NEW COMPUTER TIME

This is the time of year when we get our most frequent reader question: What computer should I buy? It’s also the easiest question we ever get: Whatever you buy, you’ll almost certainly love it. The questioner usually wants a laptop; in fact it’s almost always a laptop. It’s a good choice for most people. Bob dislikes them intensely because of the crowded keyboard and small screen. Joy likes them because they’re portable. So, okay, one of the factors to consider in making your choice is weight; not your weight, its weight. As we used to say in the newsroom: keep it light and tight, and sometimes also trite. So this gets us down to choices right away. Are you […]

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THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT

We just played “Animal Trivia,” “World Foods Trivia” and “What’s Your Nickname” without touching a phone, computer or board game. We used Google Home, the digital assistant. We paid $130 when it first came out but now there’s a new version called the “Mini,” which you can get for $49. This matches the price for Amazon’s “Alexa.” Holiday shopping is on the horizon and people are going to be making decisions and price is often the deciding factor. So are there differences? You bet. Most would consider them slight, Bob thinks they’re enormous. Bob prefers Google. Joy on the other hand, thinks Alexa has lots of advantages. Whaddaya gonna do? She particularly likes an Alexa game called “Yes, Sire,” in […]

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DRAGGIN’ ON

After a lengthy struggle trying to install “Dragon Naturally Speaking” on an ordinary Hewlett Packard laptop running Windows 10, we gave up. The next day, Joy called the company’s tech support and after their expert worked on it for an hour and a half, he got it installed. It was not a great experience dealing with what is supposed to be the world’s premiere voice recognition software. The idea is you load it in, speak into the microphone and the program turns what you said into words on the screen. The point of that is you can then edit it — do the rewrite. To quote the advice of best-selling science fiction writer Robert Heinlein: “The whole secret of writing […]

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THE RETURN OF THE PANIC BUTTON

Stand-alone push buttons are getting hot. Out of printer ink? Just push a button to order more. The buttons are only $5, ink quite a bit more. Is there any inconvenience in this convenience? We can see some. So here’s how it starts: Amazon sells $5 “Dash” buttons that you stick around the house. Press one labeled “Charmin” to automatically re-order toilet paper. Press “Tide” to get detergent. (Amazon then kicks in and sends you whatever quantity you normally order.) The office giant Staples has a trial version of an office supply button. And there are others. Remember the old “Panic” push-buttons that were sold as a novelty item? We’re getting there. We tested a “goButton” from a company just […]

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THE CROWD “SOURCERESS”

“Crowd-sourcing,” also called “crowd-funding” is like found money. Instead of one sponsor, you have hundreds, perhaps thousands of strangers donating to your cause, with few strings attached. A new book, “The Crowd-sourceress” by Alex Daly, ($17 at PublicAffairsBooks.com) offers advice on how to do it. Over 100,000 projects have been funded by Kickstarter.com, one of several crowd funding services, since it began in 2009. We are talking big bucks here. It’s common to hit a couple hundred thousand and can sometimes bring in a couple million. This has even drawn the attention of major corporations, like Samsung, General Electric and Hasbro. Because after all, there’s no interest charge, unlike borrowing from a bank. Sometimes there’s also no accounting. When you […]

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FINDING FREE MOVIELAND

A reader asks: “Where are the Amazon Prime movies?”  You’d think Amazon would have a category called “Prime Movies” on their website, but no, too simple.. So how do you find them? Prime Movies are freebies for those who have paid for Prime membership. To find, type “prime movies” in the search box at the top of the page at Amazon.com. About 135,000 come up. Don’t have time to go through those? Best narrow the search. There are categories off to the left. In what may be the worst designed web page in the known universe, some of those categories don’t make sense, like “used.” (It’s a download, dummy.) Also ignore the price listings; what part of freebie do they […]

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WORLD’S EASIEST TABLET

A reader asked us for our recommendation on the easiest tablet to use – the iPad, the Kindle Fire or something else? The easiest tablet is nearly always the one your friend has, because they’ll help you out. We always regretted getting an iPad for our aunt, because she never learned to use it. All her friends had computers, but they were thumb-dumb when it came to the iPad. If we’d thought of it, we would have told her to watch YouTube videos. There are good ones on every kind of tablet. So, go to YouTube.com and search on “how to use an iPad” or “how to use the Kindle Fire.” What could go wrong? Basically, all tablets are similar: […]

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HEY BOO BOO

We’re going to talk some more about the digital assistants put out by Amazon and Google. Those would be the Amazon “Echo” and Google “Home.” They are small, relatively cheap (from $50 to $129), and they answer questions and do requests. This is the future. Essentially what we have are two devices that listen to what you have to say — with sometimes less accuracy than you would expect — and then respond. They can play music, occasionally with nonsensical results, and respond to more direct questions, such as “how many calories are there in an apple?” This is all new stuff, the edge of wedge if you will. It’s potentially an encyclopedia on your end table, along with lectures, […]

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I DREAM OF GENIE IN A HOCKEY PUCK

Topics: The Amazon Echo Dot, Internuts (a crazily lazy brass band, a girl who speaks 20 languages, Roald Dahl quotes), and how to make your web searches private.

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LOSING SKYPE

Our 96-year-old friend Ida uses the free Skype service to have video-chats with her friends in Australia. One day, her account was wiped out. Could this happen to you? (Think of that question as having been asked in scary monster movie title type.) You might think this had something to do with her age, and she must have hit the wrong button or spilled something on the keyboard. But no, we found dozens of similar complaints on the web. One guy wrote: “Where has my account gone? I do business all over Europe and today you just trashed my account with the credit I had as well?  You idiots.  If somebody within Microsoft made the decision to do this – […]

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