FREE TV

“Locast” brings TV over the Internet. Locast is low-cost. How low? How about free? 

The TV people, namely CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC, are upset and are suing. They want to keep collecting the fees they get from cable companies. This follows an old business practice: If things aren’t going your way, sue somebody. It reassures the shareholders that you’re on the job and who knows, it might even work. The fees collected by the big networks amounted to $10.1 billion last year.  

Locast brings you TV through an internet connection. So far, it’s available in 13 markets, such as Boston, Chicago and New York,  but it will be coming your way.

It worked great on our TV, and we were surprised to get Channel 2 in the lineup.  Lately, whenever we’ve turned to that channel from AT&T’s Uverse service, we got the following message: “This CBS channel is currently unavailable.” Only later did we notice the rest of the message. It suggests getting the channel by selecting “interactive” on the TV remote and then choosing “Locast.”  Who’d have thunk it? Sure enough, it was one of the choices on our six-year-old Sony TV. After choosing it,we saw all the local channels such as ABC, NBC, etc. as well as “MeTV,” “Ion,” and others.

If you want to know if it’s reached your market yet, install the free Locast app from the iPhone or Android app store on your phone. Tap to install, and sign up through Facebook or your email account. If it hasn’t come to your area, go to locast.org and poke them in the ribs.

Which Tablet?

A reader writes: “Haven’t you guys said that the Amazon Fire tablet is a favorite of yours?  If so, is it still? I might be in the market for a going-off-to-college-age kid, a plenty-savvy person.”

Yes,  we like the Fire Tablet, mainly because it’s so much cheaper and so easy to use. The seven-inch model, a handy size, costs $50. Compare that to an iPad Mini for $399. Along the top of the Fire screen are categories to tap: Home, Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audible, Newsstand and Library. It has everything we need.

Having said that, there are reasons for choosing an iPad instead. The iPad has a bigger app selection, around 1.8 million apps to choose from compared to 678 for the Fire. You can connect a digital piano or guitar to the iPad or an Android tablet and create digital music. The Fire doesn’t include this feature.  

However, like an iPad, the Fire has its own app store, making sure you don’t get a phony app. In 2018, half a million people got a virus from downloading an Android app from the Google Play store, according to Forbes magazine. Similarly, a virus baked into 50 different Android apps put fake charges on people’s phone bills, forcing them to pay for fake text messages. It was downloaded over 21 million times before Google removed it from the app store. We’ve never had a problem. We use Malwarebytes Premium version for $12 a year, though there’s also a free version. The free version removes problems after they’ve arrived; the paid version prevents bad stuff from happening in the first place.

 “Do Not Disturb” Revisited

A reader writes: “The ‘do not disturb’ tip was a good one. I tried it and it eliminated the crap calls. Only problem is I don’t get text alerts and haven’t figured a way around that on my iPhone.”

The trick when you’re using “Do Not Disturb,” is to make an exception for contacts so all your friends and family can still get through to you. But we hadn’t thought about texts. Here’s what we found that works: Under “Settings,” and “Notifications and messages,” turn off “Allow Notifications.” Then restart your device. Now turn back on “Allow Notifications. For more info, search on the phrase “How to Use iPhone Do Not Disturb and Make Sure You Don’t Miss an important Call.” On an Android phone, choose “Allow Messages,” under “Settings,” “Sound,” and “Do Not Disturb.”

Internuts

  • Artsy.net

    by J.R.R. Tolkien, courtesy of Artsy.net

    has an article about J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings.” Most know about his books, but few know about his art. You’ll see great examples here, if you search on “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Little Known Art Practice.

  • Vsauce.com has quirky videos from the world of math. We watched the one on impossible numbers, including one that makes a certain Chicken McNugget order impossible. Some of these videos are tedious, but overall it’s worth checking out.
  • Oddee.com has odd news stories, such as “Old Woman Blackmailed for Porn She Never Watched.”

A New Painter

By Marsha Leigh, courtesy PainterArtist

Every year Corel sends us the latest version of “Painter,” a program to create digital art. We’re always wowed. 

 This year there are lots of new color tools, including one for left-handers so they won’t cover up the palette. And now, if you want a shade that’s a wee bit different than the one you’re working with, there’s a side-by-side comparison. But mostly, the new version gets a big performance boost, cutting lag time to almost zero. You’ll especially notice that if you have a wall-sized canvas and a computer powerful enough to handle the speed.

 The program is $429, but there’s a 30-day free trial at PainterArtist.com. On that site, click “Gallery” to see some fantastic examples of what digital art is capable of. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube to get you started, but if you’re not used to this kind of program, the learning curve is steep.

 

 

GETTING IN THE CAR WITH ALEXA

We thought it would be fun to have Alexa, the voice coming out of Amazon’s smart speaker, in our car. We have a 20 year-old car but bought an “Auto Echo.”

Turns out our car can handle it. All we needed was the Nulaxy “Bluetooth Car FM Transmitter Audio Adapter” for $17 from Amazon. We plugged it into what us old-timers call the cigarette lighter, and then plugged our new Auto Echo into the adapter. If you have a newer car, skip the adapter. Plug in the Auto Echo with the included micro-USB cable and power adapter. Enable Bluetooth on your phone, and then turn on the ignition.

For us, Alexa’s voice came on immediately. After a few taps on the app to complete setup, we asked Alexa to play music. Out came “Anything You Can Do, I can Do Better,” from the musical “Annie Get Your Gun.”It came out of our car’s speakers, from our playlist on Amazon Music. We also asked Alexa for directions to a store and she gave them, turn by turn. 

There was only one major problem: Static. The static was so awful we unplugged the device and wrote Nulaxy tech support. They told us to put the adapter on the same channel as the radio, choosing an empty one. That worked like a charm. We no longer have any static.

The only other problem: We hate to use our data connection to connect to the Internet, because we don’t use an unlimited plan and get charged for it according to how much we use. We tried turning off mobile data while listening to music, but Alexa stopped and asked us to re-connect.

If you have an unlimited data plan, or don’t care about extra charges, you can ask Alexa all sorts of things. She can read your book from Audible, play trivia games like “Heads Up,” set  reminders, make shopping lists, play music and so on.

Reviving a Dead Printer

“My Epson 4720 printer died,” says a reader. “Might be able to revive it. Clogged print heads due to reloaded cartridges from a company called Cartridge World, which worked great on my old standby HP printer.  The Epson is like a Timex. How’s that for a trip down memory lane?”

As reviewers, we once lined up six printers sent to us by various companies. Since we didn’t use all of them at once, eventually they all clogged. Time does that. But you can check the manual for routine maintenance instructions and push a button to clean the printhead. Joy’s friend Frieda was ready to replace her nine-year-old Epson. But Joy ran the printhead cleaning routine for her and it was back in business.

Cable Cuts a Deal

AT&T lowered our $145 a month fee for Internet, TV and Internet phone to $67 after we complained about not getting phone service. They were charging us for phone service though, claiming  they had sent us a device that enabled it. 

No such device crossed our doorway. So we called and said, “Cancel everything except Internet service, we’ll go with YouTube TV for $50 a month.” YouTube TV includes 70 channels, such as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and many others. Lo and behold, AT&T came back with a new offer. Instead of $145 a month, we now pay $67 a month for TV, Internet and phone. 

But we still don’t have the gizmo that connects our landline to the Internet. It would be a dead phone except we are paying Vonage about $30 a month for that.When we called  AT&T, we were transferred twice to the wrong departments and then they hung up. We told them to skip the phone, but they said if we did that, the monthly cost would go up to $100. Oh well: $67 a month is great. We’d pay over $80 for AT&T Internet plus YouTube TV.

Bottom line, this is a rapidly shifting industry and the big companies are losing subscribers like mad. If you don’t like your plan, threaten to cancel.

Alexa, Find My Phone

We often use the Google Home smart speaker to find our phone, saying, “Hey Google, find my phone.” She responds: “I can help by making your Pixel 2 ring at full volume right away. Would you like me to do that?” We wish she would cut to the chase and just ring the phone, so we decided to try asking Alexa instead.

“Alexa, find my phone,” we said, after first choosing it from among the “skills” listed on the Amazon website and in the app. Unfortunately, Alexa is just as wordy as Google. We said, “Alexa, find my phone.” She said: “I’m going to call the phone now so listen out. If it doesn’t ring it’s because I can’t connect or it’s on silent.” Duh.

Internuts

  • HotelsbyDay.com offers room rates for during the day, when you just want to rest, relax and use the pool. The cost is half as much as an overnight stay. See also Between9and5.com.
  • Cardcash.com lets you buy gift cards at a discount or sell those you don’t want. We saw a Ross Dress For Less card for 9.1 percent off. A Panera card was going for 12 percent off. Michaels was 17 percent off. Target was 10 percent off. That’s off of the full price for the card. 
  • Search on the phrase “Thrillist birthday” and find 83 restaurant chains that give out birthday freebies. For example, Applebee’s, Arby’s, Baskin and Robbins, P.F. Chang’s and Peet’s Coffee all give you freebies if you register your email address and birthdate with them.

 

BYE BYE ROBOCALLS

A reader showed us a simple way to block robocalls. It’s built right into the phone.

 “I am writing to you,” he says, “because I don’t understand why cell phone users don’t shut off robocalls. On an Android phone, just set it to ‘Do not Disturb.’ Then set it to accept calls from contacts only.”

We knew about “Do Not Disturb” mode but didn’t know you could make an exception for contacts. That choice is right there when you tap “Settings,” “Sound,” and “Do Not Disturb.” On an iPhone, go to “Settings,”  “Do Not Disturb,” and tap “Allow Calls From.” From there, “All Contacts” is one of the choices. 

The reader continues: “I did this a long time ago and I never receive a robocall. Simple fix. Anyone can still leave you a message and you can return the call at your discretion. However, robocallers do not leave messages and your phone only rings if the caller is in your contact list.”

We followed his advice but at first, we didn’t notice that “Do Not Disturb” was set to stay on for only 15 minutes. Now it’s set to stay on until we turn it off. Alternatively, you might want it on just when you’re sleeping.

We asked the reader what people say when he suggests they try “Do Not Disturb.” “Most say, ‘I didn’t know that.’ But later,” he added, “when I asked some close friends if they set their phones as we discussed, most say, ‘Not yet.’ I suppose most are not technically inclined to do so and will not take the time to Google how to do it for their particular device.” We can almost hear him sigh: “It seems such a simple  thing to stop so much complaining. Go figure.”

We figure some people are afraid of missing an important new contact while others are afraid to fiddle with their phone. We had two new important contacts the first day we tried it, but thankfully, they left messages. If you find that spammers are also leaving messages, you can block them. We’ve had pretty good results with the free “True Caller” app. But nothing beats “Do Not Disturb.”

Internuts

  • Here’s how to add a picture to a happy birthday message in Facebook or in an email. Search on the person’s name along with the words “happy birthday.”  at images.google.com. You’ll usually get a cake or billboard with their name on it. Right-click it to save it, or use screen capture. (Look up “how to screen capture” for instructions.) Pop it in by tapping the “add files” or “attach photo” icon.
  • WolframAlpha.com/examples. WolframAlpha gives you lots of information, but it helps to start with their examples. Categories include science stuff as well as “history,” “people” and “arts.” When we looked at the UV (ultraviolet) index, we found the sunburn rate for any city we wanted. In the “History” category, we got quick conversions to Roman numerals. For example, 1776 is MDCCLXXVI. And we found that $2500 in 1950s dollars is worth $26,620 today.
  •  Lightnote.co has interactive lessons on music theory, starting with the physics of sound. We found it interesting.

CraigsList Scams

Over 29 million phones are reported lost or stolen annually, but sometimes they’re not really lost. Scammers can sell a phone and keep it too, by reporting it lost and collecting the insurance money. These scams go up by 50 percent in summer months, according to a report at Flipsy.com

Here’s how it works: The thief buys an insured phone from a carrier, sells it to you, then reports it as lost or stolen. The carrier then blacklists the phone, making it unusable. The insurer pays for a new phone. Flipsy recommends offering to meet the seller at the  store where they bought it. If they’re a scammer, they won’t show up, because the carrier will know it’s a blacklisted phone. You can check the blacklist at CheckESNfree.com.

Spied Upon

We usually tap OK, OK, OK when installing  Android apps on our phones, basically agreeing to whatever they want, because we have no privacy concerns. But according to a report cited by CNET, more than 1,000 Android apps collect data about you even if you deny them permission.

A fix is coming with the next version of the Android operating system, version Q. Google’s Pixel phones will get the latest update as soon as it arrives. OnePlus phones are second on the list, according to DigitalTrends.com. Nokia is third and Sony fourth. Samsung is eighth, Motorola is 11th and HTC is 12th.

Though iPhones are supposedly not collecting the information you type in, they do listen in, according to experiments run by TheVerge.com and many others. A reporter said words like “going back to University,” or “need a new T-shirt,” and immediately got ads for those things. If this bothers you, turn off Siri, the voice assistant. On Android phones, go to settings, then “Google” then “Search,” and go to “Google Assistant” and delete any data collected. You can also turn off Cortana in Windows.

 

STOPPING JUNK MAIL

Here’s the big reason we get so much junk email. Marketers can see which email we open and respond with an avalanche of new solicitations. If we open email on our phone, as 70 percent of us do,  we might even trigger a call.

In the jargon it’s called a “read receipt.” Without your knowing, marketers use these to  tell which email you open. To combat this, we’ve started using “Edison Mail” whenever we’re on our phones.  It works with Yahoo, Gmail, Apple Mail or whatever email service you use, by bringing your mail inside its app. 

Besides blocking marketers, Edison neatly categorizes any info about package arrivals, bills and flight changes, while also letting you unsubscribe from any email newsletters bombarding you. The app also stops you from being targeted with Facebook and other ads. Its security tool lets you see if your email address has been compromised.

So how does a free app like this make money?  Unlike other apps, Edison doesn’t sell specific info about you. Rather, their “bots” scan emails to gather anonymous research on consumer trends, and that info is sold. Developers also pay Edison to extract anonymous info from email to make their products easier to use. Look up “Edison mail privacy statement” for more info.

Since launching in 2016, Edison Mail has blocked over one billion read receipts, sent ten million flight notifications,  tracked over 90 million packages, and organized 500 million receipts. We like it.

Gone Phishing

A reader sent a copy of his driver’s license and Social Security card to someone at ProsperityBank.com, instead of ProsperityBankUSA.com, the correct address. “Wife and I froze our credit bureaus, all three, last year. What else should we do besides PRAY?”

Whoever asked for our reader’s info was “phishing” for it, since the bank’s website states it will never ask for private info in an email. Phishing attempts are just what they sound like: attempts to fish your info out of you. But the reader had already done the safest thing: he froze his credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion last year. This makes it tougher for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

If you’ve already given out information, you can check for fraud by looking at your credit report. The Federal Trade Commission website, ftc.gov, suggests getting three free reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.

For extra protection, ask one of the credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your account. That way, any time a new account is opened, the bank or store opening it has to check with you first. 

Here’s the happy ending: The reader’s email did not go through. Several days later he found out that it had bounced back, so no one got his info.

Windows 10 Blues

Last time, we mentioned a reader’s angst over Windows 10, suggesting he could still get a Windows 7 machine if he wanted one. We forgot to mention a much simpler solution: “Start 10.”

Start10 is a $5 program from Stardock.com that makes Windows 10 look like Windows 7. You get the familiar programs list, with links to “My Documents,” “Control Panel,” and other familiar categories. The reader responded: “StarDock Start10 plus several of their other bits and pieces seems to be the perfect answer. A helluva lot easier than burning down the house and doing a clean WIN 7 install. Outstanding!” There’s a 30-day free trial.

App Happy

  • The free “Google Translate” app lets you use your camera to translate signs. We tried it on a sign in Catalan (local to Barcelona), but we had to tell it to translate from Catalan to English because the automatic language detection did not work. The sign said: “Priority for People,” and was translated correctly. Another part of the sign was in a fancy font. It said: “Pedra Tosca Park.” But it was translated: “Pedra Tosca’s pancake.”
  • Luminary Podcasts,” a free app for iPhone and Android, brings you the best podcasts, which are Internet radio shows. Tap the topics you’re interested in after signing up, like “audio drama,” ‘finance,” “language lessons,” “history,” “true crime,” “science,” “mysteries,” “news,” “investigative journalism,”etc. They show you the top shows, such as “Portal” which hasn’t even started yet, so we’re not sure how it could already be a top show. “Portal” is a Luminary original, as is  “Sincerely, X,” which gives you TED talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) from people who can’t go on stage, either because it’s too risky, controversial or painful. You have to be a premium subscriber for the original shows, which costs $8 a month, but there’s a free trial. We put “The Indicator,” “Up First” and “Wall Street Breakfast.” on our favorites list.
  • “Pocket Mode,” free for Android phones,  prevents apps from accidentally going on when your phone is in your pocket. With it, you won’t mistakenly call someone — known as “butt dialing.”  SInce it’s Android only, go to iPhone “settings” to do the same thing. Then go to “Display and Brightness,” and set the screen to turn off after 30 seconds. Turn off “Lift to Wake,” and “Tap to Wake, under “accessibility.” 

 

 

HOW TO SPOT A SCAM

We got a doozy of a phone call the other day. The message said our account would be automatically debited $499 unless we called back to get the money refunded. So we did what we always do in such situations. We typed the phone number into a Google search. Sure enough, it was a scam.

Interestingly when Joy bought Bob a new phone, the Pixel 3a, we got a spam call within ten minutes of activating the phone. So take note: They’re out there and they’re always gunning for you.

Kid Version of Alexa

Kids Edition with $8.49 Decal

Amazon’s smart speaker, the Echo and Echo Dot with Alexa inside, sometimes offers more information than kids can handle. Now there’s a “Kid’s Edition,” $70 from Amazon.com.

Say “Good Morning” to the kids’ version and Alexa will make you laugh, changing her answer every time you ask. Example: “”Good morning! Time to shake it out! Move your body and shake out the sleep! Ready? Shake, shake, shake!” 

Parents get access to Parents.Amazon.com to put in parental controls. That’s important if you don’t want kids talking to Alexa all night. You can read transcripts of everything your child said to Alexa, or delete it all. You can also do this on a regular Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show. Just say, “Alexa, Delete everything I said today,” or “Alexa, delete that.”

The kids’ version also gives you a year’s subscription to “Free Time,” for free movies, games and books, which are available on Kindle Fire tablets too. After that it’s $5 a month per child or $10 a month per family of four ($7 a month if you’re a member of Amazon Prime.) For an excellent review, see TomsGuide.com.

Internuts

  • GetHuman.com. A reader reminded us to mention this site again. It lists the phone numbers you need to avoid voicemail hell and talk to an actual person.
  • RD.com has an article “People say These 15 Words Aren’t Words but They Actually Are.” When a non-word gains widespread use, it makes it to the dictionary. Examples: “Firstly,” “irregardless,” “prolly,” and “orientate.” Joy likes to “take things for granite,” but that isn’t common yet.
  • How to Create a Book in Microsoft Word.” Search on that phrase to find an article from HowToGeek.com with step-by-step instructions.

Windows 7 Security Risk

Photo Courtesy of HelpHelpNow.com

Our favorite guru, Kenny, who was a leading tech support guy for a leading firm before starting helphelpnow.com, says it’s not advisable to use Windows 7 or XP on the Internet once Microsoft stops offering patches. 

That surprised us. We thought  you were good to go if you have an antivirus program and the free Malwarebytes to ward off hack attacks.

“If the operating system has security holes,” he says, “hackers or worms can get through.” Last month, Microsoft released a patch for Windows XP users, though it officially ended support in 2014. That’s because this particular security hole was so bad, it could replicate itself on one old computer after another. If you haven’t updated your XP or Vista machine, do a search on this phrase: “Customer guidance for CVE-2019-0708” to find the patch from Microsoft. Support for Windows 7 ends January 15, 2020.

Kenny points out that millions of people have not upgraded to Windows 10 because their computers could not handle something newer. That includes the military and banks. We use a powerful XP machine that we paid $70 for on Amazon. We only it use offline for our favorite greeting card program and some art programs that won’t run on newer operating systems. As long you’re offline, they can’t get to you.

Who We Follow on Twitter

Our friend Louise saw dirty messages when she signed up for Twitter and stopped going there. The news media is always reporting on Twitter’s toxicity but we’ve never seen any rudeness. Maybe it’s because we avoid political sites in favor of upbeat science. Here are some of our favorites.

Screen Calls

We forgot to mention the best part of Bob’s new smartphone, the Google Pixel 3a. It’s the call screening feature found on all Pixel phones.

Tap “call screen” when a call is coming in and the person is asked to state their name and why they’re calling. You’ll see a transcript of what they’re saying as they talk, and can accept the call or reject it. This comes in handy when the area code matches our own, and we wonder if it’s someone local we know.

Bamboozled!

A Facebook friend sent a video link and a question: “Is this you?” Joy clicked on it. Big mistake.

The next thing she knew, Russian text showed up on the homescreen of her phone and every one of her 235 Facebook friends got the “Is it you?” link. Now they’ll be sending it on to all their friends if they click on it. Some were savvy enough to say they needed more information before clicking. Joy tried to write them all to warn them, but Facebook Messenger only lets you do 20 at a time, a real nuisance. 

In general, a vague text message like “Are you there?” or “Is it you?” is probably a scam. As a consequence, Joy is being sent to her room.

 

 

A READER TAKES A STAND

 A reader writes in to share his regret over buying a Windows 10 computer. “Here’s my issue,” he says. “I have never been a big fan of Microsoft and was a Mac-aholic until Mac OS 10.4.1 when the Mac OS was no longer backwards compatible.” It would have cost him more to make his documents and applications compatible than to become a Windows user.  It was hard-slogging at first. Then, he writes, “when Microsoft finally arrived at Win 7, it produced an OS that was reasonably stable and NOT buggier than a wino’s beard… hooray!” Then came Windows 10.

I despise Win 10 and all the hoops (and $$$) I’m gonna have ta go through to get this machine integrated seamlessly into my home network (existing printers, scanner, router, yada yada) plus upgrade a dozen or so applications for WIN 10 compatibility,” he adds. “AAARRRGGGHHHH!”

He wondered if he could strip Windows 10 off the machine and install Windows 7, but  Windows 7 might not have the right drivers for the new machine. Our favorite guru Kenny suggests using a virtual machine to run Windows 7 on top of  Windows 10, which is what he does. His tech support service, at helphelpnow.com, can help with that.

Alternatively, we suggested he return the Windows 10 machine and get a Windows 7 desktop. Amazon is selling refurbished machines with fast i5 processors for as low as $137. 

Alexa as Career Counselor

Alexa, the voice inside Amazon’s smart speaker and the free Alexa app on phones and tablets, told Joy her top career choice was dietitian. It told Bob that his number one career choice would be dentist. When he heard that, he felt a little down in the mouth. He was hoping for “hammock tester.”

To get your own career advice, go to Amazon.com, click “Alexa skills” in the drop-down list and type “career advisor” into the search bar. Click on the first one, then click “enable” when it come up. If you have the free Alexa app on your phone, or an Echo device, all you have to do is say, “Alexa, open Career Advisor.”  She asks you 26 questions first.

Free Movies

Archive.org has thousands of old movies for free. What a surprise. 

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women

We’ve recommended Archive.org in the past for its “way back machine.” It can show you what a given website looked like in the old days. This can be handy if there’s some info on there you need to recover, that has since been taken off.

For movies, just click on the “movies” tab when you get to the site. The sci-fi horror section has some real howlers, like “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women,” and “Planet 9 from Outer Space.” In comedy, we found one of our favorites, “His Girl Friday,” a remake of the classic play “Front Page,” along with the original Front Page movie. There are lots of Charlie Chaplin films. If you want captions, click “cc” then “ASR,” for automatic speech recognition.

Leaving Archive.org and turning to  “IMDb TV,” you’ll find a few hundred free movies. Most of these are from the last ten years or so, including “Paddington,” “Captain Fantastic,” and “La La Land.” IMDB is owned by Amazon. We saw it as one of our choices on the Kindle Fire.

Getting Charged

You’d think a fast-charging phone like Joy’s Pixel 2 would never go dead. But just the other day, it did, on a long bike ride. As she squinted at a Google Map, the phone went kaput. She had to get directions the old-fashioned way: by asking a couple who were walking by.

The Catch 22 of phone chargers is that you have to remember to charge them so they’re available for your phone. Of course, once you do, they’re good for several full charges, depending on the kind you buy. If you want one small enough to fit in a pocket, you’ll likely get just one or two charges out of it. 

Following PC Magazine’s advice in “The Best Portable Chargers,” we got the $30 Anker PowerCore 1000 for our phones. It weighs 6.35 ounces and has a 10,000 mAh battery. It takes four hours to charge it, but it’s good for between two and a half and four charges, depending on the kind of phone you have.

You can get some chargers for less than $10 and they work fine. The only hassle you will encounter with any charger is carrying a cable with it to connect to your phone, unless you get the wireless kind. Make sure it’s compatible with your phone. There should be a list of compatible phones on the package.

The News From Abu Dhabi

What a computer does is make calculations. Today’s microprocessors do their calculations on unencrypted data. But researchers from the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University have figured out a way for calculations to take place on encrypted data. Talk about privacy!

If these “GoPHEE” microprocessors make it to market, which researchers say will happen within five years, major data leaks may be a thing of the past.  Hackers won’t have any way to get in, except by human error. For example, a stranger once knocked on our door and asked for access to our WiFi connection. Fortunately, Joy stopped short of giving it to her. By the way, microprocessors are found in just about everything these days, like gas pumps, bread machines, washing machines, credit card processors, elevators, stop lights, TVs, and even your refrigerator.

                                              

A PHONE FOR BOB

Joy bought Bob a new cell phone for his birthday. Actually, it was his first. It was a Motorola Moto G7 that cost $249. It was beautiful. It was wider than other cell phones, took a while to get charged up, and was slow to process information. In short, Bob thought it was just like his own personality.

However, Joy didn’t like it. Why didn’t she like it? Because she has a Google Pixel 2 and she saw on the web that you can get a Pixel 3a for $399. It could take a seven hour charge in 15 minutes, it was lightning fast, it could take pictures in the dark, and it cost only $150 more than the Motorola. So just what are we penny pinching for? We’re going to have this phone for years. For an $15 extra a month, we added it to our present carrier, Google Fi phone service.

One thing Bob likes and asked for, is it’s white instead of black. With a clear case, it’s still white. You can tell them apart. We rest our case.

Customer Service

A reader writes to weigh in on the topic of the best way to get help on an issue: a phone call or an online chat: “I agree that online chat is far, far superior to phone calls in almost all cases. If nothing else, you can print the chat and have a record of exactly what was said, if needed.” He continues: “I have also found that if I am not getting anywhere, an actual, snail mail letter, with a CC to the owner or president, will get attention, probably because it’s so rare. I was having no success dealing with a problem after two months.” But after writing customer service and the head of the company, his problem was solved in three days.

The Sound of Music

We get press releases almost every day for new headphones the way we get phone calls for holiday trips or pitches to give to various associations we never heard of. They all get equal treatment. We see if they can hit the wastebasket when they’re crumpled.

But this one stopped us. What stopped us was the price: $20. Twenty dollars! They look like the kind of cushioned headphones you see at airports on people who are waving in a big plane. They’re heavy duty, but light on your head. They have their own rechargeable battery and adjustable volume. We don’t understand how someone can sell these for $20 and still make a profit. Bob’s guess is that somebody bought somebody else’s warehouse full or they went out of business and they picked these all up for a few bucks because otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

The sound quality is excellent. They’re wireless and connect to your phone, computer or tablet by Bluetooth. We’re thinking of buying half a dozen and distributing them as gifts. They come from Mixcder.com, and they’re called the “HD 901.” This is one of the best deals we’ve ever seen.

Beware of turning the volume up too much, however. These are really powerful. Experts say if you hold the headphones at arms length and can hear the music, it’s too loud. Most people listen on headphones at 94 decibels, which is too much. At 105 decibels, or maximum volume, it’s equivalent to a chainsaw. Ordinary conversation is 60 decibels, so it’s best not to go much higher than that. Note: After this went to press, the price rose to $25.

Hey Photographers

Around 85 percent of the images you see online are stolen, according to the CEO of Copytrack.com. Copytrack is a free service that searches up to 5000 pages per second and uses artificial intelligence to find out if your photo has been copied. They then notify the thief. If there’s an immediate settlement, you get 70 percent, they take 30 percent. If they have to take legal action, you get 45 percent, they take 55 percent. The service is worldwide. You decide if the photo has been stolen. If you think so, submit the case to Copytrack by clicking a button. The top three countries for photo theft are the U.S., Panama, China and Germany. Why Panama? They’re a major website host.

Add a Widget

If your phone displays the weather in tiny type on the home screen, or you can’t see the temperature until you tap an app, you might prefer a widget. Unlike an app, a widget shows you continually-updated information before you tap it. Here’s how to get one.

On Android phones, press and hold your finger on a blank area of your phone’s screen. To find a blank area, you may have to scroll past several screens. (Joy has 213 on six screens.) When you get a pop-up, tap on the word “widgets.” Your choice of widget corresponds with the apps you have already installed. So if you want a moving display of the stock market, you might have to get a stock market app first, by searching for one in the Google Play store. We use the Weather Service widget, a widget for free audio books from Hoopla, and one that shows our monthly calendar at a glance.

On an iPhone, swipe to the right on the home screen. Scroll to the bottom and tap “edit.” Scroll down to find a widget you want to add. Tap the plus sign to add a widget, then tap done. You can view them when you swipe right on the home or lock screen or when you swipe down to view notifications.

SOFT IN THE HEAD

We’ve never written about headphones before because we were never impressed before. And that’s because every time a new set came out, bingo, every writer in America was immediately notified.

But “SleepPhones,” $40 from Acoustic Sheep, (see them leaping the fence?), answers something we’ve all wondered about. How do we learn Zulu in our sleep? Acoustic Sheep makes a cloth headband with tiny equipment inside. Wear them to bed; they’re as comfy as any soft headband. Though designed for listening to music, Nature sounds or audio books as you fall off to sleep, Joy likes it for yoga.

To avoid waking Bob, Joy sometimes puts it on her head in the middle of the night, whenever she has excess energy.  Currently, Joy’s using a yoga program from Audible.com, but she’s also tried recording yoga from TV or YouTube.

Recently, Joy tapped the Spotify app on her phone, chose some show tunes, and exercised away. She wore it above her ears and could hear perfectly. It’s nice not to have something jabbing you in the ear like earbuds do. And it’s so light, you hardly feel you’re wearing anything.

Now the question will arise: Is this safe? The answer would be in line with: “Are you safe using a cell phone next to your ear?” So far, there’s no evidence that you’re not. You’re not directly connected to any electrical output. The connection is short-range radio of low frequency.

You can set your cell phone to have the music go off after a set period. On an iPhone, use the sleep timer function in the “Clock” app. On an Android phone, get the free “Sleep Timer (Turn Music Off)” app from the app store.

Setup was challenging at first. The instructions said to place the headband on its tiny charging station to start, lining up the control gizmo inside. We kept placing it in various positions without effect. Finally, we just took the unit out of the headband and put it directly on the charging station. It was easy to slip back into the headband opening.

Keeping Windows 7

A reader writes: “I received an email from Microsoft stating that Windows 7 will no longer be supported after next year. I do not like Windows 10. Plus, I do not think it will run on this laptop.”

Windows 7 is fine. Anyone getting this warning should ignore it, as long as they have a good antivirus program, such as Norton, McAfee or the free Avast, which recently won PC Magazine’s “Editor’s Choice” award.

Another alternative, recommended by TomsGuide.com, is “Microsoft Security Essentials,” also free.  It comes in two versions, one for 32 bit machines, another for 64 bit. In Windows 7, if you’re not sure which you have, click the “start” button, right-click “Computer,” and click “Properties.”  

Was Your Phone Hacked?

We were looking at “Six Signs Your Phone Was Hacked,” an article from Techlicious. They’re all pretty obvious. Your phone slows way down. Your data charges go sky high. Friends get calls or texts from you that you didn’t send. Mystery pop-ups appear out of nowhere. Your password was changed and you didn’t do it.The battery loses power rapidly, and it’s not because you left the Wi-Fi on and your phone is constantly searching for a connection while you’re out.

Techlicious suggests getting the free “Avast Mobile Security” app, which we’ve mentioned many times before. It not only looks for hacking activity on your phone, but blocks scam calls. If you want to add protection against identity theft, that’s $10 a month. By the way, iPhones are safer than Android phones but can still be hacked.

Amazon’s Choice: Is it Yours?

We just ordered a $6 mouse for our laptop from Amazon. How did we choose it among hundreds? We clicked “Amazon’s Choice.”

Bob is totally skeptical that Amazon’s Choice is the right choice. Who’s behind it?

In truth, no one knows. Amazon isn’t saying. Even the millions of third-party sellers on Amazon don’t know. When one of their products becomes “Amazon’s Choice,” they aren’t told why. Furthermore, companies cannot pay to have their products listed as top choice. An algorithm decides, which is the same thing as saying it’s in the hands of robots. But humans created the algorithm and it’s slightly biased toward Amazon products. Search for a tablet and you won’t see an iPad as “Amazon’s choice.” Amazon’s Choice is the Amazon Fire. The latest iPad is labeled “Best Seller,” but you have to scroll past several Android tablets to see it.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon’s Choice began in 2015, when the Amazon Echo smart speaker came out. If someone said to Alexa, “order toothpaste’ when they had never ordered it before, there had to be some way of figuring out which brand to buy. Hence: “Amazon’s Choice.”

Using Google Docs

A friend just bought a new lightweight laptop from LG and was wondering if she should buy Office 365: $70 a year for one user, $100 for several. We recommended Google Docs, which triggered several questions from her. First off, how do you save a document?

There’s no “save” button. It saves automatically in your private online account, which makes it available from any computer, tablet or phone you use. To delete a document, start at Docs.Google.com. Scroll down so you can see the icon for each document in your list. On the right bottom edge, there are three vertical dots. Click them and choose “Remove.” In case you think you made a mistake, the item will spend 30 days in the trash and 25 days in “post trash” before becoming unrecoverable.

 

TACKLING PHOTOS

A reader writes: “Do you have any idea why Google stopped supporting the free photo organizing/editing system called Picasa?  How would we contact them to plead for it to be brought back? Do you know of any system that could replace it?”

We hear you. Once you know your way around a program, it’s tough to switch. Google  thinks their online editing tool, Google Photos, is better. It lets you crop, enhance light, and save photos to your computer. But not everyone wants to work online.

If you’re a Windows 10 user, try the built-in photos app. Click “start,” then “photos,” to get started or search the web for the phrase “How to Use Microsoft Photos,” to get more detailed instructions. If you want a program similar to Picasa, consider “FastStone Image Viewer,” for Mac or PC.  Like Picasa, it helps you get organized.

But those programs don’t do what our reader liked best about Picasa: She used it to make photo greeting cards. For that, we love Canva.com. It’s free, and their templates are gorgeous. A tutorial shows you how to drop your own photos into their backgrounds and use their wonderful fonts to liven things up. Download your card  to your computer and print it yourself or pay a fee to use their professional printing. It’s not as easy as greeting card software, like Hallmark Studios, which shows you the front, back and inside of the card you’re designing, but it has great results. In Canva, we have to design two separate pages. One is our front and back. The other is our insides. We print them out and glue them together with rubber cement or a glue stick.

Another great alternative is  Zazzle. They print the card and they mail it. We opted for the $35 a year option to get free shipping. Nearly every time we make a card there, they have a promotion going, so our latest card cost only $1.35, including the stamp. We’ve gotten a bigger reaction from these cards than our Hallmark creations, even when we didn’t choose the giant card option: 8.5-inch-by-11 inch. To add images for birthday cards, we Google the person’s name along with the word “birthday,” to add images that feature their name on a birthday cake or billboard. It’s easy to pop those images into Zazzle’s templates. Or you can use their pictures.

Googling for Errors

Sometimes knowing too much can get you in trouble. We’ve been victims too.

A reader writes that he got a Windows error message on his screen. Then his system wouldn’t boot up. Being a savvy guy, he searched the web using the exact error code he received. But the web is like the Wild West. Two of the answers were wrong and the third came from a scammer who looked legit.

For  $28, the “Reimage” software seemed to fix things for our reader at first. Then it did an “analysis,” which found new problems requiring another $28. At that point the reader balked. Not only was the second request suspicious, but they’d hung up on him when he tried to call them.

Fortunately, the reader’s Lenovo Yoga 2 comes with its own reset button to bring the computer back to its original pristine condition. Other computers require you to hit the F8 key or some other key during boot-up to go into Windows recovery mode. But the reset action wipes all your programs. If you don’t have the original installation codes or disks, and you’ve installed a lot of programs, it can get expensive and time-consuming to replace everything.

What didn’t work for the reader is the boot disk he made when he got the computer. Windows often prompts you to  make one, but in our experience, these are easy to make, hard to use. Windows said his was “invalid.” The same thing has happened to us.

But all’s well that ends well. After the reader uninstalled the scammers’ program, he was able to get his system up and running again, even with all his old programs on it. It was scary for a minute, since the scammer’s program, Reimage, made it look like his Windows operating system was also being deleted. Fortunately, all was saved. Bottom line: Go to the manufacturer’s website and follow their advice for recovering a computer that won’t start.

Going Paperless

We have boxes and boxes of drawings, poems and love notes we’ve made for each other. In fact, our ongoing romance is using up all the remaining space in our small apartment. Time to go paperless.

We’ve always liked “Abbyy Fine Reader,” which works with scanners to turn paper copies into digital documents you can read on your computer or share in an email.  But early on, Bob realized a phone can do the same thing, more conveniently. For one thing, you usually have it with you. For another, it’s quick.

“Abbyy FineScanner” is a free app for iPhone and Android. It allows you to get a super-sharp image of everything you have on paper. If you need to search an image for the text inside it, or edit the text, you’ll need the “premium” version, currently on sale for $10 a year. In our tests, we found it difficult to preserve the look of the original after we extracted the text, but it did create searchable documents.

 

PORTABLE APPS

If you need to use a hotel computer, but are worried about getting hacked when you do online banking or email, consider bringing a thumb drive or memory stick with a portable app for web browsing.

With a portable version of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, free from PortableApps.com, you can use a borrowed computer with ease. No one will ever know you were there. Just plug in your USB drive and go.

It’s All in the Algorithm

Nobody acts their age anymore. In fact, “We Are All the Same Age Now” is the title of a new book by data analyst David Allison.

A recent survey of 100,000 people in the U.S. and Canada shows that the old demographic stereotypes are wrong. Nobody acts their age, gender roles have changed and income doesn’t correlate to behavior as it once did. What seems to correlate best are interest groups or character types.

Examples include workaholics, hunters, loyalists, environmentalists, techies, adventurers, savers, spenders, and anti-materialists. In each of these categories, agreement on values, needs and expectations was over 75 percent. In traditional categories, like “men,” “women,” “Millennials,” or people above or below a certain income, agreement was around 10 percent or less. You’d think people in the category “people with no children” would be somewhat alike. But they disagreed with each other on 95 percent of issues.

Convertibles

A reader writes that he loves his convertible computer, something we never seriously considered. It’s a tablet and a laptop in one. When he’s not typing, he folds it back and reads books and articles on it like he would if he had an iPad. He finds it very handy.

At a recent trade show, Dell announced a new one of these, the latest version of the “XPS 13 2-in-1,” starting at $999 for one with the slower i3 processor. It will probably be double that price for a faster i7 processor. However both will use the new tenth generation technology. Another improvement: The webcam is now at the top of the screen, which makes sense unless you plan to show pictures of your belt buckle. What goes through their heads, we wonder.

A convertible laptop solves the problem we’ve had with having a separate tablet, like an iPad or a Kindle Fire. We can never find it when we want it. So we end up reading articles on our phone or computer screen.

Mona Lisa Talks

You can watch Mona Lisa talking, though there is no audio. A team from Samsung also brought Salvador Dali, Thomas Edison and Marilyn Monroe to life.

This is all thanks to Samsung’s Artificial Intelligence Center in Moscow, which learned how to make a talking head that turns, speaks and makes expressions, even from a single picture. We saw it in a ZME Science article. Search on “AI Can Create a Realistic Talking Head from a Single Picture or Painting” to get all the details. The next challenge is to make them dance. It’s an important step toward completely artificial actors.

A revived Humphrey Bogart could play a lot of roles.

Runner’s Utopia

For serious joggers, walkers and cyclists, a Fitbit tracker may not be enough. Yet they might not need an Apple watch either, if they don’t care about phone calls on their wrists or a ton of apps. The $80 “Runtopia S1,” $20 less than the latest Fitbit Inspire, is good if you’re willing to take time to learn all its features.

The watch is more rugged looking than an Apple Watch, but either a man or a woman could wear it. It gives you your pace, the length of your workout, your heart rate, a stopwatch and a compass. A logbook on the watch saves your recent runs, walks and bike rides. It also tells you calories burned and average altitude. We found it all a bit confusing, noticing that it added the steps from yesterday to today’s, because we forgot to start over.

A nice surprise is you get rewarded for exercising with digital coins that can be used in the in-app store. The top prize is an Apple Watch, which costs 349,999 coins. (Don’t hold your breath.) You can earn twice as many coins if you’re a premium member, but that costs $24 a year. But it adds features like training for a marathon or losing weight.

The instructions are minimal but we like it. Joy especially liked a vibration that told her to get up and move after she’d been sitting too long. It also reminded her to drink water.

Alexa for Less

Amazon’s $50 smart speaker, the Echo Dot, has some new competition: A copycat version for $20 from Anker. It’s called the “eufy Genie.” Like the Echo Dot, it has Alexa inside.

Just like the Echo, the eufy lets you use your voice to ask Alexa to tell you the weather, answer a question, or play music. Music is our favorite use. Choose Amazon Music, TuneIN, Sirius XM or iHeartRadio. Or use it to control the lights, a RoboVac vacuum, call an Uber, listen to NPR, or order a pizza. It’s compatible with Alexa’s 10,000 skills. Look them up on Amazon.com by choosing “Alexa skills” from the drop-down list in the search bar.

The eufy doesn’t do everything the Echo Dot does. It can’t “drop in” to let you listen in on what’s going on in another room. And you can’t use it to call someone. But considering the price, it does a lot.