Block porn on a Wi-Fi network
Q. I have a laptop and both of my kids use it frequently. I'm worried that they can get into trouble online looking at things they shouldn't. What can I do to make sure they stay out of trouble?
A. For filtering an entire network, the program you want is called OpenDNS Family Shield. With OpenDNS, you can check categories like sex, drugs, gambling, and so on to make sure you block everything you don't want your kids getting into. This free program blocks these sites at the router level, so it doesn't matter what gadget is connected to the network, whether it's a computer, smartphone or tablets. You can get detailed email reports of what your kids are searching for. If you have a mischievous bent, you can even set the system up to pop up a photo of you when the kids are searching where they shouldn't be. If you only need to filter one computer, Blue Coat's K9 Web Protection is another good free option.
Easily digitize paper records
Q. I'm often out and about for my job, and I occasionally have to digitize paper documents. Is there a better way to do this than lugging around a scanner with me?
A. If you already have a smartphone or tablet, you're set. The built-in camera can do the job; you just need an app to do the heavy lifting. CamScanner and Genius Scan are two good options. Put your document on a well-lighted table and take a snap. The apps automatically adjust exposure and perspective, and then crop the image to create a quality scan. You can save the image as a JPG or save a group of images as a PDF file.
An app to share shopping responsibilities
Q. My extended family is going on a group vacation, which should be a blast. However, we're spread over all across the East Coast. What service or app can we use to make and share shopping and grocery responsibilities so we have everything we need when we get to our vacation spot?
A. I recommend an app like Trello. Whether you are working on a solo project or coordinating an event with multiple people, this app will tell you what needs to be done, who is doing it, and what's next. You could also use a more general collaboration system like Google Sheets, which is part of Google Docs. Just create a spreadsheet with your shopping list, put a column for who is taking care of it, and then share it with everyone in your group. Any of the Google Doc programs integrate with Google Calendar for better organization.
Check to see if a website is safe
Q. My friends post links in my Facebook News Feed every day. Sometimes they look iffy, but they have such interesting titles I still have the urge to click on them. Is there a way I can tell if a website is legitimate before I click on it?
A. Before you click to a site, check it out first with Is This Website Safe? from Norton Safe Web. This helpful service runs a digital background check to see if a site has anything malicious on it or if it's OK to visit. Simply type or paste the Web address of a site into the search bar - like www.komando.com - and Norton Safe Web will run a reputation check. If the site is safe to visit, you will see a green box that says "OK." If a site is sketchy or has some warning flags, you will see an orange box with an exclamation point. You can visit the site, but you might pick up some malicious cookies or something else unwanted if you do. A red box with an "x" is a no-go site - avoid it at all costs.
How to spot fake product reviews
Q. I've been shopping around online for a certain item, but before I spend my money I want to make sure it's a quality product. I usually trust user reviews, but I've been hearing about more and more lawsuits involving fake reviews. How can I know if a review is genuine?
A. If you see a string of reviews that are heavy on the adjectives ("Amazing!" "Fantastic!" "Life-changing!") and light on facts, skip them - especially if they were all posted the same day. You're looking for reviews spread over time that tell you what specific features the reviewer found that make it a good, or bad, product.
The only thing worse than tons of suspicious reviews is very few reviews. You're left with no way to make comparisons. At that point, every review becomes suspicious, especially if it only appears in out-of-the-way blogs and websites. For example, if there's a "too-good-to-be-true" tech product for sale that doesn't have a review or even mention on any reputable tech site, I'd steer clear. If you have to look at page 10 of Google's search results to even find the product you're after, then I would give it a miss. You're better off buying a competitor that has reviews that are more credible.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.