COMING CLEAN

A cell phone has 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats, according to scientists at the University of Arizona. We got on this because Joy got an antibacterial box for her cell phone, the second one we’ve been sent in a few years. The first one was a royal pain to use, which made her turn to soap and water, which of course killed the phone. Yes, we know phones are  waterproof now, but they weren’t then. Reminds Bob of his first video tape player, a Japanese model which came with a manual advising the user to avoid turning it on underwater. Good thinking. Despite the soap and water hazard, the name of this gadget is “PhoneSoap Go.” It […]

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CUTTING OFFICE TIES

A few readers have asked us what would happen if they stopped paying Microsoft $70 to $100 a year for Microsoft Office 365. Would there be a knock on the door late at night? Men in black suits? These are questions we have asked ourselves many times, usually just before breakfast. We ask no more. That’s because we switched back to Microsoft Word 2007, which is free, more manageable, and of course out of date. So the next question to be answered is this: Does it matter? In short, what do you use Microsoft Office for? Most people get Office 365, the $100 a year version, just to use Word. That’s their word processor. The other popular feature is Power […]

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THEIR ART ON YOUR TV

We downloaded our favorite paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago, which just made over 52,000 works from its collection available in high resolution. Then we put them on our TV and cycled through some favorites, like Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte,” and Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” You can download what you like to your phone and then make a nice background show on your TV. To do this, we first tried the slideshow option on our seven-year-old Sony, but the images looked faded. We could have burned them to a DVD and used that to improve the colors but turned instead to try Roku and Chromecast. We have the cheap version of Roku, […]

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YOUR STUFF ON FACEBOOK

Did you ever want to see everything you ever posted on Facebook? You can download all that stuff and it comes in as folders. Double-click and they open up. A surprising bonus is the photos you posted and have long forgotten, are all still there. Go to www.facebook.com/Settings. They’re you’ll see a message which reads: “To download your information, go to “Your Facebook Information.” Click on those words to go there, then click “view” next to the word “download your information.” From there you can either download everything or uncheck the boxes next to stuff you don’t care about. We chose “download all,” and were pleasantly surprised at how organized it was. We first clicked the “Comment” folder and saw […]

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HOW MUCH IS THAT IN AMERICAN MONEY

What do people really want? This sounds like a twist on Sigmund Freud’s last words, but we’re talking about cell phones here and he was gasping about something completely different. The main thing people want in a smart phone is battery life, according to a survey of 1,894 U.S. users by market research firm Morning Consult. Over 95 percent of respondents said it was the most important feature, and after that they wanted “ease of use,” “memory and storage,” and “camera quality.” Are we all wasting money on our phones?  Here’s an interesting report from Flipsy.com, a site that buys old phones: The average selling price for a smartphone in North America is $567, with an average upgrade cycle of […]

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GOOGLE FINDS BAD RESTAURANTS

Harvard’s Public Health Center is using Google tracking to find restaurants that make people sick. This is how they do it: If you’ve been to “Mom’s Diner” and a few hours later start searching on terms like “vomit” and “stomach cramps,” there is a likelihood there’s a problem at Mom’s. In Harvard’s tests in Las Vegas and Chicago, health inspectors were sent out when the searches turned queasy. Over half the time, 52 percent, they found a problem at the restaurant the person had been to that day. Chicago has 38 inspectors for more than 8,000 restaurants. They find problems only 23 percent of the time, less than half the probabilities inferred by Google tracking. Reading this, you might worry […]

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GETTING A SMART PHONE

Hard to believe but there are still people out there thinking about getting their first smart phone. That’s a cell phone that can search the web and take selfies. About 80 people a year die while taking selfies. Sometimes they step back too far at the edge of the Grand Canyon, sometimes the flagpole on the tenth floor is slippery. Well, this has happened to us twice now. Not getting killed taking a selfie, but talking to older people who have decided they want one of those smart phone things. In one of the great marketing coups of all time, Apple has somehow made people believe that a smart phone is an iPhone. This is despite the reality that Android […]

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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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LET THE ROBOT TAKE IT

“Robo calls” are getting worse. Adrian Abramovich, of Miami, has been accused of making 97 million spam calls and is facing a $120 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission. There’s a call-screening feature in the new Pixel 3 phone from Google, and it’s a sure bet you will soon see it in other makes. When your phone rings, you’ll see a “screen call” option. Tap it and a recorded voice in the Pixel phone asks the caller to state their name and the nature of the call. The caller might say something like “You have won a free cruise.” (We win an amazing number of those, which is unfortunate because Bob doesn’t like cruises.) At this point, you can […]

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BUILD YOUR OWN

We remember when personal computers first came out. You could build them yourself if you were savvy. That’s what Michael Dell did way back when. He sold them to other college students and the business went on from there. Now there’s a computer that kids can put together. The “Computer Kit Touch” is $280 from Kano.me. Designed for young children, it has a ten-inch screen. Follow a printed storybook to build a portable, touchscreen computer, and attach a keyboard. From there, kids can make apps, art, and games with simple steps. Included apps are Chromium (a web browser similar to Chrome), YouTube, Libre Office (similar to Microsoft Office) and Google Drive; more are available in the app store, such as […]

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