New life into old computers, unwanted alerts, iPhone security
Bob's Tech Talk
October 1, 2020
Q. I have several old computers in my garage that are just taking up space. Before I send them to the recycler, I wonder if there is anything useful I could do with them.
A. Working from home and remote learning has increased the demand for computers everywhere. As I have noted before, the fate of old hardware is that it often stops being useful long before it stops operating. Fortunately, there is a whole cottage industry of developers who try to breathe new life into old hardware.
Try converting that old computer into a ChromeBook (laptop) or ChromeBox (desktop). Chrome is best known as Google’s Web browser. Chrome OS is a completely different product however, one that supports Google’s vision of cloud computing.
Besides flexibility and low cost, computers that rely on Chrome OS need only simple hardware because nearly everything important happens on the network. If you store your files on Google Drive, and the hardware suddenly stops working, your files remain safe in the cloud.
Neverware (neverware.com) offers a free version of CloudReady, based on Chrome OS. CloudReady is certified to run on a number of popular hardware models, and it is possible to use it successfully on a wide variety of uncertified computers by testing them yourself.
Once successfully installed, a DIY Chrome OS computer is a useful device these days. Consider donating it to a charity that will help find it a new home.
Q. My phone began showing me a list of Wi-Fi networks a week after I shared my phone number with a neighbor. I did not change anything on the phone, but why would this happen only after giving out my number?
A. I believe that the Wi-Fi list appearing is a coincidence. Considering how the phone works internally, there is no subsystem that connects those two behaviors.
The most common reason that a phone displays a list of Wi-Fi base stations is because it has lost its connection to the internet. That can happen for at least a dozen different reasons beyond your control.
Like so many aspects of troubleshooting, it is probably easiest to fix the unwanted behavior directly, rather than try to track down the initial cause.
All smartphones have some sort of Wi-Fi settings screen. There are differences between models and software versions, but essentially you want to tell the phone which network it should join.
There should also be a setting for what to do if the regular network is unavailable, such as to ask for a different network, join the nearest open network automatically, or remain silent. Getting these settings correct should stop the list from appearing.
Q. Why should I update my iPhone’s operating system every time it asks?
A. Keeping your software up to date is the first line of defense for maintaining your privacy and keeping your personal information secure.
This fall’s iOS 14 update, which should already be available when you read this (or shortly thereafter), has a large number of improvements related to privacy. I have been using a test version for several months, and here are several of my favorite new capabilities.
It is now possible to share only your approximate location, so your weather app no longer needs to know your home address, just the city you live in. When you give an app permission to access your photos, it does not get unrestricted access to every photo in your library. The update
also adds a few useful alerts, such as the trackers on a web page, the camera status, and if an app quietly peeks at your clipboard.
That is not all, there are more safeguards that inhibit user tracking which are less visible but just as important. Taken together, iOS 14 is one of the most privacy-focused updates in years.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
Voter Information Online
Start here if you need information on how to cast a ballot in the upcoming election.
Create and Learn
You can enjoy this site with your grandchildren, or turn them loose to explore on their own. Scratch provides tools that let kids create animations to make games, cartoons, and music. http://www.scratch.mit.edu
Search for Movie and TV Programs
Search this site to discover which streaming services host your favorite shows. Create an account to set up a watchlist across multiple services, plus recommendations based on the shows you like.
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.