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, these recordings are used to improve voice recognition, so we opted to leave them alone.

Later this year, “Alexa Guard” is coming to all Echo Devices. It will listen for any problems in your home, such as a smoke detector, a siren, or a clumsy burglar dropping something. After recording the noise, it will send you an audio clip so you can hear for yourself and decide whether or not there’s still time to panic.

A Vanity Press For Movies?

Getting your script turned into a movie looks impossible. We recently got a pitch from TaleFlick, an outfit that selects the best scripts using an algorithm.

The catch? It’s not free. It costs $88 to submit your manuscript. After the algorithm sorts through everything, people at TaleFlick go over what remains and choose a few to submit to producers.

So far, every optioned book was turned into a movie by TaleFlick itself. This immediately made us think of vanity presses, which will publish your book if you pay for it.

One of their movies is “Marjorie Prime,” starring Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, about a forgetful woman with a new companion who looks just like her dead husband. We saw it at Amazon but the trailer was too creepy for our tastes.

Downloading Amazon Videos

A reader needed help downloading an Amazon video to his phone. We suggested contacting Amazon tech support, but it’s not easy to find the link. Here’s how.

First go to Amazon.com on your computer. Scroll to the bottom right of the page, and click “help” in tiny print. Scroll to the bottom again and click “Contact Us” under “Need More Help?” Click on the tab that describes what you need help with, whether it’s an order, a device or digital content. Once you choose the description that fits your problem, you’ll have an option to phone or chat on the screen through text messaging. We like the text option because it gives Amazon information to start with and because Joy is a fast typist. It’s also nice to get a transcript of the conversation.

In a chat, Amazon tech support told our reader that to download a movie, rather than just stream it, he needed the free “Amazon App Store” app from Amazon.com/getappstore, which is only available on phones and tablets, not computers. Once he had the App Store installed, he had to download the “Amazon Prime Video app” and choose a movie. It costs $99 a year to become a Prime member. There are a number of benefits, including free shipping and movies to download or stream. There are lots of free movies. Our reader wondered if you needed to be a Prime member to use the Prime app. You don’t. He paid $2 an episode to download the show “Flipping Ships,a kind of fixer-upper show for boat fans.

Internuts

  • Geek.com has a list of “the most bizarre items forgotten by Uber riders.” They include a baby Chihuahua, a tuxedo for a small dog, a full-set of 18 karat gold teeth and a photo of a New Year’s kiss, among others.
  • GoodcarBadcar.net gives you trends in car buying. The top used car for 2018 was the Toyota Camry, followed closely by the Honda Civic. Minivan sales are in a slump, though the Kia Sedona is up over nine percent this year.
  • Goalloutdoors.com has an article titled “How to Camp with Your Dog.” One tip: Bring a long leash and a stake. You won’t want to hold your dog’s leash the entire time. Another tip: Get a medical check-up first, to be sure Fido is fit.

App Happy

“Space: Break Cell Phone Addiction, Stay Focused” is a free app to help you get off the phone. It sends an alert when you’ve overdone it. Your screen dims. If you want to be able to call and text as much as you want without bumping up against your limit, you can tell the app not to count calls and texts in the total.

And then, of course, there’s the free Hoopla app, which we’ve mentioned before. It lets you stream videos, books and audio books for free. Naturally, it’s popular and libraries sometimes have a limit. We notice the limit resets at midnight. Night owls rejoice.

Tech Books

An Italian friend of ours has several patents on automating chicken coops. (Somebody has to do it.) His interest began as a teenager when he played around with circuits back in Parma. Here are the kind of books that would help a tinkerer today, young or old.

  • “A Beginner’s Guide to Circuits,” by Øyvind Dahl, $18 from nostarch.com guides you in several projects such as: a touch-enabled light switch, a digital piano, an alarm that buzzes when it detects light, a night-light that turns on automatically when it gets dark, and five others.
  • Learn Robotics with Raspberry Pi,” by 18 year-old author Matt Timmons-Brown, creator of the popular Raspberry Pi YouTube channel. The book shows readers how to program their own robot from scratch using a $35 Raspberry Pi microcomputer and Python coding.

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 Canon inkjet, mainly for Joy’s homemade greeting cards and Bob’s stock analyses.

Talking to Your Printer

Continuing along the printer line: Have you talked to it lately? If you have an Epson EcoTank, WorkForce or Expression Printer, you can talk to your printer, using Amazon’s Alexa, iPhone’s Siri or Google Assistant.

Install the free Epson iPrint app and you’re good to go. You can ask it to print a photo for you or tell you how much ink you have left. If you’re the creative type, ask it to make graph paper or ruled paper, colorful stationary, scrapbooks, calendars and seasonal designs. If you have an all-in-one, a combo printer and scanner, you can ask it to scan and print.

We’re impressed by the Epson EcoTank printer. The cost, around $350, is higher than an ordinary printer, but you save money in the long run. It comes with enough ink to produce 11,200 color pages, or 14,000 black and white. That’s equivalent to 30 ink cartridge sets, or $1500 in ink value. The catch is once the ink is in the printer, it only lasts a year, so this is for heavy users. Bob once listened to a doctor complain endlessly about his ink costs.

Job Trends

Freelancer.com lists 500,000 freelance jobs around the world and reports on trends. These days, the hottest jobs are in web development, digital creative skills, and social media. People who know how to use Adobe Photoshop are consistently in demand.

Jobs for math wizards fell 31 percent over a three-month period. And jobs for experts in Mathematica and Matlab, two software programs, dropped 34 percent. Jobs in statistical analysis dropped 26 percent. Around 1,948 math openings are listed.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

We’re still enchanted with Corel Video Studio, but it’s $100. How about free video editing?

We just found a new program called “Rocketium.” It lets you make a video online in a couple of clicks and share it by email. The catch is the free version only gives you three videos a month and there’s a small “Made with Rocketium” logo at the top of every screen. But if it’s just for family and friends, they probably won’t mind the branding. You can combine video clips with captions into a single movie.

In five minutes, Joy made a video for her nephew’s birthday, with her own voiceover and music. It was the easiest creation process we’ve seen. It starts with a pre-made video with Rocketium’s own clips and text. You replace them with your photos or videos and your own text. You can edit each photo right there and make the text as jazzy as you wish. A chat window opens up with a representative to answer your questions as you go along. You can get rid of their logo and make up to 20 videos a month for $40 a month. Both versions give you a library of templates to make your video look like a pro’s.

Internuts

  • 33 Useful Kitchen Tricks That Will Save You Hours.Search on that to find a YouTube video with tricks that made Bob say: “Should we get a deep fat fryer?” Fortunately, that only applies to one or two of the tricks. Learn how to make perfect potato wedges, chicken satay or shishkabob marvels, cucumbers as pretty as butterflies, and so on.
  • DiedinHouse.com. For a $12 fee, this site will tell you if someone died in the house you are considering buying. This is actually pretty common, since it’s often the reason the house is for sale. In many states, realtors do not have to disclose this information. The report also tells you whether there was a fire at the house, a meth lab or a sex offender. It also gives you an estimated value of the house.

Battery Myths

According to most experts we’ve read, it’s OK to leave your phone plugged in all night.

But AccuBattery, which makes a free Android app for checking your battery health, told us that charging a phone beyond 80 percent is hard on the battery. Because of their advice, we’ve been using a “Mechanical Timer” to shut it off after a couple of hours.

According to Apple consultant Chuck Rogers writing on Quora.com, the thing you need to be concerned about is cycles. Your iPhone battery is 80 percent as good as new after 500 cycles. A cycle, he says, is one full discharge followed by one full charge. For most users, that’s two to three years of use, whether you leave it plugged in or not. If you are like most smart phone owners, you will be getting a new phone after two or three years. That’s why, he says, It Does Not Matter!”

But there are battery dos and don’ts. For instance, don’t charge your phone in a public charging port. We did that once at the airport. It’s possible that hackers could access your emails, texts, photos, and more. Bring your own portable phone charger. These are small and cost about $15 to $30.

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

The first time we used a Macbook Air, moving our finger on the trackpad caused the screen to jump around like mad. So-called “gestures” can whisk you away to a new place, shutting down whatever you were working on. Recently, a friend complained of this too, so we looked up the solution.

These gestures are amazingly abundant on the Mac and are supposed to offer you alternative ways to interact with your computer. But if you find them as annoying as we do, here’s what to do:

First, click on the Apple logo in the upper right of your screen. Then choose “System Preferences.” Click “Trackpad.” Note the three tabs, including “More Gestures.” Click a tab to see what’s under that category, and put a check mark next to anything you don’t want. There are 14 of them. Only a programmer would need that many.

Making Movies

By Brad Barton

No matter how you look at it, Corel’s $100 program, “VideoStudio Ultimate,” is for serious video tinkerers. It comes with “FastFlick,” a separate program. FastFlick makes a professional-looking movie out of your photos and video clips in a couple of clicks, using music, frames, transitions and background effects.

Joy made a charming video of family photos through the years. But when she looked at it later, there were adjustments she want to make. For instance, she wished it had more captions. So she opened up the movie in VideoStudio Ultimate. That’s where things got confusing for those of us used to simple, free programs, like Google Photos. VideoStudio Ultimate is really powerful. You can make video run backwards, or do the kinds of things you see in professional movies. Among the new features, you can turn a 360 degree image into what’s called a “tiny planet.” The whole environment turns into a ball with people walking along the outside. Or you can make a rabbit hole, looking at what you would see if you were a rabbit in its burrow.

Fortunately, the program comes with ten days free training from StudioBacklot.tv. After that, it’s $8 a month. The guy who does this tutorial is fantastic. You could follow him even if you’d never used a computer before, but somehow it’s not dumbed down either. In the quick start video, he shows you a lot of features we never knew were there, like the ability to do screen captures or create your own music from various mixes. This is definitely pro level.

Free E-Books from Barnes and Noble

A long-time reader tells us that he finds a lot of free mystery and suspense e-books from Barnes and Noble online. He reads them on the free “Nook” app. By the way, you don’t have to own a Barnes and Noble tablet to use it. We  installed the Nook app on our Android phone and Joy downloaded an old favorite, “David Copperfield” and a book about the War of 1812.

The reader finds his freebies by Googling the phrase “Free mystery books Barnes & Noble.” He notes that he gets a wider selection than if he goes to Barnes & Noble and types “Free mystery books.” We left out the word “mystery” and noticed many categories off to the left, including humor, current events, crime and suspense.

TV issues

A reader told us he recently switched from AT&T Uverse to AT&T Direct TV. Direct TV is cheaper. So we wrote back and said, “How’s it going?”

“Since we live in ‘Tornado alley,’” he wrote, “I like Uverse because we can follow the storms. With Direct we lose the signal when they are upon us so I have to go out back, look at the sky from my back porch.  Been scary a few times.” (His house was nearly demolished.)

Besides the signal loss, here’s another problem he had with Direct TV: If he changed the channel, it would pause for a few seconds. So he’d hit the button again, and when it finally woke up, it jumped two or three channels. His wife suggested he change the batteries. Bob and the reader both believe this is a universal principle; wives will always suggest changing the batteries. In fact, every time there’s a problem with the remote, Joy suggests changing the batteries. So we do it and she swears it works. Bob disagrees. In any event, after several days, the reader writes, “I had a Eureka moment and unplugged the power to the boxes and counted to 20. Problem solved.” Lesson: If in doubt, unplug and re-plug. We recommend this practice. It teaches the equipment who’s boss.

Annoying Pop-Ups on Your Phone

Another reader wrote that his phone was plagued with pop-up ads. For three months, he visited the AT&T store  to inquire. He shut off all notifications and still got ads. The ads made it almost impossible to carry on a conversation, since they covered the whole screen, and sometimes you had to use the onscreen keypad to tap your choices.

On his last trip to the store, a 15-year-old kid in the store heard his complaint. The AT&T people were telling him there was still one more notification he should turn off, though they couldn’t find any. As he was getting ready to leave, the kid asked for his phone. Shortly afterward, he said, “I fixed it.” The culprit was a free flashlight app from the Google Play store. The kid told him he didn’t need the app, there was a flashlight built in. All the ads were coming from the one app. Problem solved. He was reminded of the quote:  “If the product is free, you are the product.” Second rule: Look for the nearest 15-year-old kid.

 

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, Turner Classic, and half a dozen others we sometimes watch. We like the Smithsonian Channel, also included, and the History Channel. Bob’s favorite, TVG, for horseracing, is not included. We’d have to pay extra for that, through the Roku Express stick we plug into the back of our TV.

To use Hulu or one of the others, you need a way to stream channels, but there are lots, besides the Roku stick or Roku TV. There’s Amazon Firestick or Amazon Fire TV,  Android tablets or phones, iPhones or iPads, PCs, Macs, Google Chromecast, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and some Samsung and LG smart TVs. The cheapest add-on option is  $25 for the Roku Express.

But it turns out, a cheaper way to go is to complain. We have mixed minds about this. When we needed technical support, the AT&T guy spent almost two days helping us through our problem and there was no charge. But the fact is, AT&T service is expensive, and there’s a lot of competition out there. So Joy went onto their site to ask about dropping cable TV: what they dropped was the price. The new price will last a year, just like last time we tried it, then  go back up. We forgot to inquire last month, so we’re currently paying $197 for TV plus Internet. But after  clicking “chat” on their website, and asking about it, they dropped the total to $122.

The catch is: If we drop TV service from AT&T, they’ll charge us more for the Internet, $50 a month instead of $30. Adding that to the $40 Hulu bill, would come to $90, and leave us with only a $32 a month savings.

This reminds Bob of the early days for computers, back when there were brands like Kentucky Fried Computer, NBI (Nothing But Initials), and other forgotten labels. As a marketer we know pointed out back then, stores weren’t going to carry half a dozen brands of computers. And they haven’t. Similarly, we’re not going to see half a dozen alternatives to cutting the cable. Joy disagrees. But she’s not quite ready to jump on the Hulu ship either.

Internuts

  • 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music on Spotify.” Search on that phrase for a great playlist. If you sign up for a free account at Spotify.com, you can get get hours worth of music that others have carefully curated. Search on whatever phrase you like, such as “50s Party on Spotify.” After you click on the result and it opens up in Spotify, click “save to library.” If you need to listen away from a Wi-Fi connection, there’s an offline mode.
  • 4 year old Russian girl stuns crowd by speaking fluently in 7 languages.” Search on that phrase for something remarkable. This little girl is brilliant. She converses without an accent, answering questions from seven different people in Russian, English, Arabic, Spanish, French, German, and Chinese.

Precious Voice Mail

One of Bob’s voicemails for Joy is too good to delete. But if she ever gets a new phone, it won’t be there. Here are a couple of ways to record voicemails to your computer and elsewhere.

If you have an iPhone, you can back up your voicemails to your iCloud account. Search on “How to Transfer Voicemail Messages Between Two iPhones” for instructions. Or tap the share button on a voicemail and email it to yourself.

Android users can record their voice mails with “Keep,” an app that comes with the phone. Email the recording to yourself for safekeeping.

Another way to go is to use the free program “Audacity” for Mac or PC, from AudacityTeam.org or Fosshub.com. Some cell phone services, like Google Fi, automatically save all voicemails for free on your private website space. That’s where Joy found Bob’s old voicemail. (Click “Google Voice” at the bottom of the page at Fi.Google.com.) Others charge you $3 a month for that. So does “YouMail.”

Wrestling with Python

At the dawn of the computer revolution, Joy took programming classes. She was never good at it. A big problem was typos. Make one error and the whole program is blown. But thanks to a new book we got in for review, she’s discovered the magic of “Python.”

Learning the Python  programming language is as essential to today’s young as knowing math, say some experts. Whether or not that’s true, Python is a huge improvement over any we’ve tried. If you  make a mistake, it highlights the error in red and suggests what’s wrong.

In “Math Adventures with Python;” $30 from NoStarch Press, author Peter Farrell uses Python to crack secret codes, create fractals, and generate virtual sheep that graze on grass and multiply, among other projects. We also tried out “Python Flash Cards,” by Eric Matthes. If you’re curious about Python, take it for a spin by downloading the program for free from Python.org.

 

JOY CATCHES A PHISH

Recently we told you about a Google quiz from phishingquiz.withgoogle.com. It lets you know whether you’re good at spotting hacking attempts in your email. Even so, we almost fell for one ourselves.

We got an email that seemed to be from AT&T, telling us: “You recently talked with someone at AT&T or told us online you forgot your User ID.” It listed our user ID and links to going paperless, setting up auto-pay, or getting AT&T news. All of that looked exactly like a standard AT&T email. It even listed the correct phone number for AT&T.  We called it up and the rep said the email was a phishing attempt. She warned us not to click on anything.

But it’s safe to right-click a link and paste it into Word. When we did that for each link, they all had a phony address in common: clicks.ATT.com, with a long trail of characters after that. Joy accidentally went to clicks.ATT.com when she just meant to Google it, and it looked like the kind of site a beginner would create 20 years ago. The real AT&T address is www.att.com.

Phone Fun

Here are some fun and useful things to try on your iPhone with its latest operating system, version 12. (Android tips later.)

  • Do notifications drive you crazy? You’re in the middle of something and your phone sounds off to tell you the latest news from Zanzibar? Swipe right on the notification and choose “manage.” Then choose “Deliver quietly.”
  • Can’t remember what the doctor said? That’s OK. He doesn’t remember what you said either. Record it. Tap “voice memo,” and hit the record button. Back it up to your private space on iCloud by going to “Settings” and tapping your name. Then tap “iCloud” and “Voice Memos.” Toggle it to the “on” position.
  • Change Siri’s accent to Irish or South African. Go to “settings,” tap “Siri and Search,” then “Siri Voice,” and choose.

Android users who are bothered by the constant ping of notifications can tap “Settings.” Under “Sound,” choose “Default Notifications.” Then choose “My Sounds,” select “None” and “Save.” That silences them all. If there are apps you want to hear from, go to “Settings,” “Apps & Notifications,” and make adjustments. For example, in “Messages,” tap “Notifications,” then  “Default,” “Advanced,” and “Sound.” We like “Gentle Gong.”

To change the voice of Google Assistant, a free app on your Android phone, tap and hold the Home button on your phone, click the funny symbol on the right, click the three dots in the upper left, choose “Settings,” tap “Assistant” and then “Assistant Voice.” Tap the voice you like best. We chose “British Racing Green.” (By the way: It’s called that because it is the color assigned to cars from Great Britain in international races.)

To make a voice recording on an Android phone, tap the “Keep Notes” app, which is located in the “Create” group. Under “take a note,” tap the microphone and blast away. That note can contain thousands of words. The app does transcripts too. But we also like the free apps “Smart Recorder” and “Otter,” for either Android or iPhone.

Password Check

Recently, we mentioned a website, HaveIbeenPwned.com, which tells you if any of your passwords have been stolen. Unfortunately, if it says yes, you have no idea which one it was or when it happened. Now Google offers a free extension for Chrome users called “Password Check.” It alerts you before you enter a bad password.

Get Password Check free from the Google Chrome webstore. Once installed, every time you sign into a website, you’ll get an alert if a password isn’t OK. So far, all of ours have been fine, despite the warning from HaveIBeenPwned.

Book Me a Ride

Here’s a fast way to find the best deal from Uber or Lyft. Use Google Assistant.

Your Android phone comes with Google Assistant built in, but it can be downloaded for free to iPhones, using the app store. To use the Assistant for Uber or Lyft, say “Hey Google, book me a ride to the airport.” (Or wherever you are going.)

You’ll see an estimate of the price for both services. It might be something like “$7 – $24.” The low end would be for car pooling. Tap the one you want, then tap “open app.” You won’t commit  yourself in the Lyft app until you tap “Select Lyft.” In Uber, you won’t commit until you tap “Request Pool” to share a ride with someone else, or “Confirm UberX,” to go on your own.

Those without smart phones who want to use Uber or Lyft can call “Go Go Grandparent” or visit their website. They’ll call  Uber or Lyft for you, no smart phone required. Their fee averages $2.50 a ride.

Internuts

RD.com/funny-stuff has fun pages from the Readers Digest. This is one of those rare internet addresses with a hyphen, so be sure to put it in. Once you’re on the page, take a look at these:

  • “Funny Town Names.” These include Embarrass, Minnesota, Burnt Corn, Alabama, and Hell, Michigan, to name a few. Embarrass claimed to have had the coldest day in America during the recent Midwest Polar Vortex, but they have no proof. It was so cold, the thermometer broke.
  • “Banned Baby Names.” The name “Robocop” was banned in Mexico. “Ikea” is off limits in Australia. No Chinese parent can use the “@” sign for a name. All of these names were tested in court.
  • For a change of pace, go to YouTube.com and search on “Fun to Imagine.” Nobel-Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman shares his thoughts on the universe.

 

SLEEP TIGHT

A reader wrote to say his bed no longer communicates with the Internet. It’s a modern problem.

He and his wife have a “Sleep Number” bed with “Sleep IQ” sensors that tell them how often they toss and turn, how they’re breathing and what their heart rate is. This baby costs anywhere between $499 and $5,199, depending on the model. Some models raise the head of a snoring spouse, saving their life and marriage. They also warm feet, and offer “zero gravity” positions. This prepares you for your next trip to the moon.

Our reader’s first Sleep Number bed was so great he bought a second and then a third. When the new one wouldn’t connect to the web, however, its sleep IQ fell to moron level. The couple thought  it was the router, but they already had the recommended kind, which is either single “n-band” or “dual n-band.” They tried disconnecting the first Sleep Number bed and Ah-Ha! The new one came online.

Tech support has not been great. They suggested unplugging, replugging and trying again. Still, the couple is satisfied for now, as long as their guests on the number two bed don’t demand their sleep IQs. The number one and three beds are OK.

As savvy consumers, they wondered if a “mesh” router might fix the problem. We wondered that too. We use one ourselves, called “Google Wi Fi,” to boost the signal to our bedroom. Previously, it wasn’t getting any Internet at all. Now it works most of the time.

App Happy

We’re trying out the free “Acorns App”, which rounds up your credit card purchases and puts the remaining cents into an exchange-traded investment fund, or ETF.  So if your bill is $10.70, it adds 30 cents to your investment portfolio. Or you can start out with a deposit. We invested $50 and made 71 cents by the next day. A 3.5 percent return, not bad. If the market continues at this rate, we will reach a million in only 3,859 years. Things are looking up.

The app has 3.5 million users  and the Wall Street Journal says the company is going public soon, for an expected valuation of $860 million.

We first heard about Acorns when it came out in 2012, but were put off by a few things. You have to give them your Social Security number, for one. You have to link a credit card, for another. But Joy likes the idea that professionals and Nobel Laureate economists choose wise investments, based on your preferences. So we decided to give it a shot. Bob is worried that professionals and Nobel Laureates are choosing the investments.

What companies do they invest in? Find out by going to acorns.com/invest. They don’t list the companies, which are a broad collection of firms in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S& P 500, but they will tell you their approach depending on the style you choose. We chose “moderately aggressive.” (The most conservative position is 80 percent government and corporate bonds.) We wondered immediately how to get our money out, so we Googled it. To withdraw, go to the app and tap “Invest for your Future,” and then “withdraw.”  This is Bob’s favorite feature.

They’ve added lots of new features since the company began, including a way for them to make themselves some extra money. Tap “found money,” and buy something from one of their partners, such as Apple, Airbnb, Amazon and Macy’s; they’ll add three percent or more to your account. Tap “Grow” to read interviews and news. They are rolling out a “spend” feature which lets you round up debit card transactions, and invest 10 percent of purchases from retailers that aren’t among their partners. They also offer $25 gift cards to let  you help someone else start investing. The “Later” feature lets you invest in an individual retirement account (IRA).

If you don’t think the pennies are adding up fast enough, you can invest a set amount every month, or add a multiplier effect to the amount you round up. The average contribution is $60. The commission they charge is $1 a month for any amount under a million. That sounds reasonable, but if you’re only investing $10 a month, it’s a ten percent charge, which is too high.

 Premium TV on Roku

If you have an iPhone, you can try out a new feature from Roku, which makes a stick you plug into the back of your TV to get extra channels. Now, you can get premium Roku channels on your iPhone without the stick. Android owners can get the channels later this month.

The feature is called “Premium Subscriptions,” and if you guessed that “Premium” means you pay for each subscription, go to the head of the class. Currently, they have Showtime, Starz, EPIX, CollegeHumor, Curiosity Stream, FitFusion, The Great Courses, Smithsonian Channel Plus and many others, each with their own price and free trial period.

If you already have a Roku stick, which starts at $29 for Roku Express, you’ll be able to start watching a movie or TV episode on your TV and finish it up on your phone.  To see the offerings and sign up for free trials, go to TheRokuChannel.com.

 Too Darn Loud

Have you ever wished you could whisper something to Alexa and have her answer back in a whisper? Now you can do it. It might be handy if your baby is sleeping, and you must know the weather outside, Tom Cruise’s age, or the year Cortes met the Aztecs.

Here’s how to do it: Say to Alexa, “Turn on whisper mode.”  Don’t forget to turn down Alexa’s volume first, or her response might wake up the whole family.

Blockchain Trends

Despite the crash of Bitcoin, the digital currency, at least one state government is forging ahead. Which U.S. state is farthest ahead in e-cash? According to DECENT, which runs digital currency conferences, it’s Wyoming.

DECENT reports that Wyoming is a crypto-friendly haven for individuals and businesses. Several months ago, the state legislature ruled that virtual currencies are exempt from money transmission laws and regulations. Wyoming does not tax virtual currencies as property.

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 you aren’t sure of, hover over the “reply to” address and look for clues, like misspellings. For example, there’s one in the quiz that spells “fax” as “facks.” Also look out for emails from “google.support;” the real address is support.google. In fact, Google always puts the subject first, as in mail.google.com, maps.google.com, calendar.google.com and music.google.com. Look out for addresses that start out correctly but have something odd after the dot com. Don’t open any attachment unless you’re expecting it.

Now Backing Up

A reader using Windows 10 writes that he hasn’t been able to backup his files to a thumb drive. Here’s an easy way:

Type “Backup Settings” into the search bar at the bottom left of the screen. When it comes up, click “add a drive” and choose the thumb drive or hard drive you plugged into your PC.  Click “more options” and “backup now.” Scroll down to where it says “Back up these Folders.” Click on those you don’t need and choose “remove.”

After finishing the first backup, Windows backup will go into backup mode whenever you add a new file or bookmark a favorite website. Put it on a schedule by choosing a backup every 30 minutes or even every ten. To satisfy yourself that it’s working, try deleting an unimportant file. Then type “restore files” into the Windows search bar and choose what you want to restore.

For Windows 7 users: Select the Start  button, then Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Backup and Restore. In Windows XP and Vista, click “Start” then “Run” and in the search box type “ntbackup.exe” (without the quotes). From there, it’s easy to follow the prompts. When you’re ready to restore files, just click on the file you saved and the prompts come back to guide you.

Print Your Chicken Nuggets

The Wall Street Journal writes that kids will soon be able to 3D print their chicken nuggets using “Foodini.”

The Foodini allows you to put ground chicken in one container, bread crumbs in another and choose a shape, like a dinosaur or star. The commercial version, now used by restaurants to make fancy desserts and signature garnishes, costs $4000, but a consumer version is coming out “soon.”

On Second Thought

In a recent column, we warned against a virus called “Blueborne,” suggesting that you turn Bluetooth off on your phone when you don’t need communication between devices, such as a wireless headset. A reader writes about her Apple Watch, which requires Bluetooth to be turned on. Oops, our mistake. Apple Watch and iPhone users are safe even with Bluetooth on all the time.

In short, Apple watches are not vulnerable to a Blueborne attack. Neither is any iPhone with the latest operating system, OS 11, which is compatible on all iPhones going back to iPhone 5s, which came out in 2013.

Hacked

A hacker who gained access to 723 million email addresses and 21 million passwords. is calling it “Collection #1.” He’s selling it for $45 to other hackers. To find out if yours was hacked, go to HaveIBeenPwned.com.

One of Joy’s email accounts had been “breached” 14 times, another account was hit nine times, and a third five times. Two of Bob’s had been breached six times, and a third five times.  To combat this, we changed the passwords for all of our accounts. The danger is that someone will use your login info  to sign onto another site. So it’s a good idea to have different passwords on different sites.

HaveIBeenPwnd.com suggests using a password manager, but we’d rather manage our passwords ourselves. Joy keeps a list of them on a Word document on her local machine, under a name only an alien would guess. To be even safer, set up two-factor identification wherever it’s available. That means you’ll be asked to reveal a code sent to you by text or email whenever you sign on using a new machine or phone. For instructions on how to set it up, do a search on that phrase along with the type of email you use, whether it’s Gmail, Yahoo or whatever. To read more on this issue, go to Techlicious.com or search on the words “773 Million Email Addresses Compromised in New Data Breach.”

Internuts

  • AccountKiller.com lets you instantly delete any account, whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Skype or a dozen others.
  • Ideas.Ted.com. Instead of the videos you find at Ted.com, this site has text articles, many of which are on self-improvement. We read tips for remembering people’s names, and took a quiz to find out if we’re an introvert or extrovert. Joy turned out to be an “ambivert,” in between the two poles; she can use either head.
  • Mix.com used to be StumbleUpon.com. This was one of the cleverest sites we ever stumbled upon. It was kind of a wheel-of-fortune way to find odd sites. You’d click the “stumble” button to find them. Now the site presents three tabs. One has sites geared to your interests, another shows you what’s popular and a third lets you follow people you find interesting. It’s kind of confusing but still interesting.

 

 

 

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 like “start” or “shut down.” But if you click the hamburger icon (upper left after you click the start button), you’ll see the categories in text. In your new XP-style menu from Classic Shell, you’ll see your program list in text, without colorful squares. Click “Documents” to see a list of what you were working on recently and you can go right there. When you click the icon for documents in Windows 10, you land in File Explorer. Better bring a compass.

There’s more. When you click the start button in Classic Shell, then  “Settings,” you’ll see the things you want most: Control Panel, Printers, PC settings, Network Connections and more.  When you click “Search,” you can immediately search for files, folder or contacts. In the start menu, there’s also a link to the word “run” in case you want to use an old DOS command.

Classic Shell is a shell on top of Windows 10, which is good, because you still need the Windows 10 operating system for added security. It should be noted that  it doesn’t give you the XP system, so you might not be able to run XP programs. You can try running Windows XP programs by right-clicking the program you want and choosing “run as administrator.” Then, if necessary, try right-clicking again and choosing “run compatibility troubleshooter.” This hasn’t worked for us, but techies tell us it should. So for $70, we bought a refurbished XP desktop computer from Amazon. For sure, it runs XP programs.

Alexa, Hypnotize Me

You don’t have to own the Amazon’s “Echo” smart speaker to use its go-to gal Alexa. Download the free Alexa app to your phone or tablet, and try the latest commands. With some trepidation we said, “Alexa: Hypnotize me.”

When you say that, you’re asked to say “list” to choose from a list. But we found that no matter which one we chose, what came up was relaxation therapy. Joy became so relaxed she felt drugged and turned it off midway through. The second time, she let it put her to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. The voice comes from Barry Thain, a British man, who has an actor’s genius for suggestion. He’s a licensed hypnotherapist.

We also tried “Women’s Health Yoga.” The first lesson, just a couple minutes long, focuses on resting. If you search on the phrase “Alexa skills,” you’ll find a list of the most popular ones.

What’s My Phone Worth?

A reader wrote that three friends gave her their old cell phones and she was thinking of selling them.

“What’s My Phone Worth?” is a free app. (Android version) It instantly analyzes your phone and gives you an estimate of its worth. Like Flipsy.com, it has links to sites that are ready to buy from you. Tap to describe the condition, from “broken” to “like new,” to get an accurate price.

We sold some stuff on eBay last summer and here’s a warning: They don’t save records from transactions more than four months old. So it’s hard to see what you sold, unless you save the details yourself, or check your account on PayPal.

Email on Your Phone

A reader said she finally got around to trying out “Unroll.Me,” which we mentioned as a way of unsubscribing from all those emails you never meant to sign up for. But she was put off by the privacy warning.

It didn’t bother us, since it’s a bot (a program) reading your mail, not a human. However, we understand the concern about data collection. Another option is to click on a message, then click “spam.” You should see a link that says “unsubscribe.” This works for us in Gmail, but in AOL we keep getting an error message.

Edison Mail” is a faster way to unsubscribe from dozens of promotions and newsletters in one fell swoop. It’s free for Android and iPhones. You don’t give up Gmail, or whatever email service you use, you read your mail inside Edison. However, sneaky newsletters will add you to a new mail list as soon as you tap “unsubscribe.”

Besides getting rid of junky newsletters, Edison lets you swipe left to archive a message and swipe right to delete it. As with earlier versions, it automatically sorts email into categories such as “travel,” “receipts,” “packages,” “entertainment” and “subscriptions.”

We tapped “subscriptions” and saw 60 newsletters we didn’t know we’d subscribed to. How did that happen? We unsubscribed to Hilton Hotels, our grocery store, Nordstrom’s, DSW Shoes, and a host of others. Some were regular requests for donations. All it took was a tap on an “x” and they were gone. Andy Rubin, also known as “the father of Android,” is one of Edison Mail’s users.

 

FIRE UP THE TABLET

Joy left her Kindle Fire tablet in the gym. At first we thought it was somewhere around the apartment but it never turned up. So she decided to bite the bullet and buy Amazon’s “Fire HD 10.” It’s $150 and looks as good as an iPad for less than half the price. She got it in blue.

She knew the old one had been stolen as soon as she turned on the new one; now there was one Portuguese and two Chinese dictionaries. Some circumstantial evidence is pretty suspicious. So she went to the “Manage your Kindle” section of Amazon and de-registered the old device.

The Kindle Fire HD 10 and HD 8 come with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant. It can do tons of things; play music, show a movie, tell you the weather, read a book aloud, etc. If you say, “Alexa, switch to Show mode,” you get even more options. See the lyrics as a song is sung. We told Alexa to “show rock ‘n’ roll playlists.” When playing “Jailhouse Rock,” the screen showed Elvis Presley’s face with the lyrics floating by. When we paused, we got the time in the upper corner, the weather, “trending topics,” and news that two packages had just arrived. You can also call someone, using video or not.

The Fire Tablet seems like a better choice than an iPad for newbies and not just because it’s cheaper. It plays an introductory video the first time you turn it on, followed by a tutorial that’s easy to follow.

Bluetooth Blues

Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it. You’ll save battery life and avoid an attack called “Blueborne.”

Bluetooth is most commonly used with wireless headsets. When you see someone apparently talking to themselves, they’re not necessarily schizophrenic, they’re on the phone. Blueborne is a vicious bit of code that lets hackers steal your personal information. It has put a billion phones at risk. Most phones have been updated, which corrected the problem, but some may not have gotten the memo. An attacker would have to be less than 33 feet away to steal your information, but maybe you’re being followed.

Phone Scams

A reader wrote to complain about spoofing calls. A spoof is when you see your friend’s phone number in the caller I.D. area but it’s really some hacker.

Our reader was worried that blocking the number would block his friend, but that doesn’t happen. The number you block when you block the call is the hacker’s number. If you doubt that, call up your friend and ask if they just called.

We’re using the built-in “Screen Call” feature on a Google Pixel 2 phone, which asks the caller to state their business. Spam callers almost always hang up at this point. We also use a $12 app called Malwarebytes Security, which seems to permanently block the few who might otherwise get by. Find out how to use your phone’s built-in call-blocking feature by searching on that phrase.

Bye Bye Spam

A reader is annoyed by the “smart loan” messages he gets in his email, no matter how he tries to filter them out. Just when he’s got them cornered, the spammers change their subject lines, so he can never obliterate them for good. We suggested he bring his SBC Global mail into Gmail, which does a terrific job of ousting spam.

You can bring any email account into Gmail by using their import function, which only has to be done once. Your correspondents will never know the difference. Any mail you send will continue to be sent from your old address if you choose that option. Anyone writing you at your old address can still reach you, but you can read their messages in Gmail. Here’s how to do it.

First open a free account at mail.google.com. Then click the picture of a gear and choose “Settings.” From there, choose the “Accounts and Import” tab. One of the options under that tab is “Import from another address.” Now comes the tricky part: You have to fill in the “SMTP server” address and “Port” number. It’s usually filled in for you but sometimes it’s wrong. For our reader, “Prodigy” was filled in, but we happen to know that SBC Global uses Yahoo mail.  So we searched the web on the phrase “Yahoo server,” and found out the correct server address is SMTP.mail.Yahoo.com. “SMTP” stands for “Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.”

To send a message from your old Yahoo or any other account from within Gmail, go to settings, “Accounts and Import,” and select “make default” in the “send mail as” area. Choose your old Yahoo email or whatever other email you use as the “reply to” address.

Internuts

  • JustWatch.com helps you find movies and TV shows. It searches 40 streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, YouTube and iTunes and shows you rental prices for each item. You can search by category: mystery, adventure, romance, etc. It’s available in 32 countries.
  • DifferenceBetween.com is a site we often land on. For instance we were recently looking up the difference between paid and free versions of Pandora radio. Go to the site to see the difference between an egg roll and a spring roll, a creek and a brook, Alzheimer’s and dementia, and many others.

Numbers Report

This year, according to eMarketer, 58.8 million Americans will engage with “Augmented Reality” or “AR” at least once a month. That’s a jump of nearly 15% over 2018. AR makes you see video in the air in front of you, usually a cartoony figure. A good example is the “Pokemon Go” game.

“Virtual Reality,” or VR, on the other hand, puts a 3D movie or game in the space in front of  you and makes you feel as if you are there. About 50 million Americans will try it out at least once a month this year, an increase of nearly 35% over last year.

 

 

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, since advertisers use it to show ads for stuff we might be interested in. But just like a late night TV pitch, it turns out “that’s not all they’re getting.” A report from thezebra.com, a site that helps you find cheaper car insurance, says your search habits can, and often do, influence what companies charge you. For example, if you search for auto insurance on a computer, you would save 5.49 percent compared to the average payment. If you search with an Android phone, you’d pay an extra 2.25 percent. Searching with an iPhone would cost you an extra 4.93 percent. We’re guessing that’s because smart phone users are assumed to have more money than computer users. However, your email address also makes a difference, with Gmail users paying more. Even the time of day you search makes a difference, with morning users paying less.

Word Alternatives

Wow, our lead item last week about Microsoft Word touched a nerve. That’s the nerve inside people’s wallets. A bunch of readers weighed in after we said we were cutting ties to Office 365 and going back to an earlier version of Microsoft Word. Here’s what they’re using instead.

One guy said he refused to pay $100 a year for Office last year, and started using the free Google “Docs” instead of Word, and Google “Sheets” instead of Excel. “Docs is totally free and is very similar to Word, plus, everything is automatically saved to Google Drive.”  We tried it too and find it works well.

Another reader said he likes Google Docs, but when he wants to work offline, he uses LibreOffice, free from LibreOffice.org. “Libre does everything I need, is totally free, including periodic updates, and always works. I can open and edit any file types, including Microsoft files (.doc & .docx), OpenOffice documents (.odt) and ordinary text (.txt & .rtf); it can also save to these formats.”

Another reader says he wouldn’t mind giving up Microsoft Office when he retires, but he’ll miss Outlook, the email program. We told him there’s a free version of Outlook at Outlook.com. We tried it and it works well. He said “I like it that Outlook syncs with my iPhone contacts and syncs the email accounts so if I send, delete, or receive one, it’s the same on my home computer and iPhone.” But this is also true of Gmail, Yahoo and other services.

App Happy

  • Tipster Guide,” free for iPhones only, gives tipping advice for the whole world. When you cross a border, you are immediately notified of tipping etiquette for restaurants, bars, hotels, taxis and more. It also tells you which currency you should be using.
  • “Afterlight 2” is  photography app, free for Android and $3 for iPhone. We were impressed by its ability to take a dull photo and liven it up. Among its special effects, it can turn a photo into a letter of the alphabet, filling in a hollow version of the letter.
  • KeyMe” lets users scan their house or car keys and order a duplicate to be sent in the mail. They also have kiosks in places like 7-Eleven and Bed Bath and Beyond, where the key is duplicated on the spot.
  • QuizUp has 20 million players in five languages. You choose a category, like geography or tech and play a random player if you wish. Dots on the map showed players all over, including Africa and Australia. When we played we met our match in a top-ranked player from Portugal.

Numbers Report

According to a survey of 1,108 U.S. millennials who bought tech products on Amazon this year, there are some surprising trends, says Max Borges Agency, a public relations   firm.

  • Fewer than one in four say they would buy a tech product if it’s not available on Amazon. They like Amazon because of Prime (two-day) shipping.
  • Around 77 percent said they’d rather give up alcohol than Amazon; 44 percent said they would choose Amazon over sex.
  • 90% consult Amazon Customer Reviews before making a tech purchase on the site.
  • A mere 8% of millennial buyers are likely to make a tech purchase on Amazon with a 3-star review, but 47% would purchase when the star count hits 4. The majority require a 5-star review.

(Note: Bob has long been skeptical of reviews on Amazon and other web sites, such as Yelp. Of course he tends to be skeptical by nature.)

The report also analyzed when millennials are shopping on the site, with 61% shopping in the middle of the night, and 57% while working. Almost half of millenials shop in the bathroom, and 19% admitted to purchasing tech goods while intoxicated.

Tech purchases outweighed all others, at 61%, followed closely by clothing, shoes and jewelry at 60%. However, smartphones are least likely to be purchased on Amazon, as respondents still look to brand retailers for assistance, pricing and compatibility. Over 71% shopped for tech products on their mobile device.