10 Web Search Tips

The Internet is full of both good and bad information. Good web search practices can help you to find the best information. Before sharing these 10 web search tips, I’d like to review a few terms. A web browser is a program or app on your device that displays web pages from websites; examples are Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari. A search engine is a website or service you use to search for a particular website, web page, or search string on a web page; examples are Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo. And a search string is a word, or group of words, for which you are searching.

Most web search tips (not just these ones) apply to all web browsers and all search engines.

Tip #1. If you know the address (URL) of the website or webpage, don’t search for it, type it directly into the address bar of your browser; it can save a step. E.g. mars.nasa.gov.

Tip #2. You typically don’t have to prefix a website address with http://, https://, or www.

Tip #3. You can type a search string into the address bar of your browser, or bring up the search engine page in your browser and type it in there. You can adjust your default search engine in your browser settings.

Tip #4. You can be very specific in your search by grouping words (using hyphens or double quotes) or excluding words (prefixing with a hyphen). E.g. mars-rover “perseverance rover” -dogs.

Tip #5. You can search within a website for a search string by using the “site:” prefix. E.g. site:mars.nasa.gov “Ingenuity”.

Tip #6. With Google Search, you can narrow your search results by type, by clicking on one of the listed types: I.e. Images, Videos, Maps, News, Shopping, Books, Flights, Finance.

Tip #7. With Google Search, you can narrow or sort your search results by date, by clicking on Tools and filtering/sorting with the available drop-downs.

Tip #8. You can search by image by going to images.google.com, clicking on the camera icon, and pointing to or uploading an image. E.g. find shoes like the ones in the picture.

Tip #9. Google Chrome is the most popular browser (about 65% market share) and Google Search is the most popular search engine (about 86% market share), but not everyone likes/uses Google because they record your searches. If this is a concern for you, DuckDuckGo doesn’t record your searches.

Tip #10. If you find yourself browsing to, or searching for, a particular website frequently, set it as a favourite/bookmark to save a step and to avoid clicking on an unwanted search result.

A Real $95 Computer

This is a follow-up to my Jul2020 article about a $14 computer, the Raspberry Pi Zero W. That article, in a nutshell, said that computer was only good for tinkerers or very simple projects; it would not make a good general-purpose computer because of its lack of speed.

This article is about the Raspberry Pi 400, a $95 computer that would—in certain cases—make a good general-purpose computer.

The 400 is a computer built into a QWERTY keyboard (like in the old days of the Vic 20 or the Commodore 64). It is many times more powerful than the Zero W, and has a great selection of features: a 78-key “compact” keyboard with 4GB RAM, fast wireless-AC, and ports for gigabit Ethernet, USB 2, USB 3 (two of them), USB 3C (for power input), two microHDMI (for audio/video output), and a microSD card reader (for bootup, programs, and storage).

I had to get one to see for myself how it performed. It took an hour or so to get it updated and ready for use. With that done, I dug into some standard tasks that someone might want to do with it. Here are my findings:

  • It boots in 30 seconds, and you can be viewing a website 15 seconds later
  • It comes pre-loaded with standard apps like a browser, an email tool, and an office suite (LibreOffice)
  • You also get standard multimedia viewers for music, pictures, and videos
  • It comes with a few games, and you can load more
  • You can play many of the available online games
  • Installing a printer doesn’t take much effort
  • You can play local, or stream remote, high-def videos very well
  • The kit includes a 16GB SD card with half of it free for local storage, but you can have more storage by using a larger SD card, connected USB drives, network drives, or cloud services

The only thing that disappointed me was the difficulty in getting Zoom to work. It worked eventually—it even worked well—it just took a fair bit of effort to get there since Zoom has not yet been written for the processor in the Raspberry Pi.

As with the Zero W, the 400 still needs a few bits to make it functional. The good news is that they sell a kit that comes with everything you need, except an HDMI monitor. The kit—including the keyboard/computer itself—sells for $135 (buyapi.ca) … an amazing bargain.

I would say this kit is ideal for someone on a strict budget who wants a desktop PC to do the basics. It is still can do the projects that tinkerers want to do, but it truly stands up as a general-purpose PC, especially for the very young and the very old. It is dependable and easy to use, as long as your needs are simple.

Approaches to Passwords

Yes, passwords are a pain, but we’re stuck with them until we all get some great biometric solution. When that day comes—when we all can log into anything anywhere with our face, retina, voice, fingerprint, or whatever—passwords will still be important as an alternative access to our accounts. Even if some program is remembering your passwords for you … know them and/or record them. (This includes email passwords!) Treat your passwords like the keys to your car: keep them safe, don’t lose them, and don’t expect to get anywhere without them.

With that in mind, here is a brief password refresher.

  • Avoid recycling passwords … if one site gets breached, all your logins would be compromised
  • Don’t use simple passwords like “Password123” or “Bailey1!”
    • Longer/random passwords are better, but human memory is fallible, so record your passwords in a book or an encrypted password app
    • Most passwords are breached by online hackers; the chance they have access to your password book is low, so write them down
    • Any good password app (local or online) will keep your passwords in an encrypted form, so is very unlikely to be breached
  • If you don’t have quick and easy access to a password book or an app, or even if you do, consider using a password method like the Dana-Marie Password Method

Google the Dana-Marie Password Method for the details, but basically it is a memorable pattern you use for all your passwords. Her method is best explained with examples; the two she uses are acaTon1963? and ccaTic1963? which break down as follows:

  • first letter = a for amazon (example 1) or c for cbcmusic (example 2)
  • next 3 letters = your master password key (caT in these examples)
  • next 2 letters = on for amazon or ic for cbcmusic (last 2 letters of site)
  • next 4 digits = your chosen number (1963 in these examples)
  • final character = your special character (? in these examples)

Of course, adjust this method for your own use: choose your own master password key/number/character, number of letters/numbers/characters, and even pattern.

All of this is to avoid being hacked and to avoid needing to reset your password. It is still very important to register a current email address and/or phone number with each account so you can reset your password if necessary.

How to Avoid Underpowered Computers

You may have experienced the frustration of using an under-powered computer … where, even after a good cleaning, your computer just isn’t keeping up. It is a frustration most people would like to avoid.

The best way to avoid this kind of frustration is to buy a new computer before your old one gets too slow, and to buy one that will serve you well for a long time (i.e. until it is 5-10 years old). This article will help you decide when to replace, what to look for, and what you can do to speed up your computer.

The perceived speed of your computer depends on many things, but the big ones are: processor (CPU), memory (RAM), hard drive (HDD/SSD), and graphics processor (GPU).

You have limited (or no) choices in replacing a computer’s CPU, so it is important to get a computer with a good one. You can’t accurately judge a CPU by its make, model, or GHz … the best way to judge it is to look it up on cpubenchmark.net. That site will give you a relative benchmark score (which they call CPU Mark) so you can compare it with others. These days, you are looking for a CPU Mark that is well over 1000, even if your needs are basic.

RAM isn’t typically an issue, as long as you have at least 8GB (non-gamers) or 16GB (gamers). It’s also good if you have a computer that allows you to upgrade the RAM, if you decide to later.

Hard-drive speed can make a big difference in computer speed. Hard drives come in five general categories (in increasing order of performance): 5400 RPM, 7200 RPM, SSHD, SSD, and M.2. If you can, avoid any computer with a 5400 RPM main hard drive … it’s inconceivable that new computers (including Macs) still come with them. Even a 7200 RPM main hard drive feels slow these days. An SSHD (hybrid drive) is a compromise between a spinning disk and a solid state one, but a true SSD (solid state drive) will likely be your best choice for a primary drive. M.2 drives are even faster SSDs, so opt for one (if you can) for your primary drive.

Definitely avoid PCs and Macs with solid state hard drives with a 64GB or smaller main drive as they will quickly fill up and frustrate you.

GPU doesn’t make a big difference for most people, but it is a big deal for gamers and others doing heavy-duty graphics. Use www.videocardbenchmark.net to compare benchmark scores (which they call G3D Mark).

If your current computer feels slow even after a thorough cleaning, it’s either time to upgrade it or replace it. If you’d rather upgrade it, check your Task Manager (Windows) or Activity Manager (MacOS) to determine if it is your CPU, RAM, HDD, or GPU that is the bottleneck. If it is your RAM or HDD, you can probably upgrade. If it is your GPU, you may be able to upgrade. If it is your CPU, you likely cannot upgrade.

Operating System Versions

The main operating systems, roughly in order of popularity, are Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Android, and ChromeOS.

Over the last 19 years, Mac OS has moved from 10.1 to 10.15, and in the coming months we should see 11.0. The changes thus far have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary; there have been ups and downs, but the biggest gotchas have been when newer releases refuse to be installed on older hardware.

Currently, there are no special “editions” of MacOS. To determine what version of MacOS you are running, simply click the Apple and choose “About This Mac”.

Over the same time 19 years, Windows has moved from XP to Vista and then from 7 to 8 to 8.1, and now to 10. Since the release of Windows 10 in 2015, it has been nice not to have to learn an all-new version of Windows every 3-5 years. Thankfully, there is no plan for a Windows 11.

Windows 10 is still evolving; once or twice per year, we get a major update identified simply by the year and month (YYMM) of its release. So far we have had 1507, 1607, 1709, 1803, 1809, 1903, 1909, and 2004. You can check which version you are on by running “winver” from the Start Menu, Run dialog, Command Prompt, or PowerShell. If you are running 1903 or older, you should update.

Sidebar: If you would like to get the latest major Windows 10 update, simply go to https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/software-download/windows10, click “Update now”, run the download, and follow the prompts.

Because Microsoft doesn’t like being pinned down to a particular month for a software release date, the latest release that just came out in October is called 20H2, denoting “the second half of 2020”. This will be their naming convention, moving forward.

As of this month, all but Windows 8.1 and the last few versions of 10 have been fully retired. Win10 1909 and 2004 will be retired sometime in 2021, while 8.1 won’t be laid to rest until 10Jan2023.

There have been many “editions” of Windows over the years, but Windows 10 basically comes in five: S, Home, Professional, Enterprise, and Education. Windows 10 S is locked down to only allow installations via the Microsoft Store. Home has everything that most people need. Pro, Enterprise, and Education are virtually identical and have only a few extra features over Home. (For details on editions, I defer to the Wikipedia entry for “Windows 10 Editions”.)

I won’t go into the multitude of “distributions” of Linux, but their version numbers tend to follow the year, so many of them are on version 20 or 21 with cute names like Groovy Gorilla or Hirsute Hippo. ChromeOS is now up to version 88. iOS is up to version 14. Android is up to version 11.

Keeping current is a never-ending game.

Why Rebooting Helps

Most of us know that rebooting, resetting, or power-cycling, any piece of technology has a good chance of fixing whatever technical issue you may be facing … but not everyone knows why.

There are two main reasons why rebooting can help: it can get the device out of a bad “state”, and it can clear up memory issues.

Technological devices are, in the simplest terms, state machines. Just like washing machines that go sequentially through different wash cycles, computers, smartphones, routers and other devices are running processes. As a result of conflicting software, hardware glitches, or outside interferences, devices can get into invalid states: infinite loops, or reading/writing/running in invalid areas of memory. A reboot or reset typically puts the processes back at the start, into a valid state.

Computer programs often dynamically allocate memory as needed. Whenever a process needs memory, it allocates a certain amount for itself. When it is finished with that memory, it is supposed to deallocate or release the same amount of memory. In the case of a glitch or bug, memory may not get released, which results in a “memory leak”. Over time, small leaks can add up and use all available memory. A reboot starts the memory allocation process from zero, and so clears the issue. That’s why so many devices respond well to being rebooted from time to time.

There are computer chips in so many devices now, that rebooting has become second nature to us. Before you spend too much time on a tech problem, or call for help, be sure to reboot!

There are issues, of course, that aren’t fixed by a simple reboot. If there is a faulty line of code, piece of hardware, or power source, a reboot won’t fix the issue, although it may avoid it long enough to find a pattern or otherwise help you troubleshoot the problem. We don’t have the ability to dig in and fix programs, so the best things we can do are reboot, reset, power-cycle, or update.

Good-bye Internet Explorer

Browsers. They are windows through which we see our world, especially in these days of COVID-19.

Browser features and choices don’t vary much, but when they do, it is newsworthy. This year’s biggest browser news is that Microsoft will be passing the torch from Internet Explorer to Edge.

The world has come a long way in the 25 years since Internet Explorer was first released in 1995 with Windows 95. (That was the same year, coincidentally, that the term “smartphone” was first used, although it took another 12 years before we had anything that resembled what we have today.)

In 2015, Microsoft introduced us to the Edge browser; it was billed as a successor to IE, but did not fill its shoes. Then in 2019, Microsoft released a new version of Edge with a Chrome engine and a new logo. We appreciated the improved browser, but not the pushy release tactics.

One feature of the new Edge that will be appreciated by those who need IE, is “Internet Explorer mode”: in Edge, under “Settings>Default browser” you can turn on a feature that “When browsing in Edge, if a site requires Internet Explorer for compatibility, you can choose to reload it in Internet Explorer mode”. This will be handy for some old web pages, especially for old surveillance camera systems that are only compatible with IE.

On 09Mar2021, support for “legacy” Edge will cease, and on 17Aug2021, Internet Explorer 11 will stop being supported by Office and OneDrive. I expect many other apps and services will quickly drop their support as well, so if you depend heavily on IE, you have lots of time to play the field with other browsers such as Chrome, FireFox, Safari, Edge, Opera, and others.

Every browser makes it easy to transfer IE favourites to their bookmarks. (Fun fact: All browsers call your saved websites “bookmarks”, except IE that uses/used the term “favourites”.)

Microsoft Edge is available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Edge has a long climb ahead if it wants to rise from its single-digit market share to Google Chrome’s 66% market share.

The KIS Principle

Most of us are familiar with the KIS (Keep It Simple) principle. In a time of ever-increasing complexity, it applies more than ever … especially to technology.

KIS applies to developers: those people who create the devices, apps, and webpages for the rest of us. Please hear us: we don’t want to be overwhelmed with options that we don’t use, or don’t use often. Please keep the interface logical and uncluttered, and put the settings in a place we can easily access. Default settings are just as important as any other aspect of your design.

KIS applies to heavy tech users. You may not be overwhelmed with tech complexity, but keeping it simple now will reduce your tech headaches in the future. Is some of your tech redundant or underused? Some redundancy is critical (e.g. backups), but otherwise, it can become clutter.

KIS applies to light tech users. Keep it to one or two operating systems (Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, Linux, Chrome): they may be compatible with each other, but each one works with a different set of rules and apps. Consider task-specific gadgets like a Roku or Chromebox rather than a full-blown multimedia desktop.

KIS may look different to different people. For some, a print-only USB printer may be the simple answer, but for others, a wifi multifunction printer may tick all the boxes. In some cases, a computer is needed; in others, a tablet is sufficient. Get the right tool for the job.

A debatable example is Mac vs. PC: Macs limit your options, which some would consider KIS-friendly. However, non-Mac users (note that Mac accounts for less than 10% of the operating system market) frequently find the Mac environment overly restrictive and controlling.

If everyone keeps the KIS principle in mind in everything we do, maybe we can slow the exponential growth of the complexity of our world, and reduce the anxiety of its inhabitants.

Please Don’t Email Pictures or Videos

One of the best technical skills you can learn is how to send links via email.

Email was never designed to send big files. It’s great for sending a few words, small documents, small pictures, or links, but it can get bogged down or fail if you try to send large attachments.

Here are a few things that can happen if you try to send attachments that are too large:

  • Your email storage (local or online) can get filled up
  • Your recipient’s email storage (local or online) can get filled up
  • Email servers can bog down, or may simply refuse to handle your email if it is larger than their maximum accepted size (anywhere from 5MB to 30MB per email)

Note that every email you send passes from your email server to your recipient’s email server, via any number of intermediate servers … so the size of the emails you send affects others around you.

So what can you do to avoid causing issues when you send email?

Teach yourself, or have someone teach you, how to send LINKS to your large files rather than the files themselves. Sending links falls into two categories: links to things that are already online (i.e. in the cloud), and links to things that are on your computer/device. If there’s something online that you want to send, simply grab the link from the address bar of your browser and paste it into your email. (I can’t emphasize this enough …) You do not have to download a video from YouTube in order to send it to others!

As for sending files from your own computer/device, The best way to do this is to save your files to a cloud storage, and simply send links to them. This is both easy and secure.

If you aren’t using cloud storage yet, it’s a good time to start. Sign up for a free (or paid) account on Dropbox, Google Photos, iCloud, OneDrive, or similar, upload the files you want to send, and either read the instructions, or watch a YouTube, on how to share the files using that service. It’s not that difficult, and when you get used to doing it this way, it will become second nature.

There are also file sending services like WeTransfer.com, HighTail.com, and WeSendIt.com, but before you do, be sure to read the fine print as to what those services may be doing with your personal information.

A $14.24 Computer

Yes Virginia, there is a $14 computer. It’s a recent version of the Raspberry Pi, a favourite among electronic tinkerers since the first one was released to the public in Feb2012.

The $14 computer’s full name is “Raspberry Pi Zero W”; the Zero refers to it’s stripped-down profile, and the W refers to its built-in wifi. The other major models of the Raspberry Pi are (you guessed it!) 1, 2, 3, and 4 … and there are variations on each one. (You can check out the whole family of Pi and accessories at BuyaPi.ca)

And, as you may have guessed, you will need some accessories to make this credit-card-sized computer functional. With those necessary accessories, and shipping, and taxes, the kit will cost you at least $110. That is, assuming you already have a TV or monitor to use as a display.

What operating system does it run? Raspberry Pi OS; a Linux variant.

Is it a useful computer? Definitely NOT as a general purpose computer … it is too slow to effectively run office software or watch YouTube videos, and even typing can be tediously slow. (Sorry, bargain hunters.) So what is it good for?

It can do a lot of things very well. With the right accessories, it can play or record music, pictures, or videos … it is even fast enough to play high-def movies. Basically, like any computer, it can read inputs and control outputs.

It’s tailor-made for DIY projects. Want to make your own digital photo frame? Door opener? Robot controller? Do you need something to send you an alert via smartphone when an intruder is detected? There are hundreds of projects you can achieve with a Raspberry Pi (see projects.raspberrypi.org, or simply google for project ideas).

That’s what this $14 computer was made for.