Getting and Keeping Crap Off Your Computer

Oh, the Internet is a scary place!  Evil lurks around the corner of most URLs.  The bad guys, whether located in Nigeria, Malaysia or Peoria, are on the lookout for you, waiting for you to slip-up, over-look, forget about something thus giving them an opening to invade your digital life!

Generally speaking, you can protect yourself pretty well.  I’ve been doing it for 25 years and am comfortable that I can live online and not get beat up too badly.  But you do have to be smart.  Here are a handful of simple things you can do to ensure your safety:

Get a password locker.  I use a wonderful free program called ‘Last Pass’ (www.lastpass.com).   I set up an account and then added every website I go to that requires a password.  It’s a fluid system so you can always add sites as you surf.  You can store any password you are already using with any site OR you can let Last Pass generate an incomprehensible password for each of your sites (which is preferable).  Whenever you go to a website requiring your credentials, Last Pass comes up.  You log in with the password you created when you opened your Last Pass account and your user name and password are populated for the website you are wanting to access.  It works fine with banks and Amazon, airlines, even email.  Your password locker is online, so it would take thermo-nuclear war or something to lose the data; and once you are using Last Pass, a creep who hacks your computer will still have a devil of a time getting into your bank account.

Get good antivirus protection.  There are lots of paid programs out there and I have used many.  I liked ESET NOD 32 a lot.  It was about $50 a year.  But for the last few years I’ve been on AVG Free (www.avg.com).  It watches for and catches viruses without a lot of the bells and whistles some of the paid programs offer, and since that’s what I want an anti-virus program for, it’s fine.  In addition, I occasionally (like once a quarter) crank up a full computer scan using Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (www.malwarebytes.com).  It’s also free and looks for some things that AVG doesn’t.

For example, the reason I’m writing this today is that I ran Malwarebytes this morning and discovered 22 ugly instances on my machine.  They were in local settings, in Internet history and even in my registry.  The nastiness came down with a bit of  ‘Free’ software I downloaded a couple of days ago (remember, nothing is ‘Free’).  AVG was silent on the matter, but Malwarebytes took care of it.

Finally, if you’re running AVG and you’ve cleaned up with Malwarebytes and your computer is still funky, go to www.trendmicro.com.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on ‘Free Anti-virus Tools’ then on the tab for ‘Cleanup and Prevention.’  Look for ‘HouseCall’ and run it.  It scans your computer, much as AVG does but sometimes will find things other programs miss.  By the way there are lots of other free tools on the Trend Micro site, so if you want to scan your IPhone or Android, this is a good place to stop.

When downloading anything be careful before you click ‘OK’ or ‘Next’ or ‘Continue.’  Even reputable vendors will load up their downloads with stuff you don’t want, so you have to at least scan what’s on the screen when inviting their stuff into your computer.  Example:  Microsoft.  Anything you get from Microsoft these days will likely include the Bing Toolbar.  You have to look at the screens in the download process to un-check the button that grants them permission to install it or Bing will become your search provider of choice.  There’s nothing wrong with Bing.  I just don’t want it.  My friend somehow got hoodwinked into installing the ASK.com toolbar and it was really difficult to remove – so be careful.

Sometimes the junk offerings are slipped in so inconspicuously that you don’t realize it’s happening.   That was the case with the 22 hiccups I cleaned this morning.  If you see something on your machine you don’t like, specifically a program in the Start Menu or an odd additional bar at the top of your Internet Browser, uninstall it:  Open Control Panel, then Programs and Features, find the offender on the list and click Uninstall.  While there, look at the other programs.  See any you don’t recognize?  It might be worth uninstalling but, once again, be careful.  Sometimes you won’t recognize something important by name or publisher.  If you’re not sure, Google the program and see what it is first.  If you’re still unsure, just leave it.

Now, how did I discover I had junk on my computer this morning?  I opened up Frys’ website to see their Memorial Day Weekend sale items.  Immediately a voice came out of my speaker, saying, ‘Your computer has been seriously compromised by a dangerous virus.  Call the number on your screen immediately so that we can walk you through removal of this threat before buying anything online.’  Really?  The people I trust to keep me safe (AVG, Malwarebytes and Windows Defender  – which we all have) don’t operate that way.  I clicked on the start button and scrolled through the list of programs  . . . and there were a couple of NEW things I didn’t recognize.  I uninstalled them and then ran Malwarebytes and now all’s well with my electronic world.

So, please:  protect yourself and then DON’T BE STUPID!  Exercise a little care when you download and give your machine a once over once in awhile.

Adventures in Speech Recognition

What you’re reading right now is not so much a blog post as it is a transcript of a speech I’m giving across the room from my computer right now. Let me explain.

Speech-to-text has been around for 20 years. It is the technology that allows a computer or other input device to hear the spoken word and transcribe it into print. I experimented in the 90s with early stabs at speech-to-text with products like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and IBM ViaVoice. Both of those products made far too many errors for my taste. I quickly returned to typing, something I’ve very good at.

Way back in 1965, I took Miss Paris’ 10th grade Touch Typing class. For decades I have maintained that typing was one of the most important things I learned in high school. Today I type almost as fast as I can think, which is one of the reasons writing is easy for me. But now, technology has taken us beyond printing, beyond cursive, beyond even typing. We are rapidly approaching the point where dictation will be our primary communication methodology.

Apple released Siri with great fanfare and the core of Apple users seemed to love that little bit of innovation (Ok, let’s be honest: they practically genuflected before their devices). But at virtually the same time, Google started really pushing speech to text. Initially I found voice command functionality to be very useful on my Google phone. When I needed to call someone I simply said “Call John Doe,” and Google would instantly dial that person.

But as text messaging begin to explode as a useful tool, I also started texting via speech. I’d push the microphone icon on the phone and speak the text I wanted to send. It’s not perfect – and I have to remember to proofread text before I push the send button – but it sure beats typing on a small screen.

More recently I’ve been using speech recognition in searches. On my smartphone, I just click the Google icon, say the magic words “Okay Google,” and then, whatever I’m looking for. Google responds with a voice greeting and then presents search results on the phone. I never have to type a thing.

Right now, I am creating this blog post in Google Docs , on my Google Drive, located somewhere up in the Cloud. I created a new document from my PC and gave it a name. Then I opened up the Google Drive icon on my smartphone, located the same document, opened it, pressed the microphone icon, and have been dictating this blog post ever since. As I speak into my smartphone from my easy chair across the room, I can see the words being typed in the document I have open on my computer. Best of all, it seems pretty accurate.

All this goes to say speech recognition and speech-to-text technology has come of age. We now really can interact with our various devices by just speaking to them. We’re a long way from the world of the movie ‘Her,’ but once again, technology has made a tedious task easier!

If you are a Google/Android person, try the following:

1.  Push the blue Google icon on your phone and say ‘Okay Google.’  When you hear the beep, speak a search string, something like ‘The Best Pizza in Milwaukee,’ and then see what happens.

2.  Start a text session with a friend.  When it’s your turn to respond, click the microphone icon located next to the text field and speak your message.  Be sure to proof it before sending.

3.  Download the free Google Drive app from the Google Play store to your phone and use it to open your Google Drive (you have one if you have a Gmail account – and the login credentials will be the same).  Open a new document but instead of typing it, click the microphone icon and speak it.  When you are done, open the same document in Google Drive from your desktop and edit it.

Really:  Try it!  You’ll like it!  And you’ll feel oh so up-to-date with technology!