FINDING FREE ONLINE GAMES

We got a guide from Play-Free-Online-Games.com. The exact page is impossible to find in a search, so we’re giving you the gist of it here. Actually, these things are fun, and you can’t beat the price.

  • Shooter Games. If you like to fly through space, try “Battleship Galactica” or “Ace Online.” If you prefer to fight on the ground and like monsters and werewolves, try “Wolf Team.” If you prefer mummies, try “Mission Against Terror.” If you would rather fight the military, and like World War II vintage tanks, try “World of Tanks.” If you prefer a deadly cartoon soldier, try “Lost Saga.”
  • Role-Playing Games. If you like fantasy, join ten million others in “World of Warcraft.” If you’ve been there, done that, try “Runes of Magic,” “Adventure Quest Worlds” or “Dragon Fable.” If your age is a single digit, try “Wizard 101.” If you want an easy sci-fi game, try “Dark Orbit.” To perfect the art of crushing your enemies, try “Age of Conan.” If you like “Dungeons and Dragons,” try “Crystal Saga,” “Forsaken World,” “Drakensang,” “Dark Swords,” “Dungeons and Dragons Online,” or “Lord of the Rings.” If you’re old enough to remember when “The Incredibles” came out, try “DC Universe Online.” If not, try “Superhero Squad Online.” If being a vampire hunting a werewolf is strange enough for you, try “Bitefight.” If not, try “Glitch.”
  • If you like a fantasy setting, try “Call of the Gods,” or “Grepolis.” If you like a historical setting, try “Castle Empire,” “Travian,” “1100 A.D.,” or “Tribal Wars.” If you like games with blocks or Legos, try “Minecraft” or “Roblox.” To make new friends, try “IMVU.” If you mainly want to create things, try “Second Life.”

Portable Speakers and All That Jazz

It has become clear to us over many years that there is a secret meeting place, perhaps in a remote mountain location, most likely in Bhutan, where the makers of electronic devices gather to decide what to promote for the coming holiday season. There is no other explanation for what are clearly waves of gadgets and stuff that wash over us every year.

For some time now, we have received pitches for earphones and speakers. Apparently, no one can fully appreciate rock or rap without special equipment, which is quite understandable. Nor are they able to distinguish what actors are saying on their television sets without a yard-long bar that delivers clear enunciation even when it is not intended; after all, a grunt is a grunt and that is the essence of an action movie.

There was a recent wave for smart TVs, one for protective smartphone cases, another for home antennas, and a constant effort to make a cell phone the movie camera of our time.

So we received a wireless speaker for review. We went to a nearby store and found that there were several of these on the market and they seem quite similar. So there is little point in trying to figure out which is the best, because that will depend on the individual’s ear and taste, meaning pop, rock or classical.

But we can look at what they’re good for. These new portable Bluetooth speakers are all about the size of a soup can and range in price from $20 to $350. Sound quality is pretty good and – if they’re waterproof – you can wash them with soap and water. On a more practical level you can download an app to let you wake up to music or news delivered at a clear understandable level.

A good way to start is the free Pandora app from your phone’s app store. Tap the hamburger icon (three stacked lines) in the upper left corner of the screen and choose “settings,” then “Alarm Clock.” Tap it to set the time and the station you want to listen to. A station can be the name of a band, such as “The Beatles” or “Benny Goodman.”

Coming this month to the free Clock app from Google is the music service Spotify. The nice thing about Spotify is that you can name a specific song rather than a radio station. For instance, if we ask for the Tijuana Brass on Pandora, we get a lot of Bert Kaempfert. We like Bert a lot; he gave the Beatles their first big gig in Germany, and launched their career. But sometimes we want the original: Herb Alpert.

We tried the new “Sbode 6 Bluetooth Portable Waterproof Speaker,” a six-inch wireless speaker. Besides playing music, audio books, and other sounds from our phone, it takes phone calls. The sound quality was good and the price $36 reasonable.

It’s hard to choose one of these speakers over another, unless you go by price. For $36 on Amazon, the Sbode seems a good deal. The manual leaves much to be desired, however. While the sound blared out at us, we struggled to read the tiny print on how to turn down the volume. The manual says to “short press” the minus button on the side of the speaker to decrease the volume. Pressing short or long turns out to be subjective; Bob’s short press had no effect either way and the long press was enough to blast you out of the room. They’re quite rugged. Though we wouldn’t try this, they say you can clean them with running water, and wipe off any amount of sand or snow. The speakers also have an FM radio, and a slot for a micro sd storage card.

The Cutting Edge

We usually ignore crowd-funding campaigns but this one broke a record; it took in almost 28 million dollars in 30 days. They call it the “GlowForge,” and it’s for engraving on wood and similar materials. The basic model; is $2,500.

There are cheaper 3D laser cutters available, but users say the cheapies have more of a learning curve and some use software infected with malware. There are more expensive ones too: A $35,000 laser used in commercial applications is, as you might expect, much faster than the $2500 or $6000 model GlowForge.

We saw a GlowForge for $4000 on Amazon, but users say the cheaper one from GlowForge.com is all that most beginners will need.  Bob said he would cut Western scenes or a Tarzan adventure on veneer for custom furniture. That’s if he ever wanted to go into the custom furniture business.

Take a look at the user forum to find out what others are making. Popular right now: cheap ceramic tiles from Home Depot turned into coasters. Users color in the engraved areas with Sharpie marking pens. The excess ink wipes off the unengraved areas.

 

 

THE DAY OF THE PAINTER

All of the artists we know paint the old-fashioned way: with a brush. But we’re fairly awed by what you can do with a mouse or a tablet.

The new Corel “Painter 2019” is out, and it’s worth taking a look at what artists are doing with it. Some of these people start with a photo, and produce the kind of work sold at art festivals. After some digging we found them on Instagram. Go to Instagram.com/CorelPainter to get a little awe for yourself.

We were curious about trying it ourselves. So we installed the free trial version from painterartist.com, and clicked on “Discovery Center” inside the program. This was Joy’s job, and she encountered some difficulty right away. Tutorials have to be approved by a long line of corporate types who feel they have to make some changes or they’re not doing their job. All bases must be covered. The trouble with covering all the bases is that long before you’ve touched them all, you feel like dumping the whole program. In short: Too much information. Much too much information.

Hacking her way through the underbrush of Corel tutorials, she was intrigued to see one titled “painting like Bob Ross.” Though now deceased, Ross still appears on public television in re-runs and they’re still popular. This software will not paint a Bob Ross painting for you, but explains his methods. Go to Learn.corel.com/tutorials/paint-your-very-own-mystic-mountain.

The biggest change in the latest version of Painter is its look and speed. Everything loads much faster, and the background is dark so as not to intrude on your art.  They’ve added more brushes, like Real Watercolor, Real Wet Oil, and Sargent. Video game designers and concept artists can paint with five new patterns. If your Windows computer has a touch screen, you can use your fingers to reset a picture, zoom in or out of the scene, or pan around.

The program isn’t cheap at $429, but there is an “education edition” for only $99. Many companies have these education version deals, and usually you just have to give a student or faculty I.D.; sometimes you don’t have to show anything. If you want to try other digital art programs for free, and have already finished the Corel Painter free-trial period, try “MyPaint,” “Gimp,” and “Krita,” all available as a free download. All of these are compatible with a Wacom tablet, though setting up Gimp looks tricky.

Your Video on Amazon Prime

If you’ve always wanted to be a movie producer, here’s your chance. A company called “3Roads” will make your production available on Amazon Prime. And they won’t charge for it.

We looked at several homemade videos that ended up as choices for Amazon Prime users. One was strictly for train buffs, but there are plenty of those. Another covered Civil War battle reenactments. A third called “Dinner for Hire with Chef Bernard,” takes you into a house party to see how a professional chef prepares party food. A fourth, “Chasing Taste,” is about a desperate novelist who becomes a food critic. Another, “Heart Child” is about teaching autistic children to ride a skateboard.

To get your video on Amazon, go to 3Roads.com and click “services.” Then click on “Amazon Prime distribution,” which is on the left side of the screen. There’s no charge for having it distributed, and you can even make money based on the number of minutes your video is viewed. If you do make money with your video, the distributor, 3Roads, gets 30 percent.

Facebook Tip

Joy’s friend Margie sometimes complains about all the notifications she gets from a woman’s club Facebook page. But she doesn’t have to put up with that, and neither do you.

If one of the Facebook groups you belong to is annoying, click “Groups,” (on the left side of the Facebook page on your computer), then click the tiny picture of a gear and “edit notifications.”  You can turn them all off, be notified when your friends post, or get the highlights. Or click “leave group.”

Maybe you’re not part of any group but would like to be. On your phone, tap the three stacked lines and then click “Groups.”. Then tap “discover” and look at the various categories, such as “games,” “trending,” “funny,” “movies and TV,” “sports,” “local,” “travel,” and “parenting.” On your computer, click “Groups” off to the left of the home page, when you get there, click “Discover.” When you find one you like, click “join.” We just joined “Science Humor,” which has almost half a million members. Hopefully, they’re laughing.

App Happy

  • The Trading Game” is a free app for Android and iPhones. It starts off teaching you about “Forex” or foreign exchange trading. Answer three questions right and you have $750 in play money to try trading it virtually. But they won’t let you spend it, even virtually, until you’ve taken more quizzes or read more about trading on their site. Maybe you’re the next George Soros.
  • Microsoft News” is a rival to Google News and others. Worth checking out if you’re a news-aholic. Bob likes to wait a year or two for any news to develop its full flavor.

The Numbers Report

Fake news has changed the way people interact with Facebook. According to a Reuters report, they no longer trust it for news of the world.

Worldwide, over half of participants in a research study said they were concerned about fake news. The highest concern is in Brazil, Spain and the United States. In Brazil, 85 percent of people are concerned, in Spain, 69 percent and the United States, 64 percent.  It is lowest in Germany (37 percent) and the Netherlands (30 percent) where recent elections were largely untroubled by concerns over fake content.

 

BRUSHING UP

It’s a brave new world for dental patients: There’s a financial incentive to brush.

We just earned 226 “Dentacoins,” a form of crypto currency, from brushing three times. We looked up their value and at the time of writing, they were worth eight cents. There are a dozen exchanges where we could sell our e-cash to get our eight cents, but the Dentacoin app says we must wait until we’ve accumulated more. Nuts. The brief spike in January when that amount of Dentacoin would have been worth $1.30 is gone, fell into a cavity. Perhaps it will rise again.

“Dentacare Health Training” is a free app for Android or iPhone. It aims to make you a better brusher and flosser by guiding you through a timed session. For each session, you earn a small amount of a crypto currency called “Dentacoin.”

The fun part is the music and the motivation. The app often calls us “Darling,” or “Sunshine.” It praises us when we’ve brushed, flossed and rinsed. However, set-up is not for the non-techy. If you want to sell your Dentacoin, you must first have an “Ethereum wallet,” and give the app that address. Addresses are OK to share because they’re only for receiving money. We set up our Ethereum account on Coinbase.com. It only takes $2 worth of Ethereum to get a wallet address.

The idea behind Dentacoin is to give patients an incentive to keep their mouths healthy, and to make it easier to do business across borders. So far, 38 dental clinics in 14 countries are using it. The app itself has 23,000 users so far.

No Rabbit From Magic Jack

We still like a landline and we read recently that 40 percent of phone owners do as well. The fact is, handsets are more comfortable and easier to handle than cell phones and they have a big number dial-pad and a louder speaker phone. We were Vonage customers for years, which gave us a relatively cheap Wi-Fi phone service that works with a landline. Then we switched to Magic Jack.

Why did we do this? It’s cheap (and so are we). Magic Jack is only $39 a year. But our phone was dead about 90 percent of the time whenever we wanted to call out. So we switched back to Vonage and were assured that we could have our old number back. After all, we’d had that number with Vonage for eight years.

Then came the bad news. Magic Jack said that if we canceled, we’d lose that number. So now we have four numbers: Two cell phone numbers, our old land line number that transfers automatically to a cell phone, and a new phone number from Vonage. This gives telemarketers four times as many chances to reach us with their urgent messages. They usually start with “This is a recorded line.” Who cares? Record all you want; the only thing you’re going to get is a click when we hang up. However, four lines means two payments, $39 a year for Magic Jack and about $22 a month for Vonage. Egads, as the bard might say.

Truth Machine

With a leery eye, Joy turned to a new book on crypto currency, having lost a little money in Bitcoin. Even so, she believes that some form of “e cash” will someday take off. It’s certainly very popular in science fiction stories.

The Truth Machine,” by Casey and Vigna, tells you why it’s gotta happen, though Bob remains skeptical. It’s his job. Michael Casey works at M.I. T. and Paul Vigna is a Wall Street Journal reporter. Their central point is that a digital payments system allows you to cut out the intermediary and make records un-hackable. This is crucial in countries where corruption is common.  It can also establish property rights where there are none, making it possible for people to get loans on their land.  It can speed up settlements between buyers and sellers all over the globe, and open new markets like the market for your personal data, something offered already by a company called Datum.org. The Netherlands, more than any other country we’ve read about, seems to be forging ahead as crypto currency pioneers. That’s because they often go Dutch. (Sorry about that.)

For instance, there’s a “Virtual Power Plant Project” in Amsterdam. The battery packs owned by homeowners are connected to microgrids that keep everyone topped up; there’s no need for a power company. Every transaction is encrypted and secured by the “blockchain,” a continuous digital ledger.

We came across “The Truth Machine” because the head of Sotheby’s, the auction house, said that a smart millennial recommended it to him. It has more technical detail than we’d like but makes some interesting points.  The authors say that what makes the blockchain so revolutionary is the invention of “triple-entry bookkeeping.” You take the double-entry system which made the Renaissance so profitable and add a third component, an open ledger secured by code. It involves a signed receipt for every transaction and a time and date stamp. It is an excellent way to ward off fraud.

Bob’s youngest son is helping to market a new kind of Bitcoin called “Bitcoin Core.” Joy gave him her Bitcoins to convert into this new version. It’s supposed to be faster. Bob likes going to the track.

Profit From Your Data

Every day comes a new story about Facebook, Google or someone else profiting from your data. How about you profiting from it?

We just installed “Datum,” a free app for Android, iPhone and computers, from Datum.org. It lets you sell your own info. First, we gave advertisers the right to send us one email per month, then we allowed our background location data to be collected for a month. Heck, if we go to Timbuktu, we don’t care who knows it. (Bob has already been to Timbuktu, says it’s sandy.)

Our email could be worth up to 100 “DAT” (another cryptocurrency) per month, according to the app. At of today’s writing, that’s $1.67, which puts us in our place. We tried out their data calculator, at calc.datum.org, and found out that our data is worth about $2,000 to companies. That’s quite a spread between their price and ours.

The Numbers Report

According to Decluttr.com, nearly half of single women view the owner of an old phone as an immediate turn-off. Also from Decluttr: Most iPhone users are turned off by Android users, and only half of Android users are inclined to date an iPhone user. (Well, naturally.) Android users tend to agree with the statement: “iPhones are overpriced and fragile, and if my date had one, I can assume that they might make poor purchasing decisions.”

Where etiquette comes into play, iPhone users are more likely to cancel at the last minute or end a relationship by text. iPhone users are also more likely to fake a bathroom trip to use their phone, text a friend, and complain about their date. iPhone users are also more likely to text friends in the middle of a date to find ways to excuse themselves when it’s not going well. As Bugs Bunny would sometimes say: “You know of course that this means war.”

 

CUTTING THE CABLE, REVISITED

We asked AT&T how much it would cost to drop our TV service and just keep the Internet. They immediately offered to drop the monthly charge to $120 from $160. That’s better, we thought, but hardly the best.

Philo TV” has over 45 channels for $16 a month. These include A&E, Discovery, AMC, BBC America, Food Network, History, Travel, Lifetime, Food Network and Nickelodeon.  You can watch them on your computer or your phone. Or, if you want to watch on a regular TV, you can plug in a Roku stick or player, Apple TV, or an Amazon Fire stick. Roku and Amazon Fire are fairly cheap, $28 for Roku Express and $40 for the Fire stick.

Though Philo doesn’t have local channels, you could get those by buying an indoor antenna for around $30. You can try out Philo for free at Try.Philo.com. The nice thing is, they don’t ask for a credit card, just a cell phone number.

Another option is AT&T’s “Watch TV,” free for subscribers to AT&T’s unlimited cell phone service, which starts at $80 a month. It offers 31 live channels, around 15,000 shows and movies on demand and an option to view anything that’s been on in the last 72 hours. The word is they’re going to offer this service “soon” to non-subscribers at $15 a month. We aren’t holding our breath; “soon” is one of those magic words, always changing shape.

Better Searches

Joy argues that the best way to find anything on Google is to type it exactly as you want  it understood. Bob says there are some tricks of the trade worth knowing. For example:

Put in a dash or minus sign to exclude something. Say you’re looking for a history topic but are tired of articles from Wikipedia. Type into the Google search bar: “Teddy Roosevelt –Wikipedia,” without adding the quotes. Use the minus sign on your keyboard. (Note: Put a space to the left of the minus sign but not to the right.) We typed “CNN.com -politics” and got celebrity and business news. All right, it’s not a big timesaver, but at least it narrows things down.

Type “related:” (without the quotes) to find websites similar to ones you like. We typed “related:ZMEscience.com” and found FuturePundit and ScienceBlog.  Don’t forget the dot com part or you’ll get a different result. We typed “related:boardgames.com” for a lot of board game websites. Who knew there were so many board games?

Use “vs” when you want to compare foods or anything else. For example, “rye vs wheat” will bring up a comparison. Bob likes rye.

You can also search within a site, which is often better than a site’s own search bar. Just type the site’s name, add a space, and then the search term. For instance: “Burpee.com indoor plants.”

Google Pay

You can often use Google Pay, formerly “Android Pay,” just by waving your phone at the terminal you see at the check-out counter in the grocery store and other places, though our local CVS wasn’t set up for it. There’s also something called “Google Pay Send,” which lets you send money. Now the two apps are merging.

In Google Pay, tap the hamburger icon (three stacked lines in the upper left corner of your phone screen) and choose “send or request money.”  (You can also use Google Pay on your computer.) There’s a 2.9 percent fee if you use a credit card, but it’s free if you use a debit card. Google Pay and Apple Wallet let you store airline boarding passes, concert tickets, loyalty cards, gift cards and so on. In Google Pay, if you want your friends to pay their fair share, just click on the transaction and then split it up. Other ways to do this are through Venmo or Apple Pay.

Internuts

App Happy

MobCrush.com is a place to watch others play video games live.  Who would want to do that? So far, 670 million people.

Want an easy way to share your own game playing and possibly earn money through ads? Mobcrush added an app called “MobCam.” It will let you share your game playing on lots of social platforms at once, including YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Twitter and others. The app also lets you chat with anyone watching. If you get ad sponsors, you can earn $15 an hour on up. Keep on shooting.

You’ll find MobCam for free in the Apple App Store and a free version for Android is expected out later this summer.

The Numbers Report

Here’s what’s hot in the freelance job market: According to the latest report from Freelancer.com, it’s data mining, networking technology, web design, and writing. (Bob has noticed that everyone thinks they write well and can sing grand opera. They are mistaken.)

Not hot are jobs related to e-books, Google Plus, Microsoft and app design. According to a study by The Nielsen Company, kids and adults are turning to traditional books, not e-books. With over 2.8 million Android apps and 2.2 million Apple apps, many are questioning the need for more, so that demand is way down. Jobs related to blockchain technology were up 58 percent in the first quarter of this year.

 

OUR FAVORITE PHONE SERVICE

We like Google’s “Project Fi” cell phone service so much we wish it were available on every phone. Until recently, you could only get it on a Google Pixel or Nexus phone. Now they’re branching out to LG and Motorola.

The price is the best part. Project Fi offers unlimited calls and texts for $20, with each gigabyte of data costing $10. You only pay for what you use. Our bills have ranged from $26 to $36. If you use more than six gigabytes, they cap the maximum charge at $60, the rest is free.  The service itself, despite the Google name, comes from T-Mobile, US Cellular and Sprint, whichever signal happens to have the strongest signal for your location.

If you go abroad, your charges are the same as in the U.S. Starting this year, Project Fi has data coverage in 170 countries and territories. It’s still high speed, even if you’re in a far-away spot like Belize or Myanmar.

One of the new phones you can use with Project Fi service is Motorola’s “moto g,” usually $249 but sold by Google for $199. It has one of those edge-to-edge displays, which looks pretty sharp, and comes with 32 gigabytes of storage. You can add more by plugging in a micro SD card.

The other new phones that work with Project Fi service is two versions of LG’s “ThinQ.”  Now we’re talking expensive, at $749 and $899. You’re paying for better sound quality, faster speeds, a brighter display, a more efficient battery and sharper photos. More info at Fi.Google.com.

Hey, Taxi!

Our friend Betty had never used Uber or Lyft, the ride-hailing services. So we installed the Lyft app for her, sent her off on her maiden voyage and hoped for the best.

Everything went well and the service was half the price of an ordinary taxi. The car was clean and new, the driver friendly, and she got to her doctor’s office much faster than usual. (We have found in the past that regular taxis sometimes take circuitous routes.) On the return trip, she couldn’t quite figure out how to use the Lyft app, so she asked one of the doctor’s staff, and was off again in seconds. (A Lyft or Uber driver sometimes arrives in less than a minute, though you can tap “schedule” in either app if you need to delay it.) The app tells you the make, model and color of the driver’s car, plus their name and license plate, so you should know whether you’re getting into the wrong car by mistake.

To set it up, download either Lyft or Uber from the app store and put in your address and credit card number. If you’re retired, you can list your most frequent destination as your “work” location. That way, it will pop up without needing to be typed in or searched for.

Our friend was surprised that you don’t have to deposit any money upfront, they’ll subtract the amount of the ride automatically. And you don’t have to worry about giving a tip as you get out of the car. They’ll send you a text message to give you that option and allow you to rate the driver. Note: Neither you nor the driver need carry any money.

What if you and a few friends want to share a ride? If you are using the regular Uber or Lyft service, only one of you will be charged. But if you’re using “Uber Pool,” the carpooling service, which is much cheaper, each person will be charged for their seat. The same goes for “Shared Rides” in Lyft. Search on the term “shared rides in Lyft” to see if it’s available in your city; it’s typically just for big cities. This echoes a kind of ride service that is available in many countries and is often called “jitney service.” It used to be available in the U.S. too but that was a sometime thing long ago and far away.

Internuts

  • Top Tourist Attractions in Every Country.” Search on that phrase to find a map that seems to have been put together by someone who has never been anywhere. They list the top tourist attraction in the U.S. as Central Park, which is nice, but we usually see the top attraction listed as Las Vegas or Disney World. In Russia, instead of visiting the Hermitage in St. Petersburg or the Kremlin in Moscow, they say the number one attraction is “The Church of the Savior On Spilled Blood.” Seems unlikely.
  • 20 Quotes from Children’s Books that Every Adult Should Know.” Search on that phrase to find some good ones. Joy especially like this from Roald Dahl: “If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
  • CryptoCoreMedia.com has fascinating articles about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. We looked at the “List of Crypto Tycoons and How They Became Rich.” The richest is Chris Larsen, founder of “Ripple.” He’s currently worth 59.9 billion. Well, in crypto currency.
  • Rubiks.com has six video tutorials to help you solve the famous “Rubik’s Cube.” The Cube has been purchased by over 450 million frustrated people since it came out in 1974. In other news, an intelligent robot is going to try to solve it in space as part of Space X’s 15th cargo mission headed to NASA’s International Space Station. Boy, does that sound like a gimmicky publicity promotion.

Getting Linked

A reader wanted to share his favorite photos via a link. He wasn’t sure if he needed a blog or a website to do that. Nope, never mind all that stuff.

Though there are several ways to do the share, here’s the easiest: Go to Photos.Google.com and click “upload” to upload any photos that aren’t there already. Then click “create” and choose “photo album.” Mark off the photos you want to include, type in a name for the album, and then click the “share” link to create a link you can send in an email.

After you click the share link, you will see choices, like sending it to one person on your email list, or posting it to Facebook. But if you look in the lower corner, there’s also a choice that says “get a link.” This link can be pasted in an email. Alternatively, you can send all your photos as simple attachments in Gmail. Gmail will automatically create a link in Google Drive, if your attachments add up to more than 25 megabytes.

 

 

FREE AUDIO BOOKS

And now some good news. Several years ago, we criticized the book choices available for download from public libraries. The result was a spontaneous demonstration by angry librarians. (The whole idea of an angry librarian was beyond our ken.) “It’s not our fault,” they yelled in unison, “it’s the publishers!” Those publishers …. Really.

Well, times have changed, and now you can get thousands, maybe millions of free titles. The lode is so rich, we’ll probably let our “Audible” audio book subscription expire, much as we have enjoyed it.  Instead of paying $15 a month, or $100 for 12 books at a time, we’re exploring the free world, so to speak. We’re expecting an angry demonstration from publishers any moment now.

We started with “Hoopla Digital.” All you need is a library card and you only need to show it once. Go to HooplaDigital.com, put in your library card number and choose a book. Joy selected “Tortilla Curtain,” by T.C. Boyle. (The “C” in the middle stands for Coraghessan, a delightful old Irish name he came across one day and adopted.)  The website said she could listen for free for 21 days and the book would automatically return itself. There’s also a free HooplaDigital app for your phone. You can check out up to six items at a time.

Counting regular books and comic books, Hoopla has over half a million to choose from. We were amazed to find some real gems, including readings by a marvelous actor, Jonathan Cecil, who perfectly narrates many Bertie and Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse.

Overdrive.com has even more titles, more than two million, and a free app for your phone called “Libby” (kind of a quiet, polite librarian). We found many popular “book-club” books, such as “Hillbilly Elegy,” which we had already gotten at Audible.com. (Book Club books seem to be selected by a secret organization, and we mysteriously find that book clubs all over the country are suddenly reading the same book.)

Why use Hoopla Digital when Overdrive has more titles? Well, sometimes Hoopla has something Overdrive doesn’t. For instance, Hoopla has Agatha Christie’s “The Man in the Brown Suit” but Overdrive doesn’t.

If you’re interested in publishing your own book, consider “SELF-e.” When you’ve gotten it written out on your computer, go to self-e.libraryjournal.com and click “submit.” After submitting to SELF-e, your ebook may appear on the websites of participating libraries. If your book is selected by Library Journal, it will also be available in libraries across the U.S. and Canada.

Lots of Little Dinosaurs

You can play a game called “Jurassic World Revealed” with your voice alone, if you have an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Show. It also works with smart speakers like the Sonos One, that have Alexa built in.

The story inside the game was written by David Grossman and Joe Pinney. Grossman is famous among gamers for writing the classic video adventures “The Secret of Monkey Island,” and “Maniac Mansion.” More recently, Pinney has written Telltale Game’s “Game of Thrones” and “Jurassic Park.”

To play the game, you answer questions given to you by a journalist who is trying to find out what is happening to the dinosaurs. She pauses every couple of minutes to ask questions like, “Should we risk getting close enough to try to heal the dinosaur’s wound?” We said “yes,” and she said, “I knew I liked you.” We encouraged her to pull a tranquilizer dart out of the creature and then bandage the wound. If you saw the movie, still out in theaters, you may be a bit ahead of the game. The first chapter is free, then it’s $4 for the rest, or $3 if you’re an Amazon Prime member. (More than 100 million people are, for which they pay $99 a year and can then get free shipping on most items.)

Meanwhile, back at the dinosaur ranch … you open the Alexa app to get the game started on your speaker. Tap the menu (looks like three stacked lines) and choose “Skills.” Search on “Jurassic World” and tap “enable.” To start the game, say “Alexa, open Jurassic World.” If you have to leave the room or are otherwise busy, that’s OK. If she has to ask you the same question twice, the game automatically stops. Say “open Jurassic Park” to continue.

Texting from a Computer

Joy suffers from dry eyes, and a chief culprit is too much cell phone use. One way to avoid that is to use a computer for text messaging instead of a phone, whenever you’re home.

If you have an Android phone, try Google’s text messaging app on your computer. First tap the “Messages app” on your phone. Tap the hamburger icon (three stacked lines) and choose “Messages for Web.” Then go to Messages.android.com. You’ll see a big picture of a so-called “QR” code on your screen. Position your phone over it and tap “Scan QR Code;” you’re in. Your phone is now linked to your computer. You’ll see all of your saved text messages on your computer screen and can reply to them or type new ones from your computer keyboard. It’s a lot easier to do text messages on a big keyboard.

If you have an iPhone, see the article from Mashable.com, “Five Ways to Text from Your Computer.”

That Tiny Screen

Text on a phone’s screen is often too tiny to read. There’s a fix.

On your iPhone or Android phone, go into “Settings” and tap “Accessibility.” On the iPhone, “Accessibility” is under the “General” tab. There you’ll see options for font size and display size. You can also turn captions on, to get captions on videos. Wow, what a huge difference, and we do mean HUGE.

On your Windows computer, when you’re on the web, you can hold down the “Ctrl” key and tap the plus sign to enlarge anything you see there. On a Mac, hold down the “Option” key, tap the “Command” key and then the plus sign.

 

 

 

SMART TV OR SMART STICK?

A friend of ours is thinking of getting a smart TV. We asked her: Isn’t your TV already smart?

A smart TV is one that can connect to the Internet, which hers can. Perhaps she is thinking of a super smart TV, the kind with voice control. These days, many Samsung and LG TVs have microphones built into their remotes. The LG “ThinQ TV,” $380 for the 43-inch model, lets you use either the Alexa or Google Home devices for voice control. Ask for games, the weather, some scenery to jog into, or your favorite photos from Budapest; ask for a sports score without interrupting the movie your daughter is watching, and it will show along the bottom of the screen. You need to pay an extra $50 for the remote control that responds to voice commands; you knew they’d get you on something.

What about movies and instructional videos? According to TomsGuide.com the Roku stick or Roku player has more channels for video and music than any smart TV on the market. We have the $30 Roku Express, the cheapest version. Besides Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Vimeo, it has some obscure stuff, like “Free to Choose” TV. Many cable channels, like the History Channel, Lifetime, and HBO, are available for a monthly fee ranging from $3 to $15. If you only want a couple of channels, that’s far cheaper than cable TV.

The only drawback of the cheapest Roku stick is there’s no tech support. For a while it  couldn’t find our Internet connection, which was annoying, but Bob gave it a stern talking-to and that straightened things out. We also use Google Chromecast and the Amazon Fire Stick. All seem equally good, but Roku has the largest line-up of channels. Some of these can’t be had from cable companies. Joy recently discovered they have some recent movies for  free in the “Roku Channel.”

Bottom line: If you need to buy a new TV anyway, might as well go for a smart one. The dumb ones are no longer for sale. If you don’t need one, buy a stick.

Windows on a Chromebook

A reader with a Google Chromebook, a kind of laptop that runs Google’s own operating system, says it would be absolutely perfect if it also ran Windows programs. If you’re real tech-y, you can probably do it.

Try Codeweavers’ “Crossover on Chromebook.” This is a free program still in the testing phase – what is sometimes called a beta version. However, you can download it and it claims to let you install any of 15,302 Windows programs, without needing to install Windows itself. It didn’t work for us, but it didn’t interfere with anything either. So it seems safe to try and you might have better luck.

We tried installing Microsoft Office 2010, and it looked like it installed, after a lot of hoops we had to go through first, including copying the set-up file from a CD to a thumb drive to the downloads folder of our Chromebook. But it wouldn’t launch.  The same was true of “Steam,” from SteamPowered.com, a popular program for running games. Failure to launch.

This was all for experimentation. We find we don’t need Windows programs on our Chromebook. Sure, they’re comfortable and familiar, and we use Windows computers more than we do our $193 Chromebook from Acer.  But there are so many free versions of the apps we use most that we just trundle on.

For instance, we can use the free Word Online, Excel Online or PowerPoint Online, all from Microsoft.  We can do photo editing at Photos.Google.com. We can find games in the Chrome app store. Sites with free games are plentiful but sometimes they are high risk for viruses and other intrusive software, so we won’t go there.

Your Name Here

A reader said he is a bit annoyed with Google policies and is thinking of getting out of Gmail. Okay, it’s easy to set up a Yahoo, AOL or some other account instead. But what about sending off email with your own name, such as JD@JoeDoe.com?

If you have your own website, an email address may come with it. We looked at Wix.com, one of the leading, easy-to-use website builders. A Wix website is free but they charge $4 a month for an associated email account, which will have “wixsite” in the name—unless you pay extra to get your own special address. GoDaddy.com gives you a personalized email address for $2 a month. You don’t need to make a website, and you get spam filtering, anti-virus protection and five gigabytes of email storage.

What name should you choose? You can’t have JD@JoeDoe.com because JoeDoe.com is taken, but your own name probably isn’t, if it’s not common. Find out if your name is taken by Googling it. For example, JohnSmith.com is taken but JohnSmithy.com isn’t.

Internuts

  • Patch. com brings you short pieces of local news, including video. It began in 2007, was bought by AOL in 2009, and is back with the original owners. They turned their first profit in 2016 and have 23 million users, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Yardzen.com offers landscape design online. It uses augmented reality and 3D renderings to design outdoor spaces. Once you’ve got your design, they can connect you with someone who can implement it. Or, you can do it yourself.
  • Skincancer.org, the home of the Skin Cancer Foundation, tells you the best hats, the best sun blocks, the best sun glasses and so on. A press release we got claims that the Maui Jim glasses are the only high-end sunglasses to get their preferred rating.
  • Supercut of 300 dancing scenes.” Google that phrase to find a seven-minute video clip. The downside is you see only two or three seconds worth of some of the best dances. Don’t blink.

 

 

SAVE THE JUICE

“Save the juice. Save the juice.” That comment is from a sign in Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The rest of the of the sign rhymes, with the added line: “Turn off the lights when not in use.” Frugal guy, Edison.

So taking that advice up to modern times, we took out our wallet, blew off the dust, and cracked it open to the tune of $10 to buy a timer for our phone charger. According to AccuBatteryApp.com, you can’t overcharge your phone’s battery, but leaving it plugged in too long is bad for its health; the battery degrades.

Well, we do that a lot, and decided to take measures to overcome our lack of self- control. We bought the “Century 12-Hour Mechanical Timer,” $10 on Amazon. Here’s how it works: Take your phone adapter and plug it into the mechanical timer. Plug the timer into the wall. If you only want 15 minutes to top it off, you can do that. The timer lets you choose any setting up to 12 hours. You could also use it to automatically turn off appliances, like your iron.

If despite all efforts and years of meditation you find that your phone runs out of battery much more quickly than anticipated, go to “Settings.” Your phone will show you which apps are using the most power. Go to the “Notifications” area to stop some apps from sending alerts. For example, we don’t need to hear from LinkedIn every time someone has a job anniversary. If you have an iPhone, don’t leave a frequently used app by just flicking it away. It uses less battery to let it run in the background, so the phone doesn’t have to load it all over again when you need it.

Making Movies

A reader wrote that she upgraded to Windows 10 and could no longer get Windows Movie Maker to create a DVD. We suggested she try the version of Movie Maker made specifically for Windows 10. Then we discovered an oddity.

On one page of the Microsoft site, they say there is no Movie Maker for Windows 10. It goes further, warning that if you download one, it could have malicious malware or viruses. On another page of the same website, they praise Movie Maker for Windows 10, with a link to download it. As with government agencies, apparently various departments – and people, don’t talk to each other.

We’re adventurous, so we went ahead and downloaded it anyway from the Windows Store on our computer, which also offers a “pro” version. Our reader tried it too, but ran into a problem. She couldn’t add the music she usually adds to movies. We suggested converting them to another format using the free “VLC Media Player.” If you click on “Media,” then “convert,” you can change one format into another.

Microsoft suggests using the Windows Photo app for creating videos instead of Movie Maker. Good advice and we agree. It lets you add captions and even 3D effects, and it’s easy to export or share your creation online. For offline, we used the free DVD burner from Ashampoo.com, “Burning Studio Free.” Movie Maker comes with some great choices for music but it’s not well designed. For example, there was no way we could start the music after we put together the video. So we did it all over again and made two videos. It was easy to use.

Slim Down

Google gives you 15 gigabytes of free storage space. But how can you tell when you’re filling up? This way:

Go to Drive.Google.com and move your cursor over the words “upgrade storage.” When we did it, we learned that we were using 14.5 gigabytes out of the allowed 15. Our Gmail is hogging most of that space, around 12 gigabytes. We dumped three gigabytes by deleting large emails; it’s the attachments that eat up the space. (Always remember to keep your messages — as we used to say in the newsroom — light, tight and trite.) Your Gmail trash empties every 30 days, as does your spam folder, so you can skip that part.

If you want to go after your large emails with an axe, but don’t know where they are, type “size:5242880” into the search bar at the top of your Gmail screen: It will bring up every email larger than five megabytes. You can replace the “5” with any number you want and that will determine the starting size of the emails that come up. If you click on the drop-down arrow, you can choose dates.

We chose 2005 to 2014, and deleted large emails from way back when. We also uncovered some great forgotten photos, which we downloaded to a separate file on our computer and posted them to a Facebook page. If you get a warning from Google that you’re still getting near the upper limit of storage space, transfer stuff to Flickr, Dropbox, OneDrive, or iDrive. They all give you lots of storage for free. Or, if you want to keep it in Gmail and Google Drive, you can get 100 gigabytes for $2 a month, or $20 for a year’s worth.

App Happy

Portal AR, Step into Scotland.” If you have a phone with “AR,” which stands for “augmented reality,” this app will take you on a tour of Edinburgh Castle or whiz along the North Coast on a motorcycle. Other than the novelty of it all, we found the tour wanting and would not have tipped the guide. There are YouTube videos about Scotland that are much better. Despite all the buzz about augmented reality, most of it is really disappointing. We liked the Rick Steves videos. He has a great one on Edinburgh.

 

TAPING THE DOC

We often leave the doctor’s office scratching our heads. It’s not because we have lice, it’s trying to remember what he or she said. So now we put ‘em on tape. (We don’t really use tape any more, we record them on Joy’s cellphone.)

One doctor we recorded baffled us even after we played him back. So we fired him and got another. But the recording helped us get on a new track, so to speak. We think his problem was a one-track mind.

We started out with “Smart Recorder,” free from the Android app store. It automatically skips periods of relative silence, so if you want to use it to record talks with your spouse at night. However, that may also include snoring. Tap the share icon to send a recording by email or text, or upload it to Google Drive, Dropbox, Facebook Messenger and many other storage places. Joy uses it to record her favorite yoga videos from TV. She plays them back when Bob is using the TV. Bob mutes the TV so she can hear the dulcet tones of the yoga master.

But what about converting a recording to text? It’s time consuming to listen to a long one, faster to read it. The free “Otter Voice Notes,” for iPhone or Android works well, instantly transcribing what you hear. You get 600 minutes of recording and transcribing per month for free or 6000 minutes for $10 a month. It makes some errors, but we’ve found that all the automatic transcription programs make errors and they’re not real bad ones; you can always figure out what was meant. A big advantage is you can search on a particular word or phrase to go right to the part you want.

If you need to transcribe a recording in to or from any of 30 languages, there’s “Just Press Record,” $5 for iPhones. Though it’s for iPhone, you can transfer the recording to PC or Mac, or upload it to iCloud. There’s also “Voice Memos,” a free app that comes with the iPhone.

Internuts

  •       The 100 Best Science Books of All Time.” Search on that phrase to find some  impressive lists, one from ListMuse.com and the other from oedb.org. ListMuse ranks “Origin of the Species” by Charles Darwin number one, and “QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter,” by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman number two. Oedb.org goes after more popular science books: Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” makes the number one slot in the astronomy category. Number two is “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void,” by Mary Roach, dubbed “America’s Funniest Science Writer.” Under psychology, they list one of Joy’s all-time favorites, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” by Oliver Sacks.
  •   The Best Paying Job in Every State.” Search on that phrase to find an interactive map from Time Magazine. Hover on a state to see the highest paying job. The highest one we saw was $964,000 from New Jersey’s clean-energy firm NRG Yield. Another biggie was $495,513 at Infinity Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Closer to reality was $115,353 from Murphy Oil in Bono, Arkansas.

Clean Keyboards

We read recently that the average cell phone has 25,000 germs per square inch. Computer keyboards are in the same germy ballpark, so we tried out a washable see-through cover we can type on. The one we tried is from Cherry, a German company that makes good keyboards we have used before. 

This is the sort of problem that matters in situations where many people use the same keyboard, such as at schools and libraries. You can get soft plastic keyboard covers for a huge variety of laptops and desktops, including major brands like Dell, HP, Apple and Lenovo. We saw plenty for $15 at ProtectCovers.com.

The cover gives the keys a rather ghostly appearance, making them harder to read. This is no problem if you’re a touch typist, and just need to glance at them now and then. Joy is a typing speed demon, but sometimes has to hunt and peck a few keys.  If you hunt and peck, you’ll need good eyesight or a strong light to see through the plastic haze.

Without bothering to remove the cover, dab a little cleaning liquid on it to remove germs. Use a 10 percent bleach, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide solution and your keyboard will be almost as clean as a surgical table.

This kind of cover would have prevented the destruction of our Macbook, which had orange juice spilled on it. It could also prevent messes by kids with smeary fingers. You can also get covers for computer mice.

Smart Glasses

Remember Google Glasses? They were tiny computers that fit into your eyeglass frames and sent information to a tiny corner of your lens. It turned out they were more useful for industry than consumers. However, we just got news of Kopin Corporation’s “SOLOS,” a kind of smart glasses for athletes, especially bikers and runners.

The glasses have tiny speakers that provide turn-by-turn directions. (Joy gets lost easily.) But you can also take calls or play music, without having to look down at your phone. An in-ear headphone is included.  There’s a lot of data displayed in the corner of your right lens, in an area the size of a human pupil. Athletes can see their elapsed time, speed, pace, cadence, heart rate, etc. The SOLOS work with any Android, iPhone, or smart watch. They’re $499 from solos-wearables.com.

App Happy

In a CPR class, Joy learned how to do chest compressions in an emergency. The hospital suggested timing the compressions to the beat of “Staying Alive,” a song made famous by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. (A recent study by the University of Spain suggests the song “La Macarena,” but we can never remember how it goes, thank goodness; it’s hard to get it out of your mind once it starts.)

But what if you don’t remember when to use compressions and when to call for help or breathe into the victim’s mouth? Use a CPR app. That’s how we came to download “Real Time CPR Guide.” It’s free in the Android  app store. “CPR Assistant” is similar in the Apple app store.

The CPR course instructor who developed the Real Time CPR Guide said that students have told her over the years that in times of stress, they can never remember what to do and therefore choose not to perform CPR. This app talks you through it. It mentions seven situations for using it: heart attack, choking, sickness, electrocution, drowning, smoke inhalation and poisoning. If none of those fit the situation, tap “other.”

We tapped “heart attack” and noticed you can tap a link to call for help. The app tells you what to do if the victim has a pulse and can receive a rescue breath every six seconds or doesn’t have one and needs chest compressions at a rate of 100 per minute. Compressions can also work for choking if the Heimlich maneuver has failed.

 

THE WEB

What’s on the web? Everything.

Without buying an antenna or paying for a subscription to Netflix, Hulu or Sling TV, all you need is an Internet connection. Out there on the cosmic web are tons of entertainment, and also some instruction – just recently a woman delivered her own baby watching instructions on YouTube.

One of the most popular shows in the known universe is now on the web. Search for “Twitch Presents” to pick up 500 episodes of “Doctor Who.” Never heard of it? You’re out of touch. This show has been running, with a few breaks, since 1963 and regularly draws around 100 million viewers per episode worldwide.

Why the Twitch? Twitch.TV was initially intended for watching people play video games. What? You call that entertainment? Well, last year 258 million viewers on all kinds of websites tuned in to watch competitors play video games against each other. By way of comparison, 204 million viewers tuned in to watch pro football in the U.S. Of course that’s a not a fair comparison; our brand of football isn’t played in most other countries, so that’s sort of us versus the world.

The same is true for Dr. Who, a science fiction show about a time traveler. It airs in 36 countries, so most people are “out there,” you might say, and that’s the power of the worldwide web.

Laser Printer Woes

A reader was printing a picture with a laser printer when it stopped. The paper had wrapped itself around what’s called the fuser roller and wouldn’t come off. Over the phone, a tech support guy from Okidata helped him get the little fragments of paper removed. However that didn’t fix the problem. So he ordered a new fuser for $195 from Amazon.

Some further explanation might be useful here. Laser printers use a mixture of powdered ink and glue. The mixture that is deposited on the paper must then roll past a “fuser roller” which is heated and melts the ink/glue mix onto the page. The result is very nice — when all goes well.

The replacement is expensive, so it’s worth paying attention to the kind of paper you feed in to print your picture. Glossy photo paper produces a nice finish but the coating used on some photo paper can melt from the heat of the fuser roller and then it gums up the roller and tears the paper. You can also print on sheets of clear plastic and it produces a really brilliant effect when you shine a light through the finished picture. But once again, the problem is some plastics will melt from the heat of the fuser and then that’s two hundred bucks down the drain. Some papers and plastics will say “laser safe” on the package, some won’t.

Paying With Your Phone

Joy was out lunching with friends, but forgot to bring her credit card, so she had to pay a friend back. If she’d had “Android Pay” linked to a card, she could have paid with her phone. Android Pay isn’t the most popular method of paying with a phone, so what is?

According to research firm eMarketer, it’s the Starbucks app for Android or iPhone. This year, 23.4 million people over age 14 will use that app to buy something at Starbucks. In second place is Apple Pay, used by 22 million people. “Samsung Pay” is used by 9.9 million people. A big reason why Starbucks is ahead of the pack is the rewards and offers you get by using it. We need a “Panera Pay;” Joy likes their salads.

One thing we didn’t realize: To use Android Pay, you don’t have to open the Android Pay app first. You just hold your phone over the payment terminal for a few seconds until you see a check mark. However, it does help if you have “NFC” or near field connections turned on. Go to settings, and look under “Connected Devices.” You can toggle it on or off.

When Android Pay first came out, there were a lot more steps involved. Now it’s easy but the first time we tried it, our phone was in the locked position, so we had to enter a pin. But the second time, since we’d recently tapped on our phone, we just flashed it over the terminal.

The Numbers Report

“Let’s Uber,” is an increasingly popular phrase. This year, 48 million American adults will use this ride-sharing service at least once, an 18 percent jump over last year, according to research firm eMarketer. But rival service, Lyft, is growing faster.

Lyft is expected to grow by nearly 41 percent this year, with nearly 30 million Americans using it. Some drivers sign up for both services.

App Happy

  • Google Arts and Culture” (also on the web) has high resolution images from collections around the world. Included are the Frick collection in Washington, D.C., the Royal Museum in Belgium, the Doges Palace in Venice, and the out of the way Kroller-Muller Museum in Gelderland, Holland. Bob says an interesting aspect of visiting this museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings, is the sign in the parking lot which tells you to watch out for wild boars when you get out of the car. He didn’t see any.
  • Yousician” gets rave reviews for teaching you a musical instrument for free. But we found it difficult to strike a note on the piano at the precise time a little line moved over that note on our phone screen.