We bow to the mounting evidence and can no longer recommend the free anti-virus program: “Avast.” Too many complaints. And yet, cyber attacks as they’re called, are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated.

Choosing an alternative is tricky. For years, PC World, PC Magazine and other reviewers gave their highest marks to the Russian-owned Kaspersky anti-virus. Then came the accusation that Russian hackers may be using it to conduct espionage against the U.S.; some readers dropped it like a hot potato. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security ordered federal agencies to remove it from their systems.

Avast is based in the Czech Republic, and there’s been some strange behavior recently.  One of our readers said the people who answer the phone sound like scammers who pretend they are from Microsoft and want to charge you an arm and a leg to fix your computer.

“I asked my question and the guy told me Avast was good for three machines,” a reader wrote. “He immediately insisted on helping me pay for the product.  When I told him that I wanted to buy it online he was even more insistent.  I finally hung up to get rid of him. It felt like my call was diverted from Avast support to something else.”

That’s similar to an experience another reader had. He went to for tech support and a link on their site diverted him to the company “Nanoheal.” It charged him $119 for installing a free program.  (We called and verified that Nanoheal is in fact part of Avast.) The Nanoheal tech installed the MalwareBytes program, “AdwCleaner,” which stands for “adware cleaner.”

You can get this for free at MalwareBytes has a great reputation and we’ve used their other free products. Some months ago we installed AdwCleaner on one of our computers. The first time it fixed 54 “threats,” all of which were cleaned automatically. Five months later, we tried it again, and it found none. That’s probably because we switched from Avast to Norton Internet Security.

How does all this shifting go on? It’s a volatile business. Companies that we knew about only a year or two ago, get new owners. This can happen so often that they’re not even in the same country anymore. Or they have the same owners but new programmers. Or the same programmers but new testing procedures. It goes on constantly and even the people in Silicon Valley get confused.

Our new recommendation to get Norton Antivirus is a surprise even to us. This used to be one of the worst programs we ever installed; so watch yourself if you try to save some money by buying old versions on eBay. This thing was so bad that they used to send us free versions every year and we finally told a representative to cut it out because it slowed out computers to a crawl. We never heard from them again. That was 20 years ago.

Well, something finally changed. The new Norton is fast and easy on the system. Whoever did it should have their salary doubled. It tells us if a program is using too many resources. (Usually, it’s Google Chrome, so we use Chrome’s free extension “OneTab” to collapse ten open tabs into one.)

Norton’s basic new version is $30, which includes unlimited tech support by phone. The standard version is $40 and adds safeguards for your personal identity info and online transactions. It also comes with a money-back guarantee that your computer will be virus-free. The deluxe version is $50, and can be installed on three devices, including smartphones.

The New Google Phone

Joy loves her Google Nexus phone, even though Bob crushed it while closing the car door and cracked the screen. (Come on, it was an accident; it still works.) But we’re both intrigued by the latest Google phone, the Pixel 2, supposed to be on the market this month.

Two features really got us: One is the squeezable sides. To activate any feature — like taking a picture, just point the phone and squeeze the sides. (Not real hard!) You decide what feature will be triggered by the squeeze. The default squeeze lets you  speak a question.

The other is the catalog. Point the Pixel 2 camera at your books, records, business cards, whatever, and it automatically creates a catalog of your titles. This was previously such a royal pain that we never did it. It will also identify landmarks for you. We hope this actually works. We used to have a star-gazing program that was supposed to identify whatever star or constellation you were looking at. But no matter what we pointed it at the program told us it was the moon.

There’s no headphone jack. If you want headphones, you have to get the wireless kind. If you get the “Pixel Buds,” you can tap your right ear and it will translate a foreign language speaker for you in real time out loud and by displaying the text on your Pixel 2.

One of the Pixel 2’s best features is only available to “Project Fi” subscribers, a service we use. The service plan combines T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Sprint into a virtual network. For $20 a month, you get unlimited talk and text and pay $10 for each gigabyte of data you use, with money back for any part of a gigabyte you don’t use. Extra cool feature: “Look Ma, no SIM card.” Project Fi users can take advantage of an “eSIM” technology that eliminates the need for a physical card. If you don’t use Project Fi, the Pixel 2 uses Verizon.

We’re cheap, so we may not spring for the new Pixel 2 phone just yet. However, the price for either of the two versions — big screen or regular — is going to be about $200 less than the new Apple phones. On pre-orders, the Pixel 2 is $649 and the Pixel 2 XL is $849.


  •  Click on “largest list of chat acronyms.” There are 11 just for “stupid,” such as “ISWAC” (if stupid were a crime), or “DWS” (driving while stupid.) Some are quite helpful, like “JDMJ” (just doing my job). Our favorite so far is “LOL WUSS, which stands for “Laugh out loud, with unintentional snort sounds.”
  • Search on “Zalipie” on this site to see the most decorative village in Poland, perhaps the world. Even the dog houses are painted with flowers.



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