EAVESDROPPING WITH ALEXA

Twenty-two million Americans now have what’s called a “smart speaker,” a gadget that sits on a table or shelf and responds to commands. The numbers have doubled in the past year. This is without doubt the hottest product out there and we expect the numbers to jump sharply again this year. The market leader, with about 72 percent, is the Amazon Echo; Google has about 18% and the rest is “other,” which includes Apple’s “HomePod,” and Sonos’ “Sonos One.” Now the Amazon Echo not only listens to you, it can listen for you. In short, it can be an intercom. If someone turns on its “voice calling and messaging” feature, you can either call them or listen in. There have […]

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PLENTY OF TIME TO PANIC

The HP desktop computer we bought on Amazon less than two months ago wouldn’t start. For a few hours, we panicked. The solution? Unplug the machine. Hold the power button until the little light on the back of the computer goes off. (That’s if it’s a desktop computer, the type sometimes called a tower.) This frees the computer from hibernation mode. Viola, as we say in fractured French! It’s fixed! For several hours before that, we thought we had a dead computer. HP’s troubleshooting site told us to hold down the power button, but we didn’t do it long enough the first time. (HP said nothing about making sure the light had gone off before we released the power button.) […]

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HOW BOUT FREE PHONE SERVICE?

A reader latched onto his wife’s old Samsung Galaxy phone, now that she has a new one. At first he thought he needed a cheap phone service to go with it. We suggested a Tracfone plan for $7 a month — $21 every 90 days for 60 minutes of talk time. But he decided to go even cheaper: use free Wi-Fi to make calls. If you use Google Voice, Google Hangouts, Skype or some similar service to make calls, you don’t need a dedicated phone service. Search on “How to Make Phone Calls and Texts from your Smart Phone without Cell Service,” which leads to full instructions at HowToGeek.com. (Gotta love that name.) But what about the landline? You know, […]

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ALEXA IN THE CAR

In its never ending struggle to conquer the world, Amazon is moving Alexa into your car. Well, maybe not your car, but a lot of cars. We have a couple things to say about that. Okay, maybe three things. For those who came into the movie late, Alexa is this know-it-all device you can ask about anything and it will often come up with the right answer and play music too. But it chops up classical pieces. (It’s best to imagine that somewhere in the middle of the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven dies, and that’s all he wrote.) Coming out in early February, the car version will plug into your cigarette lighter and all will be well with the world. The […]

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TRUTH FINDER

We now know people who are married, or about to be, to mates they met online; it’s becoming normal. But if any of these meets make you nervous, you can make preliminary checks. A friend of ours turned down a match from an online dating service because the guy had “too many relationships.” Truthfinder.com told her. The scope of the information was amazing. TruthFinder not only knew how many online relationships the guy had, but how many business filings he’d made with the government (they were for McDonald’s franchises), what his house was worth, how much he paid for his mortgage, and so on. The service, which charges $28 for a one-time search, or $23 if you go monthly, also […]

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GET CLICKING BEFORE THE DEAL IS GONE

Okay, just writing about getting a new computer was enough for us. Joy went online and bought a new HP with an Intel i7 processor and 12 gigabytes of RAM. The old all-in-one has been cleared — we mean completely cleared — for drop-off at Goodwill. Perhaps someone will want to try putting in a Linux operating system. The PC came from Amazon, in an “HP Envy Bundle,” a $650 deal which included a refurbished “HP 750-137cb” computer, a gorgeous 27-inch monitor, two Bang & Olufsen speakers with great sound quality, a wireless keyboard and mouse. The speed is incredible, the monitor is huge and as sharp as an expensive TV. And it has a two-terabyte hard drive. Joy copied […]

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NO CAT CALLS PLEASE

Half a century ago Andy Warhol predicted that someday everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. He forgot to mention pets. Now there are websites devoted to making your pet stand out from the crowd. Bowser or Fluffy can even star in their own story book. And of course you can post videos — with background music and sound effects. Don’t worry that people will think you’re some kind of nut, a recent report says 65 percent of pet owners post news of their pets twice a week. Where do they post? On pet social networks, of course. If you search on the phrase “How to Make Your Pet a Star in Social Media,” you’ll get lots of advice. ABC […]

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THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

We just played “Animal Trivia,” “World Foods Trivia” and “What’s Your Nickname” without touching a phone, computer or board game. We used Google Home, the digital assistant. We paid $130 when it first came out but now there’s a new version called the “Mini,” which you can get for $49. This matches the price for Amazon’s “Alexa.” Holiday shopping is on the horizon and people are going to be making decisions and price is often the deciding factor. So are there differences? You bet. Most would consider them slight, Bob thinks they’re enormous. Bob prefers Google. Joy on the other hand, thinks Alexa has lots of advantages. Whaddaya gonna do? She particularly likes an Alexa game called “Yes, Sire,” in […]

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SMILE

What? As if 900 crypto-currencies were not enough, we now have “Dentacoin.” You guessed it, Dentacoin is for paying dentists. At the moment, you can only pay two dentists with this digital currency, one in Bulgaria and the other in London, but the wheel, and the planet, turns. These digital currencies, also called “crypto” or “e-cash” are a way of getting out from under bank fees, inflation, security risks and of course government control. Eeek, as they say in the treasury. We are fast approaching a thousand varieties and there’s no reason to expect it to stop there. Shades of early America, when banks in all the states used to issue their own currency. Except they could keep printing money. […]

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ANTI-VIRUS REVISITED

We bow to the mounting evidence and can no longer recommend the free anti-virus program: “Avast.” Too many complaints. And yet, cyber attacks as they’re called, are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated. Choosing an alternative is tricky. For years, PC World, PC Magazine and other reviewers gave their highest marks to the Russian-owned Kaspersky anti-virus. Then came the accusation that Russian hackers may be using it to conduct espionage against the U.S.; some readers dropped it like a hot potato. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security ordered federal agencies to remove it from their systems. Avast is based in the Czech Republic, and there’s been some strange behavior recently.  One of our readers said the people who answer the […]

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