Why is it so? Part I
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Our phones, computers and web browsers often ask us questions or make suggestions. They might be for updates our computers need to run better, messages about whether we should eject a disk or update our antivirus software.
In this episode, freelance journalist, producer and presenter focusing on the world of technology, Alice Clarke, joins host Valens Quinn to shed some light on why our devices behave the way they do.
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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.
- [Quinn] Hi, and welcome to the Be Connected podcast. I'm Val Quinn. I'm a technology commentator, broadcaster and publisher, and just so happen to be the host of the Be Connected podcast too. So in this episode, we're answering some frequently asked questions about our computers, and about our mobile phones and about feeling confident when we're on our devices. So our phones, computers, and web browsers often ask us questions or make suggestions to us, whether these are updates our computers might need to run faster, or if we should eject a disk or update our antivirus software. So we're going to answer a few of those questions for you, and to help me do that is Alice Clarke. Alice is a freelance journalist, producer, and presenter with a focus on the world of technology. Welcome, Alice.
- [Alice] Thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.
- [Quinn] Well, Alice, sometimes when we're on our mobiles or tinkering away with our computers or browsing the web, we get questions or suggestions that pop up, and these are things like, you know, do you want your computer to run faster? Or is your virus software up-to-date? Or should you eject before removing a USB drive, or other attachment? You know, should we act on these messages or should we just ignore them? So sometimes you get a message that says, your computer is at risk and you need to do something. Is this just sales pressure for us to buy something, like from our antivirus software? Or do you actually need to pay attention to this and take action?
- [Alice] Pretty much, yes to both. So your antivirus software would definitely like you to resubscribe, but also you would like you to resubscribe to your antivirus software, because having something like antivirus protecting you from the nasties that are on the web is pretty great. In the same way that vaccines stop us from catching viruses in the real world, antivirus software can protect your computer if someone tries to do something malicious. And it's already protected for that.
- [Quinn] Well, I mean, it seems funny that you buy this computer and then you have to add antivirus software to it. I mean, like, why can't computers just take care of their own, you know, viruses and why do you have to actually have to add something to it?
- [Alice] So a lot of computers do already have a lot of antivirus and anti-malware stuff built in, and certainly Microsoft and Apple are working all the time to catch any threats or any loopholes that bad people are trying to use to get in. But they have to look after the entire operating system and make sure everything works, and add new features. Whereas somewhere like an antivirus program, their one thing is finding out about all the threats and making sure you stay updated. And making sure they tell you when something goes wrong.
- [Quinn] Right. So they're the specialists, and so you kind of leave Microsoft or Apple to do what they do, and then these are the specialists that come in and do a better job to protect your computer.
- [Alice] Yeah. It's like how your cousin's friend might be able to tell you if that mole looks a bit dodgy, but a dermatologist knows for sure.
- [Quinn] Yeah. And we really wanna know for sure when it comes to our security.
- [Alice] Definitely.
- [Quinn] Good point. Well, here's another question. When we're removing our USB drives, or the little thumb drives or thumb sticks that we plug into our computers, we get this message that says, sometimes we need to eject our drives before we pull them out. Can we just pull them out or what will happen if we do that? Will it damage things?
- [Alice] Look, 99 times out of 100, nothing bad will happen if you accidentally unplug it before ejecting it. But that one in a hundred times that an important document will get corrupted or you'll lose data, that'll really eat away at you. A good way to think about it is, a hard drive has moving components. So the little drive is spinning. And if you just unplug it, when it's in the middle of something, it's like taking a record off the turntable before you press stop. It could be fine, but it might not be. Or just say in the background a file might be saving, and if you unplug in the middle of that saving process, that gets interrupted, and everything goes wrong. So it's best to take that extra moment to eject, make sure it's safe and then unplug it.
- [Quinn] I see. So you don't wanna interrupt whatever might be happening between that drive like an external hard drive or a USB thumb stick and the computer. Good point. Okay. Well, here's another good one that I get a lot, people asking this question: Why does it take my computer so long to start up when I turn it on, given that other devices like the microwave, oven or whatever, just switches on and off it goes? Like, what is it doing when it's starting up?
- [Alice] Well, so your microwave pretty much just does one thing. You put in the dish, you press the numbers and then it makes it hot. Whereas a computer can really do so many things. So when you turn it on, it has to kind of wake up all the different components. It has to load the operating system. And then it has to get you to log in. And then eventually you can start opening all the programs. But there's a lot more processes going on in the background.
- [Quinn] So if my computer takes a long time to start up, it doesn't mean that it's bad or it's slow. It just actually is preparing itself to do some more work 'cause that's the idea?
- [Alice] Pretty much. And also the older a computer is, the longer it might take to start up, which I think we can all relate to.
- [Quinn] Yeah. And it's actually a good point too, because sometimes your computer will just sleep. So it's not really turned off. And then it can wake up quickly. But when you're starting from it being powered down, that's a different story, right? And so what's the difference between sleep and just power off.
- [Alice] It's similar to how, when you put your TV on standby mode, you can just turn it on and immediately it'll come back to the last channel you watched, compared to turning it off at the wall, and it needing a moment to turn back on again. It's that exact same thing. When a computer or a phone goes to sleep, it's just in standby, waiting to be used again. Whereas when you turn it off fully, you then need to restart it, and get all those processes back up again, which takes a little bit longer.
- [Quinn] I see. You know, what I've also learned too, is that sometimes when your computer is in sleep mode, it can still do things in the background, like receive emails. So when you turn your computer back on or wake it up, the emails are already in there ready for you to read. So I guess there are some things that our computers can do while they're sleeping.
- [Alice] Yeah. They're definitely a lot more efficient than we are when they sleep.
- [Quinn] That's true. They keep working to some extent.
- [Alice] Yes.
- [Quinn] Okay. Well, look, my computer just loves to talk to me by sending me notifications. So why do we get so many notifications to update our apps and software? Like, do I really need to act on these or can I just ignore them?
- [Alice] Oh, you absolutely need to update apps and software whenever there's an update available, 'cause it could add extra features or it could be patching a vulnerability, like as we spoke about with the viruses, just to kind of make sure everything's as safe and good as possible. So the more up-to-date something is, the more likely it is to work as expected.
- [Quinn] That's right. So even though our software might still work fine, a security update will make it more secure. Yeah. And basically just make it kind of better. It doesn't mean that your app isn't working. It just makes it better.
- [Alice] Yeah. It improves it and patches any holes that bad guys could try to use to find, get in and find a vulnerability.
- [Quinn] Right. So we definitely shouldn't ignore those messages to update our apps or our operating system.
- [Alice] Absolutely not.
- [Quinn] And what about, so internet connectivity? So when my internet doesn't seem to run smoothly, like when I'm browsing a website, it takes a page a long time to load, is there a way that you can test how quickly your computer is connected to the internet?
- [Alice] There is. There's a really handy website called Speedtest.net that lets you do a test to see how fast your internet connection is. And you'll get three numbers from that. So you'll get a ping. And the bigger that number is, the worse it is. Then you'll get the download speed, which is how quickly you can download things. And the bigger that number is, the better it is. And then the upload speed shows how quickly you can send data to other people. And again, the bigger that number is, the better. Generally in Australia, the average is 20 megabits per second up and down, but that could be as low as five, and as high as 1000.
- [Quinn] I see. And megabits per second is a measure of the speed that data is transmitted, just like kilometres per hour is how fast your car goes, megabits a second is how much data is transferred, correct?
- [Alice] Exactly. And if you remember the internet from the '90s back when kilobits were really good, megabits are better.
- [Quinn] Megabits. Yep, absolutely sounds... mega sounds far more impressive.
- [Alice] Yes.
- [Quinn] And I've actually gone to Speedtest.net by logging in to my browser and typing that in. And it'll take me there and you can run the test. So I've done that as well. And what I found is it's good to try it out, even when your internet is performing well, just to see what your speeds are. And then when your internet isn't performing well, you can check it and see how different it is. And those numbers are handy to tell, say if you have to call your internet service provider, you can give them an indication of what your speed is, which helps them solve some problems.
- [Alice] Hmm. Definitely very useful to know what your baseline is so you can know when something's wrong or if something else might be the problem instead.
- [Quinn] That's right. And we'll include the web address to Speedtest.net in the show notes as well. So don't worry, you don't have to remember that one. Okay. Well onto the next thing. So when we're talking about our photos, 'cause photos are super valuable to me, and I'm sure lots of us out there really wanna keep them safe. I guess the more places we can save a copy of our photos, the better, and one could be on your computer and another could be in the cloud. Is it okay to store them in the cloud? Is it safe to do that?
- [Alice] If you use a reputable cloud service like iCloud or Google Drive, it will be as safe and secure as the password you use for it is. So those websites and those companies put a lot of work into making sure it's difficult to be hacked into. But if you use an easy-to-guess password, like I know some people use just password or 123456.
- [Quinn] Oh, no, that's not good.
- [Alice] Yeah. Don't do that. If your password can be guessed, somebody can get in and access those files and photos. But if you use a difficult to guess password, and two factor authentication, which means when you log in with your password, it will also send a text message to your phone or an email with a code to use, that'll make it more secure.
- [Quinn] Good point. Alice. And actually we have a course called Advanced Online Security on the Be Connected website. And this will teach you about how to make your own strong passwords as well as more about what two-factor authentication is. So we'll put a link to that in the show notes. And sometimes when people refer to the cloud, like, what is that actually? Is that just a place, you know, a fluffy cloud where all the data goes, or where does it actually go to?
- [Alice] It's beautiful to imagine it in a cloud, but it's really more in a data warehouse, somewhere else with a big room, with lots and lots and lots of hard drives and lights and very loud fans.
- [Quinn] I see. So it's not that glamorous. Storing things in the cloud is just storing your stuff on a hard drive, on a computer somewhere else.
- [Alice] Yeah. It's like a self storage unit that you never actually have to look at.
- [Quinn] I see. Well, that makes sense. Well, look, if you're interested in learning more about the cloud, we've got a fantastic course, all about the cloud on the Be Connected website called Using The Cloud. We'll include that in the show notes as well, but there's lots more to be learned about what the cloud is and how you can use it.
- [Alice] It's a great tool.
- [Quinn] Yeah, it's good stuff. Okay. Next up, we have a question about battery life, and making our devices last longer. So specifically with our mobile phones, what tips do you have about how we can get that battery to give us a longer life?
- [Alice] So the more you charge your phone and the more often you use a battery, the lower that battery life becomes. So if you have an older phone, and the battery isn't quite what it used to be, you might have lots of different things on your phone turned on, like GPS or Bluetooth, or have apps doing something in the background that you just don't need to have on. And that's using up a bit of battery life because if you're not using Bluetooth, say for headphones or a smartwatch, or even a hearing aid, it's looking for a device to connect to. So if you're not using anything, just turn off Bluetooth, and that will save you a bit of battery life. And same with GPS. You can turn off GPS when you don't need directions. And same with the screen brightness. The brighter your phone, the more battery it uses.
- [Quinn] Yep, absolutely. So you can turn that down so it's a little dimmer and give yourself a bit of extra life.
- [Alice] But another trick, if you don't wanna turn off the features of your phone and you need it to be that bright, is to just get an external battery pack and keep it in your bag. It'll give you at least another full charge of your phone from anywhere.
- [Quinn] That's a great tip. So yeah, plugging an external battery can pretty much double the life 'cause you've got another battery that you carry around, plugged into the phone too.
- [Alice] Hmm, or even triple it if you're in a caravan. You can get a bigger battery, so you can charge it more when you're travelling without needing a power point.
- [Quinn] I see. But otherwise you can turn off services that your phone doesn't use like GPS or Bluetooth, and normally you can find that in the settings area on your phone. So if you have an iPhone or an Android phone, if you can navigate to settings, you should be able to find Bluetooth and GPS in there. And actually when it comes to getting more life from your batteries, what about just switching off my phone or my tablet? Do you need to do that when you're done using it?
- [Alice] It really depends on how often you use it. If you're done with using it for now, so you can have lunch and you're going to use again after lunch, you might be better off just locking it or letting it go to sleep. But if you're going to leave it for a couple of days, it's better to shut it down and then restart it when you need it to prolong battery life and use less power.
- [Quinn] That's actually a really good point. I guess, like sleep mode isn't off, but it does still use up battery life.
- [Alice] Hmm. Yeah. If it's just sleeping, everything's already open and it's just kind of put it into a bit of hibernation, so it's not using as much power.
- [Quinn] Yep. And what about our computers? Should we just switch them off when we're done using them? Or can we just kind of walk away and let them go to sleep?
- [Alice] Again, it really depends on how soon you plan on using it again. If you use it for a couple of hours every day, you can just let it go to sleep. But if you're gonna leave it for a couple of days, it's better to shut it down and then restart it when you need it.
- [Quinn] Yeah. I think that makes sense to just, you know, save some power. Well, of course it's not just about work. I mean, I really enjoy using my computer to listen to podcasts. Where do you find podcasts you like to listen to, Alice?
- [Alice] Podcasts can be such a great way to get information. And I like going to the Apple Podcast app because it's just built into my phone and my Mac. But when I'm using an Android phone or a Windows computer, I like using either Google Podcasts or Spotify. Each library has some exclusive podcasts, but most of the podcasts are spread across all of the libraries. So you're not missing out.
- [Quinn] Oh. There really is just so much selection out there, isn't it?
- [Alice] Oh, definitely. You can listen to podcasts about major musicians pulling apart what worked about their songs and what didn't. So you can learn so much or just escape into a story.
- [Quinn] I think my favourite is true crime stories, but I also listen to cybersecurity stories, and learn about how hackers pull off these amazing feats. So yeah, there really is a lot out there to listen to, and it's perfect to suit anyone's tastes.
- [Alice] Yeah. And another great way, if you're not sure, kind of what sort of podcasts you're looking for or what sort of library to use, is you can just Google 'crime podcasts', or 'music podcasts', and so many will come up, 'cause Google is a really great tool. And if ever you're looking for something or need an answer to a question, you can just type it in and somebody has probably already asked and answered it.
- [Quinn] It really is. And that's usually my first place to start too. So great advice, Alice. Well, Alice, thank you so much for taking the time today to help explain technology to us, and really appreciate your company.
- [Alice] Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was great to be here.
- [Quinn] If you like what you heard, please subscribe to receive all the latest episodes too. And be sure to check out our show notes for the websites mentioned in this episode. And follow the links to the free Be Connected courses for more information about today's topics. And lastly, to discover other great topics, go to beconnected.esafety.gov.au. That's beconnected.esafety.gov.au. I'm Val Quinn, and I look forward to your company next time.
- [VO] 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.
- Learn about the cloud in our free course: