Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cool Car Key Trick

A convenient feature that's been around for years, but remains unknown to many car owners, is the ability to lower the windows with the key remote. This allows you to begin cooling your car without having to get in first. Unless the car dealership told you about this trick or you happen to read manuals for fun, you may have been unaware of this ages-old trick. The trick usually involves pressing the remote's unlock button, releasing it, then pressing it again and holding it down. In some cars, instead of using the remote, you can insert your key in the door lock and turn it clockwise, release, then turn it clockwise again and hold. Turning the key counterclockwise will usually raise the windows back up. Some cars will also include the sunroof as a window in this operation, while some convertibles with automatic tops will shut.

Amazon vs. Netflix Streaming

This article gives an excellent overview of the pluses and minuses of streaming movies (and tv) from Amazon vs.  Netflix. So, if you're think of switching from one to the other or having both, you might check this article first.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forcing Orientation

Some people are upset that the Nexus 7 and certain smartphones do not automatically orient to landscape for the home screen and other screens. No worry. Just download the Set Orientation app and select Automatic and hit Save. This is very helpful when you're using the Nexus 7 with a keyboard cover.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Finding the Lowest Ticket Prices

Tickets to live sporting and entertainment events can be incredibly pricey. But do you really want to risk missing out on a last-second win or an epic encore? If you pay at the gate, you could be overpaying. The Internet often has the best prices on goods and services, so why should tickets be any different?
FanSnap helps you search through the myriad ticket vendors to aggregate the lowest prices for all the big local events. You'll find deals from eBay, StubHub, TicketNetwork and more. You can browse events in your area or around the country. FanSnap has tickets for all the major sports, concerts, plays, musicals and many other events.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Free Texting App

I use Google Voice to do free texting with. I have not liked others I've tried. While I have not tried this one, WhatsApp (for Apple and Android devices) has two big advantages over Google Voice: It will display your actual cellphone number to recipients and it can attach photos. Although not free after the first year, it costs only $1/year.

Apps for Everything

Today's (Monday, Aug. 27) Personal Journal section of the Wall Street Journal is devoted to the best apps of every kind. You are bound to see apps in there that you never knew existed but likely cannot live without.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

If You Can Dream It, It Exists: Single/Double Wall Oven

We have a single wall oven. It works fine, but there are times when a double wall oven would be very convenient and other times when a double wall oven is virtually essential. But installing a double wall oven would be very difficult given the space available. GE has the perfect answer: The single/double wall oven, which costs only a little more than a single wall oven.

The new GE Profile 30-inch single-double wall oven fits two ovens into the space of a single standard wall oven, providing room to evenly roast a 22-pound turkey in the 2.8-cubic-foot lower oven. At the same time, accompanying dishes can be prepared at a separate temperature in the 2.2-cu.-ft. upper oven, so casseroles, trays of hors d’oeuvres, or breads can be served at their peak. The upper oven is so large, in fact, that it can easily hold two 10-1/2-inch-by-14-3/4-inch casserole dishes. With a total 5.0 cubic feet of capacity, it’s the largest oven of its kind.

Designed for a high level of flexibility, the lower oven features the PreciseAir™ convection system for restaurant-quality results. GE’s exclusive reversing-fan technology allows optimal heat circulation and temperature accuracy to ensure deliciously browned, evenly baked foods. The convection system itself takes up very little space – to provide ample space for cookie sheets, roasting pans and large bakeware. In addition, a slow-cook mode offers four settings – pork, poultry, beef, and stew – to deliver ideal conditions for specific meals with no separate slow-cooker required.

In the upper oven, the GE pizza mode prepares fresh or frozen pizzas to the desired level of crispness. Fresh vegetables and other savory side dishes – even an alternative entrĂ©e – can be prepared while the main dish bakes with no need to compromise on cooking temperatures. And the upper oven is great for the ecologically minded because you're not heating a large oven to cook a small thing.

View larger

 GE Profile™ single/double wall oven

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Text to Voice and Voice to Text

There are many apps that will enable you to do all kinds of things with text messages that can be especially useful when you're driving and in many other circumstances, including: convert incoming texts to voice; allowing you to record outgoing messages (text by voice); and sending a menu of or custom auto-responses. Many have auto-features to turn on when your blue-tooth is on or when you're driving at a given speed. Some, including Sonalight Text by Voice noted below, even works with Google Voice.

Songza Rocks

Songza is a free music app for Android and Apple devices as well as for computers that offers playlists based on the activity you might be doing at the time you open it (waking up, working out, making dinner, etc.). I enjoy it, especially because it means that I can listen to the terrible kinds of music I like working out to but would never actually own. 

In essence, you can choose from a rather long list of activities, and have curated playlists served up to you based on what you’re doing. But Songza took that a step further with the introduction of the Concierge feature a couple months back. Concierge takes what it knows about your music preferences, notes whether or not you’re on a PC or a mobile device, and factors in the day and the time. From there, it gives you a list of five or six activities that you are probably in the midst of, and from there you can filter based on genre or mood, and choose a playlist.
For example (and oh how I love this example), if it’s late Friday night, you’ll be offered activities like Getting High, Getting Lucky, Nightcap, A Sweaty Dance Party, or Bedtime. So if you choose Getting Lucky, you’ll then be given filters like Aggressive, Smooth, Mellow, Heartfelt, and Tongue And Cheek. It’s a pretty incredible app for anyone (like myself) who isn’t all that great at compiling playlists and/or finding awesome new music.

10 Tips for iPhone and iPad Users

After months of watching friends and family use their iPhones and iPads, I realized most of them were missing out on a lot of features. I'll walk you through 10 things you might not know your iPhone and iPad can do. Aficionados may know most of these, but typical users likely won't.
1. Directly Access Apps
If you're like most people, you have your iPhone set to show some pop-up notifications. They might show up on the home screen when you get a Facebook notification, or a text message, for instance, and even when the phone is locked and the screen is asleep. To open these messages, you don't have to first swipe to unlock your phone and then open the app. As long as your device isn't protected by a four-digit security code, swipe from left to right on the notification to open the app in which the message appeared. If you do use a code, you'll be prompted to enter it after swiping the notification.
2. Tap to Scroll Up
Give your pointer finger a rest from scrolling up, up, up to get back to the top of a page. Tap once on the status bar—where the time and battery life are displayed—at the top edge of the iPhone or iPad screen and you'll jump up to the top. This works for websites, email, Contacts and many other apps.
Gary Hovland
3. Keyboard Shortcuts
Tapping on a glass keyboard has its downsides, but a few shortcuts could ease the experience. Tap and hold the "Compose new message" button in Mail to automatically bring up all your saved email drafts. And rather than switching to the number keyboard and then switching back to the letter keyboard, tap and hold the "123" key, then drag it to a number to select it. When you lift your finger from the number, the letter keyboard will appear again.
When entering an email address, hold down the period key to see other address endings. Add emoticons to your keyboard by choosing: Settings, General, Keyboard, International Keyboards, Add New Keyboard, Emoji. When entering a Web address in the browser, hold down the .com key to see alternate URL endings, like .org and .edu.
You can split the iPad's on-screen keyboard in two so you can grasp the iPad with two hands and type with your thumbs. This is on by default, though you might not know it. (To check, go to Settings, General, Keyboard and Split Keyboard.) To see the split keyboard anytime you're using the regular keyboard, spread your two thumbs from the center of the keyboard out. Or just tap and hold the keyboard icon (bottom right corner) and select Split. An Undock option also appears and this lets you move the keyboard up or down.
4. Speed from App to App
The iPhone and iPad have many apps running in the background. There are shortcuts for jumping around apps without going to the home screen. Double tap the Home button (a physical button below the screen) to see a pop-up tray of apps and swipe to the left to scroll through them. Select one to jump to it. On the iPad, do this is by placing four fingers on the screen and swiping all of them up at once. This and other multitask gestures are on by default on the iPad 2 and newest iPad. But you have to turn them on with the first-generation iPad by going to Settings, General, Multitask Gestures.
5. Take Screenshots
Ever see something on your iPhone or iPad screen and wish you could save that image, but can't figure out how? Press the Home button and the On/Off button (top right edge) simultaneously to take a screenshot of whatever you see on the device. You'll hear the same sound as when you take a picture with the Camera app. You can find all of your screenshots stored in Camera Roll, along with your photos, and share them via email or social networks as you do regular photos.
Splitting the iPad's on-screen keyboard in two lets you grasp the iPad with two hands and type with your thumbs. This is on by default—though you may not know it.
6. Swipe to Search
Another way to quickly find apps on an iPhone or iPad is to swipe left-to-right from the home screen. This reveals a search box in which you can type the name of any app to jump right to it. This search also finds contacts, emails, calendar items and texts, as well as other things.
7. Read Websites More Easily
Stop struggling to read overcrowded Web pages on the iPhone's small screen. Instead, tap the Reader button, found in the URL bar at the top of a Web page, and you'll see a much clearer, predominantly text version of the page. Even better: This view hides advertisements. It doesn't work with all websites. This also works on the iPad.
8. A Smarter Camera (iPhone)
If you've ever wished your iPhone camera had a physical shutter button, look no further. The phone's volume up (+) button doubles as a shutter button whenever the Camera app is opened. This hard button feels sturdier all around, plus it makes it a cinch to take self-portraits or to tell strangers how to take a photo of you and your friends.
And speaking of handing your phone to strangers, don't forget about the lock-screen shortcut for opening the Camera: Slide up the camera icon (found at the bottom right of the home screen) to open Camera without unlocking the phone. You can do this with anyone's phone, regardless of whether or not you know their password because it only opens the Camera app, locking you out of all other apps—and other photos and videos—on the phone. Just the photos or videos you take at that moment will be visible to you.
9. Digital Picture Frame (iPad)
Put your iPad to work as a digital picture frame for a photo slide show. Tap the Picture Frame icon, which appears to the right of the slide-to-unlock bar on the lock screen.
If you own an iPad case, flip it into its stand-up position, place the iPad on a table, press the Picture Frame icon and walk away. Guests in your home will have to unlock the iPad to access other apps.
Photos can be pulled from all photos or specific albums, events or images of certain faces. Make these and other slide-show adjustments in Settings, Picture Frame.
10. Mute or Screen Lock (iPad)
The same button on the right edge of your iPad that locks the screen in portrait or landscape mode can double as a mute button. This comes in handy if you find yourself frequently muting the iPad. Change this button's default lock function by going into Settings, General, Use side switch to: Lock Rotation or Mute. By default, this button is on Lock Rotation. Another quick way to mute is by pulling up the multitask bar by double tapping Home (or using a four-finger swipe up), then swiping left-to-right to see a mute, as well as sliders for volume and screen brightness.
You can find more tips at

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Optimizing the Range, Speed and Security of Your Wi-Fi

Here is an excellent, straight-forward and simply-written article of simple things to do to maximize the range, speed and security of your wireless router:

NYT Crossword Online Glitch Fix

Sometimes the NYT crossword puzzle will not display the correct puzzle. For example, it has been reported today (Aug. 21, 2012) that the puzzle from Aug. 3, 2010 is what shows up. You can call customer support for a solution. Or, just log-out of the page and log back in, and the correct page should appear.

Captain's Quarters 3-Head Shower-Head

Many people have fallen in love with this shower-head and have asked where they might get one. It had cost nearly $200 and was difficult to find. It's now available at Amazon for $134 with free shipping.

Easy Way to Detect Dangerous Websites

With the Web of Trust (WOT) extension installed on your browser, if you happen upon a potentially dangerous site, WOT covers the screen with a warning and waits for you to decide whether to stay or leave. If you combine this with your own good sense then you will be protected from many online dangers. Also, if you choose, you can ignore the WOT warning and go to the site anyway. WOT is free.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sending Confidential Information Securely

If there's one thing that the internet does well, it's allowing you to send information from one person to another. However, if there's one thing that the internet does not do well, it's allowing you to send that information securely in a way that can't be intercepted or altered without your knowledge. Which makes it very difficult to send, for example, private data such as passwords. Email isn't suitable, because it's not encrypted by default. Thankfully, there's a handful of web sites that are designed to help you around the problem. Here's one that works very well and is free to use

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Applications vs. Widgets

Applications and widgets look the same at the icon level and function the same. But there is at least one big difference. Application icons installed by the manufacturer have limitations in how they might be modified in the settings. But if there's a widget for the same application, even one installed by the manufacturer, it usually can be customized in myriad ways even if its correlative application cannot be. So, when you have a choice, usually choosing the widget is the way to go. And as a BTW, if the manufacturer tells you in a tech support phone call, live chat, and email that a desired modification cannot be done, the manufacturer very well could be wrong.

Smartphone Email Settings

There are settings inside settings inside settings for whatever email program you are using on your smartphone or tablet. One not so important one is whether or not there is a tag line (e.g., "This email was sent from my fancy device"). One very important one is, upon opening an email, whether or not it will be deleted from the server. If you choose to have it deleted, the email will not be available on your other devices; if you choose to have it not be deleted, then it will remain available on your computer and other devices. So, it's worth going through all the general setting options for the email and the options under your email account(s).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Safe Driving

Texting while driving is inexcusable. Talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is the next worse thing. If you are tempted in either way, consider the following alternatives:

1. You can get a blue-tooth set-up for $50 that will make everything hands-free. You can even send texts by voice and listen to incoming texts as they are converted from text to spoken words.

2. For about $350, any car can be retrofitted to connect to your phone by blue-tooth through the radio.

3. If you do not go the blue-tooth route, consider setting an automatic response to any incoming call or text saying you're driving and will get back to them as soon as you can. Many phones have such a setting and there are plenty of free apps that will do the same.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hidden Controls of the iPhone Headphones

Your iPhone headphones can do a lot more than you think. Here are those things:

  1. If you're listening to music, toggle pause or play by tapping the center button once.
  2. To fast-forward a song, tap the center button twice and long-press on the second tap.
  3. To rewind a song, tap three times and long-press on the third tap.
  4. To skip a song, double tap.
  5. To go to the previous song, triple tap.
  6. If you have an incoming call, tap the center button once to answer. Tap again to hang up.
  7. To ignore an incoming call, long-press the center button. You'll hear two beeps to confirm that the caller was sent to voice mail.
  8. If you're on the phone and you get a new call, tap the center button once to switch calls. To end that new call, hold the center button down for 2 seconds.
  9. You can achieve supersteady shots by using your headphones as a shutter release. Tap the volume-up button to capture a photo.
  10. For iPhone 4S owners: prompt Siri by long-pressing the center button.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

For Cox Customers Only

Cox Web Mail is terrible for lots of reasons. That said, a while ago, Cox introduced an "Enhanced" option upon logging in. It was terrible as well. But, Cox has improved the "Enhanced" option dramatically. So, if you haven't tried it in a while, I suggest trying it. You just check the box under the login stuff before logging in.

Two Must Apps

1. Screen Off: The biggest battery drain for a smartphone is the display. That's why the Screen Off app, available for Android, is so useful. One tap and the screen goes off. There does not seem to be such an app for Apple devices.

2. Settings: While built into Apple devices, Androids do not come with a Settings app icon, which is very useful to have on the home screen. There is a nice Settings app in Google Play.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Using The Keyboard to Resize or Move a Window

You likely have suddenly found yourself with a window that is so large that part of it, including the title bar, is off the screen? For example, maybe somebody sent you an oversized picture taken with one of those many-megapixel cameras. With no title bar visible, you can’t move the window with the mouse. But there is an old trick that goes all the way back to Windows 3. It allows you to use the keyboard and a menu called the system or control menu to move or resize a window.
System menuNormally, this little-used menu can be opened by clicking on the icon in the upper left corner of a window but there is also a keyboard shortcut to open it. Enter the keyboard combination Alt+Space Bar. An example of the menu that opens is shown in the figure on the right. The menu  is used by entering the underlined letter for an action. 
How to move a window using only the keyboard
  1. Enter the keyboard combination Alt+Space Bar to open the system menu.
  2. Type the letter “m”.
  3. A double-headed pointer will appear.
  4. Then use the arrow keys to move the window up, down, right, or left.
  5. Once the window is positioned, press “Enter”.
How to resize a window using only the keyboard
  1. Enter the keyboard combination Alt+Space Bar to open the system menu.
  2. Type the letter “s”
  3. A double-headed pointer will appear
  4. To make the window smaller, press the right arrow key to select the right edge of the window and then repeatedly press the left arrow to reduce the size
  5. Press “Enter”.

Practice Safe Web Surfing

Web of Trust is a free add-on for Windows and Mac Web browsers that helps you know which sites are dangerous. You can also contribute by rating websites for content. Just add it to your browser and a little symbol will show up next to your search results. Green is "safe," yellow means "use caution" and red means "avoid at all costs!"

Signing Digital Documents

Available for both Android and Apple devices, SignEasy is a free app that allows you to put your actual signature on a document.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lookout Mobile Security

A mobile security app is absolutely essential for any smartphone or tablet. One very nice free option is Lookout Mobile Security, which has an app for Androids and for Apple devices. It will scan for and protect against malware, it will backup your data, and it keep track of where your device is so that, if you lose it, you go to the Mobile Security website on the internets and it will tell you where your device is. It also has some premium features for a price but I have not subscribed. There are no ads on the free version.

Home Owner Liability Policy Underwriting Unfair to Non-Dog-Owners

It appears that home insurance policies cover liability for the owner's dog biting someone (at least for some breeds), but dog owners do not pay any additional premium and non-dog-owners do not get any discount. Obviously, that's an outrage. You might consider writing your insurance company requesting that they revisit their underwriting policy to make such a premium adjustment. Below is a summary of my interchange with my insurance company on the topic:


Mr. Cohen,

You are very welcome.  As we consider further updates to our Homeowners rating structure, we will surely take your suggestions into account.  Have a great week!


Michael Valluzzo, CPCU, API | Sales and Client Services Manager

Amica Mutual Insurance Company | Phoenix Regional Office
10835 N 25th Ave, Suite 215 | Phoenix, AZ | 85029-3455
Voice: 888-892-6422 ext. 21675 | Fax: 602-944-3099

From: gene cohen
Subject: RE: Comment / Question from the website

Michael …

I appreciate the prompt response. And I think underwriting based on breed is an excellent approach. But, given that the losses that are incurred are high in severity, I think it is unfair to non-dog owners to have their premiums in effect cover dog owners. Just as people without burglar and fire alarm systems rightfully should be paying more in premiums, and people who list certain art or jewelry should be paying more in premiums, if people with dogs were required to pay more in premiums (or not get the discount non-dog owners got), it would seem to be fairer to all. In all events, thanks for taking the time on this.


Subject: RE: Comment / Question from the website

Dear Mr. Cohen,

Thank you for your email!  You bring up some good questions.  Regarding the first, yes, dog bite liability is covered under your homeowners insurance policy.  On your second question, Amica does not offer a discount for those who do not own dogs.  The reasons are many.  Most importantly, many people own dogs and there are very few dog bite losses which require our policies to respond with coverage.  These losses, though few in number, are often of high severity. 

Therefore, we underwrite cases of dog ownership based on the breed of animal.  As a preferred risk company, we aim to only accept homeowners who are responsible dog owners.  If we see a situation that may be otherwise, we would exercise our option not to write an insurance policy for that person.  In this way, we are doing our best to ensure our overall loss payments are kept at a reasonable level.  This helps keep our premiums manageable into the future. 

We appreciate your business and look forward to continuing to earn it in the future.

Best Regards,

Michael Valluzzo, CPCU, API | Sales and Client Services Manager

Amica Mutual Insurance Company | Phoenix Regional Office
10835 N 25th Ave, Suite 215 | Phoenix, AZ | 85029-3455
Voice: 888-892-6422 ext. 21675 | Fax: 602-944-3099

From: gene cohen
Subject: Comment / Question from the website
Comments are related to:

Amica's Personal Insurance Products: auto, home, marine, or personal umbrella liability insurance


My understanding is that homeowners' policies generally cover liability for the homeowners' dog(s) biting someone. My questions are: (i) Does Amica cover liability for dog biting; and (ii) if so, why would Amica not give a discount to homeowners such as me who do not own a dog? Thank you for your attention to this matter. ... for Android and Apple Devices

Microsoft has launched, a new Web e-mail service touted as designed for "the next billion mailboxes." Partially a marketing exercise to create a new brand unencumbered by the established but oldHotmail, the Microsoft team was able to put 15 years of experience running and tweaking Hotmail into building a new Web mail system built from the ground up.
This is significant as Microsoft is loosened from the restrictions and kludge of what must be an ancient codebase. Starting from a completely clean slate, the company can focus on incorporating the best tried-and-tested features and tailored for the latest browsers.
Following in Gmail's footsteps, one of's features include a minimalist aesthetic that has 60 percent fewer pixels in the header, with 30 percent more messages visible in the inbox from the Webmail client. Perhaps more importantly, the service has no display advertisement while the search box is aligned to the left to further reduce space wastage.
Another feature that caught my attention was the full support for Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) found on Previously, Android smartphone users who want to sync or back up their contact information with a cloud service will in all likelihood choose Gmail devices. Unfortunately, the ability to sync contact data with Gmail is conspicuously absent on the iOS platform.
The launch of iCloud filled this gap, but left the backup data inaccessible from non-iOS mobile platforms and the PC.
With its launch, has now become an alternative destination with which to sync contact information--and one that also sports a modern Webmail interface.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Google Voice

Now anyone can sign up for Google Voice (until recently, there were limitations). When you do, you can designate your Google Voice number to be your cellphone number and there are many other options that did not used to exist.  With Google Voice, you can stop paying $20-30/month for texting, and have all your texting for free.

Queen of Versailles PS

Apparently, the subject of the movie did not care for the end product.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Queen of Versailles

This is a documentary about the most successful time-share developer of all time and his wife and their attempt to build and hold on to the largest house in America (over 90,000 sf modeled on the Palace at Versailles). It is a must should-see. It gives a unique view into the collapse of 2008. It is filled with priceless lines, especially from the wife who is irrepressibly charming despite her naivete and what some might say is a slight shortage on taste and a slight indulgence on consumption. Best of all, it stresses through the husband the need for all of us to conserve electricity.

Golf Online

World Golf Tour is a free online golf game played right in your Web browser. Its main claim to fame is GPS reconstruction of some of the most famous courses in the world. You'll be able to tee off at Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, the Olympic Club and more. As you play, you'll gain levels and be able to enter tournaments against other online players and possibly win real prizes! World Golf Tour is free, and only requires an email address to sign up. But buying extra clubs, new gear and paying green fees for certain courses will cost you credits. Credits can be bought or earned by completing online surveys.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Confirming Proper Setup of .NET Framework

The Windows .NET Framework in Windows is a common source of numerous problems. This free tool called the .NET Framework Setup Verification Utility will check if your .NET Framework is working properly. It verifies the presence of necessary files, directories, registry keys and values for the .NET Framework. It will also verify that simple applications that use the .NET Framework can be run correctly. It requires no installation and can be run from any convenient location. This is a really valuable addition to your toolkit.

Must Have Android App

Elixir 2, a re-designed version of Elixir, is one of the best tools to bring along with you as it shows you nearly everything about your device.
Tap Information from the app, you get to know the battery usage, temperature and voltage, internal and external storage, processor, memory, display resolution, camera and camcorder resolutions, Wi-Fi, bluetooth and other details.
Tap Applications and it lists the apps you've installed on your device. You get to know their versions, app and data storage sizes and whether you can move some of the apps to the SD card. Or you can choose to uninstall apps right away.
Tap Running, you get to know which processes take up most of the memory and CPU usage.
You can also check if the mic of your device is working properly, just tapSensors then Microphone, speak to the device and see if the graph responds to you.
These are just some of the many features. It may come as a surprise as there is so much more info this superb app can give you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cooling Your Swimming Pool Water

I hadn't realized until receiving this question that some people really didn't know the answer: Can you please tell me whether dumping blocks of ice into my swimming pool in Phoenix will cool down the water temperature. Thank you.

The answer is akin to the answer to the question, how many balls of yarn would it take to reach the moon ... which is one if it's big enough. Thus, the answer is "yes" if enough ice is put in. In that context, this is what I know so far: Putting 50 pounds of block ice into a 27,000 gallon pool will have virtually no effect on the pool water temperature. Further research has shown that pricing of block ice deliveries of 300# blocks (which would cost $95), and you need at least three such blocks to make a difference. As Moises Olivas of the Arizona Ice Man put it: "We deliver these for pools often.  It really doesn’t bring the temp down very much.  It’s kind of like putting an ice cube in a sink full of 100 deg water.  You would need a few 300# block to notice a couple of degrees drop in temp."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Oil and Vinegar: Which Goes First?

I hadn't realized until receiving this question that some people really didn't know the answer: Can you please tell me which one is drizzled first: Oil or vinegar. I think vinegar so it will coat leaves and then the oil. If you do oil first then the vinegar won't stick. thank you.

Here is the answer: You actually want to gently coat the salad with oil first, then add your vinegar. This will prevent the lettuce from wilting too quickly, as would happen if you first added the vinegar, and also helps prevent over-acidification. For added flavor I sometimes rub a clove of garlic that's been sliced in half on the inside of my salad bowl before tossing in the lettuce. I then gently toss the lettuce and olive oil with clean bare hands, then add my vinaigrette and incorporate in the same manner. When you use your hands you are better able to control the amount of oil/vinegar you're using and are able to tell when your salad is evenly coated.

Training Your Android to Act Automatically With Tasker

Every day, we repeat the same routine tasks: turning on Wi-Fi at work, decreasing the brightness in the evening, enabling silent mode at night, and so on.
By now, you probably perform these actions subconsciously, but what if you could "train" your phone to automatically complete these tasks, so you don't have to?
Tasker [Google Play link], a $6.49 app for Android, lets you do just that. It works like this: If the phone is in X situation, then Y happens. Within the app, this formula is defined by using "contexts" and "tasks."
  • The context defines the situation in which the task is triggered. For example, time of day, location, or the state in which your phone is in (like charging).
  • Tasks are the actions the phone takes when it's in any given context, or situation. This can be anything from toggling a system setting to sending a text message.
For example, when my phone is at 20 percent battery life (context) disable Wi-Fi (task).
There are endless combinations of contexts and tasks that can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Android user forums are filled with the many creative ways users are taking advantage of Tasker, but if you're a newbie, you'll probably want some basic guidance first.
When you launch Tasker, you'll arrive at the Profiles tab. This is where the formulas you created (contexts and tasks) are listed. At the bottom of the screen is a large green + sign, the button you'll use to create new profiles.
The best way to master Tasker is to get your hands dirty. So, try programming one (or more) of these useful tasks to get a taste of how this powerful app works.
1. Launch music apps when headphones are plugged in
With this Task programmed, every time you plug in your headphones, a menu of your music apps will appear.
Tap the + sign to create a new profile. Name it something like "Music" and tap the checkmark. In the Context menu, select State > Hardware > Headset Plugged. In the next screen, just tap the green checkmark.
Next, the Task Selection menu will appear. Select "New Task" and name it something like "Launch music." In the next window, tap the blue plus sign. Basically, everything your phone can do is listed here. For this example, select Alert > Menu.
In the "Items" section, tap the grayed-out "Action" button. Then select App > Load app, and select one of the Music apps you'd like to load. To add another app to the menu, select the green + sign, tap "Action," and repeat the same process.
When you're done, tap the green checkmark.
(Credit: Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET)
2. Disable features when battery is critically low
This task will disable energy-hogging features when your battery is critically low.
Tap the + sign to create a new profile. Name it "Battery" and tap the checkmark. In the Context menu, select State > Power > Battery Level. Keep the "From" slide at 0, and change the "To" slide to 20 (or your preferred battery level.) Tap the checkmark.
In the Task Selection menu, tap "New Task" and name it something like "Low Battery." In the next window, tap the blue plus sign. Here's where you'll select the settings that are disabled when your battery is critically low. To disable Auto-Sync (push data), go to Net > Auto-Sync, and tap the checkmark.
Tap the blue + sign again to add another task, like disabling Wi-Fi. Again, go to Net > Wi-Fi, and tap the checkmark.
Repeat this process for any other settings you'd like to disable. Bluetooth can also be found in the Net menu, and brightness can be found in the Display menu.
3. Trigger a task with an app-like icon on your home screen
Tasks are usually associated with triggers, like location, time, state, etc. However, you can assign a task to an icon-like widget that appears on the home screen, so that the task is only triggered when you tap it.
To create a widget, or shortcut, long press a home screen, and tap "Add to Home Screen." Then, tap Apps, and go to the Widgets tab. This process may vary depending on the version of Android you're running and your OEM's skin.
Find the Tasker widget and add it to a home screen. Immediately, a "Task Selection" menu will appear. This is where you'll decide which tasks are triggered upon tapping the widget icon. Tap "New Task," give it a name, and tap the blue + sign to add your first task.
What you select here will vary, but there are over 100 options, from composing a text message to a specific person, to disabling Wi-Fi and opening settings menus. You can add any number of tasks to this widget -- just tap the blue + to add more tasks.

As you can see, Tasker is a seriously powerful app, and with a little practice, you can use it to make your life a whole lot easier. The crazy thing is that these few examples hardly scratch the surface of what Tasker can do. 

Finding Cause of Problems in Windows 7

If you are experiencing problems on your PC such as hangs or crashes, here is one possible way to see what is causing the trouble. Take a look at the Reliability Monitor that comes with Windows 7. For example, if you have had a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) crash, you may not have gotten a chance to record the error messages. But you can retrieve the data from a BSOD in the Reliability Monitor history. It also can help you find out if a particular application has issues. It displays a timeline for various system events and divides them into failures, warnings and information.

To open Reliability Monitor

  1. Open the Action Center (click on icon in system tray or in box of hidden icons).
  2. Click “Maintenance” to expand the menu
  3. Under “Check for solutions to problems reports”, click “View reliability history”
  4. A report covering a selected period of time like the one in the figure below will open
An alternate way to open Reliability Monitor is the following:
  1. Type “reliability” or just “rel” in the Start search bar
  2. Click “View reliability history”
  3. A report will open

Eliminating Duplicate Images

There are a lot of ways duplicate images can end up peppering your hard drive. You may have edited them, copied them, reformatted them or backed them up. Unfortunately, they're just taking up space.
In fact, they could be taking up quite a bit of space. You probably only need the one copy, so you might as well delete the duplicates. No! There's no need to search for them one-by-one. Image Comparator is a free, simple utility for tracking down duplicate images. It doesn't search by file name or file size. It compares the actual pixels in the photo to match them, even if they're in different formats. This program can find jpg, bmp, png, gif, tif and ico type file formats. Once you know where they are, you can get rid of them.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Easy Way to Combine Documents

Did you ever want to combine two or more Word documents into one? You could always copy and paste one document into another but that would be the long and tedious way. Use a better method instead. It’s built right into Word but like many Word features it isn’t all that obvious. And it's built into WordPerfect as well.  Here is how to apply it:
  1. Open the document where you want everything to be combined
  2. Place the cursor in the location where you want the material to be added
  3. Click the Insert tab
  4. Open the drop-down menu for "Object"
  5. Choose "Text from file". 
  6. A dialog will open, where you can choose the file that you wish to combine with the presently open file.
  7. Click the button "Insert"
And that’s all there is to it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wrong-Headed Badminton Disqualification

The common wisdom and much of the commentary would have one believe that the Olympic Committee's disqualifications of the Chinese and Korean badminton teams for trying to lose a match were proper. In fact, the common wisdom and that commentary is wrong. There was no rule violation and, indeed, those teams were adopting a strategy to be commended, namely, to maximize their chances of winning a gold medal. Lest you have any doubt about the correctness of this conclusion, and the idiocy of the Olympic Committee (which imposed the qualifying structure, which had never been used in badminton, over the objections of the World Badminton Federation and most of the teams) you need not trust me. Both NPR and the NYT have made this conclusion crystal clear:

See NPR Analysis at:

See NYT Analysis at:

iTunes Match vs. Amazon Cloud Player

With Amazon's recently updated Cloud Player service, music fans now have one more way to store and stream their tunes from the cloud. It bears many similarities to Apple's iTunes Match, but after playing around with both services I can attest to some clear differences, as well. If you're looking for some guidance on which service is a better fit for your music collection, you've come to the right place.
iTunes MatchCloud Player
Free optionn/a250 songs, scan & match, purchases do not count against total
Paid option$24.99/yr, scan & match, purchases do not count against total$24.99/yr, scan & match, purchases do not count against total
Max capacity25,000 songs250,000 songs
Import formatsMP3, AIFF, WAV, MPEG-4, AACMP3, AAC, WMA (Windows only), OGG, WAV, ALAC (Mac OS only), AIFF and FLAC
Download format256kbps AAC256kbps MP3
Streaming via webNoYes
Mobile platformsiOSiOS, Android
Hardware supportMac/PC, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Apple TViPhone, iPod Touch, Kindle Fire, Android devices, Mac/PC, planned support for Roku and Sonos
RequirementsiTunes accountAmazon account
Max device support1010
Catalog size*28,000,000 songs20,000,000 songs
Finds duplicatesYesNo
*Song retail catalog is approximate. Some songs may not be eligible for matching.
Spotting the differences
The first basic difference between the two services is that Amazon offers two versions of Cloud Player, whereas iTunes Match is a one-size-fits-most proposition. The first tier is free, limited to 250 songs (Amazon purchased MP3s do not count against this) but offers the same scan, match, and upgrade capabilities as the paid tier. This means that, unlike the previous version of Cloud Player, the service will scan your collection for songs already available on Amazon and place that higher quality file in your cloud locker instead of wasting time uploading the inferior file. For files that aren't in Amazon's catalog or exceed the quality of what Amazon can provide, your original file will be uploaded.
With the 250 song limitation, Cloud Player's free tier is good for a few essential playlists, but it's unlikely to hold your entire music collection. That's when you jump up to the paid service, priced at $24.99 year. It's the same price as Apple's iTunes Match, but offers a considerably higher ceiling of storage. The paid version of Cloud Player can store up to 250,000 songs, as opposed to the 25,000 song limit on iTunes match. I don't know how you find time to listen to that much music, but at least you'll have storage taken care of.
Cloud Player pros and cons
There are some other advantages to Cloud Player worth considering. It's Web-based, so you can stream your music on anything with a Web browser. It's mobile OS agnostic, with apps for both iOS and Android (great for families with a mix of devices). It works seamlessly with Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet. Also, for you audiophiles, Cloud Player is FLAC compatible.
As for the bad news, well there's some of that too. Amazon's free music storage plan offers less than before. Previously, the plan was limited only by however many songs you could fit in 5GB of storage (potentially thousands). Now you're cut off at 250 songs, whether they're Amazon's matched copy or not. It's also worth noting that the matched songs are provided as a 256kbps MP3, which is arguably a more lossy format than Apple's 256kbps AAC or Google Play's 320kbps MP3 (let the comment war begin). Furthermore, the songs that are upgraded to this 256kbps MP3 format are not automatically synchronized back to your computer. You can download them from the cloud manually, but it takes some work and could lead to duplicated tracks.
That leads to my final complaint about Amazon's Cloud Player, which is that it does nothing to clean up and consolidate your music collection. Personally, I have my music collection overlapping across three to four computers and I'm looking for a service that will ingest the music from all of those locations and create a clean archive free from duplicated songs that can filter back to each respective computer. Apple's iTunes Match offers this feature, but Amazon Cloud Player does not.
iTunes Match pros and cons
Which isn't to say that Apple's service isn't without some serious downsides. One of the most notable drawbacks is that you can't access your collection using a Web browser. There's no jumping on a friend's computer to stream a track from your collection. Songs can beam down to your registered iTunes software or iOS devices, but you can never stray from Apple's walled garden.
Another drawback is file compatibility. Amazon is happy to ingest your WMA and FLAC music files, but Apple keeps things pretty vanilla with MP3, AAC, and WAV/AIFF support. If iTunes Match is meant to appeal to hoarding-happy music nerds, the absence of FLAC support is a notable misstep.
The best thing going for iTunes Match (in my opinion) is iTunes software support. Yes, I know that iTunes software is much-maligned around here as a slow, bloated dinosaur, but it's still a versatile, sophisticated, ubiquitous piece of software. With it, you can batch edit ID3 tags, create Genius Playlists, and easily share your collection across a local network. By comparison, Amazon's Cloud Player capabilities offer only the most basic sorting and playlist features.
The catch 
One thing to remember about both of these services is that you're only renting a solution. If you let your annual payment lapse, your music collection in the cloud goes away (or is at least seriously diminished). But that's not the "worst case scenario" as far as I'm concerned.
What's more likely is that you'll sign up for the service on a whim, forget all about it, and spend the rest of your days on this earth being automatically charged by Amazon or Apple for an essentially invisible service you never think to use. Call me a pessimist or a cheapskate, but when a paid service hovers imperceptibly in the cloud and is set to automatically renew by default, I can just feel my wallet getting lighter. It's a great racket to be in, but personally, I'd rather not be on this end of the transaction if I can help it.