Tech Tips for Non-Technical People

Have you ever been confused by your computer?  Are you afraid of your phone?  Many of us use powerful technology every day, but we don’t always know how to make the most of it.  I write weekly tech tips to educate regular people about the technology they use. I’d like to share my love of technology with you and help you make friends with your software and devices.

Erase your hard drive

Getting rid of your computer or external hard drive? Whether you are selling it or recycling it, always make sure to securely erase your hard drive first.

Erase an external Mac drive:

  • Open Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities)
  • Select the disk you would like to erase and click the Erase tab
  • Click on Security Options and choose the single pass or 3-pass option and click OK.
  • Erase!

Erase an internal Mac hard drive:

Erase a PC hard drive:

Organize your financials

Having trouble keeping track of your money? Here are a few pieces of software that will help organize your money and give you peace of mind.

  • Quicken Essentials for Mac – Show bank balances, import transactions, categorize spending, create budgets.
  • Quicken for Windows – Show bank balances, import transactions, categorize spending, create budgets.
  • Intuit’s – From the makers of Quicken, this online service has similar features as its desktop software, but is free and accessible online.
  • Freshbooks – Fantastic software for small businesses. Includes invoicing, time tracking, expense management, and more.

Schedule Gmail messages for the future

Writing an email at 12am but don’t want it sent until a reasonable hour? Boomerang is a free plugin for Gmail that allows you to schedule messages to be sent in the future. It can also remind you to follow-up on the email after a set amount of time.

  • Install the browser plugin
  • Open Gmail and write your message.
  • Click the “Send Later” button and schedule your email.
  • If you want a follow-up reminder, check the “Boomerang this” box and choose when you want to be reminded.

Kindle library books

The Amazon Kindle is a fantastic device for reading books. But did you know you can get free library books to read on it? Check with your local library to see if they offer this (usually there will be a link on their website). For example, the Chicago Public Library offers many titles for the Kindle.

The best part about reading library books on your Kindle is that you can keep them for as long as you want by using this secret tip: Your Kindle will remove your books after the loan expires—but only if it can connect to the internet. If you turn off the wireless internet, the Kindle won’t know to delete your books. If you need to transfer more books in the future, just transfer them via your USB cable instead of via wireless.

Create a digital photo collage

Need to share several photos on your social network at once? Create a fun digital collage! There are many services and apps out there to do this. Both Fotor  and PicMonkey are free and easy-to-use.

  • Go to and click on Make a Collage.
  • Click “Add Photos” on the right and upload your photos.
  • On the left, choose how many photos you’d like to use and which layout.
  • Play with the border spacing, background color, and more styling options.
  • Click Save (top of page), apply your adjustments, choose the JPG file format and Save to your computer.
  • Upload to your favorite social networking site!

Keep a journal

DayOne is my favorite app for keeping a digital journal. It has a simple interface and is very easy to use. Plus, you can use it on your computer or your phone/iPad. Here are some of its other great features:

  • Syncs with Dropbox so you can update it from different computers/devices
  • Upload photos with your entries
  • Tag your entries so you can easily search them later
  • Passcode lock to keep it safe and private
  • Reminders so you don’t forget to write
  • Write quick entries from your Mac menu bar

Check it out.

Twitter lists

With Twitter lists you can:

  • Organize your twitter friends into groups
  • View and manage those groups with a desktop app like TweetDeck or Tweetbot
  • Keep lists of accounts you don’t want to follow, but want to check in on from time to time
  • Share your lists with others
  • Subscribe to other people’s lists

How to use lists

Google Cultural Institute

Need some artistic inspiration? Google has partnered with hundreds of museums, cultural institutions, and archives to share a huge collection of art online for free. Take virtual tours of galleries, see artworks in detail, create your own galleries of art, and share pieces you like with your friends.

Check it out

Create your own return address labels

Sending mail is always more fun with custom labels, and it’s not that difficult to create your own! Here’s how I do it:

  • Purchase Avery Return Address Labels at your local office supply store. I use #8167.
  • Download the Microsoft Word template for your product.
  • Open the template in Word, design your label, and print!

Parental controls

Parental controls

Want to allow your kids to use your computer, but don’t want them surfing unsafe websites or using the computer for too long? Parental Controls is a feature that allows you to create a separate user account and limit that that user can do. For example, you can create a simplified desktop that’s easier to use, limit application use, limit which websites can be accessed, limit who can be emailed or chatted with, limit time usage, hide certain words using a profanity filter, and more.

  • Go to Apple menu > System Preferences and then click Users & Groups
  • Click the lock icon to make changes, and then type in your computer name and password.
  • Click the plus (+) sign under “Login Options” and choose “Managed with Parental Controls”
  • Fill out the remaining fields and Create User.
  • Select the account and then click the “Open Parental Controls” button
  • From here you can customize your settings.

More information on