Computer tune-ups, anti-virus, voice assistants
Bob's Tech Talk
May 1, 2020
Q. What is an effective way to keep my laptop running like new?
A. There is a powerful technique that can work miracles, but it also requires great care — reinstall the operating system. This is not the best option for everyone, but done properly it can keep your computing life nearly trouble-free. System resets are known by different names, the most common are “Reset this PC” (Windows), “Reinstall MacOS” (Macintosh), and “Powerwash” (ChromeOS).
Unless you have experience backing up and restoring data, a reset is best left to the professionals.
Backup protection is where the cloud can be your best friend. The more you take advantage of cloud services, the easier it becomes to keep your data and system files separate. ChromeOS is almost entirely cloud based. Apple’s iCloud can be configured to protect all your data as well. Windows is more complex, but using cloud services for data is a good start.
When all your data is backed up in the cloud, reinstalling the operating system is much easier. Here are the basics:
Performing a fresh installation is different for every operating system. You will need to spend some time with Google, searching for guidance that fits your particular computer.
Early on during the reset process you will have a choice between reinstalling “on top” of your current install or erasing everything.
Reinstalling provides a fresh copy of all the system files while preserving everything else.
Erasing everything is the nuclear option. It will wipe out every bit of data and reset the computer as if it was brand new. Once complete, any personal data will have to be restored from a backup.
The bottom line is that storing personal data in the cloud combined with yearly system rebuilds will keep your computer in first class shape.
Q. I finally replaced my aging computer with a new Windows 10 laptop. Do I need to buy a new anti-virus utility as well?
A. This answer may surprise you: no. But as always, the details matter.
For years, the general advice was that a free version of something like Kaspersky AntiVirus was good enough for many situations. For high-risk users, third-party, paid anti-virus utilities were best.
Microsoft Windows Defender has had a troubled history and a less than stellar reputation. But that is no longer the case. The version that comes with Windows 10 is excellent. It provides a good balance of safety, security and ease of use. And considering that it is kept up to date automatically as part of Windows, I think that makes it the best option for nearly everyone.
My advice is to use Defender, and enjoy your new laptop. Windows 10 is a fantastic product.
Q. The correct spelling of my name has silent letters that confuse Siri. Is there a way to teach her how to say my name properly?
A. Both Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant can take elocution lessons for pronouncing names. Depending on the name, the results can range from almost perfect to rather poor.
The easiest method is to ask Siri to say your name. When she responds, you say, “That is not how to pronounce my name.” She should reply by asking how to say it properly. Speak your name clearly. In response, she should offer several choices for you to choose from.
There is also a way to add pronunciation instructions with your address book. Special phonetic spelling fields can be added to a contact that shapes Siri’s pronunciations. To add one or more of these fields, open Contacts on your iPhone, select a name, and tap the Edit button at the top right. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and tap “Add Field.” A list of potential new fields, including phonetic options, will appear.
Google Assistant has a similar feature to add phonetic spellings to entries in Android’s contact list.
For Amazon’s Alexa, the options are limited. Adding a new Skill can help, but overall performance is so uneven I suggest that living with Alexa’s version until better options are available.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
A podcast about mistakes and the lessons we can learn from them. The show is hosted by Tim Harford, author of “The Undercover Economist.”
Ditch Your Cable Subscription
If you want to learn about how to replace your cable TV with Internet Streaming, this site is a great place to start. http://www.cordcuttersnews.com
High-Quality Cockpit Videos
Ever wonder what happens inside a cockpit? Fly alongside former military aviator Greg Mink as he flies his Beechcraft Premier 1 business jet. (Use the YouTube button which appears on the page linked below.)
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at email@example.com.