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Guest: Alice Clarke
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the complexity of devices, apps, plugs and settings involved with technology today. And if you’re not keeping up, are you being left behind?
Join host Val Quinn and freelance journalist, producer and presenter focusing on the world of technology, Alice Clarke, as they tackle some common questions about the internet, computers, and mobile phones. If you’ve ever wondered why your device does that ‘weird’ thing, the answer might be right here.
Be Connected is an Australian Government Initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner and Good Things Foundation Australia. Be Connected builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources, and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.
Be Connected acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work, and pays respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
[Val] Hello, and welcome to the Be Connected Podcast. I'm Val Quinn and I'm a technology commentator, broadcaster, publisher, and the host of the Be Connected podcast. So instead of making life easier, does it ever feel like technology is making it more difficult? Are there too many settings, you know, plugs, apps and updates and well, just general complexity involved in using everyday devices for you to keep up with? I mean, there's a lot there and if you're not keeping up, are you being left behind? While it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by today's tech, understanding how it works can help banish any worries you might have and let you get the most from it. In this episode, we tackle some of the most common questions people have about the internet, their computers, and mobile phones. So if you've ever wondered why your device did that weird thing, well, the answer might be right here. So returning to help us keep up to speed is our guest from the first episode of 'Why is it so?', Alice Clarke. Alice is a freelance journalist. She's a producer and presenter, and she's got a really great in-depth focus on the world of technology. And it's great to have her back.
[Alice] Well, thank you so much having me back. It's so great to talk about all these, weird tech problems, 'cause we all have them.
[Val] That's true, and I think we always will. So let's start off. I would say that probably the number one question we hear is, how do I get faster internet? It's such a frustration. So what do you think? How do we get faster internet?
[Alice] Well, that really depends why your internet is slow. So the most common reason is that you might have picked an NBN speed plan because it was the cheapest or because there was the best deal, 'cause it's so confusing. There's 12, 25, NBN 50, all these numbers. So it's easy to just go for NBN 12, but an NBN 12 is fantastic if you're just going to check your email or every now and then go on Facebook. But if you're wanting to stream videos, you really need a minimum speed of about 25 megabits per second. And that's what the NBN 25 plan is for.
[Val] Right, so the number is the speed. So the lower the number, the slower the speed and then the faster the number, the higher the speed.
[Alice] Yeah, exactly. And the more speed you have, obviously the faster it is and the higher definition videos you can watch and the more things you can do at once. So if you're wanting to do one thing in the living room and your partner's wanting to do something upstairs, watch their own show, you're gonna need a bit more speed for that, so the internet can handle everything at once.
[Val] Well that makes sense.
[Alice] Yeah. Imagine the internet like a pipe and you're trying to put a whole bunch of information down it. And if you have a really narrow pipe, like NBN 12, you're not gonna be able to fit as much into that pipe. So if you double the pipe with NBN 25, you can fit more information into it at once.
[Alice] But it might not just be that you don't have the right speed. Maybe you do have the right speed on your plan, but it's slow because maybe the technology you're using isn't quite right.
[Val] Yeah. Oh, and another thing that's probably worth pointing out is the terms that we use. So when we say Wi-Fi, we mean internet, but that's kind of like internet broadcast around your house and it's wireless. But the internet connection you have running to your house is something you have to pay a subscription fee to from a provider, and that's how you get your internet in. So another question that people have is, okay, so I've got the internet at my home, but my phone or computer can't connect to it or when it does connect to it, it's really slow even though I'm on a fast plan. So yeah. What do you think some of those reasons might be from?
[Alice] So this is a problem that I have actually been battling for as long as Wi-Fi has been a thing, because I grew up in my parents' house, which is a very, very solid brick house. And sometimes the internet, the Wi-Fi just doesn't go through the walls to get to the next room. So for example, I can't get the internet on my side of the bed, but if I go to the other side of the room, I get perfect internet.
[Val] Mm-hmm, yeah, that's so true, and another point too is I might get great internet downstairs, but upstairs I don't have really good internet 'cause that Wi-Fi signal isn't very strong.
[Alice] Yeah. So there's a couple of different ways you can tackle this. The easiest, but perhaps not the most convenient, is just to make sure you stay as close as possible to your Wi-Fi router or your modem because that's where the best signal will be. But if you need to extend it a little bit, there are a lot of different options. So you can get a Wi-Fi extender, which does exactly what it says it does. You put it halfway between your modem and where you wanna use the internet, and that just gives the Wi-Fi that extra little boost to go the distance. Or you can get something that's called a mesh system. And that, instead of having one Wi-Fi network from one bit that gets extended, it shares the load of how the Wi-Fi is being distributed. So it makes it a little bit more even, and that's better if you have a bigger space and you're not just trying to add in one extra room.
[Val] Mm-hmm, yeah. Mesh systems are really all the rage when it comes to home Wi-Fi these days. And I mean, I think it's a great option because like when you buy it, you usually have two or three mesh devices and then you spread them around your house. Obviously one has to be close to your modem and then the rest of them can be in different parts of your house. And that creates just one seamless network. Yeah. I really like mesh. I think it's a really good thing for people in their homes now.
[Alice] It's also, it's something worth exploring again, if you haven't looked at the technology in five or so years, because I remember when I first set up Wi-Fi at my parents' place, we needed something like 12 devices to get Wi-Fi to enough places. Whereas now I have the whole thing covered with three. So if you did it before and it was really, really complicated, it might be much less complicated and much better now. So it's worth looking into.
[Val] Yeah, yeah, it's getting easier. But anyway, well let's move on to another question about technology and I love this one. So why is it that computers, printers, routers, all these devices, they kind of seem to start working again, if you turn them off and let them stay off for about 30 seconds or so, is there a reason why this happens? Like what do you think?
[Alice] Well, this is the most relatable thing for technology because when I have a really big day and I have to remember lots of different things and do lots of different stuff, I can get a bit overwhelmed and start not functioning particularly well by the time it gets to bed time. But then the next day, if I have a good night's sleep and I wake up refreshed, then I am ready to do what needs to be done. And technology can kind of work the same way. But instead of needing eight hours of sleep, they just need a 30-second power cycle. It's given a second to forget all the tasks it was trying to do at once and start fresh, like a good night's sleep.
[Val] Yeah, it's sort of like a little, just a power nap, just a little nap to help it get through the day. But what do you think, like what devices do you think restarting works well with?
[Alice] The main two, are obviously your computer and your phone. Most things are gonna be solved just by restarting them, but also it's things like your smartwatch. And if you have a smart TV and the apps aren't doing what you think they're supposed to be doing, turning that off and on again, because that's basically a computer as well.
[Val] Hmm, good point. And I also have a lot of luck when I restart my router and if the internet stops working, if I restart my Wi-Fi router that tends to work too. And these devices, you have to remember, aren't really like, you know, say a refrigerator or a toaster, where they just switch off and on because when you turn them on, they generally have to go through a boot up process depending on what it is, and that means it checks the internal hardware, it reloads the software. It sort of resets up its settings. And if it's talking to other devices, it talks to them again. So it kind of puts things back in order. So that's why I tend to be lucky if I restart something, and usually it works again.
[Alice] Every now and then, I'll just have a tech problem that seems impossible to solve. I do not understand why it's broken. I don't understand why, and I panic and I do all these very high tech things. I try coding and then I'll just go, oh wait, have I turned it off yet? And I'll turn it off and I'll turn it on. And then everything's fine.
[Alice] But before you do shut down, just make sure you save any documents you might be working on. As a writer, I may not always follow this and I have paid the price many times, but before you turn off your device, if you're working on something, save it and then restart.
[Val] That is such a good point, oh my goodness. That is a whole topic we could discuss right there, about...
[Alice] Oh absolutely.
[Val] Losing those valuable things that are on your computers and smartphones and technology. But speaking of the internet, I mean, you can learn lots more about this topic - so the internet, Wi-Fi, the NBN, and home networks - because we've got a great home networks course at Be Connected and we'll put the links in the show notes for this episode, if you want to, sort of, learn some more about that.
[Alice] That's a great idea.
[Val] So next question is, do you think that we need to change our passwords all the time? I know that's a big concern that people have, but it's really challenging to remember your passwords and what happens if you're using an impossibly long and tricky auto-generated password from your browser. So what do you do?
[Alice] So you really do need to change your passwords a lot because there are a lot of hackers out there who look for weaknesses in certain websites. And then they get at all the usernames and passwords and they sell them to people with nefarious purposes to try and gain access to things. So if you've reused the same username and password in a couple of different places, that's now compromised. So, but there's a couple of ways you can make this really easy. So if you are, say, an Apple user, you can use iCloud Keychain to keep track of all of your passwords. It'll even suggest passwords for you and autofill them. And there are other services that do that as well, like 1Password. And there's another one built into Android devices as well. Some of them will even keep track of which passwords have been compromised and remind you to change it on that website.
[Val] Mmm, I've noticed now that on my Apple computer, when I open up the browser, it actually has a list or reminder of passwords that I have that may be compromised. So it's a good reminder to go out and change your passwords on those sites. And yeah, I think you're absolutely right, a password manager, whether it's 1Pass or the Apple Keychain, is a really great way of just letting it take care of remembering what passwords you need to use as long as you don't forget the master password for that service, but that's easier, much easier. You can just have one really difficult to guess password to log into this, and then it manages all your other passwords.
[Alice] Yes. One password to rule them all, one password to bind them.
[Val] Yeah. I think it's just really important to always be mindful of changing your passwords when you can as well, and just making sure they're difficult to guess. But you know, we've got some really great suggestions and tips about passwords in an entire course called 'Managing passwords'. And there's also all kinds of other things you can do to protect yourself online in our Advanced online security' course. So that's another great resource just to make sure you're brushed up on the latest about protecting your online security.
[Alice] Yes. I would also like to add that some websites allow you to use something called two-factor authentication or multifactor authentication, where for example, especially your bank, when you log in, you put in your username and password, and then it'll take an extra step of either texting you a code or getting you to open an app on your phone, just to double check that it's you. And that is so helpful for two reasons. One is that allows you to just make sure that it's really you and it's not just somebody who's stolen your password, but it also means that if somebody does get ahold of your password, you'll be notified immediately if they try to log in because you'll get this code and you'll be like, what's this code for? And so then you can call your bank and say that your password's been compromised and then they can immediately help you with that.
[Val] Yeah, that's something that is so good about two-factor authentication. And I know it is an extra step, but it's 100% worth ticking the box when you're asked, if you want to use two-factor authentication when you're creating a password, because it really can, you know, save you from losing money or all kinds of things. But you know, something else, and what I'm excited about too is there is even a future of no passwords. And this has begun to creep into certain products, like Microsoft is trying to get rid of passwords and it relies on a two-factor authentication type of system where you don't even start with a password to begin with. You just have your username and then it sends a specific code to a device. And then you repeat that. So we may not even have to remember passwords in the near future.
[Alice] Hopefully it's something that our children and grandchildren will laugh at us about.
[Val] That's right, they'll say, remember when they used to have to remember passwords, those were the days.
[Alice] What a silly time.
[Val] Well, another question we're asked is when I'm searching for something on the internet, why are all the top results in our search results ads? And what should we do? Can we click on these? Is it safe to click on these?
[Alice] Well, search engines need to make money somehow. While they would like to give you all your results out of the goodness of their heart, and there are actually some search engines that do run non-for-profit and don't have ads. They need to make money and so big companies will pay to have, to make sure they come first. So if you are looking for say a blender, three of the top department stores that sell blenders will make sure they're at the very top of the list.
[Val] But you're right, you know, like search results really are big business and companies will pay a lot of money to have their results appear at the very top of the list because that's the ones that most people click on.
[Alice] And quite often they are safe to click on, but not always. So you just need to make sure it takes you somewhere that you expect to go. And if you click on a link to a major department store and it takes you somewhere that looks like it's a dodgy website built in 2002 and spells all the words wrong, just get out of that. You don't need to be there.
[Val] Yeah. What I find is a little bit funny, and sometimes I find that the search results at the top, there's an ad for say a really well-known brand that I've been looking for, but then just beneath that, there's the actual search result for that. And if you click on the ad, it actually costs the company money because you've clicked on it. Whereas if you click on just the link that isn't an ad that might just be a couple of lines beneath it, it doesn't cost the company any money. So if you feel like, you know, making the company pay a bit more because they're advertising, just click on the ad and don't click on the normal link, so.
[Alice] It's the little things.
[Val] Yeah, the little things, that's true. Speaking of somewhat nuisances, what if someone's phone is constantly pinging them with sounds and beeps and buzzes and notifications and text messages too? I mean, how can we make these stop and just silence them?
[Alice] Those phone sounds can be the most annoying sound in the world, almost on par with someone chewing something really loudly near you.
[Val] Oh, I hate that so much.
[Alice] So there's a couple of different ways to handle this. The first, if you want to go the nuclear option and just make it stop making sounds altogether, on most phones, particularly iPhones and many Androids, there's a little toggle switch. And if you flick that switch down, it'll switch your phone to vibrate only. So it'll just vibrate in your pocket and not make those irritating sounds. But if you've got lots of different apps that are interrupting you, like say that game, that your grandkids downloaded six months ago, that you just haven't gotten rid of and every day it's telling you to feed the cows and spin the wheel, you can just go into the notification settings on your phone for that particular app and turn off notifications. So it won't talk to you anymore when you don't want it to. And you can select specific apps and decide if you want them to have sounds, if you want them to have banners, or if you want them to just stay silent forever.
[Val] Yeah. And it's a good thing that we've got more information about how to manage notifications in another Be Connected course called 'All About Apps'. And we've got videos in there for both Android and Apple phones too. So we've got it covered, and just check out the show notes for links to those courses. So another scenario that can be a real head scratcher is why is it that the photos you've deleted from your phone keep reappearing? Have you ever had that happen to you? And can you help explain why?
[Alice] I don't think I have had it happen to me yet. So I've been very lucky, but if you have your photo library synced with say a computer or the cloud, sometimes it might delete off your device, but it might not delete from the cloud because the cloud's trying to protect you from yourself. It assumes that you've deleted in your pocket by accident. And it's like, oh nope, you definitely need that fifth photo of the inside of your pocket lint that you took. Nope, we're gonna keep that. And so one way to fix this is just to have a look at your sync settings and make sure that when you delete something from one device, it deletes from everywhere.
[Val] So the phone software says, wait, I'm meant to be synchronised with what's in the cloud. So I'm gonna take that photo that was just deleted from the cloud. I'm gonna copy it and put it back on my phone. The key is your sync settings and that's where you can enable or disable this feature. So how can we be sure that the photos that you delete from your phone are not deleted from your computer?
[Alice] So that's another case for sync settings, because it might just be that you wanna keep all your photos on your computer, where you have more storage space for such things, but you wanna just keep like your A-grade photos on your phone, like the ones that you really wanna look at all the time and carry with you, And in that situation you wanna turn sync off, 'cause then it will stop trying to give you your old photos back to your phone and it'll protect you from accidentally deleting precious memories from your computer. So if you turn off sync, you can just manually sync new photos with your computer and delete without consequences.
[Val] Right, so yeah, when you manually do it, that means you just manually copy it yourself instead of letting these synchronisation processes and settings do it for you.
[Alice] Exactly. Yeah.
[Val] Yeah, when it comes to, when someone saves a contact on their phone, you may be asked if you wanna save it to the SIM card that's in your phone itself. So the other option is to save it in the phone's memory, which is different. So which option should people choose? And is there one better than the other?
[Alice] Well, that really depends on how you're using your phone and your SIM card. A SIM card can generally hold roughly 25 contacts. It's a very small chip that can't hold a lot of information while your phone can hold thousands upon thousands of contacts, if you are extremely popular, but where it comes in handy, if you save it to the SIM card, is that you can then take your SIM card with your phone plan and everything on it to a different phone and have your contacts come with you that way. But for most people who just use the same phone operating system all the time, it might just be better to save the contacts to your phone because generally that will also sync with your profile. So you can then access those contacts from your computer or from another phone.
[Val] Ah, so this really connects to what we were talking about before with synchronising your photos across devices. This is sort of the same thing where you can store your contacts on your phone, which then takes advantage of synchronising to the cloud. So if you lose your phone, you don't lose your contacts and it also, your contacts could be available on other phones or computers that are part of your account?
[Alice] Mmm, for me personally, I have my family's very important phone numbers saved to my SIM card. So if somehow, unimaginably, every single device I have and my account gets stolen, but I have my SIM card, I will still be able to call my mum. I cannot imagine how the scenario could happen, but I have the option.
[Val] No, you should never forget.
[Val] Should never forget how to call your mum. That's very important, but it seems like storing contacts on the SIM seems to be kind of almost outdated these days. And I know that iPhones no longer give you the option to save your contacts to a SIM anymore when they used to. But what you can do is, you can copy them off a SIM. So if you're coming from another phone and you take the SIM and put it into your iPhone, you can copy them into your iPhone's memory, but you can't actually copy things onto the SIM card. So I think that cloud syncing is probably the way forward, but I do like what you do with having just those key contacts still on a SIM, just to be sure.
[Val] Well, you know, technology really does move fast, just like with SIMs now not being as common as they used to be for saving your contacts. And what we also are missing these days is that headphone port, where we used to just plug our headphones straight into our phones and listen to music. Now there's no headphone jack, so why is this happening? And is that a good thing? Or what do we do about it if we want to plug in headphones?
[Alice] It's a really annoying thing. I am a big audiophile and headphone nerd. I've collected headphones my whole life. They are so important to me. And so when they stopped having them on iPhones and most of my Androids, a few years ago, I was heartbroken. But it is because most manufacturers are shifting to Bluetooth and wireless connections, which can be really good if you don't wanna get tangled up in all of your cables. It does mean that if you don't have Bluetooth headphones already, you might need to buy some. But the good news is that you can also get an adapter for most phone types. So you can still plug in your 3.5 mm headphone jacks into your phone, you just need an extra little dongle. And I have one for each of my most important pairs of wired headphones. And I highly recommend that, 'cause they're very small and easy to lose.
[Val] So that just plugs into the power port of the phone, and that becomes a place where you can then plug in the physical cable from your headphones? Is that how it works?
[Alice] Yeah, that's exactly right. So it's just adding one extra step. It's not that bad. It just means you can't plug in the charger at the same time, unless you have a double adapter. And there are some companies that make adapters that have both a headphone jack and a power input on their adapter and they're quite nifty.
[Val] Right, so the good news is even if your phone doesn't have a headphone jack, you can still generally plug one in if you have an adapter. But what about just when you're using these wireless headphones, you know, does the signal drop out? Does it sound worse? Like what's the experience like there?
[Alice] From an audiophile perspective, it's like the difference between, actually, it's not as stark as the difference between CD and cassette, but there is a very slight fidelity difference between good-quality wired headphones and good-quality Bluetooth headphones, but most people's ears won't really be able to tell the difference. So it's not that bad, But if you go to a very busy place, like a train station, you might find that the audio will occasionally drop out just because there's so many competing wireless signals that your phone can get momentarily confused. But if you're having a lot of dropouts, it could be that you've got your phone too far away from your headphones or that your headphones are running a very old version of Bluetooth and it might be time to update.
[Val] Hmm, oh, that's actually a good point. So I think you normally get about six or seven metres worth of range, with a phone to a Bluetooth wireless headphone, which is nice, because you can, you know, set your phone down and get up and move around and you know, get up and have a snack and you can still be connected. And I think that's a good thing, but like you said, maybe you don't get the same quality unless you have superhuman ears, you won't hear, might not sound quite as good, or it might have a drop out here and there.
[Alice] But you do get to dance around the living room with the vacuum cleaner.
[Val] Yeah, dancing!
[Alice] Without worrying that you'll get tangled. Like it made such a huge difference when I was on the ride-on mower and I could finally move from my wired headphones. I get my arms stuck in to good noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones. So there's a lot of upsides and there are even some Bluetooth headphones that can do some really cool hearing accommodations things with accessibility. So you can use your phone kind of like a microphone. So if you're at a crowded restaurant and you have trouble hearing, when there's a lot of conversations going on, you can put your phone in front of the person you're having dinner with and put your little earbuds in and you can hear them clearly and just talk to them normally and have a normal conversation. So there are a lot of benefits to a good pair of Bluetooth headphones. There are even Bluetooth headphones that will automatically translate foreign languages directly into your ear. Like the technology is astounding.
[Val] It is, and I'm so glad you mentioned that, 'cause it, yeah, the applications that people are figuring how to do are really, really fascinating and amazing.
[Val] Like with my noise-cancelling headphones that has a mode called transparency mode. So similar to what you mentioned, it kind of uses some microphones on the outside of the ear cups to, then, listen and then it amplifies the outside noise into my ear cups. And I love it for having conversations in a noisy place, 'cause it really just raises the level. It actually has some computing power that focuses on voices. So it can really cut through the noise around you and let you hear people better. So yeah, it's just simple technology that's available today over the counter and it's changing a lot.
[Alice] Yeah, it's like magic to make your life better. It's completely worth looking into what accessibility settings are on your phone and your computer and on your headphones. Because even if you don't have a disability or even if you do, there are ways that you can make your technology work for you and make your life better and easier in ways that you possibly didn't even think were possible yet. It's the most exciting, it's the reason why I love technology and why I get so excited about it.
[Val] Mmm, I think magic is a perfect word. When technology works the way it should and it's seamless and it brings these new capabilities. That's when it is magic. When it doesn't, then it's very far from magic, but...
[Alice] Yes, it's the different kind of magic. It's the kind of magic from the bad fairy tales, when it doesn't work properly.
[Val] Yeah, well look, I think that's a perfect place to wrap up today's podcast and Alice, thank you so much for joining me. It's been great to talk to you. I love your expertise and your passion and enthusiasm and helping us just figure out how it all works. So if you like what you heard, please subscribe to receive all of the latest episodes and we'd love it if you'd leave a review to help others find us too, if you're listening on a podcast platform. And remember to visit the show notes for lots of information about what we've discussed today, including links and all kinds of materials there. Alice, thank you so much for joining us and we hope to talk to you again soon.
[Alice] That was really fun. Thank you.
[Val] And lastly, to discover other great topics, go to BeConnected.eSafety.gov.au. That's BeConnected.eSafety.gov.au. Be Connected is an Australian government initiative developed by the Department of Social Services, the eSafety Commissioner, and Good Things Foundation Australia. Be Connected builds the digital skills, confidence, and online safety of all Australians with engaging online learning resources and a network of over 3,500 community organisations to support them to thrive in a digital world.