Category: Software (Page 1 of 7)

McAfee Stinger

There are a variety of one-time scan tools available for free, that will check your system for baddies. I’ve previously blogged about ADWCleaner and Norton Power Eraser, and now I should mention McAfee Stinger.

McAfee Stinger is a quick scan for your PC that can detect and remove a specific set of viruses and trojans. If you have reason to think you’re infected, you can download Stinger and use it anytime. It won’t conflict with your full-time antivirus, and it won’t try to sell you anything.

Most modern Windows computers are 64-bit, so use the download for “x64 systems”. You would only use the first Download option for very old, 32-bit computers.

DALL-E

DALL-E is a groundbreaking AI tool that is now open for the general public to use. Made by OpenAI, DALL-E uses artificial general intelligence to create things in stunningly human ways. And in almost no time at all. New users can sign up at the OpenAI website for free.

Creations

Most notably, DALL-E can create a photo or piece of art based on a typed description. Your imagination is the limit, you can ask it for a “bengal cat eating a banana” or “the grand canyon with a rainbow overhead”, and see what AI can create within seconds.

These people do not exist, they were made up by DALL-E

DALL-E also offers a “playground” where it can write something for you. You may type in any kind of writing prompt or topic, and in seconds, the AGI will churn out a very fluent chunk of English text.

In seconds, DALL-E composed a short speech that would take a human half an hour or more.

Caveats

If you experiment with DALL-E, you may notice some creepiness with the images it devises. Keep in mind that this is a work in progress, and also that the AGI is programmed to avoid making human faces that resemble real people. It won’t create anything that looks like you or the President or your favorite celebrity.

OpenAI does restrict this tool from creating objectionable content. Check out their content policy if you have any questions or concerns.

Even if you don’t aim to use this tool, it does have ramifications for our future. While OpenAI is closely supervising and limiting how their tech is used, I do worry about its misuse. I can see how DALL-E and similar tools might contribute to the Era of Deepfakes, if not properly policed. And the writing tool could be abused, but I don’t know what to call it yet. Whatever the term, it’s adjacent to plagiarism.

As you peruse the internet, stay dubious, my friends.

Disable Hardware Acceleration – A Common Browser Fix

Sometimes a web browser will start acting poorly, lagging as you scroll or refusing to play videos on social media sites. When this happens, you may tempted to blame your ISP. But if other websites and speed tests behave normally, then the ISP is off the hook and we need to look elsewhere.

Often what causes this browser-lagginess is an odd conflict between the computer’s graphics drivers and the web browser. Maybe we could call it a software allergy. In any case, what you can try is to turn off the “Hardware Acceleration” option inside your browser. Once it’s off, restart your browser (or the whole computer) and retry the problematic websites. They may work much better then!

Here’s how to turn this option off for:

Google Chrome

Click the 3-dots button in the upper-right corner and then click Settings.

On the left, click System.

In the middle, toggle Off the option labeled Use hardware acceleration when available.

Mozilla Firefox

Click the hamburger menu in the upper-right corner and then click Settings.

Scroll to the bottom, looking for the section labelled Performance.

Uncheck the box for Use recommended performance settings.

Uncheck the box for Use hardware acceleration when available.

Microsoft Edge

Click the 3-dots button in the upper-right corner and then click Settings.

On the left, click System and performance.

In the middle, toggle Off the option labeled Use hardware acceleration when available.

Antivirus for Very Old Computers

Many people continue to use vintage computers, running operating systems that are past their end-of-support date. While I recommend that these users upgrade to something modern and more secure, I understand when they stick with their classic machines. I don’t judge.

But if those computers are going to hit the internet, they do need antivirus. And as they age, it becomes more difficult to find an antivirus software that is willing to run on a much older OS. Below are some links to free antiviruses that are compatible with bygone OSes, like Vista and El Capitan.

Windows Computers

My favorite free antivirus for older PCs is Microsoft Security Essentials. But Microsoft pulled this from their sites, so use these links to get the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version . It will run on any XP, Vista or Win7 computer.

AVG still offers a free antivirus that works on XP and Vista and Windows 7.

You can also consider Avast Free Antivirus, which is equally compatible.

Apple Computers

There’s some debate on whether Macs need additional antivirus protection. For now, I’ll say: You are at greater risk if you’re using an out-of-date computer, so antivirus becomes more relevant if you’re not running the latest MacOS. If your MacOS is so old to be completely out of service, please get some antivirus ASAP.

AVG offers free antivirus for Macs here, and can install on MacOS 10.13 High Sierra or newer.

Avast offers free antivirus for Macs here, and can install on MacOS 10.11 El Capitan or newer.

The Google Dictionary Browser Extension

The Google Dictionary browser extension makes it easier than ever to learn word definitions. Once you’ve installed this freebie, you can simply double-click any plain-text word on the internet, and immediately see its definition.

I’m sure that this tool is going to save you many clicks and help keep up your reading comprehension. No more opening a second tab, just to go to Dictionary.com!

This extension is free to install into Google Chrome on any computer. And now that Microsoft Edge is built on Chromium, it should install in that browser, as well. Get it free here.

Free Apps for Identifying Plants

Wondering if that volunteer plant in your garden is a weed or not? Curious about that gorgeous tree at the park? I know there’s some of you who won’t rest until you know the exact name of the mystery plant you’ve just spotted. And while it’s so easy to jump on social media to ask, it’s often easier and quicker to use better tools.

Powered by AI and plant photography catalogs, free apps can identify plants for you immediately! Take a picture of a plant using the app, and you’ll get detailed info on the spot. There are many such apps, and here a few reputable ones:

There are also websites for this as well, like Pl@ntNet and Plant.id!

Scanning Without a Scanner

Not everyone owns a scanner. And sometimes, the scanner you have becomes difficult or impossible to use (I’m looking at you, HP). If you’re called upon to scan an important document or photo, you do not need a working scanner. You can create a great-looking scan with your smartphone or tablet.

Free PDF Scanning Apps

There are a variety of free apps you can download, that will repurpose your mobile device’s camera as a scanning tool. Using the app, you’ll scan with your device’s camera and create a PDF of whatever you point it at. As long as you have a decent camera and good lighting, this should work really well, even for full-page documents.

Right off the bat, I can recommend these apps:

There are many more apps out there like these, too many for me to vet. Most are safe to use, but check the reviews before trying anything from a developer you’ve not heard of.

Free Photo Scanning Apps

If you’re scanning photos, you might want a photo scanning app, for higher quality scans and retouching tools. Google has you covered with their PhotoScan app, available for both iOS and Android.

Point your phone and this app at any photo, and it will take a series (5) of shots of your original. It then quickly stitches them all together, and makes a superior composite scan. The software eliminates shadows, shines and other defects along the way. I expect you’ll be impressed!

Google Drive

If you use Google Drive, you already have a scanning tool on your mobile device. Drive is ready to scan a document and immediately put it in the cloud for you.

  1. Open Google Drive on your phone/tablet.
  2. Tap the + button.
  3. Tap Scan.
  4. Take a picture of your original.
  5. Use the on-screen tools to adjust, crop and rotate your scan.
  6. Tap Save when you’re ready, and set the name and location for your newly scanned file.

Other Methods

Scanning from a smaller device may not work in all scenarios. Perhaps you have a 200-page document to process, or your flip-phone simply isn’t up to the task. Please know that in a pinch, Staples and some other office-supply stores may have a service counter, where you can walk up and pay for scanning services. It should be quick and inexpensive, if they have a professional-grade multi-function printer back there.

And if you foresee doing a lot of scanning, then you’ll want a long-term solution: Investing in a dedicated scanner. Most printers these days have an adequate scanner built-in, but for daily scanning and jobs involving dozens of pages, you’ll want something with more oomph. I can recommend Fujitsu’s ScanSnap scanners. They can often devour scan jobs at 20 pages per minute (or faster) and can be found at decent prices on Amazon.

Microsoft Defender’s Offline Scan

Microsoft Defender Antivirus is part of every Windows 10 and Windows 11 computer. Whether you use Microsoft Defender or another antivirus, please know that you can use the Microsoft software to run a deep scan on your computer. This will not conflict with your current security software, and can be useful if you feel you may have a virus problem that is not being detected with normal system scans.

The “deep scan” is officially called the Microsoft Defender Offline scan, and here’s how you can use it:

  1. Click the Start Button and go to Settings. In the search field, type “windows security” and then click on Windows Security to open it.
  2. Click on Virus & Threat Protection.
    a. If you are using a non-Microsoft antivirus, click on Microsoft Defender Options and then turn on Periodic Scanning.
  3. Under the Quick Scan button, click “Scan Options”.
  4. Click the bubble next to Microsoft Defender Offline scan, and then click Scan Now.

This begins the Offline scan, and will reboot your computer to fulfill this action. So close and save your work before going through with this! Expect to see this sort of scan screen running for 15 minutes or more:

After the scan is over, you may not see much, other than your computer boots up to your normal wallpaper and icons. To see the results of the scan, follow the steps 1 & 2 from above, and the Virus & Threat Protection panel will tell you if it caught any baddies. Feel free to click on Protection History for more details on your scan history.

The NewProfilePic App

There are always new mobile apps for you to discover, and it looks like NewProfilePic is this month’s all-star. This freebie, available through the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, will transform a selfie photo into something stylized and eye-catching.

All you have to do is upload any photo file((of a single, close-up of a human face. Sorry, no pets!)) you have access to from your mobile device, and dodge a few pop-up ads along the way. The app does the rest, giving you a few different photo filters to try out. And they claim you can check back each week for new filters and tweaks.

As this app took off in popularity, some websites started sounding an alarm about its safety. Claims of data-sharing with Russia are being passed around, but I don’t see any truth to that. It looks to me like these rumors are not based on hard facts, and only being reported on clickbait and junk news sites (nothing mainstream).

In other words, whatever info-collection this app is doing, it’s certainly less invasive than, say, Facebook or Google. If you want to try out this app, feel free and have fun!

Windows Security Center Won’t Open

Many PC users are content to use the free antivirus that’s built-in to Microsoft Windows: Microsoft Defender Antivirus. Some still call it Windows Defender, but in any case, you can get to it by clicking on the white or blue shield that lives near your system clock.

But some users are finding that they cannot enter that shield icon, after certain Windows Updates. Some Microsoft upgrades break that icon, and won’t let you see your protection software anymore. If this happens to you, there’s a quick fix for that:

  • Click the Start button and use the Windows Search function to look for “Powershell”. When you find it, right-click it and select Run as Administrator.
  • Copy and paste the following chunk of text into the Powershell window and then press Enter on your keyboard:

Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted
Get-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register “$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml”}

  • When the operation appears to be done, close Powershell and reboot your computer. Check the Windows Security Center icon, and it should now open easily for you.

If this kind of repair is above your paygrade, feel free to call me and I can fix this for you!

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