From the earliest days, one of the primary rules about computers and related technology has been “No matter what you get, you have to get something else to make it work.”
For example: We wanted our new Amazon Echo Dot to play thunderstorms in the bedroom as we were going to sleep. (This is one of those digital know-it-alls that you place on a table and ask it to tell you things, usually simple things, like “what’s the weather out there?”)
Naturally enough, this didn’t work, because the bedroom was too far from the office router — all of 30 feet. So we bought a “Google WiFi” extender to extend our Internet signal there. This is what is often called a repeater, because it picks up an incoming signal, gives it a kick in the pants, and sends it on for extra distance. So when we add this all up it’s $50 for the Amazon Echo Dot and another $129 for the Google Wifi to make it work.
Our AT&T router should have been enough to do this on its own. After all, we’re only talking about 30 feet, but it couldn’t do it. An AT&T tech guy came out and installed one of their own range extenders to boost the signal but it wasn’t able to bridge the gap, as they say, and so we shelled out for the Google extender. That actually works. In fact, it works so well, that they’re on back order and we had to wait a couple weeks to buy one.
One nice feature: Google WiFi allows you to pause the Internet on various devices. Perhaps you want to be free from the distractions of email and Facebook, for instance. Tell Google, by way of your smartphone, with an app you can get for free, to keep the Internet off for a specified period of time, on a single or multiple devices. This is a good way to prevent children from over-using the web. In other words: shut up, everybody.
The Best Free Anti-Virus
One of the questions we get most frequently is what’s the best free anti-virus program? We went to AV-Test.org, an impartial third party tester, to see what they had to say about the matter.
“Panda Free Antivirus” got the highest marks, but close behind were “Avast,” from Avast.com, “Avira,” from Avira.com and “AVG,” from AVG.com. If you go to YouTube and search on “Best Free Anti-Virus,” there are good explanations of pluses and minuses. All three of these freebies work for Windows and Mac.
The three top paid programs for Windows and Mac are Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Trend Micro. The one we use currently, Bullguard, wasn’t far behind.
For many years Mac users didn’t worry about viruses because they weren’t a rich enough hunting ground to bother with. But according to recent studies by Bit 9 and Carbon Black, malware for Macs increased by 500 percent last year, more than the past five years combined. You can run, but you can’t hide.
Interests on Pinterest
Pinterest.com is a website where people pin up pictures. There are about 50 million subscribers to this site — its free, and at least double that number who go there once in a while. From the beginning you could always go on and browse through pretty and unusual pictures, but later they put them into categories, like vacations, properties, art work, etc.
Go to Pinterest.com/categories. We clicked “art” and discovered Stan Ekman, whose works could easily be mistaken for those by Norman Rockwell. Like Rockwell, he illustrated the Saturday Evening Post, especially in the 1940s.
We clicked “Film, Music and Books,” and found some fun posters for old movies, like “To Catch a Thief.” We clicked “49 Underrated Books You Really Need to Read,” and discovered George Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” (It’s a bulbous tropical plant with big leaves.) Watch out for the ones showing beautiful pictures of resorts for your vacation. We went to one in California that ranks itself as best in the nation and advertises “walk to beaches.” That walk turned out to be well over a mile, crossing a six-lane highway and then through a whole lot of scrub brush.
As with Facebook, you can follow friends on Pinterest and they can follow you. When you see something of interest, click the icon to pin it on your board. Create as many boards as you like. A few days ago, our niece started a new one with jewelry pictures. A hint perhaps? Tough luck for her, because Bob doesn’t like jewelry.
News on the FitBit Front
Those who use movement trackers like FitBit had a bit of discouraging news recently, when a University of Pittsburgh study showed that those wearing them didn’t exercise any more than they did before they got their device. The constant monitoring either made them complacent or discouraged. However, a new study by Indiana University showed that using a FitBit, a Garmin VivoFit, or some other “wearable” did make a difference if live coaching was added.
For Christmas, Joy received the new Garmin VivoFit 3, an improvement over the original VivoFit. The original version popped off her wrist one day and was lost forever. The VivoFit 3 has a small round disk on the band that locks it in place when you turn the dial.
The VivoFit 3 also does a better job of tracking a variety of exercises, such as swimming and biking. The earlier version gave Joy credit for only 500 steps — even after she swam nonstop for an hour! Is that a dirty deal or what? The new version gave her over 3,600 steps. A half hour on a stationary bike earns about the same number (if you wear it on your ankle). A red line streaks across the screen after one hour of inactivity.
The Family Segway
A guy we know gave a Segway miniPRO to everyone in his family. This is a smaller, much cheaper, version of the adult scooters, that Silicon Valley hotshots touted a few years ago as “the next great thing.” (Was it even the next good thing?) We saw the new Minis on Amazon and elsewhere for $600. The scooter goes 14 miles on a single charge, and charging takes about four hours. It weighs 28 pounds.
Like the Segway, the miniPRO is a two-wheel platform that you stand on and control by way of a stick between your knees. It won’t let you go faster than four miles per hour until you’ve mastered a few tutorials, using a free smartphone ap. Then it can go up to 10 mph. One 63 year-old guy says that he and his wife ride theirs to the grocery store.