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Happy New Year, folks! I hope you all had a relaxing end to 2020. I was mostly successful in avoiding work over the last week, and used some of my spare time on a couple of long-overdue tech projects.Most notably, I finally cleaned out my computer’s “Pictures” folder, which has grown ever more unwieldy after years of backing up my phone’s photos and dumping the contents of my DSLR’s memory cards. Over the break, I decided it was time to clean up that folder by eliminating duplicate photos, blurry shots, useless screengrabs, and other assorted detritus, then sorting the remaining contents into albums.

Why did my Pictures folder get so messy? Mostly, I blame Google Photos, which makes searching through old pictures so easy that I was content to just ignore my hard drive's backup folder, knowing that it existed mainly for safekeeping.

But with unlimited Google Photos storage going away in June, I decided it was time to stop being complacent. Even if I keep using the service (at the cost of another cloud storage subscription), I like the idea of having a backup plan.

Still, I winced at the thought of sorting through thousands of old photos one-by-one. What I really needed was a way to eliminate similar-looking photos in bulk and winnow my remaining library down to a much more manageable size. Fortunately, I found exactly what I was looking for with a couple of programs for Windows and Mac.

AllDup for Windows

The best option I found on Windows is a free app called AllDup. Unlike most of the results that appears when you search the web for duplicate photo removers, AllDup has no ads, in-app purchases, or usage limitations. And while it's a little ungainly to set up, the payoff is in all the ways it lets you customize your duplicate file searches.

When you launch AllDup, it presents a checklist of folders to scan—including all your hard drives and document folders by default—and right-clicking on the list lets you add other folders. The "Comparison Method" section also lets you decide whether AllDup will look for duplicates within the same folder (for when you've taken a lot similar photos at once) or only between different folders (for photos you might've stashed in multiple places).

After selecting some folders to scan, you can click "Search Method" to decide what to look for. Select "Find similar pictures," then select "dHash" as the comparison method. You can then adjust the Match percentage to control how alike the photos should be. (I found that 92% is a good starting point, and you can tweak it depending on the results that come back.) The other settings on this page are safe to ignore, so just hit "Start Search" to begin finding duplicates.

Once the search is complete, you'll get a list of duplicates, and can expand each one to see the individual files. To view the photos in each group, click the Image Viewer icon near the top-right of the screen, then click the File Preview icon near the top-left side. (Both are highlighted in the image below.) Unless you have a dual-screen setup, I also suggest clicking the arrow on the File Preview icon and making sure "Show file preview in a separate window" is unchecked.

You can then double-click on any group to view its photos side-by-side, or click on individual photos for a larger view. Check off any photos you want to delete, then hit the red "X" button at the top-left of the app. This will bring up a final page where you can send photos to the Recycle Bin or to other folders on your hard drive.

Just using the "Find similar pictures" mode with various levels of matching, I was able to clean out hundreds of unwanted photos. But I also suggest doing an additional pass with "Find similar filenames" as your search method. Since photos taken in sequence tend to have nearly identical file names, this can help turn up multiple edits of the same photo or entire groups of burst photos.

While it took some experimenting to find the best settings in both apps, I was ultimately able to clear out hundreds of similar-looking photos using AllDup, which in turn made manual sorting much easier.

PhotoSweeper for Mac

Although AllDup is only available for Windows, PhotoSweeper is an excellent alternative for Mac, albeit one that costs $10. It offers a similar set of granular controls for hunting down duplicates, and if anything is much more user-friendly. (PhotoSweeper's developer also makes a free version called Duplicate Photos Finder that does a decent job, but it lacks the fine-tuning that the paid version offers.)

Like AllDup, you start selecting the folders you want to scan for Duplicates. Once the scan is finished, you can hit "Compare" to choose between three different matching modes: "Duplicate Files" searches by file name, "Similar Photos" sniffs out images that look alike, and "Series of Shots" finds photos taken in quick succession. In each case, you get a series of sliders for adjusting how many of your photos get clustered together.

Once PhotoSweeper does its matching, you can view each set of matches side-by-side and double-click (or hit Enter) on the ones you want to delete. The app also has a handy "Auto Mark" feature that suggests photos to delete automatically. You can then send your marked photos to the trash all at once.

Compared to AllDup, PhotoSweeper is more self-explanatory, and I like how you can fiddle with its various knobs to instantly change the duplicate search results. Although I'm primarily a Windows user, I can see myself turning to PhotoSweeper if I ever have to do this whole exercise again.

Not that I'm planning to do so anytime soon. Now that my Pictures folder is neat and tidy, hopefully I'll do a better job keeping it that way on a regular basis.

So long, Adobe Flash: If, by some chance, you use any websites that still rely on Adobe Flash, you've probably found that they don't work anymore. That's because Adobe discontinued the long-running browser plugin at the end of 2020, and all major web browsers have stopped supporting it. Desktop installations of Flash will also stop working on January 12, as Adobe blocks Flash Player content from loading.

In recent years, Flash had become associated with security vulnerabilities, technical glitches, and unnecessarily clunky web design, but it used to be vital for streaming media on the web, and it was responsible for countless web-based games and animations. Its demise is overdue, but also somewhat bittersweet. To that end, I rounded up some ways that you can still safely enjoy Flash content over at Fast Company, including the excellent Flashpoint archive for Windows PCs.

Gazelle trashes trade-ins: For more than a decade, Gazelle provided a simple way to trade in old gadgets for cash. While it didn't pay as much as selling directly to buyers on sites like eBay or Swappa, it also spares you from hawking your own wares or paying for postage.

Now, The Verge reports that Gazelle's trade-in program is going away on January 31. Gazelle parent company ecoATM will still accept trade-ins at physical kiosks, but those tend not to pay as much. While the company didn't explain its decision, The Verge's Nick Slatt speculates that smartphone lease programs from the likes of Apple and the major carriers were a factor. Those programs usually come with significant trade-in credits, making third-party buyback programs like Gazelle less appealing. (I also wonder if those trade-ins have led to a refurbished phone glut, making it harder for Gazelle to offer competitive sale values.)

Alternatives to Gazelle still exist though, including BuyBackWorld and NextWorth, and while selling Swappa is more of a hassle, I've successfully sold a phone and laptop through it without issue. They're worth using if you'd rather not be locked into one retailer's store credit.

Apple's app privacy labels: I didn't get a chance to mention this in the previous newsletter, but starting with iOS 14.3, you can get a detailed look at all the personal data your apps have been collecting from you. Apple now requires all iOS apps to publish these "nutrition labels," which you can view in the "App Privacy" section of any App Store listing. Make sure to press "See Details" to get the full rundown for any app.

Informative as these labels might be, they're also just a precursor to stronger anti-tracking features that Apple plans to introduce early this year. Once enabled, you'll be able to stop apps from tracking your iOS activity. This would prevent Facebook, for instance, from showing ads based on the apps you use and websites you visit. (Facebook, whose App Privacy label is a real doozy, is predictably upset about this.)

In the meantime, I continue to recommend Lockdown as a way to limit tracking on iOS devices. The free, unobtrusive app prevents apps from transmitting data to known trackers, and I've been a happy user since installing it nearly a year ago.

The best apps of 2020: As is custom now, I wrapped up 2020 over at Fast Company with a list of my favorite apps, websites, and extensions for the year. My goal is always to avoid the obvious and focus on apps that were new or substantially-updated, which leads to a lot of fun picks.

Anyway, if you've been reading Advisorator for a while, you'll probably recognize a bunch of them, but one that I haven't mentioned here yet is Calmaria. It's a simple, unfussy app for breathing exercises, available on iOS, Android, and the web. A little extra calm is something we could all probably use right now, so give it a shot.

Agenda at a glance: Once you're done slow-breathing, check out this neat Mac app called Up Next. The free app synchronizes with your calendar and presents a drop-down agenda view on the MacOS menu bar, and it even integrates with videoconferencing services like Zoom and Google Meet so you can quickly join your next meeting. Install it from the Mac App Store, or visit the website first for a little interactive demo.

Here's a pair of deals that will charge your iPhone faster: Aukey's tiny 20W charger is on sale for $9 when you clip the on-page coupon, while Anker's 6-foot USB-C to Lightning cable is on sale for $11. Put the charger and cable together, and you'll refill half your iPhone's battery in about 30 minutes. By comparison, Apple's official 20W charger and cable would set you back $48.

Other notable deals this morning:

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