Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sports Authority

If you know what athletic shoe you want (e.g., you're replacing one you've had), is worth considering. It's prices typically will beat even what you can find on The eBay, and it's service is first-rate. For example, if your shoes come and the plastic anti-theft gizmo is inadvertently left one, you can reach a customer support person in under 2 minutes, and he will resolve the problem in under 1 minute, giving you the choice to have a replacement pair sent (in which event you will ship back the first pair free of charge) or to take the offending shoe into a store which will clip off the gizmo (in which event, if you explain that you ordered online to avoid the hassle of schleping to the store, you will be offered a 10% discount rebate). And it was all handled with utmost professionalism, graciousness, and courtesy.

Google Power Searching

If you want to become a Google Guru, and use some of the advanced tools in the search engine to help you find stuff better, you might want to consider sitting through one or more of the official Google online courses.  For example, the Power Searching course at comprises a complete set of videos that show what you need to do.
Alternatively, if you don't want to sit through the complete set of videos in order to find the real juicy stuff, just check out the Cheat Sheet at insead!  It's a 2-page PDF file, ready to read online or print, which contains all the useful tips and tricks to make your Googling more efficient. If you thought you knew your way around the world's leading search engine, have a browse through this short but compact document and think again.

Cheat Sheet Link:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cleaning a Keyboard

If you keep junk away from your keyboard, it should not require much cleaning and should last without problems for a very long time. But, if you allow stuff to get near your keyboard, then cleaning it is a good thing to do. While I've never had to do any serious cleaning, here is a recommendation from a devoted reader whose computer was going on the fritz that might have been caused by a dirty keyboard: "Today I decided to try cleaning the keyboards (the open laptop keyboard and the separate keyboard I prefer to use).   I turned them both over and tapped them on a sheet of paper, at first gently and then with increasing force.  The laptop keyboard didn't discharge much debris, but the separate keyboard left a huge scattering of junk: dirt, crumbs, unmentionable stuff, disks of paper from paper punchers, and who knows what else.  I then used an eraser brush between all the keys and finished the job off with blasts from a container of compressed air.  I don't know whether my long national nightmare is over, but at least it feels better to have a temporarily clean keyboard."

Now, for the really good news: If you (like the loyal reader) are using a laptop as your main computer, which is the smart way to go, and you are using an external keyboard and monitor which again is the smart way to go, then set your laptop (in the power settings) so that closing the lid does nothing, i.e., it will not shut down the computer or even put it to sleep. In that way, the laptop's keyboard will hardly ever, if ever at all, need cleaning.

Two Movies to Avoid at All Cost

The Deep Blue Sea: Because anything is possible, it might be possible to make a movie that drags slower than this one for no point, but it is difficult to imagine. The only saving feature is that the excruciatingly drawn-out scenes are accompanied by excruciatingly annoying dirges that seem to be added so that the audience is not fooled into thinking that the showing has frozen.

IMDb Link:

This Is 40: Even if you liked the prequel Knocked Up, you will hate This Is 40. In fact, you will hate it so much you will join in the oath never to see another movie starring Paul Rudd even if he appears with something other than the worst haircut in the world. That this movie was released should give hope to actors that there are casting directors out there who will cast anyone and screenwriters that there are producers out there who will buy anything.

IMDb Link:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Using Google Now to Send Texts and Emails

During Google I/O Google announced some improvements to its Google Now service. It now has the ability to send a text message or e-mail using Google Now. Similar to the way Siri works, you're able to give a voice command to Google Now and have a message composed, complete with the recipient of your choosing (so long as they are in your contacts). After Now has filled in all of the required fields for you, you only need to tap a single button to have the message sent.
Before you can send a message with Google Now, you'll need to be sure you've updated the Google Search app to the latest version from the Play store. After you're updated, you can launch Google Now as you normally would on your device and say "Google" to activate the voice commands.
Compose an e-mail by giving the command "Send an e-mail to (contact name) saying (body of e-mail)." Should there be more than one e-mail address listed for a contact you'll be prompted to select the address you want to send the message to, and then you'll see a preview of the message before you send it. The same process is used to send a text message, but you need to replace the word "e-mail" with the words "text message" when giving a voice command. Again, you'll have a chance to preview the message before it's sent to ensure that it's what you intend for the message to say.

Using Google Now to send a short message for you is very convenient. It comes in especially handy if you're driving and need to let someone know you're on your way. You can also type out the same voice command in the Google search bar to send a message, but in the end it's more work (typing) for you than it would be for you to just compose the message through the traditional methods.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Disable JavaScript in PDF Readers

PDF files with malicious JavaScript embedded in them are a common way to spread malware. One way to defend against such malware is to disable JavaScript in the reader you use unless you need it for a trusted PDF. Here is how to disable JavaScript in Adobe Reader. If JavaScript is ever needed, re-enabling it is straightforward in all cases.

Adobe Reader

  1. Open the Edit menu
  2. Go to Preferences
  3. Click "JavaScript"
  4. The dialog box shown in the figure below will open
  5. Uncheck “Enable Acrobat JavaScript”
  6. Click “OK” (not shown in the screenshot”
Adobe PDF Reader JavaScript settings

Here is a link for disabling JavaScript in other PDF Readers:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eight PDF Files Not to Open

One of the largest sources of malware infections is PDF files with scripts buried in them. The embedded JavaScripts have instructions to download and install various types of malware. The Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat are the major targets for this kind of attack. Although Adobe seems to issue an unending stream of updates, many PC users still get infected. Here is a tip to help avoid malicious PDF files.
From their antimalware products, Microsoft gathers data about the source of malware infections. The Microsoft MSDN bloghas just given a list of common infected PDF files that have been detected. I suspect that many readers of Gizmo’s have scripting disabled in their PDF reader but to be on the safe side here is the list from Microsoft. If you see any of the eight files below, do not open them but delete them permanently.  
  • pdf_new[1].pdf
  • auhtjseubpazbo5[1].pdf
  • avjudtcobzimxnj2[1].pdf
  • pricelist[1].pdf
  • couple_saying_lucky[1].pdf
  • 5661f[1].pdf 7927
  • 9fbe0[1].pdf 7065
  • pdf_old[1].pdf

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Send and Receive Money Right From GMail

Google Wallet is now integrated with Gmail, so you can quickly and securely send money to friends and family directly within Gmail — even if they don't have a Gmail address. It's free to send money if your bank account is linked to Google Wallet or using your Google Wallet balance, and low fees apply to send money using your linked credit or debit card.

It's explained here:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Smart Email Reminders

Whether you need to remember a birthday, or to pick up something at the store on your way home from work, use NudgeMail to easily send yourself email reminders. All you need to do is open your email program and type a message. For the email subject line type in a day, date or time to receive your reminder, such as April 19, 2013. Then, send the email to

When it's time for that important meeting or event, you'll get an email to remind you. It's fast, easy and doesn't cost a thing. Want even more control? You can set reminders for recurring times, specific times, time intervals, days, months, hit the snooze button, manage your reminder email settings and more all from your inbox.

App for Ordering In or Ordering To-Go

Eat or Eat24 lets you order food for delivery and pick up from more than 20,000 eateries in more than 950 cities. It' available for both Apple and Android devices.

Five Best Clipboard Managers

Basic cut and paste gets the job done, but if you're going for speed and efficiency, you'll need a clipboard manger to keep your copy-fu strong. The link below gives a closer look at five of the most popular clipboard managers.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If you like stories written by Harper Lee, and like movies directed by Ang Lee, you will really like The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

IMDb Link:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

If You Get T-Boned

When one car rams into the side of another car, that is known as being "t-boning." If it happens on private property, like a strip mall parking lot, while the police will come out to ensure that the pertinent information is exchanged, they will not write up a report. So, in addition to exchanging information, it is a good idea to use your phone to photograph the after-view of the event and to photograph the license of the offending car. You can also use the phone to record the owner of the offending car admitting that the fault was his if he will so agree. Or you can feel like a dope thinking of these things after driving off, although even then, Praise the Lord, there are honest t-boners out there, who immediately will confess liability to their own insurance company.

Turn Your Android Smartphone Into a Full-Featured GPS Unit

The free Scout GPS Navigation & Traffic app will give you all the features you will find on stand-alone GPS units costing hundreds of dollars. For example, not only can you get turn-by-turn directions read to you, you can verbally tell the app where you are going. You can also set up the app's voice feature to connect to your vehicle's speakers.The app includes real-time traffic alerts so you can avoid annoying delays and get to your destination as soon as possible.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Myth of the American Sleepover

Facing personal and interpersonal crossroads on the last night of summer vacation, four high school friends wander the streets of suburban Detroit, each taking the first tentative steps into the world of adulthood. Don't worry if you don't like the beginning, or the dialogue, or the acting, or the excruciatingly slowness of the movie, the ending isn't any good either. This is as bad as it gets.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Before Heading for the Emergency Room

Many emergency rooms continue to be the horror chambers they traditionally have been, with wait-times measured in hours. But that is changing. Now some hospitals are offering services so that you will let you know the wait-time allow you to register online before you leave for the emergency room. Others even have free apps available to do such. Scottsdale Memorial has yet to develop an app, but it does provide for each of its facilities both wait-time on a real-time basis and registration online.

See the Scottsdale Memorial Link here:

Backing Up Your Gmail

Back in 2011 thousands of GMail users got a shock when the company informed them that their emails and contacts had just disappeared. Presto, change-o, you gotta be freaking kidding me, gone. The company’s statement, delivered in a blog, was “…and we’re very sorry.” Google was eventually able to restore part of the missing data but that one incident points out that even the most robust data system, run by the smartest people in the room, can have a bad day.
Whether your email provider is Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft, not everything that can go wrong is under the vendor’s control. Added to the relatively remote possibility of a data loss accident is the greater potential for you to get cut off from your email account due to an administrative error or a hacker getting control of your account and changing the password.
Given all that can go wrong I believe it’s prudent for individual users to keep a local backup of their email. If you run your own business it’s imperative that you do so as many states have laws about maintaining records and email is a key driver in litigation these days. Fortunately drive space is cheap and the tools to backup your personal account are free. Businesses can opt for a number of relatively low-cost services for backing up email on an enterprise scale.

Desktop Email Client

Gmail has both POP3 and IMAP compatibility which you can use to keep local copies of your Gmail account. There are desktop email clients like Thunderbird or Apple Mail, available for every desktop operating system that can be used to backup your Gmail account. Instructions for how to enable Gmail for either IMAP or pop3 access can be found here.

Gmail Backup

This free python app is what I use to backup my Gmail account. It’s lightweight and verbose, making it easy to keep tabs on its progress. You can backup all your emails or select a date range. The app hasn’t been updated since 2011 but still works fine.
This is one solution that works better on Windows than Mac or Linux. I’ve had it running on Linux, but it wasn’t fun getting it setup. This is one task I offload to the Windows 7 box.


A Windows-only solution but it has some compelling features such as the ability to store your email on a flash drive in portable mode and compatibility with Exchange Server. The home backup version is currently free and Mailstore also has paid backup options for businesses all the way up to cloud service providers.
I’m aware I spend a lot of time harping on backups, both online and local data, and there’s a good reason for that. Of all the times I’ve seen where technology really ruins someone’s day, nine out ten times that event was a data loss. By backing up your personal data and files you may still have days technology lets you down but you’ll be able to configure a new device, restore your data and be right back in business.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

Looking for a good source of free images and illustrations? Try this Library of Congress Print and Photographs collection. The images I looked at didn't have any restrictions on them, and it's always a good idea to check the rights to images and illustrations here.  The variety of subject matter is huge. The LOC says "...while international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in materials produced in, or documenting the history of, the United States and the lives, interests and achievements of the American people." Types of images include photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. The size and availability of individual images varies, and in some cases only thumbnail images are displayed due to potential rights considerations.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don't Panic When Your Tablet or Phone Goes Blooey

If you have to do a factory reset to cure a computer problem, that's a big deal. But if your Samsung smartphone or tablet or your Google Nexus goes blooey (e.g., will not boot up at all, or starts requiring a password that you never put in), just relax. All you need to do is a hard-reset, the instructions of which are different for each device. And both Samsung and Google have free customer telephone support to walk you through. What's really cool is that, while your unbacked up data will be gone, all your apps and setting are available online and easy to re-install or they might actually reinstall themselves from the cloud. Whether any of this is true of Apple devices I have no clue, but I would assume so and certainly hope so.

Smartphone Wallpaper Tip

Your smatphone's screen is made up of many tiny pixels that are illuminated to display color. When these pixels are "off," you get the color black. So, if you choose a black, or black-dominant background, you're actually shutting off certain parts of the screen. And, in turn, being more frugal with your battery. If your phone does not have a built-in black background, just download one from the web.

Cox (and likely other cable providers) DVR Service

It used to be that DVR cable boxes were different boxes than cable boxes without DVR. That is no longer true. All the HD cable boxes the Cox provides have DVR capability, which can be turned on or turned off remotely from the Cox offices. Any box with the DVR service turned on will cost $10+ more per month than the same box with the DVR service turned off. So, if you have more than one HD Cox cable box with DVR capability turned on and don't need the DVR capability on all such boxes, and want to save $10+/month per extra-box, just call Cox and ask them to turn off the DVR function on any of the box(es) you don't need DVR capability on.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

iCloud for iTunes

iCloud is a handy way to backup your iTunes but it is way more than that. Once you've set up iCloud, any iTunes you buy will be "stored" there and can be retrieved to any device you want without any syncing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Curing Yellowing Plants

There are many things that can cause plant leaves to turn yellow. Over-watering will do it. Under-watering will do it. Before straining to find the cause, try this cure: Water the plant as you usually do but add some white vinegar to the water. You just might find the yellowing to be cured in 10-14 days, proving once again that white vinegar is the solution to almost any problem.

Homesnap for Android

Snap a photo of any home to identify it and find out the value, the price it last sold for, how many bedrooms, how many baths, local schools, and much more!


Tickets for the Masters

The Masters Tournament is pleased to announce that the 2014 ticket application for Practice Rounds and Daily Tournament tickets is now available at  These tickets will be awarded by random selection after the designated deadline dates. To enter the drawing, click on the link below. If you win and don't want the tickets, I'll take them.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Your Phone Is a Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot

If you have a smartphone, you can use it to connect your laptop or your tablet to the internet when you don't have a wi-fi connection. In effect, your smartphone is a mobile wi-fi hotspot. Here is a good overview:

What is a Mobile Hotspot?

A mobile hotspot is a portable device that connects to a cellular 3G or 4G network and then creates a personal Wi-Fi network, allowing you to access the Internet on the go. With a hotspot-ready device, you can surf the Internet, stream videos, and download music and games conveniently on a laptop, netbook, or tablet. And you can share Internet connectivity with multiple Wi-Fi enabled devices.

What is a Hotspot-Ready Device?

Mobile hotspot devices are typically compact and easily pocketable, resembling a small MP3 player. Differing from USB stick-style modems, these standalone devices do not require a connection to a laptop or netbook's USB port in order to provide Internet access. They come with an AC adapter, but they also include a rechargeable battery, allowing you complete freedom to roam while sharing your Internet connectivity. 

Some mobile hotspot devices come with an LCD screen for an easy glance at signal strength and battery life.

Can I Use My Phone as a Hotspot?

Yes. Select smartphones have built-in hotspot capabilities--also known as tethering--which enables you to turn on your personal Wi-Fi coverage wherever your smartphone has 3G or 4G coverage. And you'll be able to use apps, check e-mail, send text messages, and browse the web on your smartphone while sharing its 3G or 4G connectivity with other devices.

I Can Already Access the Internet from My Smartphone. Why Would I Need a Mobile Hotspot Device?

A hotspot-ready smartphone eliminates the need to carry two gadgets with you. However, sharing Internet connectivity to multiple Wi-Fi-enabled devices can drain your battery more quickly. Additionally, if you move out of range of others who are sharing your smartphone's mobile hotspot (such as for a personal call), you may take away access to the Internet or shared Wi-Fi-enabled peripherals. 
With a dedicated mobile hotspot device, you'll save your smartphone's battery from draining as well as keep a persistent tether to multiple connected laptops and peripherals. Also, some mobile hotspot devices provide extra features, ranging from GPS for location services to additional, centralized file storage.

What Can I Do With a Mobile Hotspot?

Let's say you take your Kindle Fire--which can only access the Internet through a Wi-Fi network--on a daily long bus commute. And you want to access the web, check e-mail, stream a TV show from Amazon Instant Video, and download music from the Amazon Cloud Player. 
At home or at the office, you could easily do this by connecting to the local Wi-Fi network. But with a hotspot-ready smartphone or dedicated mobile hotspot device, your Kindle Fire will always have access to the Internet as long as you're within your carrier's 3G or 4G coverage area--even on a moving bus, train, or car. 
If you have a netbook with Wi-Fi-only networking, and you need to send a presentation to work colleagues while on the go, you don't have to wait to find a coffee shop that offers Wi-Fi connectivity. You can just turn on your hotspot-ready smartphone or device, connect your netbook to its Wi-Fi network, and fire off your presentation over e-mail.

How Do I Start Using a Mobile Hotspot?

First, purchase either a hotspot-ready smartphone or a dedicated mobile hotspot device.

For Smartphones

If you are purchasing a new phone, make sure to also sign up for a data plan that includes mobile hotspot capabilities (also referred to as tethering). If you already have a smartphone, contact your carrier to add this service to your existing plan. Data plans with mobile hotspot capabilities are more expensive than a standard smartphone data plan because carriers consider this a complementary service, since additional devices will be downloading/uploading data from the Internet. After signing up for a plan, you'll activate the service on your smartphone either in its settings or via a dedicated app downloaded from your carrier. Upon completing activation, you'll be able to share your 3G or 4G connectivity over Wi-Fi (just make sure your Wi-Fi signal is turned on). 

For Mobile Hotspot Devices 

If you're buying a contract-based mobile hotspot device from a carrier that requires a monthly payment over the course of one or two years, you'll need to sign up for a data plan at the point of purchase. If you're buying a non-contract mobile hotspot device, you'll have to purchase a usage plan based on the amount of data that can be used (ranging from 100 MB to 5 GB). Once you've reached the data limit, you'll need to purchase another set of data. 
Activating your mobile hotspot device varies from model to model. Some require the device be connected to a PC for setup, while others allow you to connect laptops, tablets, and peripherals by selecting the mobile hotspot's Wi-Fi network and entering a secure password.

I'm Buying a New Smartphone, Do I Need to Sign Up for a Mobile Hotspot Contract?

You do not need to sign up for a mobile hotspot (or tethering) contract when you first purchase your phone if you don't think you'll need to use it. It can be added later. But if you think this might be a service you'll want to use in the future, be sure to identify that the phone is hotspot-ready.

How Much Data Do I Need?

Whether sending an e-mail, posting an update to Facebook, or downloading map images while using GPS, you are using data from your mobile hotspot plan--and it all adds up. Below is an example of a medium-to-heavy data user and how much all the bits and bytes add up to at the end of the month. 

How Many Wi-Fi-Enabled Devices Can Connect to a Mobile Hotspot?

The number of devices that can simultaneously connect to a mobile hotspot varies from carrier to carrier. You'll typically find that up to five devices can connect to 3G-enabled mobile hotspot, and between eight and ten devices can access the Internet via a 4G-enabled mobile hotspot.

What Additional Features Do Dedicated Mobile Hotspot Devices Offer?

Most frequently, dedicated mobile hotspot devices will include a microSD memory card slot, enabling you to share document, music, and movie files simultaneously to several Wi-Fi-connected devices--great for small work groups as well as families traveling together who want to watch different videos. 
Some mobile hotspots also offer integrated GPS for navigation and location services as well as access to text messaging. And some carriers may include unlimited access to their nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots (found in airports and coffee shops), allowing you to save on your personal mobile hotspot's data usage.

Deals on Cruises

There are cruises other than on giant boats. One such is WindStar which has two 138 passenger ships. In all events, if you have any interest doing any cruise, be sure to sign onto Vacations to Go, which might give you a stupendous bargain especially on last-minute deals where the cruise is looking to fill spaces.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Re-Invigorating Your iPhone

The main culprit for decreasing smartphone performance (from any phone) is software cruft. Sometimes, you just have to do a little housekeeping to get your older iPhone running like it's brand new again.The analogous steps will do the same for an older Android phone.
First, take a minute to boot off any bulky apps you never use. Dive in to Settings>General>Usage and look at the list of the apps installed on your phone. You'll see them listed in order of the size of the app, which makes it easy to spot the serious offenders. I'll bet you'll be surprised.
See what apps are taking up the most space on your phone.
Time to clear out those apps you never use.
(Credit: Screenshot by Donald Bell/CNET)
As a serious podcast junkie, I was surprised to find several gigabytes of podcasts sitting on my phone. Turns out I had a few of my subscriptions set to never delete old episodes, and they just built up over the years. Games are another source of bloat. They're typically large files and instead of deleting the app when we get bored with it, we tend to hide it away in a folder. That's why this "usage" view comes in handy for shining a light on the apps you've been hoarding. Once you've recognized the problem apps, delete them. You can always download them again later if you really need them. If you notice the iOS Photos app pretty high on the list, it's a good time to back up your camera roll to your computer and start fresh.
Clearing out the Safari browser cache.
Want to clear out your iPhone's cobwebs? Clear out your Safari browser cache and reset your iPhone's settings.
(Credit: Screenshot by Donald Bell/CNET)
Next, clean out the browser. Safari's cache of visited pages and Web cookies probably has more dirt on you than you'd prefer to carry with you. To purge it, head in to Settings>Safari and click the two buttons for clearing your history and your data.
At this point, you could reboot your phone and probably notice a distinct improvement. But here are a few extra tricks to really get your iPhone back in shape.
Try resetting your system settings. It sounds scary, but it doesn't delete any of your phone's content or rearrange your meticulously arranged apps and folders. Go into Settings>General>Reset and select the top option, Reset All Settings. Do not tap the Erase all Content and Settings -- that would be bad. You'll be given two warnings just to make sure you mean business, and then your phone will reboot with a happier attitude towards life.
It also bears mentioning that the home button on some older iPhones can become sluggish over time. My assistant Sharon Vaknin has four tips for fixing that.
So those are my best tips for getting your iPhone back in tip-top shape. If it works out, treating your old friend to a new case would be a nice gesture.