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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IS IT ENOUGH?

A reader writes: “I switched from Norton AntiVirus to Kaspersky. Now, I’ve received a notice that I’ve exceeded the secure connection limits. I don’t even know what this means. Did I make a mistake switching? I paid $20 for it. Norton was $50.”

We found out that the $20 is like a trial subscription for Kaspersky’s anti-virus, because it’s almost impossible to keep within the introductory “connection limits,” which only allow 200 megabytes worth of data per day. An upgrade costs $30 a year and covers five devices, with unlimited data. That’s still cheaper than Norton. After an introductory period, Norton costs $80 a year for one computer. Kaspersky gets excellent reviews but is based in Russia. Because of that connection, the U.S. government has banned its use in federal offices.

You could skip buying an anti-virus program. Experts say it’s enough to use the free Windows Defender, which is part of Windows, and the free version of Malwarebytes.org. Just be careful about opening email attachments and try never to click on suspicious links.

Windows Defender gets good reviews. According to safetydetectives.com, it only slows your web browsing by four percent. The industry average is 10 percent. In addition, Defender yields fewer false positives than competitors and will warn you if you’re about to encounter a malicious website or program. If free programs worry you, the paid version of Malwarebytes.org, for $40, protects against both viruses and malware.

Moving to 4G, the Faster Connection

Another reader wrote to say: “My mother, who has dementia, has a flip phone that she has used for years. She remembers how to dial my number. What will I do when Verizon shuts off service?” He’s referring to the planned cut off of support for 3G phones at the end of the year. Other companies are shutting it off sometime next year or later.

 We told him not to do anything at first. Though the phone won’t get updates and you could lose your connection occasionally, you can always call back, or hit star 69, which tells you the number of the last caller. He agreed: “You can’t change anything they know, even the remote control.”

 What if you have a lot of connection problems? Last week, we thought the new smart feature phone (there are many makers) was worth considering. But there’s another way out. Get a flip phone that works with the 4G network. If you search on the phrase “4G flip phone,” you’ll find half a dozen or more. Examples include the Jitterbug Flip for $75, the Kyocera Cadence S2720 for $77 and the Alcatel “TracFone MyFlip 4G Prepaid Phone for Seniors,” for $15. Reviews average three out of five stars, but for someone who doesn’t want complications, that’s good enough.

Internuts

 

Vegan Thanksgiving Dish

Merriam Webster time traveler.” Search on those words to travel back in time, discovering when certain words were added to the dictionary. For example, in 1844, we got the word “telephone.” In 1974, we got “Internet,” and “junk bond.” The year 1917 added a ton of new words, including “columnist,” “egg foo yong,” “mobster,” “piggy bank,” and “activist.”

 SweetPotatoSoul.com is Chef Jenne Claiborne’s plant-based recipe site. Joy is going to try some of her Thanksgiving recipes.

Bad Connection

We have a Google mesh network to boost the Internet signal in the bedroom, otherwise we can’t connect. But after AT&T sent us a new router, it stopped working. Even the wise heads at Google couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

When we get a bad tech support person, our usual response is to say “we have empty our wastebaskets now.” They go out with the trash. Then, when we call back, we get a new person. But this time the second person was no better than the first.

So we said forget it, who needs a WiFi signal in the bedroom anyway. That’s when we noticed. Bob’s Pixel 3a phone picks up WiFi perfectly, no problem. That’s not the case for Joy’s Pixel 2, her Kindle Fire, the Amazon Echo or the Google Home smart speaker. So sometimes it pays to invest in new technology. Also it lets Bob lord it over Joy.

Google Shortcuts

Here’s a quick way to access Google’s calendar. Just type “cal.new” or “cal.meeting” without the quotes into the address bar when you’re using Google Chrome. A calendar page opens up, ready for you to put in the name of the event, a description, a location and best of all, notifications to alert you when it’s time to go to the event.

Our favorite type of notification is an email sent to us 10 hours in advance. We never fail to look at email, though we often forget to look at our calendar. If you prefer an alert by text message just minutes before the event, choose that instead. Just click “add notification.” You can choose any time period you want for email or text alerts.

Numbers Report

According to Common Sense Media, if a child reaches the age of 11 without getting their first smartphone, they’re in the minority. Around 53 percent of U.S. children have one, and 84 percent of teenagers do. Teenagers spend seven hours a day on their phones, children ages eight to 12 spend five. However, as National Public Radio reports, the survey double counts. If you spend an hour playing a game on your phone while also texting, the survey counts that as two hours. (Mass demonstration from game players to follow.) The biggest use is watching videos: nearly three hours for teens and two and a half hours for the eight to 12 age group.

 

DISCONNECTED

A reader said he bought his first smartphone ever for one reason: His flip phone will no longer work properly if the carrier drops support for 3G (third generation). This was news to us.

Sprint already dropped its support in April in favor of 4G (fourth generation) and 5G (fifth generation). Verizon will no longer support 3G networks after December. AT&T will drop its support in February. T-Mobile is expected to drop support next year or the year after. If you buy a 3G phone from a company that has dropped its support, you can’t activate it. If you already have a 3G phone, it means no more updates. It also means dropped calls. That’s curtains for our old Jitterbug phone.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett famously uses a flip phone. He told NBC News last March that a friend sent him an iPhone, along with a letter telling him it won’t bite. He said he’s screwing up his courage to make the move.

He could go with a dumb-phone-smartphone hybrid, also called a smart-feature phone. They look like the old flip phones, have long battery life, cost around $60, and have basic apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube. The Wall Street Journal says 84 million of them will be sold worldwide this year. However, the top sellers, such as Nokia’s 8110 4G, (how do they come up with these catchy names?) get a lot of bad reviews on Amazon. FakeSpot.com says these reviews are mostly real.

Avoiding the smart-dumb phone, our reader bought the LG “Rebel 4” for $50 on Amazon. We’ve had good experiences with LG Rebels, which are not the very cheapest smartphones you can get. But if you go cheaper than that, you run into problems, like excruciatingly slow processing. The reader is a TracFone customer, which uses the Verizon network. Though TracFone sells the Rebel, it was cheaper to buy it from Amazon. It comes with two gigabytes of data good for 60 days.

Did you ever wonder what “LG” stands for? Bob knows. Because he’s been covering this field for so long, in the early days he met with reps from the company. Back then, it was called “Lucky Goldstar” to encourage good fortune. “LG,” get it? Now they say it stands for Life is Good.

Doctor Stupid

“Dr. A.I.,” short for artificial intelligence, is one of Alexa’s new skills. Bob calls it Dr. Stupid. If you have the free Alexa app on your phone or an Echo smart speaker, you can say, “Alexa, open Dr. A.I.,” and theoretically get a diagnosis of almost any health problem.

When we started it up, Alexa named some common health conditions and asked us to choose one or name our own. Joy chose “headache.” Alexa repeated “headache, worst-ever.” We’re not sure where she got “worst ever,” but it happened every time we tried the app. After telling us that over 8,413 doctors helped her reach her diagnosis, she said: “Wow, that’s a lot of white coats.” The virtual doctors said we might have a brain aneurysm, stroke or “Q fever,” a dangerous infection. Another time, we told her our problem was “sniffles.” This time she suggested the common cold, adding that she doesn’t have a medical degree but could put us on the phone with a real doctor. That would have cost $44. We told her no. It seems like the main purpose of the program is collecting $44 fees.

App Happy

Fetch Rewards” is a free app for Android and iPhone that gives you points when scan a store receipt. To do that, just point the app at the receipt and tap the picture of a camera. Use the points you earn to get discounts in a wide variety of categories, including travel and retail. We got a lot more points for shopping at Target than we did Whole Foods. For pharmacy discounts, swipe the screen at the top of the app until you see “Save on Your Prescriptions Too.” Then use the “SingleCare” code at the pharmacy. We got 24 percent off two prescriptions and 5000 extra points in the app.

Internut

38 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent.” Search on that phrase to find some humdingers in an article at MentalFloss.com. “Kummerspeck” in German means emotional over-eating. It’s literally translated “Grief Bacon.” “Tartle” in Scottish is that panicky feeling you have when you’re about to introduce someone and can’t remember their name. “Pelinti” in the Buli language of Ghana means to move food around in your mouth, when it’s so hot you have to let out steam. “Fremdaschamen” in German is vicarious embarrassment. “Pana po’o” in Hawaiian means the act of scratching your head to remember something, like where you left your keys.

Now Backing Up

When a reader suggested a free backup program, Macrium, we were all for it. Then we ran into a snafu.

We’re not sure what we did wrong, but the restore process aborted in our recent tests. So we switched to Ashampoo Backup Pro 14, which is currently on sale for $25 from ashampoo.com. There’s also a free trial. This is the kind of Windows program we love.

Backup Pro 14 holds your hand. At each stage of the backup process, it gives you easy-to- understand choices, along with the pros and cons of each. For instance, do you want to back up the whole drive, including programs, or just files and folders? Do you want to be able to access the backup from Windows File Explorer? Do you want to pick the files to be backed up? How long do you want to keep the old backups? Do you want your restored files compressed? There were many other questions, all easy to answer. The backup and restore went beautifully in our tests.

SIMPLY SIM

Joy’s Pixel 2 smartphone was blasted by a worker with a hose when she left it in a zip-up container by the side of the pool.  Google sent a free replacement, but it wouldn’t make calls.

We went through many layers of tech support,  chats, email, and phone calls. The phone kept saying “no mobile networks.” In the meantime, we  discovered a free app called “Hangouts Dialer.” With it, you can make free calls over WiFi. We’d already been using Google Hangouts, which brings our voice mail messages and texts inside Gmail.

To get our phone working, Google sent us a physical SIM card to use instead of the “eSIM” we started with. This made us wonder:  “What’s an eSIM and what is it good for?” An “eSIM” is a chip that takes the place of a physical card. The latest Apple iPhones, the XS, XS Max and XR, have an eSIM in addition to a physical SIM card. It’s like two phones in one. You can have a SIM card for work calls and a separate one for personal calls. Or use a locally-purchased SIM card  when traveling internationally to save big bucks. By the way, our phone is working great now.

Lost in Clutterville

Joy was in the habit of misplacing her glasses, laptop and wallet. So she ordered “Tile,” which comes as a sticker or credit card-sized device. Stick them on or in the thing you’re afraid of losing and make them ring loudly when you tap the free app on your phone. 

The funny thing was, as soon as she ordered the Tile Slim for $30 on Amazon, it struck her how silly it is to be always losing things. So she set up a “magic” shelf on a low bookcase next to the dining room table. Now when she’s finished with her laptop, phone, glasses, etc., she puts them back on the magic shelf. It’s magic, because she can always find her things again. Theoretically.

The Tile Slim arrived after several days of never losing anything. She put the credit-card sized Tile in her wallet. In setup, the free app on her phone asked her if she wanted to keep track of a wallet, purse, keys, phone, toy, dog or cat. She practiced ringing her wallet by tapping the app. It rang out a tune nice and loud.

But now she can’t find her wallet. The Tile app says it’s “out of range.” But the app also says it is at our address and there are 4,763 members of the Tile community nearby. We can get an alert if any of their devices picks up our signal. That doesn’t mean they can see our wallet, just that we can get an alert if they’re near it, and see the address they’re at. But if it was in someone else’s apartment at the same address, we’d never know.  It turned out to be in the car, in our building’s garage. 

A Cheap Office

Ashampoo Office,” which includes the equivalent of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, has a one-time charge of $31 for five devices from Ashampoo.com. The programs look like Microsoft’s Office 365, which costs $70 a year for one device.

A nice extra is the portable version it comes with. Take it on to a hotel computer, a friend’s computer, or an office space somewhere, and use Word, Excel or PowerPoint without leaving any tracks. For Windows only.

Internut

Chillax, it’s whatevs.” Search on that phrase to find new words just added to the Oxford Dictionary. “Chillax” means to calm down, relax, chill. “Whatevs,” is short for “whatever.” “Jafaican” refers to fake Jamaican culture. “Nomophobic” is the anxiety you feel when you don’t have access to your mobile phone, or mobile phone services.

I Can See It Now

How can an 85-year-old who has never used a cell phone and is legally blind watch YouTube? By tapping an “IrisVision” headset and saying “video player.”

The virtual reality headset, a Samsung Gear with a special Samsung Galaxy phone inside, is $2,950. That’s around $1500 more than the latest Samsung phone and Gear without the specialized software,  but if it means a person with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or other eye problems can watch TV, see photos and read, it might be worth it. It magnifies everything to a degree you choose.

The company sent us one to try out. Bob found the headset heavy and awkward  but it takes a bit of patience to get the three velcro straps adjusted properly.  Joy felt like Superwoman when she read the tiny label on a bread bag from six feet away. The company works with you and your family for three to five hours to make sure everyone is comfortable with the device. You get 30 days to decide whether it’s for you or not. The phone inside the headset connects to the web, so the company can fix any problems remotely over the internet.

When you’re reading, you can invert the colors so it’s white text on a black background or some other color scheme for greater contrast. Presets make it easier to get a good picture on TV. Take a snapshot of the world around you by tapping the side of your head, then use the touchpad to enlarge it. It goes right into a photo gallery you can access by voice command.

There is a two-year warranty and two years of free technical support. The product was developed by a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience who responded to a man who had a daughter with low vision. It was developed by the National Eye Institute, Stanford and John Hopkins University. The product now has thousands of users. 

 

CHOOSING A NEW PRINTER

Photo courtesy of TechRadar

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

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

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

App Happy

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

Fire Alarm

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

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

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

Not Forgotten

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

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

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

Digital Proof  

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

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

Winklevoss twins

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

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

Halloween Fun

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

 

 

 

APPLE SHINES

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

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

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

Fun with Wallpaper

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

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

Phone Disaster

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

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

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

Restoring Your System

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

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

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

Exercising with Alexa

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

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

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

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

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

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

App Happy

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

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

EASY ON THE EYES

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

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

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

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

Talking Glasses

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

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

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

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

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

Confidentially Speaking

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

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

Talking to Your iPhone

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

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

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

App Happy

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

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

 

 

 

HOLDING ONTO AN OLD PHONE

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

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

A Reader Wants Advice

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

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

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

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

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

Logging in With Facebook or Google

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

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

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

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App Happy

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

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