy me a coffee). Then it’s a simple process. The process wipes the laptop, so backup first.

What are you waiting for? Your new FREE Linux laptop awaits you!

Note: I tried Linux Lite before Puppy Linux, but had some keyboard issues. Having said that, Puppy Linux is great and very fast on an old netbook.

Make your own Chromebook

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Have you got an old laptop (or netbook) that you don’t know what to do with? Maybe it’s running slowly and driving you to distraction? Perhaps you’ve got your eye on a shiny new laptop, but can’t afford one? Or what about a Chromebook, although you hesitate because you’re not sure?

Well here’s an answer for you! You can turn your old laptop into a Chromebook, give it a whole new lease of life, and it will cost you nothing! Everything is done online with Google apps in the Chrome browser, a bit like using an Android smartphone (and you can synchronise all your devices). I use Windows 10 mainly, but have a spare laptop running CloudReady for ease of use and ‘relative’ portability (it’s a heavy laptop).

You will need to download and install CloudReady onto a USB flash drive, and then use it to boot your laptop. This is a little bit technical, but don’t let that put you off, find a geek to help you (or ask me nicely and buy me a coffee). Then it’s a simple process, all you need is here. The process wipes the laptop, so backup first.

What are you waiting for? Your new FREE Chromebook awaits you!

Note: you can also revive an old laptop with a Linux OS, you can find about it here.

 

Windows Defender

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I have a policy of never paying for anti-virus software; but is this stance justified? Why pay for software when the free Microsoft Defender comes with Windows?

I agree with those who say Defender isn’t the best out there, but it has to be said that no anti-virus software is 100% reliable. Defender’s advantages are that it integrates perfectly with Windows 10, it’s free and it’s not system hogging. I also immunise my PC regularly with SpywareBlaster and scan regularly with Malwarebytes (the free versions of both).

This is how I live with Defender’s limitations. But the best anti-virus protection is the PC user; don’t go to dodgy[dot]com and always pay attention to potential threats. This is my joined up plan around Defender, one that has served me well for many years, and remember that most PCs get viruses (and the like) because of users’ ignorance or gullibility. So, as I often say, ‘Keep up and pay attention’ – security is your responsibility, you know it makes sense.

Update January 2020: Windows Defender has recently been beefed-up and was recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019. Often paid-for anti-virus software is bloated and slows down your system, Windows Defender (or Security I think it’s called now) integrates perfectly with Windows 10.