BACKING UP AND BEEPING

We recently mentioned using “File History” in both Windows 10 and Windows 8 because it backs up changes you make to your files. You can find it by typing the name in the Windows search box. Another solution is “Google Backup and Sync.” It’s free and somewhat simpler and works for both Windows and Mac. It automatically backs up all your files, or just the ones you mark; it also keeps tracks of the files you delete.

We were deleting some old stuff recently and Google Backup  popped up with a message to ask if we wanted to also delete them from our Google Drive account, which is online storage. This is also free and if you use Gmail for your email service, you get the Google Drive storage automatically with it. We said yes. Whether you use Gmail or  some other email service, like Outlook or Yahoo, you’ll want to get the backup-and-sync program  by going to Google.com/drive/download.

If you need to find a file or photo you deleted accidentally, go to Drive.Google.com and type the name of the file in the search box. If you can’t remember the name, look through the list of everything you’ve stored there and hopefully you will recognize it when you see it.

Fun With Numbers

Let’s have some fun with techno-numbers. If we’re going to save things to Google Drive, and ask questions all the time, how much data does a giant data handler like Google hold?

Well, does anyone still remember punch cards? Plenty of people probably do. We used to feed these paperboard cards into IBM card readers, and that told their ridiculously expensive huge air-conditioned computer what to do and how to do it. You can still see this in action in some old movies; it’s done to convey a sense of modern technology at work.

An educated guess is that Google has a storage capacity of 15 exabytes, which is 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, each byte representing a letter or number, or what they call a character. A punch card can hold about 80 of these characters. So15 exabytes would require enough punch cards  to cover  all of New England to a depth of about three miles. This would definitely depress property values

How many servers does it take to handle that much data? Well a server is a term used for a very powerful computer but not a supercomputer, say one that’s somewhere between ten to a hundred times more powerful than what we have on our desks. In actual use, the only part of that computer they use is a circuit board with all the requisite chips on it — no need for a screen or keyboard or any of that extra stuff that humans need — and they stack those boards up on racks  It’s estimated that Google has at least one million of them; this number is constantly increasing. Amazon probably has about two million servers. Very impressive. Not easy to compete with that. Facebook probably has about 70,000 to 80,000 servers, which is enough to handle a billion or more people at a time sharing photos, updates and snaggy remarks about politicians.

Most of this stuff is what we would call “guesstimates,” but it won’t be that far off. The amount of electricity required to keep the wheels turning, so to speak, may be as a much as one percent of world output. But it’s worth it, and much more productive than lighting night ballgames.

Facebook Tips

We get a lot more birthday greetings on Facebook than we ever remember to give out. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

How come everyone else is  on the ball? We discovered their secret, and it’s simple. On Facebook.com, click “Events” from the list on s the left. Then click “birthdays.” You’ll see a list of who has a birthday this week and later on.

Here’s another tip: To chat back and forth with a Facebook friend, click “Messenger” in the top left under “News Feed.” If you can’t find your friend in the list on the left, just type their name in the search box at the top. Click “Message”  to send them a private message. This is  similar to texting on a phone.

Internuts

  • PlaneteEBook.com has over 80 classics available for free download. Joy has read so many classics, there are only 12 she hasn’t read yet, like George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London,” and “Ulysses” by James Joyce. You can read them online or download to your phone, tablet or computer.
  • EWG.org/skindeep lets you check the ingredients in cosmetics, lotions and other products to find out if they’re cancer-causing or otherwise unsafe. We expected to find a lot of scary stuff listed in “Cetaphil,” a lotion our dermatologist recommends but it wasn’t too bad. Sure enough, the cyclopentasiloxane, ceteareth 20, benzyl alcohol, farnesol, sodium hydroxide, sodium polyacrylate and  phenoxyethanol carried a modest risk, but the other 17 ingredients seem OK. Hey, beauty has its price. (Bob hates cosmetics.)

Central Casting

We cast movies from our phone to our TV screen using Google’s $35 “Chromecast.” A reader wondered about the $69 “Chromecast Ultra.”

“Chromecast Ultra” is like the Chromecast, but offers a richer looking picture. Like the Roku player, and the Amazon Firestick, it brings in many channels: Netflix, Hulu Plus and Google Play. But unlike Roku and the Amazon Firestick, it can’t bring in Amazon Prime video. Apple TV is another way to mirror the contents of your phone or iPad onto the TV.

If you have the original Chromecast, you may want to move up a generation, to the $35 version. We recently looked at our friend’s TV using an original Chromecast, and the picture was muddy. But you don’t have to go all the way to Chromecast Ultra, unless you have a 4K TV and want the best picture possible. We helped our friend install the regular Chromecast in its latest version and the picture improved dramatically.

 

 

WE’VE BEEN BREACHED

Ever wonder if your email account has been broken into? We wondered about that too. A new app called “Edison Email,” checks these things.

When we clicked on “security,” we were warned that our passwords had been leaked. The message read: “This email address and password match public database breach records.” They suggested a change of password.”Public breach records” means people’s accounts, mainly business records, have been broken into, collected, and lo and behold, your password was among the records stolen.

This in itself is not a disaster, unless … you used that same business password for other accounts, which Joy did. One of those stolen passwords was the same as one for our credit card. Now, following the rule that
“there’s still time to panic:” Just because your passwords or words were in the hacked accounts and hence stolen — like the millions broken into at TJ Max and other big retailers — doesn’t mean you’re necessarily in any danger, because it takes criminals a lot of time to try all those possibilities.

But … if you’ve forgotten how to change your password (just in case), search on the phrase “how to change my password in Gmail,” or whatever  email service you use. In Gmail, the world’s most popular email service, click the picture of a tiny gear in the upper right, then go to “settings.”

Besides the security warning, Edison Email, (from mail.Edison.tech) brings in your existing email account and organizes it. Tap “travel” to get travel notifications, or “packages” to find out if your package has arrived. For the iPhone, iPad or iPod, there’s a “Smart Reply” feature. With it, responses like “Got it,” or “See you soon,” can be filled in automatically, saving you some typing. The free Gmail app for smart phones and tablets also has this smart reply feature.

Filling In

Joy’s nephew sold her a life insurance policy to sign and email back. After printing out the forms and signing them, she used the scanner at our local  library to email them back. But she could have done it much easier without leaving home.

Adobe has a free app called “Fill & Sign.” It works great. Sign with your finger on your phone or tablet screen. A similar app, “Adobe Acrobat Reader,” also free, also allows you to fill in forms and sign them.

Of course, filling out a form on a phone is difficult, given the tiny screen. So you may want to start on your computer and do everything except the signature. To start, get the latest version of Adobe Reader at Get.Adobe.com/reader. After you install it, you can open any PDF document and start typing in your responses. Email it to yourself and open it on your phone or tablet. To add a signature, use Adobe’s “Fill & Sign” app or the free Adobe Acrobat Reader app for smart phones. We used our finger to sign, because we have thin fingers, but if you want to be fancy, use a stylus.

Internuts

  • Ubasics.com/dighole shows where you’d end up if you dug straight through the Earth. This is a topic that every child in the world has wondered about. Most of the time, you’d end up under water, because after all, the world is mostly covered with water. But if you could paddle a boat somewhat east of Bermuda, and start digging, you’d hit Australia. If you started north of Mongolia, you could hit the tip of South America. These projects are shovel ready.
  • Sunburnmap.com shows you how long you can be out before getting a sunburn. You type in a city, and they’ll give you a rating, based on how fair you are. The old rule, “be careful between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.” still applies.
  • Unclaimed.org, home of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, helps you find what you are owed. We were amazed to find over $100 in our name from AT&T, $50 from Google, and $5 from PayPal. It was easy to submit a claim. The checks are in the mail. We’re gonna go nuts on Bundt cakes.

Practicing Safe Internet

Malwarebytes, a free anti-malware program, has tips on traveling safe. Here’s a sampling:

Go directly to a hotel’s own website to book your stay instead of using an online travel service. A study by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that about 15 million people get scammed by travel sites each year. They think they’re booking through a legitimate site, but it’s actually a scammer’s site. Bob says he has always gotten his best prices by calling a hotel directly.

Before booking a hotel room, ask the person who answers the phone to email you a copy of their security and privacy policies. (We’ve never done this but a someone we know who’s paranoid recommended it.) Do they even have security software? Some years ago, we stayed at a
“Conrad” Hotel (upscale Hilton) in Indianapolis and the computers available for guests had no anti-virus protection. Joy took it upon herself to protect the guests by installing some free security software on the hotel’s public computers.

That was very nice of her but the fact that she could do it meant that anyone else could have installed anything, including a “key logger” to capture a guest’s every key stroke. This past April, Intercontinental Hotels said that 1,200 of its hotels in the U.S., including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza were victims of a three-month attack aimed as stealing customers’ credit card data.

Look out for public WiFi in airports and hotels. You may want to disable your Wi-Fi connection. There’s a malware campaign called “DarkHotel” that targets in-house WiFi networks at luxury hotels. Alternatively, you could use your phone’s cellular connection and share it with your laptop or tablet. The RAVPower FileHub Plus, for $40, is a best-seller on Amazon. It does not create an Internet connection, but if you already have one on your phone, it will extend it to your other devices. A more tech-y way to go is to use a virtual private network. That’s it; we have to go hide in a closet.

 

THE REAL MCCOY

We have a reader named McCoy, and he maintains that he is “The Real McCoy” (accept no substitutes). Well, we believe him and he has some good tips, which we will pass along a little further down the way.

This goes back to a topic we wrote about a couple weeks ago. But it’s an important topic, and becoming more immediate as the world goes increasingly gonzo about these new digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo. We are going gaga along with everybody else and of course — as usual — the situation will grow increasingly worse as other manufacturers join the fray.

Our Internet signal is strong in our office but not so good just 40 feet away. We bought a Google WiFi router, which certainly  improved our wireless reception but not enough. So we called Google Store’s customer service, which by the way, handles everything Google-related, even Gmail, and it’s free. The tech guy was a native English speaker and first checked our connections to make sure no one else’s WiFi signal was interfering with ours. All was clear there.

The next useful thing he did was introduce us — and now you — to a free app called “WiFi Analyzer,” which works with Android, Apple and Windows 10. The app has a gauge and as we moved the phone around, the needle fluctuated through a range of green to gray. He agreed with the Real McCoy that something was causing a major disruption. He suggested we get a longer cord and experiment with moving the Google WiFi device around.

With a longer Ethernet cable, we were able to put the Google WiFi router in our living room by drilling  a hole in the wall and snaking the cable through from the office. The office had our AT&T modem; the living room just had furniture. This improved things quite a bit. The closer your router is to the center of your house,  apartment or business, the better the wireless reception. Google sells their router as one unit or a  three pack, so you can place additional “points” wirelessly at some distance. (NOTE: Some people may blanch at drilling holes in their walls but it was easy, and Bob feels that walls are meant to have holes and it helps fulfill their purpose. Joy points out that if we had bought the three-pack in the first place, we could have placed the wired router in the office and two wireless points elsewhere.) It’s $170 for a three-pack, $129 for a single.

The Real McCoy Speaks

There are several non-obvious obstacles that can prevent you from getting on the Internet wirelessly, not just having a lot of walls and other stuff in the way.

— Public enemy number one is “video senders.” These are designed to beam your TV picture to another TV in the house. You may not have one but maybe your neighbor does. Baby monitors and security cameras constantly beaming out their signals are similarly obstructive.

Other culprits:

— The microwave, at least while it’s on. Also, wireless speakers and music players. These devices do battle with each other.

— Cordless phones, older Bluetooth devices, Christmas lights,  power cables, mirrors, plaster board, old TVs, fish tanks, and chicken wire round out the list. Chicken wire? Well, you may not have chickens (on the other hand, maybe you do) but the wire mesh is often used to help plaster stick to walls.

The Best Tech Support

Google’s tech support was so awesome that it leads us to discuss the best tech support service we’ve ever encountered. The support guy from Google even emailed us a couple days later — on a Sunday night — to ask if we had any other problems. We’re thinking of putting him on our Christmas list. The only other technical support we ever encountered as good as this is the one provided by Okidata, the printer company. They answer at any hour, every day, and always solve the problem. This is the reason we always buy Okidata printers. So listen up, you MBAs: tech support really is a profit center.

You can call Google  on the phone, chat online, or have a video chat. In the video chat, you can see them but they don’t see you. That way they can demonstrate a product right before your eyes. If you call 855-836-3987, they can route you to the right tech support person. If you lose this number, search on the phrase “Google Store customer service” from Google.com and it will come right up.

We even used their techs when we gave an old Google Chromecast device to our friend Frieda but had trouble setting it up. A quick call to Google tech support fixed it.

App Happy

  • Start.Me is a free extension for your browser. It gives you a page on the web with everything organized– your favorite website links off to the left, with today’s news on the right. In the middle are icons for all the most popular websites, organized under the categories “Social,” “Shopping” and “Google Links.” Under links, for example, you’ll find YouTube, Gmail, Calendar, the Google Play store and others. The whole page is customizable. Get it at the website Start.me.
  • AirBNB, a free app for Android and iPhone/iPad, is now moving beyond places to stay. Click “Experiences,” to find cooking classes, foodie tours, craft lessons, and music tours.

Where’s That Blinking Cursor?

When we’re typing in Microsoft Word on our Windows computers, we often lose sight of the cursor. We move the mouse around and still can’t find it. If this happens to you, change your mouse settings. We did.

In the search box in Windows, type “Mouse Settings.” (In Windows 10, there’s one extra step: Click “Additional Mouse Options.”) When “Mouse Properties” comes up, click the “Pointers” tab. Under “Scheme,” choose “Windows Black Extra Large.” Now look under “Customize,” and find the words “Text Select.” Click to highlight “Text Select.” Then click “Browse” and choose something you find easy to see. We chose the extra large black arrow.

 

DRAGGIN’ ON

After a lengthy struggle trying to install “Dragon Naturally Speaking” on an ordinary Hewlett Packard laptop running Windows 10, we gave up. The next day, Joy called the company’s tech support and after their expert worked on it for an hour and a half, he got it installed.

It was not a great experience dealing with what is supposed to be the world’s premiere voice recognition software. The idea is you load it in, speak into the microphone and the program turns what you said into words on the screen. The point of that is you can then edit it — do the rewrite. To quote the advice of best-selling science fiction writer Robert Heinlein: “The whole secret of writing is in the rewriting.”

So we have spent the last three days trying out different dictation programs. We started with the best known, Dragon, and for sixty dollars bought “Home,” version 13, the latest available. That was sixty bucks down the drain. Aside from the installation problems, it was extremely slow and made more errors than a last-place ball team. The first fifty words had more than a dozen, some of them hilarious. We saw many irate comments on the web. Of course the Home version is just a small part of their business, so it may be low priority.

Compared to using Google’s free voice recognition, Dragon was a disaster, missing every other word the first time out. Using our Android phone, “Google Voice” got our dictation nearly perfectly the first time and was much faster. Dragon transcribed Bob’s words: “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna,” for example, as “Osama, Osama, Osama.” Does this even make sense? After several hours of similar drivel, we dumped it.

You might wonder why we even considered paying $60 for Dragon when Windows has speech recognition built in. But it’s far from perfect. We first tried theirs on a Windows 8 machine. (Go to “Settings” and type “speech recognition.”) It worked OK but not great. In Windows 10, it was a total failure, sputtering the same words over and over, like it was having a dictionary fit. By the way, Cortana, the built-in voice assistant, doesn’t do dictation,  just web searches and other simple queries.

Another alternative is those free programs called “extensions” that can be installed in your web browser. We liked the Chrome extension, “Voice Dictation.”  The Chrome web store, by the way, has oodles of free extensions in the form of games, productivity tools, graphics, spreadsheets, etc. Even “Open Office,” nearly identical to Microsoft Office, is a free extension. To use the one we liked best, search for “Voice Dictation in Chrome,” and when it comes up, just click “add to Chrome.” To use it, click its icon in the upper right of your screen.

A few other ways: If you own an iPad or Android tablet, try voice typing in Microsoft Word, a free download. On an Android device, start by enabling “Google Voice Typing” in settings, then just tap the microphone in Word, or “Pages” for iPhones. On an iPad, it’s already set up. Just tap the microphone and start talking.

More with Google Home and Alexa

A couple we met said they only use Amazon’s Alexa to tell them a daily joke. We use her mainly for music and weather. Here are some more ideas a reader sent in.

Babysit the kids. Tell them to ask the Echo or the Google Home digital assistant to play games with them, answer their questions, play children’s songs. Google Home will talk like Yoda or sing to you if you ask. The Amazon Echo or Echo Dot can play Jeopardy and a rhyming game, among others.

We said, “Hey Google, play a game,” and she gave us several choices. Her “Mad Libs” was fun, and got funnier with practice. If you don’t have a Google Home, go to MadTakes.com for something similar. On  your phone, try the free Mad Libs app for Android and iPhones. You can  find games for Alexa in the Amazon Skills section of Amazon.com. Click anything that interests you and then click “enable.” She didn’t do well in our Mad Libs test, but “Silly Sentences” is fun.

Google Home can be a travel agent. Say “Find me non-stop flights,” adding the date, airline and destination. This also works if you have Google Assistant on your phone or Siri on the iPhone or iPad. For Alexa, enable the “Flight Deals” skill.

For meditation, say to Google Home, “Talk to Headspace.” There are three choices: wake up, take a moment, and wind down. On the Echo with Alexa, enable a Meditation skill. Or you could just download the “Headspace” app on your phone.

Find more ideas for Google Home at Domino.com, or by searching on “9 Things You Didn’t Know Google Home Could Do.” For the Amazon Echo, search on “Things Echo Can Do.”

Internuts

  • Eco-Friendly Camp in Botswana

    EurAtlas.com has lots of interesting maps, some for different time periods.

  • OpentheBooks.com tells you where taxpayer money is spent. For instance, the Ivy League colleges received $30 billion dollars in tax dollars between 2010 and 2014. Yet their endowment is already big enough to spend $2 million on each student.
  • 17 Charts Show the U.S. is not as Developed as You Think.” Search on that phrase to find some surprising statistics. For instance, eleven countries have more hospital beds per 1,000 people than the U.S. does. Japan has 13, we have three.
  • 10 Incredibly Beautiful Eco-Friendly Places to Visit.” Live with reindeer herders, for example. Our dentist said they had the best steaks he ever ate.

 

 

 

 

BACKUP BLUES

 

Joy tried to clear up Bob’s startup screen by dragging half the stuff into Windows’ Documents folder. It turned out to be a vanishing act!

Gone was his story about Atlantis and a couple of detective action pieces. And doing a global search to find them, found nothing. Joy was a wee bit upset. She was only trying to help Bob back up his files. She even used the “copy,” command instead of “move,” which should have prevented such losses, but it didn’t. The universe is a strange place.

She used Windows 10’s own backup tool called “File History.” After all, it’s there. But it has to be turned on. You’d think it would be on by default when you started up Windows, but no. We were assured that any changes we made to a document would still be there, even if the document was destroyed or lost.

Should you want to take this trip yourself, here’s the ticket: To use the built-in backup, type “File History” into the search box in Windows 10. Then choose “More Options.” Now choose how often the backup should occur. (We chose every 10 minutes.) Next we looked at the list of stuff to be automatically backed up. The only folder on the list we cared about was “Documents.”  So we clicked on “Music,” “Links” and others to skip.   The backup takes place zip quick and only covers the stuff we care about. If you don’t click on stuff to skip the backup takes a long time.

To recover a document, repeat the File History steps and scroll to the bottom of the screen where it says “restore files from a current backup.” Click the file you want and click the big green arrow. It restores the item to its original location. We tested this by deleting a file we didn’t care about and then recovering it. That’s where many backup programs go wrong, so it’s important to make a test of the recovery feature — make up some nonsense file to use as a test. If all goes well, then … all is well.

He Can See Clearly Now

A reader writes that he never could get used to bifocals so he turned to “computer glasses” for reading his computer screen. These are a step-down from his regular prescription. That’s what Joy uses too.

A doctor might not think to prescribe computer glasses unless you ask for them. Joy’s tri-focal lenses supposedly had a sweet spot in the middle, for computer work, but they were way off: She has to tilt her head back to get the right angle, and reading was tough too. Someone (was it Bob?) stepped on her dedicated pair of computer glasses so we ordered a new one online and they’re incredible. She prefers them for reading too.

The reader says his computer glasses were recommended by an eye surgeon. “Really amazing,” he writes. “They’re made to focus in the two-foot range.”

Internuts

App Happy

  • One of the great horror writers of all time, Edgar Allen Poe, has his own app. It’s called “iPoe,” and it’s $2 for the iPad, iPhone or Android device. It adds creepy music, animations, and haunting pictures. Not real scary.
  • Toca Lab: Plants,” from Toca Boca, is a $3 app for Android, Kindle and iPad/iPhone. The maker says children love it; bored the bezeeus out of us. You start with a cartoon plant and experiment your way to 35 different plant classes.

Using Word on Your Phone

Creating a Microsoft Word document on your phone might feel like an exercise in self inflected pain, since the screen is so tiny. Typing is tough, but dictation is easier, using the free Word app for Android and iPhone/iPad/iPod.

On an iPhone or Android phone, sign in to your Microsoft account. If you don’t have one, go to OneDrive.com and create one; they’re free. Then start a new document. When you click inside it, a keyboard comes up with a tiny microphone. Tap it to dictate. Click the top of the document to reveal the “Save” command. Your document is automatically saved to the cloud. You can find it again at OneDrive.com.

Zip it Up

The ability to zip a file to save storage space goes back to the earliest days of Windows. In fact, the “WinZip” program is now out in version 21 for $30.  But why pay $30 when you could use the free program 7-Zip?

Well, the answer to that depends on how much free cash you have and how many features you want. WinZip 21 has a lot of extra features. For example, you can encrypt a file, so it takes a password to open it. If it’s an image, you can add a watermark, so no one can copy it without revealing their thievery. You can click to zip and email the file, send it in a text message, or save it to your private space on the web.

The Numbers Report

The three best cities for computer gamers are Orlando, Seattle and Austin, according to a WalletHub.com report. But some cities score higher on other variables.

  • Las Vegas has the most video-game stores per person, Memphis the fewest.
  • Pittsburgh has the highest average download speed, around 15 megabits per second, three times faster than Honolulu, the slowest.
  • Gilbert, Arizona has the highest share of households with a broadband connection, 94 percent, almost twice as high as Detroit.
  • Durham, North Carolina has the cheapest monthly internet cost, $40, two and a half times cheaper than Anchorage, Alaska, where the cost is more than $100 a month.

 

 

WI-FI BLUES

A reader wrote us to say he’s barely able to connect to the Internet wirelessly, even though his phone is just 20 feet away from his AT&T router. Two bars is the best he gets. We told him to call AT&T, since they’ll replace his router or add a booster for free; it’s part of the monthly contract. However, that may not work.

What he’s opened up is a much larger problem that many people experience, and it’s definitely worth going into. It is a trickier subject than it first appears. The subject of radio broadcasts (which is what your wireless modem is doing) and receiving them is a special field of its own in electrical engineering. Antenna design can require some heavy mathematics. Even when the calculations are right, the results are often dicey. Broadcasts can be affected by changes in air temperature, moisture and most of all by what is in between — particularly walls, the thicker the worse.

For instance, we couldn’t get a wireless Internet connection to our bedroom, even though it’s just 25 feet from the office router. Naturally we called AT&T. A technician came out and installed a Netgear booster but that didn’t help. We gave it back to AT&T and bought a “Google Wi-Fi,which is a signal booster slightly thicker than a hockey puck. At first, it worked perfectly. But after a few minutes the signal dropped out.

At that point, Bob brought up the three magic words of wireless reception: “line of sight.” Manufacturers of modems and other signal generators will typically claim a “range of up to 200 feet,” Yeah, if everything’s perfect. They’re talking about the line of sight between broadcast and receiver being clear of all obstacles. Walls are obstacles.

Joy had put the Google Wi-Fi booster next to the office modem. It seemed reasonable, but from there the wireless signal had to go through a closet stuffed with extra equipment and cables, through two tiled bathroom walls, a hall bookcase, then a bedroom wall and all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary. Books can block an astonishing amount of radiation.

By simply moving the Google signal booster (it has a long cord) so that the signal only had to go through one wall, it was Bingo time. The signal to the Amazon Echo Dot (you know: Alexa) in the bedroom was strong and constant. This will work for anyone with reception problems: remember “line of sight.” Keep that transmission lane as open as possible.

An observant reader could point out we might have improved signal clarity just by moving the AT&T router instead of buying a booster unit. The AT&T technician should have thought of that too, but didn’t. In any event, it was worth a few bucks to get a booster that can be moved around to get the best line of sight.

A New Browser

It’s hard to leave your browser. We remember the first one we ever tried, Netscape Navigator, back in the 1990s. Then there was Internet Explorer (in all its many incarnations), Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Google Chrome, which we’re sort of stuck on. However, the new Vivaldi browser is really interesting.

Vivaldi is available free from Vivaldi.com and places a lot of extra tools at your disposal. Click the “Notes” icon to make a to-do list or notes page that lives next to the main window, but can be toggled on or off. Click the downloads icon to see your recent downloads. If you tap the F2 key on your keyboard, you can get a list of things to do, such as clear your browsing data, get a list of keyboard shortcuts, open a privacy page, and so on. If you close a tab by mistake, just click the trash can. It has a list of everywhere you’ve been.

Vivaldi comes with a lot of built-in recommendations for where to go on the web. Click on the bookmark symbol to see folders full of possibilities. Under technology, there are over 20 leading sites. There are lots of options under entertainment, news, travel, business and games too.

Vivaldi was created by one of the founders of the Opera browser. Like Opera, it is at its root based on the Chrome browser. It’s like a highly customizable version of Chrome. For more info, search on the ph

rase “9 Reasons to Switch to Vivaldi.” A reason not to switch? Adding an extra layer to Chrome, as Vivaldi does, could slow things slightly.

Internuts 

99bitcoins.com has a list of who accepts Bitcoins, the virtual currency. We were surprised to see Subway, Microsoft, Dell, Bloomberg, Expedia, and T-Mobile Poland on the list. A single Bitcoin now trades around $2,600 in US currency.

Fifteen Crazy Things People Have Found in Their Homes.” Google that phrase to find an amazing list. A husband and wife found a Marvel comic book from 1938 worth $1.5 million. Another family found a fully-stocked servants kitchen, complete with pots and pans hanging on the wall, hiding behind junk in the basement. A couple others found cash –$45,000 in one case, $50,000 in another. 

High Jump: Cosmos, the Infographic Book of Space.” Search on that phrase to find out how high you could jump on Pluto, a comet, the moon, and many other places. When you click “jump,” you see a stick figure jump. On Pluto, you could jump around 25 feet. If you made it to comet “67P,” you could jump thousands offeet; landing would be tough though.

Most Interesting Libraries in the World.” Google that for quite a show of beautiful places to read a book. Google “28 Most Spectacular Libraries” for even more. Worth traveling.

 

WHO’S THAT?

There are an estimated 220 million fake people on Facebook. So how can you tell who’s who?

Fake identities are the third most common complaint, according to the Federal Trade Commission, so we tried a free app, “Legitifi” that tries to find out if the person you’re about to hire or date is who they say they are.  It’s touted for checking out babysitters, dates, handymen, caregivers, and could be used even for ride services and airline passengers.

Legitifi’s identity-checking algorithm does some obvious things, like checking  whether the same person posts under more than one name on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites. The only dating site they check is Tinder.com. If a social media profile is too new, that also raises a flag.

There’s a big catch to all this: The person you want to check has to agree to install Legitifi first. We suppose it’s a red flag if the person refuses to install the app, but it could also be embarrassing to ask new friends and neighbors to be Legitified. Once they’ve installed the app, they can have others vouch for them. You’ll see a list of “vouchers” off to one side. We immediately wondered if criminals would vouch for each other. Seems likely, but you can check their ratings too. If someone is a registered sex offender, you’ll get a message as “possibly dangerous, may include criminal convictions,” even if they’ve never installed the app. NOTE: You can also do this by simply by asking Google for a list of sex offenders in your neighborhood, county or zip code.

So Just Remember This

Joy is always forgetting where she put her phone, her keys, and other items. Bob only forgets when she doesn’t forget, so as to complete the circle and create harmony in the universe. Now she can tell “Google Home,” the little device with the digital assistant inside, to remember it for her.

She starts by saying “Hey, Google: Remember that …” and then fills in the three dots with whatever she wants: “Hey Google,” she says: “Remember that my phone is usually on the kitchen table,” and Google answers that she’ll remember that.  Should you forget what your Google Home remembers, you can just ask: “Hey Google, what did I ask you to remember?” It could be a long list, with old birthdays and things to do. To clear it out, just say “Hey Google, forget what I asked you to remember.”

Amazon’s competing device, “Alexa,” can do the same. If you enable the “Remind Me” skill, you simply say “Alexa, remind me about Veronica’s birthday.” (Of course you may not know anybody named Veronica, and she may not play the harmonica, on the beach at Santa Monica, but should it ever come up that’s how you would do it.)

Internuts

  • If You Spend Most of Your Day Sitting Down, Be Aware of this Weird Health Risk . This link has information about the consequences of sitting too much. Americans sit more than the Swedish, Germans, Japanese and the people of every other industrialized country. What happens from prolonged sitting? Your butt muscles refuse to fire, resulting in what they call “dead butt syndrome.” (Don’t let this happen to you.)
  • Eight Coolest Ted Talks on Psychology.” Ted talks are found at Ted.com. But there are so many, it’s hard to separate the good stuff from the kinda pointless. By Googling this phrase, you can find some of the all-time winners, such as Rebecca Saxe, talking about mind reading. This has been viewed over 2.8 million times. (You’d think they would just get the message telepathically.)
  • Ten Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter.” This link has Inc Magazine’s list of the most-cited online radio shows. Number one is by a guy named Tim Feriss, who writes books like “The Four-Hour Work Week” and “The Four-Hour Body,” both of which have a number of ridiculous self-help suggestions. Number two is James Altucher, who we heard in person several years ago at an investor’s conference. He said “You can’t go wrong buying Apple.” (Well, he was both right and wrong, as it bounced around.)

App Happy

  • Doorman” lets you schedule your packages for delivery between 6 p.m. and midnight, using their own staff to do so. If you’re traveling, you can put them on hold for up to 30 days. The service costs $19 a month. Works for US Mail, FedEx and UPS.
  • Audible Channels” are free for Amazon Prime members. You can listen to programs and lectures on your way to work, exercising or trying to nap. Joy is currently hooked on interviews with recipients of the MacArthur “Genius” award. Google the phrase “Audible Channels” for more info.

Adding a Password to Windows XP

A reader wondered how to add a “lock screen” to her Windows XP computer. “Lock screen” is a function that prevents anyone from using your computer unless they know the password.

Windows XP is a little behind in this area; Windows 10, Windows 8 and the Mac all make you sign on with a password before you can get to work. Here’s how to set that up in Windows XP: Click “Start” then “Control Panel.” Click “User Accounts.” (If you’re in “list view,” look to the end of the list, since it’s alphabetical.) Now look for “Pick the Account You Want to Change,” and click your user name. Then click “Create Password.”

Too Many Text Messages

If text messages are filling up your phone, here’s how to manage them without having to delete them one by one:

On an iPhone, go to “Settings” and click “Messages.” Under “Keep Messages,” change the “Forever” setting to either one year or 30 days. On an Android phone, click “Settings,” then click “All Apps.” From there, click the message app you use. In either “Messages,” or “Messenger,” click “Storage” then “Clear Data.”

Courtesy of the Washington Post

The Numbers Report

Here are some Facebook facts, according to Zephoria, a market research firm:

  • Facebook has 1.94 billion active monthly users.
  • The most common age bracket is 25 to 34 — about 30 percent of all users.
  • Five new profiles are created every second.
  • Seventy six percent of women use Facebook; 66 percent of men do.
  • Three hundred million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day.
  • Every 60 seconds, 510,000 comments are posted.

 

 

 

HELP!

Ask My Buddy” is a free app for sending an alert to everyone you know, without reaching for your phone or computer. It works just by voice on a Windows 10 computer, a Google Home device or the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. Plenty more like these are coming out soon.

With Windows 10’s built-in voice recognition program, Cortana, you can say “Ask My Buddy to Alert Everyone” and everyone on your contact list will get an immediate phone call, text message and email. Or you can confine it to a single person. Cortana isn’t great unless you’ve trained it by using it a lot, but the Google and Amazon devices are quite good at recognition. For Windows, we found we had to type the command in the Windows search box.

If you use Google Home, there’s now a shortcut available. Instead of saying “Ask My Buddy to Alert Everyone,” you can say “Ok Google, call everyone,” or whatever words you choose.  (We tried “Help,” but that confused Google Home, since it also responds to “help” as an ordinary word.) With Google Home, your voice command sends an emergency text, email and phone call  to any group of people. To set it up, read the instructions at AskMyBuddy.net. It involves using Google Home’s “shortcut” setting.

Using the Echo Dot with Alexa, we said “Ask My Buddy to alert Louise.” Our friend Louise got both a text message, an email and a phone call. A voice on her phone said “Joy Schwabach sent you an alert. Please check now.”

The free version lets you send 30 messages a month to five contacts. For $5 a month, you can send 400 messages a month to ten contacts. (If you have to send 400 emergency messages a month you probably should be in intensive care.)

Microsoft Knows You

Microsoft is very touchy about who owns what. If you don’t have a legal copy of Windows, they don’t want to know you. So what do you do when you have to replace your computer’s hard drive and put in a new one? Do you have to go out and buy another copy of Windows? No way.

A reader told us his computer’s hard drive died, so he replaced it. He pointed out that it was a very easy thing to do, and we quite agree. A couple of Phillips screwdrivers is all you need.

But what now? What he had installed was a blank hard drive. So he Googled the words: “Windows 10 boot disk.” Following the directions, he saved the free boot disk program to a thumb drive. Any external storage drive will do. He inserted the thumb drive into a USB port and the computer booted right up. It not only booted up, it recognized that he was a valid Windows 10 license holder and installed the operating system. They knew! Their spies are everywhere.

Hail Norton!

Our test computer, a five year-old HP Pavilion desktop, recently died. In attempting to resuscitate it, we reversed our opinion of Norton Internet Security, which for many years had been at the bottom of our list of acceptable programs. Times change and we guess we have to too.

It all started when we got a screen message saying: “No boot disk has been detected or the disk has failed.” Bad news. So we bought a new hard drive for $40 on Amazon and struggled to get the case open on our all-in-one, a machine whose hard drive is inside the monitor. This turned out to be surprisingly difficult. We never had a problem with this before, but the case in this one seems to be bomb proof.

But Bob had a thought: What if it’s just like one of those creature feature movies and the thing from the swamp isn’t really dead? So we tried it one more time, and … It was alive!  But it was alive in an earlier time, back in Windows 7. We got out the CDs that came with the computer and reinstalled them. They took our computer back to the day we bought it and in doing so we learned a lot. (For instance, the volcanoes have cooled and the dinosaurs are gone.) In the process, we got Norton anti-virus. And both the program (Norton) and the computer we used to hate are now lightning fast.

A word about Norton which has been bashed by reviewers for many years. We may even have started it, since there was no question it had more problems than a teenager starting high school. Norton stopped talking to us. (Why is it that when something isn’t working right and you point out that it isn’t working right, the people who made the thing that isn’t working right, hate you?) But times change and so has Norton.

In summation, we have calmed down, and the computer worked well even after it updated to Windows 8. We are happy using a five year-old, lightning fast Windows 8 computer for Joy’s creative work, a Windows 10 laptop for Bob’s, and an Acer Chromebook to go online and cast movies to our TV. (We also use a $70 refurbished XP machine for programs that don’t run in Windows 8 or 10.) If using old equipment and old operating systems scares you, remember that Microsoft says it will support Windows 8.1 until 2023 and Windows 7 until 2020.

Internuts

  • Google “eclipse simulator” or go to EclipseMega.movie/simulator to see how the upcoming August 21st solar eclipse will look in your area. (This turns out to be amazingly boring.)
  • People Sharing Pics of their Cats Acting Weird.” Google that to find some startling cat photos. One of them likes to hang upside down from a shower-curtain bar. Another hops around on its hind legs. Weird.
  • 11 Brilliant Resume Tricks that Worked.” Google that to turn up an article from Mental Floss. Tip one: Keep it clean. You have 15 seconds to get their attention; whaddya gonna do? Keep it clean.

 

 

GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED

It seems like a lot of the people we meet want to be writers. And they have a great subject for a novel: it’s about them. A good start might be finding an agent. Nowadays, you can find them online.

QueryTracker.net lists over 1500 literary agents, with brief information about each. It’s free to sign up, and the site can keep track of how many pitch letters you’ve sent, where they went and when. This could prevent some embarrassing moments, like sending the same letter to the same agent several times.

Click on any agent’s name to find out the kinds of authors they represent. Some prefer pitch letters by email, others ask you to fill out a form online.  Click on “success stories” to see some sample pitch letters and other strategies. We read about a novelist who sent 120 pitch letters before nabbing an agent.

Bob noticed that all of the success stories were about women. Is this an oddity or a trend? Certainly, women use more words than men to describe people and situations and this could be an advantage in stretching a story to novel length. The road to publication is still long and hard however; J.K. Rowling’s book about a young boy learning to be a magician was rejected by 12 publishers. We wonder if it ever had any success.

Internuts

  • 12 Life-changing Challenges You Can Try as 30 Day Projects” has an article from MakeUseOf.com.  One challenge is to doodle every day. Another is to drop a bad habit for 30 days. Or watch 30 documentaries. Or go outside.
  • The most disproportionately well-paying jobs in each state” has an interesting map showing which jobs make the most money compared to the national average for that job. Waiters make more in Vermont. Tile and marble setters make more in Massachusetts. Teachers make more in Rhode Island. Judges make more in California. Prison wardens make more in New Jersey. (Understandable.) Dentists make more in Ohio. There are four states where coaches and talent scouts do well.
  • Groupon.com/Coupons claims to have 79,811 coupons at 11,950 stores. Some are better than others. We clicked on “TJ Maxx” but it took us to the home page of the website. Same thing happened with Vera Bradley. At SwimSpot, the coupon was dead on arrival and they wanted $40 to ship a tiny one-piece bathing suit. We finally hit pay dirt at Kohls with 20 percent off. This coupon stuff is hard work. We hope the readers share their favorite coupon sites.

The Numbers Report

  • Podcasts are listened to by 67 million people each month, according to Zephoria Inc, a marketing firm. Smartphones are the new radio for millennials18 to 34. There are over 300,000 podcasts, on subjects as diverse as woodworking and politics. The top podcasts – which can draw hundreds of thousands of downloads – attract advertisers.
  • One quarter of all U.S. households have “cut the cord,” as they say, and no longer pay for cable TV. The numbers are growing; our guess is the industry is not.

Facebook Porn

A reader says she’s been plagued by offensive ads on Facebook, even after deleting her account three times. Sounds like a virus. We, for example, have never seen an offensive ad on Facebook.

To get rid of a virus, you can run your anti-virus software or download a free program such as Avast or Avira. Also run the free MalwareBytes, from MalwareBytes.com.

If you’re still getting annoying Facebook ads, here’s what to do. Click the upper right corner of the ad and choose “hide ad.” If you never want to see those ads for stewed prunes again, you won’t.

Our reader was also bothered by robo-calls on her cell phone. Who isn’t? We got rid of ours with “TrueCaller,” a free app. It stores those junky phone numbers on its database of caller IDs. It has such a long list of spam callers, we only had to add another one once; the other spam calls were blocked automatically.

Free Games

Bob is fond of the simple computer game “Little Brick Out,” or sometimes “Breakout.” (Actually this is an historically important game, since Steve Wozniak, designer of the Apple computer, also liked it, and made the Apple have a color display so he could play it.)

You can go to Images.Google.com and type “Atari Breakout” to play a standard version or click here. The game comes right up, ready to play.

Type “PacMan” or “Solitaire” in the Google search box to play two more of the most addictive games ever. Other things to try searching for:  “Do a barrel roll”, “askew”, “<blink>“, “roll a die,” “timer,” and “flip a coin.” (With the barrel roll, it’s your screen that does it, not you.)

Pop-Ups versus Notifications

We’re not bothered by pop-ups when we use Google Chrome, the leading web browser, ahead of Firefox, Safari and others. But we have been  bedeviled by “notifications.” A website called “LiveScience,” for example, popped up with alerts every few seconds. (They also provided misinformation, like telling us gasoline was heavier than water, which it is not.) Here’s how to get rid of those and others.

On your computer, click the three vertical dots in the upper right of your Chrome browser window. Click “Settings.” Click “Advanced Settings.” Scroll down till you get to the “Privacy” area. Click “Content Settings.” Now look at “Pop-ups” and make sure they’re disabled. Then scroll to “Notifications.” Click “Manage Exceptions” and click to disable any that you don’t want popping up.

On your phone, tap the three vertical dots in the Chrome browser and look at the “Privacy” settings. Disable anything you don’t want popping up.

 

 

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

Our attention was captured recently by a Wall Street Journal article about executives playing video adventure games. One was 34, another 49. Their ages were apparently meant to surprise us, but in fact it’s normal.

There has always been an assumption that only kids play video games. It depends on the game. In fact, in the decades we have been writing this column — and it is the oldest and longest running technology column in the known universe (and parts of New Jersey) — the great majority of video game players have ranged from their mid 20s on up. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average male player is 35, the average woman 44.

We’re talking about complex games like Call of Duty, Clash of Clans, League of Legends, WarCraft, etc. These games outsell hit movies, and they’re a good deal for the entertainment dollar since they can be played for years, not just a couple of hours.

Games like these require teamwork, strategy, and initiative, which also requires lots  of thinking. A dozen people can play together. You can make treaties with opponents, contracts, agree on terms — and there is often not one opponent but several. Breaking treaties and other agreements can be costly, since you become known as unreliable and others won’t deal with you. This is way beyond kid’s stuff and it’s great fun.

Finding Someone’s Phone Number Online

A reader asked whether we could recommend a way to find someone’s phone number, without paying for one of those fancy search services. We have three ways: Google, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Go to Google.com and type something like “Joe Doe phone number.” The number comes up surprisingly often. Of course you don’t happen to be looking for Joe Doe, though we did come across an actual Joe Doe once.

If the phone number doesn’t Google up, go to Facebook and type the person’s name in the search box. There are two billion active users on Facebook, half a billion more just lounging around. That is enough people to have a decent shot at finding someone. Should that fortunate chance happen to you, click on it. There will be a box for you to send a message. Send one. Ask the person to call you or provide their phone number. The message is private, the equivalent of an email.

Things are moving right along here. Way three is LinkedIn. Bob found Joy’s long-lost brother that way. Took almost a minute. LinkedIn charges you to message someone who isn’t part of your LinkedIn contact list, but there’s a way around that: Click the “connect” button appearing next to your friend’s name. If they agree to talk to you or at least hear what you have to say, you can then write them for free — and ask for their phone number while you’re at it.

The Readers Unroll

We heard from several readers after we wrote about Unroll.me, a site that lets you get all your newsletters in a single email each day. Recently, Unroll.Me made the news over privacy issues and some readers were alarmed.

We, by the way, are never alarmed, and this is why: The same Unroll.Me “bot” that scrambles around and gathers your emails into a single message also collects data which is sold. However, your name is not attached, making it zombie data. Your activities could be used for marketing purposes, with your age, sex, marital status, location, etc (if they have any of that), but so what. Bob thinks this whole privacy fear is way overdone.

Meanwhile, back at the database … many other companies, like Facebook and Google gather information about their users so they can target ads. In a post, an Unroll.Me executive said that Gmail collects far more data than Unroll.me could ever roll up. Well put. In short, they will send you ads for stuff you seem to be interested in. Presumably, if you are interested in said stuff you might even find the ads interesting.

If any of this bothers you, go to “optout.aboutads.info.”  It’s run by the Digital Advertising Alliance and allows you to opt out of all targeted ads. You’ll still see ads, but they won’t be related to your interests. (Is this an advantage?) To tailor ads to your own preferences, search on the phrase “Google Ads Settings.”

App Happy

  • Seriously radio show: The Americanization of British English

    Pocket Casts” is a $4 app that makes it easy to find the best “podcasts,” another word for online radio. We listened to “Seriously,” an assortment of BBC documentaries for the relentlessly curious, and “Horizon Line,” which offers a new adventure story each week. Listen online or off. If you download an episode, you can easily delete it later. We normally don’t pay for apps, but this is exceptional.

  • Venmo” lets you pay a friend back or even a store with a few taps of your phone. Our visiting niece Amy used it to buy bubble tea at a nearby café.

The Numbers Report

  • BakerHostetler, a national law firm, looked at 450 hack attacks they’d been called in to solve and 43 percent were due to so-called “phishing” or malware. That’s an increase of 12 percent over last year. (These things usually happen when you click on a link that then automatically installs software that takes over your computer.) Thirty-two percent of all such problems were caused by employees error. Eighteen percent were caused by lost or stolen devices. Four percent were due to criminal attacks, and three percent to internal theft. The law firm says these numbers are typical for businesses.
  • One third of all smartwatches (mostly Apple) are abandoned by users, who found them boring or not as useful as expected, according to a report by Gartner Research.