A reader writes to tell us her Windows files have been hijacked. The hijacker is demanding money to release her photos and personal documents. Here’s what to do and how to prevent that.

Restart the computer. Keep tapping the F8 key as you start up. A recovery option will come on the screen. This will take the machine back to a time before the hijack. (And to think that some people say time travel is impossible.) If for some reason this doesn’t work, there are lots more ways to do it in PC World’s article “How to Rescue Your PC from Ransomware.”

It’s better to avoid being taken for one of those rides in the first place by getting free anti-ransom software. Google the word “Cybereason” and click on the second result, “RansomFree by Cybereason.” The product has had over 50,000 downloads so far and customers report that it blocked ransom attacks. The FBI reports that ransomware is the biggest threat facing consumers in 2017.

Calling by Voice

In a previous column, we mentioned how nice it would be if Alexa, the voice inside the Amazon Echo Dot, (or Google Assistant, the voice inside Google Home), could make emergency calls whenever you said something like “Call Uncle Max.”  But you don’t have to wait for Google or Amazon to add this feature. You can command your phone to call someone, just by using your voice.

With Siri, start by tapping “settings,” and then tap to allow “Hey Siri.” Now she’ll answer your voice commands. Once you do that, a whole world opens. She’ll make a phone call for you. Siri will also read you the subject lines of your email, if you say “Hey Siri, read my email.” She’ll also read the news headlines, answer questions, start a game or some other app, if you name it. She’ll play music in your library, and do hundreds of other things. For a complete list, search on the phrase “complete list of Siri commands.” You can do similar searches for complete lists of commands you can give the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. You can ask Alexa to read you a book, for example.

On any Android phone with the Lollipop, Marshmallow or Nougat operating system, say “OK Google” to call anyone in your contact list, just by using their first name. (“OK, Google, call Stephanie.”) But you can also call those not on your contact list.  Say, “Call the Main Library; you have to add the town you want. If it doesn’t work, make sure you’ve updated the Google app on your phone.

If you have a Windows phone, or an older phone, try the free app “VoiceDial.” Tap its icon to dial with your voice.  Then say “Hello Blue Genie, dial Joe Doe,” or whomever.

We can imagine the following scenario. Your mother is sick and can barely move. Tell her to keep her iPhone plugged in and within shouting distance. Then she can say “Hey Siri, call 911.”

Automatic eBay

A friend of our inherited a collection of Robert Crumb comic art, more than a thousand pieces. Odd subject. Selling it piece by piece on eBay would be exhausting. We have an idea for her: “FedEx Valet.”

Most FedEx stores offer this service. They say “bring designer clothes, electronics, sporting goods and more to your local FedEx office.” Don’t even bother to pack it up. They’ll send your stuff to Valets who photograph, list and ship your stuff when it sells. You get up to 80 percent of the sales.


— Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is still doing shows about nothing. That was the original pitch for the Seinfeld TV series. This new one is ComediansInCarsGettingCoffee.com. It’s very low-key, as you might expect, and we found it mildly amusing.

ClientsFromHell.net. Yes, there are people out there dumber than anyone you know. Hundreds of them. Remember: roughly half the population is below average intelligence.

Lights! Action! Special Effects!

We never asked for six camera angles, or text that follows our hero through the opening credits. But we always wanted to do that trick where one character or object is in color while everything else is in black and white. You can do that and plenty more with “VideoStudio Pro Ultimate” from Corel.

VideoStudio Pro is aimed at amateurs but has features that pros should adopt, such as “auto ducking.” We see — or rather “hear” — this problem in many older British films: We can hear the character’s crunchy footsteps on gravel but not what he is saying. Auto-ducking lowers the volume on the one so you can hear the other. We’d never think of attempting it in our own videos were it not for Corel’s tutorials, which are really good.

The tutorials are the first thing you see when you open VideoStudio. The guy leading them reminds us of David Attenborough, the famous narrator of Nova’s nature documentaries. He doesn’t have Attenborough’s British accent, but a similar gentleness makes you think “I can do this!” (We mean the video editing, not the documentaries.)

In less than a minute, we were using one of the many templates to turn our photos and video clips into a professional looking production. It began with photos scattered on a table, each one containing one of our images.

It takes patience to work through all the tutorials. Fortunately, you can backtrack to any segment. Sample them for yourself at Learn.Corel.com. The site also has a free trial version of the software, in two versions: $80 for VideoStudio Pro and $100 for VideoStudio Ultimate.



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