THE RIGHT ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE

A reader writes: “My Norton anti-virus is coming up for renewal and  I’m thinking of trying to go for free with Avast anti-virus. Is that what you guys use and, if so, are you reasonably happy with it?” We’re not surprised that he thought we were using Avast,  because our last two mentions were positive. Avast won PC Magazine’s “Editor’s Choice” award in the freebie category. Techlicious recommends its cell phone app. But one of our readers said he got overcharged by Avast tech support. And our favorite tech guru said: “I have heard about this. Avast is outsourcing their tech support to scammers! Someone told me that they followed the support links from Avast only to get a scammer […]

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SOFT IN THE HEAD

We’ve never written about headphones before because we were never impressed before. And that’s because every time a new set came out, bingo, every writer in America was immediately notified. But “SleepPhones,” $40 from Acoustic Sheep, (see them leaping the fence?), answers something we’ve all wondered about. How do we learn Zulu in our sleep? Acoustic Sheep makes a cloth headband with tiny equipment inside. Wear them to bed; they’re as comfy as any soft headband. Though designed for listening to music, Nature sounds or audio books as you fall off to sleep, Joy likes it for yoga. To avoid waking Bob, Joy sometimes puts it on her head in the middle of the night, whenever she has excess energy. […]

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WHAT’S APP, DOC?

Our friend Olga called us from the Dominican Republic, using the free app, “WhatsApp.” It’s a great way for travelers to avoid having to buy a local SIM card for their phone, or face expensive roaming charges. But we’ve often wondered what other advantages WhatsApp has, considering all the alternatives, including Skype. One big one is simplicity. Because WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, you automatically see Facebook friends who use it. With Skype, you must know the person’s user name. Our friend Olga didn’t use her last name so she was particularly hard to find on Skype, but easy to find on WhatsApp. However, call quality on Skype is usually better. You can use either one for a video chat, […]

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WHO’S ANONYMOUS?

Many readers have written to rave about the search engine “DuckDuckGo,” because it promises privacy as you search the web. But we learned that it’s only partially private. DuckDuckGo itself doesn’t track your movements, but you can still be “seen” by the websites you visit, for marketing purposes. An alternative is Startpage.com. Search on anything and when the results come up, click “Anonymous View” next to the site you wish to visit. Your computer’s address will be masked. So will your location, your browser, operating system and personal information.  So … when you go on Facebook or Twitter, those sites can’t share your activities with the websites that advertise with them. We actually don’t mind advertisers collecting data on us, […]

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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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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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WORTH FIVE BUCKS

Ever watch a video of an artist drawing? These quickly-drawn cartoons are used in ads and training videos. We got one for fun. It cost $5. Our interest began when a reader asked for our recommendation on “whiteboard animation software.” That would be software that creates cartoon videos. “PowToon” and many others are free, but we weren’t sure about the art part. That’s when we turned to artists on Fiverr. There are hundreds and most are super cheap. Fiverr.com is a marketplace for people who sell services in dozens of fields at surprisingly low prices. Wouldn’t it be fun, we thought, to have a video clip for our history club? We’re doing “history of fashion” and a plain PowerPoint presentation […]

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A WORD TO THE FRUGAL

Topics this week: Free word processors and dictation, smart shopping, pinpointing your location, annoying ads.

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CAPTURING VIDEO AND PICTURES

Both Windows and Mac come with free tools for capturing whatever you see on your screen and attaching it to an email or using it elsewhere. But if you need high resolution screenshots, or want to capture video, add voice over or turn it into a brief animation, the new Ashampoo Snap 9 is a handy Windows program for doing that. Basically anything you see on your computer screen can be captured in up to 4K resolution, which is quite sharp. Add special effects, or time the video capture for a precise start and stop, or even pause it. The program can also do “OCR” (optical character recognition). So if you want to capture a news article off the screen, […]

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IT’S A MARSHMALLOW WORLD

Less than five percent of Android phone owners have the new “Marshmallow” operating system. A third have the previous version, Lollipop. the rest are so far back the operating systems were written on stone tablets.

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