This comes up pretty regularly. A reader writes to ask if it’s worth paying $70 a year for anti-virus protection, or should he use Windows’ own built-in support? A large surge in so-called “Ransom Ware” infections has exacerbated the problem. RansomeWare locks up your files, and the sender, naturally, demands a ransom to unlock them. Typical demand is $300. This can be blocked.

Microsoft says their own free program, Windows Defender, offers enough protection for Windows 8 and Windows 10 users. Perhaps so. Research on the web found that Microsoft Defender caught 94.5 percent of threats. But the sample size was 1517 threats, which meant that 83 went through. It’s that extra 5.5 percent that gets ya.

The answer, says our favorite guru, Kenny S, from, is to use the Windows Defender anti-virus program along with the free version of an anti-malware program from MalwareBytes. This works well if you have an older computer. Otherwise, adding a second anti-virus program can slow an already slow computer another 20 percent.

If you have a faster computer, we recommend the free Avast from, in addition to MalwareBytes. “Faster” is defined as an Intel i5 processor or better and eight gigabytes or more of RAM. You can find out what processor you have by typing “system info” into the Windows search box.

Our main computer falls into the slow category, having an outmoded AMD e2-1800 processor, instead of a faster i5 or i7 from Intel. We tried Avast anyway. (We’re used to slow.) It updated our out-of-date programs, removed an add-on with a bad reputation, and noted that an extension had tampered with our default search engine, Google, and fixed that. It said we had a weak password for our Internet connection, so we changed it. (Even though our previous password had been in Sanskrit.) It offered to install the free Avast “Safe Price” which lets you know if a lower price is available whenever you’re shopping online. We went shopping online and immediately found 22 coupons giving us discounts on stuff we didn’t want.

What if you have a Mac? Since it’s based, ultimately, on the Unix operating system that has been used to control huge main-frame computers, a virus can’t get in deep. You might get some spyware if you add suspicious extensions to your web browser, but you can remove those by running the free MalwareBytes program. Your biggest danger is passing on an infected email to someone else, though it failed to harm your Mac. Avast for the Mac can prevent that.

If you happen to have a Google Chromebook — an inexpensive laptop used mainly for the Internet you don’t need anti-virus software. It comes with built-in malware and virus protection, with multiple layers of security. Every time you boot the system, the software goes out there to the great beyond and fixes any problems.

Beware the Pop-Up

We’ve been warning others about pop-up ads for decades. We should have warned ourselves.

On American Airlines’ website, we were asked if we wanted travel insurance for $24. Sure! We thought we could get our money back if we had to cancel our flight for any reason. A friend of ours fell for the same thing. But she was savvier.

She called American Airlines and was told they don’t offer travel insurance. The insurance, it turned out, came from Allianz, a 100-year-old company. It’s legit all right, but it will take a medical emergency, an act of terrorism, or the failure of the airline, to get them to pay up. It says so right on their website.

Our friend had just gotten out of the hospital and needed to cancel her trip. Allianz told her to fill out a form online. But since she needed her doctor’s signature– and he wasn’t sitting beside her at the computer– she sent it all in by mail, getting the P.O. box address (unlisted, by the way) from an agent on the phone.

Even Fishier

A reader wrote us he couldn’t get on the Internet, so he Googled the phone numbers for Avast, the anti-virus company. None of those phone numbers worked, so he went to From there, he got a company called “Nanoheal, but it’s unclear whether he clicked on a suspicious link or Avast has now outsourced its tech support. Nanoheal didn’t give him a virus, but it charged him $119 for installing a free program.

The Nanoheal tech installed the free MalwareBytes program,AdwCleaner,” which stands for “adware cleaner.You can get this at

 (MalwareBytes has a great reputation and we’ve used their other free products.) It fixed everything, including the Internet problem. Learning this — we‘re always learning we installed it on our test computer. (That’s our regular computer, but we think it sounds more professional if we call it our test computer.) It found 54 threats after we clicked “scan.” When we clicked “clean” all was well and we rebooted. Rebooting, by the way, will fix many problems all by itself. In general, it’s worth doing that before panicking. Remember: there’s always time to panic.

Cutting the Cord

We’re constantly asked (okay, once in a while) about the best way to “cut the cord,” or dump your cable TV service. The new “Hulu” service for $40 a month is getting the buzz lately. Instead of the usual channel listing, it shows you what you probably want to watch. But there are cheaper solutions out there.

One way to go is to use Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube, plus an antenna. Amazon gives you free movies for $99 a year as well as other perks like free two-day shipping. Netflix costs $8 a month and is better than we initially thought: We’re currently hooked on a defunct series called “White Collar.” Use an antenna for local TV channels and get classic shows like Perry Mason as well as old movies from YouTube or your local library. It all works out to about $16 a month.

The big complaint with cord-cutting however, is the cost of getting on the Internet. Companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T bundle everything. It can cost so much to get Internet service that you find you might as well add TV. However, after noticing that new subscribers were being offered Internet-only service for about $40 a month, we went on AT&T’s web site for a bit of a chat. We asked what our bill would be without TV service. The chat guy on the other end immediately offered to slice $55 a month off our bill. So we now pay $115 per month for TV and Internet instead of $170. Hey, that’s $660 a year back in our pocket. And he was friendly too.


Is your computer hyper tense? Does it suffer from anxiety, mood shifts, lethargy or even narcolepsy? You can get a free checkup at Belarc Advisor tells you about your dear machine’s hardware, software, security settings, and whether or not you need updates. Our diagnosis: updates of six programs were deemed “critical.”

But updating programs in intensive care is a hassle. Have you been to the Adobe site lately? It’s hard to find the update section. We had two copies of Adobe Flash, which is built into Chrome; we got rid of both. We also got rid of something called “Adobe Air.” Then there’s “Java.” Do we really need Java? We looked it up and the answer came back “No!” We looked up Apple QuickTime. The answer came back as “crapware.” This is a technical term among programmers and refers to programs that come installed as trial versions or worse when you but a new computer. We uninstalled all.

And the result? Our computer runs just the same as before, still playing YouTube videos and doing all our other activities. All is fine, and we’re safer than we were. In fact, we feel downright chipper. If we need to reinstall something it will be the latest version.

Talking to Dr. Who

As long as we’re on the subject of professional care, we might listen to Dr. Who. The “Doctor” is a science fiction radio and television series produced by the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and if you’ve never heard of it, ask a kid.

Dr. Who is one of the longest running and most popular shows in the world. It has 830 episodes, and still going, and draws about 60 million viewers worldwide. All his adventures begin with the materialization, somewhere, of a British police call box, which looks like a blue phone booth. Inside is “The Doctor,” not a medical man, but sort of a general fix-it for the galaxy.

Bob is a huge fan of the series, and now, courtesy of Microsoft, you can get clued in to the ways and means of a man who can move through time and space. You get it through Skype, a free program that lets you make free phone calls and video chats form your computer or cell phone. If you Google the phrase “Dr. Who bot,” you’ll get a link to a page about it from Microsoft, which owns Skype. From there you can click to add Dr. Who to your contact list and begin the adventure. You’re supposed to be able to add the Dr. Who Bot by just clicking the “add bot” icon within Skype. But that didn’t work, so we just “Googled” it.

Joy felt like she was really talking to Dr. Who. He called her by name and responded to her choices in the Skype chat window. Occasional short video clips show you what Dr. Who is seeing as he roams the galaxy. The dialogue is clever and funny, and we learned some astronomy. Even Bob, who is a nut on astronomy programs, didn’t know that the reason you can’t place something on Neptune is because it would sink like an icy rock into the methane ocean that covers the planet.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the six segments of a key that keeps the universe stable -“ish.”


  • “Top Ten Unexpected Dance Scenes in Dance Movies.” Search on that phrase (or click on it) to find some of the best dance numbers of all time. That search also turns up the best unexpected dances in non-dance movies. Our favorite is Frankenstein doing “Putting on the Ritz” in “Young Frankenstein.”
  • 10 Genius Ways to Use Legos.” Search on that phrase or click on it to find Lego aquariums, lamp shades, chess sets, etc.
  • 25 Spectacular Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen.” Search on that phrase or click on it to find some interesting recommendations. We’ve seen “Midnight in Paris”and “The Big Lebowski, which were both excellent but had no spectacles. So why were they spectacular? (The use of language continues to degenerate.)

Station 307, Where Are You?

Ever want to share a big file, one that’s too big to email? If you’re a Gmail user, you’re prompted to upload it to Google Drive and send a link. But here’s another way:

Go to Click “Add a file.” After you add one, you get a link to it. Click “copy url” so you can paste it into an email or text message. To paste that into a text message, press your finger down for a few seconds until the word “paste” pops up. Then tap “paste.”

Liquid Cooled Computers

Just like a car engine, computer chips run hot. This does not matter unless you are a maniacal game player. Then running hot can be bad for your system and slows things down.

For those who care about firing off as many shots as possible before the monster or the bad guys get to you, Corsair makes an $800 liquid-cooled graphics card for your desktop computer.

Didn’t know you could get liquid cooled computers. Sure, you can. The price is stiff, but the results are grand prix. Corsair’s $110 liquid cooler for CPUs: the “Corsair Hydro Series H100i,” is the number one best seller on Amazon in the liquid cooling category, and users have answered over a thousand questions about it.

How do you liquid cool a computer? Very carefully. It’s done with a pump, tubes and a liquid that is not going to short-circuit anything if something goes wrong. In other word random-access memory." But you probably alreadys, not water. Another factor is the amount of memory. Where the typical graphics card like yours or ours might have 1.7 gigabytes of integrated memory, which is not as good as so-called “discrete” memory, Corsair’s new “Hydro GFX GTX” has 11 gigabytes of “GDDR5x”memory, which stands for”graphics double data rate type five synchronous random access memory.” But you probably already knew that.


If your inbox is cluttered with junk mail, you can fix that.  Unroll.Me lets you unsubscribe from all those mailing lists you never knew you were on and have no idea how you got there. It rolls them up into one message, which still has links to all that stuff if you want it.

Go to to start and sign up using your Google, Yahoo, Outlook, AOL or other account. When Joy did it, Unroll.Me found she had 242 subscriptions in her Gmail account and 76 in her AOL account! What? Who were these people and how did they get here? A mystery wrapped in an enigma, as Winston Churchill used to say.

They all appeared on a list, with the words “unsubscribe” next to them. The other choices were “add to roll up” or “keep in inbox.” If you do nothing, they all stay in your inbox. If you add them to your rollup, they appear as one email, containing brief summaries.

Internet marketers never sleep and Joy was amazed at how many offbeat newsletters she was getting. For example:”Friends of Florida State Forests,” “Hello Baby,” and “Big Oven.” (We’re not an enemy of Florida forests, but we didn’t know we were close friends.) If you make a mistake, you can click the unsubscribe list and choose to keep any part. You must share an Unroll.Me link on Facebook at Twitter to keep unsubscribing after the first dozen or so. But you only do that once.

So to get to the end of the story here, Joy rolled up 127 subscriptions and unsubscribed 191 others. Since not every newsletter sends a message every day, a typical roll-up has about a dozen messages combined into one. If it turns out she feels she’s missing all that excitement, she can always go back by going to for a second chance.

Nice Tech Support

When we created our first website using Microsoft software back in 1997, we could call Microsoft up any time and get a human to help us. Those were the days.  Maybe that’s the reason Google’s “Project Fi” cell phone service has amazing tech support. It’s still new.

Google’s Project Fi combines T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular into one service and charges $20 a month for unlimited domestic calling and texting, plus $10 a month for each gigabyte of data. If you only use part of a gigabyte, you get the difference back.

We almost got a free replacement for our $400 Google Nexus phone after Bob closed the car door after Joy and crushed it in her coat pocket, which was dangling over the edge. (Bob likes to open and close the door for Joy. Sometimes being a gentleman just doesn’t work out.)

We called Project Fi because there was a picture of a dead Android on our phone. This is a picture of a robot lying prone and looking very dead. The case had been crushed by being caught in the car door and the glass was now slightly cracked and the phone wouldn’t power on.

The tech support guy spoke English, which was not as surprising as his offer to send us a new phone if we couldn’t get rid of the dead Android body. That was quite a gesture, since we explained that we were the ones who broke it. He understood. and knew we no longer had a warranty, but was still willing to replace it. (We want to point out here, lest anyone think we got special treatment, that he did not know we were journalists).

Following his instructions, we got the phone going by holding the power and volume buttons at the same time. But these stuck there because the frame was bent. Bob was able to straighten it with a screwdriver and a hammer and we decided to live with the tiny crack in one corner. The Project Fi guy still insisted on giving us $20 off on our next bill, which brought it down to $7 for the month. Our service bill is really cheap, normally around $27 a month, and the price stays the same for data even if we’re in another country, which we never are anyway. This service is only for Google phones.


  • CIA Factbook.” Search on that term (or click here) to find the CIA guide to the world. Besides geography and basic facts about countries; there’s a lot of history. For instance, it has presidential briefings from the Nixon era and information on the CIA’s involvement in wars in Southeast Asia. A how-to section tells you how to file a “Freedom of Information” request.
  • Dog Saves Unconscious Bird.” Google that phrase to find remarkable photos and video of a dog who whined until his owner came out to rescue an injured bird.
  • The U.S. Map Redrawn as 50 States with Equal Population.” Search on that phrase to find that Orange County, California, would be a state on its own and Nevada/Utah/Colorado would all be just one state.

Fix That Body

Portrait Pro, a $40 program, lets you make an old face look 30 years younger, or a young face look thinner or unblemished. Now there’s Portrait Pro Body. It makes your body look like a model’s.

As we mentioned when we wrote about Portrait Pro many moons ago, Joy liked her new face so much she was tempted to go around with a printout of it plastered on her real face. Portrait Pro Body now smoothes your body as well as your face. In tutorials that open up when you start the free trial, you’ll see thinner waists, awkward bulges removed, shoulders broadened, and a sleeker you. (Should be useful for posting to online dating sites.)

Start by adjusting the photos they supply. They’ll show you where to click. It’s easy to draw lines around a torso, then go over to the torso slider and broaden or thin it. It’s $40 from






White light versus orange light

The latest version of Windows 10 has a “Night Light” feature. It allows you to adjust the screen color from the regular bright white on a sliding scale from a light tan to orange. It’s free and you can get it if you search for “Windows 10 Creators Update.”

Heaven only knows we need it. At least Bob needs it. He uses a tiny program called “Pango Bright,” from Pangolin Laser Systems that allows the user to scale down the screen brightness from 100 percent to 20 percent. Dealing with the fully bright screen is especially annoying at night or in darkened rooms. We owe this to Steve Jobs, who was the first to give us the bright white screen with his new Macintosh. He argued that it was just like typing on a sheet of white paper. Of course, paper doesn’t shine into your eyes, but he probably didn’t write much anyway.

Medical researchers know that the electric light we normally use at night has more blue than orange tones and this suppresses melatonin production. A melatonin deficiency upsets your circadian rhythms, disrupting the sleep-wake cycle. This has been well known since World War II, when the RAF in Britain took to using red light bulbs for pilots’ quarters at night in case they were called out for an emergency; the eyes adjusted more easily to the dark and to reading instrument lights.

If you try the Windows 10 Creators Update and find it buggy, which it has been for some users, you can roll it back. Go to “start,” click “settings,” and then “update & security.” There’s a “recovery” option there.

Stuffed Androids

Right after writing about stuffed iPads, we heard from readers with stuffed Androids. What to do when your storage is full?

“My 15 gigs of internal memory is close to max, but I can’t figure out why,” a reader wrote. We don’t know why either but the answer is usually too many photos. Fortunately, she has a Samsung Galaxy phone that can take an external SD card. Our Google Nexus 6P has no such thing. You can look up “phones with expandable memory” to see the list.

The “SD” designation stands for “Secure Digital,” so called because it is non-volatile, meaning it won’t fade away and is not likely to be disrupted by stray currents and magnetic fields. They come in all sizes and one for 16 gigabytes — which would double her phone’s storage capacity — is only $10. For $30 you can get a tiny plug-in card that holds 64 gigabytes. Bob remembers when SanDisk’s first one gigabyte card sold for $1,000.

We also like the free app “Astro File Manager.” Get it from the Google Play Store. From it, we learned that even apps we’d uninstalled left bits of programming behind, sort of the flotsam and jetsam of the digital seas. Having uninstalled “WebMD,” for example, we had only to press on its folder for several seconds to see a trashcan appear. Tapping the trashcan got rid of the folder. We also found trash left behind by “30 Day Fit,” Epson printers and “What’s App,” three apps we had already uninstalled.


  • was developed by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to figure out how the U.S. government spends taxpayer money, around $5.4 trillion in 2014. It has facts like the number of arrests per year (11.3 million) and number of children in foster care (427,910).
  • You can also get this kind of information from a publication called “The Statistical Abstract of the United States,” published every year since 1878 by the U.S. Census Bureau ( It is free, extremely comprehensive and fascinating to read. Covers everything: population divisions, elections, divorce rates, police and fire departments, even nutrition.
  • By Colin Woodward and Brian Stauffer

    11 Separate Nations.” Google those words (or click here) to find a redrawn map of the U.S. based on a book by Colin Woodard. He says two regions: “Yankeedom” and the “Deep South” have the most influence over America.

  • “UDF Skywalker.” Search on that phrase to find a moveable magnifier showing you what the Hubble Space Telescope sees at its farthest reach. It’s the deepest view ever into the sky and we still find new galaxies. There are more galaxies than there are stars in our own “Milky Way,” which has a little more than 100 billion of them.


Free Online Programs

  • WeVideo” is a free program for editing video. A reader said he likes it better than “Final Cut Pro” for the Mac because it’s easier to figure out. Also, since all your editing takes place on the Internet, you can edit your videos from any machine that’s handy, no matter where in the world you happen to be. Hats off to this savvy reader. We had to watch the tutorial a few times to get the hang of it, but then it was easy.
  •  “Clips” is Apple’s newest video editing program and a free download from the app store for your phone or tablet. It doesn’t do as much as WeVideo, but it’s the easiest one we’ve tried since the old “iFlip” camera went out of business. Add cartoon captions, music, voiceover, or images to your video. Use the scissors to edit parts out. Tap the question mark to get instructions. (You’ll find that elusive question mark if you first tap an arrow in the upper left.)



A friend came home from the Grand Canyon with photos she wanted to transfer to her iPad. She used the “iKlips,” a thumb drive with two ends. One end plugs into your computer and the other into your iPad.

She had a thousand photos of the Grand Canyon, which was perhaps one or two more than necessary, since the Canyon is pretty much the same from century to century. But there was no room left on her iPad, give or take a canyon or so. What is a shutterbug to do? Well, you could delete some of stored photos. After all, how many pictures of Aunt Bertha do you need? Then if you change your mind, you can retrieve those from a file called “Recently Deleted,” a kind of trash can in the Photos app.

Or, you could transfer some of those photos to Google Drive, Dropbox or any of several other free storage options. The most generous of these is, which provides a terabyte of free photo storage. That’s a thousand gigabytes, which is more storage than anyone but the National Geographic can use. (Worldwide, about 1.3 trillion photos are expected to be shot this year. Since they are all terribly important, lots of storage will be needed.)

Another way to free up more space is by installing the latest operating system. We thought our iPad Mini was up to date but noted that it had very little storage space left. After we tapped “settings,” and then “software update,” we regained 850 megabytes — almost a gigabyte! And of course you can always delete apps, either under “settings,” or by holding your finger on an app till it jiggles and gives you an “x.” Bye, bye.

Getting back to the iKlips thumb drive, it’s similar to the HooToo “iPlugMate.” One difference is the iPlugMate works with Windows XP, while the iKlips doesn’t. (We want it known that we are not responsible for strange gadget names.) The iKlips starts at $69 for 32 gigabytes, compared to $30 for the iPlugMate. After using them for three months, the iPlugMate stopped working. We have no explanation; probably something political.

Instant Art

Google has a fun new site named, and it’s free. It takes scribbles and turns them into something recognizable.

We started by using our mouse to draw a rough picture of a school bus — just a long box with some circles for wheels. Google put a few school buses at the top of the screen. We pointed to the one we liked best, and holy mackerel, our drawing turned into a neat looking picture of a school bus.  Joy painted it yellow. She added red headlights, a tree and a building. Looked good! We couldn’t add people, however. Every time she drew one, the program changed it to some other creature: a dragon, a dog, a bear, etc. Okay, it’s obviously still a work in progress. But it’s free and it’s amusing; we spent an hour on it.

AutoDraw is one of several options on Google’s artificial intelligence site: There’s one that will identify any object in another language when you point your phone’s camera at it. Another option creates song lyrics, like: “We’ve got glasses in this shot; could be eyewear, maybe not.” Okay, maybe no awards this year, but some day.

A Rosie View

Repairing or changing a web site can cost thousands, so we use Esther Rosie, at She’s in England and generally charges around $50, sometimes nothing.

We found her years ago through the freelancer site, but she has since gone on her own. (We’ve gone to that site before to contract for other skills, but results have been mixed.) One of the nice things about Rosie is she’s easy to understand, unlike other programmers we’ve dealt with. She specializes in WordPress sites. WordPress makes it easy to make changes to a website without any programming knowledge. If your site isn’t already a WordPress site, she can convert it for you. Every so often, there’s a problem we can’t fix. Recently, it was a hack attack. Why a hacker should bother with our site is a mystery, since we don’t sell anything and offer no political opinions.

Amazon Conspiracy?

If we were conspiracy theorists, we’d suspect Amazon of something or other, perhaps stupidity.

On February 28, Joy wrote a review of the book, “Law Professors,” by Stephen Presser, and rated it five stars. It appeared on the site until April 10, when it suddenly disappeared. Bob wrote a positive review of the book two days later and it too disappeared. We tried to re-submit them and Amazon sent a note saying it will not post reviews of anyone perceived to be biased.

Darn, they caught us. We were biased in favor of the book because we liked it. This is apparently quite different from so-called “professional” reviewers, who accept money for reviewing things on Amazon and are therefore considered not biased. We just don’t seem to understand e-commerce.

How to Turn Your Old Laptop Into a Chromebook

A reader sent us a great article on “How to Turn Your Old Laptop Into a Chromebook.” If you’re even a little bit technically competent, it’s a good way to save $300 and get a lightning fast machine, ready for email, the web and more. (Chromebooks use Google’s Chrome operating system and the programs are free online.)

There are many of these “how to turn your laptop into a Chromebook” articles online, but if you add the words “by Wayne Williams” to your search phrase, you’ll see the one the reader sent us. (Or click here.)  It’s easy to follow and nicely done. We plan to try it the next time we’re ready to dump a laptop.




“Crowd-sourcing,” also called “crowd-funding” is like found money. Instead of one sponsor, you have hundreds, perhaps thousands of strangers donating to your cause, with few strings attached. A new book, “The Crowd-sourceress” by Alex Daly, ($17 at offers advice on how to do it.

Over 100,000 projects have been funded by, one of several crowd funding services, since it began in 2009. We are talking big bucks here. It’s common to hit a couple hundred thousand and can sometimes bring in a couple million. This has even drawn the attention of major corporations, like Samsung, General Electric and Hasbro. Because after all, there’s no interest charge, unlike borrowing from a bank.

Sometimes there’s also no accounting. When you kick in to finance some new product or project — and we have kicked in — you do not get stock or a share of the profits, if any. What you get is the right to buy the product, if and when it actually appears. Sometimes you can get your money back, sometimes not. We got our $150 back when the product we kicked-in for hadn’t appeared a year after the designers said it would. They were really angry at our lack of patience, and said so vigorously. By the way, the product never appeared.

Crowd-funding websites vary. With Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. Set a goal to raise $50,000 and that’s the floor; if you only raise $49,999, you get nothing. On, you keep whatever comes in. Those who kick in may get small extra rewards for their investment, like a T-shirt or an autographed book. If the company fails to produce, they must give a refund or are legally liable. Of course, if they can’t make the product and go belly up, being legally liable is sort of meaningless.

Hey Google, Delete That

Google Home, a speaker with a virtual assistant inside, records your every request. That’s so it can get better and faster at understanding you, says Google. If you don’t turn it off, it’s still listening. But if you’re paranoid, you can delete every request you ever made, along with additional comments you didn’t know were being recorded.

Go to Click the three dots above a conversation and choose “delete.” Our most recent requests were: “Play ukulele music,” “When was the Federal Reserve created?” (1913). and “How long do giraffes sleep?” (About an hour.) We have wide-ranging interests.

Finding a Good Movie

We just had a lengthy conversation with Alexa, the voice inside Amazon’s Echo Dot. It was all about movies. She would have gone on for hours if we’d wished.

This is a new trick. To use it, enable the “Valossa” skill, by tapping the Alexa app on your phone and searching on “Valossa.”  Though it’s called Valossa, you have to use the words “Ask Movie Finder.” We started by saying, “Alexa, ask Movie Finder to find that movie about the smart girl.” We were thinking of the movie, “Gifted;” it’s still in theaters. She gave us “Get Smart,” from 2008, “School on Fire,” from 1988 and “Three Smart Girls,” a Deanna Durbin movie from 1936 about three girls who try to rescue their father from a gold digger.

This is just where the conversation begins. You can ask for more details about the first, second or third result. She’ll give you the director and a synopsis. If one movie sounds good, ask for similar movies. Asking for movies similar to “Get Smart,” led to “Wanted,” “Harlem Nights,” and “Love, Honor & Obey,” none of which were like Get Smart, but, hey, it’s a start. Get details on those, or ask for a longer list. She’ll give you the genre too, like “action/comedy/thriller.” This conversation can go on as long as you wish. It also works from a computer: Go to and type a query in the search box.

Cool Phone Tricks

We looked up “cool phone tricks” on the web and found some fun ones. Such as…

  • Go to sleep with music. On the iPhone or iPad, first tap the clock app. Next tap “Timer,” and then tap the musical note. Scroll to the bottom of the list of sounds and choose “stop playing.” Now, whatever app you’re using to play music or an audio book, it will stop when you told it to stop. If you don’t have any music in your iPhone’s music library, get the free Pandora app, or iHeart Radio or Spotify. Or play something on YouTube. For Android phones, use a free app called “Sleep Timer.” If you use Audible books, there’s a sleep timer built in.
  • When you’re out with binoculars, or have access to a telescope, you can take a picture of what your binoculars or telescope sees. Hold your phone up to the telescope or binoculars and press the camera icon to take a photo. Now you’ll have a memento of something far, far away.
  • Turn Wi-Fi off with your voice. Works with Siri, Google, and Cortana. You might want to turn it off if you’re away from home and the phone feels hot in your pocket because it’s continually searching for a Wi-Fi connection.

Good “Habyts”

Our nephew teaches high school math, and the first thing he does when the kids come in is confiscate their cell phones. He prefers it to having the same “put away your phone” discussion a hundred times throughout the year. “They’re addicts,” he says.

For controlling younger kids, “Habyts” is a free-to-try app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. It goes beyond shutting off an app when it’s study time; it also teaches good habits. You can get them to the dinner table promptly, since the parent’s dashboard has a “pause everything” mode which shuts down all their activities. You can also encourage good study habits, assign chores and reward them with points. At certain hours, block recreational websites and leave educational ones open. Ditto for games and other apps. Let them use Microsoft Word during study time, but not Minecraft. After the 14-day free trial period is up, Habyts’ plans start at $4 a month. Find it at






You like humor on the web? We like humor on the web. And among the funniest things to read are printer reviews. If you read those you might never buy a printer. Joy said to Bob: “I wish I could find one printer without lots of negative reviews, but it’s impossible!” (She gets emotional about these things.)

Some printers have online reviews from nearly 10,000 users. Most are favorable, but the ones that aren’t can be very funny. Example: “I wish I could give this atrocity of a printer 0 stars. I have literally spent hours, HOURS, of my life trying to fix (it). I have read all the detailed instructions on the Canon support website, followed them, with a flashlight I might add, all to no avail.” Of a similar Canon printer, a guy said it required a master’s degree in tech support. Another pronounced it “dead on arrival.”

The Canon PIXMA MX922 is Amazon’s best-selling all-in-one machine. It has 6,369 four-and-five-star reviews. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But look at the 1,616 one-star reviews. These are not happy people: “For those of you who might be inclined to think I’m too simple to understand how to fix such a basic problem, my husband, is an engineer with 20 years experience in the industry.” He said: “What the %#%*$#%&&!!!!” because he couldn’t figure it out either.” By the way, we used to have one of these Canon PIXMA printers too. “Used to” because we gave it to Goodwill. The paper jammed almost half the time we tried to print.

Let us leave Canon for now, less we sound like a shill for other brands. Believe us, things are no better elsewhere. The number one best-selling color laser printer, the Brother MFC-L2700DW, has 1,724 reviews. About ninety percent are four or five star, full of lavish praise. But don’t forget the 204 negative reviews. One is titled: “Buy if you want to spend 10 hours on hold, only to have tech support trash your new computer.” Another concludes “Oh Brother!”

The HP Envy 4520 is the top top-selling inkjet printer on Amazon. Its overall rating is 4.1 out of five stars. But 382 people gave it withering, one-star reviews. One guy spent four hours on the phone with HP trying to get it to connect to his laptop before they concluded it was not their problem. Our own experience with HP “tech support” was the guy didn’t fix the problem, but did offer to sell us a new one. Many complaints focused on HP’s intrusive on-screen ads. On the Envy 4520, every time you print, you get a pop-up ad for HP’s ink subscription service. The cheapest plan costs $132 a year for 50 pages a month which is less than two pages a day. Since the printer costs $50, the makes the actual price with ink — and we figure most people will want to print with ink — close to $200.

The cheapest color inkjet printer we could find was the HP Deskjet, which you can get from Walmart for only $20, but you have to pick it up yourself. At those prices they don’t want to pay to ship it to you. Once again, the ink price is the killer.

Speaking of Ink

Were we speaking of ink? Printers follow the old razor blade marketing gimmick: Give the razor away, sell them the blades. Similarly, inkjet printers sell for $30 or less and yet ink cartridges sell for $40-$50. To cut that cost, we turn to so-called “third-party” inks.

HP is particularly interesting when it comes to ink costs, because nearly all of the company’s profit comes from selling ink. It’s actually an ink company. Their cartridges have identification chips that the printer checks for and refuses to print if you try using someone else’s ink. Naturally, we tried. (You think we’re going to let them get away with this nonsense?) So we tried, and were rejected. Well, we are used to rejection, and have been thrown out of the some of the best computer companies in the land. If there’s a screen message asking you if this is HP ink, say no. Be honest. The printer will eventually give up and actually print. At least that’s been our experience and others on the web. The quality was good and the ink cost was one-fifth the HP price. Hah, humans win again. Remember our team motto: obnoxious in victory, petty in defeat.

Over a thousand people on Amazon gave four and a half out of five stars to an ink supplier called “Arthur Imaging.” They offer a 28-pack of inks for $30, including 12 large black cartridges, four small black and four small in each color. But four percent of users complained that the inks weren’t accepted by their printer (they should have kept pressing the button) or the quality wasn’t there in color photos.

Another choice is the 18-pack from Office World for $21, which got a five-star rating on Amazon. Only two percent of the 1,002 people who tried it were unable to print or were unhappy with the results. Once again, people: never give up.

As for us, we use an Okidata color laser printer. Must be ten years old. The main reason we use a laser printer is the cost of color. Though you pay a lot more upfront for a good color laser printer, the toner replacement costs, in the long run, are lower than for inkjets unless you can find third-party inks that work well. Main thing is we like the print quality.

On the down side, this printer must weigh about the same as a freight car, and it’s not on wheels; you don’t ever want to have to move it around. The on/off button sometimes won’t turn off, which is only fair, because sometimes it won’t turn on. (Always keep pushing the button.)

We like Okidata because their tech support is incredible — all day every day, and all night. We went on a quest for a second printer only because our Okidata doesn’t do “cloud printing;” and it won’t print from our phone or Google Chromebook. So we save those documents to a thumb drive or email them to ourselves, then open em up on another computer.




Buying a new computer is fun and they’re pretty cheap now. But watch out for the online reviews; trust no one and don’t speak to strangers.

When searching for “how to buy a desktop computer,” you’ll find articles steering you to computers costing $1800 and up. These are fast and mean but appropriate mostly for people who edit videos or play games. Lots of memory and lots of processing power are important in those areas; for most of us, not so much. Searching for “budget desktops,” you get some strange picks, not all of them ready for prime time.

PC Magazine shuttled us to the “Shuttle XPC Nano with Windows 10.” It weighs only one pound and goes for $221 on Amazon. What a deal? But it is oh so techie. The company’s tech support says your keyboard and mouse won’t work until you “patch the installation media” before installing Windows 7. Only then can you install Windows 10. Oh yeah, that’ll go over big with the general market. You would think that since it has Windows 10 in its description, it comes that way. Many users on Amazon noted that they wished they’d bought a more mainstream computer.

Here’s an easy way to find a good one. Type “desktop computer” into the search box at Amazon. We found one from Hewlett Packard for $139. It’s refurbished, but good as new they say. Adding a four-year warranty contract adds another $21 to the price. It has eight gigabytes of RAM, which is plenty for real people. To assess the central processor, we turned to, and compared it to the one on Joy’s current desktop. It was faster than Joy’s. By the way, the newest, fastest processor available is Intel’s “Kaby Lake, Core H.” If you Google it, you can find a list of all the laptops that have it. Typically, only intense gamers need that kind of speed.

The low price was because it was “refurbished,” which means it went out the door once before and was returned for any number of reasons. The usual reason is the buyer — typically a company — bought too many of them and is sending the excess back. Sometimes it’s just because a buyer changed their mind; maybe they got one for their birthday and can’t use two. Whatever the reason, we have purchased refurbished equipment before and have never had any problems when it’s a known brand like HP. We did have a problem with a new one once, which we bought from one of the big-box office supply stores and it turned out to have someone’s files already stored on disk. The store was apologetic and exchanged it with no questions asked. One of the things we never buy is extended warranties. If it breaks, it breaks; do you really want to go through the hassle of arguing with some company over whether they should repair an item you may or may not have broken yourself?

For 99 out of 100 users processor speed has little meaning. Magazine testing crews and lab results will typically rate one processor better than another because it cut the processing time on intensive work like large database searches by a second or two. For more ordinary calculations the difference is often only hundredths of a second. We’re not that crazy. Back in our “city room” days at newspapers we would often get annoyed by waits of half a minute for something to save or be called up. None of that happens today. Since we don’t play World of Warcraft or Call of Duty, processor speed has little value.

Increasingly, Joy turns to her Asus Chromebook 14 for speed. It’s not that her Windows desktop was too slow when she bought it. It’s that adding a lot of programs to any PC can bog it down. With a Chromebook, nearly everything you do takes place online. A good one goes for less than $300.

Bob uses an HP laptop plugged into a large monitor, keyboard and mouse. Since heat is the killer of laptops, his rests on a shelf with a lot of holes for air circulation. Laptops have their own air vents on the case to let heat escape, but some people put a book or a purse on top and close these off. This is not good; let it breathe.

Let’s Do Lunch

Mixmax is a free service that makes it easy to slug boilerplate into your emails. Boilerplate refers to text that is often repeated. (Our all-time favorite boilerplate was from the late Senator Metzenbaum of Ohio. Whenever he got a crazy, angry or scurrilous letter, he would send back a response that read: “We feel it is our responsibility to inform you that that someone is sending out crank letters under your name.”)

Instead of typing in the same reply to these emails, we now click “templates” from a drop-down list. You can choose from one of the Mixmax standard replies, but it’s more useful to set up your own. Click “new” and type in a standard response to be slugged in whenever you need it. We have three templates so far, all of which include cartoon images of ourselves. Now they’ve got a new calendar app to add to that wonderful service.

Go to and click “calendar” off to the left. Choose the days of the week you’re available, and then share a link to the calendar. Typically, the link is You could be (Bob always signs his credit card receipts “James Bond.”) Anyone with a link to your calendar, can click and choose the day they want to meet with you. You need a Google account to use the service, but these are free and can be easily created at



Google Assistant is now inside our Android phone. She says little but hears all. You’ll get yours soon enough.

Google Assistant will do your bidding when you speak to it, even when the phone is dark and locked. We could be lying on the couch half dead and say, “OK Google, call the Doc.” The next step: it will bill us too.

Most Android phones don’t have the Assistant yet. You can find out when yours will have it by Googling the question. (Yes, Google has become a verb.)  Last month, we read that the Assistant would be on both the “Nougat” and the “Marshmallow” operating systems at the end of February. That’s 30 percent of all Android phones. We got it on our Nexus 6p in mid March. That would be the Ides of March. Uh-O.

To test it, we said: “Play music by the Beatles,” and it did. We said “Play music by Ferde Grofe,” and it played a lot of stuff, including Gershwin. When we said “play music,” it played a selection based on our known tastes. It doesn’t work as well as Google Home or the Amazon Echo. Many times, when we said “OK Google, stop,” it didn’t stop and we had to reach over and sock it in its nose button. Similarly, it didn’t resume when we said “resume.” Instead it gave us a link to a resume builder, as if we were applying for a job. This dyslectic reaction does not occur with Google Home or Amazon’s Echo, they start playing again instantly.

Continuing on this ever-shifting path through the woods, Joy said: “OK Google, call Bob.” It asked if she meant Bob Clark, her nephew, or Bob Schwabach. When she clarified the situation, it started dialing. She said: “What fabric stores are nearby?” and it gave her two. She said, “Text Betty,” and the Assistant told her to go ahead with the message, then asked if she wanted to send it or change it. This is good. Because texting is fast and very current; young people don’t call, they text. Remember to say “period” or “exclamation point” or whatever punctuation you want, like sending a telegram (whatever that is).

You can also say: “What’s on my calendar,” “Mute my phone,” or “remind me to do 50 jumping jacks one hour from now.” Use your voice to go to any website, instead of typing it in. We said “Go to Facebook” and it went there. This could be a boon for those with low vision as well as the millions addicted to Facebook. (We’ve noticed most people go on Facebook to brag or complain about something, usually politics. There’s a whole lot of moaning and groaning going on.)

We tried giving the same directions on Windows voice assistant, Cortana, on our Windows 10 computer. But when we said, “Hey Cortana, go to Facebook,” she said “I’m fine, but my connection’s funky. Check back shortly.” We liked the “funky” part.

We also tried giving voice commands to Siri on our iPad and that worked okay. We’ve noticed, by the way, that the people we know with iPhones and iPads don’t use Siri much. We have no explanation for this.

A Smarter Mom

Joy’s been pretending she has a baby, to test the “Project Nursery SmartBand,” one of those fitness trackers that goes on your wrist. This one’s for new mothers and pregnant women. So far, the baby’s doing fine.

The SmartBand looks like any other fitness tracker, but does a lot more. Tap a picture of a baby to log diaper changes, bottle, pump or breast feedings, baby’s weight, etc. The diaper logging is detailed: You can log dumps for number one or number two. Mom’s info can also be logged as well, including her weight, water-drinking habits and medication use. Set an alarm to feel a vibration when you need to wake up. The band also tracks your sleep time.

A Reader With A Long Vista

A reader told us he’s running Windows Vista on an old Dell computer. It works great, and it has 50 years of his wife’s genealogy research on it. But he’s getting dire messages about the end of Microsoft support for Vista. What should he do?

We too get panicky messages from various companies telling us they will no longer support whatever it is they used to support very poorly before. We know there’s always plenty of time to panic, so in this case we advise installing a good anti-virus program like Avast, either the free or paid version, take two aspirins and lie down for a while. The only difference between the free and paid versions is that with the paid version you get some protection before bad things happen; with the free version, it works on problems after they arrive.

We have an old Windows XP computer we bought last year off the web for $70.  We use it to run old programs we still like. It works fine, and we feel safe using the free version of Avast. Microsoft stopped offering support for XP three years ago. And since then, we’ve noticed some differences: The old XP runs much faster than our newer computers, and because the old programs have fewer features, they’re easier to use.

Best numbers we could find on the web tell us that about 250 million Windows XP computers are still in use. Among those users are the U.S. Navy, federal government, other armed forces, banks, companies, etc.

By the way, should you be so inclined, you can still get a free upgrade to Windows 10, despite Microsoft’s announcement last summer that you now have to pay $120. Google the term “Windows 10 upgrade for users who use assistive technologies.” Click the “upgrade now” button and a copy of the program is saved to your machine. Click on it when you’re ready to install. The only thing you should check is your computer’s resources; Windows 10 likes and sometimes needs a fast processor and lots of memory. Good luck.



We had a gizmo attack. A gizmo attack is when some new gizmo comes out and you feel you have to have it. Normally you should lie down and wait for this feeling to pass. But not always. So we went for it.

We spent $500 for a driving aid called “Navdy.” This is a hamburger-sized device that sits on your car’s dashboard and projects a head-up display that brings you directions, text messages, phone calls and many other now necessary aspects of the modern world. Think of it as the same kind of display fighter pilots see — at least while there still are fighter pilots.

In our case, we fitted this device in our 17 year-old Honda minivan which doesn’t have any other fancy car tech. The only problem we’ve had with the car is that Joy sometimes gets lost. So she figured this would be a great navigation aid, with a lot more features besides. A small step for womankind.

The Navdy projects a picture of your route onto a small clear plastic screen. It doesn’t interfere with your view; your eyes stay on the road. But if an exciting message is displayed before you, that may be a different problem. Texting while driving has become a major cause of the increased accident rate of the last couple of years. We’ve never done it. However, the Navdy user doesn’t have to either because this feature can be turned off.

As Bob pulled away, a diagram of the road ahead and the cross streets was immediately projected as if into the air between the steering wheel and the windshield. (Joy likes it when Bob drives.) He cycled through messages by pressing a button/wheel combination attached to the steering wheel. He waved his hand to see an incoming phone call, while an image of the caller hovered before him. (He didn’t answer; no talking on phone while driving. Never liked that guy anyway.) He scrolled with his thumb on the steering wheel to see gas mileage, a compass and other info.

If we had entered a destination, directions would appear as if in the air. If the road curved off, the display showed it curving. All fairly remarkable. After a few blocks we drove home, dismantled the device, boxed it up and sent it back to Amazon. The nice thing about Amazon is they let you return things and get your money back.

Because when all was said and done, one over-riding question remained: Did the device eliminate distractions while driving? The answer was no. Though Bob was rather enjoying himself, Joy felt sure an accident was imminent. And Bob admitted it did take attention away from what was happening around him.

Well, that was crucial, wasn’t it? It’s not that the device didn’t work, it worked just as advertised. But the main purpose was to make you driving experience safer. It certainly didn’t feel safer. We don’t know about you, but messages in the air, even if you can see past them to oncoming cars, are about as subtle as a hand floating between you and the window.

The Navdy gets rave reviews from PC Magazine and 97 percent of reviewers on Amazon, but it’s not for us. Even without messages and road diagrams in your face, the mounted device itself is a distraction. If you like bobble-heads, wiggly hula dancers or fuzzy dice moving around in front of your windshield, Navdy probably won’t bother you. But it was too much for us. Besides, we prefer Waze (a free app owned by Google) to Google Maps, which is what Navdy uses for navigation.

Finally, if you need directions, why not just let your cellphone tell you as you go? Joy puts her phone in the cup holder and lets Waze call out directions. She never has to look at it. Bob looks at a map just once, never asks directions and has never gotten lost. He also always knows where our car is in parking garages. (Oh, stop bragging.)

A Tip From Vanna

It’s not often you get a tech tip from Wheel of Fortune. But co-host Vanna White gave everyone a good one the other night.
When saving a great photo to your computer, put “fav” after the name. Later, when you’re searching for your favorite photos, you’ll find them easily, even if they’re scattered all over the hard drive. Just search on “fav.”

Getting a Cheap Smartphone

A reader told us she’s ready for her first smartphone because she’s going on a long road trip. It’ll be handy to get maps and make motel reservations on the road. The good news is they cost very little.
The same cheap TracFone service that works with so-called “flip phones” also works with cheap smartphones. Our neighbor got the Alcatel OneTouch Pixi Pulsar from Walmart for $20 and has a TracFone service costing $7 a month. She plays games on it every day, uses it to hail Uber cabs, and gets maps, email and text messages. The big difference is storage space and photo quality. The phone can’t

Alcatel Pixi Pulsar

hold more than a few basic apps. She can play “Word Chums” or “Scrabble” but not both. Otherwise, it does everything she needs it to do, such as going on the web.
To get started, search on the phrase “TracFone, bring your own smartphone.” Then when you click “smartphone plans,” you’ll see that under “90 day pay as you go” there’s one that costs only $7 a month. Or, start at, click “shop phones” to get an idea of which smartphones are compatible with their service. Instead of buying one from TracFone, you can get better prices elsewhere. The same Alcatel phone selling for $20 at Walmart is $30 on the TracFone site.