LET THE ROBOT TAKE IT

Michael Faraday

“Robo calls” are getting worse. Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, has been accused of making 97 million spam calls and is facing a $120 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission. There’s a call-screening feature in the new Pixel 3 phone from Google, and it’s a sure bet you will soon see it in other makes.

When your phone rings, you’ll see a “screen call” option. Tap it and a recorded voice in the Pixel phone asks the caller to state their name and the nature of the call. The caller might say something like “You have won a free cruise.” (We win an amazing number of those, which is unfortunate because Bob doesn’t like cruises.) At this point, you can tap a button to get more info without answering the call. The same screening feature will likely appear on Google’s Pixel 2 phone later this month, and other Android phones are sure to follow this lead.

Our readers have probably noticed that we normally don’t do phones, and the reason for that is we figure people with cell phones are elsewhere absorbed. Joy and I were in an elevator recently and a young woman got in without looking up from her phone or even pushing a floor button. Of course, there’s no phone signal in elevators, because of something called the Faraday Cage effect, but whenever Bob mentions this, it turns out that none of the users have ever heard of Michael Faraday, which is too bad, because he’s the reason they have electricity.

The reason we’re talking about the Pixel phone now is Joy has one. We are nothing if not parochial. One of the things she likes about her Pixel 2 phone, which at $649 is cheaper than the $799 Pixel 3, is that it gets all the Android updates as soon as they come out. For instance, Pixel phones will be the first to have “Duplex,” the artificial intelligence service that calls restaurants, hair salons and others to make reservations for you.  We never make reservations, but we like the theory.

Getting to phone service, what we like best is Google’s “Project Fi,” which is only available on Pixel phones and certain LG and Motorola models. It combines service from T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Sprint, and searches for the strongest signal. The basic charge is $20 a month for unlimited calling and texting, plus $10 for every gigabyte of data. You get money back on any part of a gigabyte you didn’t use. We get money back every month; we’re not surgically attached to the phone.

A Reader’s Tests His Speed

In a recent column we mentioned that the closer your device is to your router, the faster your Internet speed. So one of our readers put it to the test.

Going to SpeedTest.net, he tested his computer’s Internet speed from 20 feet away. The download speed was 34 megabits per second and the upload speed was 12 megabits per second. Moving out to 100 feet away, the download speed dropped to just under 3 mbps and the upload speed dropped to 4mbps – a huge difference!

Maps With Music

We switched to the free app “Waze” after getting annoyed with Google Maps for unnecessary twists and turns. However, Google now has a new music feature and an “events” information button. Do not use this while you’re driving.

The music feature lets you see playback controls such as play and pause while the map is showing on the phone screen. To turn it on, tap the Google Maps icon on your phone. On Android phones, tap the three lines in the upper left corner, then “Settings,” and finally “Navigation Settings.” Turn on “Show media playback controls.” On an iPhone, tap the Google Maps icon, then the picture of a little gear, then “Navigation.” After turning on media playback controls, you’ll have a choice of Apple Music or Spotify. On Android phones, the choices are Google Play Music or Spotify. If you don’t see playback controls, be sure you’ve got the updated version of Maps. Just tap “help” then “update.”

The latest version of Google Maps invites you to explore your own city. We tapped “Events” and then “Date” to look at things going on this weekend. Later, we tapped “this month” to see the whole month. You can also tap “now” to see what’s going on today. It’s just busy, busy, busy all the time.

Light Up Your Life

LED Projects for Geeks” is a book by John Baichtal that has a dozen do-it-yourself projects that use LED lights. You can control lights with hand gestures, or an LED sash that flashes scrolling messages you send from your phone. Bob wants to program it to read “Silent Partner.” The book is $25 from NoStarch.com.

Free Book For Windows

We were intrigued by the offer of a free online book, called “Windows 10 Troubleshooting Guide.” We’re always attracted by “free.”

It’s available at solvusoft.com/en/windows-10-troubleshooting-guide. It has chapters on freeing disk space, speeding up your computer, tackling the so-called “blue screen of death,” and so on. Some explanations need improving. For instance, the author tells us  five ways to find the “Task Manager,” but doesn’t mention the easiest one: just right-click the mouse pointer anywhere in the taskbar. Bringing up the task manager lets you get out of problems like a program that freezes. Just highlight the troublesome program name and click “end task.”

Similarly, he gives three steps to get to “Disk Cleanup.” But you can go there directly by typing those words into the Windows 10 “Cortana” search bar on the left of your screen. Overall, though, there’s good info here, and you can’t beat the price. Another way to go is type “troubleshoot” in the Windows search bar.  Windows gives you a long list of items to investigate, including power settings, printer and Internet connections.

App Happy

  • “Nwsty” is a free app for those who feel over-informed. It gives you the headlines and the gist of the story. Android version here. iPhone version here.
  • Google Duo” is an alternative to “Facetime,” which is for iPhone users only. With it you can video chat with Android and iPhone users.

 

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