HOW TO SPOT A SCAM

We got a doozy of a phone call the other day. The message said our account would be automatically debited $499 unless we called back to get the money refunded. So we did what we always do in such situations. We typed the phone number into a Google search. Sure enough, it was a scam. Interestingly when Joy bought Bob a new phone, the Pixel 3a, we got a spam call within ten minutes of activating the phone. So take note: They’re out there and they’re always gunning for you. Kid Version of Alexa Amazon’s smart speaker, the Echo and Echo Dot with Alexa inside, sometimes offers more information than kids can handle. Now there’s a “Kid’s Edition,” $70 from […]

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CONVERSATION VIEW

We finally turned off a feature in Gmail that’s been there since the beginning and has been driving us crazy. It’s called “Conversation View.” We didn’t know you could turn it off. In conversation view, new messages show up at the bottom of the thread. If you have a ton of them, you scroll forever. For example, Joy’s friend Mary Lynn Funk went back and forth in one conversation for six months, all with the same heading. Half the time, Joy would lose the thread, unable to find the latest email, as she scrolled past long emails from three months before. Now those emails have been automatically separated into 49 separate chunks. It’s much more manageable. To turn it off […]

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THE DROP SHIP HAS COME IN

People are making some pretty good money buying things on Amazon and selling them for more on eBay without ever touching the product. It’s called “drop shipping.” PlanetMoney did a wonderful podcast called “Cat Scam,” to explore this topic. Their lead example is the Ripple Rug, a cat toy made by SnugglyCat. People bought the rug for $40 from Amazon and re-sold it for $60, using Amazon Prime’s free shipping service. They never had to touch the product or do much work. But when customers saw the Amazon box, they looked it up and found out they’d overpaid for the rug. So they’d return it to Amazon. In two months, there were 200 returns. Bad news for SnugglyCat, the toy […]

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DRIVING AN OLD COMPUTER

We heard from several readers who were wondering if they should buy a Chromebook to replace their old Windows machine. A reader writes: “I saw an article that said, ‘Using a five-year-old computer is like driving a 1966 car on the interstate.” Her computer is four years old, and ran Windows 8 until she upgraded it to Windows 10. It came with four gigabytes of RAM, and her daughter added another four gigabytes.  But that “didn’t seem to make it any faster,” she said. Even after she switched to a fiber-optic internet provider, it was slow. We hear you. Even our super-fast Windows machine with an i7 processor and 12 gigabytes of RAM gets slow when the antivirus program is […]

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COPY THAT

A reader says he uses the free LibreOffice as a Microsoft Word equivalent, but wishes he had an “extended clipboard.” That’s a program that lets you keep copying items from the web or elsewhere without losing the first thing you copied. He writes: “If I can’t find some program or add-on that will let me send 10-20 items to a clipboard to then mass paste to a Word document or spreadsheet, looks like I will be forced to buy from Microsoft. Prior to Windows 10, I had been using Office XP Pro for many years on all my computers. Any suggestions?” We suggested “Comfort Clipboard,” free for 30 days and then a one-time charge of $20. The reader says: “I […]

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IS IT CHEAPER TO PRINT YOUR OWN PHOTOS?

Are you better off using an online photo service like Shutterfly or doing it at home? If you count the pennies, Shutterfly wins. Ink and paper in bulk cost around 12 cents per photo, the same as Shutterfly. But that’s not counting the cost of your printer, and the annoyance of paper jams and hassles. Possible further problem: the ink can dry up and clog the printer if you don’t use it much. We once lined up six printers that had clogged because of infrequent use. If you need a print immediately, places like Walgreens and CVS will let you pick up your photos a few hours after you order them. We use our printers, an Okidata laser and a […]

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TV OR NOT TV

A reader writes that his daughter signed up for “Hulu Live,” dropping her cable TV. What do we think? It’s $40  a month for more than 60 channels. Similar services include YouTube TV, Playstation Vue (no Playstation required), Sling TV, and DIRECTV Now. They’re all about the same price except for Sling TV, at $25 a month, which we haven’t had a good experience with. We currently pay AT&T $167 a month for TV. So we’re trying out the seven-day free trial of  the $40 a month Hulu service. So far, it’s OK, not great. Hulu Live brings us our live favorites: Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and 60 Minutes, as well as sports. It also has our favorite movie channel, […]

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CAN YOU CATCH A PHISH?

A quiz by Google reveals how good you are at spotting the difference between a legitimate email and a phishing attempt. Phishing is a way that thieves try to steal your password and credit card information while concealing their identity. The message may even appear to be from someone you know. Learn to avoid the punches at phishingquiz.withgoogle.com. They’re not as obvious as you might expect. One of the emails in the quiz provides a link to what looks like a document from Google Drive. But  a couple of dashes in the link should tip you off that it’s phoney. The trick is, you’ll only see those dashes if you hover over the link in the email. In any email […]

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NEW ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER

We were roped in by Google’s one-day offer of a nice discount on a new phone; it came with a gift card from AirBNB, worth the cost of the phone, plus $225 for our old phone. But when we got the new phone, the Pixel 3, we decided to return it. The sound quality was muffled, said Bob. Joy couldn’t tell if it was better or worse, but she’s not the audiophile Bob is. This opens the way for a bit of high dudgeon. That is to say, an incensed tirade. One of the great flaws of the high-tech industry is adding improvements where none are needed. We have been writing about this stuff for so long that we now […]

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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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