Joy’s Pixel 2 smartphone was blasted by a worker with a hose when she left it in a zip-up container by the side of the pool.  Google sent a free replacement, but it wouldn’t make calls.

We went through many layers of tech support,  chats, email, and phone calls. The phone kept saying “no mobile networks.” In the meantime, we  discovered a free app called “Hangouts Dialer.” With it, you can make free calls over WiFi. We’d already been using Google Hangouts, which brings our voice mail messages and texts inside Gmail.

To get our phone working, Google sent us a physical SIM card to use instead of the “eSIM” we started with. This made us wonder:  “What’s an eSIM and what is it good for?” An “eSIM” is a chip that takes the place of a physical card. The latest Apple iPhones, the XS, XS Max and XR, have an eSIM in addition to a physical SIM card. It’s like two phones in one. You can have a SIM card for work calls and a separate one for personal calls. Or use a locally-purchased SIM card  when traveling internationally to save big bucks. By the way, our phone is working great now.

Lost in Clutterville

Joy was in the habit of misplacing her glasses, laptop and wallet. So she ordered “Tile,” which comes as a sticker or credit card-sized device. Stick them on or in the thing you’re afraid of losing and make them ring loudly when you tap the free app on your phone. 

The funny thing was, as soon as she ordered the Tile Slim for $30 on Amazon, it struck her how silly it is to be always losing things. So she set up a “magic” shelf on a low bookcase next to the dining room table. Now when she’s finished with her laptop, phone, glasses, etc., she puts them back on the magic shelf. It’s magic, because she can always find her things again. Theoretically.

The Tile Slim arrived after several days of never losing anything. She put the credit-card sized Tile in her wallet. In setup, the free app on her phone asked her if she wanted to keep track of a wallet, purse, keys, phone, toy, dog or cat. She practiced ringing her wallet by tapping the app. It rang out a tune nice and loud.

But now she can’t find her wallet. The Tile app says it’s “out of range.” But the app also says it is at our address and there are 4,763 members of the Tile community nearby. We can get an alert if any of their devices picks up our signal. That doesn’t mean they can see our wallet, just that we can get an alert if they’re near it, and see the address they’re at. But if it was in someone else’s apartment at the same address, we’d never know.  It turned out to be in the car, in our building’s garage. 

A Cheap Office

Ashampoo Office,” which includes the equivalent of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, has a one-time charge of $31 for five devices from The programs look like Microsoft’s Office 365, which costs $70 a year for one device.

A nice extra is the portable version it comes with. Take it on to a hotel computer, a friend’s computer, or an office space somewhere, and use Word, Excel or PowerPoint without leaving any tracks. For Windows only.


Chillax, it’s whatevs.” Search on that phrase to find new words just added to the Oxford Dictionary. “Chillax” means to calm down, relax, chill. “Whatevs,” is short for “whatever.” “Jafaican” refers to fake Jamaican culture. “Nomophobic” is the anxiety you feel when you don’t have access to your mobile phone, or mobile phone services.

I Can See It Now

How can an 85-year-old who has never used a cell phone and is legally blind watch YouTube? By tapping an “IrisVision” headset and saying “video player.”

The virtual reality headset, a Samsung Gear with a special Samsung Galaxy phone inside, is $2,950. That’s around $1500 more than the latest Samsung phone and Gear without the specialized software,  but if it means a person with macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or other eye problems can watch TV, see photos and read, it might be worth it. It magnifies everything to a degree you choose.

The company sent us one to try out. Bob found the headset heavy and awkward  but it takes a bit of patience to get the three velcro straps adjusted properly.  Joy felt like Superwoman when she read the tiny label on a bread bag from six feet away. The company works with you and your family for three to five hours to make sure everyone is comfortable with the device. You get 30 days to decide whether it’s for you or not. The phone inside the headset connects to the web, so the company can fix any problems remotely over the internet.

When you’re reading, you can invert the colors so it’s white text on a black background or some other color scheme for greater contrast. Presets make it easier to get a good picture on TV. Take a snapshot of the world around you by tapping the side of your head, then use the touchpad to enlarge it. It goes right into a photo gallery you can access by voice command.

There is a two-year warranty and two years of free technical support. The product was developed by a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience who responded to a man who had a daughter with low vision. It was developed by the National Eye Institute, Stanford and John Hopkins University. The product now has thousands of users. 


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