Computer Tips For Everyday People From a Software Engineer

May 26, 2022

Even if you don't write software for a living, there are still some hacks you can use to work a little faster and a little more efficiently.

So here's a list of short bits of advice. It might make your life a little easier.

  • Use search operators everywhere. Find specific filetypes with Google search operators like adding filetype:pdf to your query. Limit results to a certain site site:matt-rickard.com. You can often use OR AND | && on many search websites (see Twitter's). You can use them in Gmail too (see list).
  • Get past paywalls with the Internet Archive Chrome Extension. The Internet Archive runs the Wayback Machine, which periodically archives websites. You can use this to see past versions of websites. Useful to see content that's been taken down or from a broken site. Sometimes you can also use Google's cache (on the search results page, press the three dots next to a result > Cached).
  • Enable Gmail keyboard shortcuts. Go to Settings > Enable Keyboard Shortcuts, and then press Shift + ? to open up an overlay with all the shortcuts. Essential to quickly go through hundreds of emails.
  • More generally, use keyboard shortcuts when you can. Open up a new tab in Chrome Cmd+T, focus the search bar Cmd+L. Often times, adding Shift reverses the operation Shift + Tab cycles tabs to the left rather than the right, Shift + Cmd + T opens the last previously closed window in Chrome.
  • Use a tiling window utility. This lets you use keyboard shortcuts to snap windows to different areas of the screen. I use Rectangle on macOS (but there aren't many great alternatives nowadays). On Windows, there's PowerToys published by Microsoft, which includes a utility called FancyZones. Highly recommended.
  • Use built-in email aliases when you can. In Gmail, you can add a + to your address with any text or label after it. If my email was mattrickard+twitter@gmail.com mattrickard+anything@gmail.comwill deliver to mattrickard@gmail.com. If you really want to be advanced, you can set up Gmail labels to automatically tag emails based on this method. Apple has Hide My Email, which generates unique email addresses and protects your privacy. If you're signing up for a spammy or throwaway account, you can use a temporary email service like Temp Mail. Finally, for Gmail users, you can use @googlemail.com as an alternative to gmail.com and it still works!
  • Use two-factor authentication. Ranking of best to worst 2FA methods: FIDO keys like YubiKey if you're really secure, mobile Authenticator applications (Google's Authenticator), and finally SMS (susceptible to SIM-swapping attacks but probably good enough for the average service). (See Future of Passwords for more info)
  • Disable all chrome extensions from "This Site Can Read and Change Site Data > On Every Site." Instead, change to use "When You Click the Extension." This makes extensions require a page reload, but they won't log and sell every one of your page views.
  • Use autogenerated passwords or password manager. I personally just use my browser and operating system's password managers. Generally, don't reuse passwords and use strong passwords.
  • Download an ad blocker. uBlock Origin and AdBlockPlus are good. It probably goes without saying in 2022, but worth noting.
  • Mask your phone number. You can get a free number that forwards to your real number with Google Voice. It can automatically send calls to voicemail and transcribe them and send them to you as an email.

I'm planning on doing another one of these posts aimed more specifically toward software developers with my tips and tricks on efficiently writing software.

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