Weekly output: Facebook maintenance as Thanksgiving tech support

Once again, time put into helping family members with their gadgetry over this holiday weekend has yielded a pretty good idea for a post–or so I hope my editors will think. 

usat-facebook-thanksgiving-tech-support11/21/2018: Thanksgiving tech to-do: Start a Facebook diet with all the trimmings, USA Today

You can think of this column as a sequel to a post I wrote for Yahoo Finance in August. This time around, I didn’t get so far into the weeds about adjusting Facebook notification settings–having to confine your work to 500+ words instead of as much as a thousand will do that–and used some of the space conserved to explain two newer smartphone features to regulate your time on the social network. A third option may now be available in your iOS or Android Facebook app: “Your Time on Facebook” tracking of the minutes and hours you while away on Facebook. 

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Credit where it’s due: Thanksgiving tech support has gotten easier

I spend a lot of time venting about tech being a pain in the neck, but I will take a break from that to confirm that my annual Thanksgiving-weekend routine of providing technical support has gotten a lot easier over the last 10 years.

The single biggest upgrade has been the emergence of the iPad as something usable as the only computer in the house. It took a few years for Apple to make that happen–remember when you had to connect an iPad to a computer for its setup and backups?–but Web-first users can now enjoy a tablet with near zero risk of malware and that updates its apps automatically.

As a result, when I gave my mom’s iPad a checkup Wednesday afternoon, the worst I had to do was install the iOS 12.1 update.

That left me free to spend my tech-support time rearranging that tablet’s apps to keep the ones she uses most often on the first home screen.

Things have gotten easier on “real” computers too. Apple and Microsoft ship their desktop operating systems with sane security defaults and deliver security patches and other bug fixes automatically. The Mac and Windows app stores offer the same seamless updates for installed programs as iOS and Android’s. And while Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox aren’t in those software shops, they update themselves just as easily.

But the openness of those operating systems makes it easier for people to get into trouble. For example, a few weeks ago, I had to talk a relative through resetting Chrome’s settings to get rid of an extension that was redirecting searches.

Other computing tasks remain a mess. On a desktop, laptop or tablet, clearing out storage to make room for an operating-system upgrade is as tedious as ever, and it doesn’t help when companies like Apple continue to sell laptops with 128-gigabyte SSDs. Password management continues to be a chore unless (duh) you install a password manager.

Social media looks worst of all. Facebook alone has become its own gravity well of maintenance–notifications to disable to curb its attention-hogging behavior, privacy settings to tend, and propaganda-spewing pages to avoid. There’s a reason I devoted this year’s version of my USA Today Thanksgiving tech-support column to Facebook, and I don’t see that topic going out of style anytime soon.

Weekly output: encryption politics, Thanksgiving tech support

I did better than I expected at avoiding work e-mail over this weekend, but I did have to set aside time to revise two Wirecutter pieces. On Monday, the latest iteration of our guide to the major wireless carriers went up, covering price shifts at Sprint and T-Mobile and improved international-roaming options at Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Then on Wednesday, we corrected last week’s guide to prepaid and resold wireless service to explain how our pick, Consumer Cellular, had begun wholesaling T-Mobile’s service as well as AT&T’s. I missed that non-trivial change, and I’m still annoyed about the oversight.

11/24/2015: The Paris Attacks Were Tragic, but Cryptography Isn’t to Blame, Yahoo Tech

I returned to the debate over whether tech companies should be required to build in back doors for law enforcement–my last such post ran in September–to argue that the argument for compromised crypto is even weaker when you look at adversaries like the Paris murderers. Who, by the way, hardly bothered to cover their tracks.

USAT Thanksgiving 2015 tech-support column11/27/2015: How to improve family’s Wi-Fi and other tech support tips, USA Today

My original concept of this column was to write a sort of greatest-hits compilation of earlier pieces, but I soon realized that this story could and should note the ways these consumer-tech problems had gotten better or worse since I’d last covered them for USAT. I’m not sure what made this piece so widely shared on Facebook–though having my column run two days early must have helped–but I’m flattered anyway.

Writing this also reminded me that I was sorely overdue to uninstall Oracle’s Java software off one laptop. I had disconnected that program from my browser long ago, but it still didn’t justify its storage footprint.