CHOOSING A NEW PRINTER

Photo courtesy of TechRadar

 A friend asked Joy to go with her to Office Depot to choose a new printer. That was an eye-opener.  You can get a laser printer from Hewlett Packard for less than a hundred dollars. The LaserJet Pro M15W takes up less than eight by 14 inches on your desk and weighs just eight pounds.

Bob’s first laser printer cost $5,500, was gigantic and weighed about 50 pounds. That was black and white only.  Our current color laser printer, a behemoth from Okidata, cost around $550 and also weighs nearly 50 pounds. The quality is superb. The kicker for us is tech support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When we had an HP printer and called tech support, they immediately suggested we buy a new printer.

HP says its $99 laser printer is the world’s smallest laser printer and works with Windows, Mac or smartphone.Our friend went right to the “pros and cons” section of  the PC Magazine review we sent her, which judged it “excellent.” Under cons, they listed “high running costs” and “no Ethernet port.” “High running costs” means that each printed sheet costs about five cents. That’s a penny and a half more than average. Does anyone care about this?  If you print 1,000 pages a month, it’s an extra $15, but we don’t know anyone who prints that much. No Ethernet port is no biggie. You can connect wirelessly or with a USB cable. A wireless connection is handy when you want to print from across the room, from your phone or from the cloud. 

App Happy

  •  Clean Up Duplicate Contacts” is a $2 iPhone app. One user said: “2 bucks and a button press got rid of about 2500 duplicate contacts in my phone in about 5 seconds.”
  • Android users can go to Contacts.Google.com. Underneath the word “Contacts” in the menu on the left is the word “Duplicates.” Click it to get rid of them.

Fire Alarm

House fires spread six times faster today than they did 40 years ago according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Today’s homes are filled with synthetic materials that burn hotter and faster. 

A fireman started a company called LifeDoor to sell an automatic door-closer, the $129 LD1, because his wife and daughter like to sleep with the door open. “I’ve seen first hand the dramatic difference a closed door makes during a fire,” he said. “It literally can be the difference between life and death.”

The LD1, from LifeDoor.io,  listens for smoke alarms and automatically closes doors, protecting those inside from super-heated smoke and toxic gases, and preventing oxygen from being sucked out of the room. It emits its own alarm. Around 80 percent of children sleep through a smoke alarm, according to a study in the United Kingdom, so it’s more likely they’ll hear a second one. 

Not Forgotten

A website called Not-Forgotten.com will make your personal video discoverable 300 years from now by linking it to  genealogical records and libraries. That’s if anybody is still around 300 years from now.

The company charges $149 to create a video for you, stored on the blockchain, a digital record. Magnetic recording such as your computer’s hard drive, has the shortest lifespan: just  a few decades at best. Optical recording, such as CDs and DVDs, can last many times that.

Paper, however, can last for centuries. On the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, there are still 7,200 pages of his journals and drawings, about a fourth of his total output. That’s a higher percentage than historians have retrieved from Steve Job’s emails and digital documents from the 1990s. 

Digital Proof  

Suppose you have a million dollar idea for a movie, an invention or app. Will the first person you share it with steal it? 

DECENT, a blockchain company, has a new service called “Digital Proof.” Without looking at your file, it gives you a timestamp and proof of existence. Later, when you want to prove authorship, it compares a special code on it with the one in the company’s database. One file or document costs  $10.

Winklevoss twins

Besides individuals, it could be used by lawyers who want to protect their clients’ ideas. The company says it would have been useful in the Winklevoss Twins vs. Facebook lawsuit. There’s a free trial on their website, DigitalProof.io

But this is early days. A British company called CaseLines, which supplies software for courts, including the UK Supreme Court,  is patenting a blockchain solution to make evidence tamper-proof. China’s Supreme Court ruled last year that blockchain evidence is binding. Dubai is also planning a blockchain court. 

Halloween Fun

  • “Hey, Google, talk to Sherlock Mysteries.”  Say those words to the free Google Assistant app or Google Home speaker and you’re off on a case.
  • ” “Hey, Google, talk to Haunted Diaries.”  You get a spooky story and a mystery to solve. At each step, a voice gives you suggestions on what to investigate next.
  • Say, “Alexa, open Halloween Ambience” to get some scary background music played on your Amazon Echo or in the free Alexa app on your phone. You might use it when you’re passing out candy.
  • 25 Halloween Games for Kids to Play at a Spooky Party.” Search on that phrase to find some fun suggestions from Good Housekeeping Magazine. For instance, make a list of Halloween items you’ve hidden all over the house and let kids find them. Or play Halloween Bingo on a board you can print from their website.

 

 

 

APPLE SHINES

A reader writes: “I have an iPhone SE that’s not even two years old. Now it completely closes down, then will restart, but then goes down again.”

She took her phone to a repair shop and the guy said it was planned obsolescence. That didn’t seem right to her, but she didn’t want to ask her service provider, AT&T, for help. In her experience, they upgrade you to a new phone automatically. We suggested she call Apple.

“The person I spoke to was very helpful,” she said. “She ran diagnostics on my phone remotely and said I needed an update, which she then did. She showed me how to save my information to the cloud and made me an appointment at the local Best Buy. They ran diagnostics and said it seemed fine for now and that if I had any further issues to bring it there and they would check it out. There was no charge. It was the best customer service I have seen in some time.” No charge is always nice.

Fun with Wallpaper

Deskscapes” from Stardock.com is a $5 program that puts animated backgrounds on your Windows laptop or desktop. See a lava eruption in the ocean, autumn leaves falling in a forest, or ants crawling on a tree. You can specify “no ants” if you wish. The nature scenes are so spectacular, they’re a welcome break from whatever we’re working on. After you install the program, click the “online” tab to get hundreds of choices beyond the pre-installed selections.

If you balk at paying $5, try the free Windows 10 app, “Desktop Live Wallpapers.” We had trouble getting it to work, but you may do better. If you like still photos, the free “Bing Desktop” from Microsoft gives you a different image every day. Unfortunately, it sometimes stops working. So annoying.

Phone Disaster

Joy misplaced the combination for her lock. Rather than leave her Google Pixel 2 phone in a locker, she put it in a zip-up container by the side of the pool. A worker with a hose came along and blasted away at the container and everything on the deck.

Though the phone still worked, it got green, black and purple streaks blocking out one side of the screen.

No wonder we love Google. They sent us a new Pixel 2 for free. They guarantee their phones for two years, no matter what happens. By contrast, Apple warranties do not cover accidents; you have to buy the extended version.

Restoring Your System

We’ve often relied on Windows “System Restore” whenever things went awry. System Restore takes your computer back to a day when everything was working. Microsoft changed it in Windows 10, and we hate that.

In Windows 10, type “settings” into the Windows search box on your desktop or click the start button and then click the little picture of a gear. In the search box, type “System Restore” and click where it says, “Create a Restore Point.” But instead of doing that, just click “System Restore.” It’s a bummer if you get the message that there are no restore points to go back to. Then all you can do is make a new one for today, so at least in the future you’ll have something.

In Windows 7, you click “Start,” then “Accessories,” “System Tools” and “System Restore,” choosing a day when all was right with the world.

Exercising with Alexa

They say it’s healthier to break up your sitting with bursts of exercise than it is to sit all day and do an hour-long routine. Alexa, the voice coming out of the Echo smart speaker, can help.

Go to Amazon.com and in the search box, click the arrow and change the word “All” to “Alexa Skills.” Search on “5-minute workout” and you’ll see three choices: “5 Minute Plank,” “5 Minute Core and Cardio” and “7-Minute Workout.” Choose one, click on “enable” and you’re all set. Just say, “Alexa, open 5 Minute Push Ups,” or whatever the skill is. We like “Daily Stretch.”

Internuts

CheapAir.com found flights for us that were $100 less than what we saw on

American Airlines website, though we had to go with another airline for part of the trip. When is a good time to book a flight? CheapAir’s latest report says the best time is 70 days before you leave. Last year, the best time was 54 days in advance.

BeatlesBible.com lists every Beatle song from A to Z and gives you the inspiration for each song. For example, “A Day in the Life” was inspired by the 4000 potholes in London and the death by car crash of a Guiness heir.

A Brief History of Chess by Adam Gendler.” Search on that phrase to find a cartoon about the history of chess. We didn’t know it was banned in France hundreds of years ago. It was thought to be a time-waster.

App Happy

Filtr,” a free iPhone app, was designed by a behavioral economist to help us go through email much faster. He says the average worker takes 23 minutes to get back to work after an email interruption. Unfortunately, it’s only available for the iPhone and iPad. Android users might like Edison Mail, which makes it easy to unsubscribe from lists. They just added a new “price alert” service, which searches for the lowest price.

Gallery Go” is a free app for Android phones. Take pictures from within the app to make them easier to organize. Create folders and move pictures into them.

EASY ON THE EYES

“Dark Mode” is all the rage on smartphones. It gives you a black background with white text and is easier on the eyes. You can get it on your Windows or Apple computer too, with these tricks.

On Windows, hold down the Windows key, (looks like a flag), and tap the plus sign to bring up the Magnifier. Now hold down the “Ctrl” key and the “Alt” key at the same time and tap  the letter “i” for invert. Now every bit of text you see anywhere – in Microsoft Word, other programs or on the web – will have a black background. Unfortunately, pictures will have inverted colors too, looking like negatives. To see them normally,  toggle back by holding down “Ctrl” and “Alt” and tapping “i” again. 

On the Mac, go to “System Preferences.” Click “General.” From the “Appearance” options, select Dark. 

If you only need the dark mode when you’re browsing the web on either PC or Mac, use a free extension called “Dark Background and Light Text.” Photos will be in full color but the text will be white on a black background. Don’t forget to toggle back to normal mode in Windows first, if you’ve been using the inverted colors trick mentioned above. Toggle back to normal mode by holding “Ctrl” and “Alt” and tapping “i.”

Talking Glasses

In case you missed it, Alexa, the voice inside Amazon’s smart speakers, will speak to you inside your glasses with the new “Echo Frames.”  

It’s just like having an Echo on your head. Ask Alexa questions, play music, make phone calls and get “VIP Notifications.” You must have a phone nearby, with the free Alexa app.

If you wear prescription glasses, you can substitute prescription lenses for the lenses that come with the frames by bringing them to an optician or any Walmart. The frames are large.

The catch is we don’t know when Echo Frames will be available. For now you can click “request invitation” on Amazon’s Echo Frames page to be among the first. Early buyers get them for $180, a $75 discount.

In related news, there’s the “Echo Loop,” a $130 finger ring that works with the Alexa app on your phone. Here’s our favorite feature: Choose the person you call most and a quick tap on the ring will call them. Otherwise, the ring is like any other Echo device. Talk to Alexa to get answers to questions, find out what’s on your shopping list, get movie showtimes and reminders. You don’t have to call out “Alexa,” you can tap a button to get her attention. To get Echo Loop, click on “request invitation” on Amazon’s Echo Loop page.

Confidentially Speaking

“What’s this?” Bob asked, pointing to an icon of a lock and a clock in Gmail. Joy had no idea until she looked it up. It’s “confidential mode.”

You’ll see it in the bottom right of the email window after you click on “Compose” to start a new message. (It’s just to the left of the “send money” button.) Click it to make the email self-destruct after an amount of time you choose, such as a day. This might be a good idea if you’re sending sensitive data, like a Social Security number. You can also require a passcode. The recipient is not allowed to forward, copy, print, or download the message, though they could take a screenshot of it. 

Talking to Your iPhone

This beats anything we’ve seen with Alexa or Google Assistant. The new version of the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS 13, lets you control everything with your voice.

The iPhone ignores you until you give a command. If you say something that isn’t a command, like “How are you?” it won’t respond. If you say “Open Messages,”  it’s ready to take dictation. Say “Tap Jane Doe” or whoever the recipient is. Then say “Tap Message Box.” Now it’s ready for the message. After speaking it, you  can use the “replace” command to edit your message, still without touching your phone.Say “Replace “wonderful” with “fantastic” for example and it will make the change. Say “Tap Send” to send the message off.

There’s a great YouTube video explaining all this by columnist David Pogue. Search on “David Pogue Voice Control on iOS 13.”

App Happy

“Droid Commander” is a free app from Ashampoo to organize files on your Android phone. We’re always downloading stuff we didn’t mean to keep. Now, if we open Droid Commander and press on an item, we can drag it into the trash can. Everything is neatly organized into documents, downloads, videos, audio and more.

Internuts

  • PearlsForTheCure.com. We went to a talk on pearls by a global pearl merchant in a room filled with pearls from ordinary to exotic Tahitian. He started this website to earn money for cancer research. Pearl earrings that normally cost $250 are $59 a pair, which is less than his cost, and every penny goes to science.
  • There used to be a wonderful site StumbleUpon.com. You just kept clicking the stumble-upon button till you found a site you liked. Some of them were terrific.  Unfortunately, it’s now Mix.com. It brings you a selection of websites based on what they think are your interests. What they gave us didn’t match our interests at all. 

 

 

 

HOLDING ONTO AN OLD PHONE

If your iPhone is more than five years old, it’s no longer getting security updates. However, even older iPhones are less likely to be attacked than Android phones, according to Symantec Corp., for three reasons. First, Apple doesn’t release its source code to app developers. Second, owners of iPhones can’t modify the code on their phones. Third, there are more Android phones out there to hack: 52 percent of cell phones are Android phones, 47 percent are iPhones.

If your Android phone is over three years old, it won’t get security patches, according to TomsGuide.com. To be safe, get the free app from MalwareBytes.org. By the way, those who use old-style flip phones instead of smart phones, such as Warren Buffet, rarely get malware. Bob has been using the same flip phone for 12 years.

A Reader Wants Advice

 A reader writes: “I am a 70-plus senior with not much tech experience, needing a new phone. I don’t want a bunch of bells and whistles. I want email, Facebook, text, pictures and a few other apps.  Any suggestions for an old gal who’s on a fixed income?”

We wondered why she is no longer happy with her Android smartphone, a Pantech P8010. She says: “It won’t hold a charge, for one thing. I bought a new battery but I seriously don’t think it’s new. AT&T won’t even work on my phone anymore. They tell me I have to call support for help. It’s slow too. I was thinking a newer phone might support me for the rest of my years. Or at least, the years I’m still thinking clearly.”

If she doesn’t need to stick with AT&T, there are a lot of other choices out there.  T-Mobile has plans that start at $3 a month. Mint Mobile offers unlimited talk and text for $15 a month with three gigabytes of data. That’s huge. Though users say Mint doesn’t offer much tech support, you can buy a Mint Mobile starter kit on Amazon for $5 to try it out. Some readers swear by TracFone, known for cheap plans, but we haven’t had a good experience with their tech support. Joy likes the Google Fi service and the Google Pixel phone because Google phones are first to get Android updates and their tech support is great. Google Fi now offers unlimited talk, text and data, plus calls to 50 countries for $45 a month per user, but since we don’t need all that, we pay about $30 a month. 

Seniors may prefer the Jitterbug Smart 2. The phone is $112.50, and the monthly “Great Call” service charge ranges between $30 and $60. You can add extras, like a trained nurse ready to diagnose a problem over the phone and an old-fashioned operator ready to help you add contacts, navigate the roads, and do other tasks. Great Call will replace the phone for free if it stops working.

 We have a Jitterbug flip phone that we got about 12 years ago, and it still works great. Our service includes the old-fashioned operator. Once when we were lost in the rain trying to return our rental car without missing our flight, she steered us to the right place in San Diego. (Yes, it sometimes rains in San Diego.) The clarity of the calls is excellent and the battery lasts for weeks.

Logging in With Facebook or Google

 Should you create a new account with a new password when you join a new website? If the website gives you the option to sign in with Facebook or Google, take it.

Using a  Facebook or Google password to sign in to some other site is safer than creating a new password. Most websites don’t have the high level of security that Facebook and Google do. Other sites are much more easily hacked, and your password could be copied. That’s big trouble if you use the same password for online banking.

Still there are some reasons to be concerned about using your Facebook or Google password on a variety of sites. You might not like the idea of those companies seeing your contact list. If so, see the HowToGeek article called “Secure Your Online Accounts By Removing Third Party Apps Access.” For example, if you’ve used Google to sign in to several sites, go to myaccount.Google.com/permissions. When we went there we learned that Amazon has access to our Gmail, Google contacts and Google Calendar. We don’t mind, but it’s good to know.

 Internuts

App Happy

 If you have deeply private photos, you might want the free app “Photo Vault,” for Android or iPhone from PrivatePhotoVault.com

 PhotoVault prompts you to create a master password to keep your photos away from prying eyes. It uses a private web browser, not Firefox, Chrome, Safari or one of the others, so you leave no tracks when you view photos. The free app also lets you sort photos, view a slideshow, or search for specific ones. It’s been downloaded millions of times. 

 

 

FAKE REVIEWS

Fake reviews are like fake news. Easy to generate, difficult to believe. There are Facebook groups offering you money to write a five-star review.

A reporter from the website TheHustle.co wrote about a Chinese merchant who offered him $10 to to write a favorable review of an iPhone charger. It already had 3971 five-star reviews and was labeled “Amazon’s Choice.” “Isn’t this illegal?” he asked. “No, You will love,” was the reply.

The problem got worse in 2015 when Amazon started wooing Chinese sellers. The number of products sold went up by a third and hundreds of thousands of new sellers appeared. Based in manufacturing hubs like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, they ship directly to Amazon’s warehouses. Steve Lee, Los Angeles-based vendor says: “You have to play the game to sell now. And that game is cheating and breaking the law.”

If in doubt, go to FakeSpot.com and paste in the web address of the product. We looked up the current “Amazon’s Choice” for iPhone chargers and pasted in the web address of the “AmazonBasics Nylon Braided Certified iPhone Charger,” with 13,837 ratings. FakeSpot says 59 percent of the ratings are fake, even though Amazon already removed or modified around 1,491 of them. Previously, FakeSpot gave the reliability of the reviews an “F” grade. Perhaps it’s now an F+. We tested a knee brace and Fakespot said 61 percent of the 373 ratings were reliable.

If you don’t want to deal with Amazon, there are alternatives: eBay, Overstock, NewEgg, AliExpress and Jet. AliExpress, owned by Alibaba, had a knee brace for $2.85 that looked similar to the one we just bought on Amazon for $18. But it comes from China with free shipping so it wouldn’t be here for almost a month. We found a phone-holder for your car in the one-cent product category.

We are regular customers of Amazon. We like the goods and the service. But we are leery of any product that has thousands of high-ranking reviews.

Gadget Time

Joy loves swimming. Now with augmented-reality goggles, she can see how far and how fast she’s going by reading the yellow text floating in the air in front of one eye.

The $200 “Form Swim” goggles have a light, fingernail-sized computer. They look like regular goggles, except for a reflective surface. (Bob said Joy looked like the robot in the movie “Terminator.”) Your swim statistics are saved in a free app and you decide which ones you want to see while you swim.

The first time you get in the pool, a tutorial switches on, telling you which of two buttons to push. Joy chose “lap swim” over “intervals,” and it worked perfectly. On the next swim, she got lost in the settings, accidentally switching the read-out to her left eye so it was upside down. So she turned it off and started over. On the third day, she definitely had the hang of it. On her best day, she went 1.585 miles in an hour and was continually moving except for ten seconds, burning 408 calories. Good to know.

European Trade Show

CNET.com told us about the biggest trade show in Europe, which showcased a lot of gadgets, namely:

The “AirDresser” by Samsung, is a free-standing closet that steams your clothes to remove wrinkles. It will probably cost around $2000, the price of LG’s “Styler,” which is similar and already available.

“Captain America” and “Captain Marvel” designs are on $400 smart watches from Garmin, available in October. Called the “Legacy Hero Series,” they’re discreet. Unless you’re a fan, you probably wouldn’t know the design is hero-inspired, though the Captain America watch includes an engraved motto: “I can do this all day.” The Captain America watch has eight days of battery life, Captain Marvel has seven. Use either one to play music from Spotify, AmazonMusic or Deezer. Wave it at a cash register to pay a bill. Or get exercise workouts and monitor your health. Now that’s a super hero!

These gadgets and more are covered in a CNET article, “The Best New Tech from IFA 2019.”

Up in the Air Junior Birdman

FlightRadar24.com will tell you how many planes are in the sky right now. When we checked in, there were 11,593 flights in the air worldwide.

Ever wonder how many people are in space right now? According to HowManyPeopleAreInSpaceRightNow.com there are three Americans, two Russians and one Italian. Click on a name to get their info. For instance, Christina Koch, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been in space for 184 days. By now, she must be feeling like a floating decimal point. So has Nick Hague, from Belleville, Kansas.

Poetry from a Smart Speaker

Alexa, the voice inside the Echo or Echo Dot smart speakers, now reads poems. She reads them too fast, in somewhat of a monotone, but they’re better than nothing. We said: “Read a poem by Emily Dickinson,” and she did. We said “Read a poem by Robert Frost,” and she did. But when we said “Read a poem by Robert W. Service,” she said: “Here’s a poem by Robert W. Service, Ballad of a Bohemian.” It sounded good, but she didn’t read it. Oh well, we found it on YouTube. If you’re a member of Audible.com, just say, “Alexa, read my book,” and you’ll get professional actors performing for you.

TIME-LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY

Remember those time-lapse documentaries that showed a seed sprouting, pushing up through the ground and blossoming with leaves and sometimes flowers? You can do that.

Our Google Pixel smartphones have time-lapse photography built in, and so do newer Samsung, HTC, LG and iPhones. We did it in four taps. If your phone doesn’t have time-lapse photography, try “Lapse-it,” free from Lapseit.com. A pro version lets you capture video in higher resolution, and adds special effects and other features.

You can see lots of examples of time-lapse photography on YouTube. Go to YouTube.com and search on “time lapse.” We saw flowers unfolding, roots shooting out, stars flashing by and clouds moving quickly across the sky. Some of the best were from timelapse.org. We tried it ourselves, shooting people crossing the street, increasing the speed ten times. It made everyone look like they were in a Keystone Cops silent movie.

Foldable Phones

The latest phone trick is one that folds like a magazine. Samsung launched the Galaxy Fold in Korea this month, after a five-month delay. The first one cracked and let dirt particles get in when people peeled back what they thought was a screen protector. But hey, what do you want for $2000?

Foldable phones give you a much bigger display. That’s better for reading books and magazines, playing games, watching movies and video chatting. The phone’s larger batteries mean longer battery life. Swap between the phone’s 16 megapixel ultra-wide camera or the 12 megapixel wide-angle and telephoto cameras to broaden or narrow your focus with a tap.

However, the Galaxy Fold is bulky; it won’t fit in your pocket. The Korean version of the phone has a 5-G connection, which is super fast, though the U.S. version will be 4-G. According to the Economist magazine, most people don’t use the full capacity of their 4-G phones and don’t need 5-G. Academics studied reporters at the Wall Street Journal and found that even while watching several videos at once, they used only a fraction of the available bandwidth.

Remind Me

We are always forgetting things, but we’ve found some good ways to be reminded. Google is our favorite so far.

“Hey Google, remind me.” We’ll say this either to our Android phone or to our Google Home smart speaker. Google Assistant will answer back; “Sure, what’s the reminder?” We’ll say: “Stretch.” She’ll say: “Sure, stretch. When do you want to be reminded?” We’ll say: “9 a.m.,” and she’ll say: “Sure, I’ll remind you at 9 a.m.” And she does. When we’ve tried asking a different way, we get problems. She’ll say: “I’ve got some reminders for Bob.” But she won’t tell us what they are.

Use Siri for reminders if you have an iPhone. Say “Hey Siri, remind me to take my vitamins at 8 a.m.” Or, set up a reminder based on your location. Say: “Hey Siri, remind me to call Joe Doe when I get home.” Or use Siri to add items to a shopping list, or some other list. If the list doesn’t exist yet, she’ll create one.

For Alexa, the voice inside the Echo and Echo Dot as well as in the free Alexa app, say, “Alexa, reminder.” She’ll respond: “What should I remind you of?” You could say, “doctor’s appointment” or whatever. She’ll say: “When should I remind you?” Pick a time and you’re set. We accidentally used the wrong words at first, prompting a continual round of further instructions that didn’t create a reminder.

Alexa, Call Home

Alexa is really good in an emergency. We’re referring to the voice inside the Echo or Echo Dot smart speaker. If you have an accident and are lying on the floor and can’t get to your phone, you can call someone just by asking Alexa. Just say: “Alexa call Bob,” or anyone on your contact list.

Practice it first. It could be that “Bob” is “Robert” in your contacts list, or you have too many Bobs, so Alexa won’t know which Bob you mean until you specify, so it might be worth adding a middle name. By the way, 21 years ago, when Joy told her young nephew that she was marrying Bob Schwabach, he said: “Bob, that’s a funny name.” Because apparently, in his generation, there are no Bobs.

Put it in Your Pocket

We signed up for a free Pocket account from GetPocket.com in order to save articles to read later. But we hardly ever do that. What we like about Pocket is its daily briefing. They give you links to interesting articles from major publications.

Pocket has two new features, prompting us to use it more. First you can highlight passages in your saved articles. Second, it gives you an automatic estimate of how long each article will take to read.

The Numbers Report

A marketing study finds that compared to last year, sales of the latest iPhone will be down 28 percent this year, according to a phone survey by WalletHub.com. Here are some more numbers:

  • 144 million Americans only buy a new phone after their current device breaks.
  • Most people, close to seven out of ten, wouldn’t pay $200 extra to get an iPhone instead of an Android phone.
  • Millennials will pay 41% more than baby boomers for a new phone, on average.
  • Nearly nine out of ten people aren’t willing to go into debt to get a new iPhone.

THE RIGHT ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE

A reader writes: “My Norton anti-virus is coming up for renewal and  I’m thinking of trying to go for free with Avast anti-virus. Is that what you guys use and, if so, are you reasonably happy with it?”

We’re not surprised that he thought we were using Avast,  because our last two mentions were positive. Avast won PC Magazine’s “Editor’s Choice” award in the freebie category. Techlicious recommends its cell phone app. But one of our readers said he got overcharged by Avast tech support. And our favorite tech guru said: “I have heard about this. Avast is outsourcing their tech support to scammers! Someone told me that they followed the support links from Avast only to get a scammer trying to charge them a large amount of money by telling them lies.” 

We used to recommend the free AVG, easily confused with Avast since they both start with “A.” But we’re told by experts that it is now so loaded with bloatware, it could slow down your computer.

We use Bullguard Internet Security, available for Mac and PC, partly because we’re superstitious about changing after using it for so many years. The one time we switched,  we got a virus. Also, Bullguard’s tech support, which is 24 hours a day, is great. And they won the coveted “Gold Malware Protection Award” from AV-Comparatives. On the downside, you have to go into the program to turn on anti-virus checking. Click “Settings,” then “AntiVirus,” then “Advanced,” then “Manage Profiles, then “When,” to turn on daily, weekly, or monthly virus scans. The default it set to “Never, I’ll start it myself.” 

We tried Norton in recent years and thought it was excellent. It’s not the resource-hogging software it used to be. So if that’s what you use, stick with it. They have a introductory version for $40. We’d steer clear of the $99 version that comes with Lifelock identity theft protection, however. Recently, the Lifelock website was hacked. It allowed anyone with a web browser to harvest customers’ email addresses. This is pretty shocking for a company which claims to protect identities. Bottom line: If you’ve never had a virus, stick with the security solution you have.

App Happy

  • Last week, we suggested an app called “The Harmony Project” by Acoustic Sheep. It produces sounds that put you to sleep. We later decided that nothing beats the sound of perfect rain. Our current favorite is the free app “Nature Sounds” by Relaxio, which has many other choices. 
  • If you download the free Alexa app to your phone, or have an Amazon Echo with Alexa inside, you can say, “Alexa, play rain sounds.” The difference between the app alone and the smart speaker is this: If you just have the app on your phone and not the smart speaker, you have to tap the app and then tap the center icon to speak to Alexa.
  • Rivet,” a free app for Android and iPhone, offers 3000 free books for kids. They’re mostly non-fiction, aimed at kids age 6 to 8, with eight reading levels. If you tap the microphone while your child reads aloud, the app gives feedback on his or her reading ability.

Internuts

  • “How to Fold Napkins, Impress Your Guests.” Search on that phrase to find an amazing YouTube video. Napkins turn into a rose, a bow tie and more.
  • SafeElectricity.org is targeting college freshmen with these tips: Don’t overload outlets, extension cords, or power strips. Use power strips with current protectors. Make sure outlets around sinks are equipped with Ground-Fault Interrupters. (How quickly does a GFI close off the electricity when it detects a surge? Answer: 30 millionths of a second.) 

Calendar Spam

One day we woke up to find Russian characters all over our Google calendar. Here’s how to remove this kind of spam permanently.

First, click one of the spam items and then click the little trash can. Choose “all events,” to wipe it off everywhere it appears. To prevent it from happening again, click the little picture of a gear in the upper right. Choose “settings,” then “event settings.” The culprit is under “invitations.” Change it to “only show invitations to which I have responded.” 

Free Office Software

After having to reformat our test computer, we were ready to reinstall our favorite programs. To our surprise, Microsoft Office 2007 wouldn’t install. So we turned to the free OpenOffice.org, which we’ve often recommended. For some reason, it wouldn’t install either. Finally, we remembered “Kingsoft Office Free” from wps.com. It’s great.

At first, we thought ‘Who needs any office program?” We use Google Docs, a Word substitute, Google Sheets (instead of Excel) and Google Slides  instead of PowerPoint. But sometimes it’s handy to work offline. Kingsoft Office Free has great templates for stationery, business promotions, business cards and resumes. If you want a storage account online, you have to activate the software, which costs $20. Otherwise, it’s free. 

For those of you suspicious of all free programs, both SafeWeb.Norton.com and Google’s VirusTotal.com marked it as safe. VirusTotal checks files and web addresses using tools from 35 well-known companies, including Microsoft, Malwarebytes, McAfee, Symantec (makers of Norton AntiVirus) and others.

 

 

 

 

 

BEST SLIDESHOW MAKER

Slideshows are one of those things that can drive us nuts.We’re always forgetting how we did it last time.

When we look up instructions, we often get something that is no longer available in Windows. For example, when you look up “Movie Maker for Windows 10,” you get a lot of free products from unknown companies because the original Windows movie maker went kaput. Here are our top contenders for best slideshow maker. We judge mainly on ease of use.

  • “Microsoft Photos” comes already installed on your Windows 10 computer. To find it, type “Photos” in the search box in the lower left of your Windows desktop and the app comes right up. If you just want Microsoft to make one for you, click “New Video” then “Automatic Video.” Choose your photos and Microsoft will add jazzy music, transitions and a title page. If some pictures are sideways or need a caption or other editing, click “Edit Video” before exporting to your Pictures folder. The quick cutting by Microsoft really makes it jive. Bob thought it was too fast but you can slow it down.
  • The Ken Burns effect: zooming into a photo.

    On a Mac, open Photos and add photos from the photo gallery. Export your finished slideshow to a USB stick so you can show it on a TV or publish it to YouTube and other sites.

  • Ashampoo has a free program called “Slideshow Studio 2019.” It uses the dramatic transitions of highly-regarded documentary maker Ken Burns. This means slow zooms and other effects.  When you open it up, you’ll notice  the message “Please add pictures.” Click the plus sign next to that to start adding. Then click “new simple project” unless you want more customization. Next choose “adapt to music” if you want a background tune, and click the plus sign to add your own. Finally, choose what kind of “Ken Burns” transitions you want. We left it at “random.” Ken Burns is known for documentaries on the Civil War, Vietnam, the Roosevelts and baseball, among others.

Better Backup

The head of a computer club challenged our suggestion to use the internet to back up photos and files. “The online cloud storage services may not offer enough free space for backup, and the non-free options can add up,” he said.

The other problem is how long it takes to upload all your files. So we were intrigued by his suggestion. He and his club like  “Macrium Reflect Free.” Can’t beat “free.”

After we downloaded it from macrium.com/reflectfree, we had to get our files off our external drive so we’d have room for the backup. We found that the easiest way to move files is to open File Explorer twice. You can then drag and drop anything from one to the other. Open File Explorer twice by typing “File Explorer” into the Windows search box at the bottom left of the screen. When it comes up,  right-click the tiny picture of a folder in the bottom of the screen and choose File Explorer again. This is an old trick from earlier versions of Windows.

The problem with our previous attempts to backup the whole computer, instead of just the files and folders, came when we tried to restore files. Everything always looks great in the backup but the restore runs into problems.For example, we have backups on an old external drive that have the “wim” extension. We looked that up and it’s associated with Windows Vista. We had no idea how to restore those.  When we looked it up, we came to a page on Microsoft’s site directed to “IT Professionals.” Fugged about it.

Getting a Bargain

A reader asks us: “Is there a service which will bargain for a customer to lower a utility bill, my internet bill to be exact? I’m paying $60 a month to Spectrum-Charter.”

We searched the web on “best cable Internet providers, find what you really want” and got a good result from reviews.org. Xfinity starts at $20 a month. Not every town is covered.

We also looked at an article from AARP.com entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money,” which lists 99 ways.  Number 30 was BillFixers.com. They claim to save $300 on average per year. Another is BillShark.com. Both make money by taking a slice of your savings.

Reader Thanks

A reader says he added the search engine Yippy.com as a favorite on our recommendation.

“Recently I have had some bad back problems.  Last weekend, I was using Google to steer me towards competent specialists and to understand my symptoms and their causes.  I had already seen my family practice doc and my physical therapist but still was getting no relief.  I really worked hard with specific questions but Google now pushes ads on the first page based on their key words, which almost never matched the specificity of my questions.  And as always, I was bombarded with numerous ads on websites targeted at the search questions.  In addition, in the next few days, I started receiving spam emails on the same subjects.  I do not know if the spams are related to the searches.

“After reading your article today, StartPage is my new search page.  Moreover, I used Yippy to see how well it worked for my medical problems.  Surprise! Every site that previously took me a weekend to find showed up on the first page of my Yippy search.”

 

 

 

HACKED!

A reader writes: “I was hacked by someone claiming to be AVG (the antivirus people). I had to close 20-25 accounts. My bank said I was the third person to come in that day.”

The state attorney general’s office told him to close all bank and payroll accounts. They’d seen the fake AVG ruse many times before. Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” took a virus off his computer and put new antivirus software in. But it took 12 days before he got his computer back.

He felt like writing the hackers to tell them to bug off. “I want a SAFE way to tell them I’m not using them ever but I’m horrified to contact them at all,” he said. “I feel like a complete idiot for not seeing through them.”

It’s not his fault. On his phone the hackers looked just like the real AVG antivirus. One tip-off:  They called multiple times a day. They still call him most days. Reputable companies don’t do that. If you look up “AVG scam,” you’ll see a whole page of warnings from the real AVG. Their support page gives you their actual phone numbers. They never make unsolicited calls or ask for a credit card to verify your copy of their products. Go to AVG.com/support if you have a question.

We suggested the reader  block the number on his phone, or use a free app like  “TrueCaller” to block spam calls. Or, as we’ve said before, keep your phone on “do not disturb,” making exceptions for friends and other contacts. We deal with spam calls by having all landline calls to our cell phone, because the cell phone is better at blocking them. To do this, dial star-seven-two on the landline. Wait for a dial tone and press the 10 digit number where you’d like your calls to be forwarded. We got a new number for our landline that we give out to very few people.

 Internuts

  • MiltonFriedman.Hoover.org has the collected works of the Nobel-Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, or “Uncle Miltie” as he is known to fans. Put in a search term, and click on a result, which may include a TV appearance, a letter to the editor, or an article. Or browse the featured links. Friedman was a free-market advocate.
  • 10 Cleanest Cities in the World.” Search on the phrase to get some interesting lists. Most lists include Copenhagen. TheDiscoverer.com also likes Reykjavik, Iceland, Vancouver, Canada, Cape Town, South Africa, Portland, Oregon, Singapore, Adelaide, Australia, Luxembourg City, Zurich, Switzerland and Calgary, Canada. Her.ie says Paris is second on the list of most expensive and dirtiest cities.

Choosing a Laptop for College

Engadget.com recommends “ultraportable” laptops for students heading off to college.They weigh less than three pounds.

Even gamers, who normally use desktop computers, can get ultra lightweight but super-powerful machines. To “future-proof” your Windows computer, get 16 gigabytes of RAM. Engadget suggests the Dell XPS 13, with a “Dolby Vision” high definition display or the ASUS Sbook 13. Both cost around $1400. Or if you don’t need Windows, try a Chromebook. Joy swears by our Acer Chromebook 14. It only has four gigabytes of RAM, which is nothing these days, but somehow manages to be as fast or faster than our much newer Windows machine. It costs $187 on Amazon. The reviews are 15 percent negative there, but we’ve never experienced any of the problems they mention.

The Spy in the Package

Who would have thought that a package could spy on you? IBM researchers put it to the test.

According to PC Magazine, the researchers put spy devices in packages that were activated when in range of a company’s WiFi network and were able to sniff out a password.

The robotic spies cost less than $100 to make and were created from off-the-shelf components. They can be hidden in the bottom of the box or in a stuffed animal. Bottom line: Companies shouldn’t assume packages are safe. “Treat your packages like you would treat a visitor,” says an IBM researcher. “Would you let a visitor walk straight up to your chief financial officer’s desk?”

Distracted drivers

With 55 million students headed back to school this fall,  it’s dangerous to be driving or walking in a school zone in the morning, according to Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which analyzed more than 50,000 drives. Teenagers, of course, are the most distracted.

More than half of distracted events happen at less than 20 miles per hour. Distracted driving goes up by five percent in the school season.

We’re going to try out State Farm’s “Drive Safe and Save” program. Liberty Mutual has a similar program called “RightTrack.” They’ll put a gizmo in our car, we’ll download an app, and get a discount of up to 30 percent on auto insurance.  Even if we don’t drive well, we’ll get five percent off just for signing up.

Sleep Sounds

Recently we raved about the “SleepPhones” made by Acoustic Sheep. These are soft cloth headbands that contain Bluetooth speakers, so you can listen to music, books or other sounds while you nod off to sleep. Now they’ve embarked on “The Harmony Project” to find out which sounds work best.

The result is a wide range, including white noise, Nature sounds and gentle music. To get these sounds, search for “The Harmony Project” in your phone’s app store.  It’s free for Android and iPhone and works with any headphones. You can skip a sound if it does nothing for you, but that tends to wake us up, so we’d rather let it roll.

 

DOWNWARD-FACING DOGPILE

A reader says he’s used the “Dogpile” search engine instead of Google for many years, but now it’s not working. We say drop it. Our research shows there’s a Dogpile hijacker that looks like the real thing. So what should you use instead, if you don’t want to Google everything?

We’ve been trying out Yippy, which is powered by IBM Watson, the computer that beat Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. Yippy was developed by Vivisimo, which we’ve written about many times. Much of Vivisimo’s and Yippy’s artificial intelligence was incorporated by IBM Watson which “reads” all the scientific journal articles to make better decisions in some cases than doctors can.

In our tests, Yippy’s results look good. Joy looked up “cotton wool spot,” something that occurred in her eye 12 years ago and later disappeared. Yippy had better information than we’ve seen elsewhere. However, when you look up something, you’ll see categories off to one side, to help you narrow down the results. In our tests, these weren’t working, so ignore them.

Another alternative, DuckDuckGo, is popular with anyone wanting to protect their privacy. It doesn’t track your movements, but you can still be “seen” by the websites you visit once you click on them in the results list. We recommend StartPage.com instead. It lets you browse the web invisibly. Just be sure you click “anonymous view” next to any site that turns up in your list.

Flickr Follies

Flickr, the online photo storage site, isn’t free anymore. We got an abrupt warning when we went to the site. “You have 795 photos we can no longer keep for free. Let us know what you’d like to do.”

From the Flickr page of Flickr CEO Don McAskill

The choices are: $50 a year paid annually or $6 a month. So we took one month’s worth. It’s taking an incredibly long time to download all 795, album by album. Many of our “albums” have only one photo.

There was rage on the Twitter-sphere about the charges, especially at first, when people couldn’t even log into the site. The CEO said there was a one-day outage, but many had trouble three days later. Someone commented: “First day you get in, download your photos and run!” Another person said: “What I’m really missing are the thumbnails for Collections. And working with tags in the iOS app is straight out of a horror flick.” The camera roll feature is also gone, but the company says they’re rebuilding it.

Flickr was recently purchased by SmugMug, a great site for professional photographers. Before that, Yahoo owned Flickr.

Giving Away an Old Computer

Somehow we wound up with five desktops and a laptop. We’re going to sell one of those desktops on eBay. That’s how we found these great tips.

In checking out eBay, we noticed a huge price difference between a used and refurbished computer. If we sell it as “used,” the starting bid is around $166. We could start at $333 if we sell it as “Refurbished.” To call it that, we just need to be sure we dusted it inside with a can of compressed air, and made sure all the parts are working. We know it’s working, it’s not even old. It’s a Lenovo we bought in February 2018 for $800. Computers lose value even faster than used cars! That’s something to remember when you’re shopping for a new one.

Before giving away or selling your old computer, you should back up your old files using Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. Then transfer them to a new machine or external drive. We wish we’d done that instead of using Windows System Recovery. It doesn’t look like all the files came over.

The next step for Windows users, if you have sensitive documents saved on your machine, is to use the free program “File Shredder” to overwrite them. Apple fans who have older Macs can use the “Secure Empty Trash” option under “Finder.” If you have the OS 10.11 or later operating system, or a Windows PC with an SSD drive, encrypt your drive.

There are many more steps involved in being 100 percent sure no one can ever retrieve your data, but we’re not that paranoid. See the article on Techlicious.com: “How to Safely Get Rid of an Old Computer.”

Raving Friend

A friend of ours is raving about “Meural,” a $600 to $700 digital frame that rotates art from all the great museums. “You’ve seen the commercials,” he said confidently. No, we haven’t. We prefer to zap. Ad-watching is what friends are for. People are always telling us about commercials we’ve never seen.

Unlike the digital photo frames we saw twenty years ago, this one looks like an actual canvas with a traditional frame, not like a TV monitor. It can show still art or videos or both. There’s a $50-a-year subscription fee to keep the art coming beyond the initial sample. Using an app, you can choose the museums you want to focus on, such as the Louvre, or the painters you like best, such as Norman Rockwell.

We watched several YouTube videos to get the idea because our friend and his Meural are out of state. That’s how we found out that the resolution is 1080, not as high as today’s modern 4K TVs or even some cell phones, but it seems fine. A cord leaving the picture lets viewers know it’s a digital frame, though you could sneak that through the wall or hide it with a plant.

You could also just visit museum websites. For example, go to the Uffizi and see what the Medicis collected.