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 trying to charge them a large amount of money by telling them lies.” 

We used to recommend the free AVG, easily confused with Avast since they both start with “A.” But we’re told by experts that it is now so loaded with bloatware, it could slow down your computer.

We use Bullguard Internet Security, available for Mac and PC, partly because we’re superstitious about changing after using it for so many years. The one time we switched,  we got a virus. Also, Bullguard’s tech support, which is 24 hours a day, is great. And they won the coveted “Gold Malware Protection Award” from AV-Comparatives. On the downside, you have to go into the program to turn on anti-virus checking. Click “Settings,” then “AntiVirus,” then “Advanced,” then “Manage Profiles, then “When,” to turn on daily, weekly, or monthly virus scans. The default it set to “Never, I’ll start it myself.” 

We tried Norton in recent years and thought it was excellent. It’s not the resource-hogging software it used to be. So if that’s what you use, stick with it. They have a introductory version for $40. We’d steer clear of the $99 version that comes with Lifelock identity theft protection, however. Recently, the Lifelock website was hacked. It allowed anyone with a web browser to harvest customers’ email addresses. This is pretty shocking for a company which claims to protect identities. Bottom line: If you’ve never had a virus, stick with the security solution you have.

App Happy

  • Last week, we suggested an app called “The Harmony Project” by Acoustic Sheep. It produces sounds that put you to sleep. We later decided that nothing beats the sound of perfect rain. Our current favorite is the free app “Nature Sounds” by Relaxio, which has many other choices. 
  • If you download the free Alexa app to your phone, or have an Amazon Echo with Alexa inside, you can say, “Alexa, play rain sounds.” The difference between the app alone and the smart speaker is this: If you just have the app on your phone and not the smart speaker, you have to tap the app and then tap the center icon to speak to Alexa.
  • Rivet,” a free app for Android and iPhone, offers 3000 free books for kids. They’re mostly non-fiction, aimed at kids age 6 to 8, with eight reading levels. If you tap the microphone while your child reads aloud, the app gives feedback on his or her reading ability.


  • “How to Fold Napkins, Impress Your Guests.” Search on that phrase to find an amazing YouTube video. Napkins turn into a rose, a bow tie and more.
  • is targeting college freshmen with these tips: Don’t overload outlets, extension cords, or power strips. Use power strips with current protectors. Make sure outlets around sinks are equipped with Ground-Fault Interrupters. (How quickly does a GFI close off the electricity when it detects a surge? Answer: 30 millionths of a second.) 

Calendar Spam

One day we woke up to find Russian characters all over our Google calendar. Here’s how to remove this kind of spam permanently.

First, click one of the spam items and then click the little trash can. Choose “all events,” to wipe it off everywhere it appears. To prevent it from happening again, click the little picture of a gear in the upper right. Choose “settings,” then “event settings.” The culprit is under “invitations.” Change it to “only show invitations to which I have responded.” 

Free Office Software

After having to reformat our test computer, we were ready to reinstall our favorite programs. To our surprise, Microsoft Office 2007 wouldn’t install. So we turned to the free, which we’ve often recommended. For some reason, it wouldn’t install either. Finally, we remembered “Kingsoft Office Free” from It’s great.

At first, we thought ‘Who needs any office program?” We use Google Docs, a Word substitute, Google Sheets (instead of Excel) and Google Slides  instead of PowerPoint. But sometimes it’s handy to work offline. Kingsoft Office Free has great templates for stationery, business promotions, business cards and resumes. If you want a storage account online, you have to activate the software, which costs $20. Otherwise, it’s free. 

For those of you suspicious of all free programs, both and Google’s marked it as safe. VirusTotal checks files and web addresses using tools from 35 well-known companies, including Microsoft, Malwarebytes, McAfee, Symantec (makers of Norton AntiVirus) and others.







Slideshows are one of those things that can drive us nuts.We’re always forgetting how we did it last time.

When we look up instructions, we often get something that is no longer available in Windows. For example, when you look up “Movie Maker for Windows 10,” you get a lot of free products from unknown companies because the original Windows movie maker went kaput. Here are our top contenders for best slideshow maker. We judge mainly on ease of use.

  • “Microsoft Photos” comes already installed on your Windows 10 computer. To find it, type “Photos” in the search box in the lower left of your Windows desktop and the app comes right up. If you just want Microsoft to make one for you, click “New Video” then “Automatic Video.” Choose your photos and Microsoft will add jazzy music, transitions and a title page. If some pictures are sideways or need a caption or other editing, click “Edit Video” before exporting to your Pictures folder. The quick cutting by Microsoft really makes it jive. Bob thought it was too fast but you can slow it down.
  • The Ken Burns effect: zooming into a photo.

    On a Mac, open Photos and add photos from the photo gallery. Export your finished slideshow to a USB stick so you can show it on a TV or publish it to YouTube and other sites.

  • Ashampoo has a free program called “Slideshow Studio 2019.” It uses the dramatic transitions of highly-regarded documentary maker Ken Burns. This means slow zooms and other effects.  When you open it up, you’ll notice  the message “Please add pictures.” Click the plus sign next to that to start adding. Then click “new simple project” unless you want more customization. Next choose “adapt to music” if you want a background tune, and click the plus sign to add your own. Finally, choose what kind of “Ken Burns” transitions you want. We left it at “random.” Ken Burns is known for documentaries on the Civil War, Vietnam, the Roosevelts and baseball, among others.

Better Backup

The head of a computer club challenged our suggestion to use the internet to back up photos and files. “The online cloud storage services may not offer enough free space for backup, and the non-free options can add up,” he said.

The other problem is how long it takes to upload all your files. So we were intrigued by his suggestion. He and his club like  “Macrium Reflect Free.” Can’t beat “free.”

After we downloaded it from, we had to get our files off our external drive so we’d have room for the backup. We found that the easiest way to move files is to open File Explorer twice. You can then drag and drop anything from one to the other. Open File Explorer twice by typing “File Explorer” into the Windows search box at the bottom left of the screen. When it comes up,  right-click the tiny picture of a folder in the bottom of the screen and choose File Explorer again. This is an old trick from earlier versions of Windows.

The problem with our previous attempts to backup the whole computer, instead of just the files and folders, came when we tried to restore files. Everything always looks great in the backup but the restore runs into problems.For example, we have backups on an old external drive that have the “wim” extension. We looked that up and it’s associated with Windows Vista. We had no idea how to restore those.  When we looked it up, we came to a page on Microsoft’s site directed to “IT Professionals.” Fugged about it.

Getting a Bargain

A reader asks us: “Is there a service which will bargain for a customer to lower a utility bill, my internet bill to be exact? I’m paying $60 a month to Spectrum-Charter.”

We searched the web on “best cable Internet providers, find what you really want” and got a good result from Xfinity starts at $20 a month. Not every town is covered.

We also looked at an article from entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money,” which lists 99 ways.  Number 30 was They claim to save $300 on average per year. Another is Both make money by taking a slice of your savings.

Reader Thanks

A reader says he added the search engine as a favorite on our recommendation.

“Recently I have had some bad back problems.  Last weekend, I was using Google to steer me towards competent specialists and to understand my symptoms and their causes.  I had already seen my family practice doc and my physical therapist but still was getting no relief.  I really worked hard with specific questions but Google now pushes ads on the first page based on their key words, which almost never matched the specificity of my questions.  And as always, I was bombarded with numerous ads on websites targeted at the search questions.  In addition, in the next few days, I started receiving spam emails on the same subjects.  I do not know if the spams are related to the searches.

“After reading your article today, StartPage is my new search page.  Moreover, I used Yippy to see how well it worked for my medical problems.  Surprise! Every site that previously took me a weekend to find showed up on the first page of my Yippy search.”





A reader writes: “I was hacked by someone claiming to be AVG (the antivirus people). I had to close 20-25 accounts. My bank said I was the third person to come in that day.”

The state attorney general’s office told him to close all bank and payroll accounts. They’d seen the fake AVG ruse many times before. Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” took a virus off his computer and put new antivirus software in. But it took 12 days before he got his computer back.

He felt like writing the hackers to tell them to bug off. “I want a SAFE way to tell them I’m not using them ever but I’m horrified to contact them at all,” he said. “I feel like a complete idiot for not seeing through them.”

It’s not his fault. On his phone the hackers looked just like the real AVG antivirus. One tip-off:  They called multiple times a day. They still call him most days. Reputable companies don’t do that. If you look up “AVG scam,” you’ll see a whole page of warnings from the real AVG. Their support page gives you their actual phone numbers. They never make unsolicited calls or ask for a credit card to verify your copy of their products. Go to if you have a question.

We suggested the reader  block the number on his phone, or use a free app like  “TrueCaller” to block spam calls. Or, as we’ve said before, keep your phone on “do not disturb,” making exceptions for friends and other contacts. We deal with spam calls by having all landline calls to our cell phone, because the cell phone is better at blocking them. To do this, dial star-seven-two on the landline. Wait for a dial tone and press the 10 digit number where you’d like your calls to be forwarded. We got a new number for our landline that we give out to very few people.


  • has the collected works of the Nobel-Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, or “Uncle Miltie” as he is known to fans. Put in a search term, and click on a result, which may include a TV appearance, a letter to the editor, or an article. Or browse the featured links. Friedman was a free-market advocate.
  • 10 Cleanest Cities in the World.” Search on the phrase to get some interesting lists. Most lists include Copenhagen. also likes Reykjavik, Iceland, Vancouver, Canada, Cape Town, South Africa, Portland, Oregon, Singapore, Adelaide, Australia, Luxembourg City, Zurich, Switzerland and Calgary, Canada. says Paris is second on the list of most expensive and dirtiest cities.

Choosing a Laptop for College recommends “ultraportable” laptops for students heading off to college.They weigh less than three pounds.

Even gamers, who normally use desktop computers, can get ultra lightweight but super-powerful machines. To “future-proof” your Windows computer, get 16 gigabytes of RAM. Engadget suggests the Dell XPS 13, with a “Dolby Vision” high definition display or the ASUS Sbook 13. Both cost around $1400. Or if you don’t need Windows, try a Chromebook. Joy swears by our Acer Chromebook 14. It only has four gigabytes of RAM, which is nothing these days, but somehow manages to be as fast or faster than our much newer Windows machine. It costs $187 on Amazon. The reviews are 15 percent negative there, but we’ve never experienced any of the problems they mention.

The Spy in the Package

Who would have thought that a package could spy on you? IBM researchers put it to the test.

According to PC Magazine, the researchers put spy devices in packages that were activated when in range of a company’s WiFi network and were able to sniff out a password.

The robotic spies cost less than $100 to make and were created from off-the-shelf components. They can be hidden in the bottom of the box or in a stuffed animal. Bottom line: Companies shouldn’t assume packages are safe. “Treat your packages like you would treat a visitor,” says an IBM researcher. “Would you let a visitor walk straight up to your chief financial officer’s desk?”

Distracted drivers

With 55 million students headed back to school this fall,  it’s dangerous to be driving or walking in a school zone in the morning, according to Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which analyzed more than 50,000 drives. Teenagers, of course, are the most distracted.

More than half of distracted events happen at less than 20 miles per hour. Distracted driving goes up by five percent in the school season.

We’re going to try out State Farm’s “Drive Safe and Save” program. Liberty Mutual has a similar program called “RightTrack.” They’ll put a gizmo in our car, we’ll download an app, and get a discount of up to 30 percent on auto insurance.  Even if we don’t drive well, we’ll get five percent off just for signing up.

Sleep Sounds

Recently we raved about the “SleepPhones” made by Acoustic Sheep. These are soft cloth headbands that contain Bluetooth speakers, so you can listen to music, books or other sounds while you nod off to sleep. Now they’ve embarked on “The Harmony Project” to find out which sounds work best.

The result is a wide range, including white noise, Nature sounds and gentle music. To get these sounds, search for “The Harmony Project” in your phone’s app store.  It’s free for Android and iPhone and works with any headphones. You can skip a sound if it does nothing for you, but that tends to wake us up, so we’d rather let it roll.



A reader says he’s used the “Dogpile” search engine instead of Google for many years, but now it’s not working. We say drop it. Our research shows there’s a Dogpile hijacker that looks like the real thing. So what should you use instead, if you don’t want to Google everything?

We’ve been trying out Yippy, which is powered by IBM Watson, the computer that beat Ken Jennings on Jeopardy. Yippy was developed by Vivisimo, which we’ve written about many times. Much of Vivisimo’s and Yippy’s artificial intelligence was incorporated by IBM Watson which “reads” all the scientific journal articles to make better decisions in some cases than doctors can.

In our tests, Yippy’s results look good. Joy looked up “cotton wool spot,” something that occurred in her eye 12 years ago and later disappeared. Yippy had better information than we’ve seen elsewhere. However, when you look up something, you’ll see categories off to one side, to help you narrow down the results. In our tests, these weren’t working, so ignore them.

Another alternative, DuckDuckGo, is popular with anyone wanting to protect their privacy. It doesn’t track your movements, but you can still be “seen” by the websites you visit once you click on them in the results list. We recommend instead. It lets you browse the web invisibly. Just be sure you click “anonymous view” next to any site that turns up in your list.

Flickr Follies

Flickr, the online photo storage site, isn’t free anymore. We got an abrupt warning when we went to the site. “You have 795 photos we can no longer keep for free. Let us know what you’d like to do.”

From the Flickr page of Flickr CEO Don McAskill

The choices are: $50 a year paid annually or $6 a month. So we took one month’s worth. It’s taking an incredibly long time to download all 795, album by album. Many of our “albums” have only one photo.

There was rage on the Twitter-sphere about the charges, especially at first, when people couldn’t even log into the site. The CEO said there was a one-day outage, but many had trouble three days later. Someone commented: “First day you get in, download your photos and run!” Another person said: “What I’m really missing are the thumbnails for Collections. And working with tags in the iOS app is straight out of a horror flick.” The camera roll feature is also gone, but the company says they’re rebuilding it.

Flickr was recently purchased by SmugMug, a great site for professional photographers. Before that, Yahoo owned Flickr.

Giving Away an Old Computer

Somehow we wound up with five desktops and a laptop. We’re going to sell one of those desktops on eBay. That’s how we found these great tips.

In checking out eBay, we noticed a huge price difference between a used and refurbished computer. If we sell it as “used,” the starting bid is around $166. We could start at $333 if we sell it as “Refurbished.” To call it that, we just need to be sure we dusted it inside with a can of compressed air, and made sure all the parts are working. We know it’s working, it’s not even old. It’s a Lenovo we bought in February 2018 for $800. Computers lose value even faster than used cars! That’s something to remember when you’re shopping for a new one.

Before giving away or selling your old computer, you should back up your old files using Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. Then transfer them to a new machine or external drive. We wish we’d done that instead of using Windows System Recovery. It doesn’t look like all the files came over.

The next step for Windows users, if you have sensitive documents saved on your machine, is to use the free program “File Shredder” to overwrite them. Apple fans who have older Macs can use the “Secure Empty Trash” option under “Finder.” If you have the OS 10.11 or later operating system, or a Windows PC with an SSD drive, encrypt your drive.

There are many more steps involved in being 100 percent sure no one can ever retrieve your data, but we’re not that paranoid. See the article on “How to Safely Get Rid of an Old Computer.”

Raving Friend

A friend of ours is raving about “Meural,” a $600 to $700 digital frame that rotates art from all the great museums. “You’ve seen the commercials,” he said confidently. No, we haven’t. We prefer to zap. Ad-watching is what friends are for. People are always telling us about commercials we’ve never seen.

Unlike the digital photo frames we saw twenty years ago, this one looks like an actual canvas with a traditional frame, not like a TV monitor. It can show still art or videos or both. There’s a $50-a-year subscription fee to keep the art coming beyond the initial sample. Using an app, you can choose the museums you want to focus on, such as the Louvre, or the painters you like best, such as Norman Rockwell.

We watched several YouTube videos to get the idea because our friend and his Meural are out of state. That’s how we found out that the resolution is 1080, not as high as today’s modern 4K TVs or even some cell phones, but it seems fine. A cord leaving the picture lets viewers know it’s a digital frame, though you could sneak that through the wall or hide it with a plant.

You could also just visit museum websites. For example, go to the Uffizi and see what the Medicis collected.


“Locast” brings TV over the Internet. Locast is low-cost. How low? How about free? 

The TV people, namely CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC, are upset and are suing. They want to keep collecting the fees they get from cable companies. This follows an old business practice: If things aren’t going your way, sue somebody. It reassures the shareholders that you’re on the job and who knows, it might even work. The fees collected by the big networks amounted to $10.1 billion last year.  

Locast brings you TV through an internet connection. So far, it’s available in 13 markets, such as Boston, Chicago and New York,  but it will be coming your way.

It worked great on our TV, and we were surprised to get Channel 2 in the lineup.  Lately, whenever we’ve turned to that channel from AT&T’s Uverse service, we got the following message: “This CBS channel is currently unavailable.” Only later did we notice the rest of the message. It suggests getting the channel by selecting “interactive” on the TV remote and then choosing “Locast.”  Who’d have thunk it? Sure enough, it was one of the choices on our six-year-old Sony TV. After choosing it,we saw all the local channels such as ABC, NBC, etc. as well as “MeTV,” “Ion,” and others.

If you want to know if it’s reached your market yet, install the free Locast app from the iPhone or Android app store on your phone. Tap to install, and sign up through Facebook or your email account. If it hasn’t come to your area, go to and poke them in the ribs.

Which Tablet?

A reader writes: “Haven’t you guys said that the Amazon Fire tablet is a favorite of yours?  If so, is it still? I might be in the market for a going-off-to-college-age kid, a plenty-savvy person.”

Yes,  we like the Fire Tablet, mainly because it’s so much cheaper and so easy to use. The seven-inch model, a handy size, costs $50. Compare that to an iPad Mini for $399. Along the top of the Fire screen are categories to tap: Home, Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audible, Newsstand and Library. It has everything we need.

Having said that, there are reasons for choosing an iPad instead. The iPad has a bigger app selection, around 1.8 million apps to choose from compared to 678 for the Fire. You can connect a digital piano or guitar to the iPad or an Android tablet and create digital music. The Fire doesn’t include this feature.  

However, like an iPad, the Fire has its own app store, making sure you don’t get a phony app. In 2018, half a million people got a virus from downloading an Android app from the Google Play store, according to Forbes magazine. Similarly, a virus baked into 50 different Android apps put fake charges on people’s phone bills, forcing them to pay for fake text messages. It was downloaded over 21 million times before Google removed it from the app store. We’ve never had a problem. We use Malwarebytes Premium version for $12 a year, though there’s also a free version. The free version removes problems after they’ve arrived; the paid version prevents bad stuff from happening in the first place.

 “Do Not Disturb” Revisited

A reader writes: “The ‘do not disturb’ tip was a good one. I tried it and it eliminated the crap calls. Only problem is I don’t get text alerts and haven’t figured a way around that on my iPhone.”

The trick when you’re using “Do Not Disturb,” is to make an exception for contacts so all your friends and family can still get through to you. But we hadn’t thought about texts. Here’s what we found that works: Under “Settings,” and “Notifications and messages,” turn off “Allow Notifications.” Then restart your device. Now turn back on “Allow Notifications. For more info, search on the phrase “How to Use iPhone Do Not Disturb and Make Sure You Don’t Miss an important Call.” On an Android phone, choose “Allow Messages,” under “Settings,” “Sound,” and “Do Not Disturb.”



    by J.R.R. Tolkien, courtesy of

    has an article about J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings.” Most know about his books, but few know about his art. You’ll see great examples here, if you search on “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Little Known Art Practice.

  • has quirky videos from the world of math. We watched the one on impossible numbers, including one that makes a certain Chicken McNugget order impossible. Some of these videos are tedious, but overall it’s worth checking out.
  • has odd news stories, such as “Old Woman Blackmailed for Porn She Never Watched.”

A New Painter

By Marsha Leigh, courtesy PainterArtist

Every year Corel sends us the latest version of “Painter,” a program to create digital art. We’re always wowed. 

 This year there are lots of new color tools, including one for left-handers so they won’t cover up the palette. And now, if you want a shade that’s a wee bit different than the one you’re working with, there’s a side-by-side comparison. But mostly, the new version gets a big performance boost, cutting lag time to almost zero. You’ll especially notice that if you have a wall-sized canvas and a computer powerful enough to handle the speed.

 The program is $429, but there’s a 30-day free trial at On that site, click “Gallery” to see some fantastic examples of what digital art is capable of. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube to get you started, but if you’re not used to this kind of program, the learning curve is steep.




We thought it would be fun to have Alexa, the voice coming out of Amazon’s smart speaker, in our car. We have a 20 year-old car but bought an “Auto Echo.”

Turns out our car can handle it. All we needed was the Nulaxy “Bluetooth Car FM Transmitter Audio Adapter” for $17 from Amazon. We plugged it into what us old-timers call the cigarette lighter, and then plugged our new Auto Echo into the adapter. If you have a newer car, skip the adapter. Plug in the Auto Echo with the included micro-USB cable and power adapter. Enable Bluetooth on your phone, and then turn on the ignition.

For us, Alexa’s voice came on immediately. After a few taps on the app to complete setup, we asked Alexa to play music. Out came “Anything You Can Do, I can Do Better,” from the musical “Annie Get Your Gun.”It came out of our car’s speakers, from our playlist on Amazon Music. We also asked Alexa for directions to a store and she gave them, turn by turn. 

There was only one major problem: Static. The static was so awful we unplugged the device and wrote Nulaxy tech support. They told us to put the adapter on the same channel as the radio, choosing an empty one. That worked like a charm. We no longer have any static.

The only other problem: We hate to use our data connection to connect to the Internet, because we don’t use an unlimited plan and get charged for it according to how much we use. We tried turning off mobile data while listening to music, but Alexa stopped and asked us to re-connect.

If you have an unlimited data plan, or don’t care about extra charges, you can ask Alexa all sorts of things. She can read your book from Audible, play trivia games like “Heads Up,” set  reminders, make shopping lists, play music and so on.

Reviving a Dead Printer

“My Epson 4720 printer died,” says a reader. “Might be able to revive it. Clogged print heads due to reloaded cartridges from a company called Cartridge World, which worked great on my old standby HP printer.  The Epson is like a Timex. How’s that for a trip down memory lane?”

As reviewers, we once lined up six printers sent to us by various companies. Since we didn’t use all of them at once, eventually they all clogged. Time does that. But you can check the manual for routine maintenance instructions and push a button to clean the printhead. Joy’s friend Frieda was ready to replace her nine-year-old Epson. But Joy ran the printhead cleaning routine for her and it was back in business.

Cable Cuts a Deal

AT&T lowered our $145 a month fee for Internet, TV and Internet phone to $67 after we complained about not getting phone service. They were charging us for phone service though, claiming  they had sent us a device that enabled it. 

No such device crossed our doorway. So we called and said, “Cancel everything except Internet service, we’ll go with YouTube TV for $50 a month.” YouTube TV includes 70 channels, such as CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and many others. Lo and behold, AT&T came back with a new offer. Instead of $145 a month, we now pay $67 a month for TV, Internet and phone. 

But we still don’t have the gizmo that connects our landline to the Internet. It would be a dead phone except we are paying Vonage about $30 a month for that.When we called  AT&T, we were transferred twice to the wrong departments and then they hung up. We told them to skip the phone, but they said if we did that, the monthly cost would go up to $100. Oh well: $67 a month is great. We’d pay over $80 for AT&T Internet plus YouTube TV.

Bottom line, this is a rapidly shifting industry and the big companies are losing subscribers like mad. If you don’t like your plan, threaten to cancel.

Alexa, Find My Phone

We often use the Google Home smart speaker to find our phone, saying, “Hey Google, find my phone.” She responds: “I can help by making your Pixel 2 ring at full volume right away. Would you like me to do that?” We wish she would cut to the chase and just ring the phone, so we decided to try asking Alexa instead.

“Alexa, find my phone,” we said, after first choosing it from among the “skills” listed on the Amazon website and in the app. Unfortunately, Alexa is just as wordy as Google. We said, “Alexa, find my phone.” She said: “I’m going to call the phone now so listen out. If it doesn’t ring it’s because I can’t connect or it’s on silent.” Duh.


  • offers room rates for during the day, when you just want to rest, relax and use the pool. The cost is half as much as an overnight stay. See also
  • lets you buy gift cards at a discount or sell those you don’t want. We saw a Ross Dress For Less card for 9.1 percent off. A Panera card was going for 12 percent off. Michaels was 17 percent off. Target was 10 percent off. That’s off of the full price for the card. 
  • Search on the phrase “Thrillist birthday” and find 83 restaurant chains that give out birthday freebies. For example, Applebee’s, Arby’s, Baskin and Robbins, P.F. Chang’s and Peet’s Coffee all give you freebies if you register your email address and birthdate with them.



A reader showed us a simple way to block robocalls. It’s built right into the phone.

 “I am writing to you,” he says, “because I don’t understand why cell phone users don’t shut off robocalls. On an Android phone, just set it to ‘Do not Disturb.’ Then set it to accept calls from contacts only.”

We knew about “Do Not Disturb” mode but didn’t know you could make an exception for contacts. That choice is right there when you tap “Settings,” “Sound,” and “Do Not Disturb.” On an iPhone, go to “Settings,”  “Do Not Disturb,” and tap “Allow Calls From.” From there, “All Contacts” is one of the choices. 

The reader continues: “I did this a long time ago and I never receive a robocall. Simple fix. Anyone can still leave you a message and you can return the call at your discretion. However, robocallers do not leave messages and your phone only rings if the caller is in your contact list.”

We followed his advice but at first, we didn’t notice that “Do Not Disturb” was set to stay on for only 15 minutes. Now it’s set to stay on until we turn it off. Alternatively, you might want it on just when you’re sleeping.

We asked the reader what people say when he suggests they try “Do Not Disturb.” “Most say, ‘I didn’t know that.’ But later,” he added, “when I asked some close friends if they set their phones as we discussed, most say, ‘Not yet.’ I suppose most are not technically inclined to do so and will not take the time to Google how to do it for their particular device.” We can almost hear him sigh: “It seems such a simple  thing to stop so much complaining. Go figure.”

We figure some people are afraid of missing an important new contact while others are afraid to fiddle with their phone. We had two new important contacts the first day we tried it, but thankfully, they left messages. If you find that spammers are also leaving messages, you can block them. We’ve had pretty good results with the free “True Caller” app. But nothing beats “Do Not Disturb.”


  • Here’s how to add a picture to a happy birthday message in Facebook or in an email. Search on the person’s name along with the words “happy birthday.”  at You’ll usually get a cake or billboard with their name on it. Right-click it to save it, or use screen capture. (Look up “how to screen capture” for instructions.) Pop it in by tapping the “add files” or “attach photo” icon.
  • WolframAlpha gives you lots of information, but it helps to start with their examples. Categories include science stuff as well as “history,” “people” and “arts.” When we looked at the UV (ultraviolet) index, we found the sunburn rate for any city we wanted. In the “History” category, we got quick conversions to Roman numerals. For example, 1776 is MDCCLXXVI. And we found that $2500 in 1950s dollars is worth $26,620 today.
  • has interactive lessons on music theory, starting with the physics of sound. We found it interesting.

CraigsList Scams

Over 29 million phones are reported lost or stolen annually, but sometimes they’re not really lost. Scammers can sell a phone and keep it too, by reporting it lost and collecting the insurance money. These scams go up by 50 percent in summer months, according to a report at

Here’s how it works: The thief buys an insured phone from a carrier, sells it to you, then reports it as lost or stolen. The carrier then blacklists the phone, making it unusable. The insurer pays for a new phone. Flipsy recommends offering to meet the seller at the  store where they bought it. If they’re a scammer, they won’t show up, because the carrier will know it’s a blacklisted phone. You can check the blacklist at

Spied Upon

We usually tap OK, OK, OK when installing  Android apps on our phones, basically agreeing to whatever they want, because we have no privacy concerns. But according to a report cited by CNET, more than 1,000 Android apps collect data about you even if you deny them permission.

A fix is coming with the next version of the Android operating system, version Q. Google’s Pixel phones will get the latest update as soon as it arrives. OnePlus phones are second on the list, according to Nokia is third and Sony fourth. Samsung is eighth, Motorola is 11th and HTC is 12th.

Though iPhones are supposedly not collecting the information you type in, they do listen in, according to experiments run by and many others. A reporter said words like “going back to University,” or “need a new T-shirt,” and immediately got ads for those things. If this bothers you, turn off Siri, the voice assistant. On Android phones, go to settings, then “Google” then “Search,” and go to “Google Assistant” and delete any data collected. You can also turn off Cortana in Windows.



Here’s the big reason we get so much junk email. Marketers can see which email we open and respond with an avalanche of new solicitations. If we open email on our phone, as 70 percent of us do,  we might even trigger a call.

In the jargon it’s called a “read receipt.” Without your knowing, marketers use these to  tell which email you open. To combat this, we’ve started using “Edison Mail” whenever we’re on our phones.  It works with Yahoo, Gmail, Apple Mail or whatever email service you use, by bringing your mail inside its app. 

Besides blocking marketers, Edison neatly categorizes any info about package arrivals, bills and flight changes, while also letting you unsubscribe from any email newsletters bombarding you. The app also stops you from being targeted with Facebook and other ads. Its security tool lets you see if your email address has been compromised.

So how does a free app like this make money?  Unlike other apps, Edison doesn’t sell specific info about you. Rather, their “bots” scan emails to gather anonymous research on consumer trends, and that info is sold. Developers also pay Edison to extract anonymous info from email to make their products easier to use. Look up “Edison mail privacy statement” for more info.

Since launching in 2016, Edison Mail has blocked over one billion read receipts, sent ten million flight notifications,  tracked over 90 million packages, and organized 500 million receipts. We like it.

Gone Phishing

A reader sent a copy of his driver’s license and Social Security card to someone at, instead of, the correct address. “Wife and I froze our credit bureaus, all three, last year. What else should we do besides PRAY?”

Whoever asked for our reader’s info was “phishing” for it, since the bank’s website states it will never ask for private info in an email. Phishing attempts are just what they sound like: attempts to fish your info out of you. But the reader had already done the safest thing: he froze his credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion last year. This makes it tougher for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

If you’ve already given out information, you can check for fraud by looking at your credit report. The Federal Trade Commission website,, suggests getting three free reports from

For extra protection, ask one of the credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your account. That way, any time a new account is opened, the bank or store opening it has to check with you first. 

Here’s the happy ending: The reader’s email did not go through. Several days later he found out that it had bounced back, so no one got his info.

Windows 10 Blues

Last time, we mentioned a reader’s angst over Windows 10, suggesting he could still get a Windows 7 machine if he wanted one. We forgot to mention a much simpler solution: “Start 10.”

Start10 is a $5 program from that makes Windows 10 look like Windows 7. You get the familiar programs list, with links to “My Documents,” “Control Panel,” and other familiar categories. The reader responded: “StarDock Start10 plus several of their other bits and pieces seems to be the perfect answer. A helluva lot easier than burning down the house and doing a clean WIN 7 install. Outstanding!” There’s a 30-day free trial.

App Happy

  • The free “Google Translate” app lets you use your camera to translate signs. We tried it on a sign in Catalan (local to Barcelona), but we had to tell it to translate from Catalan to English because the automatic language detection did not work. The sign said: “Priority for People,” and was translated correctly. Another part of the sign was in a fancy font. It said: “Pedra Tosca Park.” But it was translated: “Pedra Tosca’s pancake.”
  • Luminary Podcasts,” a free app for iPhone and Android, brings you the best podcasts, which are Internet radio shows. Tap the topics you’re interested in after signing up, like “audio drama,” ‘finance,” “language lessons,” “history,” “true crime,” “science,” “mysteries,” “news,” “investigative journalism,”etc. They show you the top shows, such as “Portal” which hasn’t even started yet, so we’re not sure how it could already be a top show. “Portal” is a Luminary original, as is  “Sincerely, X,” which gives you TED talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) from people who can’t go on stage, either because it’s too risky, controversial or painful. You have to be a premium subscriber for the original shows, which costs $8 a month, but there’s a free trial. We put “The Indicator,” “Up First” and “Wall Street Breakfast.” on our favorites list.
  • “Pocket Mode,” free for Android phones,  prevents apps from accidentally going on when your phone is in your pocket. With it, you won’t mistakenly call someone — known as “butt dialing.”  SInce it’s Android only, go to iPhone “settings” to do the same thing. Then go to “Display and Brightness,” and set the screen to turn off after 30 seconds. Turn off “Lift to Wake,” and “Tap to Wake, under “accessibility.” 




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

Kids Edition with $8.49 Decal

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

Say “Good Morning” to the kids’ version and Alexa will make you laugh, changing her answer every time you ask. Example: “”Good morning! Time to shake it out! Move your body and shake out the sleep! Ready? Shake, shake, shake!” 

Parents get access to to put in parental controls. That’s important if you don’t want kids talking to Alexa all night. You can read transcripts of everything your child said to Alexa, or delete it all. You can also do this on a regular Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show. Just say, “Alexa, Delete everything I said today,” or “Alexa, delete that.”

The kids’ version also gives you a year’s subscription to “Free Time,” for free movies, games and books, which are available on Kindle Fire tablets too. After that it’s $5 a month per child or $10 a month per family of four ($7 a month if you’re a member of Amazon Prime.) For an excellent review, see


  • A reader reminded us to mention this site again. It lists the phone numbers you need to avoid voicemail hell and talk to an actual person.
  • has an article “People say These 15 Words Aren’t Words but They Actually Are.” When a non-word gains widespread use, it makes it to the dictionary. Examples: “Firstly,” “irregardless,” “prolly,” and “orientate.” Joy likes to “take things for granite,” but that isn’t common yet.
  • How to Create a Book in Microsoft Word.” Search on that phrase to find an article from with step-by-step instructions.

Windows 7 Security Risk

Photo Courtesy of

Our favorite guru, Kenny, who was a leading tech support guy for a leading firm before starting, says it’s not advisable to use Windows 7 or XP on the Internet once Microsoft stops offering patches. 

That surprised us. We thought  you were good to go if you have an antivirus program and the free Malwarebytes to ward off hack attacks.

“If the operating system has security holes,” he says, “hackers or worms can get through.” Last month, Microsoft released a patch for Windows XP users, though it officially ended support in 2014. That’s because this particular security hole was so bad, it could replicate itself on one old computer after another. If you haven’t updated your XP or Vista machine, do a search on this phrase: “Customer guidance for CVE-2019-0708” to find the patch from Microsoft. Support for Windows 7 ends January 15, 2020.

Kenny points out that millions of people have not upgraded to Windows 10 because their computers could not handle something newer. That includes the military and banks. We use a powerful XP machine that we paid $70 for on Amazon. We only it use offline for our favorite greeting card program and some art programs that won’t run on newer operating systems. As long you’re offline, they can’t get to you.

Who We Follow on Twitter

Our friend Louise saw dirty messages when she signed up for Twitter and stopped going there. The news media is always reporting on Twitter’s toxicity but we’ve never seen any rudeness. Maybe it’s because we avoid political sites in favor of upbeat science. Here are some of our favorites.

Screen Calls

We forgot to mention the best part of Bob’s new smartphone, the Google Pixel 3a. It’s the call screening feature found on all Pixel phones.

Tap “call screen” when a call is coming in and the person is asked to state their name and why they’re calling. You’ll see a transcript of what they’re saying as they talk, and can accept the call or reject it. This comes in handy when the area code matches our own, and we wonder if it’s someone local we know.


A Facebook friend sent a video link and a question: “Is this you?” Joy clicked on it. Big mistake.

The next thing she knew, Russian text showed up on the homescreen of her phone and every one of her 235 Facebook friends got the “Is it you?” link. Now they’ll be sending it on to all their friends if they click on it. Some were savvy enough to say they needed more information before clicking. Joy tried to write them all to warn them, but Facebook Messenger only lets you do 20 at a time, a real nuisance. 

In general, a vague text message like “Are you there?” or “Is it you?” is probably a scam. As a consequence, Joy is being sent to her room.




 A reader writes in to share his regret over buying a Windows 10 computer. “Here’s my issue,” he says. “I have never been a big fan of Microsoft and was a Mac-aholic until Mac OS 10.4.1 when the Mac OS was no longer backwards compatible.” It would have cost him more to make his documents and applications compatible than to become a Windows user.  It was hard-slogging at first. Then, he writes, “when Microsoft finally arrived at Win 7, it produced an OS that was reasonably stable and NOT buggier than a wino’s beard… hooray!” Then came Windows 10.

I despise Win 10 and all the hoops (and $$$) I’m gonna have ta go through to get this machine integrated seamlessly into my home network (existing printers, scanner, router, yada yada) plus upgrade a dozen or so applications for WIN 10 compatibility,” he adds. “AAARRRGGGHHHH!”

He wondered if he could strip Windows 10 off the machine and install Windows 7, but  Windows 7 might not have the right drivers for the new machine. Our favorite guru Kenny suggests using a virtual machine to run Windows 7 on top of  Windows 10, which is what he does. His tech support service, at, can help with that.

Alternatively, we suggested he return the Windows 10 machine and get a Windows 7 desktop. Amazon is selling refurbished machines with fast i5 processors for as low as $137. 

Alexa as Career Counselor

Alexa, the voice inside Amazon’s smart speaker and the free Alexa app on phones and tablets, told Joy her top career choice was dietitian. It told Bob that his number one career choice would be dentist. When he heard that, he felt a little down in the mouth. He was hoping for “hammock tester.”

To get your own career advice, go to, click “Alexa skills” in the drop-down list and type “career advisor” into the search bar. Click on the first one, then click “enable” when it come up. If you have the free Alexa app on your phone, or an Echo device, all you have to do is say, “Alexa, open Career Advisor.”  She asks you 26 questions first.

Free Movies has thousands of old movies for free. What a surprise. 

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women

We’ve recommended in the past for its “way back machine.” It can show you what a given website looked like in the old days. This can be handy if there’s some info on there you need to recover, that has since been taken off.

For movies, just click on the “movies” tab when you get to the site. The sci-fi horror section has some real howlers, like “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women,” and “Planet 9 from Outer Space.” In comedy, we found one of our favorites, “His Girl Friday,” a remake of the classic play “Front Page,” along with the original Front Page movie. There are lots of Charlie Chaplin films. If you want captions, click “cc” then “ASR,” for automatic speech recognition.

Leaving and turning to  “IMDb TV,” you’ll find a few hundred free movies. Most of these are from the last ten years or so, including “Paddington,” “Captain Fantastic,” and “La La Land.” IMDB is owned by Amazon. We saw it as one of our choices on the Kindle Fire.

Getting Charged

You’d think a fast-charging phone like Joy’s Pixel 2 would never go dead. But just the other day, it did, on a long bike ride. As she squinted at a Google Map, the phone went kaput. She had to get directions the old-fashioned way: by asking a couple who were walking by.

The Catch 22 of phone chargers is that you have to remember to charge them so they’re available for your phone. Of course, once you do, they’re good for several full charges, depending on the kind you buy. If you want one small enough to fit in a pocket, you’ll likely get just one or two charges out of it. 

Following PC Magazine’s advice in “The Best Portable Chargers,” we got the $30 Anker PowerCore 1000 for our phones. It weighs 6.35 ounces and has a 10,000 mAh battery. It takes four hours to charge it, but it’s good for between two and a half and four charges, depending on the kind of phone you have.

You can get some chargers for less than $10 and they work fine. The only hassle you will encounter with any charger is carrying a cable with it to connect to your phone, unless you get the wireless kind. Make sure it’s compatible with your phone. There should be a list of compatible phones on the package.

The News From Abu Dhabi

What a computer does is make calculations. Today’s microprocessors do their calculations on unencrypted data. But researchers from the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University have figured out a way for calculations to take place on encrypted data. Talk about privacy!

If these “GoPHEE” microprocessors make it to market, which researchers say will happen within five years, major data leaks may be a thing of the past.  Hackers won’t have any way to get in, except by human error. For example, a stranger once knocked on our door and asked for access to our WiFi connection. Fortunately, Joy stopped short of giving it to her. By the way, microprocessors are found in just about everything these days, like gas pumps, bread machines, washing machines, credit card processors, elevators, stop lights, TVs, and even your refrigerator.