HERE’S LOOKING AT EVERYBODY

 

facebookIf you use Facebook, but worry about it sharing your personal information with strangers, we have a fix. It’s Facebook’s “Privacy Checkup.” From your computer, go to Facebook.com and click the tiny picture of a padlock next to the tiny picture of a globe in the upper right. Follow the steps to increase your privacy.

— You might not want anyone to see how often you play “Candy Crush,” or any other application, for example. In that case, change the “public” setting to “only me.”

— Remove any apps you’re not using.

— Change the information on your profile page and remove the year of your birth if it’s listed. (It’s easier to do identity theft if the bad guys know the year you were born.)

— You can use Facebook as a personal diary and share your posts with no one else. This is a perfect solution for the anti-Facebook folks who would otherwise miss out on its ability to find long lost relatives and friends. Remember: They’re out there somewhere. An estimated one-third of the world’s population past the toddler age is on Facebook. Toddlers next.

Free Calls

skype video messageA reader wrote to say he used Vonage to make cheap calls over Wi-Fi.  Their cheapest service is $15 a month. What are the alternatives?

One is phoning from Google’s Gmail. If you don’t have an account, get one free from Mail.Google.com. In the computer version of Gmail, on the left side of your Gmail window there is a chat area. Click the tiny picture of a phone. When you click it, type in a phone number, which can be a landline or cell phone number. Or, if there is a list of your favorite contacts already there, just click on the name of the person you want to call. Google will dial the number and you can talk using the computer’s microphone and speakers. Most calls in the U.S. and Canada are free. International rates are dirt cheap, starting at one cent a minute to India.

Or, you can switch to Skype, which is free for calling other Skype users. To hook up, go to Skype.com.  If the person you’re calling is not a Skype user, their global calling rate is two cents a minute. Skype makes it real easy to leave messages if someone doesn’t answer. You can also make free calls using Apple’s “Facetime;” once again, only if the other person is connected to Facetime.

joy cardApp Happy

“PhotoDirector,” free for Android and iPhone, has been downloaded more than 10 million times by Android users alone. It lets you change the color tone of your photos, fix flaws, add special effects, and use frames.

You can do a lot of these things in other apps, such as Instagram, which has been downloaded over 100 million times. But you can only send your creation to other Instagram users unless you copy the web address for the image and paste it into an email. PhotoDirector lets you email it directly and share it on other websites, such as Twitter or Facebook. Joy used a “Happy Birthday” frame to frame a picture of herself for Bob.

Who You Gonna Call?

A new study at Stanford University found that the results of most studies are false and in those where the findings were true, they were usually of little significance. Our question for today: Does that include the study by Stanford University?

Too Slow

slow computer
Computer running hot and slow? Dust your chips. A fuzzy jungle collects inside and it’s a job for Tarzan of the Vacuum Cleaner.

For the keyboard, you can try the vacuum cleaner, but if it’s a pretty good one it might suck the caps right off the keys and you’ll never figure out what’s what. For keyboard cleaning, use a can of compressed air, which can be purchased from any office supply store. They’re also useful for other dust jobs.

Restarting your computer also speeds things up. So does clicking the bottom of your screen with your right mouse button and clicking to end any of the tasks you don’t need down there. But some programs linger even after you close them, and it’s hard to find their traces. One of the worst is Microsoft Outlook, which like some kind of maniac cow pie machine always leaves droppings behind.

For more tips, click here: “13 reasons your computer is too slow.”

Numbers Report: Parents

About 68 percent of parents say they worry that their kids are turning into tech zombies,  according to Influence Central, a market research firm. Here are some other findings.

  • 26 percent say their children seem to not hear them when they’re engaged in electronic pursuits. (Our observation has been this was true long before computers came around.)
  • 43 percent of 2016 respondents charge four to six powered devices at night, while 11 percent charge between seven and nine. (NOTE: This is one of the most boring findings we’ve ever received.)
  • 19 percent of homes in 2012 didn’t have a desktop computer. This year it’s up to 31 percent as people increasingly shift to laptops, phones and tablets.

Exercise Videos From YouTube

With the right search terms, you can find great exercises on YouTube.com. Here are some that impressed Joy.

  • two doctorsBest exercises for osteoporosis on YouTube.” Search on that term to find some great exercise recommendations. We liked the one where two ordinary doctors demonstrate three ways to do push-ups, as well as lunges and other exercises.
  • jillian michaelsJillian Michaels YouTube.” Michaels is best known for her appearances on the TV show “Biggest Loser.” Her exercise sessions are like Marine boot camp, but if you’re up for a challenge, this is it.
  • briohny smyth yoga on YouTube-Briohny Smyth yoga on YouTube.” Joy took her yoga practice to the next level with a subscription to DailyBurn.com, which features Smyth as one of the trainers. But you can watch her for free on YouTube.

 

OFFICE POLITICS

 

office politicsAlmost 50 percent of workers surveyed by the staffing agency Robert Half said that office politics were necessary to get ahead.

Of the 80 percent of workers who experienced office politics on the job, 46 percent said the most common form was gossiping or spreading rumors. Another 28 percent said “gaining favor by flattering the boss.” Joy remembers an intern she knew at a California newspaper years ago. He was always flattering the boss, and though he couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map and wasn’t sure it was a country, he became editor. Bob recalls being interviewed by a managing editor at the New York Times whose career was public relations.

Robert Half puts out a free guide for steering clear of the most common mistakes, like sharing personal details with the office gossiper. Find it by searching on the phrase “How to Navigate Office Politics Robert Half,” or click here.

Losing the Internet

“It’s my turn to cry HELP!!!” wrote a reader. She downloaded Windows 10 and all of a sudden, she couldn’t connect to the Internet. We read up on this problem and it seemed the most likely solution was to update your  network adapter driver.

If you Google those words, you get instructions on how to do it. Well that sounded promising, but in fact it didn’t work. It turned out there was a little switch on the side of her Dell laptop that toggles the Internet connection on and off. On our HP laptop, it’s a little button on the keyboard that shares space with the F12 key. Strange are the ways of computer designers.

ted talks bookTED Talks, the Official Guide

“TED” began as an annual conference, featuring people in technology, entertainment and design. Now it covers many topics of interest and draws audiences of more than a thousand people directly, and close to two million at their web site TED.com.

You can browse the talks by categories at their web site; many have also been posted to YouTube. Not all the speakers are well known; in fact, many of them were totally unknown before speaking at a TED conference. Some are a
ctually interesting. Sample subjects: “Do schools kill creativity?” “Why We Do What We Do.” “The Power of Introverts.”

“TED Talks, the Official TED Guide to Public Speaking,” is a new book by Chris Anderson, head of TED. It’s $28 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book has some great advice for becoming a speaker on TED, plus a list of TED speakers. You can also search on the term “Best TED talks.”

One of the key strategies is surprise. Start with an unusual premise that seems to go opposite to common sense. Anderson writes about a speaker who outlined two scenarios: In one, you win the lottery. In the other, you become a paraplegic. He tries to prove that both outcomes produce the same degree of happiness in the end, because of human adaptability.

App Happy

greger appThough always thin and a healthy eater, Joy’s cholesterol dropped 100 points, right into the normal level, when she started following a “nutrient-dense, plant-rich” diet. Now there’s an app for that.

“Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen,” free for iPhone and Android, gives you a checklist for healthy living, following his best-selling book, “How Not to Die.” Each item on the checklist has an information button. For instance, he suggests a daily serving of a cruciferous veggie, and gives examples such as broccoli, arugula, bok choy, radishes, cabbage and seven others. As you check off an item, the app keeps track and has daily reminders to consult the list. A gold star lights up when you complete the checklist, which includes exercise.

Giving Away a Kindle Fire

Somehow we ended up owning three tablets. So we tried to give away our original Kindle Fire to a friend whose sight is failing. We thought she would enjoy listening to books aloud from the Audible app. Then we got a surprise.

amazon click and youre doneDespite de-registering our tablet and re-registering it in her name, using the Amazon password she shared with us, all the Audible books we’d previously downloaded to the tablet were still there. So she started with a huge library.

But de-and-re registering our Kindle Fire totally confused the device. After the first successful log on, we couldn’t get our friend logged on. So we re-registered it back to our name, but that didn’t help. We still couldn’t log on. Amazon tech support finally got it going again. It’s a constant surprise to us but calling tech support sometimes works. The Amazon number is 888-280-4331.

Mac News

The next version of the Mac operating system, dubbed “macOS Sierra” is coming out this fall and will be free. Here are a few new features:

  • mac osA “Universal Clipboard.” If you copy something from one Apple device, you can paste it into any other.
  • “Siri,” the voice assistant for iPhone and iPad, is coming to the Mac. To reach her, you hold down a function key and tap the space bar.
  • An option to let your files automatically upload to your private iCloud account on the web, so you always have a backup. The first five gigabytes of storage are free. (This is often the only way many people have a backup of anything. And that includes us.)
  • “Memories” automatically combines related photos into a movie with pan and zoom effects and a soundtrack.
  • An option to automatically empty the trash every 30 days. (This brings up Bob’s favorite excuse for turning away intrusive people: “Sorry, I have to empty my wastebaskets.”)

 

 

 

 

FINDING A PEN PAL ONLINE

pen palA reader described himself as “an over-the-hill guy” who remembers having a pen pal in his youth and he liked it. It was great fun, he said, but how would he find pen pals these days? Well …

PenPalParty.com has international pen friends. You can specify adults who speak English, are over a certain age, or use any criteria you like, by going to penpalparty.com/lookforpals.html.

You could also go to favorite websites, such as your favorite newspaper or magazine. If there’s a topic you’re interested in, comment on it and include your email address so people can write you back.

When Joy was in her 20s, she loved the pen pals she met through “Single Booklovers,” which still exists at SingleBookLovers.com. Their motto: “Show me the books he loves and I will know the man far better than through mortal friends.” (Quote is from Silas Mitchell, a 19th century Philadelphia doctor.)

facebookFacebook is another great way to find people. Everyone who joins gets a Facebook email address. To write someone on Facebook, type their name in the big search box at the top of the screen. When you get to their page, click “Message” and type in the chat window that comes up at the bottom of the page. There are well over a billion people connected on Facebook.

Also consider the seniors site: Stitch.net. As with all online activities, one must be careful. People could be writing from prisons or anywhere. (Remember the old joke: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”) However, one of Joy’s friends found a wonderful friend on Stitch.

Here’s an odd approach: One of our friends found a business card in a library book. It had a comment on the book and the person’s phone number. The book was about the history of Persia (Iran) and the card noted he wanted to meet other people interested in Persia. She called the number because it was a new book and she grew up in Persia. It didn’t work out but she had a fun phone conversation. To get better results, he should have put down his email address instead of a phone number.

Hidden Features on Your Phone

If you have an Android phone, search on the phrase “Google camera help” to find some great hidden features. At least they were hidden from us. These are tips for Android 3.0 and up, but they have tips for older phones too. You’ll learn some clever stuff.

The Austrian Alps

The Austrian Alps

  • The timer: After you tap the camera icon, notice the tiny picture of a clock in the upper right. Tapping it gives you three seconds to get in the picture. Tap it again and you have ten seconds. The phone actually does a count-down while you get into place. Don’t forget to wave.
  • Panorama: After tapping your camera icon, notice the so-called “hamburger” icon (three stacked lines like a bun with something in the middle). Tap that and then tap “Panorama.” You can take a vertical, horizontal, wide-angle or “fish eye” panorama.
  • Slow Motion. First, change your phone’s camera from photo to video. On our phone, there are two dots above the button for snapping pictures. Tapping the second dot changes it to video. For other phones, swipe your finger from left to right. Tapping the menu icon (three stacked lines) gives us the slow motion options, as well as photo sphere, lens blur and other settings.
  • Take a photo during a video. If you tap the screen while you’re taking a video, you’ll get a snap shot too.
  • You can get similar tips by searching on “iPhone camera help.”

Internuts

  • juicy umbrellasJuicyJuice.com is a commercial site with a lot of kids crafts. We made the paper umbrellas that stick on straws to liven up your drink. Sort of a kid’s Mai Tai.
  • Hostelz.com lists information on hostels worldwide and provides contact info. It aims to have every hostel in the world. We noticed 137 in London alone. They also list other kinds of accommodations.
  • ReadWriteThink.org has links to travel-oriented lesson plans for kids from kindergarten through high school. Example: A “back in time” travel brochure for some ancient culture. (Remember: When in the Roman Empire, do as the ancient Romans do.)

Carpal Tunnel

Penclic keyboardJoy’s elbow got so sore she had to give up “downward dog” and some other yoga moves for five months. But a walk-in clinic physician (sometimes called “a doc in a box”), said it was probably due to too much time on the computer. She cured it by using the mouse with her left hand. Now she’s also using an ergonomic keyboard from Penclic.

We get some strange stuff to try out, and this one was a Swedish keyboard, a $70 item from TheHumanSolution.com. The manual required a magnifying glass to read the type and explained almost nothing. At first, every time we typed a “j,” we got a “1,” and we got a zero for the letter “m.” Very weird. We had to call the company to find out the keyboard comes with the numbers lock turned on. Who knew?

To toggle it off, we had to hold down an Fn key and type F11. So the painful wrist or elbow function that the keyboard is supposed to fix is supposed to be because it’s only three-quarters the length of a regular keyboard, decreasing strain on the wrist. The company also sells a mouse in the shape of a pen, but we couldn’t get that to work.

Another suggestion: Try “Mouse Tool,” free software from infopedia.com. When you hover the mouse pointer over something you want to click, it clicks the mouse for you. This helps too.

 

CELL PHONE SERVICE GETS CHEAP

project fiWe love our cell phone service from Google’s new “Project Fi.” It only works with Google Nexus phones, but if you get one, your bill might be as low as $25 a month with tax.  Now they’re expanding it.

Google Fi currently works with three phone carriers. If the signal is strongest from T-Mobile, for example, that’s who they’ll connect to. If Sprint is better, you’ll be using Sprint. They’ve recently added U.S. Cellular.

A Google Fi account gives you unlimited text and phone calls for $20 a month. Each gigabyte of data (which is what you use up when you’re on the Web and all those words and pictures come in), is $10. But you get money back if you don’t use it.

Our comment on this is that it was inevitable that phone service would get cheaper. It was just too darn expensive, with users averaging $73 a month in charges.

Can Your Mac Be Hacked?

The main reason hackers target Windows computers over Macs is because there are so many more of them. Even now, global Macs account for only 7.5 percent of all personal computer sales. Thirty-five years ago it was around six percent; not much change, eh? (The top PC vendors are Lenovo, HP, Dell, Asus and Apple, in that order.)

hackingIt’s a very slight increase in the user base, but 7.5 percent is just enough of a bump to attract the bad guys. According to a study by “Carbon Black,” a security firm, the number of malware attacks on Macs was five times greater in 2015 than the previous five years combined. We can expect it to be even greater this year.

The Mac “OS X” operating system comes with its own malware detection program, but hackers still get through. According to Malwarebytes.org, a piece of “ransomware” called “KeRanger” has been downloaded by 6,500 Mac owners, some of whom saw their photos, files, music and what-have-you locked away. Ransomware is a term given to attacks that make your files unavailable unless you pay a ransom to have them unlocked.

Malwarebytes.org offers a free Windows and Mac program for removing what they call “potentially unwanted programs” — “pups.”

Reach Out and Text Someone

We get emails saying, “Hey, check your text messages.” Maybe you do too. Texting is used more often than email by the younger set, and it seems like it will soon be used more often by everyone. Why’s that? It’s simpler. Its users point out: “There’s less overhead.” Meaning, there are fewer steps to send a message.

textingRecently we wrote about one solution to check for incoming text messages. It’s a free program called “MySMS” (SMS stands for Short Message Service), which pops up on your computer screen when a new text message comes in. But you have to remember to start up the program. Now we have an even simpler fix: tweak the settings on your smartphone.

Smartphones make sort of happy noises when new email comes in, when there’s breaking news, and for all kinds of other reasons. It’s a personality thing. So you can silence all of those except the ringtone for phone calls and the sound your phone makes when announcing a new text. That way, when you hear a sound, it means somebody is trying to get in touch with you. (Search on the phrase “how to shut off sound notifications on Android,” or “how to turn off sound notifications on iPhone,” for detailed instructions.)

We get thousands of emails, so we used to turn the volume off on our phone so we wouldn’t get bombarded with ding-a-lings every few seconds. We missed a lot of stuff that way, and yet the world seemed to go on pretty much as before.

Internuts

1 sandwich named kevin— “Passive Aggressive Office Notes” has some funny examples. A note on the office printer said: “My name is now Bob Marley, because I’m always jamming.” Seen on a vending machine: “Fix me! I take money but I don’t give treats.” A note inside a refrigerator read: “I don’t know your name but you have been seen stealing my butter. Put it back in the fridge or I will lick everything.”

— “The making of a marlin” is a four-minute YouTube video about making sculpture from plastics washed up on the beach.

Free Alternative to Start 10

We recently wrote about the $5 program, “Start 10,” which brings back the look and feel of Windows 7, and buries the annoying distractions of Windows 10. A reader reminded us that a free alternative to Start 10 is “ClassicShell,” from ClassicShell.net, which we wrote about before Windows 10 came out. Now ClassicShell is out in a new version, and is still free. Like Start 10, it returns normalcy to your Windows experience.

The reader says her brother is a computer network administrator who puts ClassicShell on the computers of all the medical office computers he services. She writes: “I don’t know what Microsoft has been thinking, but the Windows 8 and 10 setups cater to the teeny-boppers who are on touchscreen devices for personal reasons, not professionals who are earning a living and paying bills.  I

Going back to the Windows 7 start menu

Going back to the Windows 7 start menu

am rather dumbfounded why the target market actually is the unemployed, the nonprofessionals, and the non-tax-paying sector.” We got the impression she was a wee bit ticked off.

App Happy

  • “MyScript Smart Note” is a free app for Android and iPhone. It lets you make handwritten notes on your phone or tablet, using a stylus. What’s fun is you can edit those notes with easy gestures. Put a line through a word to erase it. Draw a line between letters or words to insert a new word, an apostrophe, or some other mark. Your notes can be turned into digital text and are searchable. Or copy your signature by holding your finger on it, tap “copy” and paste it into an email.
  • “MyScript Calculator” for Android or  iPhone lets you make calculations using handwriting instead of typing. It’s also free for Android and iPhone. It even does algebra. We had trouble getting it to recognize a decimal point. But it’s a quick way to calculate tips. We scribbled 15/100 x 16.8 to figure a 15 percent tip on a $16.80 bill: it’s $2.52.

 

 

TEXTING FROM YOUR COMPUTER

text messagingJoy’s sister recently sent her an email saying: “Look at your text messages.” (She implied, but did not add, “Dummy!”)  We’re much more likely to see email on our computer than texts on our phone and Sis knows it. We’re that rare couple who doesn’t live on their phones.

So what we needed was a free Windows app called “MySMS,” which is for Android phones only. The acronym stands for “Short Message Service.” You can get it from MySMS.com. Once installed on your computer, it can copy all the text messages that were sent to your smartphone — as long as you have another app installed on your phone. That’s also called MySMS and you get it from the Google Play Store, which is on every Android phone. Both these apps are free.

So … should you lose your phone or leave it somewhere, your text messages will still be there online and can be read on your computer. Pop-ups alert you as new messages come in. After installing MySMS, Joy got a pop-up immediately right there in the corner of her computer screen. How exciting. Clicking on it took her to the latest text from Sis — even more excitement.

You can send text messages from your computer with or without the SMS program or a smartphone, but it’s not as convenient. Just convert your friend’s phone number into an email address. As you know, an email address has two parts, what goes before the “@” sign and what comes after.  Replace the name with your friend’s phone number in front of the “@” sign. What come after the @ sign depends on the carrier.

For example: Say the phone number is 123-456-7890. For AT&T customers, the email address would be 1234567890@txt.att.net. For Verizon the second part would be @vtext.com. For Sprint, it’s @messaging.sprintpcs.com. For T-Mobile, use @tmomail.net.  If you don’t know what to put for your friend’s carrier, find out what phone company they use at CarrierLookup.com. If it’s not AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or T-Mobile, you can find it by a Google search on “send text messages from your computer.”

Going back in Time

time machineA reader wrote to say that one day everything was fine on her computer but the next day she could barely read her screen, the font was so tiny. She didn’t know what she did wrong. We told her to hold down the “Ctrl” key and tap the “plus” sign to enlarge the type you see on the web.

Often, changes to your computer can be much more serious. Maybe everything was working yesterday and today it’s all wrong. Here’s our favorite fix: Go back to a day when all was well.

For that you need what are called “restore points” so you can do a “system restore.” To our surprise, in Windows 10, we only had two restore points. The others went into the great Microsoft never-never land during the upgrade from Windows 8.

To create a restore point in Windows 10, type “Control Panel” in the “ask me anything box” and click it when it comes up. Type “restore point” in the Control Panel’s search box and then “create a restore point.” When the next menu comes up, click “create” and name your restore point, which will include a date. (Because we’re creative types, we named ours “Restore point.”) Now if something goes wrong, and you need to take your computer back to a day when all was working, repeat these steps again but this time choose “System Restore” instead of “create.” (Isn’t technology wonderful?”)

Internuts

  • elon muskBestofYoutube.com has select videos. We listened to Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, talk about whether we’re really alive or just characters in some advanced civilization’s video game. He thinks we’re in somebody else’s video game. But are we winning, or losing?
  • Echoism.io lets you try out some of the voice commands available to owners of Amazon’s popular speaker, the “Echo.” On the test site, you can ask about the weather, find a restaurant, and get answers to other questions.
  • RomanceScam.com: Is he or she the right one for you? On this site you can share your story or read about others who have been scammed by online dating sites. The site recaps a number of stories on the subject. Both sexes have been victims. Losses can be heavy.
  • Search on the term “Think you drink a lot?” According to an article in the Washington Post, 30 percent of Americans don’t drink at all. (We don’t drink, but we seldom meet anyone else who doesn’t. So we’re skeptical abut the 30 percent figure.) Another 30 percent drink less than one drink a week. But the top ten percent have an astonishing 74 drinks a week. Which would kind of indicate that ten percent of the population are alcoholics.

Graphic Design

2nd example of art created with Xara- by Bill DaleWe’ll never forget the first time we saw a picture created with a graphic design program called Xara. When we zoomed in on an illustration of a microscope, and kept zooming in, we came to a dot on the microscope’s slide. That dot was only one pixel but when we zoomed it, it turned out to be an elaborate drawing of a woman taking a bath. The full magnification was more than 2500 percent.

Xara’s new $70 program, “Xara Photo and Graphic Designer 365,” is for people who want to go beyond free photo editing and design tools, such as Instagram. There’s a  free-trial period, and you can learn a lot in that time, by using their tutorial website, XaraXone.com. It starts from the beginning: how to draw a line on a page and instantly color in an object you just drew. This could be better than paying for art lessons.

Go to Xara.com, click on “Photo and Graphic Designer,” and then click on “gallery,” to see some amazing works created with the program. We especially liked the comic book cover for a magazine called “Heart-Searing Confessions,” and other cartoonish and photo realistic creations. If these were at a local art show, they would beat almost anything we’ve seen.

example of art created with Xara program by Mark LockettA new kind of Xara tool lets you plop a “smart photo grid” onto your design space. These instantly re-size themselves as you drop photos into them, making it easier to swap the positions of photos. The “smart shapes” tool has new tricks for creating charts, making them easier to edit. The program comes with a ton of free templates for charts, logos, and other designs, as well as photos you can use. Unlike some of the other graphic programs we’ve tried, this one won’t strain your computer resources. It works with Windows Vista on up.

 

 

MEDICAL APPS

blood pressureA reader asked us to find her a blood pressure app for the iPhone. There are several of these for both iPhone and Android. Unlike the kind you see at the doctor’s office, the apps do not use a compression band that temporarily cuts off your circulation. They measure the slight pulsing from placing your finger on the phone.

We tried “Finger Blood Pressure! Free” on our Android phone, and compared it with the reading we got on the $35 Omron 3 Series Blood Pressure monitor with a pressure cuff. The Omron is battery operated, so you’re not tethered to the wall plug.

Omron said Joy’s systolic pressure was 118, her diastolic reading was 74 and her pulse was 46. (She exercises way too much.) The Finger Blood Pressure Free readings were similar but were way off on the pulse, which Joy has tested elsewhere. Still, it was better than nothing.  If you have an iPhone, there’s the “Blood Pressure Monitor Family Lite,” also free, which just keeps track of your readings. The “Finger Blood Pressure Calculator” for iPhone/iPad gave us systolic readings 14 points higher than our Omron monitor did.

Be prepared to be bombarded with ads and freebie offers. When we installed Finger Blood Pressure Free, it prompted us to download an app from our local grocery store. Joy went ahead, because she likes digital coupons anyway.

Getting Help From Apple

Apple storeWe have three friends who always go to the Apple store when they have a problem with their Apple equipment. But we said why not call up Apple and get an answer from them? (We can be so “know-it-all” sometimes.)

We recently suggested that to our friend Frieda when she couldn’t text or call her son or us, though she could text and call others. Somehow her iPhone settings had changed. We suggested she call Apple at 800-275-2273. (NOTE: THIS IS THE NUMBER FOR GETTING A REAL PERSON!) They told her how to fix it and all was working again.

Be Your Own Movie Director

Amazon has a new video service, “Amazon Video Direct,” for people who want to make their own.

gulch chroniclesBefore you can upload your first video, Amazon first asks for your bank’s routing number, Social Security number and other info. Are you a corporation or partnership, an individual? It certainly slows down the spontaneity of the service. But you only have to do that once and you’re in.

Amazon Video Direct movies are not found in a special section, so you probably won’t know which ones they are unless you know the creator. One already up is “Red Versus Blue Volume 1: The Blood Gulch Chronicles.”

Creators get 50 percent of any revenue collected. For movies included in the “Prime” video area, you get 15 cents an hour for every hour a U.S. viewer watches it, or six cents an hour in other countries, including Japan, the U.K., Germany and Austria. Amazon will distribute a share of one million dollars per month to the top100 titles included with Amazon’s “Prime” service.

Getting Game

The “Zepp 2” is a $150 motion sensor you attach to a baseball bat, tennis racket or golf glove. It analyzes your swing while a free app makes suggestions.

zepp golfThe app uses swing data analyzed by PGA and Major League Baseball p
ros such as John Malle, Mike Trout and Michelle Wie. It gives you a training plan, drills and 80 videos. The Zepp weighs a fifth of an ounce and is one inch around, with an eight-hour battery life.

If basketball is your thing, there’s the Wilson X Connected Basketball for $199. It analyzes all shots except lay-ups, and is good for 100,000 of them. There’s a tiny sensor inside the ball.

Internuts

  • Search on “Xkcd Lakes and Oceans” to find a page on xkcd.com showing how deep lakes and oceans are relative to each other, and various depths for sunken ships, well drillings, mines and other things that go deep. The whole thing is shown in an easy to follow chart. Whales can go down about two miles; some turtles as low as a mile. The Titanic sank two and a half miles.

 

  • 10 New Trends of Logo Design for 2015.” Search on that phrase to find some elegant logos. (This year’s aren’t as good.) We especially like the use of lots of white space, shadows, polygons and metallic effects.

mary doodles

 

  • C7Recycle.com has cheap, gently-used phones that were only driven on Sundays. In the “unlocked” category, where you can choose your own phone plan, we saw several phones for about 25 percent off.

 

Gadget of the Week

kingii inflatable wearableWhen Joy was 10, an ocean wave knocked her off her raft near shore and the rope got tangled around her neck. She thought it was hilarious as she tried to walk ashore, wearing the raft and her hair obscuring her face. A new $90 gadget called the “Kingii” could prevent much scarier outcomes.

The Kingii is an air bag tucked into a wristband that pushes you to the water’s surface when inflated. You tug a lever to make the inflatable bag appear. It weighs five ounces. Around 372,000 around the world drown each year. The inventor says he created it because a good friend died from drowning.

The Numbers Report

People ages 18 to 29 are seven times more likely to use Uber, Lyft or another ride-sharing service compared to those 65 are older, according to a Pew Research Center study. The same study found that only 15 percent of Americans have tried one of these taxi alternatives, but 86 percent of those who have say it reduces stress and saves time.

 

DROPPING CABLE

Roku channelsWe’re going into this again because it seems that all the world wants to get rid of their cable service. Another reader writes to say that he wants to drop Comcast, and short of taking to the streets with flaming torches, he can’t seem to shake them. All he cares about is local channels and HBO.

Okay, let’s wrap it up: To get local channels, you need an antenna. They’re cheap. We’ve used one from “Antennas Direct” for $20 and it worked fine. Another good company is RCA Antenna. A best seller on Amazon, “1byOne,” goes for $13.

Our reader’s son gave him a $35 Google Chromecast, which is a device not much bigger than a thumb drive that plugs into your TV to bring anything you see on your phone onto your TV screen. But we found it more difficult to use than similarly-priced devices, like the Roku stick.

Since your phone shows no local TV channels until you search for them, and these usually require a subscription to use, beaming stuff from your phone to your TV gets frustrating. So we tried “Sling TV,” once a piece of hardware, now a streaming TV service with lots of sports and movie channels, starting at $20 a month after the free trial. But using its “HBO Now” channel with our Chromecast was a disaster. The videos stuttered and stopped. Sometimes they broke up into individual pixels. We could only watch what was on now, couldn’t scan for other offerings. And, you couldn’t pause live TV; what was on, was on.

It gets worse. When we tried to switch back to regular TV, our top-of-the-line set crackled, popped and gave us a picture of a gear and a big orange “X.” After a half hour with AT&T tech support, AT&T decided to send us a brand new receiver. We lost all the shows we’d recorded. No wonder that the Sling company suggests using it with the Roku player. You can get a free Roku 2 player if you sign up for Sling TV at sling.com/trynow4. The Roku always worked well in our experience. But you really don’t need Sling TV. We added HBO Now to our Roku channels without going through Sling. While in the free trial period, we’re enjoying their documentaries.

The best thing about the Roku player is there are no monthly fees. Though many of the channels, such as Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu and Amazon Video do have fees or rental charges, Roku also has free channels, such as YouTube, Bloomberg TV, FoxNow, and numerous cooking, exercise and news shows. The Roku has its own remote control. So unlike Chromecast, a lot of channels are already on the TV; you don’t have to beam anything from your phone.

YouTube Tip

Bob is often annoyed when online music services give us just a segment of a classical piece, and not the best segment. He asks: would they give you just the opening chapter if you wanted to read a book? The solution is to look up the same piece on YouTube.

We were listening to Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 for Violin in G Major, for example. Every version on Spotify’s music service was seven minutes long. When we turned to YouTube, we found the full 25-minute version, as well as the key seven-minute third movement, which is the best part, played by Izhtak Perlman.

Almost anything you’re interested in watching or hearing is on YouTube. Missed a segment of your favorite TV show? It’s probably on YouTube. And now, when we’re considering attending a lecture, Joy first looks up the speaker on YouTube to see if he or she is worth paying to hear. Not surprisingly, most are real duds.

Internuts

  • Spotify.com has an album of Robert Frost reading 23 of his own poems. (Very gravely voice.) They also have Carl Sandberg, and he sings too. (This reminds Bob of an old proverb that goes: “A young man with money in his pocket is not only wise and good-looking, but he sings well too.”)

 

  • Devil's Pool, Zimbabwe

    Devil’s Pool, Zimbabwe

    31 Breathtaking Natural Swimming Pools Around the World.” Google those words to find some stunners. Note that the photo captions here are above each photo, instead of the nearly universal standard of putting captions at the bottom. Very confusing. We never knew there was a “Devil’s Bathtub” in Ohio as well as a “Devil’s Pool” at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. (If you go over the edge at Victoria, it is a very long way down.)

Fun with Math

WolframAlpha.com isn’t just about making complex calculations. They have simple stuff too.

  • Go to WolrframAlpha.com. Type “Scrabble” before any word, such as “quizzically,” and it will give you the point count. In this case, 43.

 

 

  • See your age or any other number in Babylonian, Roman, ancient Greek and Mayan. The answer, unfortunately will appear in that language. How’s your Babylonian?

 

  • Type in any month, day and year and see what important events happened on that date. We typed in the year we were married and found out that’s the year the Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers in the Superbowl and President Bill Clinton went on TV to deny being more than a friend to Monica Lewinsky.

 

  • Get specific sports data, such as the last major league baseball game with more than 30 points. It was the Cubs versus the Kentucky Colonels in 1897: Cubs 36, Colonels 7. (By the way: the last time the Chicago Cubs were in the World Series, the Ottoman Empire was still in power.)

 

HOW’S THAT AGAIN? GETTING A TRANSLATION OFFLINE

 

translating prohibited“Google Translate” is a free app for Android and iPhones, that can now translate 52 languages, whether you are online or off.

For example: We tapped the microphone icon, then tapped “Spanish,” and said “Where is the bus station?” A voice from the phone then immediately said “Donde esta la estacio del bus?” If the person you directed this to, spoke the answer into the phone’s microphone, the phone would translate their answer into English. Joy tried Indonesian because she’s reading “Tales of a Female Nomad,” and the nomad spent most of her time there.

The app solves the worst problem with the old method of using foreign language phrase books: There’s usually little trouble in speaking the phrase so it can be understood by a native, the real problem is understanding their answer.

Using foreign phrase books produces some surprising turns. When Bob was a young man traveling in Spain, he bought a two-way English/Spanish phrase book. After about a dozen typical phrases came “I love you; will you marry me?” He thought that was moving pretty fast for a guy just off the boat. Many years later, his son, traveling through the countries of the former Yugoslavia, bought a small English/Albanian phrase book. One of the first phrases was “What are your country’s laws concerning blood feuds?” He was very careful not to offend anyone.

Up In the Air Junior Birdman

PowerUp 3First off, we have no intention of becoming one of the country’s first “drone” columnists. But we got a paper airplane in the mail recently.

This PowerUp 3 paper airplane, ready to fold, came with an electric motor about the size of a peanut and a thin six-inch drive shaft with a propeller and a rudder on the end. It was designed to be remote controlled from any smartphone. Retail cost: $50. Airplane replaceable at any paper folding station.

Now we have experience with destroying drones, having lost a $300 “Xtreem Gravity Pursuit 1080p” within a minute of take-off. Gravity, it turned out, was no problem; it was lost to sight several hundred feet up and never found again. The paper airplane, on the other hand, flew a dozen yards or so, banked into a turn, and landed in the grass. Unfortunately, the grass was wet. Wet paper airplanes don’t fly well and it needed to go into the shop for an airframe rebuild.

But what really amazed us was the size of the motor, battery and radio control mechanism. This could be used to build a drone smaller than a hummingbird or grasshopper, and we understand this has already been done somewhere in some experimental lab we are not allowed to enter. The ultimate range is considerable. So don’t go around indiscriminately swatting bugs.

UberPooling

uberpoolRecently we wrote that Uber carpooling was available only in California. Not so, said a reader. He used it in Miami. It turns out that Uber is now in nine places, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago and the whole state of New Jersey.

So how was our reader’s carpooling experience? He and his wife waited at the Miami airport for 25 minutes, while the driver was picking up two others. He wanted to tell his wife not to use Uberpool at the airport again, but kept his mouth shut and was glad he did. “It was fun riding with others to see what they were there for,” he said.

An Uberpool ride is about half the price of a regular Uber cab, which is cheaper than a regular taxi. But the trip might take twice as long, and you might stop a lot.

Internuts

lemonade— “23 Food Hacks that Will Change Your Life.” Google those words for some great suggestions. For instance, make lemonade in a blender by washing and cutting an organic lemon in fourths. Throw the pieces in with sugar and water. To ripen an avocado, wrap it in foil and place it in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes. For perfectly-clear ice cubes, boil water, let it cool, then boil it again and cool. After pouring into ice trays, cover it with plastic wrap to prevent particles from getting in. The result is ice cubes as clear as crystal.

UpCraftClub.com has free and inexpensive sewing patterns for children and adult clothing. The dress pattern Joy looked at was $7.50 and nice enough to wear to her nephew’s wedding.

Free Music

We use the free version of the “Spotify” music service, as do 45 million other users. We used to pay $10 a month for the ad-free version, because the ads were obnoxious. Now, they’re not so bad and it’s easy to turn down the sound. Also, you can skip songs. Previously you had to upgrade for that.

musicSpotify lets you listen to almost any song or piece ever recorded, over 300 million of them. You can listen from your computer, phone, or tablet. To explore it from the web, go to Play.Spotify.com. Or you can download the free program from Spotify.com.

Bob has two complaints: One is that in many recordings, particularly classical pieces, they seem use the cheapest, probably royalty-free versions, which sound like they are performed by a chain gang in Lower Slobovia.  The second complaint is if you want to listen to something like Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, what they give you is one movement of it and then it’s over and out.

One way around this cheap-shot stuff is to copy someone else’s playlist, then prune the pieces you don’t want. Such lists are available at Playlist.net. That’s how we got a great list of classical hits, and Joy discovered she loves cello concertos.

Another way is to click “Discover Weekly” from within Spotify. They automatically create playlists based on what you’ve already listened to. We have a rock list, a show tunes list, a Christmas list and a patriotic song list.  You can share songs with others by email, Facebook or text.

 

 

 

THE FUTURE IS PLUGGED IN

boy with phoneHere are some facts on children’s use of their phones.

Most kids get their first phone at age 10. The most common activity is texting. Almost a third have sent text messages to their parents even though everyone involved was in the house.

Seventy-six percent of kids access the Internet from the family room, down from 85 percent four years ago. A quarter of kids now have private access from their bedrooms.

Fifty percent of kids begin using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at age 12 or younger. The study was done by Influence Central, a marketing firm.

Making Windows 10 Look Like Windows 7
For $5 we can finally stop moaning about the clunky look of Windows10.

Start10” is a $5 program that makes 10 look like 7. We, like most of the users we have spoken with, don’t like the colored squares on the Windows 10 startup screen. They were designed for touch screens, under the delusion that these were the wave of the future. The wave of the present turned out to be a big shrug, as most people said “who cares,” or words to that effect. It’s much faster to find what you want by simply typing or clicking.

start 10With Start10 installed, you get the familiar start menu most of have known for years. There on the left is a list of your most frequently used programs and a link to “all programs.” There again are the familiar choices of “Documents,” “Pictures,” “Music,” “Settings,” “Control Panel,” “Shut down,” and “Devices and Printers.”

Perhaps best of all, Start10 returns the old search box. Click the “start” orb to see it.  We find it faster than using Windows 10’s “ask me anything” search, which often defaults to a web search when we’re looking for something on our own machine. Who designs this stuff?

Click start and “universal applications” to see a list of all the Windows 10 apps on your machine. If you miss the Windows 10 start menu, click on “Windows 10 menu” and you’ll see those color squares again, showing things like weather and news. You can try this return to good ol’ days for free with a 30-day trial at Start10.com. If you like it, the price is a straight $5 and there are no add-ons — an unusual marketing style these days.

Internuts

  • glowpinkGlowPink.com is a place for women to ask health and beauty questions from doctors and other experts. Free. Joy got a good answer to a question about eye health from a doctor in India.
  • NPmaps.com has maps of all 59 National Parks. Go to npmaps.com/latest-updates/bit-fun-popular-pages for a list of the most popular maps. Bryce Canyon wins. Big Bend National Park in Texas is number two. They also have detailed maps, showing just camping areas, or just walking trails, etc.
  • One third of Prescribed Antibiotics Unnecessary” is the subject of an article in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Many conditions go away on their own, the study notes, including the common cold, bronchitis, sore throats, and ear infections. Overuse of antibiotics leads to “superbugs,” since some of them always survive, and those are really dangerous.

 

Internet Speed

A reader wrote about his aggravation over how slow the web can be. We feel his pain. Recently we read that the web is now so laden with images and videos, you need a computer with at least eight gigabytes of RAM. However, in our tests, four gigabytes of RAM was enough on a Mac, Chrome book, Kindle Fire, Android phone or a Windows computer with either a wired connection or very few programs running in the background. (We don’t have an iPhone to test, but looking over the shoulders of our friends, we know it’s fast too.)

The fastest Internet Service Provider, according to Speedtest.net, is Comcast, with a download speed of 104 megabits per second. T-Mobile has the fastest speed for phones. Click “awards” at Speedtest.net for more comparisons, or test your own speed.

The Best Wallpaper

bing wallpaperBob finally moved to Joy’s way of thinking, when it comes to the background picture on his computer screen. For years, Bob has had a static picture, while Joy insists that “Bing Desktop,” with a new photo every day, is the way to go. (Can this marriage be saved?)

At Bing.com/explore/desktop you’ll find a free Microsoft program that puts a small search box, with links to weather, news and “trending images.” (“Trending images” always lead off with female celebrities, for reasons we fail to understand.) If you scroll through those you get other stuff. Hover over the small “i” for information, and you’ll get a caption.

If you don’t like today’s photo, click the recycling symbol for another one. A photo of a baby baboon in Botswana was cute, but we cycled through dozens more, from Texan clouds to Chinese rice paddies and Venezuelan hot springs.

For Mac users, we like the free background images at HDWallpapers.net and ThePaperWall.com. Once you’ve saved a picture, go to “System Preferences,” “Desktop and Screensaver” and then Desktop. Click “add” to add the one you just downloaded.

App Happy

Disney Magic Timer dental appAfter reading that 19 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have untreated tooth decay, we thought we’d look at dental aps for children.

  • “Disney Magic Timer by Oral-B” is a free Android/iPhone app that lets kids collect a badge when they brush their teeth for two minutes. They can view milestones on the brushing calendar and watch their favorite Disney, Marvel and Star Wars characters cheer them on. (The Brush is with you!)

 

  • “DentiClean” is a $2 app for iPhone and iPad that helps children ages 5 to 11 brush their teeth properly with princess, ninja and other characters. If the tablet or Smartphone is nearby, It takes a photo of the child in action and emails it to a parent.

 

CHEAP PHONES STILL WORK

cheap phonesA reader wrote to tell us his young daughter got separated from him and his wife during Mardi Gras. Instead of it being a desperate situation, she called and told him where she was. “I found her in short order,” He says. His daughter uses an old LG flip phone with $10 a month service from Kajeet.com.

This made us think of other ways out of tough situations. Since she had an old-fashioned flip phone, it lacked apps, including the Uber app for calling a cab. With services like Uber and Lyft, no cash is required because a credit card is linked to your account and charged automatically. So if you have no money — say you’ve been robbed or lost it — you can still call a car to drive you home. Our Mardi Gras reader thought it would be nice if his daughter could order an Uber with her flip phone, and asked about “Texber.” As we wrote recently, Texber was supposed to let you call an Uber through text messaging but it never got off the ground. uberDespite much fanfare, the website isn’t there and the only “Texber” app in the app store does something else.

But that sent us on a quest to look for another way to use Uber or similar services.  If you want to call Uber from your computer, you can, but the first time out you have to go to m.uber.com to request permission and sign up for an account. After getting it, you can call an Uber cab at m.uber.com from then on. This would be handy for those without phones. They could call from their computer, but unless they have a cellular connection built into their laptop and are willing to lug it along, they’d have to borrow a phone or a computer for the ride back, and log on to m.uber.com again. But often you can get access to a computer at a library or a hotel.

Another alternative is to get a cheap smart phone. We saw the “LG Tribute Duo” at Sprint.com for $30, with service at $35 a month.

The Persistence of Flip Phone Users

Hard to believe, but not everyone wants a smart phone. Last year, 24.2 million flip phones were sold, two million more than the previous year. Flip phone users praise their long battery life –two weeks to a month without a recharge, and the peace and quiet of not knowing what your friends and acquaintances are doing every minute.

The happiest flip phone users seemed to be TracFone users, who can pick them up in  many drugstores stores for around $15. We have one flip phone and one smart phone. Joy uses the smart phone for navigation, photos, text messaging and apps. Bob likes the flip phone. He uses a printed map or asks for directions if driving out of state.

roomiappApp Happy

  • Roomi, a free app for Android, iPhone or from roomiapp.com, helps you find an apartment to share, or a roommate for the apartment you’re in. Right now, they’re just in a dozen or so major cities, the latest of which is Boston.
  • “Robinhood” is a free app for Android or iPhone from Robinhood.com. It lets you buy stocks without paying commission. Given that a typical brokerage fee is $10 a trade, the Robinhood people say they’ve saved investors over $22 million so far. You can trade any of 5,000 stocks and ETFs (exchange traded funds) on the U.S. exchanges, but no options or mutual funds. You have to give them your Social Security number to get started because it’s required by law.
  • Via” is a new app that competes with Uber and Lyft, but is only in Chicago and New York so far. If you find yourself in either place, you can really save money. If it’s not rush hour, rides in Chicago are a flat $4 (no tax) and $5 plus tax in New York. The reason they’re so cheap is that you have to share the ride with others. “UberPool” is similar. “Lyft Line” is in six cities.

Numbers Report: Robocalls

robocallMost of the calls to our landline phone are “robocalls” — calls made by a robot. It may not surprise you to know that they want to sell us something. Every second, 963 robocalls are made in America according to YouMail. That’s 2.5 billion robocalls in March alone. For four months, Atlanta has been the most robo-called city.

Getting on the “Do Not Call” list is not enough. Call-blocking apps are better. We use the free “TrueCaller” app on our Android phone. On the iPhone, blocking is built in.

Ransomware on the Rise

Just the other day we got a call claiming to be from a “Microsoft Windows expert” who could improve our computers. We hung up; Microsoft doesn’t call you, you call them.

Most likely, this was the beginning of a “ransomware” attack. “Ransomware” is a kind of computer attack that either steals your data or locks it up in a file that needs a ransomwarecomplex code to open. It’s called “ransonmware” because the crooks say your files can be recovered if you pay a fee. One time, Joy thought a call was legitimate and after handing control of her computer to the bad guys over the internet, the destruction began. She hung up when Bob urged her to and had to totally reformat her computer. (Joy is really too trusting. Bob, on the other hand, is a cynical reporter.)

Ransomware infections more than doubled last month. Every month this year had more attacks than the month before, according to Enigma Software. They looked at more than 65 million ransom attacks going back to 2013 and found these attacks hit hospitals, school districts and government offices, not just personal users. Here’s the report.

 

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