CompuNET News July 2021

10 Things You Didn’t Know Your Computer Can Do

The latest version of the Windows operating system (Windows 10) is packed full of features – some being brand new while others are improvements over prior versions. Even so, you might be surprised at how many of these features go unused.

1. Focus Assist to Minimize Interruptions

When you’re working (or playing) you likely find constant notifications a distraction. To help alleviate this, there is Windows Focus Assist. The feature is meant to filter the type of notifications you receive – thus allowing you to stay more focused. You can customize its settings by going into Start, Settings, System and then click on Focus assist (or just search for it). This area will allow you to set priorities and create rules – for things such as setting timeframes that you wish not to be disturbed.

2. Pin Contacts to the Taskbar

You probably knew that you can pin many things to the Windows 10 taskbar. Did you know one of these is an easy way to access your favorite contacts? To do so, click on the People icon on the taskbar and choose the Get Started button. This will bring up options for selecting contacts to pin – using email or Skype.

3. Game Screen Recorder

Meant to be used as a way to record gaming sessions, this hidden recording tool can also be used to record other activities/applications. You can create a how-to video for posting on a blog video, an easy way to send someone instructions and so on. Access the Game Bar (Windows key + G) and click on the red button to start recording.

4. Optional Start Menu

For those who still hold the older versions of Windows (Windows 7 mostly) with some degree of nostalgia, there is a way to quickly produce a Start menu that (somewhat) resembles those past ones. To bring it up (instead of the normal Start menu) right-click the Start button. It will show a menu of items more familiar to seasoned Windows users. This is an easy way to bring up such items as the Run command or Task Manager.

5. Hidden Show Desktop Button

There are always some hidden tricks you didn’t know Windows could do. If not hidden, then at least difficult to find. The show desktop button is situated on the far right side of the Windows taskbar. It’s thin, so finding it isn’t exactly intuitive. Once you do click on it, all open windows will be minimized to reveal the desktop.

There’s also a peek feature you can enable by right-clicking on the taskbar and choosing Taskbar settings. Once the option is turned on, you can hover your mouse over that small area/button to give a preview of the desktop.

6. Screen Capture Tools

Like most Windows users, you’re probably familiar with using the print screen (Prt Sc) key to capture screenshots. While this works, PC users have been known to envy the superior built-in screen capture features that Mac users are accustomed to. Still, there is hope for the Windows user. One (built-in) tool is called simply Snipping Tool, has a mode that allows the dragging of a box to capture items (similar to the aforementioned Mac features) and one for entire window screenshots.

Snip & Sketch is another tool for grabbing screenshots. In order to use it, you may need to download it from the Microsoft Store first. Once done, you can use a hotkey (Windows key + Shift + S) to drag a box around what you wish to capture

7. Save Websites to the Start Menu

The Windows 10 Start Menu can be customized to easily find what you’re looking for. While you may already be accustomed to moving around tiles and changing their size, there is another item you can add that isn’t an application – a favorite website. To do so, bring up the Microsoft Edge browser, browse to the desired site, click on the three-dotted menu and choose Pin this page to Start. A tile will appear on the menu for the website.

8. Cool Things Cortana Can Do

Cortana is a voice-activated personal assistant – similar to Alexa or Siri. The name (and voice) comes from a beloved AI (hologram) character from the popular Halo game series. There are many activities that Cortana can assist you with – searching, setting reminders, controlling smart home devices, checking the weather and so on. You can even download skills for your Alexa device that allows it to open up Cortana (and vice versa). Though not exactly a hidden gem – it’s a well-advertised feature – there are probably a lot of ways you’ve not thought to use Cortana. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

9. Sticky Notes

Who hasn’t seen (or used) those little squares of paper that are great for writing notes or reminders? Windows allows you to use this feature on your computer – to stick on your desktop instead of the refrigerator. You can sync Sticky Notes to the cloud – or with other (Windows) devices, Outlook and so on. The app also lets you use a touchscreen for input – and can sync with Cortana to create reminders.

10. Maximize Your Laptop’s Battery

If you’re on the go, the last thing you want is for your laptop’s battery to run out while you’re using it. You won’t always have a way to plug in somewhere, so it might be wise to conserve that battery as much as you can.

The Battery Saver feature in Windows 10 (found easily via the taskbar’s search box) allows the system to scale back on usage once a certain threshold is hit (let’s say battery life of 20%). There are other settings and tips in this area to tweak as well.

Master Technology with Your Children

1. Build Your Own Robot

While a single summer may be too short to create a robot capable of making their bed for them, it’s completely realistic for your child to create a basic robot from scratch using accessible materials and instructions. The educational site DIY Hacking offers great tutorials on a range of projects, including a robot made from Raspberry Pi—a small, inexpensive computer that can be used to create all sorts of exciting DIY tech projects.

The device has become more prevalent in STEAM classrooms across the country, and tech happy kids and young adults have also begun experimenting with these mini machines at home. There’s no shortage of resources, so spend some time supervising your child’s forum surfing to find the right level of guidance and support they need to create the DIY robot of their dreams.

2. Learn to Code

Another at-home option for children looking to master technology is DIY coding. Coding schools have become more prevalent than ever, with options for school age children and adults popping up all over the nation in brick-and-mortar classrooms, as well as online coding schools. If coding is still something of a foreign language for both you and your child, worry not—TechCrunch has a great compilation of gadgets that teach children of all ages pre-coding skills to give them encouragement and spark curiosity. But if your child is ready for more, check out the smartphone ready puzzle game, Box Island, which offers fast-paced problem solving fun that simultaneously teaches the foundation of coding logic.

3. Engineer a DIY Toy

If you’re looking for a great technology project to do with your child, try one of the 10 DIY toy projects compiled at the Popular Mechanics blog. From a wild water balloon launcher to a tiny replica of the Mars rover, you can find something for every age, skill, and interest level. Creating a functional toy together can be a memorable way of bonding with your tech-loving child, and it’s also a fun activity to plan for a play date. Review the safety procedures of your home “lab” before getting started, and make sure you have all the materials in place, then let your child take the lead to figure out how to put their tech skills to use thinking through construction and execution of their very own DIY toy.

Summer is a great time for tech-savvy children to take advantage of their free time and have a truly meaningful summer. Whitby’s summer camps offer programs that will pique any young technology-lover’s interest.

4. Attend a STEAM Summer Camp

If your child is looking for a more social, interactive experience, consider signing them up for a STEAM summer camp. STEAM summer camps include the arts as well as the sciences, which results in dynamic summer enrichment for children of all ages. A summer enrichment program is a great option for kids who are already all about technology, as well as those who are just starting to dip their toe in the water of all things STEAM. Collaborating with peers through hands-on experiments and activities can help build confidence and communication skills, two qualities that will help boost their performance far more than another perfect score on their favorite video game.

When choosing a STEAM summer camp, it’s important to know how their programs weave other components of STEAM based learning together. For instance, if children are tasked to create their own functioning video game in a summer camp program, they are using technology to do so. That’s great for a young tech-lover. However, they also have to draw from their design, math, and even engineering skills.

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