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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HOW BOUT FREE PHONE SERVICE?

A reader latched onto his wife’s old Samsung Galaxy phone, now that she has a new one. At first he thought he needed a cheap phone service to go with it. We suggested a Tracfone plan for $7 a month — $21 every 90 days for 60 minutes of talk time. But he decided to go even cheaper: use free Wi-Fi to make calls. If you use Google Voice, Google Hangouts, Skype or some similar service to make calls, you don’t need a dedicated phone service. Search on “How to Make Phone Calls and Texts from your Smart Phone without Cell Service,” which leads to full instructions at HowToGeek.com. (Gotta love that name.) But what about the landline? You know, […]

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OUR NEW PHONE

There are 4.66 billion cell phones in the world. Ours cracked. Water got in and they just don’t work as well when they’re submerged. ‘Hooda’ thought it? It was the third gone gadget in a year. So bye-bye Google Nexus 6P and hello Google Pixel 2. All 158 apps from our old phone transferred over automatically as soon as we signed into our Google account. (Who needs 158 apps? We don’t even remember what they all do; they went in just to test ’em for the column.) The data in some of those apps was gone. Unfortunately, Joy had a couple hours of Bob’s deep voice recorded on the old phone, telling her about his adventures in Morocco as a […]

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SOLVABLE SOLITAIRE

What is the most popular Windows program ever made? It’s not Microsoft Office or Word, it’s Solitaire. Practically everyone we’ve ever known plays it. It’s one of those “win some, lose some” kind of games. Or is it? If you try Solitaire in Windows 10 they have an option: They have “solvable solitaire” options starting at “easy” and going up to tournament levels. Bob’s an ace at Solitaire, But Joy usually loses. So she tried the solvable “medium” level and won her first three games! Ha, ha, victory! To find the solvable games option, you can either type “solitaire” in the search box in the lower left of your screen, or click the start button and scroll down until you […]

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AUGMENTED REALITY

What’s hot? Fake reality, that’s what’s hot. What’s really great about the technology business is the number of things you can do and make even if nobody wants them. Who knows? Somebody might buy it. We thought the Netflix series show, “Stranger Things,” was pretty strange. Strange enough, for us to drop out and not return. But stranger still, some of the show’s characters, like “Eleven,” can drop into whatever you’re shooting with your smartphone. Characters from Star Wars can also drop in — your shopping trip can be guarded by Imperial storm troopers — and no one but you will know that you’re nuts. They drop into the scene in 3D, like from the moon, from thin air, and […]

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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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SMILE

What? As if 900 crypto-currencies were not enough, we now have “Dentacoin.” You guessed it, Dentacoin is for paying dentists. At the moment, you can only pay two dentists with this digital currency, one in Bulgaria and the other in London, but the wheel, and the planet, turns. These digital currencies, also called “crypto” or “e-cash” are a way of getting out from under bank fees, inflation, security risks and of course government control. Eeek, as they say in the treasury. We are fast approaching a thousand varieties and there’s no reason to expect it to stop there. Shades of early America, when banks in all the states used to issue their own currency. Except they could keep printing money. […]

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ANTI-VIRUS REVISITED

We bow to the mounting evidence and can no longer recommend the free anti-virus program: “Avast.” Too many complaints. And yet, cyber attacks as they’re called, are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated. Choosing an alternative is tricky. For years, PC World, PC Magazine and other reviewers gave their highest marks to the Russian-owned Kaspersky anti-virus. Then came the accusation that Russian hackers may be using it to conduct espionage against the U.S.; some readers dropped it like a hot potato. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security ordered federal agencies to remove it from their systems. Avast is based in the Czech Republic, and there’s been some strange behavior recently.  One of our readers said the people who answer the […]

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BUYING HIGH AND LOW

We haven’t seen all the features of Apple’s new iPhone, but even without seeing them we’re  impressed by the price. Apparently, a thousand dollars isn’t what it used to be. But what is? Apple has always had high prices but this may be getting ridiculous. So we bought an elderly friend a smartphone for $17. That would be a cost ratio of about sixty to one. She impressed a fellow resident at her retirement home by whipping out her new phone to call an Uber cab. When she said it was a cheap phone, he figured she meant around  $200, a bargain these days. But the “Alcatel One Touch” cost us $17 from Walmart, and her monthly service cost is […]

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POLITICAL DATING SITES

Given the current divide in American politics, we decided to investigate dating sites that could eliminate arguments at the breakfast table (and beyond). Here goes: — A new one for conservatives is TrumpSingles.com, a nicely designed site, with fewer offerings than big sites like Match.com, but more closely targeted. If you can’t figure out the target, it may not be for you. — ConservativesOnly.com is a bare-bones site that’s been around for years and is – how can we put it? – conservative. — For liberals there are many sites (in fact, most) but for that international flavor they might like to try “Maple Match,” a free  app that “makes it easy for Americans to find Canadians.” (They’re just above […]

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