Digital hacks to make your life a little easier
NEW YORK – April 16, 2019 – Remember shortcuts you could enact with a computer keyboard? Using a particular combination of CNTL, ALT and FN, you could quickly scroll through documents, open and close programs, and move elements around.
They still exist, of course. But nowadays, with so many tricks, niches and shortcuts, those special operations look downright quaint. Many operations are well-known, and most of them are tiny and frivolous.
Some tricks remain obscure, and they can change your life. You might find yourself using one of these operations every day, but only if you realize it exists. To bring you up to speed, here are a few of my favorite tech tricks – what they're for, how to use them and the ways they'll change your experience.
1. Use your voice instead of typing
Since the dawn of computers, typing was the only way to get business done. Now, you give your fingers a break and dictate notes while you're walking, reply to messages while you're cooking, compose a literary masterpiece while you're in bed – the possibilities are endless.
You don't even have to download a separate app. Your iPhone or Android keyboard has a built-in voice-to-text feature. Just pull up your phone's keyboard, tap the mic icon and dictate away.
If your phone's built-in transcriber is too basic, you can get more features with such apps as Dragon Anywhere for iOS and Android, or TranscribeMe, also available for iOS and Android.
You can use Google's transcriber to dictate documents into Google Docs. Open a new document in Google Docs and enable Voice Typing from the Tools menu. Then start dictating. Voice Typing recognizes commands like "comma," "period" and "new paragraph."
2. Make routines using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant
Ever wanted to automate a string of tasks with a single command? That's why Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are equipped with "Routines."
For instance, you can say "Alexa, I'm home!" and Alexa can greet you, turn on your living room smart lights, read the daily news then play a specific music playlist.
Or you can say "Alexa, good night" and have her reply with "sweet dreams," then lock your doors, set your thermostat to a certain temperature, turn off all your lights and play white noise to lull you to sleep. You can configure scheduled routines and have your virtual assistant perform sets of actions throughout each day.
To create a routine in the Alexa app, go to the menu then tap Routines. Tap the + sign to start a new sequence. Select "When this happens" then choose your trigger. The trigger can be a phrase, a schedule or a motion sensor event. Next, select "Add action" to start building the routine. To wrap it up, select the device you want to trigger the routine from, then tap Create.
For Google Home Routines, tap "Menu" on the upper left corner of your Google Home app. Tap More Settings>>Routines.
Under "When," tap "Add commands," enter your trigger phrase then click OK. To add an action, tap "Add action" under "My Assistant should ..." If you want to schedule a routine, tap "Set a time and day" under "When" instead.
3. Post on Instagram from a computer
Instagram has come a long way. The app originally was designed for casual snapshots, always cropped square, that mimicked the Instamatic cameras of decades past. They have long shed those strict parameters, but one thing remains challenging: posting to Instagram from a desktop or laptop.
One way is to first post a photo to another form of social media (such as Facebook or Twitter), then download the photo onto your phone or tablet and then post to Instagram.
But you can also do it directly using Google Chrome. The process is a little convoluted, but it's the easiest way to get your high-quality DSLR or mirrorless images onto the platform.
- Open Chrome.
- Go to the Instagram website
- Right-click anywhere on the page
- Hit Inspect
- When the new screen appears, hit the little "squares" in the upper-middle, just above all the coding
This should show you the same display you would see on your phone. You can pick which kind of display you'd prefer, including a range of iPhone, Galaxy, Nexus and other devices. You should see the same functions at the bottom, including the "Plus" sign, which will enable you to upload .jpg files from your desktop, or even take a photo.
4. Speed up podcasts
You can speed-read an eBook, and you can scrub through a video. But many podcast listeners don't realize they can speed up their listening – and because the recording is digital, you don't lose much fidelity. You'll have to pay closer attention, but you can zip through a slow episode, or consume a long conversation, without missing a word.
When you listen to a podcast, there is a player at the bottom of the screen. You might have to swipe up to see it. On Apple's Podcast app, for example, there is a number in the lower-left corner. The default is 1x and this option lets you hear the podcast at normal speed.
Speed listeners can tap this button and change the playback speed to 1 1/2x or 2x. There's also the option for 1/2x playback speed.
5. Crop a screenshot on a Mac
Savvy Mac users have been pressing CMD+Shift+3 for years, which is the shortcut for a full screenshot. But if you want to cut out large sections of that image, either to hide certain parts of your desktop screen or because it's distracting from what you want to focus on, you can either edit it in an app like Photos or PicMonkey, or you can use this trick.
Hit CMD+Shift+4 and your cursor becomes a +. Click and drag to draw the portion of your screen that you want to capture. Voila! You can skip all the extra editing.
6. Share a YouTube video at a precise point
If you see something in a YouTube video that you want to share at a particular location, you can get a link that takes people directly to that moment.
Click the "Share" button below the video. Look for a checkbox below the link. It will automatically display the time at which you currently have the video stopped.
You can stick with this time or even choose a different time. Next, just copy the link and share it over your preferred social media service or email it to a friend. When someone views the link, the YouTube video will automatically skip right to the point you chose. Handy, huh?
7. Get a copy of everything you've posted on Facebook
With all the privacy troubles the company's been going through lately, lots of people are deactivating their Facebook accounts. But what do you do about all your status updates, the photos, videos and shares you've accumulated through the years – this digital scrapbook of your life?
There's a way to save all of your Facebook data and make it available for download. Here's how:
- Log in to your Facebook account and go to "Settings" >> "Settings & Privacy."
- Scroll down then select "Download Your Information"
- In the next section, you can select (or deselect) the categories you want to include in your download data. It's quite extensive, so choose wisely. Obviously, the more categories you choose, the larger your file will be.
Once you've checked all the categories and the date range you want, select "Create File." (HTML and medium quality media are fine for most people.)
Your archive file can be massive, and it could take days before it becomes available. (Facebook will send you another email informing you that your file is ready for download.)
8. Post on multiple social media accounts at once
Do you juggle multiple social media accounts at the same time? Maybe you like cross-posting on different platforms at the same time to save time. It's terribly inefficient to keep copying and pasting the same status update on different sites, right?
Save time managing your social media with tools such as Buffer, Hootsuite or IFTTT. With their ability to post on different sites simultaneously (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) they can quickly disseminate a social media message, which is especially valuable for event planners and branding campaigns.
Compose your post, add links, photos or videos, choose your platforms, then post. It's that simple.
9. Double-check your translation
Online translation is more powerful than ever, and it's especially useful for English-friendly languages such as French and German. But it's unwise to rely on Google Translate or Facebook's translator without double-checking that the translation makes sense – especially for important correspondence with academic officers or potential business partners.
How do you do this without learning fluent Greek or Japanese? By translating your English text into another language, then back into English.
For example, I could translate the following phrase into Albanian: "Three weeks from now, I will arrive in your capital city and would like to rent a red convertible." When I receive the translation, I copy and paste the Albanian text and reverse the languages. Translated back into English, you get: "Three weeks from now, I will arrive in your capital, and I would like to rent a red booth."
Booth? Apparently, one of those words can be easily confused. But if you phrase the original message as "red convertible car," your message should be clear.
Copyright 2019, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY; Tech Talk, Kim Komando
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