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.”

 

 

 

IF IT MOVES, SHOOT IT

Time to stop worrying and line up your gun sights. Video games are not making us more violent.

In Victorian times, people feared the effect of novels on the young. John Locke worried about their eating too much fruit. Then in the 1950’s, rock ‘n roll was the boogie man. Now people fear video games. There’s still time to panic.

Most video gamers are not children. The average age is around 30. As the Economist Magazine points out, “violent crime in America has fallen as games have become popular.” A study in Britain recently found that crimes committed by teenagers there are down a whopping 86 percent.

This is even better news than you’d think. Bob predicted a decade ago that video games would outpace movie box office. That pace keeps accelerating. Video games are a $150 billion-a-year industry now, nearly five times what movies are expected to bring in this year. Things will get worse, or maybe better, depending on which company’s stock you own.

Super Mario Brothers and its spin-offs have grossed $34 billion, according to Wikipedia. The highest-grossing movie franchise, Marvel Cinematic Universe, grossed $18 billion. The currently-hot game, “Red Dead Redemption 2,” brought in $725 million in its first three days, behind only the film “Avengers: Endgame”, and “Grand Theft Auto V,” a game from 2013.

Google has a new streaming video service for games. It’s called “Stadia.” It doesn’t have a lot of games yet, but includes some of the hottest titles. It costs $129 to join and $10 a month after the first three months. (The once-you-got-‘em, keep ‘em business model.) The price includes a controller and a Chromecast, to put the games on your TV. Microsoft is launching an “XCloud” service in 2020, similar to Stadia, and Amazon is expected to follow. Time to stock up the refrigerator and sit back in a comfy chair.

Blue Light Blues

 Joy ordered new glasses for computer work after she broke her old ones. But she forgot to get the kind that filters blue light. There’s a fix for that.

 But first, why care about blue light? That’s the kind we get from the sun. The thing to remember is: We don’t stare into the sun. But we do stare at our screens. According to PreventBlindness.org, blue light from electronics can cause eye strain, irritated eyes and difficulty focusing. At night, it makes you too alert to fall asleep quickly.

 In Windows 10, type “Night Light” into the search bar. When it comes up, move a slider knob to the left to get a softer, slightly-orange, glow. The settings have an automatic turn on and turn-off time, but you can adjust these to get almost continual soft light. We chose 5 p.m. for our turn-on time and 4:45 p.m. the next day for our turn-off time, which gives us only 15 minutes of harsh light. After selecting each time, click the checkmark to save it.

 On a Mac, type “Night Shift” into the search settings, and go from there. For more info, see the article at DigitalTrends.com called “How to Use a Blue Light Filter on your PC or Mac.” If you want a softer light on your smartphone or tablet, search for an app, using the phrase “Night Shift on iOS” or “Night Shift on Android.”

 Internuts

 ● “How Well Can You Decode Text Message Slang?” Search on that phrase to find several articles. For example, “Ship,” stands for “relationship,” as in: “I totally ship you guys,” which means you think they’d make a great couple. “Sus” means “suspicious.” “IKR” means, “I Know, Right?” and “JSYK” means “Just So You Know.”

 GreenChef.com and HelloFresh.com are two new meal kit services Joy likes. In her experience, they make good gifts.But you don’t want to keep paying for them forever, which is the latest marketing trend. If you order one under your own name, you can cancel it before the second week begins.

 Going Abroad

We mentioned in a previous column that we wondered why a reader didn’t use her sister’s Google Fi phone abroad, since there are no extra data charges. However, the reader was talking about phone calls, not using Skype, Facetime, or some other app for WiFi calls.

 Regular calls on Google Fi cost 20 cents a minute in over 200 countries. A ten-minute call would cost $2. You might do better with a local SIM card, but this way you don’t have to get one. Google also offers a new unlimited calling plan for $80 a month, which includes free calls from the U.S. to just about any other country.

 Digitizing CDs

 We were thinking of using MusicShifter.com to digitize our CDs. Then we’d donate the physical disks to charity.

 But a reader told us this isn’t kosher. “You can’t get rid of the original recordings as planned,” he writes, “you’re going to have to hold onto them as long as you have the copies. The way the copyright law is written, you can make all the copies you want, but they have to remain in your possession, along with the original CDs.” After hearing this, Joy thought we’d better keep them all, but Bob said “fuggedaboutit.” (He’s spent some time in New Jersey.) Then we decided we like CDs.

 The reader adds that ripping the CDs is a good idea no matter what you intend to do with them. “At some point, CD players are going to go the way of the dodo,” he says.

 

PROTECTION

Malwarebytes.org is a great way to protect your computer or phone and it’s free.

The download used to be the premium version which only worked for 14 days. To continue your freebie, you had to go into the settings of your account and turn off the premium version. This wasn’t obvious, so many people continued paying for years. We did.

The difference between Malwarebytes Free and Malwarebytes Premium is this: the free version cleans up problems after they’ve occurred. The premium version gives you protection in advance. For safety’s sake, we decided on a lifetime subscription to the premium version. This is no longer available. Now the premium version costs $40 per year.

Even with the best protection though, it’s a good idea to watch yourself, especially on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Malwarebytes.org suggests going to a store’s website instead of searching for it. This is a good idea whenever you know the name of the company you want. We’ll never forget the time we searched on “Sony support” and ended up on a bogus site. The smooth-voiced gent that came on the line advised us that we had a bad virus situation and took control of our computer with one of those remote control programs. The screen began to fill with hundreds of error messages we’d never heard of, and he said: “Well you can see the problem. But we can fix that. It will cost $299.” Joy was on the phone by that time. “Hang up,” Bob said. “What,” Joy said. “Hang up,” Bob said again. And so it went, until Joy had an “Aha! moment” and hung up.

Other safety tips: Ignore pop-up ads, avoid scams on Facebook, and never use a debit card or a public WiFi connection to shop. There are more tips at blog.malwarebytes.com.

Let There Be Music

Lately we’ve been using the free “Google Play Music” to play the music we like.

Google Play Music lets you store up to 50,000 songs on their site for free. Even a long classical piece is considered a song. An easy way to upload them is to use the free “Music Manager,” which you can find by searching on the phrase “Google Music Manager.”

Whenever you put new music on your computer, the Music Manager will automatically upload it to your private account in Google Play Music, which is a free app for Android, iPhone or on the web at play.google.com/music. Alternatively, there’s a free extension for Chrome users, but it doesn’t work well.

Speaking of frustrations, sometimes we land on a page asking us to pay for Google Play Music. We fell for that last year but later decided we didn’t need the $15-a-month premium version. The premium version takes out the ads and gives you 40 million choices, plus commercial-free radio. But if you just plan to hear your own music list, there are no ads anyway. Or you could turn the volume down when ads are playing. Spotify, which is similar, is $10 a month. Playing our computer’s music files on the Spotify desktop app worked fine, but we couldn’t figure out out to play them on Spotify’s mobile app.

To get music from CDs into digital form so they’re ready to upload to Google Play, use Windows Media Player, iTunes, or a free program like Media Monkey to convert them into digital files. A savvy reader points out that the version of Windows Media Player for Windows 7 and 8.1 may be discontinued soon. His clue: There is no longer a website to connect to for information about each piece.

Internuts

  • How old is that dog? Search on the phrase “Calculate Your Dog’s Age with this New, Improved Formula.” to find out The calculation is exponential: A two year-old dog is equal to a 42 year-old human, a five-year old dog is 57, and a 10 year-old dog is 68. The American Kennel Club, however, disagrees. They say a two year-old is 24, and after that each year of a dog’s life is equal to five human years. By that formula, Joy’s dog lived to be 99. He was still going strong until he accidentally ingested something poisonous.
  • The Strangest Questions Ever Asked of New York City Librarians.” Search on that phrase to find examples, such as: “What kind of apple did Eve eat?” Or: “Do you have any inspirational materials on grass and lawns?” Check with your local librarian for their favorite questions.
  • Wireless Passwords From Airports and Lounges Around the World.” Search on that phrase to find all the passwords you need to connect to WiFi at major airports. We saw passwords for the Admiral’s Club, for the Delta Sky Club and many more.
  • MyFridgeFood.com. Check off the items you have in your fridge from their list, and you’ll get recipes. When you see a good one, click “Bookmark it” and it’s saved on the site. You can filter results to make recipes for vegetarians, diabetics etc. Or restrict it to a category like sandwiches, appetizers or salads.

A Pox on Subscriptions

A reader writes that he’s getting a new computer but doesn’t want to get the new version of Quicken accounting software, with a yearly cost of $35 for the starter edition. We say, why not use your old software on your new machine?

It’s always great to stick with what you’re used to. According to the Quicken community support pages, anything from Quicken 14 on up will work fine with Windows 10. We’re big fans of old versions. Joy used Microsoft Word 2007 until it finally stop playing nice on her computer. Bob is still using it. (Don’t tell anybody.)

WHERE ARE WE?

Google Earth contrasts Monet painting with actual coast. in “Voyager” feature.

A reader writes: “I have a strange situation. I have a Samsung Galaxy S8 and I can no longer get street names on Google Earth.”

 Google Earth is available as a free app or at Google.com/Earth and shows you an aerial view of any spot on the planet. You can zoom it. There’s no escape.

 To make the street names appear, we thought at first the reader just needed to tap the hamburger icon (three stacked lines), choose “Map Style” and then choose “Everything.” The default position is to leave “Everything” off. But he’d already tried that. You’re probably thinking it’s just him, but he does get street names on his tablet, which runs the same version of Google Earth. We tried it on our Chromebook, desktop and Pixel 2 phone and it worked fine. Apparently it doesn’t on the Samsung S8. So mysterious! He says it worked before the latest update.

Bob often rails against updates. They always seem to take something away. Our reader says it reminds him of the 1980s when programmers would tell you how to enter a program but not how to exit. Back then, Joy was always trying to exit a game her young nephews were playing, while Mom was calling them to lunch. Hitting the Escape key sometimes let you escape.

But we do like Google Earth. You can search for things like “capital of Nigeria” and get a three-dimensional view. Tap “Voyager” to get some of Google’s own explorations, complete with panoramas. Tap the dice, or “I feel lucky” button, and wind up on the peak of Mount Dana, in Yosemite, or maybe the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Is that luck?

App Happy

 Tis the season for catalogs, charity solicitations and other junk mail. We turned to “PaperKarma” for relief.

PaperKarma, for iPhone or Android, lets you unsubscribe from any paper mail you’re tired of getting. It’s $2 a month or $20 a year after the free trial, which is good for five opt-outs. They’re best at stopping credit card offers, catalogs, yellow pages and anything addressed to you specifically. They can’t handle mail reading “To our friends and neighbors” or “Occupant.” (Who is this guy?)

Here’s how it works: Tap to scan a mailing label and be sure to include the part with your own name and address. Then tap the check mark, and when the name of the company comes up, tap “unsubscribe.” Occasionally, they get the wrong company, but we were able to choose the right one from a short list. Once you’ve tapped “unsubscribe,” they’ll send an opt-out message to the company. Bob says he doesn’t think the service is worth $20 when there’s a trash can next to the mailbox. Joy says it’s always nice to cut down on waste.

 The solicitations to “Give, Give, Give,” reminds Bob of an essay by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock, who, when he gave $20 in an answer to a plea from his university, received a letter back saying: “The usual donation is $25.”

Handing Out Your Card

 Joy is often asked about one of her favorite organizations, P.E.O. So she decided to make a business card for it with the web address on it.

 She went to Avery.com/templates to use their free designs. We happened to have Avery blank business cards so she printed them herself. But if you don’t want to, let them do it. They’ll print 250 cards for you for around $23. Start by entering a business card size. Avery’s “print to the edge” business card is number 8869.

 An alternative is VistaPrint. They used to give away free business cards if you allowed them to put their website address on the back. That deal may come back, but right now they’re charging $15 for 100, with free shipping. Snapfish.com is good too, for about 8 cents a card, with free shipping on orders over $29.

 Bob’s all-time favorite business card was one that identified the holder as “Some guy I met at a trade show.”

Going Abroad

When a reader and her husband planned a trip to Quebec, Consumer Cellular suggested getting a new SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card for her phone at Target. It worked fine before they crossed the border, but stopped working as soon as they hit Canada.

 The new SIM card would not even connect to the hotel’s Wi-Fi in Montreal or Quebec City. “We limped along,” she said, “communication-wise, with my sister’s Google Fi phone connecting to Wi-Fi each night. Fortunately, there were no crises with the dog-sitting arrangements.”

One way out is to ask your cellphone service to unlock your phone. That way you can buy a local SIM card, at a big discount, compared to roaming charges. Another approach is to buy a cheap, unlocked phone or use a rented phone — then get a local SIM card. Or use the free “Google Hangouts” app on your phone or computer to receive calls and texts whenever you’re in WiFi range.If all else fails, ask your carrier about a short-term international plan.

MOVING UP IN THE WORLD

We’re moving to the highest floor in our apartment building. There’s less storage space but a great view. Do we want to take 300 CDs with us? No way!

 We’ll use MusicShifter.com to digitize them. We hardly ever play CDs anymore anyway, because we’re too lazy to look through them. It’s easier to say, “Alexa, play Benny Goodman.” But that’s a shame because we’ve got lots of CDs worth playing. When was the last time we played the soundtrack for the movie “The Imposters” for example? Far too long ago. Digitizing solves that problem.

 MusicShifter.com will digitize all your CDs onto a thumb drive for 69 cents a CD. When you get your drive back, full of music, there are many options. You could plug it into your computer and play music there. Or you could use the free Google Play Music Manager. We’ve used it before to upload our music to the Internet, which makes the music playable from any of our gadgets, including our phone. The limit is 50,000 songs. If we click on a music file in the manager, then click the “cast” button, it casts the music to our Google Home speaker in the living room or to our TV. Amazon Prime Music is similar and also lets you cast music to another device.

 One nice thing about MusicShifter is their free trial. Send 10 CDs to them and they’ll digitize them for free. They even pay for postage, sending you a free shipping kit with a pre-paid shipping label along with packing materials. Alternatively, you can digitize your own music, just by starting up Windows Media Player, popping a CD into the CD drive of your computer and letting it rip. But this is time consuming if you have a big collection. At eight minutes per CD, it would take us about 40 hours to do the whole shebang.

Music in the Car

 A self-described “old coot” (we like old coots) asked for our help with “Garmin Speak,” a rival to Amazon’s “Echo Auto.” Both devices plug into your car’s power outlet to let you talk to Alexa to play music, get answers to questions and find your way around. But the reader just wants to play music offline through the car stereo on his older-model car.

 We suggested using the $17 “Nulaxy Car FM Transmitter.” You can either put hundreds of songs on a memory stick and insert it into the transmitter, or use a Bluetooth connection to connect to the songs on your phone. We tried it and it worked fine. First we plugged the Nulaxy into the cigarette lighter. (The last time we called it that a reader said: “Do you guys have a 1950s auto?”). Then we turned the dial on the Nulaxy to the same unused radio station that the car radio was tuned to. Voila! It worked for anything we’d downloaded first: Amazon Prime Music, (which has free downloads for Prime members), the Economist Magazine, audio books and podcasts. Using the free app Spotify, we played our favorite classical playlist offline.

Grab the Headlines

 Start.me is a quick way to see a lot of headlines. It’s a website that lets you create your own page full of links to websites like Marketwatch, NPR, CNN, and Fox.

 They call it a bookmark manager and it’s free forever. There’s nothing to install, and no experience is necessary. We started by clicking “start” and then “create new page” to add what they call widgets from categories like entertainment, technology, lifestyle, and sports. A widget gives you a list of headlines from the sites you choose. If you hover over a headline, you get the first paragraph. The widget refills itself with new headlines every day. If you want them to refill sooner than that, it’s $20 a year.

 We chose a quote-of-the day widget to get quotes from nine different people every day. We can hover over a name to get a quote, or click it to get a dozen more from the same person, like this one from Woody Allen: “Organized crime in America takes in over $40 billion a year and spends very little on office supplies.” The quotes change every day without our doing a thing.

 We also added the NPR (National Public Radio) Technology widget. This makes it easy to see the latest tech news. If those nine headlines don’t satisfy us, we can get a new nine. In short, this is a fun way to start your web browsing. Click the “share” button to email your page to a friend.

 Best Fitness Wearable

 Joy’s sister’s Garmin fitness tracker popped out of its band and was run over by a car. It was a hit and run. She asked Joy what she should buy to replace it. Joy suggested replacing it with the same one, Garmin’s $50 VivoFit 3, with one addition.

 The VivoFit 3 band has a very poor clasp and the tracker pops out all the time. But you can get a band with a buckle from Amazon, such as the ones from Mosstek (three for $11). Even though the VivoFit 3 is not a new product, we like it because it’s simpler.

 You can swim with, though it doesn’t distinguish between laps and walks. It gives your a red line when you’ve been sitting longer than an hour, prompting her to move around for two minutes. Its battery only needs changing every couple of years if you don’t bother syncing it to your phone. With some other trackers, you can end up recharging them every few days.