READ THE COMMENTS

One of the best pieces of advice we ever got was: “Read the comments following a review.” Not only are they enlightening, they’re entertaining. Take the screen-protector review we read at HowToGeek.com. The reviewer said he couldn’t get a screen protector on his iPhone without a massive bubble under the surface. So he bought one at an Apple store for $40, because it came with free installation. We see his point. We’ve never installed a screen protector without leaving bubbles. But in the comments, the readers dumped all over the reviewer. One guy said this is “not your ordinary dumb, this is some special kind of dumb. I call it ‘iDumb.’” Another pointed out that you could go to a […]

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ALEXA THE SNOOP

Some people have told us they’d never buy a smart speaker with Alexa, because they don’t want to be spied on. If you already have one, and are a bit worried that all your questions to the device have been recorded, here’s how to erase them forever. In the Alexa app, go to “Settings” and then “History.” You can delete the recordings one by one. Or if you want to delete them all in one fell swoop, open a web browser, such as Chrome or Firefox, and search on the phrase “Amazon manage my content and devices.” Then click on “Devices” and on the three dots to the left of your Echo or Echo Dot. Click “Delete Voice Recordings.” However, […]

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RETURN OF A CLASSIC

A reader wrote to say she had been using a Windows XP computer forever. But recently she bit the bullet and bought a Windows 10 machine. Ouch! The wound still hurts. Mainly, she hates the clutter in the Windows 10 start menu. We suggested she try “Classic Shell,” which is free from classicshell.net. It replaces the Windows 10 start menu with something that looks a lot like Windows XP but makes no other changes to your computer. The main difference between the XP start menu and the one in Windows 10 is text, or the lack of it. Windows 10 seems to assume you’re either an idiot or you don’t speak English. At first, everything is an icon, not words […]

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REALLY BIG NUMBERS

An exchange of emails with a reader on the subject of falling prices for large storage drives, led to an inevitable question: What are they good for? In short, once you get past a few gigabytes – which you can buy as thumb drives for less than $10 – just what are you going to store? We know that the general notion is that bigger is always better, and at these prices why not go nuts and pull up the truck? Terabyte drives are now common. That’s a thousand gigabytes, a million megabytes, a big number. Let’s talk reality here. According to Britannica, all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica would take up 4.7 gigabytes. That’s all the words and […]

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FREE AUDIO BOOKS

And now some good news. Several years ago, we criticized the book choices available for download from public libraries. The result was a spontaneous demonstration by angry librarians. (The whole idea of an angry librarian was beyond our ken.) “It’s not our fault,” they yelled in unison, “it’s the publishers!” Those publishers …. Really. Well, times have changed, and now you can get thousands, maybe millions of free titles. The lode is so rich, we’ll probably let our “Audible” audio book subscription expire, much as we have enjoyed it.  Instead of paying $15 a month, or $100 for 12 books at a time, we’re exploring the free world, so to speak. We’re expecting an angry demonstration from publishers any moment […]

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EAVESDROPPING WITH ALEXA

Twenty-two million Americans now have what’s called a “smart speaker,” a gadget that sits on a table or shelf and responds to commands. The numbers have doubled in the past year. This is without doubt the hottest product out there and we expect the numbers to jump sharply again this year. The market leader, with about 72 percent, is the Amazon Echo; Google has about 18% and the rest is “other,” which includes Apple’s “HomePod,” and Sonos’ “Sonos One.” Now the Amazon Echo not only listens to you, it can listen for you. In short, it can be an intercom. If someone turns on its “voice calling and messaging” feature, you can either call them or listen in. There have […]

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DRONE JOURNALISM

It used to be that aerial photography was available only to the richest newspapers. When Bob was the food critic for the Chicago Tribune, he remembers a photo shoot from a helicopter costing $10,000. Now with cheap drones, anybody can get an aerial shot. It’s called “Drone Journalism.” Two researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have a new book by that name. Besides the usual tips, they point out that a journalist’s drone can be stopped by the government. Dictatorships are famous for this, but even the U.S. government sometimes calls a halt. In 2016, Sioux Indians staged a major protest against a proposed oil pipeline in North and South Dakota. When the first dramatic aerial images of […]

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ALEXA, START MY DAY

The battle between Amazon’s “Echo” and Google Home never ends. Which is all good for us. The other day we turned to Google’s smart speaker and said “Hey Google, play ‘La Bamba.’” That launched a playlist with some of the best rock ‘n’ roll of all time. Joy could hardly stop dancing and return to the column. Alexa has her own new tricks. For instance, you can give her several commands at once without having to say “Alexa” each time. We said, “Alexa, turn the volume to 7.” A second later, we said “Call Bob,” and Bob’s cell phone started to ring.  We also plied it with questions. “Alexa, what’s the population of North Korea? What’s the population of South […]

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PLENTY OF TIME TO PANIC

The HP desktop computer we bought on Amazon less than two months ago wouldn’t start. For a few hours, we panicked. The solution? Unplug the machine. Hold the power button until the little light on the back of the computer goes off. (That’s if it’s a desktop computer, the type sometimes called a tower.) This frees the computer from hibernation mode. Viola, as we say in fractured French! It’s fixed! For several hours before that, we thought we had a dead computer. HP’s troubleshooting site told us to hold down the power button, but we didn’t do it long enough the first time. (HP said nothing about making sure the light had gone off before we released the power button.) […]

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ALEXA IN THE CAR

In its never ending struggle to conquer the world, Amazon is moving Alexa into your car. Well, maybe not your car, but a lot of cars. We have a couple things to say about that. Okay, maybe three things. For those who came into the movie late, Alexa is this know-it-all device you can ask about anything and it will often come up with the right answer and play music too. But it chops up classical pieces. (It’s best to imagine that somewhere in the middle of the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven dies, and that’s all he wrote.) Coming out in early February, the car version will plug into your cigarette lighter and all will be well with the world. The […]

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