WHAT IS AI? HISTORY, DEFINITIONS AND APPLICATIONS

Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence, also known in its abbreviated form, AI. But what is it all about? That’s precisely what we’ll be explaining today.

History

Artificial intelligence is increasingly playing a greater role in our lives, and the latest trend are AI chips and the accompanying smartphone applications. But this technology began to be developed as early as in the 50s with the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence at Dartmouth College in the U.S. Its origins date back even further to the work of Alan Turing—to whom we can attribute the famous Turing test—, Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon, but AI did not make it into the spotlight on the world stage until the arrival of chess supercomputer Deep Blue by IBM, which was the first machine to defeat the then-defending world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a match in 1996. AI algorithms have been used in data centers and on large computers for many years, but is only more recently present in the realm of consumer electronics.

Definition of artificial intelligence

The definition of artificial intelligence characterizes it as a branch of computer science that deals with automating intelligent behavior. Here’s the hard part: Since you cannot precisely define intelligence per se, artificial intelligence cannot be exactly defined either. Generally speaking, the term is used to describe systems whose objective is to use machines to emulate and simulate human intelligence and the corresponding behavior. This can be accomplished with simple algorithms and pre-defined patterns, but can become far more complex as well.

Various kinds of AI

Symbolic or symbol-manipulating AI works with abstract symbols that are used to represent knowledge. It is the classic AI that pursues the idea that human thinking can be reconstructed on a hierarchical, logical level. Information is processed from above, working with human-readable symbols, abstract connections and logical conclusions.

Neural AI became popular in computer science in the late 80s. Here, knowledge is not represented through symbols, but rather artificial neurons and their connections—sort of like a reconstructed brain. The gathered knowledge is broken down into small pieces—the neurons—and then connected and built into groups. This approach is known as the bottom-up method that works its way from below. Unlike symbolic AI, a neural system must be trained and stimulated so that the neural networks can gather experience and grow, therefore accumulating greater knowledge.

Neural networks are organized into layers that are connected to each other via simulated lines. The uppermost layer is the input layer, which works like a sensor that accepts the information to be processed and passes it on below. This is now followed by at least two—or more than twenty in large systems—layers that are hierarchically above each other and that send and classify information via the connections. At the very bottom is the output layer, which generally has the least number of artificial neurons. It provides the calculated data in a machine-readable form, i.e. “picture of a dog during the day with a red car.”

Methods and tools

There are various tools and methods for applying artificial intelligence to real-world scenarios, some of which can be used in parallel.

The foundation of all this is machine learning, which is defined as a system that builds up knowledge from experience. This process gives the system the ability to detect patterns and laws—and with ever-increasing speed and accuracy. In machine learning, both symbolic and neural AI is used.

Deep learning is a subtype of machine learning that is becoming ever more important. Only neural AI, i.e. neural networks are used in this case. Deep learning is the foundation for most current AI applications. Thanks to the possibility of increasingly expanding the design of the neural networks and making them more complex and powerful with new layers, deep learning is easily scalable and adaptable to many applications.

There are three learning processes for training neural networks: supervised, non-supervised and reinforcement learning, providing many different ways to regulate how an input becomes the desired output. While target values and parameters are specified from the outside in supervised learning, in unsupervised learning, the system attempts to identify patterns in the input that have an identifiable structure and can be reproduced. In reinforcement learning, the machine also works independently, but is rewarded or punished depending on the success or failure.

Applications

Artificial intelligence is already being used in many areas, but by no means are all of them visible at first glance. Therefore, selecting scenarios that take advantage of the possibilities of this technology is by no means a completed list.

Artificial intelligence’s mechanisms are excellent for detecting, identifying, and classifying objects and persons on pictures and videos. To that end, simple but CPU-intensive pattern detection is used. If the image information is decrypted and machine-readable in the first place, photos and videos can be easily divided into categories, searched and found. Such recognition is also possible for audio data.

Customer service is increasingly using chatbots. These text-based assistants perform recognition using key words that the customer may tell it and they respond accordingly. Depending on the use, this assistant can be more or less complex.

Opinion analysis is not only used for forecasting elections in politics, but also in marketing and many other areas. Opinion mining, also known as sentiment analysis, is used to scour the internet for opinion and emotional expressions, allowing for the creation of a largely anonymized opinion survey.

Search algorithms like Google’s are naturally top secret. The way in which search results are calculated, measured and outputted are largely determined by mechanisms that work with machine learning.

Word processing, or checking the grammar and spelling of a text, is a classic application of symbolic AI that has been used for a long time. Language is defined as a complex network of rules and instructions that analyzes blocks of text in a sentence and, under some circumstances, can identify and correct errors.

These abilities are also used in synthesizing speech, which is currently the talk of the town with assistant systems like Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Assistant.

On new smartphone chips like the Kirin 970, artificial intelligence is integrated into its own component, the NPU or neural processing unit.The processor is making its debut in the Huawei Mate 10. You will learn more about it and the roles that the technology will play on the Huawei smartphone once we have a chance to experiment with it in the near future. Qualcomm has already been working on an NPU, the Zeroth processor, for two years, and the new Apple A11 chip contains a similar component.

Furthermore, there are numerous research projects on artificial intelligence and the most prominent of all may be IBM’s Watson. The computer program had already made its first public debut in 2011 on the quiz show Jeopardy, where it faced off against two human candidates. Watson won, of course, and additional publicity appearances took place afterwards. A Japanese insurance company has been using Watson since January to check insured customers, their history and medical data and to evaluate injuries and illnesses. According to the company’s information, Watson has replaced roughly 30 employees. Loss of jobs through automation is just one of the ethical and social issues surrounding AI that is the subject of corporate and academic research.

A BASIC GUIDE TO SMARTPHONE BATTERIES

One of the most important elements of a smartphone is the battery. How long does it take to charge it? How long does it last? What are the differences between battery types? These are the main questions that we’re going to answer and we’re going to try to put some incorrect myths and legends to rest. Below, you’ll find our basic guide to batteries.

Keep your battery healthy

The first thing that we need to clarify is that the battery life will depend on how much you use the smartphone. You also have to take into consideration that the higher capacity batteries (with larger mAh numbers) usually last longer, although this depends a lot on the elements that it powers, such as the screen, and the software management and optimizations.

Most smartphones have powerful processors and RAM. These processors don’t usually consume much energy but, given their state of technological development, some have increased their power requirements.

A lot of the battery power is consumed by the screen, especially if it’s high resolution and if is illuminated a lot of the time. In addition, wireless connectivity (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, GPS) also uses its fair share of energy in order to work correctly. Taking all those elements into consideration, there are few smartphones that can last more than 24 hours without needing to be recharged.

In terms of general advice, good use of battery on a smartphone starts with charging it before it turns itself off. And, don’t worry if you unplug it before it reaches 100 percent battery. Turn off the features/connections that you don’t need and turn down the screen brightness. To sum up, here’s a list of some general pieces of advice:

  • l Charge the device when it asks you to, and don’t wait until it turns itself off.
  • l Unplug it when you need to, or when it reaches 100 percent if you can (it’s no good leaving it plugged in for hours).
  • l Keep the smartphone out of hot temperatures.
  • l Save energy by turning off features that you don’t need and turning down the screen brightness.

Types of batteries

In the past decade, we have seen various types of batteries come and go, each with different performance capabilities. This meant that, in the end, there were a lot of urban legends about batteries. The batteries on the first smartphones were Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) or Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), which were also integrated in a lot of other electronic devices. These types of batteries were economically produced, but their main problem was the memory effect, which reduced their capacity over time.

Currently, the batteries that dominate the smartphone market are: Lithium-ion (Li-ion) or Lithium-polymer (Li-Po).

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries

Lithium batteries are pretty standard on smartphones because they are light and provide decent battery life. Their light and compact design is their biggest asset. In terms of disadvantages, they support a limited number of charges, between 300 and 1000, which is less than the old nickel batteries and their production is expensive. Finally, they are the most dangerous out of all the batteries, as they can overheat and even explode since they are manufactured with flammable materials. You should not bend these batteries.

While you should always leave some charge on these batteries, it’s important to leave them with at least 40 percent charge as well as avoiding long charging periods. Charging these Lithium-ion batteries is much faster than charging other batteries even though there are two phases. Firstly, it quick charges up to 80 percent and then it slowly charges to reach 100 percent.

Lithium-Polymer batteries (LiPo)

LiPo batteries are becoming increasingly more common, and they are similar to the previously mentioned battery types, but more flexible so they can be used in smaller devices. They have more energy density and are much lighter.

However, there are some disadvantages. They are more expensive than the Li-ion batteries and slightly more flammable. If, for any reason, you leave the phone without charge, charging it again can be impossible with standard chargers, so be careful with this.

Myths and legends, truths and lies.

  1. The first charging of the battery should be longer than normal.

This is a myth that was handed down from the cadmium batteries. This isn’t necessary with the current Lithium-ion and Lithium-polymer batteries. It is recommended that you charge it normally, whether you’re charging your smartphone for the first time or whether it’s just on a normal day.

  1. The charging time is proportional to the battery life.

This is also a legend passed on from batteries past. Charging is achieved thanks to a charger chip in our smartphones that controls the process. Ideally, the device should be unplugged when it reaches 100 percent at the most; it doesn’t need charged any more after that.

  1. You have to do complete cycles of charging and discharging.

This is another idea that came from the Ni-MH batteries. The charging cycles with Lithium batteries can adjust our daily routine since there is no memory effect as there was on older batteries.

Calibrating the battery, a myth?

When you notice that your smartphone never reaches 100 percent charge and it remains at 95 percent or 90 percent, turn it off immediately, restart the device and find out if the battery has deteriorated because it is old, if it was because of your intensive usage or because the smartphone was exposed to high temperatures, or if it could be down to a range of other problems.

There’s loads of websites that tell you ‘how to calibrate the battery’, but they’re actually not calibrating the battery itself. They’re merely resetting the battery stats on your phone so you get a more accurate readout, not improving battery life in any meaningful way.

Conclusion

We have yet to see the manufacturers’ best work in terms of batteries, but up until now, a lot of improvements have been made to improve them, such as the Doze mode on Marshmallow. There’s no magical recipe that can make the battery last for two days since the services and technologies that we use today require more energy and power than the mobile phones of yesteryear.

Charge your battery when the smartphone asks you to and unplug it from the charger than you need it.

When you’re charging the battery, take into account that the manufacturer recommends that you charge your smartphone when it asks you to. Be wary of myths and legends. Be aware that your battery life will always depend on the features that you use.

If the battery swells, don’t hesitate to change it as we know they are flammable and could explode.

8 quick ways to clear up drive space in Windows 10

Bumping up against your PC’s physical storage limit? Here’s how to grab a couple gigs’ worth of space.

Face it: No matter how large your hard drive is — how many empty terabytes you had when you first bought your PC — you always seem to fill it right to the brink.

If you’re bumping up against your PC’s physical storage limit, there are some quick tricks you can use to reclaim a couple of gigs. But these options will only take you so far — if you need a lot of space, you may need to upgrade your hardware or consider deleting a few of those raw image files.

Empty the Recycle Bin

When you delete items, like files and photos, from your PC, they don’t immediately get deleted. Instead, they sit in the Recycle Bin and continue to take up valuable hard-drive space. To empty the Recycle Bin, go to your desktop, right-click on the Recycle Bin and click Empty Recycle Bin. You will see a warning pop-up asking if you are sure you want to permanently delete your Recycle Bin items. Click Yes to proceed.

Disk Cleanup

Windows has a built-in disk cleanup utility (aptly named Disk Cleanup) that can help you clear up space by removing various files — including temporary internet files, system error memory dump files, and even previous Windows installations that may still be hanging out from your recent move to Windows 10.

You can find Disk Cleanup in the Start menu, under All apps > Windows Administrative Tools > Disk Cleanup. Select the drive you want to clean up and hit OK, then wait while Disk Cleanup calculates how much space you can free up. If you want to delete system files, such as the Windows.old folder (which holds your previous installations of Windows, and can be several GB in size), click Cleanup system files.

Delete temporary and downloaded files

You can delete temporary files without running Disk Cleanup, along with files you downloaded that you may no longer need. Go to Settings > System and click on Storage on the left panel. Next, click This PC at the top and then click Temporary files from the list. Check the boxes for Temporary files and Downloads folder (and Empty recycle bin while you’re at it) and then click the Remove files button.

Turn on Storage Sense

If you have updated to Windows 10 Creators Update, then let Windows help out with freeing up disk space. Head back to the Storage page in Settings and toggle on Storage sense. Now, Windows will automatically delete unused temporary files, as well as files that have been in the Recycle Bin for more than 30 days. I’m pretty good with emptying the Recycle Bin on something approaching a regular schedule, but I’m also very happy to have Windows track down and eradicate needless temp files.

Save files to a different drive

If your computer has multiple hard drives or a partitioned hard drive, you may find yourself running out of space on one drive (or partition). Luckily, you can fix this by changing your default save locations for apps, documents, music, pictures, and videos. To do this, open the Settings menu and go to System > Storage. Under Save locations, select a different drive for each of the categories. You can select any drive — even a removable drive, like a USB flash drive or a memory card — that is connected to your PC.

Disable hibernate

Instead of shutting down your computer completely, you can put it in hibernate — a quasi-shutdown state that allows you to startup faster. When your computer goes into hibernate, it saves a snapshot of your files and drivers before shutting down, and this takes up space. If starting up quickly isn’t your priority, you can reclaim some valuable hard drive space by disabling hibernate altogether, because the hiberfil.sys file takes up 75 percent of your PC’s installed RAM. This means that if you have 8GB of RAM, you can clear up 6GB instantly by disabling hibernate.

Here’s our complete guide on disabling (or re-enabling) hibernate in Windows 10. One caveat: If you disable hibernate, you will not be able to use Windows 10’s fast startup feature.

Uninstall apps

You probably have some apps and programs on your PC that you don’t use — either apps you’ve installed and forgotten about, or bloatware that came preinstalled on your computer from the manufacturer. To find out which apps are taking up space, open the Settings menu and go to System > Apps & features and choose Sort by size. To uninstall an app from this menu, click the app and then click Uninstall.

If you’re running legacy programs on Windows 10, you may not see them in this list (some appear, but some do not). To find these programs, right-click the Start button and click Control Panel. Go to Programs and Features to see a list of the legacy programs on your computer (you can also sort this list by program size). To uninstall a program from this list, left-click it to select it and click Uninstall.

Store files in the cloud — and only in the cloud

If you take advantage of cloud storage via OneDrive or another service, you’re probably double-storing files and photos. Well, you don’t have to do this — all cloud storage services allow you to select which folders are actually downloaded and saved to your PC (as well as in the cloud).

Right-click on the OneDrive icon in your system tray and choose Settings. In the Account tab, next to Choose folders to sync to this device, click Choose folders. Select the folders you want to sync (read: save directly) to your device, and deselect any folders you do not want to sync to your device. When you’re finished selecting or deselecting folders, click OK. The folders you did not select to sync to your device will be removed from your hard drive, freeing up space. You will still be able to access the files in these folders from the OneDrive site in any Web browser; they just won’t be saved on your hard drive.

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11 Ways to Keep Your Computer Cool

Allow for Air Flow

The easiest thing you can do to help keep your computer cool is to give it a little breathing room by removing any obstacles to air flow.

Make sure there’s nothing sitting right against any side of the computer, especially the back. Most of the hot air flows out of the back end of the computer case. There should be at least 2-3 inches open on either side and the back should be completely open and unobstructed.

If your computer is hidden away inside a desk, make sure the door isn’t closed all the time. Cool air enters from the front and sometimes from the sides of the case. If the door is closed all day, hot air tends to recycle inside the desk, getting hotter and hotter the longer the computer is running.

Run Your PC With the Case Closed

An urban legend about desktop computer cooling is that running your computer with the case open will keep it cooler. It does seem logical – if the case is open, there would be more air flow which would help keep the computer cooler.

The missing puzzle piece here is dirt. When the case is left open, dust and debris clog the cooling fans faster than when the case is closed. This causes the fans to slow down and fail much quicker than usual. A clogged up fan does a terrible job at cooling your expensive computer components.

It’s true that running your computer with the case open might provide a small benefit at first, but the increase in fan exposure to debris has a much greater impact on temperature over the long run.

Clean Your Computer

The fans inside your computer are there to keep it cool. Do you know what slows a fan down and then eventually makes it stop? Dirt – in the form of dust, pet hair, etc. It all finds a way into your computer and much of it gets stuck in the several fans.

One of the most effective ways to cool your PC is to clean the internal fans. There’s a fan on top the CPU, one inside the power supply, and usually one or more on the front and/or back of the case.

Just shut your computer off, open up the case, and use canned air to remove the dirt from each fan. If your computer is really dirty, take it outside to clean or all that dirt will just settle elsewhere in the room, eventually ending up back inside your PC!

Move Your Computer

Is the area you’re running your computer in just too hot or too dirty? Sometimes your only option is to move the computer. A cooler and cleaner area of the same room might be fine, but you may have to consider moving the computer somewhere else entirely.

If moving your computer just isn’t an option, keep reading for more tips.

Important: Moving your computer can cause damage to the sensitive parts inside if you’re not careful. Be sure to unplug everything, don’t carry too much at once, and sit things down very carefully. Your main concern will be your computer’s case which holds all the important parts like your hard drive, motherboard, CPU, etc.

Upgrade the CPU Fan

Your CPU is probably the most sensitive and expensive part inside your computer. It also has the most potential to overheat.

Unless you’ve replaced your CPU fan already, the one that’s in your computer now is probably a bottom-of-the-line fan that cools your processor just enough to keep it working properly, and that’s assuming it’s running at full speed.

Many companies sell large CPU fans that help keep CPU temperature lower than a factory installed fan ever could.

Install a Case Fan (or Two)

A case fan is just a small fan that attaches to either the front or the back of a desktop computer case, from the inside.

Case fans help move air through a computer which, if you recall from the first several tips above, is the best way to ensure that those expensive parts don’t get too hot.

Installing two case fans, one to move cool air into the PC and another to move warm air out of the PC, is a great way to keep a computer cool.

Case fans are even easier to install than CPU fans, so don’t be afraid to get inside your computer to tackle this project.

Adding a case fan isn’t an option with a laptop or tablet but a cooling pad is a great idea to help out.

Stop Overclocking

If you’re not sure what overclocking is, you’re probably not doing it and so you don’t have to worry about it.

To the rest of you: you’re well aware that overclocking pushes your computer’s capabilities to its limits. What you may not realize is that these changes have a direct impact on the temperature that your CPU and any other overclocked components operate at.

If you’re overclocking your PC’s hardware but haven’t taken other precautions to keep that hardware cool, I definitely recommend reconfiguring your hardware to factory default settings.

Replace the Power Supply

The power supply in your computer has a large fan built into it. The air flow you feel when you hold your hand behind your computer is coming from this fan.

If you don’t have a case fan, the power supply fan is the only way that the hot air created inside your computer can be removed. Your computer can heat up quickly if this fan isn’t working.

Unfortunately, you can’t just replace the power supply fan. If this fan is no longer working, you’ll need to replace the entire power supply.

Install Component Specific Fans

It’s true that the CPU is probably the biggest heat producer in your computer, but nearly every other component creates heat as well. Super fast memory and high end graphics cards can often give the CPU a run for its money.

If you find that your memory, graphics card, or some other component is creating a lot of heat, you can cool them down with a component specific fan. In other words, if your memory is running hot, buy and install a memory fan. If your graphics card is overheating during gameplay, upgrade to a larger graphics card fan.

With ever faster hardware comes ever hotter parts. Fan manufacturers know this and have created specialized fan solutions for nearly everything inside your computer.

Install a Water Cooling Kit

In very high end computers, heat buildup can become such a problem that even the fastest and most efficient fans can’t cool the PC. In these cases, installing a water cooling kit can help. Water transfers heat well and can drastically reduce the temperature of a CPU.

“Water inside a computer? That doesn’t sound safe!” Don’t worry, the water, or other liquid, is completely enclosed inside the transfer system. A pump cycles cool liquid down to the CPU where it can absorb the heat and then it pumps the hot liquid out of your computer where the heat can dissipate.

Interested? Water cooling kits are easy to install, even if you’ve never upgraded a computer before.

Install a Phase Change Unit

Phase change units are the most drastic of cooling technologies.

A phase change unit can be thought of as a refrigerator for your CPU. It utilizes many of the same technologies to cool or even freeze a CPU.

Phase change units like the one pictured here range in price from $1,000 to $2,000 USD.

Similar enterprise-level cooling products can be $10,000 USD or more!

5 Ways You’re Screwing Up Your Computer

1.You’re Not Backing Up Continuously

One big way to screw up your computer, and by extension yourself, is to back up in some way that’s not continuous.

This is a LEVEL 10 SCREW UP!

Yes, you should be backing up your data continuously, as in virtually nonstop… all the time… at least once per minute. It sounds excessive, but it’s true.

This is one of the biggest way you’re screwing up your computer (and your smartphone, and your iPad, etc.).

Your data is the most important stuff you own. They’re your irreplaceable photos and videos, your expensive music, your school paper you’ve invested hours and hours in, etc., etc., etc.

While it’s possible to use traditional backup software to back up continuously to an external hard drive or a network drive, it’s easier to get started with, and safer on several levels, to back up continuously with an online backup service.

I’ve reviewed dozens of these online backup services, and take a fresh look at each one again every month. All are great choices and prevent just about any chance of you losing your important stuff.

Backblaze and Carbonite are my favorites, backup non-stop, and both allow unlimited space for surprisingly affordable prices.

So stop screwing up your computer and start continuously backing up to the cloud! Most smartphones have built-in auto-backup capabilities, so be sure to turn those on too!

2.You’re Not Updating Your Antivirus Software

Another “good” way to screw up your computer is to not keep updated that antivirus program you took the time to install.

This is a LEVEL 10 SCREW UP!

Those nefarious malware authors out there make new viruses every day, change how they work, and find new ways of avoiding antivirus software. In response, antivirus software has to respond just as quickly.

In other words, your antivirus software only worked 100% the day you installed it. Kind of depressing, isn’t it?

Most antivirus software, even free antivirus programs (of which there are plenty), automatically update their definitions, the term used to describe the set of instructions the programs use to identify and remove viruses and other malware.

That said, there are sometimes pop-up messages that ask you to do this manually or notices that appear on screen about needing to update the core program before definition updating can continue.

Unfortunately, I see people screw up all the time by closing these… without reading them at all! A message that shows up over and over is usually a good indication that’s it’s important.

So stop screwing up your computer’s ability to fight the bad guys and make sure your antivirus program is updated! Just open the program and look for the “update” button.

If you think you may have been running your computer with a significantly outdated antivirus program, see my How to Scan Your Computer for Malware tutorial for help making sure nothing slipped in while your computer’s defenses were down.

3.You’re Not Patching Software Right Away

Similar to the not-updating-your-antivirus mistake from the last slide, putting off those software updates, especially the operating system ones, is a great way to screw up your computer.

This is a LEVEL 10 SCREW UP!

(I know, three Level 10 screw ups in a row! I’m getting most of the really important stuff out of the way first.)

The majority of software patches these days, especially the ones Microsoft pushes for Windows on Patch Tuesday, correct “security” issues, meaning issues that have been discovered that could allow someone to remotely access your computer!

Once these vulnerabilities in Windows have been discovered, a patch has to be created by the developer (Microsoft) and then installed (by you) on your computer, all before the bad guys figure out how to exploit said vulnerability and start doing damage.

Microsoft’s part of this process takes long enough so the worst thing you can do is extend that window of opportunity any longer by procrastinating on installing these fixes once provided.

Windows Update is probably installing these updates for you automatically but you can check for this, and change the behavior, any time you want. See How Do I Change Windows Update Settings? if you need help.

It’s the exact same situation with your Mac or Linux computer, your tablet, and your smartphone… just different details. However you’re notified that an update is available to iOS, your smartphone software, or your Linux kernel: promptly apply the update!

Other software and app updates are important too and for similar reasons. If your Microsoft Office software, iPad apps, Adobe programs, (etc., etc., etc.) ever ask you to update, just do it.

4.You’re Not Using Strong Passwords

We all use passwords. Most of the devices and services we use require that we do.

What they don’t (usually) require is that the passwords not suck. A “strong” password, in case you didn’t know, is a password that doesn’t suck… in some specific ways.

Hopefully you know that passwords that include your name, simple words, 1234, etc., are all “bad” passwords. Information security experts call these types of passwords weak passwords.

Weak passwords are easy to “crack” with special software. Very weak passwords are even easy enough to guess. Yikes.

This is a LEVEL 9 SCREW UP!

I’ve written about guessing your own simple passwords and even hacking in to your own computer, both things you may be happy to have the ability to do when needed but that every other expert computer user can also do.

See What Makes a Password Weak or Strong if you’re not quite sure how great, or not-so-great, your passwords are. If they don’t meet that “strong” criteria, here’s How to Make a Strong Password.

5.You’re Still Running Windows XP

Windows XP was probably Microsoft’s most successful product of all time, certainly its most successful and popular operating system.

Unfortunately, in April of 2014, Microsoft ended pretty much all support for it, meaning that those important security holes that are patched every month on Patch Tuesday are not being created for Windows XP!

This is a LEVEL 8 SCREW UP!

If you’re still using Windows XP then your computer is still vulnerable to all of the security issues that have been found, and corrected in later versions of Windows, since May of 2014!

This is a Level 8 screw up and not a Level 10 because there are a few ways you can keep yourself relatively safe and still use Windows XP.

How to Use Windows 10’s System Recovery Options

Hardcore Windows users often give their PCs a refresh to improve system performance by reinstalling Windows. Before Windows 8, this was always done with recovery media on a DVD or USB drive, or a small recovery partition that the computer manufacturer included on the PC’s hard drive.

The process was fairly complicated and time consuming. For that reason it was always left in the domain of the power user even though many PCs would benefit from the occasional reset.

With Windows 8, Microsoft finally embraced the trend of PC refreshes, and introduced a formal, easy-to-use procedure to refresh or reset your PC. Microsoft continues to offer those utilities in Windows 10, but the process and options are slightly different compared to its predecessor.

Here’s a look at the reset process for Windows 10 PCs running the Anniversary Update.

Why take such drastic measures?

Giving your PC a fresh start isn’t just for when your PC isn’t running well. Sometimes a virus can trash your whole system. When that happens your PC is really only recoverable after a complete re-installation of Windows.

An official upgrade to Windows 10 that doesn’t play well with your system can also be a problem. Problematic updates in Windows are nothing new; however, since Windows 10 updates are pretty much mandatory there’s a potential for small problems to become widespread more quickly since many people are updating around the same time.

Reset this PC

We’ll start with the easiest process, which is resetting your PC. In Windows 8, Microsoft offered you two options: refresh and reset. Refresh was what you’d do to reinstall Windows without losing any of our personal files. Reset, meanwhile, was a clean installation where everything on the hard drive would be wiped out with a pristine version of Windows remaining.

In Windows 10, the options have simplified a little bit. In this version of Windows “reset” means reinstalling Windows with or without wiping out everything, while the term “refresh” is no longer used.

To reset your PC click on the Start menu, and then select the settings cog icon to open the Settings app. Next, click on Update & security >Recovery.

At the top of the next screen there’s an option labeled “Reset this PC.” Under that heading click Get started. A pop-up window will appear with two options: Keep my files or Remove everything. Choose the option that’s most appropriate and continue.

Next, Windows will take a few moments to prepare and present one final summary screen explaining what will happen. In the case of Keep my files, for example, the screen will say that all apps and desktop programs that aren’t part of the standard installation for Windows 10 will be erased. All settings will also be changed back to their defaults, Windows 10 will be reinstalled, and all personal files will be removed. To continue click Reset and the process will start.

Bad build

When a new build of Windows rolls out (this means a major update) it can sometimes wreak havoc on a small number of systems.

If this happens to you Microsoft has a fall back plan: rolling back to the earlier build of Windows. Microsoft used to give users 30 days to downgrade, but beginning with the Anniversary Update that time limit has been reduced to just 10 days.

That’s not a ton of time to downgrade a system, but for a Windows PC that sees daily use it’s enough time to discover if something’s wrong and roll back. There are many reasons for upgrade problems. Sometimes a specific system configuration (a combination of various computer components) causes a bug that Microsoft didn’t catch in its testing phase. There’s also a chance that a key system component needs a driver update, or the driver was buggy upon release.

Whatever the reason, rolling back is simple. Once again go to Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery. This time look for the “Go back to an earlier build” sub-heading and then click Get started.

Windows will take a few moments to “get things ready” once again, and then a survey screen will pop-up asking why you are rolling back to the earlier version of Windows. There are several common options to choose from such as your apps and devices aren’t working, earlier builds were more reliable, and an “other reason” box–there’s also a text entry box to provide Microsoft with a fuller explanation of your problems.

Choose the appropriate option and then click Next.

Now here’s the thing. Microsoft really doesn’t want anyone to downgrade since the whole point of Windows 10 is to have as many PC users as possible on the same build of Windows. For that reason, Windows 10 will bother you with a few more screens. First, it will ask if you want to check for updates before downgrading since that might fix the problem. It’s always worth trying that option unless there are special circumstances such as being on day nine of the rollback window and not wanting to risk losing downgrade rights. If you want to see if any updates are available click Check for updates otherwise click No thanks.

Just as with the reset option, there is one last summary screen detailing what will happen. Basically Windows warns that this is like reinstalling Windows and will take some a while to complete during which time the PC will not be usable. Rolling back to an earlier build of Windows can also wipe out some Windows Store apps and desktop programs, and any system settings changes will be lost.

Windows will also admonish you to back up your personal files before downgrading. Personal files shouldn’t be wiped out during a downgrade, but sometimes things go wrong. Thus it’s always a good idea to back-up personal files before any major system software change.

Once you’re ready to go click Next. One last screen warns you that any password changes you’ve made since the upgrade will also be rolled back so be sure to have any previous passwords at the ready or risk getting locked out of your PC. Click Next again, and there will be one last screen where you click Go back to earlier build. The re-installation process will then begin, finally.

It’s a lot of clicking, but rolling back to an older version of Windows is still relatively simple (if mildly annoying) and mostly automated.

Uninstall a smaller update

This feature isn’t quite the same as the reset options in Windows 10, but it is related. Sometimes problems begin on a system after one of Microsoft’s small, regular updates is installed.

When these updates cause problems you can uninstall them by going to Start > Settings > Update & security > Windows Update. At the top of the window click the blue Update history link, and then on the next screen click another blue link labeled Uninstall updates.

This opens a control panel window with all your recent updates listed. Click on the most recent ones (they usually have a “KB number”), and then click Uninstall at the top of the list.

That will uninstall the update, but unfortunately based on how Windows 10 updates work the problematic update will try to reinstall itself pretty soon thereafter. That’s definitely not what you want. To overcome this problem, download Microsoft’s troubleshooter for hiding updates to prevent the update from installing automatically.

Advanced moves

There’s one final option under Settings > Update & security > Recovery that’s worth knowing about called “Advanced startup.” This is how you can start the traditional method of re-installing Windows using a DVD or USB drive. Unless you purchased Windows 10 at a retail store, you’ll have to create your own installation media using Microsoft’s Windows 10 media creation tool.

Once you have installation media ready to go and inserted into your system, click Restart now. You’ll then land on the usual Windows installation screens when installing from a DVD or USB drive.

Really, you should only need the advanced option if other methods of resetting or reinstalling Windows 10 fail. It’s rare, but there may be situations where the reset option doesn’t work or the rollback option is no longer available. That’s when reinstalling from a USB can come in handy; however, keep in mind that if you’re creating fresh Windows 10 installation media from Microsoft’s website it will likely be the same build as the one you’ve got installed. That said, sometimes reinstalling the same version of Windows from a fresh install disc can fix the problem.

Final thoughts

Using Windows 10’s recovery options are handy when your PC is in a dire situation, but it’s also quite a drastic solution. Before trying a reset or rolling back to a previous build, do some basic troubleshooting.

Does rebooting your PC fix the problem, for example? Did you install any new programs or apps recently? Try uninstalling them. It’s surprising how often a third-party program can be at the root of your issue. Finally, check to see if all your component drivers are up to date, and check for any new system updates that might fix the problem via Windows Update.

You’d be surprised how many times a simple reboot or an update can fix what seems like a catastrophic issue. If basic troubleshooting doesn’t work, however, there’s always the Windows 10 reset option ready and waiting.

4G Mobile Networks: The Pros and the Cons

Although 3G mobile networks hogged the limelight in the past, once 4G mobile networks made their grand entry, the former was all but forgotten. Offering amazing speed and efficiency, this technology took the mobile market by storm.

Internet connectivity on mobile devices is now more of a necessity than a luxury. More and more mobile device users are constantly using their gadgets to connect to the Internet and stay online for very long periods of time.

Considering this scenario, the latest 4G mobile network seems to be the answer for every mobile device owner. However, 4G connectivity is not without its downsides.

In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of 4G mobile networks.

Pros of 4G Mobile Networks

  • The most obvious advantage of the 4G mobile network is its amazing speed. Increased bandwidth leads to much faster data transfer speed, which is especially advantageous for mobile devices. Users of the 4G network get the advantage of superior, uninterrupted connectivity, especially for advanced tasks such as video chats and conferences. Considering the younger generation of mobile device users, they can stream music, ​videos and movies at a much faster rate than ever before and can also easily share information online.
  • 4G networks offer much more coverage than other systems such as WiFi, which forces users to depend upon hotspots in each area you visit. Since 4G offers a coverage of 30 miles and more, as also overlapping network ranges, users would be assured of complete connectivity at all times.
  • One of the biggest problems with WiFi networks is that of online security. This is especially true for mobile devices. 4G networks offer complete privacy, security and safety. This is especially beneficial for corporate establishments and business persons, who hold sensitive information on their respective mobile devices.

4G networks are quite affordable these days, what with pricing schemes being considerably slashed to fit users’ budgets. Of course, this type of connectivity is more expensive than traditional WiFi networks, but it also has a lot more advantages to offer to users.

  • This network also offers users several options to choose from, as regards plans and equipment to connect to the 4G network. Many mobile carriers also offer special introductory offers for new customers, which works out to be very reasonable for them.

Cons of 4G Mobile Networks

  • Though the concept of 4G mobile networks is steadily gaining popularity, connectivity is still limited to certain specified carriers and regions. Of course, the number of cities that have 4G coverage is increasing by the day. However, it would take its own time for this network to be available in all the major cities of the world.
  • Though the hardware compatible with 4G networks is available at much cheaper rates today than earlier, the fact remains that this new equipment would necessarily have to be installed in order to supply these services. This would prove to be a cumbersome process for most mobile carriers planning to launch these services.
  • Since 4G mobile technology is still fairly new, it will most likely have its initial glitches and bugs, which could be quite annoying for the user. Needless to say, these teething troubles would be sorted out in due course of time, as well as with an increase in network coverage.
  • 4G mobile networks use multiple antennae and transmitters and hence, users would experience much poorer battery life on their mobile devices, while on this network. This would mean that they would have to use larger mobile devices with more battery power, in order to be able to stay online for longer periods of time.
  • Users would be forced to make do with 3G or WiFi connectivity in the areas that do not yet have 4G mobile network coverage. While this is a problem in itself, the worse issue is that they would still have to pay the same amount as specified by the 4G network plan. This loophole has already resulted in many disgruntled customers. This situation can only be resolved once mobile carriers expand their 4G network coverage to include more regions.

In Conclusion

4G mobile networks, though advantageous, also comes with its disadvantages. While this technology is evolving speedily, it would still take its time to emerge as the most popular network. Mobile carriers and users interested in investing in 4G would do well to analyze and understand its pros and cons before adopting in this new technology.

International Power Adapters: What You Need to Know

If you’re planning on traveling internationally, finding a power adapter should be as simple as looking up the plug standard for your destination, buying an adapter, and packing your suitcase.

However, if you need more than just a plug adapter, you could accidentally ruin your hair dryer.

First, let’s explore why we have so many different plugs and standards across countries and then let’s look at how to check your label and reduce the risk of accidentally buying the wrong adapter or forgetting a necessary converter.

There are a few key variations in standards between countries (or sometimes even within a country):

  • Ÿ Current
  • Ÿ Voltage
  • Ÿ Frequency
  • Ÿ Outlet and Plug shape

Current

The two main standards for current are AC and DC or Alternating Current and Direct Current. In the US, we developed a standard during the famous war between Tesla and Edison. Edison favored DC, and Tesla AC. The big advantage to AC is that it was capable of traveling greater distances between power stations, and in the end, it was the standard that won out in the USA.

However, not all countries adopted AC. Neither did all yoru devices. Batteries and the internal workings of many electronics also use DC power. In the case of laptops, the large external power brick is actually converting AC power to DC.

Voltage

Voltage is the force with which electricity travels. It’s often described using a water pressure analogy. Although there are several standards, the most common voltage standards for travelers are 110/120V (USA) and 220/240V (most of Europe).

If your electronics are only meant to handle 110V of force, having 220V shooting through them could be catastrophic.

Frequency

Frequency for AC power is how often the current alternates each second. In most cases, the standards are 60Hz (America) and 50Hz everywhere that values the metric system. In most cases, this isn’t going to make a difference in performance, but it can occasionally cause problems with devices that use timers.

Outlet and Plug Shapes: A, B, C, or D?

Although there are a lot of different plug shapes, most travel adapters settle for the four most common. The International Trade Administration breaks these down into alphabetical shapes (A, B, C, D and so on) so you can check to see if you need something beyond the usual four for your travels.

Can You Just Use a Power Plug Adapter?

Is that all you would need? You can buy USB adapters and use your USB C cord with a USB A plug. It seems like the same concept should apply.

For many devices, it is that simple. Look at the back of your device where you find the UL listing and other information about your device. In the case of laptops, you’ll locate the information on your power adapter.

The UL listing will tell you the frequency, current, and voltage that your device can handle. If you’re traveling to a country compatible with those standards, you just need to find the right shape of plug.

Devices generally come in three types: those that only comply with one standard, dual mode devices that comply with two standards (switching between 110V and 220V), and those compatible with a wide range of standards. You may need to flip a switch or move a slider in order to convert devices with dual modes.

Do You Need an Adapter or Converter?

Now, should you want to travel with a single voltage device to a country with different voltage, you’ll need a voltage converter. If you travel someplace from a lower voltage (USA) to a higher voltage (Germany), it will be a step-up converter, and if you travel in the opposite direction, it will be a step-down converter. This is the only time you should use a converter, and remember that you don’t need to use them with your laptop. In fact, you might damage your laptop if you do.

In rare cases, you may also need an AC converter to convert DC power to AC or vice versa, but again, your laptop uses DC power already, so do not use a third-party converter with it.

Check with the company that made your laptop to see what you need. If necessary, you may also be able to buy a compatible power adapter in your destination country.

Hotels

It should be noted that many international hotels have built-in wiring for their guests that don’t require any special adapters or converters to use. Ask before your trip to see what your accommodations offer.

What About Tablets, Phones, and Other USB-Charging Devices?

The good news about USB-charging devices is that you don’t need a plug adapter. In fact, using one would probably ruin your charger. You just need to buy a compatible charger. USB is standardized. Your charger is doing all the work to convert the voltage to the USB charging standard to power your phone.

In fact, USB may be our best hope for standardizing our power charging for the future, between that and wireless charging systems, we may be moving toward the next “electric plug” solution for our international travel.

Although the USB standard has changed over time 1.1 to 2.0 to 3.0 and 3.1, it has done so in a thoughtful way that offers legacy compatibility. You can still plug your USB 2.0 powered device into a USB 3.0 port and charge it. You just don’t see the bandwidth and speed advantages when you do. It’s also easier to replace and upgrade USB ports over time than it is to rewire homes for new electrical standards.

Why do Countries Have Different Shaped Power Outlets?

After a system of power transmission was established (AC vs DC), homes were wired for electricity, but there was no such thing as a power outlet. There wasn’t a good way to patch something into the network temporarily. Devices were wired into the home’s electrical network directly. We still do this with some appliances, like light fixtures and oven hoods, but at the time, it meant there was no such thing as a portable electronic device.

As countries built out electrical systems, there wasn’t need to think about compatibility. It was a wonder that power even standardized between cities and states within a single country. (Actually, that didn’t always happen within countries. Brazil still has incompatible systems within portions of the country according to the International Trade Administration.)

That also meant different countries settled around different voltages and frequencies as power plants were built. Tesla recommended 60 Hz in the US, while Europeans went with the more metrically-compatible 50 Hz. The US went to 120 volts, while Germany settled on 240/400, a standard later adopted by other Europeans.

Now that countries were establishing their standards for transmitting power and houses were getting wired to receive it, an American inventor named Harvey Hubbell II came up with the idea to let people plug their devices into light sockets. You can still buy power adapters you can plug into light sockets today. Hubbell eventually improved the concept to create what we now know of as the American outlet plug with two prongs.

A few years later, someone else upgraded the two prong plug to add a third, grounding prong, which makes the socket a little safer and less likely to shock you when you plug things into it. American outlets also grew two different sized prongs to keep people from accidentally plugging them in the wrong way.

Meanwhile, other countries began developing outlets and plugs without considering compatibility, although it was the outlet that made portable electronics possible. It was just a matter of which standard gained traction in each location. Most country systems also adapted a system that made it only possible to plug your devices in one way, whether it was by making the plugs different shapes, making three of them, or putting them at different angles.

Finger Scanners: What They Are And Why They Are Gaining in Popularity

A fingerprint scanner is a type of electronic security system that uses fingerprints for biometric authentication to grant user access to information or to approve transactions.

It used to be that fingerprint scanners were mostly seen in movies and TV shows, or read about in science fiction novels. But such times of imagination surpassing human engineering ability has been long gone – fingerprint scanners have been in use for decades!

Not only are fingerprint scanners becoming more commonplace in the latest mobile devices, but they’re gradually making headway into everyday life. Here’s what you should know about fingerprint scanners and how they work.

What Are Fingerprint Scanners (a.k.a. Finger Scanners)?

Human fingerprints are practically unique, which is why they’re successful at identifying individuals. It’s not just law enforcement agencies that collect and maintain databases of fingerprints. Many types of occupations that require professional licensing or certification (e.g. financial advisors, stock brokers, real estate agents, teachers, doctors/nurses, security, contractors, etc.) mandate fingerprinting as a condition of employment. It’s also typical to provide fingerprints when having documents notarized.

Advancements in technology have been able to incorporate fingerprint scanners (can also be referred to as ‘readers’ or ‘sensors’) as another (optional) security feature for mobile devices.

Fingerprint scanners are one of the latest in an ever-growing list – pin codes, pattern codes, passwords, face recognition, location detection, iris scanning, voice recognition, trusted Bluetooth/NFC connection – of ways to lock and unlock smartphones. Why use a fingerprint scanner? Many enjoy it for the security, convenience, and futuristic feel.

Fingerprint scanners work by capturing the pattern of ridges and valleys on a finger. The information is then processed by the device’s pattern analysis/matching software, which compares it to the list of registered fingerprints on file. A successful match means that an identity has been verified, thereby granting access. The method of capturing fingerprint data depends on the type of scanner being used:

  • Ÿ Optical Sensor: These types of scanners basically make a photocopy of the finger. Many illuminate the finger in order to deliver crisp contrast of lines as the light-sensitive scanner (usually an image sensor or light-sensitive microchip) records the information to produce a digital image. Many PC-connected fingerprint scanners use optical sensors.
  • Ÿ Capacitive Sensor: Instead of light, capacitive scanners use electricity (think of the way touchscreens work) to determine fingerprint patterns. As a finger rests on the touch-capacitive surface, the device measures the charge; ridges exhibit a change in capacitance, while valleys produce practically no change at all. The sensor uses all this data to accurately map out prints. Most all smartphones with fingerprint scanners use capacitive sensors.
  • Ÿ Ultrasonic Sensor: Similar to how bats and dolphins use echolocation to find and identify objects, ultrasonic scanners work via sound waves. The hardware is designed to send out ultrasonic pulses and measure how much bounces back. Ridges and valleys reflect sound differently, which is how ultrasonic scanners are able to create a detailed 3D map of fingerprint patterns. Ultrasonic sensors are currently being prototyped (e.g. by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.) and tested for use in mobile devices

Fingerprint Analysis

You might be staring at your fingertips right now, wondering just how scanners can so quickly determine a match or not.

Decades of work have led to the classification of fingerprint minutiae – the elements that make our fingerprints unique. Although there are over a hundred different characteristics that come into play, fingerprint analysis basically boils down to plotting the points of where ridges end abruptly and fork into two branches (and the direction).

Combine that information with the orientation of general fingerprint patterns – arches, loops, and whorls – and you have a pretty reliable way of identifying individuals. Fingerprint scanners incorporate all of these data points into templates, which are used whenever biometric authentication is required. More data collected helps to ensure greater accuracy (and speed) when comparing different sets of prints.

Fingerprint Scanners in Everyday Life

The Motorola Atrix was the first smartphone to incorporate a fingerprint scanner, way back in 2011. Since then, many more smartphones have incorporated this technological feature. Examples include (but are not limited to) the: Apple iPhone 5S, Apple iPad models, Apple iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S5, Huawei Honor 6X, Huawei Honor 8 PRO, OnePlus 3T, OnePlus 5, and Google Pixel. It’s likely that more mobile devices will support fingerprint scanners as time goes on, especially since you can already find fingerprint scanners in many everyday objects.

When it comes to PC security, there are plenty of fingerprint-scanning options, some of which can be found already integrated into certain laptop models. Most of the readers you can purchase separately connect with a USB cable and are compatible with both desktop and laptop system (typically Windows OS, but also macOS). Some readers are closer in shape and size to that of USB flash drives – in fact, some USB flash drives have a built-in fingerprint scanner to grant access to the data stored inside!

You can find biometric door locks that use fingerprint scanners in addition to touchscreen/keypads for manual entry. Biometric car starter kits, installed in vehicles as an aftermarket accessory, use fingerprint scanners to add another layer of security. There’s fingerprint-scanning padlocks and safes, too. And if you ever plan a trip to Universal Studios, you can rent a free storage locker that uses fingerprints instead of physical keys or cards. Other theme parks, such as Walt Disney World, scan fingerprints upon entry in order to combat ticket fraud.

More Popular Than Ever (Despite Concerns)

The application of biometrics in everyday life is expected to grow as manufacturers devise new (and more affordable) ways to incorporate the technology. If you own an iPhone or iPad, you may have already been having helpful conversations with Siri. The Amazon Echo speaker also employs voice recognition software, offering a host of useful skills through Alexa. Other speakers, such as the Ultimate Ears Boom 2 and Megaboom, have integrated Alexa voice recognition through firmware updates. All of these examples use biometrics in the form of voice recognition.

It should come as little surprise to find more products designed to interact with our prints, voices, eyes, faces, and body with each passing year. Modern fitness trackers can already monitor heartbeat, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and movement in general. It will only be a matter of time until fitness tracker hardware is precise enough to identify individuals through biometrics.

The subject of using fingerprints for biometric authentication is hotly debated, with people arguing the dire risks and significant benefits in equal measure. So before you start using the latest smartphone with a fingerprint scanner, you might want to weigh some options.

Pros of Using Fingerprint Scanners:

  • Ÿ Allows fast and easy one-finger access to unlock devices
  • Ÿ Excellent way to identify unique individuals
  • Ÿ Extremely difficult to fake/duplicate (versus identification/access cards, etc.)
  • Ÿ Practically impossible to guess/hack (versus pin codes, passwords, etc.)
  • Ÿ You can’t forget your fingerprint (as you might with passwords, codes, patterns, access cards, etc.)

Cons of Using Fingerprint Scanners:

  • Ÿ Not completely foolproof (individuals with the right resources, time, and dedication can trick scanners with forgeries and/or master prints)
  • Ÿ Can’t get new prints (you can change/replace cards, codes, and passwords, but there’s not much you can do if someone steals your fingerprint data)
  • Ÿ Encryption is still questionable (the safety of your fingerprint data hinges on the software/hardware manufacturer)
  • Ÿ Finger injuries can impede successful scanning and deny access to authorized users (even slight imperfections can create difficulties)
  • Ÿ Germs (know how many people touched that public scanner before you did? Better sanitize it first)

The utilization of fingerprint scanners in consumer-level electronics is still quite new, so we can expect standards and protocols to be established over time. As the technology matures, manufacturers will be able to fine-tune and improve the quality of encryption and data security in order to prevent possible identity theft or misuse with stolen fingerprints.

Despite the concerns associated with fingerprints scanners, many find it preferable to entering in codes or patterns. The ease of use actually results in making more mobile devices secure overall, since people would rather swipe a finger to unlock a smartphone than remember and tap out a code. As for the fear of criminals cutting off fingers of everyday individuals in order to gain access, it’s more Hollywood and (irrational) media hype than reality. Greater worries tend to revolve around being accidentally locked out of your own device.

Locked Out Using a Fingerprint Scanner

Even though fingerprint scanners tend to be quite accurate, there can be a number of reasons why one won’t authorize your print. You’ve likely tried to get back into your phone while doing dishes and found that wet fingers typically can’t be read by the sensors. Sometimes it’s a weird glitch. Most manufacturers have anticipated this happening from time to time, which is why devices can still be unlocked by passwords, pin codes, or pattern codes. These are typically established when a device is first being set up. So if a finger won’t scan, simply use one of the other unlocking methods.

If you happen to forget a device code in a fit of anxiety, you can remotely reset (Android) lock screen passwords and pins. As long as you have access to your main account (e.g. Google for Android devices, Microsoft for desktop/PC systems, Apple ID for iOS devices), there is a way to log in and reset the password and/or fingerprint scanner. Having multiple means of access as well as two-factor authentication can improve your personal security as well as save you in such forgetful situations.

10 easy ways to speed up Windows 10

If your formerly shiny, new Windows 10 PC has begun to lose some of its luster, there are ways to put a little pep back in its step. Here are some quick, easy ways to improve its performance without swapping out any hardware.

  1. Go opaque

Windows 10’s new Start menu is sexy and see-through, but that transparency will cost you some (slight) resources. To reclaim those resources, you can disable transparency in the Start menu, taskbar, and action center: Open the Settings menu and go to Personalization > Colors and toggle off Make Start, taskbar, and action center transparent.

  1. No special effects

Making the Start menu, taskbar, and action center transparent is one thing, but Windows 10 still has a lot of other snazzy, built-in special effects. To really go bare-bones on the special effects, right-click the Start button and click System.

Click Advanced system settings to open the System Properties menu. On the Advanced tab under Performance, click Settings…

This will open the Performance Options menu. In the Visual Effects tab, either choose Adjust for best performance to turn off all unnecessary animations and special effects, or choose Custom: and deselect the visual effects you think can live without. When you’re finished, click OK to apply your changes.

  1. Disable Startup programs

If your PC is taking a long time to boot up — and you’ve enabled Fast Startup and everything — you may have too many programs starting up when you turn your computer on. To fix this, right-click on the Start button and click Task Manager. Click the Startup tab (click More details if you don’t see the Startup tab) and peruse the list of programs that start up with your computer. If you see a program that doesn’t need to be there, right-click it and click Disable. You can also arrange the list of programs by Startup impact, if you’d like to see the programs that are taking up the most resources (and time).

  1. Find (and fix) the problem

Windows 10 has a built-in performance troubleshooter that can help you find and fix any problems that might be affecting your PC’s speed. To open the troubleshooter, right-click on the Start button and click Control Panel. Under Security and Maintenance at the top, click Troubleshoot common computer problems. Next, under System and Security, click Run maintenance tasks.

  1. Reduce the Boot Menu Time-out

When your computer starts up, the boot menu is displayed for a certain amount of time before the operating system loads. This gives you time to do things like start Windows in Safe Mode. You can shave a few seconds off your startup time by changing the boot menu time-out, which is set to 30 seconds by default.

To do this, right-click on the Start button and click Control Panel. Go to System > Advanced system settings, and, under Startup and Recovery, click Settings.

Next to Time to display list of operating systems:, change the value from 30 seconds to 10 seconds and click OK.

  1. No tipping

In an effort to be helpful, Windows 10 will sometimes give you tips on how to get the most out of the OS. It scans your computer in order to do this, a process that can have a slight impact on performance. To turn off these tips, go to Start > Settings > System > Notifications & actions and toggle off Get tips, tricks and suggestions as you use Windows.

  1. Run Disk Cleanup

This one’s a win-win. It’ll improve performance and free up space on your hard drive. Disk Cleanup has been around forever, but this trusted Windows utility can still help clean out the temporary files, installers and other junk littering your hard drive. To run it, just search for Disk Cleanup, run it and click the button labeled Clean up system files.

  1. Eradicate bloatware

If your PC came with preinstalled apps you don’t want or need, get rid of them. Same goes for any apps you installed that you later found to be of little or no use. Right-click the Start menu, choose Control Panel and under the Programs header, click Uninstall a program. Peruse the list from time to time and select the programs you no longer need and click Uninstall at the top of the list.

  1. Power plan

Make sure you aren’t using a Power saver plan if you don’t need to. Even desktops will sometimes feature a power-saver option, which doesn’t do you any good unless you are trying to conserve battery life. Open the Control Panel and go to Hardware and Sound > Power Options to see which power plan you are currently using. For better performance, make sure you are using a High Performance or Balanced plan (or a plan from the PC manufacturer that says it’s balanced).

  1. Restart your PC

Is speeding up your computer as simple as…restarting it? Maybe. Restarting your PC clears out its memory and stops any processes that might be taking up resources. Also, shutting down your computer is not the same as restarting it — shutdown is affected by Windows 10’s Fast Startup, which saves a snapshot of your PC and its processes in a hiberfile for faster boot-up. Restart is not affected by Fast Startup, so if you have Fast Startup enabled, restarting your PC is the only way to fully clear the memory and shutdown processes.