Friday, January 31, 2014

Improving Web Browsing Privacy and Security

A couple of years ago I wrote about a neat utility called Spotflux, to help make your web browsing more secure. In a nutshell, you could download a 10 MB program, and all your web browsing would go via the Spotflux servers instead of directly between you and the web site. This means that your session is anonymous and untraceable. Now, Spotflux has gone one further. The program is available as a browser add-in for Chrome so you no longer need to download and install the complete program, and no longer do you need Java either. It has a white-list feature so you can disable it for any website you want if you find Spotflux is slowing it down.  At the moment, it's only available for Chrome, but versions for other browsers are promised.

Download Link:

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Some e-mail attachments are more sensitive than others, just as some e-mail recipients are more responsible than others. Chrome extension docTrackr lets you encrypt Gmail attachments, set permissions, and remotely destroy them. It also alerts you when a recipient opens or prints an attachment, so you can call shenanigans the next time your flighty friend claims not to have received an attachment.
(Credit: Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET)
When docTrackr installs, it adds a button next to the regular attachment button in Gmail's compose window. It also adds a button to the right of Chrome's address bar that provides a link to docTrackr's dashboard. Click on docTrackr's attachment button to select a PDF to encrypt and attach. At present, docTrackr supports only PDFs but states that support for other file formats is coming soon.
When you hit Send on an email with a secure docTrackr attachment, the extension opens a window where you can select access rights. Your choices are: can view, can print, can edit. You can also select an expiration date for accessing the attachment. Click the Secure & Share button to send the e-mail.

Download Link:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amazon Prime PS

One other advantage of Amazon Prime is that many items can be delivered the same day you order for a very small shipping charge.

Online Family Newsletter for Free

If you've ever thought about publishing an electronic newsletter for friends, family or clients, you've probably spent some time looking at the technology available and then decided to abandon the idea because it's too complicated or expensive.  Managing a web site is not really the right way to do it, and sending things via email is just too much trouble when you have to keep track of subscribers.  Plus, sending an email to lots of people will likely mean it gets wrongly classed as spam by your email provider.
Here's a great solution, in the form of a free web-based publishing system called TinyLetter.  It's designed to allow you to send your regular or occasional newsletters to groups of people.  You can add subscribers manually, by entering their email addresses, or point people at your web-based signup form so that they can sign themselves up.
Once you've collected a few subscribers, publishing a new letter is as simple as logging into your site and typing it in.  There's no need to waste time ploughing through hundreds of design templates, as everything is quick and simple. And you get a dashboard that shows you which of your subscribers has read each letter.
Although TinyLetter is designed for sending stuff to friends and family, there's no reason you couldn't use it for keeping your business's customers up to date too.  Either way, it's free to use, and no software download is required.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Checking on Site Outages

If you cannot get on to a given website, the Down for Everyone link below will tell you if the website is down or if it's a problem with your computer. If you can get on to a website (say the USPS website for the past two days), but cannot perform a given function (like printing a postage label), the Site Down link below will tell you if the problem you are experiencing is a known problem on the website. Even better, it might even give you a work-around (such as put in $1 for the shipment's value and the postage label problem goes away).

Site Down Link:

Down for Everyone Link:

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Yesterday's posting about Amazon used the term "Premium" when the correct term is "Prime." That, along with a syntactical error, have now been corrected.

Exit Row Seating

Most economy class airline seats are pretty cramped, but not those coveted exit row seats. After hours of research and compilation, here is a chart with what you need to know to nab these extra legroom seats:
 Advance booking Charge At the airportGood to know
AirTran First come, first served – can reserve exit row at time of booking. $20
Whatever’s left is sold at the same price as advance.
Whatever’s left is sold at the same price as advance.
AlaskaElite MileagePlan members and customers who purchase FullFlex tickets or redeem FullFlex awards. Everyone else You wish. NoHave a look when you check-in, either online 24 hours before departure or via kiosk. If there’s anything left (and we’ve never, ever seen this happen), it could be yours.Flying Alaska without status is the worst. Really.
AmericanElites (AAdvantage Alaska and oneworld) and active-duty military get access to exit row free of charge; AAdvantage Gold members qualify as well through 12/13. Everyone else has access to the seats for a fee. Varies based on length of flight – a recent flight from LAX to JFK was going for $39. First come, first served up until check-in cut-off time – same rules apply as for advance purchase.  American long held exit row seats nearly exclusively for its best customers; with the democratization of the process, don’t wait too long to book if you want one.
DeltaAvailable at time of booking to Medallion members and Y or B Economy ticket holders; 
M Economy ticket holders may reserve at check-in. Non-Medallion SkyMiles members may purchase 24 hours prior to departure.
No charge to qualifying passengers, otherwise expect to pay $9-$29 for domestic flights and $39-$59 for international.You can try your luck, but better to log on 24 hours ahead like most others will to see what’s left.With every SkyMiles member qualifying for access ahead of time, commoners ought not to hold out hope for last-minute availability.
FrontierEarlyReturns Summit members can reserve free at time of purchase, Ascent members can request for free at check in if pre-assignment not available. Everyone else can upgrade at time of purchase.These seats now fall under the "STRETCH Seating" designation; from $15 on up each segment for economy fares, from $5 for "Classic" or free for "Classic Plus", each way depending on length of flight.Yes, but with seats going free to many and cheap to everyone else, don’t wait.Exit row seats are open to everyone, at all times – just a question of how much you’ll pay.
JetBlueSeats are sold as part of the airline's "Even More Space" priority seating program; there’s no such thing as a free exit row seat.From $10-$65, depending on the length of the flight.Can be purchased at time of booking, or on day of travel or at online check-in if any seats remain.Passengers buying these seats have priority boarding privileges as well.
SouthwestAfter all this time, nothing’s changed – still no seating assignments.N/AFirst boarded, first servedSouthwest doesn't assign seats, but if you buy a higher-priced "Business Select" fare you get to board the plane in the first portion of the 'A' boarding group, so your chances of grabbing an exit row are greatly enhanced. Those who purchase the $12.50 “Early Bird Check In” often have a good chance of ending up in the ‘A’ boarding group as well, but no promises.  
SpiritAvailable for purchase any time, but like all Spirit seats, don’t get crazy – these aren’t all that spacious.$25First come, first servedIf you’re bothering to upgrade, look into the airline’s Big Front Seats, which are often quite reasonably priced, at which point they offer a better value.
UnitedPart of the airline’s  “Economy Plus” scheme, anyone can buy a seat at any time from booking onwards. MileagePlus Premier Platinum and Gold have anytime, complimentary access; Silver members wait until check-in.No fee for elites. For everyone else, fee charged is based on distance traveled; the average is around $40; some international flights are much higher.Economy Plus is sold until it’s full — you may buy all the way up to the gate.After the merger with Continental, competition for the exit row and other priority coach seats can be tough.
US AirwaysHeld back for Dividend Miles Preferred members, even though the airline’s ChoiceSeats program, which sells off the better seats for a small upcharge, ostensibly does include “in some cases” exit row seats. We’ve never gotten lucky.ChoiceSeats are sold based on length of flight -- $15 from LAX to PHX, $45 from JFK to PHX and so forth.Try your hand at the airport on the day of travel.Why the airline would state that exit row seats are sometimes available when they really aren’t is beyond us. Oh well – they’ll be gone soon enough.
Virgin AmericaExit rows are part of the "Main Cabin Select" section; fares are significantly higher than economy. Often ridiculously expensive – sometimes double the original ticket price. Though you do get free food, booze and other perks.Can upgrade at airport based on availability.Not worth the extra money, unless you need lots of leg room on a transcontinental run. VA lays on the bells and whistles, but the fact is you're overpaying for an economy seat. No amount of free movies and sandwiches can take the sting away.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime costs $79/year. A very good thing about it is that delivery of "Prime-eligible" products is free and done in 2 days. The problem is that many items are not "Prime-eligible" and some "non-Prime-eligible" items cost less than the same items if bought under the Prime program. But here is the best thing about it: You can take it for a month trial at no cost and watch, say, 4 seasons of The Good Wife for free (Prime program has a fair amount of free streaming), and decide if you want to buy the Prime service for the year. And if you do, it will turn out buying the DVDs or streaming 4 seasons of The Good Wife from other pay-per-view services would have cost you way more than $79.

American Hustle (and Blow)

If you cannot think of a movie where every actor, and especially the four leads, give unmatched performances, nestled in a tightly-written, mesmerizing script and a compelling story (some of which actually happened), then immediately watch American Hustle, which you likely will not ever forget. It is chock-filled with surprises and great lines and scenes that will crack you up as much or more in the re-telling as in the first-watching.

IMDb Link: 

PS: Not meaning at all to compare the two except in cinematographic approach and style of characterization, Blow is a much over-looked movie that Johnnie Depp shines in and Penelope Cruz is riveting, which focuses on a not-quite-as-but-still compelling story (some of which actually happened).

IMDb Link:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cool-Looking, Dimmable, and Inexpensive LED Bulbs

Philips’s cut the weight of its new SlimStyle lamp down to about three ounces by eliminating the heat sink found in most other LED lamps.
The bulb looks unlike any that has come before — more like a lollipop than a lamp. It has the ability to dim and gets only warm to the touch even after a few hours of illumination, eliminating two shortcomings of LED bulbs. It’s priced under $10 at Home Depot.
This 60-watt equivalent uses 10.5 watts of energy. The actual light-emitting diodes ring the lamp’s circumference, creating light in all directions. In a test, the SlimStyle created a dimmable, warm glow that was virtually indistinguishable in quality to a standard incandescent. The bulb is now available on the Home Depot website and will be available in its stores in March.
Like other LEDs, the SlimStyle will meet Energy Star requirements and last for 25,000 hours, or about 20 years of average burning. With its lower price and attractive design, this is a lamp that may still be burning for your grandchildren to see.

Windows Mobility Center

Windows 7 and 8.x have a special feature just for laptops and other portable platforms. It provides quick access to settings for brightness, volume, power, and other useful features. Here is how to use it

How to open Mobility Center in Windows 7

  1. Use the keyboard shortcut: Winkey+X
  2. A window similar to the one shown below will open. Some PC manufacturers may include additional proprietary features but the basic ones are shown.
Mobility Center Windows 7
As can be seen, slider settings for screen brightness and volume, battery status and power settings, turning wireless on or off, and other features are collected in one convenient place. If you give lectures as I do, the connections to presentations is also a useful feature. However, the presentation settings are missing in Windows Home Premium.

How to open Mobility Center in Windows 8.x

There is an extra step in Windows 8.x. The procedure is:
  1. Press the keyboard shortcut: Winkey+X . Alternatively, in Windows 8.1 right-click the desktop Start button.
  2. A menu will open
  3. Select the menu entry "Mobility Center"
  4. The graphic below shows the generic window that opens
Mobility Center in Windows 8
In Windows 8.x, the ability to turn wireless on and off has been removed from the Mobility Center. If you have a tablet, a new setting for changing screen orientation is present. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Smart TV Wrong Error Message

If you have a Smart TV but all of a sudden it does not connect ( to Netflix or Amazon or whatever), you likely will get a message saying internet connections are wrong. Ignore that message. Instead, call the TV manufacturer and ask whether it's smart servers are out. Likely, they are. As soon as they are restored, you will be connected again without changing anything.

Factory Reset of a Tablet

If your tablet goes blooey on you, and nothing you do can fix it, a factory reset normally will solve the problem. All the avisos on the matter will warn you not to, stressing that all your data will be erased. But at least with the Nexus 7, fear not: All your apps will magically come back, and the OS will update. You will have to reconfigure your home screen, but that's about it. Whether this is true of the iPad I don't know, but likely it is.

Mobile Broadband

If you're paying for a 3G connection for your tablet with your cellphone provider, you might do MUCH better with a mobile broadband device. A mobile broadband device could give you much more data and a much lower cost. In fact, if you buy 3G connection for just several months each year from your cellphone provider, you still might do much better with a mobile broadband device. The article below gives an excellent overview.

Explanatory Article:,2817,2401690,00.asp

Fixing a Broken Cellphone or Tablet

If you drop your cellphone and tablet and the screen shatters, you are not out of luck. It very well might be repairable for about $100. Besides the Apple store for Apple products, here are three places to check with:


CPR Cell Phone Repair:

JCD Repair:

Remotely Connect to Another Computer

LogMeIn, which allows you to connect remotely to another computer, no longer is free. But TeamViewer is and works well and is easy to use. Not only can you "see" any remote computer over the internet and troubleshoot it with TeamViewer, it also allows for online meetings.

Download Link:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Windows 7 Is Back

If you're wanting to buy a new computer, it is worth considering a Windows 7 machine which many people prefer over Windows 8 and 8.1 machines, and HP now is promoting Windows 7 machines again. If you can wait, however, you might give it a year to see what the Windows 9 machines are like.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Three Easy Ways to Fill-in Text

QuickTextPaste: If there are some words, phrases or sentences that you find yourself typing often, you may find it useful to assign each of them to a particular Windows hotkey.  For example, pressing Ctrl-Alt-N might paste your full name into whatever application the cursor is currently in. This isn't something that Windows offers out of the box, but there are a number of third-party programs that let you do so.  Of all such programs, none is as small and unobtrusive as Quick Text Paste. Note:  To download this program from the above-mentioned page, be sure to click on the blue "" link and not the large green Download button, which is merely an advert for a different product.

Download Link:

Notepad/Clipboard: For Chrome users, this extension lets you put any word or phrase on a clipboard on the extension bar for easy and quick retrieval to copy and paste anywhere.

Download Link:

LastPass: Discussed in early posts, this is a fabulous password manager (it will remember and auto-fill any login info for any site you want it to) for your computer, phone, and tablet. Beyond that, it will remember and fill at your direction any other name or info you want it to. It actually does a lot more and many consider it the single best and most necessary application ever devised.

Download Link:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Innovative Travel Websites

TheSuitest: The only hotel search engine that compares hotel rates on an all-up basis including mandatory fees and taxes. Link

Roomer: If you cannot make a trip where you already made a non-refundable hotel reservation, Roomer allows you to post a non-refundable hotel you got for another traveler to buy from you.

Tingo: If you book through Tingo, and the hotel drops your room rate before your visit, Tingo will refund the difference to you. Link:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kitchen Sink Grid Tips

If you do not have a kitchen sink grid, you are making a big mistake--especially if you have a stainless steel sink. If you've never had one, once you put one in, you will find new ways it helps you on an almost daily basis. If your sink manufacturer also manufactures sink grids, and most do, you are best off getting such to assure tightness of fit. If you get a sink grid that does not fit snugly, it will tend to move in unwanted ways in the sink, so whatever brand you buy, get the largest one you can that will still fit in the sink bottom. Putting aside that sink grids with fewer supports (such as the one pictured which has only 4) are more elegant than those with more supports, they also make for easier cleaning because there is less to clean. Finally, while putting "kitchen sink grid" into The Google will bring up many online sources, it is surprising how the prices for the same grid can vary greatly (the one below cost $187 from Elkay and anywhere from $101 to $175 from various online sources) ... so shop with care. Bon Appetit!

Bottom Grid - LKWEBG2817SS

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The only certainty about the cyber world is that things change with astounding rapidity and it is easy to become the hottest thing and just as easy to stop being so. Just ask Microsoft, or Blackberry, or MySpace, or Dell, or AOL. So, while it looks now that Facebook and Twitter own social media, who knows when they will become yesterday's news. Whisper, available for both Apple and Android devices and for computers, thinks it might be the monarch-slayer of social media. Probably not, but it's an intriguing effort.

With Whisper, you’re free to share with complete freedom and honesty. From your deepest secrets to your most heartfelt wishes to something that feels too intimate to tell even your best friend, Whisper allows you to express yourself within an online community that offers empathy, acceptance and, best of all, anonymity. 

Have something you’re dying to say but couldn’t risk it on traditional social networks? Whisper it and know that your message will be heard and understood by people who think just like you do. Simply type out your whisper, then pair it with an image from our huge database—or use your own!—and choose a font that best delivers your message. 

And don’t worry about who can hear you. With Whisper, you’re safe. Your whisper will be posted anonymously to the real time Whisper-verse; users will read it and can “heart” it, reply with their own whisper or send you a personal message for FREE. You won’t know who they are and they won’t know who you are…unless you choose to reveal yourselves.

Whisper’s users are free to express themselves whether they want to admit to something foolish, say something they think is funny, unload a long-held secret, reach out for help or just see if they’re the only one in the world who thinks the way that they do. You can easily remain completely anonymous on Whisper forever but if you’d like, the app can help you to find new friends, find someone who makes you laugh or even find your soul mate. You’ll never know unless you Whisper!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Daily Free Android Apps

AppGratis gets you free apps with benefits not found elsewhere. The AppGratis set up process is straight forward and easy for both Android tablets and phones. To get you started, download and run the app from the link below and you'll be asked to register with your email address. You can also register on the developer's website at the link at the end of this review. Once you've signed up, you don't need to run the app except to check on current or expired offers. You'll receive only one daily Push notification on your device. From there, you can go directly to the Play Store page for the app on offer. Finding new apps doesn't get much easier than that. The emails from AppGratis arrive like clockwork at the same time daily and are quite entertaining. The daily apps cover all categories such as games and utilities or productivity, and highlights some titles you may not have found otherwise. Sadly, for iOS owners, AppGratis was removed from that app store by Apple due to a clause in their terms and conditions.
Download Link:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Squeeze: For Phoenix Restaurant Goers

If you like the idea of a so-called "happening place" for Sunday breakfast (meaning noise-filled with music and acoustics to reverberate the patrons' voices), and sitting at a table that is 8.5" from the table next to you where the two people at that table are each on their cellphones (perhaps to each other or perhaps to others) and their elbows are jutting across your table, and "lox-style platter with goat cheese" and other stuff such as "pancakes with jalapeno peppers" is described as "traditional," this might be the restaurant for you. Unfortunately, I have nothing to say about the efficiency of the service or the quality or tastiness of the food because I left 30 seconds after being seated. It apparently has no website yet and is not listed as one of the restaurants in Town & Country where it is located. It was nearly full at 8:15 a.m. Bon appetit!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Durant's: For Phoenix Readers

If you have not eaten at Durant's in a while, you will be stunned to see how much has not changed, including the setting, the decor, the noise-level, the age of the patrons, and the okay-ness of the portion-size and tastiness of the food (with some notable exceptions like the cold veggie plate which is very cold because there is more ice on it than veggies). BUT, you will be DOUBLY-STUNNED by the prices, that have become stratospheric. Putting aside the sides (e.g., asparagus for $11), the entrees start in the mid-30s and zoom up from there, with one steak that is $101.95 to a steak and lobster tail that is slightly over $200. Whatever the reasoning on the price points is, it's not Pareto Optimal pricing. You might consider waiting for the next Depression and price deflation to dine there, but if you do go, a reservation is strongly recommended.

Durant's Website:  [Note: You can see the menu items, but they delete the prices]

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Security Apps for Android

Here is a fairly long and quite detailed and excellent review of security issues and apps for Androids. I have used Lookout for several years, it has worked fine, and it will find your phone if it's lost.

Review Link:    or

Free Music Streaming

If you've ever used the Spotify music streaming service, you'll know that it gives you instant access to millions of tracks for free (so long as you don't mind the occasional advert, and the fact that you can't listen to one track more than 5 times).  It's a brilliant way to discover just about every kind of music going. If you haven't tried Spotify, head to and download the Windows client.  Or just use their web-based player for an even quicker way to get started. There's always been one exception to the rule about free access, however.  While the service was available both in free and paid mode for PC-based users, tablet users could only access the service on a mobile device if they had a subscription.  This has now changed, though.  So not only can you listen to endless types of music on your PC for free, you can now do it from your Android or iPad tablet too.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Two Next New Things in Televisions ... One of Which Is Here

If you are looking for a new television, pay the few extra dollars for an Ultra 4K model. While 4K sources are not yet plentiful, they are growing fast and will be the standard, and the picture you will see is dramatically better than anything you've ever seen. If you don't mind waiting until Q2, you might consider the bendable curve Ultra 4K TVs from Samsung, which come in 55", 65", 78" and 105" sizes.  It's not clear how much better the picture looks on a curved screen, but watching the screen go from flat to curved back to flat is as mesmerizing as watching a domed stadium roof open and close. Prices have not yet been announced. In all events, it is a serious mistake these days to get any television that is not at least 65" and you will be even more pleased with movies and sports on sets larger than that. Indeed, once you see movies on 65" or larger sets, watching on anything smaller is no different than watching movies on your smartphone.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

For Pet Owners or People Looking to Become Franchisees

Explanatory Link:

Weather on Your Desktop

There are several programs (e.g., from The Weather Channel) to put the temperature on your desktop. Unfortunately, many of them are not free and most of them have annoying features like giving too much information or showing up when or where they are not supposed to. The Weather Channel app which puts the temperature in the system/notification tray can cause real mischief with the operation of one's computer. Here is a simple fix: Right click on the desktop, select Gadgets, and drag Weather to the desktop. You then will always know the temperature outside, and with one click you will see the high and low for the day and the next 3 days.

Help in Stopping Those 800 Numbers From Calling You

What do you do when the phone rings and your caller ID tells you it’s an 800 number? You don’t want to pick up. But then you’ll find the same number calling you again and again. So what can you do about it? 800 Notes has an answer. This website is a directory of unknown callers created by users like you who got tired of being harassed.The best thing to do when you get an unknown number is NOT to call back. You could be falling for a pricey scheme if you do.
Instead, you should go to 800 Notes and look up the phone number. It could already be connected to a known scam. In that case, there are several recommendations for spam-blocking apps and techniques. If there are telemarketers violating the Do Not Call list, make sure to post about it. You can also report phone fraud and check out suspicious phone numbers.

Sending Text Messages From Your Computer

MYSMS (Windows, Mac; iOS, Android) - A great way to send messages through your computer is with MySMS. It syncs your smartphone, tablets and computers together through cloud storage. So no matter where you are, you can be updated on every conversation you have. It also sends all of your conversations to any gadget you add to your system.

Zipwhip (Windows, Mac; iOS, Android) - Another handy program that syncs your messages with the cloud is Zipwhip. It lets you send and receive SMS and MMS messages on your computer so you don't have to deal with typing on those tiny smartphone keyboards. You can also send picture messages and video texts through your computer! So now when you're working on your computer and you get a text, it will only take a minute to respond.

MightyText (Windows, Android) - This great program also allows you to send and receive text messages through your computer. MightyText syncs messages between the app on your Android smartphone and the program on your computer. It works directly with your SMS inbox, so it keeps an accurate log of who messaged you. All of your messages are stored in the cloud, so you can access your conversations on any device.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sponsored Data

The next big thing in wireless is what will be called "sponsored data." With "sponsored data," a company will cover the data transmission cost to your phone or tablet. For example, a movie production company will cover the data transmission cost to stream movie trailers to your devices. Obviously, almost every consumer company will consider this approach. In essence, it's like "a reverse 1-800 service" where companies cover the cost of consumers contacting it instead of the consumers paying for the calls, under "sponsored data," companies cover the costs of "calling customers" instead of customers paying for those calls.  AT&T will be the first company to announce this approach, but Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint are sure to follow. This is a big deal that could have major implications for how data is "managed" (i.e., billed, allocated, etc.) by the wireless carriers.

Typo Keyboard Case for iPhone 5

Many people who love the Blackberry do so because of its actual keyboard. Many people who love the iPhone 5, hate it's small screen and small virtual keyboard. Although not yet on the market, and subject to litigation by Blackberry, you can marry the Blackberry style keyboard with the iPhone 5 and have a case to boot with the Typo iPhone Keyboard that is available for pre-order for under $100. Here is what it looks like:

Typo iPhone Keyboard Case
Pre-Order Site:

Historical Note: In the early days of Apple Computer, companies around the world tried selling copies using logos stylized to mimic the multi-color-striped Apple logo but using different fruits. One of the first was the Pineapple. Perhaps the most curious choice, by an Italian company, was the Lemon. Likely, it was descendants of the Lemon marketeers who named this keyboard the Typo.

Universal File Extractor

Ever come across an unusual Windows file archive format that your favorite archiving utility couldn’t unpack? Most of the time one of the well-known programs like 7-Zip will do the job but there are a large number of different archive formats and sometimes you may encounter one of the rarer ones. In that case, you will probably be successful if you try the little free utility called "Universal Extractor".
Universal Extractor will decompress and extract files from just about any type of archive or installer that you are likely to encounter. It does not have the capacity to create or edit archives but only extracts so it supplements but does not replace your regular file archiver. The current version 1.6.1 is three years old but the program works in Windows 7 and 8. 
There are two download files. One is an installer that has an option to add the application to the Windows Explorer right-click context menu. There is also a binary package if you prefer a portable version. The interface is basic as shown in the graphic below.
Universal Extractor interface
One intriguing possibility is to use the utility to turn a program that ordinarily uses an installer package into a portable program. For example, Universal Extractor will unpack all the files from installers that are in the form of an MSI  (Microsoft Installer) archive. This is a very common way of packaging programs for installation. You may then be able to use the unpacked files as a portable group. Whether this will work as a portable application will depend on what Registry entries, DLL libraries, and other file locations that the program references.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tips re Travel Insurance

Whether or not to take out travel insurance depends on how expensive your trip is and what the risk is. If you can afford to forfeit the value of your trip without financial hardship, then perhaps insurance isn’t necessary. Do consider emergency evacuation (Medevac) coverage however, since most people cannot afford the cost of a medical flight from abroad back to the US. InsureMyTrip is an easy place to compare travel insurance prices:   That said, here are 5 tips to consider:

  • Evaluate your need. You may be surprised to hear us say this, but here goes: You might not need travel insurance. If you’re just planning to head to Grandma’s for a few days, your total non-refundable costs for your trip may be relatively negligible. Take a good look at everything you’d stand to lose if you had to cancel your plans, and decide for yourself whether or not travel insurance is a good investment for this particular trip.
  • Assess your luggage. The holidays are prime time for traveling with items you may be loath to lose. Many people carry holiday gifts in their checked baggage; if you’re among them, you may want to consider buying a travel insurance policy that provides coverage for lost items. If you’re looking into baggage loss coverage for your holiday gifts, make sure to keep as much documentation (original receipts and/or photos of the items) as possible, and make sure the policy’s limits, both the total and the per-item maximums, match your needs. Also, keep in mind that very expensive items, such as jewelry, may be better insured through your homeowner’s policy.
  • Watch the weather. Snow, ice, and other winter weather conditions can easily ground flights and delay, or outright derail, your plans. Even if you don’t think your home or destination are likely to get hit with a blizzard, remember that flights originate from hubs all around the world. A snowstorm in Chicago could easily cause systemic delays and cancellations in Arizona, so you may want to think about getting a travel insurance policy that provides protection against lengthy delays (usually, the threshold set by most insurers is 5 hours or more) and flight cancellations.
  • Consider the kids. The holiday season is also prime season for colds, viruses, and all kinds of illnesses. Kids are especially prone to the sickness du jour, so if you’ve planned to travel with yours for the holidays, it might be smart to keep a travel insurance policy in your back pocket just in case a sudden ear infection, stomach bug, or other illness forces you to keep your young patient home in bed. (Please note: A licensed, qualified physician must certify that your child is too ill to travel.)
  • Keep your options open. For some travelers, a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy is the right solution during the holiday season. If you’d like some flexibility in your holiday travel plans and want to wait to decide whether you’re really taking that cruise with your brother, or whether you’d rather stay home and cozy up by the fireplace, this type of coverage might be a wise investment. Remember that it’s a time-sensitive benefit – you’ll have to purchase it within 10-30 days of making your initial trip payment – and filing a claim under CFAR requires you to cancel your plans and notify all travel suppliers 48 hours or more prior to your scheduled departure.
  • Friday, January 3, 2014

    Trouble-Shooting Amazon Video Streaming Problems

    Unlike Vudu which gives you a choice of streaming definition/bandwith and Netflix that ratches down a bit it's definition/bandwith, Amazon streams only at the highest possible definition/bandwith. As a result, the picture is excellent. Unfortunately, if your internet bandwith has any issues, the show will stop and start or stop for a moderate time or stop for a long time or stop completely, which makes watching unbearable. If you encounter such problems, before giving up, here are some simple things to do that should fix the problem:

    1. Call Amazon Video Streaming: See  Ask them to give you the event stats for the show(s) you were watching (yup, they actually monitor what you watch), and for an email of that info, giving you the errors, buffers, Up/Down stats, and Average Bandwith. Likely, they will confirm your bandwith has great variations in it and then can see that your problem occurs when the bandwith is too low.

    2. Call your ISP, give them the bandwith and other numbers, and have them check the delivered bandwith which they can do remotely. Have them also run through your bandwith usage by device and review your cabling set-up. They like the challenge of this kind of problem and will enjoy working with you on it.

    3. If all your devices are connected wireless to your router, the only solution might be to be sure any that can be turned off are turned off while streaming. But if your television or any other devices are wired, i.e., connected by ethernet, then be sure the television is cabled directly into the router and not into a switch. The router will take 4-7 devices directly and the more you can wire in directly, the better.

    4. If your streaming device is connected through a switch, the switch likely has 7 portals and you are using only a few of them. Portals go bad over time. So, switch the portal the streaming device is hooked into and that might fix the problem.

    Thursday, January 2, 2014

    Some Must-Knows for 2014

    Re: Watching The Good Wife (or Other Such Series) for Free and Get Amazon Prime: The Good Wife turns out to be a terrific show, perfectly suited for binge watching. If you were to buy the five seasons in box sets or stream it on a pay-per-view basis, it would cost over $130. But, if you sign up for a 30-day test-period for Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free during those 30 days and then cancel your Prime subscription. Some would have ethical qualms about that approach. So, better yet, keep the Prime account for the year at its $79 cost, where you then will have "saved" $50 on the Good Wife (or other series you might choose instead or in addition), and enjoy free 2-day shipping on millions of items and free streaming of scads of movies and TV shows.

    Re: Learning Pharmacy-Speak: Assume the following hypo: The Angel of Pain has flown over your house and stricken you with an indescribable mobility-negating debilitating pain for which the prescribed meds are doing no good; you contact your doctor on a Sunday morning who sends in a new med regimen to the pharmacy; two hours later you have heard nothing from the pharmacy so you call and learn that they have the new prescription but they cannot get "the authorization" for it and will call you when they do. When you ask you how long that will take, they tell you 24-48 hours. Puzzled, you ask what "authorization" they are talking about given that the doctor has okayed the prescription. Startled, you learn that, when they say "authorization," they mean authorization from the insurance company to pay and not authorization to give you the meds. Incredulously, you ask if they will give you the meds if you pay for them yourself, to which they answer "yes." Nervously, you ask how much the meds would be. Shocked beyond any words, you hear the answer: eleven ninety nine. Double-checking, you ask, eleven dollars and ninety-nine cents or eleven hundred and ninety-nine dollars. Shocked yet again, you hear the answer: eleven dollars and ninety-nine cents. Every fiber of your being at that point pushes you to let the pharmacist know that you believe you are speaking to the dumbest [expletive deleted] person ever to walk on God's green earth, but you remember you do not have the meds yet. But $11.99 and a few minutes later you do. Lesson: In the world of medicine and pharmaceuticals, it almost always is a mistake to think that when the provider is using normal English words, those words actually mean what a layperson would understand them to mean when, in reality, they actually mean something no layperson could ever understand.

    Re: Investing in the Stock Market: The stock market might or might not repeat its record performance (up 30%) of 2012, but no one would bet it would. But many people will bet that the stock market will earn between 8% and 10% given that, since 1926 when such statistics were first collected, stocks have gained an average of 10.1% annually. They most assuredly will be wrong because in NOT one of those 87 years has the market EVER returned between 8% and 10%. [Source: Jason Zweig, WSJ 1/2/14]

    Re: Investing in Your Home: While the stock market might be too bumpy for many, the recovery in housing since the 2008 collapse has given renewed confidence in the belief that housing is a safe long-term investment. Certainly, there were periods where owning a house paid off (e.g., the post-WW2 decade and the decade leading into the Great Recession of 2008). But, if you bought your house 120 years ago and still owned it today, while you might relish being the oldest living person in the world, the value of your house would be down substantially (and each of the noted spikes up would have been followed by even steeper declines). [Source: Shiller's Long Term Home Price Index]

    Re: Increasing Your Frequent Flier Miles: If you have the time and don't mind the hassle, you often can get many more frequent flier miles at no additional cost by taking flights that require plane changes rather than flying non-stop. [PS: A "non-stop" flight means one flight from Point A to Point B; a "direct" flight means the same plan from Point A to Point B but the plane stops somewhere in between even though you do not change planes. An excellent (indeed, the second best, New Year's resolution is avoid using the term "direct" when what is meant is "non-stop." The best New Year's resolution is set out below]

    Re: Losing Weight: A key to losing weight is eating slower. Although not free, the bluetooth-enabled HAPIfork (available from The Amazon and elsewhere) vibrates in your mouth if you eat too fast and wirelessly reports your eating habits (good and bad) to your smartphone or tablet, giving you the valuable feedback you need to help you curb overeating and lose weight.

    Re: Word Processing on a Tablet (or Smartphone): The big drawback of smart devices is their inability to do the word-processing that is the staple of the desktop. While not perfect, but it is free, Quip is a really cool app for both Apple and Android devices that enables both the creation of all kinds of documents from the simple to the ornate and allows for collaborative editing.

    Re: Handy Email App: myMail integrates every account into one easy-to-read app. myMail supports Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Outlook and MSN. And it's compatible with both Android and Apple tablets and smartphones. Customize your push notifications and set "quiet time" when you're at work or on the road. myMail sorts your emails by friend's avatars and icons from social media so it's easy to find the emails you want.

    Re:  Best New Year's Resolution: New Year's resolutions are usually marked by being broken and rarely are kept. My favorite is not free of this short-coming for several years now I've been unable to keep it. But this year I am going to stick to it, and I pass it on because many might find it keepable: I am going to think less of others and worry less about being kind to others and think more of myself. If you find that to be less lofty or noble than a resolution should be, please feel free to think less of yourself and more of me. Happy New Year!

    Wednesday, January 1, 2014

    Finding a Lost iPhone or iPad (and a Note to Android Users)

    If you misplace your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac, the Find My iPhone app will let you use another iOS device to find it and protect your data. Simply install this free app on another iOS device, open it, and sign in with the Apple ID you use for iCloud. Find My iPhone will help you locate your missing device on a map, remotely lock it, play a sound, display a message, or erase all the data on it.


If the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch you want to locate is running iOS 6 or later, Find My iPhone also includes Lost Mode. Lost Mode locks your missing device with a passcode and can display a custom message and contact phone number right on the Lock Screen. While in Lost Mode, your device can also keep track of where it has been so you can view its recent location history from the Find My iPhone app.

    Please note that Find My iPhone must be enabled in the iCloud settings on your device before you can locate it with this app.

    Download Link:

    Note to Android Users: Lookout Security, which was discussed in an earlier post, will do all the same things for your Android devices but does so much easier and without having to have a second Android device.

    Download Link: