skype usersOur 96-year-old friend Ida uses the free Skype service to have video-chats with her friends in Australia. One day, her account was wiped out. Could this happen to you? (Think of that question as having been asked in scary monster movie title type.)

You might think this had something to do with her age, and she must have hit the wrong button or spilled something on the keyboard. But no, we found dozens of similar complaints on the web. One guy wrote: “Where has my account gone? I do business all over Europe and today you just trashed my account with the credit I had as well?  You idiots.  If somebody within Microsoft made the decision to do this – I’ll stick their head in a metal bucket and thrash it with a hammer for a month!” He and others had lost the cash account they used to call landline phones. (Calling other Skype users is free.)

We helped our friend Ida start over by clicking “create new account” in the Skype window. We then searched for her friends, adding them to a new contacts list. This was pretty easy since she just had three. But if you use Skype for business, you should back up your contacts in case of disaster. Click “contacts” and then “advanced.” Next click “backup contacts,” and save them where you can easily find them again. Also under “advanced,” you can click “restore contacts.”

App Happy

bsafebSafe” is free for Android and iPhones and intended to be used for emergencies. It sounds an alarm and creates a video with your precise location that you can if necessary share with police. If you want, you can tap a timer to automatically send an SOS within a few minutes unless you shut it off.  If you fear you’re about to be attacked, make sure the attackers are in the video.

Tweaking Firefox

A reader asked us how to tweak the Firefox web browser. When he opens a new tab, he wants a blank page, not tiny pictures representing his most-frequented sites. Others are bothered by this as well.

Why care?  You might be at work, and your boss may walk by. You don’t want him to know that your visit Facebook more often than the company website. Or you’re shopping for a birthday present for your wife, and she’ll see you’ve just been to Victoria’s Secret.

There’s an easy fix. Click the plus sign next to any open tab in Firefox. Then look to the upper right of the screen and click the picture of a gear. From there, click “open blank page.” If you change your mind, click “Show your Top Sites.”

What Consumers Want

consumers mind“What consumers want” may be just as elusive as Freud’s famous question: “What do women want?” Influence Central, a market research firm, found that:

  • 81% of consumers say they frequently buy items they’ve seen shared on Facebook and other social media.
  • 81% also say product reviews influence the way they shop. 72% say the ability to check social media recommendations takes the guesswork out of buying a new product.
  • 9% of consumers say seeing a TV ad impacts their decision to buy the product.


This fits with what sociologist David Riesman defined as people who are “other directed.”

The Joy of Amazon Prime

Years ago, Joy signed up for Amazon Prime so she could get free two-day shipping. Now they have a new deal: instead of having to sign up for a whole year at $99, you can join for one month.

One month is $9. That way, if you’re organized enough to buy a whole bunch of stuff in a short time, you can get free shipping for less than ten bucks.  If you want longer than that, it’s $11 a month.  Besides free package delivery, online photo storage and a 50 percent discount on some Android phones, you get free movies and TV shows.  Most are stuff we’ve already seen or don’t want, but we’ve gotten some winners, mainly by Googling the phrase “Amazon Prime Video.” That’s how we discovered the “Brain Dead” TV series on CBS.

  A Spark of Genius

adobe sparkAdobe’s website, Spark.Adobe.com, is a free site for turning photos into great looking Facebook posts, web pages and videos.

We were impressed by all the artwork they give you to spruce up your post or page. We took a photo of sisters in a field, added the words, “A Sister is a Friend Without End” (well, sometimes anyway) and voila, something to post on Facebook. We took photos of our late favorite aunt and created a memorial website. It looked much better and was far easier than websites we’ve created with other tools.

When you’re finished, you get a link you can share. If you’d prefer to try this out on a phone or tablet, there’s a free Adobe Spark app for Android and iPhone or iPad.

Can You Hear Her Now?

On Audible.com, we found a recording of Agatha Christie talking about her novels and stories. But it was so old and crackly that it was hard to hear. This was a perfect opportunity to test the new “SoundSoap Solo.”

SoundSoap Solo claims it can clean pretty much any audio clip. We tested it with the Agatha Christie recording by copying it with Windows “Sound Recorder.” Opening SoundSoap, we dragged the file in and looked at the control panel. There are various knobs and dials, depending whether it’s a hiss, a hum or a crackle that’s marring the sound. The free trial lets you play back but not save the results. In the case of our file, the improvement wasn’t much, but if you have a modern recording with poor sound quality, it’s worth a try. SoundSoap has won awards for both PC and Mac use. It could be helpful if you have wind noise in your action-camera footage, or want to be sure the audio you put on YouTube is clear.  The full version costs $79 from soundness-llc.com. Try the free trial version first.


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