PICKING UP A TABLET

We bought the newest iPad model because we couldn’t stand getting iPad or iPhone questions from readers without being able to try out the solutions ourselves.

We’re happy with the current model but a newer version is coming out sometime this year. The next iPad is rumored to have an anti-reflective coating on the surface. That’s what’s used in telescopes and microscopes. It improves the contrast of the image by eliminating stray light. A triple-rear camera is also expected, for extra wide photos and videos like the iPhone 11 Pro can take. But we’re happy with the current model. It sells for $249 at Amazon, down from $329 at Apple. 

What we like best about our iPad is the sound quality. Even at full volume, the iPad doesn’t grate on our ears the way the Amazon Fire HD 10 does. It also has a lot more apps compared to Amazon’s Fire. For instance, we can get the Economist Magazine app on our iPad, not on the Fire. The iPad also holds a charge much longer, up to ten hours, and charges faster. We’re tempted to get the $99 Pencil, a stylus for drawing and note-taking on the tablet.

We’ve had just one problem with the iPad so far: It kept stalling during our first video playback. Joy was watching Jane Austen’s “Sanditon” at PBS.org while walking on a treadmill. Fortunately, when she switched to the built-in Safari web browser, instead of using Google Chrome, the videos played without a hitch. 

But until we got the iPad, we were perfectly happy with our Fire. True enough, the Fire takes a long time to charge and needs charging much more often, but that’s not a problem if you only use it at home where it’s easy to plug in. The sound is a little tinny, but not noticeable until you increase the volume. To our eyes, the picture quality, even when playing videos, is the same as the iPad. Finally, our Fire costs $85 on Amazon, used, and the newest Fire is only $149. That’s $180 less than the current iPad.

Touch Zones

A reader told us he uses his touchscreen computer when he travels, because he hates to carry a mouse. Touch screens open up other possibilities.

If you have a Windows computer with a touchscreen, you can get a $5 program called “Touch Tasks” from Stardock.com.

The program gives you five zones on the edge of your screen. In their example, one was used to show the brightness control panel. Another showed the start menu. A third activated a hotkey, to launch an application quickly. A fourth activated the quick navigation panel, a feature from Windows XP that was later abandoned but some find handy. It shows you your most recently opened programs. A fifth activated the task switcher panel. It allows you to find open windows, instantly hide open windows or manage windows across multiple monitors and virtual desktops.

YouTube Downloads

The first time we wrote about a way to download YouTube videos and watch them offline, we heard directly from a Google exec. It isn’t legal he said, so don’t do it or recommend it to others. One of our readers chimed in too.

But what if you’re downloading a video for personal use, not to sell it? One of our readers suggested the free Firefox add-on, “Easy YouTube Downloader Express.” He uses it because he likes to stop a video at various points during playback, something he can do more precisely by using the free “VLC Media Player” on an offline video. Others might like the Downloader because they want to watch videos on a train, away from WiFi, or because their Internet connection is slow and the video stops and starts.

Easy YouTube Downloader Express is recommended by CNET.There are other downloaders out there but they’re often full of spyware or malware, so beware. To use Downloader Express, fire up the Firefox web browser. (If you don’t have Firefox, Google the phrase “get Firefox”). Then search on “Easy YouTube Downloader Express” and click to install it. Go to YouTube, find a video you like, and click the green “download as” button. Works great. This is the easiest one we’ve ever seen.

Internuts

  • MovieMistakes.com examines the hole in a movie plot, and other absurdities. We skipped to the end of a Nicole Kidman movie, “Before I Go to Sleep,” and was gratified to read on Movie Mistakes that they agreed with us on how stupid it was. 
  • Victorian times had fashion to die for, literally. Search on the phrase “7 Ways Victorian Fashion Could Kill You” to find out more.
  • Geek.com has “The Most Amazing LEGO Projects Ever.” For example, a 10-year old Icelandic boy with autism built a 26-foot long, five-foot high replica of the Titanic, made from 56,000 blocks. In the process, he went from being almost non-verbal to giving a TED talk and appearing on TV shows.

Atari Hotel

Atari, the retro game company, is starting its own hotels in eight U.S. cities, starting with Phoenix.

The hotels will be “Atari gaming playgrounds,” according to Engadget.com. Each will have a variety of games available for guests. The hotels will also have movie theaters, bakeries, restaurants and bars.

 

PASSWORD FOLLIES

Over 23 million people had their account information stolen because they used “123456” as their password, according to PreciseSecurity.com. Another eight million used “12345678.” Nearly four million used the word “password” as their password. Many people use a favorite password for all or most of their accounts.

Weak passwords caused 30 percent of all “ransomware” attacks in 2019. Ransomware refers to hackers who lock the information on your computer and demand a ransom to unlock it. But only 12 percent of users in the U.S. take advantage of password managers, which create and store passwords for you. If you search on the phrase “best password managers,” you’ll find a TechRadar article on the best: “Dashlane,” “LastPass” and “Keeper.”

We haven’t had much luck with “LastPass,” which had its information stolen in 2015. Email addresses were taken but no one’s encrypted private information was hacked. Google Chrome sometimes offers you a strong password when you’re setting up a new account. They also save it for you, so you don’t have to write it down or remember it. But the nice thing about making your own password is that you’ll know it even if you’re using someone else’s machine, where it hasn’t been saved. We suggest using the first letter in each word of some song lyric, or random words strung together such as WalnutRugMath34.

Phones For the Phoneless

The U.S. government sells cheap, infected phones to the phoneless, according to Malwarebytes.org. Beware of officials bearing gifts.

The $35 phone, a Chinese brand called UMX, is for people in the “Lifeline Assistance Program.” It’s also sold by T-Mobile. Among other things, the phone collects personal information and opens the way for other rogue apps to be installed. A free app, “Malwarebytes for Android,” will remove one of the Trojan viruses the phone comes with. But removing the other one leaves the phone unuseable. Malwarebytes asked the government why they were selling infected phones but they never responded. Ironically, you can get a good phone, such as the LG Rebel 4, for just $5 more. No government required.

New Gadgets

  • “Moxie Showerhead.” If you miss Alexa when you’re singing in the shower, you’ll be relieved to know she comes inside a showerhead from Kohler. She’ll play whatever song you request, if it’s available. Or you can talk to your showerhead to order new soap. The audio is from Harman Kardon. Should there be anyone in the shower with you, they’ll probably think you’re nuts. It’s coming this summer for $229.
  • “Roxie Karaoke.” Roxie brings karaoke to your car. It uses a microphone which pairs with your phone and your car’s stereo. After you choose a song from your phone, the Roxie app will strip away the vocals so you can sing solo. It’s $149 from CarkitAI. Later, they plan to sell one with a camera so your friends can see you crooning in real time. Isn’t that exciting?
  • “EnvisionBody.” EnvisionBody is an app that shows you what you’d look like with more muscles and less fat. That will either motivate you or make you depressed.
  • “Welt Smart Belt” is for seniors who are prone to falling. It analyzes your walk, and will send alerts to your support list if you seem rocky. It also lets you know when your waistline is expanding, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Who’s the Smartest of them All?

According to CNET, a well-known tech site, your home assistant Alexa gives you the answer you need 80 percent of the time. Their test found that Google Home was right 93 percent of the time. Apple’s Siri was right 83 percent of the time.

We didn’t do a rigorous test, but here’s our own impression. If we ask for a stock quote, Google gets it right away, but Alexa is lost unless we tell her to open Bloomberg. Even then, she doesn’t get all the stocks we ask for. This morning we asked for a history fact and Alexa gave us the address of a local restaurant.

Games People Play

What’s the world’s oldest board game? “Senet,” an Egyptian game from 3500 B.C.E. Now you can play it on your phone or tablet. If you’re an ancient Egyptian, you may even understand the rules.

Archaeologists found the game in tombs and developed rules that they believe are close to the original. But they should have asked their mummy. We found those rules a little too complicated but the graphics in the free apps “Egyptian Senet” and “Senet” are good.

Facebook Followers

Anyone can read your posts on Facebook if you leave the default setting alone. A reader wrote to say: “I was shocked at the people it listed following me even though I had not given permission for that.” Here’s the fix.

On your computer in the blue bar at the top, go to the far right, click the drop-down arrow and select “Settings.” Then look to the left and choose “Public Posts.” Under “Who can Follow Me,” change it from “Public” to “Friends.”

If you want to see how many followers you have, and who they are, go to Facebook.com on your computer and click your own name. Then click “Friends.” On the Friends page, under the word “Friends” next to “Hometown,” there’s a tab for “Followers.” Click it. As our reader points out, if you see someone you don’t want there, you can block them by clicking “Settings” and then “Blocking” on the left.

THE RULES OF THE GAME

Joy would like to contradict Bob’s complaint about updates. He recently advised not doing them, even on an iPhone, because of all the problems they cause. Joy always does updates for security reasons and because some apps require them. A reader wrote us with these words of wisdom:

“My son who is chief programmer and bottle washer in his game company says there are two mandatory rules about updating software: 1.NEVER update software. 2. Be sure your software is always up-to-date.”Bob has an additional rule: No matter what you get, you have to get something else to make it work.

Update on Updates

“Don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out,” is a variation on one of Bob’s favorite sayings. But that’s just what Microsoft did with Windows 7.

Support for Windows 7 ended on January 14. That means no more patches for security flaws. But on the way out, Microsoft couldn’t resist doing one more update. This caused some computer screens to go black. They were forced to do one more.

Millions still use Windows 7. Perhaps your doctor does. If so, let’s hope that he or she safeguards your information with security software or doesn’t click on suspicious links and attachments, like Mark Zuckerberg did recently. He opened a video from a Saudi prince and his computer was immediately infected with malware. 

If you want to upgrade, you can still get Windows 10 for free. Search on “BusinessInsider, get Windows 10 for free” or use TechRadar’s guide for more info. When they say you have to have a license to install it, they mean your Windows 7 license. But upgrading may slow your computer down. If you want to go with Windows 10, but miss the look of Windows 7, consider getting “Start10” for $5 from Stardock.com. It keeps the look of Windows 7 but uses the power of Windows 10.

Amazon Fury

A reader was so angry about a package that didn’t arrive from Amazon, he wrote us to complain. 

Sometimes, he says, “the vendor doesn’t have the item in stock when he makes a sale. He only claims to have shipped it, so he can get his money.” Then he goes out and buys the item for less and sends it out after some delay.

We encouraged the reader to complain to Amazon but he could only find a chat session with “predigested answers that don’t address my issue.” It looked to him like the “contact us” link was gone. It’s there, but it’s hard to find.

After you sign in to your account, click “help” at the top of the page at Amazon.com. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Need More Help?” Then click “Contact Us.” Finally, click “Start Chatting Now” or “Need More Help? We can call you.” We’ve always had good results with chatting in a text window on the site or talking on the phone. However, this doesn’t always work. For third party sales, you have to contact the vendor first. 

Regarding “free two-day delivery,” a post on the Amazon forum says you need to see the word “guaranteed” or it’s not really two-day. The word “guaranteed” shows up right before you click “place order.” If it’s not guaranteed, it could take much longer than two days. According to a post on their seller support page, “Free two-day shipping” without the guarantee means the item is out of stock and will ship in two days once Amazon gets it. Bob is still waiting for a blazer that was supposed to have arrived last week.

Uber Annoyance

A reader wrote to tell us about the run-around she got from Uber. For starters, she forgot her Uber password. But when she tapped “forgot password?” they sent the reset link to an email address she no longer uses. She called their support number, 808-169- 7335, but they never called back. We suggested doing a Google search on the phrase “update Uber email online.” The second search result, from help.uber.com, takes you to an email-update form. But Uber can be annoying.

We have a friend who calls the intermediary service, “Go Go Grandparent,” when she needs transportation by Uber or Lyft. That way, she never has to deal with either company. And she doesn’t need a smartphone to use it.

However, the company now charges 27 cents per minute for the length of your ride, on top of whatever Uber or Lyft charges you. So if it takes you 15 minutes to get somewhere, the extra charge would be $4.05. That’s almost twice as much as they used to charge, but they do a lot of hand-holding in exchange. After you request a ride, they’ll call you when your driver is less than four minutes away and notify you if better drivers are found. You can text an operator with questions any time. You can also set up automatic requests for fixed appointments.

Internuts

Unclaimed.org: On NPR’s Planet Money, we heard about a guy who bought Amazon stock in the early days. Then he didn’t touch his eTrade account for 20 years. When he peeked, it was gone. Money or stock from inactive accounts can go to the government. It collected nearly $8 billion in 2015, the most recent year available. You can find out how to get yours at unclaimed.org.

CBSrmt.com stands for “CBS Radio Mystery Theater,” which may appeal to fans of old time radio drama.

COOL INVENTIONS

A reader sent us an article about contact lenses with augmented reality. Now you can be out of touch with reality all the time.

  • Mojo Vision Contact Lenses: Though they’re like regular contacts, they also  give you the weather, a map, your heart rate, blood sugar and other info floating in the air before your eye. They remind us of Joy’s “Form Swim” goggles, which give swim statistics in front of the right or left pupil. Google is an investor in MojoVision. Availability: In two years, or so they say.
  • S-Pod Review on YouTube. Click for video.

    Segway S-Pod: Remember how the Segway was going to revolutionize transportation? It never happened, though we do see tourists using them. Segway just announced a sit-down version, which goes up to 24 miles per hour. (They’re about to invent the golf cart.) That’s more like it. As people age or have joint problems, they’ll need them at airports, large campuses and on tours. This seems to be a big improvement over the current Segway, which isn’t easy on the feet if you’ve been standing on it for hours. Joy was a little leery to try one but it practically balances itself. The new version will be even more of a no-brainer, if you don’t mind joystick controls. It’s sometimes described as a “self-balancing stroller,” or a “lounge chair on wheels.”

  • Nurvv insoles” might have prevented Joy from damaging her feet in long runs around a track. She used to run on her toes, which was bad for them. These insoles send data to an app on your phone. The app analyzes your running technique and gives you statistics, such as stride length, as well as advice. 
  •  Manta 5 Hydrofoil Bike:” It has a ridiculous price: $7,500. An electric motor provides an assist to your pedaling. Once you get up to speed, the hydrofoils provide lift. Joy saw it on YouTube and now wants one.
  • Feles Box,” for around $3,000, is the ultimate science kit. It includes equipment for incubation, electrophoresis (charged particles), spectrometry, a centrifuge and a cyclometer, among other tools.

See more in a SmithsonianMag.com article called “Eight Remarkable Inventions Unveiled at This Year’s CES.” That’s the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Updating the iPhone

A reader is in doubt about whether she should update her iPhone 6. She stopped doing updates when her friends’ phones got messed up after they did theirs. Bob has an aversion to all updates. Every change is not necessarily an improvement.

It turns out her phone is too old anyway. You need an iPhone 6s or newer to install Apple’s latest operating system, 13.2.2. It won’t work on a plain ol’ iPhone 6. That may be a lucky break. According to Forbes magazine, version 13.2.2.has caused a lot of problems. These include crashing during email, audio irregularities, graphic glitches, cellular connection difficulties and excessive battery drain. Forbes told users to stay away from the update unless they’ve been faithfully installing updates all along and now have version 13.2.1, which is worse. Version 13.3 is in the “beta” or testing phase, but we’ll probably see a version 13.2.3 first. Are you confused yet? We like to fall back on the farmer’s mantra: “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

Facebook Annoyance

Bob got so tired of getting notified about every post on Facebook, he went to “Settings” and turned them all off. Joy did it too. We were astonished by the number and variety of notifications.

Start at Facebook.com on your computer. Look at the blue bar at the top of the screen and go all the way to the right to click a drop-down arrow. Choose “Settings.” In settings, look to the left and click “Notifications.” You can turn off more than a dozen of them. This includes notifications by  email, text message or pop-up. We shut down notifications about status updates, videos, things for sale and charities, among others. Birthday reminders we kept.

Internut

Can this teenager use a rotary phone?” Search on that phrase to find an unintentionally funny YouTube video. A friend, who had coincidentally just wished aloud that the world could go back to rotary phones, found it for us. “I couldn’t stop laughing,” she says. Two teenagers try to work a dial-up phone and can’t figure it out.

Landline Spam

A reader writes: “I’ve still got a landline that I need for business purposes and I get as many or more calls on that phone as I do the cell phone. Both are ATT. Any suggestions for dealing with those calls– besides being on the ‘no call’ list that I’ve been on for years?” In short, he’s getting plagued by robocalls on his landline, and all the advice articles tell you how to stop them on cell phones.

 If you’re with AT&T, you can block robocalls from returning by dialing *61# after you hang up. Or you can call AT&T (or whoever your provider is) and tell them which numbers you want to block. This of course isn’t a perfect solution because robocallers use thousands of different phone numbers and it’s hard to block them all. 

We also were plagued by calls on our landline. So we had our landline number transferred to our cell phone, where calls are easily screened and blocked. We got a new landline number from Vonage, an Internet phone company. This number we’ve only given out to our closest family and friends. Hence no spam calls. We also tried Magic Jack, which at $39 a year is about the same price as only two months of Vonage, but we didn’t get good call clarity. Others swear by it.

 

 

 

WHY ARE THEY SPYING ON US?

Why are they all spying on us? It’s because they want to sell us stuff.

The “they” we’re talking about are Google, Amazon and Apple. They record you when you use the microphone on your cell phone or computer. It also happens when you talk to one of your smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home.

We tap the microphone symbol when conducting searches on our phone. We can ask for a Chinese restaurant nearby faster than we can type it. These days everybody delivers.

We’ve written before that we don’t care what gets recorded. Our conversations are beyond boring. A reader wrote that he agreed but was still bothered by it. He felt that what he had to say was also boring but he thinks big business may find a way to take advantage.

We can’t expect to get services for free. If the search engines are going to find things for us, it’s only reasonable they want to advertise similar products. People worry that their insurance rates might go up if Google sells their data. But Google, which is by far the leading search service, does not sell your information.

If you stop their data collection, you’ll still get ads, but they’ll be way off. Our reader turned off all personalization options when he got his Android phone. So he gets the same annoying ads over and over. One is from a law firm looking for clients who want to sue someone. He also gets political ads.

If it bothers you to be recorded when you press the mike icon, keep in mind that it’s not just the Google search engine. If your TV takes voice commands, these are also being recorded.

If you have privacy concerns, here’s how to stop Google from storing your voice: Go to your computer and search on the phrase “Manage your Google Account.” Click on the first result that comes back. Choose “Manage your data & personalization.” Look for “Activity Controls.” Now look for “Web and App activity.” Uncheck the box next to “include voice and audio recordings.” If you click “manage activity,” you’ll get a chance to delete all the recordings they have.

You might think that using Chrome’s “incognito mode” or “private browsing” in Microsoft Edge or Mozilla Firefox would be enough to shield you from prying eyes. But you can still be tracked. The difference is that nothing is saved on your local machine.

Craigslist Scam

A PhD researcher we know nearly lost $9000 in what appears to be a scam.

Looking for a place to live near Stanford University, she saw an ad on Craigslist that seemed to provide the answer. Housing there is so scarce that some businesses are leasing parking lot spaces with showers so people can sleep in their cars. In San Francisco, the average rental for a one-bedroom is $6500 a month.

Our researcher searched the web and found other ads that were strikingly similar, even down to describing the property owner’s occupation. If in doubt, Google the words from an ad, along with the word “scam,” or “risk” before you fall for it.

In a Vice.com article, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb,” a woman says she was told at the last minute that her Airbnb room was unavailable but there was another one three times bigger. She was forced to make a decision on the phone, so she said yes. The place looked grimy, like a flophouse. They forced her to move out the next day, which might have been OK but she only got a third of her original payment back: $399 instead of $1,221. It was part of a nationwide scam involving eight cities and nearly 100 properties, using fake reviews and intimidation.

Fast Company reports that some Airbnb hosts use hidden cameras. Look for oddly-placed clocks, smoke detectors, plants, mirrors, speakers and USB wall plugs. Shine a flashlight on a suspicious object. A lens made of glass will be more reflective than its surrounding material.

Books

“The Impossible Fortress,” by Jason Rekulak, is a hilarious techie/caper novel, set in the 1980s. In it, a guy and gal try to win a video game contest. You can play a game similar to the one in the story at the author’s website, JasonRekulak.com.

“WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us,” by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Press, says we don’t have to be afraid that robots will take our jobs. We’ll have more rewarding ones than they will. If you want to look at the future, he says, look at what rich people do today. They’re the leisure pioneers. For instance, a car phone used to be a marvel, but now most people carry one. Travel and dining out used to be a luxury activity. Now it’s common.

How to Return an Audible Book

Joy loves Audible.com, which reads you books for $15 a month. But sometimes she chooses the wrong one. What to do?

You can return a book and get your credit back. Go to Audible.com on your computer. Next to your name, click the drop-down arrow and choose “Account Details.” Then click “Purchase History.” You can exchange any book that has the word “Exchange” next to it.

ROBOT VACUUM

Vacuuming the old way

Our oddest Christmas present this year is a robot vacuum, given to us by a young relative. Bob was hugely skeptical at first but he has to admit: “It works, but it doesn’t hold much.”

Go to YouTube.com to find reviews for dozens of these, from Roomba on down. Ours, the “LeFant 300m,” costs $140 on Amazon. Roomba ranges from about $200 to over a thousand.

We have hardwood floors, four small mats in the kitchen, and a large Home Depot rug in the living room. It seems complicated, yet the robot vacuum handled them all, traveling from room to room in our small apartment. We charged it by plugging it into the wall. We dumped the debris by using a tiny Phillip’s screwdriver to open up the compartment where the filters are. One of the filters is washable. The other is a HEPA filter which limits dust, smoke, pollen, bacteria and mold. Joy likes it.

Readers Ring In on Robocalls

 We recently mentioned “do not disturb” mode on the iPhone but left out a crucial point. Readers were quick to point this out. Thanks guys!

 As one reader writes, with this new iPhone feature, “robo calls hang up before they even get to voicemail. Any human call you miss goes to voicemail so you can call right back.” Another points out that the missed call can be found under “Recents.” We’re guessing that the niece of ours who missed an important job interview after turning on “do not disturb” isn’t in the habit of checking voicemail very often.

Internuts

● “Museum of Lost Objects.” Search on that phrase to find a BBC website with interesting articles and podcasts. They trace the history of antiquities destroyed or looted in Iraq, Syria, India and Pakistan. For example, a year ago a man used a drill to deface a winged bull in the ancient city of Nineveh, in Iraq.

 

● TubiTV.com has thousands of free movies, including classics. Joy immediately watched part of an old favorite, “Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” They also had one of Bob’s favorites, the spaghetti Western, “My Name is Nobody,” and much more recent titles, like the 2007 movie “War” with Jason Statham. We clicked “browse titles” and didn’t have to register on the site to start watching.

 

Image Courtesy of CNN

You can still buy $1 homes all over Italy.” Search on that phrase to find a fascinating article from CNN.com. It’s an attempt to get rid of abandoned homes, mostly in the south.Though many have been snapped up, you can still get one if you put down a deposit ranging from $2200 – $5600. You get your deposit back in three years if you have refurbished the home.

 

● “The best thing you can do for your health: Sleep Well.” Search on that phrase to find the Guardian newspaper’s most-read article of 2019. Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher bragged about sleeping only four or five hours a night but they both got Alzheimer’s. Insufficient sleep may be a factor.

The Worst Video Game Ever

The other day we were listening to “Sidedoor,” a podcast from the Smithsonian. They were talking about the worst video game ever, a 1982 Atari game based on the movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” Instead of the usual eight months, the developer was given only one month to create it. Apparently, it was so bad it ruined the company. Atari’s name was mud. (Atari means “that’s a hit” in Japanese.) The developer lost his job and became a therapist.

It didn’t help that Atari allowed other companies to use the Atari name and after awhile, there was only so much you could do with the old format. Their video game sales dropped 90 percent between 1982 and 1986.

In the podcast we learned that a group set out to find the old cartridges dumped by Atari in the New Mexico desert. Sure enough, they uncovered 1,178 of them.

Pedal to the Metal

Joy bought a foot pedal for her sewing machine on eBay for $20 but It was the wrong one. Returning it to China cost $23.50, and involved standing in a long line at the Post Office twice. The first time she had to step out of the line to fill out a form.

The irony is, the Chinese vendor had already refunded her account on eBay and hadn’t asked for the package back. But it felt wrong to keep it. Lesson learned: Pay attention to where a product is coming from. If it’s from too far away, it may cost a lot to return it.

Shopping Scams

Fake sites are a growing problem. They now number in the thousands.

Joy thought she was buying a birthday present from Arlington racetrack in Illinois, but it was really a Shopify.com site with Arlington in the name. Five months later, she found out that the recipient had not received it. When she contacted the Shopify store, they refunded the money for the original shirt she ordered, supplied a free shirt of a different kind, and apologized profusely for letting things fall through the cracks while they were in a transition period.

The Washington Post did an investigative piece on Shopify problems nationwide. They gave an example of a photo of a $2,495 coat from Overland Sheepskin that was used to sell a $70 knock-off with lopsided sleeves. The fabric was described by one buyer as looking like “roadkill” or “rat fur.” Around 753 websites stole Overland Sheepskin’s photos to sell their own wares. Most of these sites are on Shopify. By the way, the Post sells their own branded merchandise through Shopify.

 

 

THE TECH SUPPORT DUNGEONS

Calling for tech support is often the beginning of a descent into gloom and doom. Here’s an example from a recent reader letter.

He says: “I have recently turned eighty, my hearing is not the best. My Norton antivirus coverage expired and I needed to renew it using a new email address.” The nightmare begins.

The whole process took two hours. He was told to bring up a chat screen but the “send” button wasn’t showing so he couldn’t respond.  This happened over and over with different tech support people. 

 After calling Norton, he writes, “I couldn’t understand the heavy European accent of a woman with a little girl voice. Soft voice, low volume, my deficient hearing, etc. The whole endeavor went to hell.”

“We oldsters don’t need folks on the helpline who are fast speakers and have limited English. They speak in a volume so danged low that it can’t be understood or heard.” The jargon they use makes it worse. 

Guess what? The same problem happens to everybody, oldster or not. When it happens to us, we hang up and call back.  Every time we call, we get a different person. 

We don’t see companies improving their tech support options any time soon. Their newly-hired MBAs tell them this is not a revenue-generator. Of course it is a revenue generator because it builds a loyal base. But apparently they’ve never rounded that base.  

Cheap Security Camera

The cheapest security camera we’ve ever seen is the Wyze Cam camera, for $20. 

Last year, we wrote about a similar one, the Wyze Pan Cam, for $30. It helped a reader find her lost cat. She and her husband put a camera in their open garage to see if they could find out where the cat went.

“It took over a week, but we finally saw our beloved kitty,” she said. “He is coming regularly now. He was a feral cat to begin with, so it will take time to get him back inside, but you have no idea how helpful this is for our emotional well-being. Without a camera, we still wouldn’t know his whereabouts, or if he was even alive.” And a week later, she wrote to say “the cat came back.” They named it “Tater Bug.” No explanation.

 According to a rave CNET review, the $20 Wyze Cam is similar to the $30 Cam Pan. But instead of panning, it has a static base which can be raised, lowered and angled with a 20-degree field of view. It sends you free alerts and has a slot for a memory card if you want continuous recording locally as opposed to on the internet.  

25,000 Points of Light

Commonwealth Edison wrote us to compare the cost of the Christmas lights used in the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with what they would cost today.

Back in 1989, a  house using 25,000 incandescent lights, fully-lit for five hours would get a bill for $3,700. The scene was set in Chicago. Using LEDs instead of incandescent bulbs, the cost would come to $69

On the Edge

After we recommended that readers dump Internet Explorer for Microsoft Edge, we heard from a reader who uses Windows 7. She says Windows 7 is not compatible with Edge, so we looked into it. She’s right. It’s the Microsoft way: Upgrades are made that are not compatible with previous versions. 

Microsoft is coming out with a new version of Edge based on the Google Chromium operating system, the one used in Chromebooks. It will make Edge compatible with all versions of Windows. Microsoft came out with a preview version in June, which you can try out by joining the “Microsoft Edge Insider Community.” Just search on that phrase to find it.

Boop de Boop

Sometimes, when we’re sound asleep, our Echo Dot with Alexa inside makes a random noise. It sounds like “Beep Boop.”

Searching on the web for a solution, we found similar complaints. One guy says his Echo “randomly beep-boops three to five times around 1 a.m. and it’s getting on my nerves.”  We hear you as if we were there.

So we opened the Alexa app on our smart phone, tapped “settings,” and went to “notifications.” There were ten switches we toggled to the off position. We haven’t had a beep boop since.

Flip Phone Update

We worried quite a few people when we wrote that the average flip phone may not work next year, as cell phone providers drop support for 3G phones. New news: some of the providers changed their minds. This is a business in which people change their minds frequently. Like Mark Twain’s comment about the report of his death. Dropped support is often greatly exaggerated.

A reader wrote: “I, too, was told my 3G Verizon phone would not work after December 31st. Then a day later I called Verizon, and of course got a different rep. She said the the date to drop 3G has been moved forward one year, so there is no need to rush out and buy a 4G or 5G phone.“ Apparently they didn’t get the memo.

AT&T says they will drop support for 3G phones in February.  T-Mobile and Sprint are vague. They say it will happen sometime in 2020 or 2021. Vagueness is in. Always remember: When in doubt, obfuscate.

 

ROBOCALLS

Over 167 million robocalls are made to Americans each day, according to YouMail. That’s about 61 billion calls for 2019. 

Robocalls represent over 50 percent of all phone traffic. They have become the modern equivalent of mail addressed to “occupant.” Some of these calls appear to be coming from your own area code. That’s what really throws people. Because you think, maybe it’s Uncle Max. On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to talk to Uncle Max.

We use the “call screen” feature on our two Google Pixel phones to avoid robocalls. But the new Pixel 4 has something better. 

The Pixel 4 phone won’t ring at all if it senses a robocall. What happens if it’s not a robocall, but it’s not someone on your contact list either? In that case, the phone rings a few moments later with info on who’s calling and why. 

For non-Pixel phones, turn on “Do Not Disturb” in settings, blocking all calls except those from contacts. That choice is right there when you tap “Settings,” “Sound,” and “Do Not Disturb.” On an iPhone, go to “Settings,”  then “Do Not Disturb,” and tap “Allow Calls From.” From there, “All Contacts” is one of the choices. 

But that’s risky. Some calls that are not from your contacts may be legitimate. A young relative missed a crucial job interview that way. If you do decide to turn on “Do Not Disturb,” make sure you’ve added important people to your contact list.

Sharing YouTube Videos

A reader writes: “I used to enjoy sharing a special song now and then but I’ve been blocked since ’17.” He’d like to share his YouTube playlist of 2,107 videos.

Here’s what’s confusing on YouTube: There’s the word “share” when you’re sharing a single video, and an arrow meaning “share” when you want to share a whole playlist. 

To share a video using the YouTube app on your phone, click the word “share” beneath it. Then tap your email account, Facebook, or other social network, and YouTube will put the link in for you. To create a playlist on your phone, tap the three dots next to the title of a video you like and then “Save to playlist.” Keep doing that for other videos until you have your list. Then click the arrow beneath the list to share it. 

 It’s a little different on a computer. First go to YouTube.com. To create a playlist, click the plus sign next to three stacked lines that appears below the video. Repeat this step for all the videos you want to include in your list. We created a playlist with songs from our favorite musicals, such as Oklahoma, West Side Story and Singing in the Rain.  Click the arrow under the playlist to share it, then the word “copy.” Now you can paste it into an email with the “Ctrl V” command in Windows or “Cmd V” command on the Mac. 

Facebook Nuisance

Recently, two of Joy’s Facebook friends sent unwanted messages to a group she doesn’t remember joining.  It turns out that Facebook allows people to send text messages to people who aren’t on their friends list, which opens it up to senders with special causes.

One recipient was a PhD scientist and consultant with no spare time. Yet Joy noticed her name popping up as one of the viewers. How embarrassing, she thought. Fortunately, Bob can’t be embarrassed.

So if someone is sending messages to your friends, you  may want to make your friends’ list private. Here’s how: Go to Facebook.com, click the down arrow in the top right. Then click  “Settings,” then “Privacy” and select one of the choices under “How People Find and Contact You.” Joy changed the “who can see your friends list” setting to “only me.” In the Facebook app on your phone, tap the hamburger icon (three stacked lines) and choose “Settings,” then “Privacy Settings.”

If you’re wondering who is in the group you joined,  click on the group’s name. On the group’s home page, look to the right to see how many members there are. Joy belongs to a nutrition group with 11,068 members. So far none of them have texted her on Messenger.

Internut

Search on the phrase: “Museums are keeping a ton of the world’s most famous art locked away in storage,” for a fascinating article from Quartz.

Bob was trained to be a curator at the Smithsonian. He learned that about 95 percent of a museum’s collection is never displayed. 

According to qz.com, even the five percent that museums do show off isn’t displayed all the time, because even that is too much. The “culturally important” works are rotated. Most works never see the light of day.

Windows Annoyance

Cartoon courtesy of The New Yorker

We find it very annoying that Windows makes us sign in again when we’ve only been away from our desks for a half hour. Here’s how to remove that.

Type “sign In options” in the Windows search box. Look for the sentence: “If you’ve been away, when should Windows require you to sign in again?” Choose “Never” if you don’t want to have to sign in. This reminds us of a New Yorker cartoon. A guy on the phone says: “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?”

 

 

SEEING ALL

Every time Joy tests a product on Bob’s computer, something goes out of whack. Recently, she used Windows “recovery options” to restore it. Uh oh.

Suddenly, the bookmarks bar in Chrome was too tiny to read. Initially, Bob tried to enlarge it, simply by holding down the “Ctrl” key and pressing the plus sign. This did not work. Everything got bigger except the bookmarks bar. Then he figured out the fix.

First, right-click the main screen. Choose “display settings.” In the search bar, type “font.” When it comes up, select “make text bigger.” From there, you can drag a slider to increase the size of most text. You can also select “make everything bigger.” We chose 150 percent bigger. When we launched Chrome again, the bookmarks bar looked bigger but so did everything else. To tone down the effect, we held down the “Ctrl” key and hit the minus key. Now the text on the page looked more normal and the bookmarks bar remained large. If you don’t see a bookmarks bar in Chrome, click the three vertical dots in the upper right corner, click “Settings,” then “Appearance” and toggle on the switch for “Show Bookmarks Bar.”

If you have trouble seeing the pointer on your screen, follow these steps: In the search box in Windows, type “Mouse Settings.” Then click “Additional Mouse Options.” When “Mouse Properties” comes up, click the “Pointers” tab. Under “Scheme,” choose “Windows Black Extra Large,” or one of several others.

Internuts

StoryTerrace.com hires a professional writer to interview you in person and write your memoir, printing it in an attractive-looking book. It may be your descendants’ first chance to get to know you. According to the site, 45 percent of Americans learned more about Mom and Dad from stuff they left behind than from actual conversation. Around 40 percent say that the juiciest secrets and gossip come out at Christmas family gatherings. Look at their sample books to decide whether the $1900 fee is worth it. We thought they were well-written.

50 Nifty Hints for Cheapskates.” Search on that phrase to find some good ones. For example, put a sealed envelope in the freezer and it will open up again. Save on potting soil by using empty soda cans mixed in with less soil. They actually improve drainage and aerate the soil.

Getting An Edge

A reader says that the sites he goes to, like Facebook and Yahoo, say they are soon going to stop recognizing his web browser, Internet Explorer. There’s a free fix for this.

Internet Explorer was developed by Microsoft, but they’ve been pushing a substitute, Microsoft Edge, for some time. Anyone still using Internet Explorer isn’t getting the latest security updates and should switch to Edge. Get it for free by searching on the phrase “Get Microsoft Edge.”

Duplicates

A reader asked us if we’d ever tried “Media Monkey,” a free music organizing program from MediaMonkey.com. It found 2000 duplicates in his music list and removed them.

If you want to get rid of duplicate photos there’s “Duplicate File Finder” from Ashisoft.com. When we turned it loose on the pictures folder in our computer, it found 500 duplicates taking up 325 megabytes, just in that one folder. It will show you which ones are duplicates, but if you want them deleted automatically, you have to buy the “pro” version of the program, for $30. Otherwise, you delete them one by one.

Games

In “Offworld Trading Company,” a $20 game available at Stardock.com, it pays to know your elements. For example, water isn’t hard to find on the frozen moon but aluminum is. An extractor turns methane into power.Or you might want to go geothermal. The latest expansion for the game is “The Europa Wager,” available for $15. A video trailer on YouTube shows you what the alien world looks like.

Blanking Out

A reader was frustrated. Every time he tried to follow instructions to pair his iPhone with a device in his car, the screen would go dark before he had a chance to do anything. Here’s how to change the so-called “timeout” setting.

Go to “Settings.” Then tap “Displays & Brightness,” and “Auto-Lock.” Now decide how long you want the screen to stay on before going dark. Choices include 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, on up to “never.” (If you choose never, your battery will need recharging much more often.) On an Android phone, go to “Settings,” then “Display,” then “Advanced,” and finally “Screen timeout.” Then choose the length of time you want it to stay on when idle.

Making Money From Games

According to OnBuy.com, an online marketplace, there’s serious money to be made playing video games in tournaments.

Brian Dragatto earned a whopping $290,000. Randy Pfohl, earned $125,000. The game of choice for the top American mobile game players is “Turbo Racing League.” “Clash Royal” and “Vainglory” are also popular.

Google’s Free Office

Joy uses Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets more than any other office product, such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. For one thing, the files are online and can be called up on any machine she happens to be using. If you prefer to work offline, you can click “settings”at Drive.Google.com and put a checkmark next to “create, open and edit offline.”

When you’re creating a document in Google Docs, you’ll see “Tools” as one of the choices at the top. Click it and “Word Count” to see how many words you’ve used. Put a checkmark in the box there to see the word count change as you type. See more tips at Gizmodo.com by searching on the phrase “21 Tips for Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.”

YOU RANG?

Why do phones sometimes ring just once? It’s a scam. Don’t call them back.

According to HowtoGeek.com, if you cave in and call back, your call may result in toll charges similar to a 900 number. The longer you stay on the line, the more money they make. The scam is called “Wangiri,” because it started in Japan. It translates as “one ring and cut.” Calls have been routed to Mauritania, Liberia, Comoros, Chad, the Cook Islands and Nauru. But it’s not always a developing country. Some go to Switzerland.

If in doubt, search the web for the number to see if it’s part of a scam. Or if you get a lot of these and have an iPhone, try out the new “Silence Unknown Callers” option in the latest operating system, iOS 13. To use it, go to “Settings” and then “Phone.” Scroll to the bottom and turn on “Silence Unknown Callers.”

Quicken for Cheap

A reader liked our suggestion to install an old version of Quicken on a new machine, to avoid the annual subscription cost of the latest version. We’ve often found old versions to be better than new ones. That’s because new versions of software often don’t improve the basic program, they simply add more features, complicating how it works. Don’t you want to write in Urdu, diagonally across the page?

But what if you don’t have the disk for the older version? The reader wondered: “How can I migrate my Quicken software and data to a new computer without subscribing to the new ‘cloud’ version (which requires an annual fee)?” We thought it was easy: Buy one from Amazon. Boy was that wrong. The older versions are labeled “unavailable,” except for a few that cost over $100, which shows you how useful the older versions are compared to the new version.

If you do a Google search on “older versions of Quicken,” you’ll find Quicken 2004 Deluxe for free from a site called oldversion.com. One caveat: since Intuit stopped supporting the older versions, you can no longer use them to access your banking and investment accounts. Nor can you use a third party to store your financial data. But the reader says he does neither of these things. He just wants the basic ledger functions for his banking and investing offline. 

If you get Quicken or some other program from oldversion.com, you can usually ignore the fact that these programs are for Windows 7 or earlier. In our tests, they worked in Windows 10. The site has hundreds of old programs for free for Mac and Windows, including WordPerfect, Paint Shop Pro and Picasa. We tried Quicken and Picasa and they worked fine. Bob tends to keep old programs because he thinks there’s a lot of value in being familiar with how something works.

Just Go Through the Wall

We recently moved and workmen were installing new grab bars in the bathroom. While the movers were still there, the grab bar crew drilled right through the wall into the hallway. One of the movers said, “Way to go, guys” and pulled out his smartphone to take a picture of it. He thought it was just right for a YouTube video such as “World’s Funniest Engineering Fails.”

Getting Windows 10 for Free

A reader writes that he wants to upgrade to Windows 10, but doesn’t want to pay for it. Is it too late to get it for free? Nope.

We thought it was too late by three years, but our reader found it in a link from an article in DigitalTrends.com entitled “How to Get Windows 10 For Free.” If he had to buy it, the “Home” version is $140 and the “Pro” is $200.

 “My HP Probook was an ideal candidate,” he writes, “and the new operating system runs great on it.” (However, Bejeweled 3 stopped working.) “It should be noted,” he adds, that Windows 10 needs a fast processor and SSD (solid state drive) these days. Can it get any more bloated?”

Find out how bloated your system is by right-clicking the lower part of your screen and selecting “task manager.” The reader says that before he upgraded to Windows 10, he saw 70 things running in the background. Now there are 166. He’s probably stuck with them, because Windows 10 uses so many.

Getting Organized

A reader wants to consolidate all the music on his Windows computer into one folder. It would take too long to drag the contents from each folder to a master folder. Here’s a quicker way to do it.

Open Windows Explorer and navigate to your music folder. Click to create a new folder and give it a name, like “All Music.” In the Windows search box in the upper right corner, type”mp3.” All the MP3s you have will be listed. Now click “Select All,” or hold down the “CTRL” key and tap the “A” key to select all. Then right-click any one of the songs and choose “Copy.” Choose your new “all music” folder as the destination.

To organize files on a Mac, choose File, then “Library,” then “Organize Library” and select “Consolidate Files.” As in Windows, your files remain in their original locations and copies are placed in the one giant folder.

If you want to transfer songs from a computer to an iPhone, you can plug the iPhone into the computer and turn on “File Sharing.” Search on the phrase “Use iTunes to share files between your computer and your iOS Device” for more info. For Android, search on “Transfer files between your computer and Android device.”