COVID-19 lockdown extension: Things to do when holed-up at home

The unfinished business

Looks like the coronavirus world tour won’t end anytime soon, and many may see an extended lockdown extend even further.

Working from home may be keeping you busy, but you definitely aren’t busy throughout the weekend – right? With nowhere to go, why not get on with completing some of those unfinished businesses around home?

No – we are not concerned about your furniture hinge repairs and paint touch-ups on the wall that needs your attention. We are talking about your personal digital life. Yes – there’s a lot of digital mess that has probably built-up over the last decade and that day never came when we planned to actually take a seat and sort it one-by-one. So what are we talking about? Why not pick some ideas from this list and see what you could do to ease your future digital life when you resume back to your previous life after the lockdown.

Passwords

Looks like this is probably the best time to sit down and think of some strong passwords and phrases for all your online places. Your email, social accounts, messengers, bank accounts, cloud services, and a lot many online places probably need to get a change of passwords. With hacking and breaches on many servers up there, millions of passwords are leaked and many accounts become vulnerable. Open up Excel or Sheets on Google and note down all the online services you use and their passwords against each of them. Now create new passwords for each of them on the next corresponding column and review them over again so that you are happy with the new ones. Once done, head over to each website and start changing the old passwords to new ones. It’s also a good time to check every website’s security and privacy settings and start up two-step authentication for each one.

Tip: Use unique and easy to remember passwords or passphrases. Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters and keep them long. Avoid birthdates, names, places, or anything that could give away the password easily. Use a password manager to make it easier for you and difficult for the hacker. Remember to delete that Excel or Sheet after you are done.

The Address Book

It all started with a free email service, way back in the early 90s. Yahoo, Hotmail, Google, Rediff, AOL, IndiaTimes, and a handful of email services were offered for free and almost everyone nosedived into getting one-too-many created for themselves. Then came in feature phones and smartphones, and later social media services and messengers. And now with (almost) every person having at least 2-3 mobile/landline numbers and numerous email IDs to each self, we all ended up adding these to our address books. Many have a messy address book with mistakes in names, missing last names, old phone numbers, and imperfect fields to names, organisations, etc.

Download each address book as a CSV from the respective websites/services. Or simply merge them into a huge address book database and then download it/export it to a .CSV file to your desktop. Open it with Excel or Google Sheets and start correcting each and every field, one by one. It’s time consuming for sure... and only you can do it. You could try out some address book management utilities or tools, but they are either paid or could end up making a bigger mess. Once your address book is sorted, blank out the ones that are online and export the new/sorted one from your desktop to your phones and websites. Make sure you have a complete backup of the old and new one (CSV address book) in case you accidentally made a mess.

Delete unwanted/unused online services

We bet you may have registered yourself to various websites and email services, but don’t use them anymore. For example, with Gmail as the primary personal email ID, your other, older email Ids may just be lying unused, vulnerable to hackers using it to their own benefits because you either don’t remember having them, or have forgotten their passwords, or have not bothered using them for long. List down what you remember signing up for, try logging in and delete the accounts if you are not using them anymore. This may be pretty difficult – but don’t give up. Check out some online websites which give you information of where your digital footprints could be traced back to.

Sort your data

With a burst of high-end smartphones in this current decade, the creation of photos and videos will only double, triple and also quadruple ahead. Many of you store your photos and videos on the phone and later transfer them to your PC, laptop or external storage drives. With free online cloud services such as Google, Dropbox and many more, you end up storing your media and data up there too. Take each service, one-by-one, and start sorting the data accordingly. Tag your photos, videos, music accordingly. Delete duplicates. Delete blurred images. Create folders and move relevant data accordingly. This way, you can save online space for more data to come and also save you money if you have to purchase online space for more data. Same rule applies for your data stored on hard drives at home too. Digitise your old films – probably now is the best time to catch up with that pending work.

Tip: To save space occupied by videos, store them on your YouTube channel and make them private.

Clean out the junk

Your PC/laptop is definitely hoarding unwanted junk – be it cached files or simply unwanted software that you tried out last summer. Delete unwanted files and data, remove unused software, clear temporary files and junk that you don’t need to save on space and help your PC perform smoothly. Download some free utilities that will help you clean out those junk files and entries in your PC and lighten the burden on your processor.

Organise your emails

Too many emails each day? Spam building up? Chill – you are not alone. But it does not mean you can’t do anything about it. Take some time off and open up each email service and do some magic. Mark emails as spam or create rules/filters to delete unwanted emails automatically. This way, your inbox won’t be flooded with unwanted emails. Create rules by name, subject, email ID or body to automatically sort or move them to relevant folders to make your life easier. Search for old and unwanted emails and delete them to save on inbox space. Open up new email Ids if you need to divert spam or unwanted emails when signing up for new services online, and to keep your personal email inbox clean.

Check your Wi-Fi router

Your wireless router is probably the most ignored gadget at home, and why not? It’s a silent performer that needs nothing more than just electricity. But have you configured it correctly? Is your neighbour stealing your internet? Or is he secretly spying on your personal data? What if he has access to your home camera? Yes... there is a high possibility this can happen. Using common passwords and passphrases for your router is a well-known problem around the world. Old routers usually kept it easier for a non-techie customer to simply plug-in and use, all the services, passwords and settings as default. Newer routers force you to change the password on first use itself, making it more secure than default. But whether you have an old router or new, you should have a timely inspection on it, just like you would service your car, even if it was working smoothly.

Tip: Change the router’s password, SSID and passphrase. Change the IP addresses too if possible. Check for firmware updates. Set the transmission power to what is needed rather than 100% and sending that signal to your next building where it’s not needed. Use utilities on a timely basis to check who is logged on to your network. Use a hidden SSID if needed to keep your nosey neighbour guessing. Turn off the router when not needed or set timers (if your router features it) to turn off and on the Wi-Fi when needed. Change the place or position of your router to a more centralised location so that all of your devices get enough range.

Fine tune your TV

We could be wrong, but most customers buy a new TV and hang it up the wall without tuning the picture and sound to match their homes. Every TV is different and every TV needs to be fine tuned to get the best picture and sound quality. While most TVs have settings for each type of experience (movies, sports, news, music, standard, user, and so on), they work differently in each home. If your room is too bright with lots of windows or bright lights, then your picture (brightness/contrast/colour) settings need to be tuned accordingly. Check some YouTube videos that help you tune your TV’s picture settings to get the best image/video quality. As for sound, fire up some favourite tracks from your smartphone and set the treble and bass to match the audio quality you need. Who knows – you must be seeing Krishna’s skin colour as a different shade of blue till date.

Organise those cables

Your TV, media receiver, speakers, power cords and network cables are all around your house. But are they neatly organised? If not, probably the best time to get it done is now. Get your hands dirty and move that heavy furniture forward to clean up those cables and neatly tie/tuck them to avoid hassles when you actually need to change any of them. It’s a good time to also know if your rodent friend is secretly inviting his friend for some plastic-copper dinner. If you don’t know which wire goes where, take a photo before disconnecting them so you can trace your connections back when you have to connect them back.

Service the electrical and electronic devices around your house

Do this with great precaution. If you are not a techie, we suggest you leave it to the experts. But if you know what you are doing, there are a few things around the house that probably are ignored for long. Clean up your PC/laptop vents and fans that get clogged with dirt and dust. Climb up to your ceiling fan and give the blades a good wash. While at it, you could probably open up the motor, clean and grease it too – summer is here already and a good performing fan is what you need most. Clean up the dirt behind your washing machine and refrigerator. These are places where most people call in the experts rather than doing it themselves.

Clean up your DSLR lens and sensor, recharge all the gadgets around the house and upgrade every firmware needed – there are lots you can do.