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10 tech resolutions for a happier, healthier 2017

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Resolutions are hard to stick to, especially when you get back to work in the dull January weather after the excitement of Christmas. To make your life a little brighter, here are 10 tech resolutions you can achieve throughout the year for a better 2017.

1. Be more secure online

When the Investigatory Powers Act got royal assent in November 2016, the UK essentially legalised extreme surveillance – police, spies and many other public bodies can now snoop on internet activity. As of 30 December last year, everyone in Britain could have their browsing records collected and read by authorities. New powers include retaining data on people and forcing technology companies to give information on citizens to intelligence agencies.

It is now more important than ever to stay safe online by keeping your data secure and protecting your browsing and communications on the internet. Use encryption services for communication between Android and iPhones, as calls and SMS messages can be intercepted.

Personal information you access can be stored locally, so it’s also easily reached without encryption. The Signal app by Open Whisper Systems works for texting and calls, but both caller and recipient need it installed. WhatsApp is also encrypted. Technology website Ars Technica has a great comprehensive guide on how to encrypt phones and other devices.

If you own an Android smartphone or tablet, you’re at risk of corrupted apps and malware if you don’t have an anti-malware app installed. Mobile antivirus apps such as Bitdefender Mobile Security (about £12 a year), Norton Mobile Security (£25 a year) and the free Avast Mobile Security, provide brilliant malware protection. They also come with other fun features like backing up contacts and data, taking pictures of the thief that stole your phone, and wiping your phone from any internet-connected device.

Do a spring clean on all social media and adjust your privacy settings to ensure the public only have access to certain parts, if any, of your profiles. Delete old emails, as people can delve into your history. If there are any old, personal or sensitive messages, get rid of them as soon as you can.

Protect your accounts with two-factor/two-step authentications. This means you use multiple credentials to access your account, such as a password and a code sent to your phone to get into your bank app or email. According to Ars Technica, there are three main types of authentication: something you know (i.e. a password), something you have (i.e. your phone or a secure key), or something you are (i.e. your fingerprint or face).

Get your own Virtual Private Network (VPN) so hackers and trackers can’t get in if you’re on a public Wi-Fi. Have a search on Google for the best prices, as VPNs cost money.

They’re not a full guarantee that you’ll be completely safe from outsiders, but it’s better than no protection at all.

2. Buy an electric car

Consider the damage that exhaust fumes cause the environment. Also, even the least observant among us can’t have failed to notice the increasing cost of petrol in the UK. Plummeting oil prices often brings about a much celebrated fall in in the cost of fuel, but it’s always short lived.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just ditch petrol altogether?

Electric vehicles (EV) provide the solution to this. They are becoming more viable as a means of transport. Their popularity in the UK is on the rise – about 90,000 plug-in vehicles are on the road, compared with just 3,500 in 2013 – and the government campaign ‘Go Ultra Low’ predicts that all new cars and vans will be electrically powered by 2040. Elsewhere, the Norwegian government has committed to ban all petrol and diesel-powered car sales by 2025.

Most UK mainstream carmakers offer an electric model or are developing one – models like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt EV offer over 100 miles per charge: more than enough for the average commuter. The UK EV charging network is expanding rapidly, making it easier to top up your electric car on the go.

“Even if you are unsure about the technology now, it will only get better as manufacturers invest a lot of money to ensure they have cars ready to replace their fossil-fuelled counterparts,” says Scott Jenkins, operations director at Autohorn Fleet Services.

EVs are a little more expensive than traditional cars, but the cost is dropping. Plus, once you’ve bought one, running costs are significantly decreased. A full charge costs about £2 for 100 miles, compared to 100 miles in a traditional car costing around four times as much. The UK government is also offering grants of up to £4,500 for those wishing to purchase a new fully-electric vehicle. EVs are also exempt from paying vehicle excise tax.

3. Get a smart meter

Smart meters have already started rolling out across the UK, with the government committing to ensure that by 2020 every home in the UK has one.

Fitted onto gas and electric meters, a smart meter digitally sends readings to energy suppliers, meaning you don’t have to provide them, rely on estimated energy bills, or have strangers in your home. Smart meters also help home owners understand energy usage better and see the impact of habits and lifestyle on energy consumption, so they can find where savings can be made.

Last year, research conducted by ECTA Training found that 45 per cent of consumers have seen a reduction in their energy bills since having a smart meter. Some ‘smarter’ meters, including British Gas’s EnergySmart monitor, come equipped with budgeting functionality, letting customers set goals for reducing consumption.

A quick glance at your smart meter will leave you horrified to learn that a 10.5kW electric shower can whack up your usage to as much as £1.25 per hour (based on the cost of electricity at the IET’s Savoy Place), while watching a 200W TV costs just 2p per hour.

No one is suggesting you forgo a shower in favour of watching TV – but understanding how much items in your house cost to run can inevitably lead to smarter habits.

Smart meters don’t cost anything, or rather, there is no upfront cost. The price of renting the unit is absorbed into monthly bills and the average cost is currently £6 a year according to MoneySupermarket. For that, you get to know exactly how much gas and electricity you have used in kilowatt hours in the last hour, week and month, and how much you have spent.

4. Look after your health and fitness

The Fitbit Charge 2 has been dubbed the best fitness tracker for 2016 and is a popular upgrade to the earlier Charge HR model. The screen is bigger for clearer results, and better if you want to track more fitness.

It has many fitness features, tracks heart rate, tells you how fit you are with Cardio Fitness Level, and comes with breathing sessions to help with stressful times. It costs around £109 and is a good investment for those who want to get motivated and maintain their fitness. Fitbit.com/charge2

A free way to motivate you into exercise would be ‘Zombies, Run!’. It’s a free running game and audio adventure on iOS and Android that trains users for 5k running by immersing them in a world filled with the virtual undead. Try not to scream and flail your arms as you run from the zombies – the public may think you’re in need of medical assistance. Zombiesrungame.com

After that frightful experience, a good night’s sleep is essential to help the body recover. Lumie’s Bodyclock range wakes you peacefully with a simulated sunrise, which encourages a healthy sleep cycle. It can also help the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which hits many during the winter months. Lumie.com

If sleep does evade you, try getting grounded. Groundology specialises in systems that “connect the body electrically with the Earth”. The apparent benefits range from a deeper, refreshing sleep to rapid healing of injuries and accelerated recovery from athletic activity. Groundology.com

5. Get more connected

To be more technologically connected with the world around you is incredibly useful, especially with the progress of the Internet of Things, where everyday devices will eventually have network connectivity to send and receive data.

So where to start? If you feel you aren’t as technologically savvy as your peers, try a query with Google. The search engine can find answers for everything, so you can use it to research and get more competent on the web. The BBC also has free online learning, support and advice on its website: bbc.co.uk/learning/subjects/information_technology.shtml

If you think you’ve exhausted the web’s resources and want to get even more technologically knowledgeable, try a programming course. Most electronics wouldn’t exist without it, and children are taught this subject at school in preparation for an incredibly connected future. So why not give it a try? w3schools.com

There are also ‘intelligent assistants’ such as the Amazon Echo, which is powered by Alexa. These voice command devices can stream music, find almost anything for you on the web, make lists and provide real-time information on weather and traffic. They can also manage smart devices in your home, such as a smart television and light bulbs.

6. Clear out your old devices

In the latter half of last year, online news sites lit up with news that UK households are sitting on a veritable goldmine of unused electronic devices – and that a significant proportion of people had absolutely no intention of doing anything about it. Research from gadget insurance brand Row found that 31 per cent of UK households own at least one unused mobile phone worth an average of £75, equating to a total of 8.3 million dormant devices worth a staggering £622.5m.

It’s not just limited to mobile phones either. Some 22 per cent of those surveyed admitted to having squirrelled away disused laptops, and 21 per cent harboured ageing games consoles. In fact, just 15 per cent of people claimed to throw away or sell all unused gadgets, and a whopping 44 per cent admitted to never throwing anything away. Combined figures suggest that all idle mobile phones, laptops and games consoles in the UK are worth a minimum of £2.3bn.

There are now plenty of online companies specialising in recycling obsolete electronics for cash rewards, including Mazuma Mobile and Fonebank, which offer quick payment for gadgets that are then refurbished and sold on to offer affordable and sustainable means of communication to people in less-developed economies.

There’s even a price comparison site called sellmymobile.com, which promises to get spring cleaners the best price. The majority of these companies also offer recycling services without payment, allowing for faulty or damaged devices with no net worth to be recycled safely and responsibly. Why stop with electricals? A new year is the perfect time to do away with cumbersome CDs, DVDs and games. While Music Magpie is probably the best known online ‘unwanted stuff’ buyer, other companies, including Momox and Ziffit, are emerging with competitive prices for surplus gifts, disused devices and more.

7. Cut down on tobacco

Over the last couple of years, electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) have become a sort of phenomenon. The basic model now has expanded into many brands, mainly originating in China. Most people now call it ‘vaping’.

A 2016 survey from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) found that 96 per cent of smokers and 93 per cent of the general population had heard of e-cigs. According to ASH, there are about 2.8 million adults in the UK using e-cigs, which accounts for 6 per cent of the adult population. Approximately 47 per cent of these are ex-smokers, and 51 per cent still use tobacco with the e-cig.

Over time, electronic cigarette users who smoke tobacco have fallen, and the proportion who are ex-smokers has risen.

A good-quality electronic cigarette should cost around £50. Smok (smoktech.com) has a variety of equipment, including the G-PRIV Kit, which has a 2.4in touchscreen so you can easily control how much nicotine you inhale and it produces a great amount of vapour. The device is shockproof, small and lightweight. Smok’s Alien Kit is smaller, but produces a hefty amount of vape for users whose compulsion lies in the exhalation of smoke. Most e-cig devices on the market take 18650-sized batteries, like Samsung 25R’s (green), so remember to purchase them alongside your product.

8. Use a password manager

Over a third of people in the UK (34 per cent) feel they have too many passwords to remember, and so fall into the trap of writing them down – a big no no in terms of security. However, people are slowly becoming conscious of the threat of cyber-attacks, with 60 per cent of Brits saying recent hacks have made them more aware, and 23 per cent list one of their New Year’s resolutions as being more prudent with personal security.

Kevin Cunningham, founder of identity company SailPoint, suggests pursuing good ‘password hygiene’ as the starting point to smarter account management. This means using unique passwords for every application, as well as ensuring the password is long and complex.

Yet how is anyone supposed to keep track of multiple passwords without scribbling them down? One option is Bible verses (Matthew 3:2 etc.). It satisfies all criteria, while allowing for a helpful ‘hint’ in the form of the actual Bible scripture. The problem here is that it’s clever, but not unbreakable, especially now that it’s written here for everyone to see. A more sensible option could be a password manager – a piece of software, or a gadget, that stores and organises passwords. Typically, passwords are stored as encrypted data and accessed using one, extra-secure Master password; the theory is that one good password is easier to manage.

“In 2016, breaches such as the LinkedIn data dump highlighted the practice of re-using weak passwords across multiple accounts,” says Joe Siegrist, general manager of password management company LastPass. “A password manager is a simple, secure way to generate and store long and complex passwords for all accounts. It puts an end to relying on your brain or a piece of paper to remember them.” LastPass is just one option for those wishing to use a password manager. Online applications such as Zoho, mobile downloads (Password Depot) and even handheld gadgets (Trezor) can help securely store passwords.

9. Switch to renewables

In the UK, the government is encouraging households to install renewable energy-generating systems to assist the move toward a coal-free country. So far we’ve seen some success, in fact, 2016 was a bumper year for renewable generation in the UK. Research from Drax Power discovered that this Christmas Day was the greenest on record, with more than 40 per cent of electricity generated from renewable sources. This compares to 25 per cent in 2015, and just 12 per cent in 2012. A sure win for many, but there is still a lot to be done. You can help by switching your own energy to renewables.

According to Andy Koss, chief executive of Drax Power, this marks a shift in the UK energy system, with renewables becoming increasingly vital to the UK’s energy provision as the country strives to decarbonise. In 2014, the government launched the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which commits to providing financial support to the owners of renewable heat technologies for seven years from installation. Changes are coming in this year, so be sure to get up-to-date information.

As well as this, the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme pays households for electricity generated through renewable means, even if it is used in-house. There are options available for households, one of the most popular of which is photovoltaic (PV) systems. Unlike solar thermal systems, which store heat from the sun for later use, PV converts sunlight into electricity and has proved much more effective for use in UK households. On average, a 4kWp PV system (which costs from £5,000-8,000) can generate around 3,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year in the south of England, or 3,200kWh in Scotland – both of which would save more than a tonne and a half of carbon dioxide every year.

Another option comes in the form of wind generation – according to the Energy Saving Trust, more than 40 per cent of wind energy in Europe blows over the UK, making it an ideal location for domestic wind turbines. Turbines can be building-mounted, which are cheaper and suitable for houses in exposed windy sites, or pole-mounted, which, although more expensive, can be used in areas where there is less wind.

There are other choices available, from biomass boilers to in-ground heat pumps and solar tiles. Many people are keen to get on board but are confused by the multitude of tiles, tanks and pipes on the market. The good news is that there are now many energy companies in the UK that specialise in green and renewable energy, including Ecotricity, Good Energy and Ovo, so households can make the switch to renewables without having to modify their home.

10. Monitor your alcohol intake

Quitting alcohol or cutting down is one of the common resolutions of the New Year, especially if you’ve celebrated the holiday season a little too much.

So, there’s a handy way of reminding yourself to switch to soft drinks, slow down, or give a pal your car keys. It’s a breathalyser in which you can read your results and monitor Blood Alcohol Concentration levels (BAC) on your smartphone.

BACtrack smartphone breathalysers, which cost around $99.99 (£82), send information wirelessly to your iOS or Android device via an app. It also comes with Zeroline technology, which estimates when your BAC will reach 0.00 per cent based on the last reading you had.

There’s even a version for Apple Watches, so you can check your intake on your wrist using the Active Zeroline feature and see a continuous countdown. Eventually, the breathalyser will make you better at predicting your alcohol levels so you can compare perception and actual numbers, helping you to be more aware of your habits.

At CES 2017 in Las Vegas this January, California-based tech firm Milo Sensors showcased a wearable sensor called Proof.

As alcohol in your bloodstream diffuses through your skin, Proof apparently measures the trace amounts and calculates your BAC. Milo Sensors hopes to start crowdfunding the wearable later this year.  milosensor.com

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