Saturday, February 28, 2015

VideoLAN

If you've been using VideoLAN as your media player, you know how great it is and how much better it is than the Windows Media Center. If you have not been using VideoLAN, you be making a big mistake. In any event, VideoLAN just released Version 2.2 which not only is chocked full of many great enhancements, it's now available on all kinds of platforms for all kinds of smart devices from the link below. If you have VideoLAN installed, V2.2 will download and install in about 5 seconds and keep your present settings. If you don't have VideoLAN installed, it will take a few seconds longer to install and set your settings. It's a very user-friendly (some might say bff) program

VideoLAN Download Link for All Platforms

Friday, February 27, 2015

Egg Noodles (Phoenix)

Egg noodles are an essential for making beef stroganoff. But they also are essential for making your Friday night regular of noodles with beef or chicken and peas with alfredo sauce and a side of pizza. Unfortunately, they are not easy to find in Phoenix. The Safeway noodles packages are on a very top shelf and have enough for left overs and cook in 3 minutes. The Trader Joe's noodles are, well, I don't remember since shunning Trader Joe's, but I recall some shortcomings, and they move around the store so good luck finding them. The Whole Foods noodles come in a smaller package so you have to buy and cook two of them, and they take much longer than the Safeway noodles, but they are delicious and easy to find on the shelf. The price differential among the three is miniscule. Bon Appetit!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hula's Modern Tiki (Phoenix and Scottsdale)

Hula's Modern Tiki is a delightful restaurant. On the two most important criteria for any restaurant, parking and noise level, it comes out just fine. The service is excellent, friendly, and gracious, and the setting (at least the Phoenix location) is quite pleasant with indoor and outdoor dining. While the menu is eclectic, and cannot seem to figure out if it is Caribbean or Polynesian or Latin American, everything is delicious (you cannot go wrong with the fish or the ribs), and there are different sauces for everything from the fish to the tacos to the ribs to the sweet potato fries to the calamari, each of which is unique and quite tasty without being overwhelming. What's also particularly terrific about the place is that the prices are quite modest. Because the noise level is such that you actually can hear others at the table, and so conversations actually can take place, particularly if you're splitting the check, ordering the calamari appetizer for the table is not a bad idea, because everyone else at the table will just keep talking and you can have it all for yourself.

Link to Hula's Modern Tiki Website

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hartford Automobile Insurance

Hartford Automobile Insurance is running ads with Matt McCoy as its spokesperson. It notes that Mr. McCoy is an "actual customer," and there is no reason to doubt he is not. But what it does not note is that Mr. McCoy is best known for his two appearances in Seinfeld as Lloyd Braun (in the Serenity Now episode and the Gum episode).

Matt McCoy Picture


IMDb Link to Matt McCoy

Goofy Marks in Gmail

You might notice that little marks are showing up on your inbox messages in Gmail. It might be a star (of various colors) or a punctuation mark or something undecipherable. To have them stop showing up, go to your Gmail page and click on Settings (one of the choices when you click on the gear in the upper right) and it will open to the first tab General, which is the one you want, Scroll down to Stars, and you will see a star or such in the "In Use" row. Drag it to the "Not in Use" row, and scroll down and click on Save. They might try to sneak in again, but just think of it as a game of whack-a-mole.

Customizing the Home Screen on an iPhone 5 or 6

[This views expressed in this piece are not mine. They (along with the fix) are courtesy of cnet. I will say the views expressed by cnet are correct]

There's no way anyone can dispute the claim that Android is better than iOS when it comes to customization options. Beyond the ability to install launchers and overhaul the entire look of an Android device, users are able to arrange icons however they please on the home screen.
But iOS users aren't as fortunate, as Apple has stuck with its tried and true (more like tired) grid layout.
However, from time to time a workaround pops up allowing an iOS user to take more control over his or her home screen. Such is the case with Makeovr.io.
This free site creates custom icons, each of which belong in a specific spot on your home screen. As you can see in the screenshots below, the service shows you the placement for each icon. When an icon is in its proper spot, you have a pseudo-blank space where no app icon is visible.

The end result gives off the perception of an iOS home screen with icons placed anywhere you wish -- like a rebel, but sans jailbreak.
To use the service, visit http://makeovr.io/ using your iPhone 5, 6 or 6 Plus and follow the prompts. You'll need to change your home screen wallpaper to one of the select few on the site, or go through the process of uploading your own wallpaper and waiting for the service to create icons (it takes just a few seconds).
Sure, it takes a bit of time to setup and it's not perfect, but it's a solution that'll have to do until Apple does what Samsung and OnePlus One do: Show a little tenderness for its customers.

Link to Makeovr

OnePlus One: Best Choice for a Smartphone

The OnePlus One smartphone is without doubt the best choice if you're buying a new smart phone. On every criteria from screen size and quality to camera quality to look-and-feel to thinness and lightness to battery life to speed to ease-of-use (operating system simplicity), it rates nearly as good or as good or better than iPhone 6-es and Samsung Galaxies. But here's what makes the OnePlus Ones such a great deal: They come unlocked for half the price of the Samsungs and a third of the price of iPhones, and with an unlocked phone you can go to any carrier you want, change carriers monthly, and get the best monthly deals. The OnePlus One is available on-line only and, in a real head-scratcher, only on Tuesday. Not kidding!

Link to OnePlus One Website

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Five Useful Utilities

[Courtesy of Gizmo's Freeware]

You are probably familiar with powerful and highly useful free Sysinternals applications such as Process Explorer and Autorunsbut there is actually a large suite of utilities provided by Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich and his Sysinternals co-workers. Many of the tools are quite specialized but they are interesting in their own right. These particular tools are command-line utilities and therefore require no installation. The easiest way to use them is to place the executable files in a location that is in the system path. All are said to work in Windows XP and higher. These are 32-bit files but they also work on 64-bit systems:
1. ListDlls
This command-line utility reports a variety of information about the DLL files that have been loaded. For example, the program can list the processes that have a particular DLL loaded or display full version information for DLLs. The description and download link are on this page.
2. Contig
These days, PCs do not require much manual hard drive defragmenting but sometimes you might want to defragment just a single file that gets a lot of use. This is where the command-line utility Contig comes in. Contig is a single-file defragmenter that attempts to make files contiguous on the disk. It is handy for quickly optimizing single files that frequently become fragmented. It can also defragment NTFS metadata files such as the Master File Table, MFT. The description and download can be found at this link.
3. NTFSInfo
NTFSInfo will show you where on the disk (in terms of clusters) the NTFS Master File Table MFT is located and how large it is.The file system NTFS reserves a portion of the disk around the MFT that will not be allocated to other files unless disk space runs low. This area is known as the MFT-Zone and NTFSInfo will tell you where on the disk the MFT-Zone is located and what percentage of the drive is reserved for it. Requires administrative privileges. The description and download are at this link.
4. Whois
There are a number of ways to get information about who owns Internet domains but this little utility provides a quick and easy method. It goes online to find the registration record for a domain name or IP address and displays it. The description and download are at this page.
5. Handle
This utility allows you to find out what programs have a file open or to see the object types and names of all the handles of a program.  The same facility is provided in Process Explorer  but Handle is a command-line utility. It requires administrative privileges. The description and download is here.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Talk about a movie holding up. This one surely does. Peter Sellers' performances (he plays several different roles) are priceless as is George C. Scott's. The tight script tight and spot-on cinematography are pure Kubrick. And most will agree this is Slim Pickens best movie. In short, a prime example of what film-making can and should be.

Whether or not you liked the movie, be sure to take a look at the Wikipedia's discussion of it. There are some amazing back-stories, such as how Kubrick tricked George C. Scott into the performance he gave and the dispute with Fail Safe, and other points of note (e.g., the idiocy of giving the Oscar for best performance by a male actor to Rex Harrison instead of to Peter Sellers).

Widipedia Link

IMDb Link

Monday, February 23, 2015

3-Day Blinds

3-Day Blinds have good product and do nice work. But do not fool yourself into thinking they are inexpensive. You can order the same set of blinds from HomeDepot.com, and have them installed by a handy-person, who also will re-caulk your bathtub, do some touch-up painting around your new doorbell switches, and patch your carport leak, all for substantially less (even after you include a generous tip) than the quoted price for one set of blinds from 3-Day Blinds.

Academy Awards

The following suggestion was sent to the Academy:

The highlight of the Academy Awards to me (and I think I speak for the millions of TV viewers) was Patricia Arquette’s pitch for equal pay for women. I understand there were some other similar highlights after I went to bed. No doubt stuff like that and say Marlon Brando’s pitch a few years ago are why people watch and what people remember. By way of analogy, no one remembers any Super Bowl but the good Super Bowl ads (the original MacIntosh ad, the kid getting sucked into the Pepsi ad) become unforgettable, and are why people watch. All that said, the Academy should consider adopting the following regulation, which surely would redound to the Academy’s benefit because the increase in TV viewership would be astronomical if not bigger:


“No one in our television audience wants to hear any winner thank anyone. It’s boring. So, it is a condition of retaining an Oscar that the acceptance speech contain no thank-you’s of any kind. Instead, the winner should make a short statement about something of interest. A winner may prepare a list of written thank-you’s and give it to the Oscar host who will see that the Academy sends out appropriate thank-you’s. But any winner who utters a thank-you shall immediately be deemed to have forfeited his or her Oscar and all the benefits and accoutrements that might attach thereto, in which event, the Oscar shall be awarded to the next runner-up.”

Here was its response:

Thanks for reaching out to our team at Oscar.com!  We’ll be sure to share your feedback about our site with our team.

Cellphone Battery Life

Cellphone makers, in responding to consumer preference, strive to make their devices as thin as possible. The drawback is that the thinner the device, the less room there is for the battery and hence the shorter the battery life. But, and perhaps a bit counter-intuitive, a device with a larger screen can have a longer battery life than one with a smaller screen because, even though there is more screen to illuminate (a big battery drainer), there is more room for the battery. So, when comparing smartphones, do not assume larger screens mean shorter battery lives. Indeed, the iPhone 6 Plus has a longer battery life than the iPhone 6.

Task Rabbit

Talk about the uber-ization of the economy, Task Rabbit is like so cool. Need someone to shovel your driveway or walkway, Task Rabbit will find you someone. Need help moving, Task Rabbit will find you someone. Need someone to run an errand or pick up something for you like dog food on a snowy night or clean your oven or put together Ikea furniture or hang your shelves, Task Rabbit will find you someone. And that person will have been vetted by Task Rabbit and the task is insured (whatever that means). If you can't think of birthday or holiday present, give them a Task Rabbit "coupon" (which you can be assured will not be re-gifted). Just like Uber, you can do all the "ordering" from your smartphone app. Finally, if you are looking for work, you can become a Tasker.

Link to Task Rabbit Website

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Small Form Factor PCs

Why anyone would buy a tower pc remains a complete mystery, when you can get all the functionality in less space using a notebook instead, plus have the portability of the notebook. But, if portability is of no importance or interest to you (e.g., you never have any need  or wish to take your computer with you when you travel), instead of a tower, consider a small form factor pc. Configurations vary but they are available for all operating systems, have plenty of USB ports, an HDMI outlet as well as a VGA outlet, and large hard-drives. Every computer manufacturer makes them, they cost no more and often less than a tower and less than a notebook, and they are available everywhere.



Image result for asus small form factor pc

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Inherit the Wind (1960) and The Producers (1967)

Some movies hold up. Others do not. Despite the wonderful cinematography and the noticeable hand of Stanley Kramer, Inherit the Wind does not merit re-watching. Likely, we are just too tired of listening to two sides of a story when there really are not two sides of a story. In sharp contrast, whether you've seen The Producers two or three times, it's worth seeing again. Clearly, one of the best comedies ever. The casting and acting are simply superb. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are brilliant. You might or might notice the raspy guy in the bar who played the raspy pet shop owner in My Blue Heaven (Steve Martin's best movie after The Jerk and Rick Moranis's best movie after Little Shop of Horrors which had Steve Martin's best cameo), but no one can miss the appearance of Seinfeld's father as Goring. It's been colorized by TCM, but it's better to watch streaming in its original black and white. However you watch it, you will laugh out loud, reminding you that this is the kind of humor that has sustained some people for 7,000 years.

IMDb Link to Inherit the Window

IMDb Link to The Producers

Trivia Crack: Better Than Solitaire

One of the great benefits of a smartphone is the ability to play solitaire while waiting in a doctor's office or while sitting through a religious service that just doesn't hold your attention--although in those instances you'll likely want to turn off the game sounds as a courtesy to others waiting in the office or being observant in the house of worship. You might want to try Trivia Crack instead. It’s no coincidence Trivia Crack is the #1 trivia game in the US and Canada. This game is truly one-of-a-kind. With over 100 thousand questions and constant updates, Trivia Crack never gets old. With ads it's free; for $2.99, no adds. Try the free version to see if you like it, but if you do like it, you will certainly buy the ad-free upgrade because the ads are really really annoying.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Timo on Central (Phoenix)

Timo on Central is a delightful restaurant. It's aesthetically quite pleasing, both inside and on the patio, and the sound-level is FABULOUS! The portions are not large but they are quite tasty. The water glasses are small but they leave a bottle of water on the table so no problem on that front. The service is cordial and efficient. Parking is not a problem, especially if you arrive early. And if you walk out to your car with the signed check, they are kind enough to come fetch it from you and they won't yell at you or make you feel bad.

Link to Timo On Central Website

Disabling the New Facebook Sounds

You may have noticed the new sound effects in the last few days when you refresh your feed or leave a comment on a post in Facebook. It's annoying, and completely unnecessary. There are two ways to not avoid these sounds:
First: Do not use Facebook.
Second: You can disable the in-app sounds in a matter of seconds. Here is how:

Disable on iOS:

On your iOS device, tap on the More button, then scroll to the bottom of the list of options and tap onSettings. Next, select Sounds from the list of options, and slide the switch for In-App Sounds to the off position.

Disable on Android:

On an Android device, tap on the three-lined icon along the top of the screen. Scroll down until you find App Settings and select it. Tap on the Sounds line to turn them off.

It's the Same TV Show, But Speeded Up

Good news for TV watchers: Cable stations are speeding up re-runs so you can see them in less time than it used to take, as explained in this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 19):
When Stephen Cox was watching “The Wizard of Oz” on TBS last November, something didn’t sound quite right to him about the Munchkins, who are near and dear to his heart. “Their voices were raised a notch,” said Mr. Cox, the author of several pop- culture books including one about the classic 1939 film. “It was astounding to me.” He wasn’t imagining things. TBS used compression technology to speed up the movie. The purpose: stuffing in more TV commercials.As they contend with steep ratings declines, many top cable networks are jamming more ads into programming to meet audience guarantees made to advertisers and prop up revenue despite falling ad prices.
Tinkering with shows to squeeze more advertising dollars out of them has been done before. Cable networks have long made room for ads by shortening the opening credits. Reruns of “Law & Order” on TNT have a 24-second opening, in contrast to the original 1 minute, 45-second opening when it aired on NBC. But speeding up the actual content is a more subtle tactic TV networks use to achieve a higher volume of ads. TBS also has sped up sitcom reruns of “Seinfeld” and other shows, and sister network TNT has also employed the approach as well. TV Land has done the same with “Friends” reruns. “It doesn’t look like ‘The Keystone Kops,’ but you can tell by the voices,” said Mr. Cox of the tampered shows.
Cable-TV networks use the more densely packed ads to counterbalance sinking viewership and a stagnant cable ad market. But the growing ad clutter is rubbing advertisers, content owners and Hollywood’s creative community the wrong way. Marketers worry that an over-saturation of commercials will reduce the effectiveness of their spots and drive more viewers away from watching traditional TV to commercial-free streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

Looking Forward to Painless Tattoo Removal

How many of us regret our tattoos but will keep them rather than endure the pain of removal by laser? Although still in development, there very well might be a cream that will make tattoo removal painless. Thanks to Extreme Tech, here's the deal:
Tattooing has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. While the modern practice relies on electric tattoo machines that jab you with needles at high speed, the basic principle is the same as it ever was — a sharp object punctures the skin and deposits a small droplet of ink. Do this enough times and you can draw solid lines and shapes. The cellular process that occurs during the healing process is what makes the ink stick around for decades and also what enables Falkenham’s process, known as bisphosphonate liposomal tattoo removal (or BLRT), to supposedly wipe the skin clean.
When ink is introduced by a tattoo machine it ends up in the epidermis (which peels off during healing) and the top few layers of the dermis. As with all foreign material, this elicits an immune response. On the front line of the immune system are macrophages, giant white blood cells that gobble up anything that seems like it shouldn’t be there. That is, anything that isn’t you. Some of the ink is carried out of the skin by macrophages and into the lymph nodes, but most of it remains trapped inside macrophages and fibroblasts (skin cells) that become part of the healed matrix of connective tissue. That’s why tattoos are forever.
Macrophage
To get that ink out, you have to destroy these cells with ink locked up inside. The current leading method of doing this is with a laser that introduces sufficient energy to destroy the target cells. Not only is this process even more painful than tattooing, it can take many treatments and a lot of cash. BLRT can apparently accomplish the same task without causing damage to surrounding skin. The key is those inky macrophages embedded in the skin. Rather than heating them until they burst, BLRT delivers a drug that kills the cells without harming surrounding tissues.
InkWhen the cream is applied to a tattoo, the active compounds absorb into the skin where they encounter the macrophages left over from the tattooing process. Just as the macrophages originally consumed the ink particles, they will pick up the newly arrived particles and sign their own death warrant. The macrophages die and a new wave of macrophages spring into action to remove the debris. Falkenham believes that after enough applications, the ink from the original tattoo could be mostly cleared. Early estimates suggest weekly applications for a few months, but lasers aren’t particularly fast either.
Falkenham is testing BLRT in the lab right now and plan to begin trials on pigs that were tattooed with ID numbers at birth. If all goes as planned, human trials could begin in a few years. So for the time being, think hard about your trip to the tattoo parlor.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Recycle Bin Swoosh Replacements

Windows 7 seems to have disappeared the classic swoosh sound emptying the recycle bin used. After hours of study, our research team has found two acceptable substitutes. The first and better one is available only if you have Quicken, in which event, just use its qdelete file. The second one is not bad but it is a little longer than one might like. It's called nitrous oxide and is available for free from SoundBible. You might like one of the swooshes from SoundBible better.

Link to Nitrous Oxide on SoundBible 

Absolute Best Bread in Phoenix

While Phoenix has no shortage of terrific foods, the one thing Phoenix is not good at is bread. Yeah, there are some restaurants with okay bread and some hamburger places with decent hamburger rolls, but when one praises the Pepperidge Farm rolls at Sauce, one knows one's standards have been beaten down. The other downside of the mediocre bread in Phoenix is that one finds oneself gorging to embarrassing excess when one goes to a New York or San Francisco or Greek Isle restaurant. It is a great pleasure to announce that Phoenix's long metropolitan bread nightmare is over. The bread at Noble Bread is as good or better as any bread anywhere. Noble Bread is a restaurant at 2201 E McDowell Road. Our Connoiseur Department has not eaten there, but the word is that the food is very good. That said, our Connoiseur Department has had the bread, and its report could not be more glowing. Bon Appetit!

Link to Noble Bread Website

Better and Smarter Doorbells

Remember the days when you had to open the door to see who was ringing the bell. Fortunately, they are long gone since the invention of the little fish-eye lens. Now, for a couple of hundred dollars, you can put the fish-eye lens to bed along with having to go to the door to see who is there. Ring and Skybell make a doorbell that sends a video to your smartphone showing you who is at the door and lets you talk to the visitor through your smartphone on an intercom-type basis, all while you remain sitting in your TV room.

Link to Ring Website

Link to Skybell Website

Process Explorer

Process Explorer is a terrific trouble-shooting tool and it's free. The Process Explorer display consists of two sub-windows. The top window always shows a list of the currently active processes, including the names of their owning accounts, whereas the information displayed in the bottom window depends on the mode that Process Explorer is in: if it is in handle mode you'll see the handles that the process selected in the top window has opened; if Process Explorer is in DLL mode you'll see the DLLs and memory-mapped files that the process has loaded.
 
The unique capabilities of Process Explorer make it useful for tracking down DLL-version problems, and provide insights into the way Windows and applications work.  If you've ever wondered just how many background programs are running on your PC at any one time, this is the utility that will tell you.  And if you need to track down the program which is causing a specific symptom on your computer, such as advertising panels being displayed, this is the best way to help find out.  Plus, if any of the programs arouse your suspicions, you can check them with VirusTotal with just a single right-click on the filename.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Deleting Wrong AutoFill Data in Chrome

If you find that a data field is automatically inserting data (name, address, etc.) that you no longer want or that even might be wrong, here is what to do and what not to do:

1. Do not call the website where it is happening (e.g., Southwest Airlines) because it is not likely a website issue and, even if it is, they are not likely to figure out the problem or the solution, even if you call them three times, and even if they tell you it's a known issue.

2. Check to see if the problem occurs in Internet Explorer. If not, which it likely won't, you know it's related to Chrome.

3. Go into settings a delete all autofill data and all cookies, although this likely won't help.

4. If it's part of a pull-down menu, try manually deleting it with the main Delete key, the Delete key next to the number pad, using Shift-Delete, CTRL-Delete, F9-Delete, FN-Delete, none of which likely will work.

5. Think if there is any program or extension you are using that fills in any data automatically. Slap your forehead when you realize there is. Slap your forehead again when you disable the password manager and the wrong data disappears. Don't both looking for help on their website. You might send them a support ticket, but slap your forehead again before getting a response by deleting the website (e.g., Southwest Airlines) in the password manager's list and confirming the bad data is gone. Then put the website (e.g., Southwest Airlines) back into the list and all should be well.

6. If within minutes of your solving the issue, the website (e.g., Southwest Airlines) calls you in response to a complaining email you wrote, explain that you've figured out the problem, it has nothing to do with the website, apologize profusely, and laud them with praise.

My CarFax

The myCarFax people have brought you to services, one by app and one by website, that will tell you instantly when there is any recall involving your car. But wait, there's more. The app will also: track your service history; tell you when your car needs service; and give you estimates of service and repair costs--and it will do so for up to all five cars you might have in your garage.

Link to CarFax App

Link to CarFax Recall Website

Guest Browsing in Chrome

It is good to "play nice" and "share." But when one lets someone else use one's computer, one often finds that, after play time is over, things are not quite as they were (e.g., some playmates do not pick up after themselves). Guest mode is a great option for friends who need to use Chrome on your computer. In guest mode, your friend won't see any of your Chrome settings, bookmarks, or history. Nor will Chrome keep a record of your friend's activity. So, after the playmate is done, your computer will be returned to you just as you left it. Here is how to use Guest mode (after checking the box to Enable Guest Browsing in Settings):

Open a Guest window

To browse in guest mode, simply open a Guest window. Here's how:
  1. In the top-right corner of the browser window, click the button for the current user. It may show your name, email, or an icon like this Sign in.
  2. Select Switch person.
  3. In the bottom left corner of the dialog, click Browse as Guest.
Using a Chromebook? Learn how to browse as a guest on a Chromebook

Exit Guest mode

To exit Guest mode, simply close your Guest window(s). Here's how:
  1. In the top-right corner of the Guest browser window, click the Guest button.
  2. Select Exit Guest.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Good Bye to the Ethicist

Our editorial board rarely takes public stances. But we long have counseled to get rid of the NYT's Ethicist, whose column appears in the Sunday Magazine. We are pleased to report our efforts have been successful. Sunday February 15 will be the last time the Ethicist appears.

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

In deference to the person who recommended this, a person who is very smart and has been known to have excellent taste when it comes to movies, a description of what many might find to be the movie's shortcomings will be omitted. Suffice it to say this person might have mixed this up with another movie or been having some other type of senior moment, might have been experiencing a temporary psychotic break, might have been suffering from wwi (watching while intoxicated), or might have been making a "revenge recommendation." In the meantime, suffice it to say that some highly-salaried reviewers do not share this person's recommendation.

Link to New York Times Review  ("This Is Where I Leave You' puts together a lifeless, laughless sitcom-soap that stumbles from one generic situation to the next. There is almost nothing here that you haven’t seen a dozen times before, and even the surprises feel flat and familiar").

Link to Roger Ebert Review  ( "'This Is Where I Leave You' is what probably would have resulted if Roger Altman ever had the urge to make a TV sitcom after losing his sense of nuance. One that would have been canceled after one season").

Link to Washington Post Review  (“'This Is Where I Leave You' should have been a comedy of contemporary manners as wickedly funny as it is poignant. In the hands of Levy, it’s become just another forgettable example of low-stakes Hollywood hackwork at its most bland, banal and snipingly belligerent").

IMDb Link

Friday, February 13, 2015

Setting Defaults on Android Devices

Say you have two cameras on your device--the one that came with the device which cannot be removed and a better one you installed. When you go to deposit a check, the device defaults to using the bad camera. Rather than muck around trying to figure out how to change the default with the device's settings, just download the (free) Default App Manager Lite. It makes setting and clearing defaults for all your apps.

Download Link to Default App Manager Lite

Downside of Voice Recognition on Smart Devices

Some Samsung smart TVs can "listen" to what you are saying. Many other devices have similar speech features that are always listening; that includes the Moto X, Nexus devices, Amazon EchoMicrosoft Kinect and even the iPhone (when the device is plugged in and the Hey Siri command is enabled). Some of us are happy that someone is actually listening to us. But, if you are fearful that Samsung and an unnamed third-party partner (the company actually translating your voice to text) are listening to your conversations, you can simply turn off the Voice Recognition feature.

Smartphone Location Service

When you download or use apps created by Amazon or its subsidiaries, Amazon may receive information about your location and your mobile device, including a unique identifier for your device. Amazon uses this information to provide you with location-based services, such as advertising, search results, and other personalized content. For example, you go to Amazon to look for men's sweaters. The next day, you walk through Macy's not to shop but just because it's a short-cut to where you are going. As you do so, you approach the men's sweater department. Do not be surprised if your phone starts buzzing you, and when you open it, voila, it brings up the same sweaters you were looking at on Amazon. If you do not wish to be availed of this "service," just turn off your phone's location services. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cabling Network Devices

If you have any devices on your network cabled into a router or switch (e.g., a network storage device), you are better off using what are called ethernet "crossover" cables rather than just plain ethernet cables. They look the same and they cost the same, but they are different. And they can make a big difference especially if your network device starts "disappearing" from the network. The explanation is highly technical and involves some convoluted and arcane technology, so it will be skipped.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is experiencing some global website issues. Rather than calling the general number, you can get help by calling 214-932-0333. In all events, unlike other airlines, if you make your reservation by phone, there is no additional charge over making the reservation online. Safe flying.

Amazon Rival?

Jet.com, when it launches, will be a member-only shopping site that seeks to compete with Amazon. It promises lower prices in exchange for slower deliveries. The yearly membership fee is about half that of Amazon Prime. You can sign up now and get a 6-month free membership. Our marketing research staff has an excellent track record on predicting whether or not a start-up will make it commercially. Alas, on Jet, no consensus has been reached. So, we rate it a toss-up.

Link to Jet Early Sign Up

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Better Ad Blocker

uBlock is a free browser extension is available for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, and Safari.  Even with a fast system I find browsing with it to be noticeably quicker than with Adblock Plus, which I was previously using. If you have a slower CPU or a minimal amount of RAM, the effect should be substantial.
The extension comes with an extensive set of filters and can be used as is. However, there are a number of ways an advanced user can configure the settings, including adding many more filters. When the extension is installed, a button is placed in the browser menu bar. Clicking the icon gives you the option to whitelist the page you are viewing. In the Chrome version, there is also a small eyedropper on the icon that gives the choice of selecting individual elements on the displayed page.

Cox Communications Part 2

Let's say your efforts of 2 days ago got you a $3/month reduction on the Sports Pak on your Cox bill, and then this morning a Cox flyer was left on your door promoting a bundle that looked like it could save you on your bill. Although it turns out it really doesn't, if you have the Loyalty Department run down on an item-by-item basis how that  promotional bundle compares with your package, and you further explain that you are considering switching your second land-line to a voip service, and you further explain the two big shortcomings of the Contour box, and you are really friendly and jovial, you just might find that the Loyalty rep will cut your Sports Package fee a few more dollars and having your monthly warranty fee. As a result, while the Cox bill with the new price increases had gone up by $7/month, your monthly bill, net-net, is now $4/month less than it had been before the price increases or, put another way, $11/month less than it would have been with the price increases. The bottom-line is this: No harm will come from repeated calls to your provider and some significant savings just might be there for the asking.

Better Smartphone Photos

Although our testing lab has not finished its evaluations of the various offerings, there are add-on lenses of all kinds to make your smartphone a much better camera. These include telephoto lenses, fish-eye lenses, and wide-angle lenses. They vary in price from $14 to over $300 and everything in between. As soon as our rigorous testing is done, we will report our results. In the meantime, you can read a summary overview in the WSJ (Feb. 11 at D-1).

Link to WSJ Article re Smartphone Lenses

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Speeding Up a Sluggish Device

Tablets and smartphones can slow down over time. Sometimes, they get so sluggish that using them becomes difficult and frustrating. A factory reset should solve the problem. But, before taking that drastic of a step (although factory resets now are much easier than they used to be), clearing the cache often will produce wondrous results--a device running as fast as it did when you first got it. All that need be done is type (without the quotes) "clear cache in X" (X being the device you are wanting to clear the cache from) into The Google and you will get instructions, which invariably will be easy to follow, how to do so. You also will find instructions on how to clear the cache from browsers and operating systems and other stuff. If clearing the cache does not work to speed up the device, typing into The Google "factory reset in X" will give you instructions of how to do just that.

Stop Gmail's Automatically Adding Contacts

Gmail is set up to create a new contact for each email you send. However, there are times when this can be more of a hassle than a handy tool. For instance, if you are replying to a lot of ads for different pieces of furniture to put in your new apartment, your contacts list will likely get cluttered with nonsense email addresses. Luckily there is an easy way to toggle this feature. Here's how:
Step 1: Log in to Gmail and pen the "Mail settings" menu at the top right (click on the gear icon).
Step 2: On the General tab, scroll down to "Create contacts for auto-complete." Choose whether you want Gmail to add contacts automatically (the default option), or will add them yourself.
Step 3: Press Save Changes at the bottom, and you're done.
Now you can send email to anyone without worrying that you'll have a ridiculous number of unassigned email addresses making a home in your contacts list. You can still find these addresses by checking the messages in your Sent mail area, so they're not too far out of reach should you need to find one of them again.
[From cnet]

Try Simple Fixes First

If something goes blooey with your computer or anything connected to it or to which it's connected , it always is best to try the simple, safe fixes before looking on The Google for and trying more esoteric fixes. Here is a simple checklist:

1. Be sure everything is plugged in.

2. Reboot the computer.

3. Reboot the connected thing that seems faulty (network drive or storage device, switch, sound-bar, etc.), which usually just means unplugging it, waiting a bit, and plugging it in again.

4. Change the cable going to the faulty thing.

5. Change the power-outlet.

6. If you need help from Microsoft, call  866-234-6020 (which will get you free service). If you call another number and they try to sign you up for support for $143, hang-up. Ask to have a case number assigned right away. Do not let them transfer you to another department. Do not hesitate to ask for a supervisor. If you doubt the competence of the tech rep, stop the session and call back again.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cox Communication

You might notice on your most recent (or next) bill from Cox that TV service is $1 more per month, and Internet Service is $2 more per month. Also, you might notice that a brand new charge appears, called Broadcast Surcharge, and it will cost you $7 more per month. If you ask the billing rep to transfer you to the Loyalty Department, he might try to do something to "help" you, especially if you're a "long-time loyal customer" whom Cox "appreciates" very much. If that "help" gets the extra $7 off of your future bills, just say "thank you," and hang up. If it gets you only a $3 reduction in your future, you might try your luck with the Loyalty Department. If you do, you might find the best approach is to be as nice and non-threatening as possible, but it's possible no approach will work, and you should be happy to have gotten the new $3/month price reduction.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dental Fees

Most people love their dentist. Dentists know that. Dentists do not advertise their fees and other charges and it is rare that patients do price-comparisons. Dentists know that too. As a result, you might be paying 30% or more than you could be paying for comparable (or even better) dental stuff, including everything from routine teeth cleaning by the hygienist to expensive procedures such as caps and crowns. For example, the same teeth cleaning can vary from about $100 to nearly $150, and a cap/crown procedure can vary from $1,700 to $2,400. Pointedly, on the cap/crown procedures, your family dentist tends to be at the high-price end while your periodontist tends to be at the low-price end and the periodontists' products are superior (e.g., with custom color-matching) as the result of periodontists' doing more such procedures and therefore getting better prices on the product. In short, emptor dens caveat.

PS: Google Translate will do English to Latin and Latin to English. Link to Google Translate   

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Removing Oddball Toggles from Android 5.0



[From cnet]
The release of Android 5.0 Lollipop brought a new look to the Android operating system. One area that saw improvement was the Quick Settings menu and Notifications bar. A simple swipe down from the top of the screen reveals notifications from texts, emails and other apps, while a second swipe lets you quickly adjust the brightness and turn on things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Airplane mode.
The default screen in the Quick Settings menu shows toggles for eight options: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, network connection, Airplane mode, Auto-rotate, Flashlight, Location and Cast screen. When you turn on the Hotspot feature or (heaven forbid) the Invert Colors option a new icon will appear in this menu.
android-5-quick-settings.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET
These new icons can be annoying, especially if you accidentally inverted your colors. The toggle icons will automatically disappear from the Quick Settings menu after 30 days of inactivity, but you don't have to wait that long. An easy to fix to remove these is to roll the calendar back a month or more, toggle the setting on and then back off, and reset the calendar.
This can be done on stock Android by going to Settings, selecting Date & time, unchecking the automatic time and date box, and clicking on Set date. Choose the same date from a month ago and toggle the icon you want to get rid of (either Hotspot or Invert Colors) on and off. Then all you have to do is recheck the box to use network-provided date and just like that those annoying icons will have vanished.

Median Home Prices: Simple But Misleading (as Is Zillow)

Here is an email-interchange between an informed individual and a professor of economics who specializes in real estate issues concerning how median house prices are presented by a local newspaper:

Dear Professor [name withheld]:

The Arizona Republic’s repeated use of one overall metro Phoenix median housing price can lead to wrong conclusions about the state of the Phoenix housing market. Specifically, just because the overall median sales price dropped from $300K in December 2013 to $290K in January 2014 (as noted by the Republic on Feb. 28, 2014 (per Catharine Reagor)) does not mean the price for any house for sale in January is lower than its price was in December. Put another way, that the overall median price went down by $10K does not mean, as the Republic stated the matter (on Feb. 28),  that “[p]rospective buyers shopping for new houses in metro Phoenix likely will get a nice surprise when they ask about prices.” Here is an illustration of why that is so:

If in Month 1 there were 5 home sales, 2 of which were for $200K, 1 of which was for $500K, and 2 of which were for $1M, the median sales price, i.e., the price where half the houses sold are more than that price and half are less, would be $500K. If in Month 2 there were 3 home sales, again 2 for $200K and 1 for $500K but no sales of any million dollar homes, Month 2 would have a far lower median sales price even if the $200K and $500K priced homes were essentially identical to the ones sold in Month 1. In essence, and in reality, then, while Month 2’s overall median sales price would be lower than Month 1’s median sales price, the price for comparable homes very well might be no different in Month 2 than in Month 1.

The reason one overall median price can skew the analysis this way is that it makes the wrong assumption that there is one metro Phoenix “housing market.” In actuality, million dollar homes are not in the same market as $100K homes. So, when there is an increase in the number of $100K homes for sale, the median prices tend to fall even though actual prices per home are not falling at all. In short, the greater the increase in the number of lower-priced homes for sale from month-to-month, the lower the median sales price--even if the price for every one of those homes is not lower from month-to-month, and very well might be higher.

The Republic’s obligation to inform the public carries with it the responsibility to understand what it is reporting. Its failure to understand that using one overall median house price on a metro-Phoenix basis can be very misleading as to what actually is happening in any segment of the housing market as well as the market overall does a disservice to its readers. I have attempted to bring the matter to the attention of Ms. Reagor and her editor, but both continue to insist that using the overall metro Phoenix median price number is an informative way to measure home prices for any home no matter which segment of the “housing market” they are in.

My thought is that, if you agree with the conclusion that a single overall metro Phoenix median housing price is not an appropriate way to measure what housing prices are actually doing in any segment of the market, then perhaps you might have more sway with the Arizona Republic than I have had. In that event, you would be doing both the Republic and its readers a service. Specifically, if the Republic would stop presenting a single overall median house price that way it does, house buyers and sellers  relying on that presentation would not be led (erroneously) to conclude that the prices for houses in any particular market segment have changed from month to month (or year to year) when in reality they may not have (or, indeed, they might have moved in the opposite direction than that described by the Republic).

-------------------------------------------
You are of course correct, and I often make similar arguments in my monthly report for ASU, as well as in the Cromford Report (a web site for agents).

The problem is that there is a strong demand from the public for a simple number representing how prices have changed, even though no single number can provide an accurate picture. The Arizona Republic is meeting a public demand, because it is trying to attract readers to its advertising. At least it is using a reliable source for the misleading data (The Information Market). Some media outlets get their data from an unreliable source such as RealtyTrac, which compounds the problem. Most people do not have the patience to analyze the market correctly, which requires a large number of different data points.

There is also a great deal of fluctuation between one month and the next which often has no real significance. Some of this is seasonal - January's prices are almost always lower than December's, even in a rising market. The mix issue you point out is also extremely important. Over the last 2 years, the sales mix has changed so as to make price changes look much more favorable than the change in underlying home values.

Rather than try to change what the media does with medians (a goal which I believe is probably unachievable), I try to educate real estate agents (and anyone else who will listen) to explain how complex the pricing issue is, and with the Cromford Report they have access to all the data they need to illustrate what has really happened to home values. This data is also used by many appraisers. 
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I appreciate both the promptness and the substance of your response. What prompted me to write you were very complimentary comments about you by a real estate agent I had dinner with last night. I trust (sadly) that you are correct that the Republic places a higher value on simplicity than on accuracy. I fear based on my written interchanges with Ms. Reagor and her editor, however, that they actually do not understand that how they are reporting their conclusions from a single median price is actually wrong. Oh well. In all events, I do appreciate your efforts with agents and otherwise.
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It's rare that I get to talk to people who actually understand the complexity behind the numbers. Almost everyone prefers simplicity to reality, which is why Zillow has been successful in capturing so many page views. Most people are disappointed when I tell them that their Zestimate is for entertainment purposes only, and often they refuse to believe me and stick with their misguided belief that Zestimates can be taken seriously.

Thanks for the great feedback.

*****************************************************************************


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tip re UPS

If you're shipping a whole bunch of small items that you've taken to the UPS Store in a tub of some kind, before putting them in a box, the UPS clerk will attempt to put all the items on the scale to weigh them. This could be a difficult task as items keep falling off the scale. You can either stand there and watch him fumble or, better yet, suggest that he weigh the tub, then put the items back in the tub, weigh the filled tub, then subtract the weight of the empty tub from the weight of the filled tub. He will be delighted and very grateful for the suggestion both for this instance and to make his life easier for future such instances.

Wireless Routers

Those of you who haven’t upgraded a router lately probably have an 802.11n or 802.11g router. AC is the newest and fastest wireless standard available. The WSJ has an excellent article on why you should upgrade to an 802.11ac router, especially if you have a largish house. The article further explains the various top models so you can decide which is the best benefit/cost-wise for you.

Link to WSJ Article

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Google Earth Pro

Until a few days ago, the Pro version of Google Earth had a price tag of $399. Google has just announced that it is now going to be free. Google Earth Pro has all the easy-to-use features and detailed imagery of Google Earth, along with advanced tools that help you measure 3D buildings, print high-resolution images for presentations or reports, and record HD movies of your virtual flights around the world.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Disabling Chrome's New Bookmark Manager

If you use Chrome's bookmark manager, you have seen its dramatic new look, and you likely have come to the conclusion it is much more difficult to use than the old bookmark manager. Fortunately, it's very easy to get back to the old. Just open a new tab, type "chrome://flags/#enhanced-bookmarks-experiment" (without the quotes) into the address bar, change the option from Default to Disable, and re-start Chrome. This change will also revert the Star-bookmarking to what you were used to.