About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

November 3, 2015

OK Google, the All Hearing iEar?

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 4:32 am

There were a couple of interesting electronic add-ons to our world a few years ago.  One called Siri for iPhones/Apple devices and “OK Google” for Google devices.

Google The All Hearing iEar?For my Android phone I simply say, “OK Google” and tell it whatever I am looking for.  If I need help finding a store I say, “OK Google,” adding a slight pause then, “Where is the closest florist?”  It will usually give me a list of florists in my immediate area.

In recent months I have heard about people wondering if Google ever stops listening.  And if not, what is it finding out?  Some think we are being spied on by nefarious eavesdroppers.  Can Google and Apple be gathering everything we say?  Like your morning conversations, your private spoken out loud thoughts, singing in the car on the way to work ad infinitum.

I will say that yes, Google collects a lot of data about you that you may not appreciate; however, listening to your voice all the time…highly unlikely.  It does listen for the beat, tone, intonation for the words, “OK Google” which starts it working.

That being said, what does Google collect about you from your audio commands and questions?  Not only that, but how about your Chrome browsing history, (if you are logged in with your Google account) emails, travel and more.  Sounds a little “big brotherish” does it not?

To check on this information, edit and or stop it all, first log into your Google or Gmail account.  Then go to, “” and look around.

On the left side there is a dropdown menu with three short vertical lines for you to click.  There are six areas where Google collects information.  They are, “Web & App Activity,” “Voice & Audio Activity,” “Device Information,” “Location History,” “YouTube Watch History” and “YouTube Search History.”  If you did not realize it, Google purchased YouTube in October of 2006, which is why you see that specific item.

Google Web & App Activity screen

Once you have looked around and either laughed or cringed click on, “Voice & Audio Activity.”  I am sure you have already checked it out but it is fun to listen to yourself speak to Google and read how it may have sometimes been improperly interpreted.

If you want them gone you may delete them by checking them and hitting the Delete button.  You may also head to any of the six areas you want to delete and click the three dots in a vertical column on the upper right and choose “Delete Options.”  From there you can choose either Today, Yesterday or Advanced.  Advanced allows you to choose “All time” to remove all of them.

What if you what to get rid of OK Google’s ability to remember what you say, where you go, or what you have watched on YouTube?  First make sure you have deleted all activity as we discussed above.  Now click the three dots in the upper right for the “Menu,” “Settings,” and “Show More” controls.  You will now be presented with a listing of the six items.  Start flipping the switches for each setting to off (changes the buttons to gray).

The only ones I keep on are Places you go and Information from your devices.  All the others are off for me.  But for you conspiracy theorists out there…could they still be listening?

Six ON/OFF Choices with Ron's two selected

June 2, 2015

My Chrome Extensions

I have spoken about my favorite current browser before: Google Chrome.  It is still my number one.  I get questions about Chrome Extensions often.  First is usually, "What extensions are available for Chrome?" followed by, "Which ones do you use?" 

An extension is an addition to a browser which gives it more functionality to perform other tasks.  The word extension may be referred to as a plug-in, add-in or add-on, etcetera, depending on the browser you are referring to.   Microsoft has even called them, "helper objects."

The first question cannot really be answered since there are millions of them doing millions of different things.  Some useful – some playful.  Here is a list of the ones I use most often, with a short description of each.  To find new extensions open your Chrome browser and type, "" (shortened link with Caps.)  Next on the upper left of the Chrome Web Store that opens, type the extensions in the "Search the store" box and press Enter.  Be sure to spell them as I did in quotes below.

"Chrome Remote Desktop" is a great extension which allows you to log into your computers, if you have more than one or to log onto another person’s computer to help them, if they allow it.

Chrome Remote Desktop

"Clearly" is another good one which basically takes a webpage and removes all the graphics. It makes it much easier to read page information without being distracted by ads and graphics when you do not need them. 

Clearly by Evenote

"Google Cast" is used to cast, or broadcast your browser screen to your TV if you have a Chromecast device on your TV.  That way if you can watch something in your browser you can also easily watch it on TV.

Google Cast

"Google Keep" is my favorite note taking online app, and gives you direct access to your Keep notes.

Google Keep

"IE Tab" allows specific sites you enter in IE Tab to only open in Microsoft Internet Explorer windows.  Some sites are only viewable in MSIE (mostly work oriented) so this extension allows you to make sure you see those pages without having to open MSIE. 

IE Tab 

"Office Apps" Google Docs is a great natural for Chrome (both owned by Google) but people use MS Office.  Office Apps gives you free Office online and you can save regular office files to Microsoft’s "One Drive."

Office Apps

"Spell Checker for Chrome" is a spell checker for your browser.  If you are posting to Facebook, Twitter or typing on any web page, this will help you correct it with suggestions just like your word processor.  It says it supports 12 languages but I have no idea since I only almost speak one fluently. 

Spell Checker

"Weather" (Weather Unground or Wunderground) gives you a small icon at the top of the browser showing you the temp with a picture of what it is like outside.  Click it once and you get details for several days.  Click a day and get more detail. 


June 22, 2010

Firefox Add-ons, Part 3

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , — Ron @ 4:15 am

Thanks for the emails regarding the previous Firefox Add-ons I have written about over the last couple of columns.   Also, I’m glad to hear that several of you saved a lot of money using the "Invisible Hand" add-on I mentioned.  Tim wrote to say he saved almost $100 on a purchase he made using that add-on!  This will be the last week we’ll deal with Add-ons and then we will move on to something different.

Today I have three for you; one for help, one for fun and one for a neat application.

First, for Google-lovers is the "Google Toolbar" add-on.  If you use Google and/or Gmail and want a quick way to access their features you have to try this one out.  This add-on is also available for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  It is added into FF differently than the previous ones I’ve mentioned.  Go to "" in either browser and the correct toolbar will be installed.  After the installation is finished you will be able to search in Google and check your Gmail, as well as access many other Google related features conveniently from your browser.  Play with the options and see what other useful resources you can come up with!

Next is an add-on which is mostly for convenience, (OK, and a little bit of fun for the geeks out there) "Prism for Firefox".  Prism is the reason I no longer use Google Chrome which allows you to create a "web-application" from a web site.  Yes, I know it is a Google product and I am a Google fan-boy but I don’t care for their browser. 

Prism allows you to create an individual web-application out of any webpage.  For instance, for those of us who enjoy listening to the free music from, it can be combined with Prism to act like a separate program on your computer. 

After installing it in Firefox, log into your account (Prism will work on any site but Pandora shows how well it works.)  Now choose Tools from the menu bar and "Convert Website to Application".  You will be asked to choose a couple of settings such as where to save the link, etc. Placing the link on the desktop is a good starting point.

Next, go look on your desktop and you will see an icon for Pandora, or whatever site you used.  If you double click the icon only Pandora will open in a window. It will run in its own window.  You can run Prism with any website, including online games. 

Be creative and let me know how you have used these add-ons.

June 15, 2010

Firefox Add-ons, Part 2

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 3:02 am

I received many emails asking me more about Firefox Add-ons after last week’s column.  So today we are going to look at a few more.  Keep those emails coming since I want to write about what interests you!

If you have any questions about basic Firefox Add-ons you need to read last week’s column about "Invisible Hand" and "Tabloc" online at the DNR or at the site.   

"Forecastbar Enhanced" is another helpful add-on.  It allows you to set your location, via zip code, to get your local weather forecasts.  The forecasts are from  Other than the current weather forecasts, radar images, etc., you can display it in different locations in FF.  I keep mine in the status bar at the bottom of the Firefox window, which is the default.  You can also set it up to show forecasts for several days in the future. 

The next one I would like to share with you is called, "FoxTab".  "FoxTab" will allow you to set the sites you most often visit.  It will allow you to add any site to your top site "list" and quickly go to it at another time.  It enables a screen preview of "My Top Sites" in several great GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) which you can pick from.  Not only is it useful, it also looks good.  Once you bring your top site window up by clicking a button on your toolbar, you click on the site you want to go to and it pops right up.  Yes, this is like your favorites but in a slick new format.

The last one I will mention today is for you Gmail users.  It is called, "Gmail Manager".  This add-on allows you to set your Gmail account to be visible in your status bar, showing your unread emails.  By clicking on the account it will open your Gmail account in Firefox as if you had logged into yourself.  Then you can deal with your emails as you normally would.  It is set to a default of checking for new emails every 15 minutes but you can adjust that, along with other settings in the options for this add-on.  It will also allow you to keep track of multiple Gmail accounts at the same time.  Of course, that is for you geeks who, like me have more than one Gmail account.

Have fun trying these out and remember they are all free.  If you don’t like them you can easily uninstall them. 

Let me know if you would like to see some more next week…I have about 20 add-ons that I use in Firefox.

June 8, 2010

Firefox Add-ons

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , — Ron @ 4:53 am

I get many questions about Firefox Add-ons and have not written about them for the past several years.  So today I will discuss two of my favorite Add-ons.

Add-ons "add" more features to this great browser and if you haven’t used FF you should download it and try it out at  Add-ons can get extra info from the browser that can be really helpful and save time. 

imageGetting to Add-ons is simple.  While in FF, click on Tools | Add-ons and a window will open  revealing those currently installed.  Next, click the Get Add-ons tab and they will supply a few suggestions or you may search for others.  To search for others type in the name of the Add-on you need in the search box.  Double click on the one you want to try out and it will install.  You must restart Firefox for it to start working.

The first one I would like to suggest was built for those of you who like online shopping.  "Invisible Hand" is really a cost saver.  Once you install it, (without having to make any setting changes) it sits quietly in the background and you can forget about it. 

I was looking for a SanDisk® Cruzer® 32GB Flash Drive at an office supply site.  Within 15 seconds of reading about the drive; a bar popped up at the top of the page.  It gave me the exact item at three other sites.  You are thinking, "Well, terrific! That is no big deal."

However, the terrific part is that it lists the other three prices.  The site I looked at had the drive on sale for $139.99.  The other suggested sites had it for $58.90, $64.84 and $79.99, respectively.  It also does the math for you and says you could save $81.09!  Then (if I had $60 extra to spend) I could click the link and purchase it elsewhere.  And did I mention that all Add-ons are free?

Firefox has tabbed browsing as do all modern browsers.  When you look up something on Google or Bing you get a list of sites to check out.  When you click the link it usually replaces the search page with the link you clicked.  Then to view the other list items you have to click your back button to see them. 

With "Tabloc" running you can set it up so that when you double click a tab it locks in place.  This causes all other links on that page to open in a new tab.  Just view the other site you choose and click back on the existing search tab to check others.  This will significantly decrease your searching time.  Tabloc has other neat settings too, so explore the "options".

Last time I wrote about Add-ons I received overwhelming requests for more.  If that happens again I will talk about more next week.

January 19, 2010

You Can be a Spy Too!

Thanks to all of you who sent in the kind comments about the year in review columns for 2009(#1 & #2).  It is good to know that you are using them, liked the repeat of specific sites and that you are continuing to enjoy the column on a regular basis.  So, “Thanks!”

Today I wanted to talk about a very interesting free application that I stumbled upon this week and  the website where I found it.  Everything USB is an interesting site that has…well OK, you guessed it, lots of information about USB devices.  USB stands for “universal serial bus” and is the interface (plug) between your computer, most thumb drives/memory sticks and an array of other items that plug into your computer like camera cables, etc. with the little rectangular interface.  Take a look around there and you may find some interesting info.

One of the things that I found and have tried out for a week or so is called, “Predator“.  The Predator site says, “PREDATOR protects your PC with a USB flash drive” which is exactly what it does.

This is the Yego drive that Ron usesI know you have seen spy movies where they have to plug a device into a computer to unlock  it.  They don’t use the regular username and password we actually use.  Be aware that the majority of movies spotlighting computer use show them doing things computers in the real world don’t do at all.

With Predator installed on your computer you have entered the movie zone.  Once Predator is installed, you just plug in your thumb drive and get almost immediate access to your computer.  When you walk away from your computer just pull the stick out and drop it in your pocket.  Once, your USB device is out of the computer your monitor goes black and locks.

When you come back to your computer, plug in your device and it unlocks for you to use.

This program also requires you to set a Predator password just in case you lose your drive and can’t get into the computer.  If that is the case you simply press the enter key three times and it asks for the password.  You get three tries to enter the correct one.  If you fail it will lock down for 5 minutes and you won’t be able to try again during that time.  Neat little security trick if your friends at work try to get into your computer.

An interesting Predator feature is that it creates a log which you can read.  If anyone tries to log into your computer while you are gone it tells you what they tried and how it failed.  For instance, when you get back and check the log you could see if someone tried to get into your system with the wrong password, etc.  Check the site’s link above for more details.

Is this better than a username and password?  Nope, but it sure is cool.

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