A major goal of education is the debunking of miseducation. That means spotting and correcting the many myths emanating from the internet, folk wisdom and word of mouth. We have all been taken in, at some point or another, by a modern myth. Fortunately, we’re here to help you with a new series debunking many of these modern myths. This installment aims to clear up some commonly held misconceptions in the field of technology. The truth, as they say, shall set you free.
The pace of technology is astounding. It’s no wonder that myths arise in the light of amazing, almost magical, advances every day. Some myths were true in the past—such as turning your computer off at night (#8)—but technological advance has left that advice behind. Other myths were never true, such as the “Do Not Email Registry” (#25). Read on and see if you’ve fallen for any of these technology myths.
1 The more megapixels your camera has, the better the picture
Digital cameras employ an array of hundreds of thousands or millions of microscopic light sensors called pixels that transform a visual image into a pattern of electronic signals. The visual quality of a digital photograph is influenced by the number of pixels and their physical size. Very high pixel counts provide the high resolution necessary to capture fine details in a scene. But high pixel counts mean that individual pixels are very small, and small pixels produce much noisier images than larger pixels, especially when the lighting is weak. Thus, under typical lighting conditions, a camera with a 6 or 8 megapixel sensor might provide better photos than a camera with an 18 megapixel sensor. If you’re just posting photos online, almost any camera will work fine. For higher quality photos, select a camera with a large sensor and a high pixel count. Digital Photography Review offers an excellent explanation of pixel counts and resolution.
2 More bars on your mobile phone mean better service
The bars indicate signal strength, not the quality of available service. If many people in the same cell are calling, texting, going online or gaming, service may be intermittent, slow or even unavailable. You may have experienced this at an athletic event or at the mall, where there may be plenty of signal but a lot of people on their phones. And if you have teenagers in the house, you can expect to have terrible service no matter how many bars you have.
3 Apple computers are immune to viruses
Macintosh fans reading this may need to put down their Chai latte’s before reading further. Apple computers are potentially just as vulnerable to viruses and other malware as is a PC. There are a few theories that explain why Apple’s Macs receive less malware. The market share theory says that malware can reach more targets if it’s designed for the most common system, and PCs far outnumber Macs. Another theory is that Macs have a better operating system with fewer weaknesses. Another theory is that Microsoft has more enemies than Macintosh who are willing to resort to cyberterrorism. Still another theory, and the most conspiratorial, is that the various forms of malware and the immunity myth intentionally target Microsoft because they somehow originate from Macintosh. There’s no agreement on these theories, but it remains a myth that apple computers are immune to viruses.
4 Private/Incognito browsing mode keeps your computer activity anonymous
If you’ve ever tried to hide your browsing history, you may have used a privacy option on your browser. These have various names (InPrivate, Private Browsing, Incognito or Private Tab), but they all accomplish pretty much the same thing by keeping your browsing history off your computer. While these privacy tools might keep others with access to your computer (spouse, office mates, friends and kids) from seeing where you have surfed, they don’t prevent your Internet Service Provider or the sites you visit from tracking you. That’s how Amazon and other sites can post specific ads targeted at you on sites you visit. While various tech tools and private search engines can increase your privacy, it’s important to know that your online keystrokes might someday come back to haunt you should your browsing record be hacked or exposed by a legal action. As Fox Mulder says, “Trust no one.” Even better, assume your spouse, mom and God are watching over your shoulder when you go online.
5 You shouldn’t use 3rd party chargers on your phone or tablet
This myth suggests that a 3rd party charger might somehow damage your phone or tablet. There are two issues here. First, the charger provided with a phone or tablet might provide more power than a third party charger and therefore charge more rapidly. The second issue is charger quality. Tests of original equipment chargers and those made by reputable manufacturers generally work just fine. Knock-off chargers made by unknown companies have a high failure rate. They are poorly designed and may use low quality components that can fail prematurely or even cause a fire.
6 Leaving your phone plugged in destroys the battery
Modern smart phones and flip phones run on lithium-ion batteries and are advanced enough to stop charging when the battery is full. There’s no real risk of damaging the battery when you keep it plugged in after a 100% charge. But even when the battery is fully charged, the charger will draw a small amount of current. Therefore, unplugging the phone when it’s fully charge will save a bit of money. This also applies to all electronic equipment with rechargeable batteries or an “instant on” feature.
7 Don’t recharge batteries until they are almost dead
Once upon a time, the common wisdom was that batteries lose their ability to retain an electrical charge if they are recharged before they are drained down to zero. This applied to nickel-cadmium batteries, but it doesn’t apply to today’s lithium-ion batteries. It’s actually best to keep your device between 40-80% charged, and that means not letting it drain to 0% (be sure to check the equipment’s operator’s manual). Plus, it’s kind of lame waiting on your phone to die so you can resuscitate it. That doesn’t work well in relationships, and it doesn’t work with batteries either.
8 You should shut down your computer every night
You will save power if you shut down your computer when it’s not being used. You will also keep the cooling fan from sucking in still more dust. Another advantage is that rebooting your computer each morning will often remove annoying problems you may have noticed. But while there are benefits to shutting down your computer every night, it’s not absolutely necessary. Switching a computer on and off subjects its power supply and hard drive (assuming it’s a rotating platter) to stress. Leave your computer on, and it’s available for instant use. A good compromise that will save power is to simply set the monitor to switch off when the computer has not been used for 10 minutes or so. You can save a bit more power by setting the computer to sleep or hibernate when it hasn’t been used for a while. If your computer begins to slow down or become erratic, rebooting it might return it to normal operation. If not, it’s time for a malware scan.
9 Using off-brand ink cartridges voids the warranty on your printer
Branded ink cartridges are expensive so people often use off-brand cartridges to keep their printing costs down. Fortunately, despite the myth, off-brand ink cartridges pose little threat of voiding any warranty on your printer. But then again, third-party tampering isn’t covered in the event of gunshot wounds to your printer either. Most all the problems that printers are likely to have are still covered just fine under the warranty.
10 Airport x-ray machines ruin/erase memory cards
The x-ray machines at airport security checkpoints can blur and ruin unprocessed film from non-digital cameras, especially film in checked baggage. But your memory cards are safe, at least at the level of x-ray emitted at checkpoints. Sandisk, a major flash card manufacturer, provides this assurance on its website. So airport security checks should pose no threat to your memory cards unless they’re laced with C4 explosives or Ebola.
11 A penny on a train track can derail a train
It would have to be a pretty small train. Commercial and passenger sized trains are much too heavy to be impeded by a penny. Instead, the train flattens pennies into a shiny, oblong disk. There is a real danger here though, and it’s not about derailment. People have placed their pennies on train tracks and then watched eagerly from another set of tracks only to find the train was barreling down the tracks to flatten them, not the penny. Ouch!
12 Jailbreaking your Phone, iPod or tablet is illegal
“Jailbreaking” your phone is when you remove the hardware restrictions imposed by its operating system to make it compatible with software and downloads from other brands. It may sound illegal, given the term “jailbreaking,” but it’s perfectly legal. Jailbreaking may, however, void your warranty. Apple isn’t interested in fixing your phone if you’ve retrofitted it with a bunch of non-Apple compliant programs. There are plenty of illegal things you can do with your phone, but jailbreaking isn’t one of them.
13 You should buy the warranty on any new gadgets you purchase
Not all warranties are the same, and some are a better deal than others. In many cases, however, a warranty can cost more than the value it offers. That’s because various restrictions limit their coverage, and claiming warranty coverage may require that you pay for shipping, fill out lots of paperwork, and then wait 8-10 weeks before the manufacturer fixes the problem. Next time you make a pricey tech purchase, instead of purchasing the warranty, ask the store clerk about their return policy. Often you can return a product within 30 days, no questions asked. That’s very handy if you get home and find that your purchase doesn’t suit you. Some stores will even let you exchange or get store credit without a receipt. With or without a warranty, I still wouldn’t recommend scuba diving with your phone in your pocket.
14 Password protected networks are safe from hackers
No network can be assumed to be totally protected from hackers and their amazing variety of code-cracking tools. Even carefully composed passwords can be eventually cracked. If you use a hard-wired office network, assume that anyone on the network can potentially see anything on your computer. This is even truer for wifi networks. Wifi has become so ubiquitous that people routinely access the Web and their email in airports, hotels, restaurants and even planes and trains, all of which can be penetrated by a dedicated hacker. You can improve your protection by encrypting what’s on your computer and by using very strong passwords with upper and lower case letters and a variety of symbols, none of which should resemble a word. But the only way to completely protect bank account, bank and Social Security numbers is to never enter them online. Also, keep in mind that some hacks can block access to your computer. That’s good reason to keep a backup copy of everything on a removable drive kept tucked away in a separate location. While you can also back up to a cloud site, should that site go down or be hacked, you will still have your removable drive.
15 Using a cell phone at a gas station pump is a fire risk
Despite warning signs on gas pumps, there are no verified reports of a cell phones igniting gasoline vapor when a car is being refueled. Just think of the many people who have filled their tanks while talking on the cell phone without causing a fire. Of course a telephone conversation can be distracting, and that might slow you down and annoy anyone in line waiting to refuel at your pump. So maybe it’s best to leave your phone in the car while pumping gas. As for dangers at the pump, never smoke while refueling and don’t slide into your car seat while the gas is flowing to avoid static electricity sparks that might cause a fire.
16 You need to watch a TV show at its network time to help keep it on the air
This only applies to homes that have a Nielsen tracking box. If you aren’t sure whether your home has a Nielsen box, then you don’t have one. In past decades, TV networks tracked their viewership primarily with Nielsen boxes—little electrical boxes that track the channels and times to which the TV is tuned. Nielsen ratings are still active today, but there are many other ways to track viewership. The market is just too diversified, with too many measures of viewership for Nielsen ratings to have the kind of prominence they once did. Today, TV shows are broadcast on their network and also on paid cable services, subscription streaming providers (like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu), or on non-subscription services such as online libraries (like Vudu or Flixster). Some shows are exclusive to a single streaming service that doesn’t have a scheduled network broadcast. All of this means that those Neilsen boxes are only tracking a relatively small slice of the television pie. You can promote your favorite TV shows by purchasing the DVD or Blue-Ray releases, watching Youtube video clips, viewing it on Netflix or Hulu, frequenting the show’s Website, or visiting their page on IMDB (Internet Movie DataBase), or by visiting discussion boards and social media pages about the show. In short, there are tons of ways to promote your favorite show. And, unless you have a Nielsen box, none of them require you to be at home watching at its regularly scheduled time. You still should feed the kids at their regular time though. They aren’t as forgiving as your TV is.
17 The QWERTY keyboard is the most efficient way to type
The traditional keyboard, known as “QWERTY” because of the arrangement of the first six letters, strikes a balance between efficiency and longevity. Ultimately, it has proven good enough to remain the industry standard. Early typewriting machines were expensive, and people didn’t want one spot on the keyboard wearing out all the time, because high-use keys were clumped together. Several different arrangements were tried, and the QWERTY layout eventually became the industry standard. Some people prefer the Dvorak keyboard, which keeps vowels together along the center row and reduces finger movement. An even more efficient method than typing is to just talk to someone.
18 Lemons can be used to charge your phone
Apparently, someone somewhere cut the charger cable for their phone and plugged in into a lemon to see what would happen. MacGyver science took over, and, voila, the phone was charged. The problem is that this method just doesn’t work. The wires immersed in lemon juice might produce only a small fraction of a volt, not nearly enough to charge a phone. Try it at home if you don’t believe me and if you don’t mind ruining a charger cable.
19 A beer can be used to boost your WiFi signal
This life-hack sounds reasonable enough, especially if you hail from the days of rabbit-ear antennas. Add some aluminum foil to the antenna and the TV channel magically starts coming in clearer. One idea is to remove the end of a beer or soda pop can and insert a wifi antenna into a hole punched through the closed end. If carefully done, this trick can actually extend the wifi range if the open end of the can is pointed directly at a distant router. A more popular idea is to cut off both ends of a can, cut the cylinder of aluminum that remains into a sheet and curve the sheet around your router antenna to provide a crude parabolic reflector. While this actually works, it can be difficult to keep aligned. Worse, the sharp edges created by both these methods might slice into a finger or two. The best way to improve wifi range is to enjoy the contents of the can you’re planning to slice open and simply buy an improved wifi antenna or one of the many kinds of electronic wifi extenders or boosters.
20 Cell phones cause cancer
Cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation in the form of non-ionizing, radio frequency waves. To date, the only known side effect of these waves on people is that they can generate a small amount of heat in the portion of the body closest to a phone that is in use. This is the operating principle behind microwave ovens, which generate considerably more powerful waves than those emitted by a cell phone. While dozens of studies have found no link between cell phone usage and cancer, at least to date, concerns have been raised about children, whose brains are not fully developed, using cell phones. One medical study found that a lengthy call will cause the side of the brain closest to the phone to metabolize more glucose than the opposite side of the brain. Any possible health effects from this finding are unknown, but it’s widely known that addicted cell phone users have tripped on sidewalks, walked into walls, collided with fellow cell phone users and even caused fatal car crashes. Other cell phone-related afflictions include poor attention span, eye strain, forgetting to feed the kids, neglecting your spouse, and addiction to cat videos.
21 The World Wide Web and the Internet are the same thing
The Internet is an electronic infrastructure that connects different networks so they can share information. The World Wide Web is one such network and the most well-known. Other networks provide for email, online games, peer-to-peer file sharing, and instant messaging. Admittedly, this myth is somewhat trivial, since it doesn’t change how you use your phone, computer, or television. The next time your older relative asks you about the “the interweb” or how to post something on “Facebook,” just smile and offer to help.
22 Pong was the first video game
Pong, invented in 1972 by Atari, may have been the first video game for many people, just as Pac-Man, Galaga, Super Mario Bros, Q-Bert, or Donkey Kong might have provided the first gaming experiences for later generations. But there were earlier video games than Pong. Perhaps the earliest was OXO, a form of tic-tac-toe, designed by Alexander Douglas in 1952 for his PhD thesis at Cambridge, fully 20 years earlier than Pong. If that one doesn’t count, because it wasn’t original since tic-tac-toe already existed, there are other candidates for the role of “first video game” such as Space War (1961), Computer Space (1971), and Galaxy Game (1971).
23 You need to regularly defragment your computer’s hard drive
This used to be true, but it’s not anymore. Data is not always stored in an orderly fashion on both hard disk and solid state drives (SSDs), and a computer can slow to a crawl as data becomes increasingly fragmented. In the past, it was necessary to manually start a defragmentation routine to better organize the data, but modern computers defragment their drives automatically on a regular schedule. SSDs get special treatment, since they have a limited number of read-write cycles.
24 Y2K/The Millenium Bug
This tech myth is also a history myth. In 1999, the modern world was abuzz over a looming crisis in technology: the Millennium Bug, also known as Y2K (as in Year 2000). The crisis was initiated by a little glitch in which computer programming, records, and source code around the world identified the year by a two digit abbreviation instead of the full, four digit reference: 99 instead of 1999. That little abbreviation threatened to crash the computer world, traffic lights, stock markets, airplane navigation and many other computer-driven applications when the year 2000 arrived. Those computers couldn’t tell the difference between 1900 and 2000 since both would register as: 00. Doomsdayers foretold imminent disaster. Fortunately, nothing of consequence happened. Banks, government agencies, insurance providers and so on installed updates and “fixes” that solved the problem. Some computers crashed, but there was no noticeable effect on markets, governments, or anything of the sort. The problem proved far more fixable than doomsday theorists expected. Nevertheless, there were some awesome New Year’s Eve Parties just in case the world ended the next day.
25 You can protect against unwanted email by signing the Do Not Email Registry
Some years ago, the Federal Trade Commission set up a National Do Not Call Registry. This list allows people some protection against unwanted phone calls. No such list exists for email however. There is a website that claims to be the “National Do Not Email Registry.” But it is not licensed by the Federal Trade Commission and is a bogus site, a scam. There is no such “national” site, only a private business gathering personal information under false pretenses from unwitting people who think they are protecting themselves from spammers. If you signed up to be protected against spammers, you should probably prepare to be spammed.