Our friend Olga called us from the Dominican Republic, using the free app, “WhatsApp.” It’s a great way for travelers to avoid having to buy a local SIM card for their phone, or face expensive roaming charges.

But we’ve often wondered what other advantages WhatsApp has, considering all the alternatives, including Skype. One big one is simplicity. Because WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, you automatically see Facebook friends who use it. With Skype, you must know the person’s user name. Our friend Olga didn’t use her last name so she was particularly hard to find on Skype, but easy to find on WhatsApp. However, call quality on Skype is usually better.

You can use either one for a video chat, audio call, or text. We did a video chat. It was great seeing Olga’s happy face and the Dominican scenery when she turned her phone camera toward it.

Signing in was as easy as using Facebook. When you tap the messaging icon, you’ll see a list of friends who are on it. If the person you want isn’t there, tap “invite friends.” and send them an email with a link.

WhatsApp is popular for text messaging, because it uses a WiFi signal, so you’re not charged for each text. Of course, if you have a plan with unlimited texting, this hardly matters. Like Skype, WhatsApp doesn’t require a smartphone. You can download it to a Mac or Windows computer.

Phone Drain

Visiting a family member in the hospital, Joy lost her phone. She called it from the room phone and could hear it ringing, but couldn’t place it. A nurse came in and helped, but many minutes passed before they found it, stuck in the innards of a reclining chair.

She hadn’t thought to charge it the night before, and it was down to around 18 percent when she lost it. It hadn’t run out of battery, though it was on all night, because Joy had it on battery saver mode, with the GPS turned off.

We switched to battery saver mode when the phone seemed to be draining quickly. The culprit was Google Map’s turn-by-turn directions, which we forgot to turn off. We got a clue when the phone announced: “GPS signal lost.” When you’re in battery saver mode, GPS is automatically off. When the phone has to search for a weak GPS signal the battery drains quickly. We figure no one needs to know where we are right now.

Fun With Numbers

Bob was a math major at the University of Chicago before he switched to the history of technology, and Joy took advanced calculus, but neither one of us has ever questioned the Babylonian method of multiplication.

That method requires you to multiply each digit of the first number by each digit of the second one. If both numbers have a billion digits each, you’re going to be doing a billion times a billion multiplications. A computer would take over 30 years to finish.

In 1971, the mathematicians Arnold Schönhage and Volker Strassen discovered a quicker way. With their method, an ordinary laptop can do the calculation in about 30 seconds. But they didn’t stop there. They predicted that an even faster method would eventually be found. Now they’ve been proven right. Joris van der Hoeven, a researcher from the French National Research Center, and David Harvey from the University of New South Wales have found it. It’s available through the online “HAL” archive at hal.archives-ouvertes.fr. The article is titled “Integer Multiplication in Time 0.” It’s quite technical.

Reader Question

A reader writes: “My HP All-in-One with Windows 7 is ten years old and getting cranky like me.” So he got a new computer with a trial version of Office 365. The question is: should he upgrade it to the full version, or use the old Office 2007, which works great on the old computer and could also be installed on the new one.

His fear is that Office 2007 no longer gets updates. He wonders if it’s safe. We use Office 2007 ourselves and feel quite safe. The trick is to have a good antivirus program, which he does, and so do we. He uses Norton Internet Security. We use Bullguard. Both are excellent, though Bullguard makes you turn on daily or weekly virus scans, and the setting is buried. We’ve often used their free 24-hour-a-day tech support.

Microsoft charges you $70 to $100 a year, minimum, to use Office 365, and we feel they should pay us. Things that were easy to do before, like find the file you were working on, became difficult in the new version of Office. It seems slower too. If you don’t already have an old version of Office, consider the free versions. We like the free Google Docs and OpenOffice.

Hospital Gifts Part III

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Our experiment in sending a gift to someone in the hospital using Amazon Prime was a bust, as we reported recently. It never got off the loading dock. But a friend reports that she uses Amazon all the time. “I’ve had no trouble sending Amazon Prime gifts to a hospital patient, although it was  a small hospital. It is important to have a correct patient name, ward number and room number.”

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