Blink Twice if It’s You

Our every login is compromised. This is a fact. I’ve explained this in an earlier post. I also offered a solution. Not using the same password for many accounts reduces the risk. So does opting for complex passwords. Using an app helps. It doesn’t make it go away, though.

In truth, nothing can give us absolute confidence our accounts won’t get hacked. But we can do better than change our passwords and hope for the best.

In recent years, multi-factor authentication has been gaining traction. You know how in films we see the actors scanning their hand and then their retina? Or type in a code and then authenticate with their voice? These are all forms of multi-factor authentication.

Many of the services we use offer multi-factor authentication. There are a few common second forms of authentication. Some services send a text message to our phone. Others send us an email to our email address. Lastly, some request a code from an authentication app. All these make it harder for a hacker to login to our account. Having our password isn’t enough. They now need access to our phone or our email account.

My point is simple. Go through your accounts. Enable multi-factor authentication wherever you can. Keep your accounts safe.

There’s Electricity in the Air

Every time I charge my laptop or my phone I feel like I’m back in the ’90s. I find myself plugging and unplugging them on a regular basis to keep them going.

This is a problem because it wears out their USB-C sockets. Over time, the connections become sensitive and only work some of the time, or at certain angles. That’s really annoying for such expensive devices. If only there was a way to avoid this…

Actually, there is. Apple used to have this cool connection called a MagSafe. It was a magnetic connector for their Macbook chargers. This avoided the friction of plugging and unplugging. It also made connecting easier. It even prevented the accidental cable pull. Those would result in the MacBook crashing down on the floor.

Unfortunately, Apple stopped using the MagSafe connector. Other companies (I’m looking at you, Dell) didn’t adopt the concept.

But I have good news, too. Other companies picked it up where the big guys left off. You can buy a magnetic connector to replace your USB-C connector. It’s actually just a small adapter on the connector. You get all the benefits of the MagSafe again. That’s my laptop saved.

For my phone, I bought a couple of wireless charging stands. Now I get to simply put down my phone to charge it. The angle is convenient and lets me see the screen while the phone charging. More importantly, it doesn’t take a toll on the USB-C socket. And as a bonus, no dangling cable. Win!

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People All Over the World, Join Paper

Sometimes you want to keep a pile of paper sheets together. And sometimes you can’t help but wonder why stapling a few sheets together is so hard. I still remember the school secretary applying her full body weight to staple our exams.

When it comes to small expenses, I prefer to invest a little more and get something nicer. My stapler is no exception.

When looking for a stapler, I was curious to see what features exist. I found the coolest feature to be ease of stapling large stacks of paper. That’s why I ended up buying the PaperPro Prodigy. It has a spring-free mechanism. That mechanism makes stapling even 25 sheets of paper as easy as pushing with one finger. Wow.

Mind you, I purchased mine back in 2014. Six years later, it still serves me well. There are newer models now, with even nicer features. Check out the PaperPro InPower+. It can staple up to 28 sheets of paper. It has a built in staple remover. It even has a staple storage compartment.

If money is no issue, check out the PaperPro inHANCE+. This beast can staple 100 sheets of paper. This one requires two fingers, which is still quite impressive.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a new kind of stapler. The Plus is a staple-free stapler. That is a pretty neat idea. It can staple up to 10 sheets of paper, which is quite neat, given you never have to buy staples again. You can find cheaper ones on AliExpress. The next time I run out of staples, I’m getting myself one of these.

Who’d have thought staplers could be so much fun! Ok, maybe it’s just me.

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Size Matters

Size matters. Especially when we’re talking about software. Quite simply, smaller is better.

In some cases, size comes at a cost. We call this a lossy compression. JPEG is such an example. The smaller your JPEG, the lower its quality. There is no way to recover the original data. It is lost. The loss may be acceptable – it may not even be visible to the naked eye.

In other cases, compression is lossless. PNG and ZIP are such examples. When you compress something to a ZIP file, you expect to be able to recover it in its entirety when you unzip it. A PNG preserves the original details of an image so that the two can be rendered identically. These compressions are usually not as efficient or not as performant. That is, compression or decompression takes a lot of computing resources.

So why does all this matter? It matters because many users have limitations. Their bandwidth may be limited. Their storage space may be limited. It would be a shame to lose these users.

Luckily, there are some great tools out there to help us shed the extra weight. Check out Avocado for lossless Android vector graphics compression. For PNG compression check out Pngcrush.

Other ways to lose those extra kilobytes: for photos, prefer JPEG. For clipart, PNG may be better. Experiment. Try lowering the quality of your JPEGs. Try downsizing them and scaling them back up on screen.

A slim app is more attractive. Size matters.

A Double Espresso, Please

There are very few perfectly engineered machines. I mean, there’s almost always a flaw. A button that’s not responsive, frustrating maintenance routines…

So when I find a machine that just works, I’m impressed. The Nespresso Lattissima Touch is such a machine.

I’ve been using it and its predecessor, which is harder to get now, for almost a decade now. It has never let me down.

It produces consistent results. It froths milk for you. It cleans itself. The capsules are recyclable. Every part has its place, so you’ll never lose any moving parts. Its parts are dishwasher safe. The detachable milk container can be stored in the fridge. Honestly, De’Longhi thought of everything.

One more thing to consider. If the choice is between buying a coffee outside or making one home, consider this. This machine will actually save you money in the long run. At about £0.40 (or $0.75) a capsule, even with milk, you’re still saving easily over £1.00 (or $1.50) per cup compared to, say, Starbucks.

There’s not much to add, really. If, like me, you can’t be bothered with the hassle of manually making coffee, this is the machine for you. Get one – you’ll never look back. Sleep is overrated anyhow.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Being Lazy is Hard Work

Our body is a funny machine. Well, I say funny, but it often makes me sad. Food I really enjoy tends to be the food I should avoid eating. Sugar, fat… All the good stuff – is actually terrible for our body. That’s unfair.

However, there’s a trade to be made. If I’m willing to burn those calories, I can eat more of that tasty (I mean, unhealthy) stuff and still be healthy.

In my quest to be as lazy as I can, I discovered something interesting. Muscle burns calories even at rest. This means if I have enough muscle I don’t have to exercise as much. Ha!

This is my motivation now. Build muscle today, so that I can be lazy tomorrow. This is kind of like a retirement fund. I invest now to enjoy the fruits of my labor later.

Of course, I’ll always have to work to keep myself in shape. I also try, with the help of my wife, to eat healthy most of the time. But I wouldn’t have to work as hard, or eat nothing but healthy food. That’s encouraging.

Also, as a side note: muscle weighs three times more than fat. So I don’t try to lose weight. I try to lost fat and gain muscle. This is something worth keeping in mind.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

TV in My Pocket

It seems like streaming media is all the rage now. For a while now, we have been able to watch content not only on our TV, but on our phone and our computer too. I don’t know about you, but I still prefer larger screens.

The bigger problem for me is when I travel. If I’m lucky, we get to an Airbnb and they have Netflix set up. But they don’t always. And when we stay at a hotel – not a chance.

Chromecast to the rescue! The Chromecast is a brilliant dongle by Google that turns any TV to a smart TV. So long as it has an HDMI connection, that is. It streams content in full HD from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and a host of other services. At £30, it really is a no brainer.

When I travel, I always carry one with me. To connect it, we set my wife’s phone as a WI-FI hotspot and connect our devices to it. This works around hotel WI-FI network security restrictions. You know, these pop-up login windows that greet you when connecting. Chromecast doesn’t like those.

With the Chromecast plugged in, we get to enjoy our content on a big screen wherever we go. It really is a brilliant little thing.

By the way, having a Chromecast is great even if you have a smart TV. My Samsung TV is getting a bit old, and Samsung stopped updating its software a while ago. This means Amazon content freezes the TV regularly, for example. With the Chromecast, I don’t have to worry. I simply stopped using the built-in Amazon Prime app of my TV.

The Shredder

These days I still get a few letters a week. It’s the end of 2020, so that surprises me a bit. But, here we are. A few of these letters I need to file. Others I can scan and then dispose of. The rest I can dispose of straight away.

There is a small problem, though. A lot of these letters have my personal information on them. I don’t necessarily want somebody snooping around finding out my bank account number, or my Tesco membership number. Sure, some of these are not as sensitive as others. The odds of somebody snooping around are probably not big anyhow. But why take the risk?

There is a simple solution. I bought a shredder. If you’ve been reading my past posts, you know I did my research. So here’s what I was after:

  • Shred multiple pages at once. This would save me time.
  • Deal with paper clips and staples. I don’t want to have to remove those.
  • Shred credit cards. This is far better than cutting them in half.
  • Shred CDs. Not many of those around nowadays, but it’s nice to have.
  • Have a reverse mechanism in case it gets jammed.
  • Have sufficient storage. I don’t want to have to empty it every week.

Sadly, the Ativa AT-12X I bought 5 years ago is no longer available on Amazon. It still serves me well. If I had to buy a new one today, I’d probably buy the AmazonBasics one. It beats my Ativa model in every aspect and is very affordable.

If you do not yet have a shredder, consider getting one. Protect your privacy offline too.

I can’t believe I managed to get through this post without a single Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pun.

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Post #35, Version 317

I often find I want to go back to older versions of my documents. Whether it’s my CV, excel sheets with my balance or document templates, older versions are useful. Maybe I deleted something I shouldn’t have. Maybe I want to understand why I made a change. Sometimes I’m just being nostalgic or curious.

If you’re a developer, you already know there’s a solution for this. You may not be using it for this purpose, though. If you’re not a developer – don’t worry, you don’t have to be to benefit from this.

The solution is called version control. Git is probably the most popular one. It is also completely free. What git does is, it lets you easily maintain versions of your files. Every time you make a change, you can save this change as a version. You can add a comment to help you remember what changed. You can then easily go back to older versions.

Once you get the hang of it, using git becomes second nature. You have free apps that help you manage your versions. Sourcetree is a popular one for Mac and Windows.

It gets cooler, though. You can store your files on the cloud for free by using a free service such as GitHub or Bitbucket.

Version your files. It takes a little bit of learning, but not much. It’s worth the effort. You’ll be happy you did when you want to dig out the first version of your CV or that recipe you used before you decided 2 tablespoons of salt were a good idea.

My International Connections

I believe there is not a single person in the world today that travels without electronic devices. Whether it’s a mobile phone, a tablet or a laptop. Some would carry all three, and maybe other devices, too.

And, with no exception, at some point these devices need charging. This is where the trouble starts. There are 14 (!) standards for power outlets. Trust me, I counted.

Now, you do not want to be stuck without an adapter at an airport. The prices they charge are truly a daylight robbery.

This is why I spent some time looking for the ideal power adapter. These were my criteria:

  1. Must be portable
  2. Must support at least some of the most common standards: the British, the American, the European and the Australian
  3. Must have USB connections

Since I wasn’t in a rush to get an adapter, I ended up on AliExpress. The range of options is unbelievable. The prices are incredible. I mean, I found an adapter that ticked all my boxes, and it cost roughly $7. Naturally I bought three. You can never have too many! Plus, if one is toasted, I have a spare. I’ve had them for a few years now. All are still working. In fact, I even use them at home to power USB devices.

Go grab a couple. If you find a better one, let me know and I’ll update this post.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.