3_androidIt’s not just computers that slow down, Android phones do too.

A free app called “Droid Optimizer” from Ashampoo.com made our apps open a few seconds faster, and it has a lot of other features too.

The Optimizer’s one-touch speed up button that gave us almost double the “RAM,” (random access memory) we had before. (If RAM is low, the phone can’t hold on to many things at once.) The app manager uninstalled apps we didn’t need any more — 47 of them! An “auto cleanup” got rid of junk files.

This app’s “privacy adviser” warns you about what kind of information your apps are accessing but the warnings border on hysteria. It labeled 15 apps “suspicious,” but when we looked at the details, it was all stuff the app needed in order to work. For example, Microsoft Outlook was labeled “suspicious” because it could read our contact list. Well that’s what it’s for, folks. We ignored the warning.



plex“Plex” is an app for users of the Roku, a device that brings in hundreds of extra channels — Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, for example – on your TV.  Plex gives you shortcuts to your favorite content and lets you pick up where you left off in a movie or show. You can also get it for laptops and tablets.



Math-Girl1-PhotoMath, a free app, lets you take a picture of an equation and get an answer plus the steps involved. (Does not recognize handwriting.) Assuming you already have it on a screen somewhere, this is easier than re-typing the mathematical expression at sites like WolframAlpha.com. PhotoMath already has 11 million downloads for the iPhone and Windows Phone version. That’s a lot of downloads but it didn’t work for us. You try it. An Android version is coming soon.




aluminyzed photoWe just had a photo “aluminyzed.” It looks great.

Aluminyze.com will turn your photo into anything from wall art to a license plate. Joy took a photo at a woman’s club event and had it aluminyzed for the chair of her committee, who typically receives a gift certificate at year’s end. This was different.

Here’s what we liked: It’s waterproof, durable and super light. It doesn’t need a frame. The colors are vivid, and it’s glossy like glass, though you can also choose a satin finish. The image can be printed in the shape of hearts, clouds, or letters. An iPhone case is $30, just the back panel is $15.  Prices for wall art start at $20 and go up to $319 for a 30-inch by 40 inch. So far almost half a million photos have been aluminyzed.




Spire breathingJoy is a mouth breather and was wondering if she breathes irregularly. So she got one these new $150 fitness tracker “Spire” to monitor her breathing and emotions — stress levels — as well as her steps.

It has notions: When Joy did a backbend today, a pop-up message immediately suggested she calm down. The Spire said she hadn’t been calm for hours. “Who says I’m not calm!” Joy is demanding as we type.

Spire looks like one of those smooth flat stones you pick up on river bottoms; it has a clip to attach to your shirt or pants. It goes with an app for your iPhone or iPad. (Android app coming up soon.) The app shows three flower petals, in three colors, for calm, focus and activity. When you’re balanced, all three fill with color. If only one or two have color, it indicates which area needs improvement. You decide whether you’re going for super calm, super productive, and super active. For the first few hours, “calm” and “focus” barely registered, but began to pick up as the day went on.

The app told Joy she breathes at 17 breaths per minute. That’s right in the middle of the normal adult range between 12 and 20. That’s what the app said, but to check we went to Breathing.com. (Where else would you go?) It had interesting links to places like Scorecard.Goodguide.com, which had information on “pollution by zipcode,” letting you know where pollution might interfere with breathing. (Our advice: stay out of Los Angeles.)

The bottom line: Spire gave us a lot more information than we needed. Joy achieved super calm in seven hours. (Namaste.) Checking the app became addictive, and may have made us less calm at first. The company has a 30 day return policy if you don’t like it. We bought it at Spire.io, but it’s also on Amazon.



0boband joy cartoonBelow our email signatures we often use a cartoon portrait of ourselves. We’ve gotten lots of compliments on that over the years, and requests for information about it.

The drawings came from MyFaceIcons.com. For $49, they give you a small, medium and large version. Though we’ve never needed the large one, it’s fun to have. The best part is how flattering the drawings are. They look like our younger, handsomer selves.

If you spend a little more, you can add more than one item to the drawing. Ours has our computer screen with the words “On Computers.” Next to Joy’s computer is a little photo of Bob. Next to Bob’s is a little photo of Joy. If you don’t know what to get someone for their birthday, this is pretty cute.



facebookA widowed friend of ours is still keeping her husband’s Facebook account open, several months after he passed away. She has no plans to close it. Many experts suggest “memorializing” such an account to make it impossible to send messages there, but she sees no reason to do this either. We agree. Survivors probably want to hear from anyone who hasn’t yet learned of the death of their friend so it’s best to keep channels open.



Paris rentals from AirBNB

Paris rentals from AirBNB

Sharing your car, couch and kitchen are all part of the so-called “sharing economy.”

First we tried the Uber limo service — nice but expensive … “Uber X” is the cheaper version. The drivers are regular people who use their cars as taxis. To feel safe, you can check the driver’s rating, but they can also rate you. Bad passengers — for instance people who repeatedly fail to show up for the ride they order — are rated as bad passengers.

We were miffed recently when our phone went dead and we couldn’t use our Uber app. Uber X would have cost around $25 for a long ride from the airport; the regular taxi we had to use instead charged us $100 — not counting tip.

The last Uber X driver we used happened to be a driver for Lyft as well. This is a rival service. The driver said he likes Uber better because Lyft always tells the customer he’ll be there in two minutes, no matter how far away he is.

Our conversation with the Uber driver sparked a discussion of other parts of the sharing economy. We told him about “Eat This,” which lets you use your home as a restaurant. “My wife’s a great cook (of Iraqi food),” he said. To qualify you as a host, an Eat This manager checks your home environment and eats a meal with you. A lot of the people who sign up as hosts are professional chefs, or food bloggers, or are passionate about recipes. Some offer cooking lessons as part of the whole experience. But be sure to send a message to your host with any questions. We signed up and were then told the location was a fourth floor walk-up, but that was only after we had already paid. (Fortunately, it was an easy cancellation.) It could also be in a bad neighborhood, but they don’t tell you that either unless you ask. The locations are in most major cities so far, with more being added all the time.

The biggest sharing app is AirBNB, a bed and breakfast network that lists people willing to offer a couch or spare bedroom to strangers.

This has quickly become a big business.

Though the company is not public yet and owns nothing but a database, investors have priced it at about half the value of Hilton Hotels, which owns actual real estate. AirBNB has a hundred thousand overseas listings, though countries vary greatly: there are 37,500 places to stay in Paris, but only 2500 in Tokyo.



dead battery woesThe battery in the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone is supposed to last for 18 hours on standby, 10 hours if you’re talking, 8 hours if you’re playing a video. We’ve been lucky if ours lasted half that. A free app called “Greenify,” along with some basic adjustments, has made a big difference.

Greenify for Android phones hibernates any apps you don’t need to have running. Our phone stays on for at least 18 hours now, with light use. Some apps, such as the Amazon Kindle app, take a little longer to load with Greenify running in the background, but that’s better than a phone that dies when you don’t expect it.

Before Greenify, we tried several other battery life extenders: “Wavelock Detector,” “GSam Battery Monitor,” and “Watchdog Task Manage.” among them. All gave us information but didn’t fix the problem. In fact, having information about what’s causing your battery life problem tempts you to attempt a “forced close” of a whole bunch of apps, which can make your phone unstable. (Ours got so freaky we had to turn it off a couple of times.) In previous columns, we’ve recommended “Battery Doctor,” but it has not proved satisfactory since then. It routinely closes the apps we have running, but they come back a few minutes later.

In desperation, we turned to HelpHelpNow.com, a tech support site. Kenny, the owner, told us that Greenify is the only one that works.

We had been puzzling over poor battery life for months. Sure, we had turned off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, maximum screen brightness, and location services when we didn’t need them. But that’s just for starters. We should have set our screen to turn off after a minute; ours went off after 10 minutes.

We used to have “live” wallpaper — animation, but that also eats up the battery.

A really dumb move

Here’s the dumbest thing of all. We didn’t know we weren’t exiting apps when we tapped our home button; they were all still there running in the background! To get rid of them, hold the home button for a few seconds and then tap “X.” On other Android phones, tap the multitasking button. On the iPhone or iPad, hit the home button twice, and then swipe the apps into oblivion with a wave of your hand. To find out what’s hogging an iPhone’s battery, tap “settings,” then “general” then “battery usage.”



tech support Joy was helping a disabled friend once because McAfee was going to charge a couple hundred dollars to fix something that took Joy about two seconds. Now we’ve heard from a reader who claims he was scammed by McAfee.

He says they used remote control to clean up his computer and then his printer stopped working. He tried three times to get his money back, and finally the credit card company  got the charge erased. A local tech guy came over and repaired his computer in about 30 minutes. Sometimes remote tech support is more of a hindrance than a help. We had so many problems with Symantec over the years that Bob stopped paying attention to them.