GETTING TAX PREP HELP

I’ve never done my own taxes. I was always afraid I’d mess up. Yet I’ve known about tax software for years. I met my late husband, Bob Schwabach, when I was in public relations, trying to get him to write about it.  He never did review my rinky-dink client. Having been among the first to write about Intuit, he knew it was best. I’m a convert now. Intuit’s TurboTax website makes it so easy. I went there and clicked  “connect with an expert.” I got a phone call from a folksy guy who drives a school bus. He explained how I could do the taxes myself, paying anywhere from nothing to $170, the filing fee for complex returns. TurboTax reviews […]

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WHICH AMAZON REVIEWS ARE FAKE?

You can buy a thousand positive reviews on Amazon for $10,900. That’s less than $11 each. So how do you know which reviews to trust? I looked at an ArsTechnica article, “Posing as an Amazon Seller” to find out. One commenter said he rented a dreadful movie that had 4.5 out of five stars and over 10,000 positive reviews. Now he avoids anything with reviews in the thousands. A reader told me he only looks at the most recent ones. A third commenter observed that some reviewers get $20 per review. He says he’s in the wrong business. A United Kingdom consumer group found 702,000 product reviewers from just five companies. All were in the review-manipulation biz. Besides offering positive […]

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PLAN TO LOSE YOUR PHONE

I was strolling in Chicago when my phone fell out of my bag somewhere along the river walk. I was notified by email right away. Wow. “I hope you get this,” the email said. “My wife found your phone downtown. We left it with the front desk person at Boeing.” I was mystified. How did he get my email address? It was simple. I’d allowed notifications for important messages to be displayed on my Android phone’s lock screen. My email address was listed at the top. I was lucky the phone hadn’t run out of juice and was still showing notifications. The couple who found it had tried calling me first, only to discover I hadn’t entered any contact info […]

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PORTABLE POWER STATION KEEPS DEVICES GOING

If you find yourself camping in the woods with all of your gadgets, consider a portable generator to keep everything charged. I’ve been testing the “PS500N,” $490 from iForway.com. It could power a 60-inch TV for three hours if you want to lug it along to the woods. The PS500N is about the size of a breadbox, weighs 13 pounds, and uses no gasoline. The user manual calls it a “Portable Solar Generator,” but there’s nothing solar about it, unless you add a portable solar panel, which iForway sells for $190. (A solar panel could be useful for topping up.) With just the generator, you could charge a phone 45 times, a camera 75 times, a tablet 12 times, and […]

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TOE TO TOE WITH ALEXA AND GOOGLE

A child asked me which was better: Alexa, the voice inside the Amazon Echo Dot, or Google Assistant, the voice inside the Google Home speaker, renamed “Google Nest.” Until recently, I would have said Google Assistant. That was before I read CNET’s “9 Things Alexa Can Do that Google Can’t.” Of course, right after that, I read “9 Things Google Can Do that Alexa Can’t.” Let’s start with some Alexa differences. Alexa can play Apple Music as one of many choices;  Google makes Apple music off limits. Alexa listens for burglars, alerting you if  she hears glass breaking, an alarm going off and other sounds. (But you must turn on “Guard” in “Settings.”) Also, Alexa can hear your whispers and whisper […]

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A SECOND LOOK AT AMAZON HALO WEARABLE

Amazon Halo, the new Fitbit-type wearable I wrote about it last time, is even weirder than I thought. But I like it.  Halo’s voice analysis can pinpoint my moods to the very second, telling me when I sound delighted, amused, shy, and so on. (I’ve yet to sound angry even once in over three weeks.) For example, it said I was  “miserable” at 11:10 a.m., but “happy” exactly two seconds later. If you want to improve your tone, the app has video challenges for that. For instance, a four-time martial arts champion and yoga expert guides you in warm-ups for powerful public speaking. You can turn off the mike if you don’t want your tone analyzed. Speech samples are processed […]

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SLEEP TRACKER KEEPS ME UP ALL NIGHT

My first night with Amazon’s $65 “Halo” fitness band was hilarious. I kept waking up to see if I could improve my sleep score. I couldn’t stand to see a “poor” grade. I kept trying to go back to sleep until I got a “fair.” The next night, my sleep score went up to “good,” with eight hours and six minutes of sleep but slightly less rapid-eye-movement than ideal. It also told me how long I took to fall asleep. Last night, it was zero minutes, compared to 14 the night before. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The funniest thing happened when I took a nap. The app changed my score to “poor” and […]

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PLAYING WITH FIRE

Several readers followed up on our review of the Amazon Fire tablet. Their comments led us to discover some features we didn’t know about. One reader was confused when he first tapped the “Books” tab on the home screen of his Fire. It looked like he had to join “Kindle Unlimited” to get books. But you don’t. It’s free for 30 days, then it’s $10 a month. Kindle Unlimited gives you a rotating library of ten books, audio books, magazines or some combination of all three. We noticed they have the Economist magazine, which is normally $189 a year. If we let our subscription drop, we could get it for $120 a year plus nine other magazines or books.You can […]

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A LOT OF HOW-TOs

Capturing Video Highlights One of our friends is writing her memoir about growing up in Iran. Since she reads it aloud to other writers through Zoom, the free video conferencing software, she was grateful that we could capture her part of the session in its own video clip. We could have downloaded a program to cut out her slice of the two-hour meeting, but there was no need. A free screen capture program is built into Windows 10. It’s called “Game Bar.” Though it’s meant for saving your game highlights, it can capture anything you have in motion. Once you have a video playing, bring up Game Bar by holding down the Windows key (looks like a flag) and tapping […]

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THE WALKMAN LIVES

The first portable electronics gadget we ever had was a tape recorder, though we both remember the portable record player in a suitcase. Later, we both had Sony Walkmans. Did you know they’re still popular? Over 400 million Walkmans as of 2014– mainly used for listening to music on the fly — have been sold, according to TheVerge.com. In the 41 years since the first one, they’ve gone from cassette players to CD to Mini-Disc to MP3 to streaming music. Recently, we wondered why people still buy Walkmans, instead of listening to music on their phones. A reader told us the Walkman is superior. For one thing, you can store music in the “wav” file format, which takes up more […]

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