The Tech Tip online column is published five days a week on The New York Times’s Personal Technology page, which adds up to about 240 questions tackled over the course of a year on a variety of topics: hardware, software, social media, gadgets and more. Looking back on 2017, here are five Tips that stood out — either in their timeliness in syncing up with current events or in your positive response.
Power Up Your Phone by Hand or by Sun
With a barrage of devastating hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and floods, natural catastrophes have affected millions of people around the world this year. Shortly after Hurricane Maria pummeled the Caribbean, a Tech Tip about keeping your smartphone charged during a disaster suggested the most basic methods to use when the usual backups — a generator, spare battery and car — are not available. (Yes, cellular networks may also be down in a disaster, but in the case of still-hurting Puerto Rico, Alphabet’s Project Loon and its telecom partners are trying to provide internet connectivity by way of hot-air balloon.)
Loss of personal photos and documents can be another side effect of a disaster, and Tech Tips also offered advice on the best ways to use your smartphone or third-party services to create digital copies of photos and documents. When the storm clouds gather, having an online backup tucked away on your own private cloud can provide peace of mind.
Finding Your Roots, for Free
Despite the privacy concerns of some, those home DNA-testing kits that purport to tell you your ethnic makeup based on a cheek swab or saliva sample are hot this year, even turning up as a gift-guide suggestion; Wirecutter, the product-recommendation site owned by The New York Times, tested the ancestry tests themselves this summer. For those on a budget and seeking the narrative structure of a good old-fashioned family tree, this Tech Tip explored the free online resources for those who want to know more about their ancestors without having to subscribe to a genealogy service.
Stopping Autoplay Videos on Safari
Videos unexpectedly blaring out of your desktop web browser have long been an annoyance for readers as sites and advertisers seek to grab their attention. This recent Tech Tip explained how to use the controls Apple has built into its latest Safari browser to mute or block clips from playing automatically — and notes that Google is working on its own similar tools for its Chrome browser.
Luggage Tags That Help You Find Your Suitcase
Technology tools for travelers are a frequent topic here at The Times any year, and this Tech Tip explored the radio-frequency bag tags that let you track your suitcase’s whereabouts with your smartphone. The technology has been in the works for years, so it is nice to see it becoming a useful, everyday part of air travel — especially with air travel itself being something of a challenge at times.
When You See Something (Fake), Say Something
Even if you do not have a Facebook account, it was hard to avoid reading about the company this year, especially in regard to the social network’s impact on society and the democratic process — and what can be done about its influence in the future. Although Facebook is constantly updating itself and you should check its Help Center for the latest, this Tech Tip highlighted the company’s early efforts to crack down on the spread of false news across its service.
Misinformation about Facebook itself also came up this year, and this Tech Tip explains how to avoid phony Facebook phone lines and the people behind them who want to rip off unsuspecting users.