HOW BOUT FREE PHONE SERVICE?

A reader latched onto his wife’s old Samsung Galaxy phone, now that she has a new one. At first he thought he needed a cheap phone service to go with it. We suggested a Tracfone plan for $7 a month — $21 every 90 days for 60 minutes of talk time. But he decided to go even cheaper: use free Wi-Fi to make calls.

If you use Google Voice, Google Hangouts, Skype or some similar service to make calls, you don’t need a dedicated phone service. Search on “How to Make Phone Calls and Texts from your Smart Phone without Cell Service,” which leads to full instructions at HowToGeek.com. (Gotta love that name.)

But what about the landline? You know, it’s what we used to call “the phone.” We still have one of those. We like the big handset, the big buttons, and the ease of putting people on speaker phone; then everybody can hear our private phone calls. We use Vonage, which uses the Internet to make calls. Our monthly bill is $13, but with taxes and fees, it costs $22 a month. Call quality is excellent, and all those governments are delighted by the extra fees.

Our reader also likes Magic Jack, a Vonage competitor. Like Vonage, Magic Jack comes with a device that connects a landline phone to the Internet. All landline calls are then made over Wi-Fi (wireless). The Magic Jack device is free for new users during the first 30 days. That means you can sign up to try it out without paying anything. If you keep it, you pay $35 for the device and get 12 months of phone service for free. After that, it’s $39 a year or $89 for three years. You can probably use your old landline number, but it’s not guaranteed. (Ours was available, the reader’s was not.) There’s also a Magic Jack app for your cell phone, so landline calls can be automatically transferred there.

We use our Vonage service to automatically transfer calls to our cell phone after just one ring. This is so we can use the free cell phone app “True Caller” to block junk calls, of which we get many. (Wait. You mean you don’t want to hear our pitch for a free trip to the Bahamas plus a way to reduce your electric bill?)

Mini Home

Anyone who bought a Google Pixel 2 phone recently also received a free “Google Home Mini.” We already had a Google Home speaker and an Echo Dot from Amazon but we bought a phone and got the Google Mini anyway. We like it.

We put it in the bedroom, where we can set a sleep timer. You just tell it “Hey, Google, play Beethoven” for 30 minutes.” This works more often than not. Or, you could say:  “Play music until 11 p.m;” the device knows what time it is. The sound quality isn’t as good as what you get on the $129 Google Home, and unlike Amazon’s Echo Dot, there’s no way to connect an external speaker. Ah well, these are hard times for techno buffs.

But it’s fun to ask questions. Joy asked: “ Hey, Google, how are you?” She answered that she was cold and told us a fun winter fact: The biggest recorded snowflake ever found was 15 inches across and eight inches deep. It landed in Montana, where they understand cold. Since the device knows where you are, it would presumably change its response for someone in Arizona or Florida. We’ve asked her to recite a poem. She likes Robert Louis Stevenson, but we’ve also heard Shakespeare and Wordsworth.

The Google Home device is about the size of the Dot, and has a similar price, $49 vs $50. One trick they can all do, if you have an Amazon Fire stick or a Google Chromecast: “Play Stranger Things on Netflix,” or any other of the many titles that are on there. Your TV should then turn on and start playing the Netflix show. Or you can move things along by saying things like “Skip 30 seconds.” Who wants to put up with the pokey pace of the original show? These are modern times.

Animated Effects

If you use Adobe Final Cut Pro to edit videos, you don’t have to learn all the ins and outs of the program to add animation effects. FxFactory has a program called “Animated Elements,” a $49 plug-in that works with Adobe’s program to create the effects for you.

Go to FXFactory.com or look them up on YouTube to see a demonstration of geometric shapes, fireworks and 150 other customizable effects to make anything in your video stand out. In the demo we saw, dancers had stars above their heads, skiers had swirls and movie titles danced.

Internuts

  • Italki.com lets you learn a language by practicing with native speakers.
  • Silvernest.com helps find roommates for baby boomers and empty nesters in Colorado, California, Florida and Arizona.

Memory Stick Security

A common ploy to get spy software onto a company or government network is to drop a memory stick in the parking lot or a corridor. Curiosity is normal and when someone picks it up and plugs it into their computer to see what’s onboard, it can add a virus within a second. Of course, it might just be one of your colleague’s thumb drives with personal notes. How can you not plug it in to see?

You can encrypt your own memory sticks and flash-drives. Some come already prepared. We like the “Data-Sur 2 Personal,” from iStorage. It adds military encryption so no one can see whatever you’ve saved there. We saw eight gigabyte versions for sale online starting at $57. You can save a lot of money, of course, if you’re willing to do the encryption yourself. Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise come with “BitLocker,” used for that purpose. Others can use “Veracrypt,” though you’d better be prepared for some difficult instructions.

 

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