Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Genghis Khan by Jack Weatherford (2005)

Genghis Khan conquered more people and controlled more territory in his lifetime than the Romans did in 400 years. He also eclipsed the the conquests of Alexander the Great and Napolean. While his accomplishments were marked by brilliance of military tactics and  unbridled cruelty, he did not engage in cruelty for cruelty sake. Rather, Genghis Khan combined propaganda and cruelty into a tool of tactical terror, so that enemies would flee or surrender rather than face his onslaught. But even more impressive than the scale of his conquests, he transformed the world under a rational and relatively benign rule of law, which enjoyed elevated prosperity as a result of robust trade. What's really eerie about the story told in this excellent book is how the use of propaganda and terror are so little different today. And perhaps even eerier, Weatherford's depiction of the Mongol character of the 13th Century seems equally applicable to the Taliban in Afghanistan today.

Weatherford is an anthropologist and his depictions are finely honed detail. The reader gets to know the Mongols in every aspect of their lives and beliefs and customs and hardships and values. They are a fascinating people who in many ways are just like people everywhere at any time--wanting peace, comfort, and happiness, while prone to the same human frailities of greed and ego. But the harshness of their existence requires a sternness of character not so universally found.

And they have some down-right amusing traits as well. For example, rather than kiss or shake hands for greetings, they would smell each other, in different ways for smelling a family member vs. a friend vs. a lover. When a groom and bride are attacked on their way to their honeymoon, the bride insists that the groom ride off and escape--her reasoning being that if he stays he'll be killed and she'll be kidnapped but if he escapes, she'll still be kidnapped but he'll be saved. He reluctantly agrees, and she rips off her shirt and gives it to him so he will have her scent with him, and he rides off with the shirt around his nose and face. Smell was big in the Mongol world.

Finally, it is meet to note that this review is based on reading just the first half of this quite lengthy book. It is not an arbitrary stopping place though . Rather, Genghis Khan dies half way through the book. It might be a first where the title character dies half-way through the book. Anthropologists are really a hoot.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Men in Green by Michael Bamberger (2015)

If you're not a golfer or have no interest in golf, you can stop reading now and skip this book. If you are a golfer or have an interest in golf, and think this book focuses on the Masters or those who have won the Masters, you can stop reading now and skip this book. It's hard to say what this book is about. It's a rambling series of small stories about various golfers, caddies, commentators, and writers, where many of the stories (especially Venturi's rule dispute with Palmer; and McDonald's losing the US Open to Irwin in a playoff) are repeated over and over for no apparent reason. While scores of golfers and others are mentioned, Iron Man Mike Donald is the most mentioned, except for the author himself. He peppers the book with what he clearly believes are keen insights, dotted with references to song lyrics or various trivia, that are more like pokes in the eye. Rather than show the reader with facts and events, he tells the reader what the reader is supposed to learn, which every advocate knows is the worst kind of persuasion. More annoying, Bamberger often does so with just plain wrong grammar, which is the icing on the cake of generally poor writing. All that said, you do get a glimpse and even some insights into many of those mentioned, including the most famous from the game and their spouses and their friends and the times they live or lived in. Bamberger takes great glee in letting you know (with italics) curse words they used and equal glee in intimating at salty encounters they have had or might have had. 

PS: For those who know Philadelphia, it is meet to note that Bamberger was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote an article in 1989 about the 10 best courses in Philadelphia. Here is how he described No. 10: "The north course at the Philmont Country Club in Huntingdon Valley, is extremely fair. From the tee of virtually all of its holes, players can see the entire shape of the hole, and they know where the trouble spots are. It is also a course where golfers need to use all 14 clubs in their bags, for the variety of the holes is great. A fade and a draw helps, too. For every dogleg left, there is a dogleg right." As any one who has played Philmont, including any one who was Junior Club Champion at Philmont, knows, there are just 3 doglegs on the front nine (all to the right) and just one dogleg on the back nine (to the left), and of those only the first hole and ninth hole are true doglegs, while the other two's curvatures are so slight that they are hardly doglegs. That said, his description of No. 8 (Huntington Valley Country Club) is fairly accurate, as any member of Abington High's golf team can attest (it was their home course).

Link to Article re 10 Best Courses in Philadelphia.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Caution on Cellphone Use on International Travel

[Prefatory Note: This might apply only to AT&T wireless and only to Google Voice, but likely not]

When traveling overseas, you can buy an international talk/texting/data plan. They are relatively expensive and not great. On the other hand, if you figure you don't really need data and aren't going to be making many calls, you might decide to go with an app, like Google Voice, where you can text over wi-fi which should avoid any cost. Unfortunately, you could not be more wrong. Here is what AT&T does with international wi-fi texts, with no warning to you. AT&T actually converts those wi-fi texts if to a US number into AT&T texts and charges you 50 cents each (the same as a charge using AT&T's text messaging) or if to a non-US number it converts them into a phone call and charges you $1.50 each (the same as a charge if you actually made a phone call). If you call and complain, AT&T will walk back those charges, exclaiming "we don't know how that happened." But the reality is, AT&T is imposing, without any disclosure or warning, charges for wi-fi use (by converting wi-fi texts to non-wi-fi texts or worse to phone calls) that it has no right to. It is possible that this is some glitch in the AT&T system, but the AT&T reps you complain to, including two supervisors, are unfazed. It very well might be that AT&T is just plain and knowingly gouging its customers.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015)

I for one had virtually no appreciation and even less understanding of what the Wright brothers did much less how they did it much less what the world was like at the time and how they and what they did were received both in the United States and abroad and what kind of people they were. I just thought of them as two men and flying contraption on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Although his book on Truman might even be better, David McCullough is a master biographer with the keenest eye and pen for detail who tells a magnificent story. Ultimately, it is a story of incredible perseverance and hard work by a loving family and that, while substantial wealth befell them, the lesson of the book, as Wilbur put it: "A man who works for the immediate present and its immediate rewards is nothing but a fool." Given all the differences in the times, and especially the differences in the speed of travel and communication, there are striking parallels between two men working out of a bicycle shop at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries who ended up changing the world with those at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Centuries who did the same from their garages, including where, in both instances, the successful efforts were waged in the context of a race with others and were punctuated with years of patent litigation. Finally, perhaps the best treat of all, when the word pages are done, the photographs begin, and they are an amazing treat ... not because you haven't seen many of them before, but because, now they have context and meaning.

International Texting With Google Voice (and Perhaps Other Such Apps)

Texting with Google Voice will not send a text to a non-US phone number. However, Google Voice will send free texts to U.S. mobile numbers even where both the sender and the recipient are in a foreign country.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Some Tips on House Rentals and Other Stuff on the Costa Brava

1. If you want to have a spectacular view of the Mediterranean, be sure your house rental is at the highest point of the town you are staying in.

2. If you want to avoid the worst hike/climb you've ever experienced since doing K1 in your earlier years, do not rent a house at the highest point of the town you are staying in.

3. If you do rent a house at the highest point of the town you are staying in, do not believe any suggestion that: (i) a car rental is not necessary (if you do, shame on you and good luck trying to find a car rental where you are); (ii) that there are cabs to take you back up the mountain (there is a cab stand but the wait can be over an hour even if any of them still happen to be in the town when you call); or (iii) that the grocery market will deliver for free (they do deliver free when they deliver and do so cheerfully, but they don't deliver on Saturday's (which inevitably is the day you arrive) or holidays or Sundays when they are closed or if they just don't feel like it).

4. If your town is celebrating the Saint Joan holiday, be sure to select the holiday menu. For an amazingly low cost, it will start off with anchovies, calamari, mussels, and prosciutto and melon, in no small portions, and then a main course of either pork with potatoes and grilled pineapple or an assortment of seafood, and then a postre, with wine during the meal and cava with the postre, and then good luck climbing Mount Everest.

Monday, June 22, 2015

New York Times Pricing and How to Take Advantage of It

The New York Times digital editions are terrific, especially when you are traveling but they also have many advantages over the print editions when you are at home (e.g., fewer ads, ability to enlarge the font size, fewer trees destroyed). But, if you want the digital editions, you can save money by subscribing to the Sunday NYT print edition (no matter where you have it delivered). For some inexplicable reason, and it certainly violates every principal of Pareto Optimal Pricing, the NYT throws in at no extra cost its digital editions if you subscribe to the Sunday print edition, but charges less than if you just buy the digital editions. It's bizarre but true. Now here's the really neat twist on the whole thing: If you buy the Sunday print edition, you can put it on "vacation hold" for much of the time, and you get a credit for each Sunday you do. So, buying the Sunday print edition will not save you just few dollars, depending on how much "hold time" you exercise, it can make the digital editions virtually free. And just to be clear: I am not saying this to suggest ripping off the NYT. I brought this to the NYT's attention twice, and they chose just to ignore me. So, they've been warned about their idiotic pricing policy, and you should feel free to take advantage of it.

Solving Email Access From Abroad

Gmail (and likely other Internet-based email) Should give you no difficulty no matter Where you are in the world. But sending emails through your provider's premises Often servers can be problematic. Might you even find it impossible to access your ISP's webmail service.

Some suggestions, unlikely to work, are to clear your cookies and cache. Also, clearing out your trash folder and Otherwise running a repair on your email client (eg Outlook) likely will not help.

Here is a very interesting suggestion: " If you are away from home or you are using a non Cox Internet
connection, Please make sure That the IP address at your current  location is not blacklisted. To verify esta, please click on the link  below (from the computer you are using to send the e-mail messages):


Copy the IP address and then a click here:

http://www.spamhaus.org/ lookup /

Paste the IP address on the "Lookup IP Address" field and click [Lookup  IP].

If the IP appears in red or if it says That it is listed on one of the 3  lists, is Because It Has Been That is blacklisted and the reason why the  server is blocking the connection for That computer. On that page you  Should see the option to request the delisting and follow the "Removal  Procedure "provided there or contact your current Internet provider for  assistance With getting the IP address blacklisted or removed from Being  If They Could tell them assign you with a different IP address.

Even if it turns out your IP address was blacklisted, and you manage to get it cleared off the blacklist, still, no luck. Next beg your ISP to escalate the issue, take a nice swim, relax, and wait for the next suggestion . And it looks like it just Might take some time for the anti-blacklisting fix to work, Because emails can now be sent.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Free Upgrade Every Mac User Should Download

With its latest operating system, Apple is making all of its devices work more closely together, adding continuity features via iOS 8.1 that let you "handoff" a project or phone call from one device to the next. But it's also adding tons of refinements to streamline your everyday computing with a more rich Notifications center and Spotlight searches that access information on the Web. Along with the major feature refinements, a new flatter interface design emerges that takes lessons from iOS 7, but manages to remain a unique experience for desktops and laptopsWhat results from this mix of new features and reworked design aesthetics is a free Mac OS upgrade that's more useful than previous versions with a modern feel that makes it the best Mac OS yet.
Now available at the Mac App Store for free, Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite was first announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and is the second update to be named after a place in Apple's home state of California, after last year's Mavericks.

Recording Your iPhone and iPad's Screen and Audio on a Mac

If you have Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, you already have a built-in recorder for your iPhone. To start, connect your iPhone to your Mac using a lightning cable and launch Quicktime Player. Click the File menu and choose "New Movie Recording." Click the arrow to the right of the record button and you'll see your phone as a choice. If you want to record audio as well, change the microphone to your phone as well. This will allow you to record whatever you're doing on your phone.
Not all apps will allow you to record the screen, such as Netflix. Additionally, switching from portrait to landscape will cause the recording to stop, so pick an orientation and stick with it.
You can also record just audio from your iPhone through Quicktime. For that, you'd go to Quicktime, click the File menu and choose "New Audio Recording." Then, switch the microphone to your phone. Quicktime by default has the volume all the way down, so you'll need to adjust it to hear playback.
This is a great way to show off apps or save something from your phone that isn't easily sharable. And these tips also work with an iPad.


Our amazing staff has worked tirelessly over the past year and done some phenomenal work. So, we have decided they deserve and we are going to give them a break together with an all-expense-paid trip to Sant Pol de Mar outside Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast. Look for them to come back in early July refreshed and with renewed vigor. In the meantime, given their dedication, it is possible they might add some posts during what is supposed to be vacation time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Some Nifty Travel Apps

Couchsurfing (iOSAndroid)

You can learn a lot about people in other cities by sleeping on their couches -- and save a lot of money in the process. The Couchsurfing community is almost 6 million strong in 120,000 cities. With the companion app, you can book a couch, find events happening nearby, or get alerts about nearby Couchsurfing meetups. You'll have an instant group of friends to explore with.

Phind (iOS)

Travel can feel very disorienting, but no one wants to lug around a big guidebook or phrasebook that screams "tourist." Phind helps you find local attractions with the snap of a photo. See an interesting building, historic site, amusement park, or restaurant? Take a picture and Phind will deliver info, reviews, and (for restaurants) reservations. The app also recommends points of interests nearby so you can keep exploring.

YapQ (iOSAndroid)

Don't pay for expensive guided tours. YapQ offers informative audio tours in 12 languages for thousands of cities around the world, and it's free online or 99 cents for the app.

BonAppetour (webapp)

Break bread with locals using BonAppetour. Search your desired city to locate a list of hosts who'll prepare a home-cooked meal for you. BonAppetour offers a variety of experiences, from casual to fancy, depending on your budget. Just connect with your preferred host, reserve your spot at the table, make your payment, and indulge in a taste of home abroad.

Party With a Local (iOS, Android)

If you're all about cool, under-the-radar hotspots, then try Party With a Local. Open the app and scroll through dozens of user profiles, filled with bios, bar and club preferences, relationship statuses, and a few photos. Find your perfect match and message them in-app to get the party started.

Best Grasses for Phoenix

Putting aside Tifway and Tifgreen which are what sports venues use and require the highest maintenancce, the best grasses for homeowners are:

Midiron: Phoenix's most popular variety of grass for a number of reasons, not least of which is its durability. Able to thrive in our harsh sunshine, it is able to repair itself quickly and is one of the easiest varieties to maintain. With a medium leaf and dark color it has become a very popular choice. Midiron is best for Phoenix yards with heavy traffic and homeowners who want a low maintenance, durable lawn. One of Midiron's advantages is its ability to recover from pet urine. More resilient than most, it resists browning and re-greens quickly. It is considered a low maintenance, hardy grass. Good for active children and their pets.

Palmetto St. Augustine: It does very well in both sunny and shaded areas, but truly stands out because of its shade performance. Most grasses will not do well if they are left in the shade for the majority of the day, and Palmetto can stay green and lush with just 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. It also stays green long into fall and begins greening soon in the spring. It will take several heavy frosts to make it go dormant. Palmetto St. Augustine is best for Phoenix homeowners with heavily shaded lawns who want their grass to stay green as long as possible and don't want to overseed in the winter. Palmetto doesn't do well with overseeding, so being able to accept a brown lawn in winter is something to consider.

Celebration Bermuda: It thrives in the Arizona climate, and its dense structure lends itself to a very soft, very fine grass. With a gorgeous blue-green color, this is definitely a grass that you will be tempted to walk barefoot on. Considered one of the most versatile grasses on the market, Celebration can be found anywhere from the golf course to your neighbors house. Celebration Bermudagrass is best for any Phoenix resident who desires low-maintenance and high quality grass for their lawn. Celebration is a high quality grass that can be cut with both reel and rotary lawnmowers, so it gives you options for care. It's also very resilient to wear and tear, so if you have kids who love to play in the grass, it is considered to be very hardy. Fertilization is also minimal, so for a quality grass that is low maintenance, Celebration is often considered the standard in Phoenix.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

International Cell Phone Plans

From the NYT. See Link to Article

Prices for calling, texting and using data overseas continue to fall, but the larger system relies on a haphazard and incomplete set of agreements among wireless companies from every country on earth. That makes finding the cheapest option that will (mostly) satisfy your needs still a complex task, depending on where you’re going, for how long and with whom. 
First, let’s go over some basic rules for saving. If you don’t have a foreign plan, keep international data roaming off (and check to see how much it will cost you per minute if you pick up when, say, your mother calls). To limit data use, don’t let your apps run in the background and adjust your settings so they don’t refresh. Browse the Web using an Opera app, which uses less data. Pick a messaging app (WhatsApp, Viber, Skype) so you won’t have to pay for texts, and make sure your friends and family are all on it. (Most of these now allow free calling among users.)
Now I’ll break down your options into categories — but, fair warning, you’ll have to do some follow-up work, diving into the sometimes opaque websites of the service providers to figure out the most economical option for your needs and destinations.

Stick to Wi-Fi

Those not addicted to social media or needing to be connected at all times to family or office can stick with free Wi-Fi hot spots — though know that it’s a calculated risk. If you do need to use the phone in an emergency, it can cost you: $5 a minute is not uncommon, and smaller service providers, like Cricket Wireless, offer limited or no service abroad.
And Wi-Fi dependence brings two more problems. First, availability varies greatly by country and region (you can check overall coverage on Wi-Fi finder apps or sites). Second, using public Wi-Fi can expose you to hackers; avoid it especially if you’ll be typing in banking and credit card information. If you want to eliminate much of that risk, read on.

Free Roaming

T-Mobile and, since April, Sprint offer free 2G data service, free international text messaging and 20-cent-a-minute calling — with a couple of catches. First, it doesn’t work everywhere. Sprint’s plan currently covers just 22 countries, though that list will grow.
T-Mobile’s roaming is impressive if a bit overstated, covering 120 “countries and destinations” — not to be confused with 120 countries (Easter Island? Svalbard?) Check the lists to make sure your destination is included.
And, of course, that 2G connection can be painfully slow, though it is usually fast enough to use email and messaging apps. In my experience with T-Mobile, you’re frequently bumped up to 3G or 4G, but occasionally can’t connect at all. (If that happens, find free Wi-Fi and call your carrier through Skype for help.)

Upgrade Your Package

You can pay Verizon and AT&T for higher-speed international roaming packages, or pay Sprint and T-Mobile to upgrade to faster data. Some of those options are pretty good deals: Verizon’s monthly add-ons start with 100 megabytes of data for $25, and you can add 100 minutes of talk and 100 texts for an extra $15. (Again, check the list of countries.) AT&T has similar data packages, but they include unlimited texting. Both deals currently include free access to networks of paid Wi-Fi hot spots around the world. T-Mobile’s upgrade plans are more appealing than Sprint’s: 200 megabytes of high-speed data over one week for $25, good for a short trip.
You’ll also keep your own number, which means you won’t get a local number. But that is far less inconvenient than it used to be now that almost everyone abroad is using messaging apps.

International SIM Card

Lots of companies sell SIM cards that can be used in most of the world (or cheaper ones for Europe only): OneSimCardCellhire, Cellular Abroad’sNational Geographic SIMTelestial, the list goes on. Cards themselves usually cost about $20 to $30, often including some credit. And rates vary vastly by company and country, so make sure to check websites for details.
Pay special attention to the varied payment structures: You might prefer to prepay and let your balance tick down with use, buy a big chunk of data that will last for a while (but might go to waste), or pay per day for unlimited data. Also check if you can monitor your usage in real time, and take care if you choose to do automatic top-ups; it would be a shame if you were charged $79.99 for an extra gig as you waited in the airport for your flight home.
With a foreign SIM card, you won’t receive calls or texts coming into your home number. If that’s important, you can set up forwarding, which doesn’t always work, or frequently switch cards, which is a pain. You can get a dual-SIM phone (not for iPhones, though) or a two-SIM adapter, which can be awkward.
The smoothest solution is KnowRoaming’s international SIM “sticker,”which you attach to your current SIM card, magically turning it into two. The foreign SIM activates when you land in a different country, but you can manually flip back to your home SIM. It costs $29.95 plus usage, and rates are competitive.

Local SIM

If you’re headed to one or just a handful of countries, especially obscure ones not included in the above plans, consider purchasing a local SIM card.
The cheapest way to do this, at least theoretically, is to buy one when you arrive. This often costs just a couple of dollars (plus prepaid credit), but the ease of doing it varies greatly, depending on the registration process and access to English-language instructions.
Your other option is to order the country-specific SIM card before you leave, meaning it’s already registered and loaded when you land. Cellular Abroad, for one, offers a French card that gives you a month of unlimited calling and texts, one gigabyte of data and 110 minutes of free calls to the United States and Canada for $69.95 — not cheap, but perhaps worth it if it fits your needs.

Data-Only Solutions

Many of the same companies offer data-only SIM cards that are cheaper, generally, than those with a local number for calling and texting. They’re largely aimed at tablet users and are particularly attractive if you have T-Mobile or Sprint on your phone for cheap calling and free texting. Cellhire, for example, provides 200 megabytes of data for $25; it works across Europe and lasts 30 days.CONTINUE READING THE MAIN STORY

There is also a free data-only SIM coming soon. It will be offered by Freedom Pop — which also provides free, but limited, domestic cell service — and includes 100 megabytes of high-speed data a month in a small but soon-to-grow list of countries.
For groups or travelers with multiple devices, a big money saver is to take those data-only SIMs and stick them in a Mi-Fi device — a personal Wi-Fi hot spot that is often less than $50. If your group is big enough and can live without a calling plan, that reduces costs significantly.
So, yes, it’s complicated; yes, you need to do your own research; and even if you’re thorough, there will often be hiccups on the road. Maybe we should try to get in touch with those aliens after all — if only we knew which SIM card has the best rates to the Andromeda Galaxy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Check Your Router for Safety

DNS, or the Domain Name System, is the part of the internet that converts www.techsupportalert.com (which you can understand but which your browser can't), into an IP address of (which your browser can understand, but which you probably don't want to).
When you type techsupportalert.com into your browser, the first thing your computer does is to summon the DNS system to look up the correct IP address, so that it can contact the correct server and request the page you asked for. Surfing tohttp:// would work just as well (click the link if you don't believe me) but it's not a feasible way to use the internet.
Your PC, or rather your router, knows how to contact the DNS system because the router is programmed with the IP address of a DNS server. There are lots of DNS servers available. Your internet service provider probably runs one, and your router is probably configured to use it. There are also some additional public ones, such as the well-known one run by Google.
Because DNS is so important to the correct functioning of the internet, hackers often try to intercept it. For example, some malware or viruses will try to change the setting in your router so that you are now using the DNS server belonging to the hackers. Once they have control of your DNS server, they can control all of your internet usage. For example, they could direct all of your surfing to their own malware-ridden web site. Or they could create fake sites which look like legitimate ones, but which also contain malware. And because your internet connection is now running through a hacked DNS server, directing you to that fake site is easy.
Security company F-Secure has put together a tool called Router Checker. It simply checks the DNS settings in your router, and warns you if the settings appear to indicate that you're connecting to a known rogue DNS server. If that's the case, you can then log into your router and fix the problem.
Router Checker is entirely web-based, so there's nothing to install. Just click the Start button and wait for the results.

Link to Router Checker

Flight (2012)

Days of Wine and Roses gave us riveting performances by Jack Lemon and Lee Remick. Clean and Sober gave us an equally riveting performance by one of the great actors of our time, Michael Keaton. Flight not only gives us just a riveting performance of another one of the great actors of our time, Denzel Washington, it has the added bonus of a fabulous appearances by one of everyone's (or should be one of everyone's) most favorite actors of our time, John Goodman (if you missed Raising Arizona, watch it, and watch for John Goodman's line of "releasing ourselves on our own recognizance" [from prison ... which for the prison was the SRP facility on the North side of the Canal between Maryland and 24th Street in Phoenix; and also watch Alpha House which you can stream] ). In addition, the story itself is far more riveting than the earlier ones of this genre.

IMDb Link to Flight

IMDb Link to Clean and Sober

IMDb Link to Raising Arizona

IMDb Link to Days of Wine and Roses

IMDb Link to Alpha House

Amazon Streaming and Amazon Help Generally

Several weeks ago, Amazon "upgraded" the technology backbone of its streaming service. Unfortunately, contrary to our advice, it did not do a thorough compatibility check before rolling it out. As a result, certain features (most importantly, closed captioning, which is useful for many streams and absolutely essential for The Wire) would not work with the upgrade. The first time you call in to complain, you should be able to get a 1-month extension of your Prime service and a $5 store credit. The second time, if you go through two escalations, you should be able to get a $25 store credit to compensate you  for "not getting what you paid for." Unfortunately, Amazon still does not know when it will be able to fix the problem.

One way to get help from Amazon is through the website, where after clicking some buttons, Amazon will phone you. This way might not be practicable when you are seeking help for a streaming problem and don't want to stop the stream. In that event, or in any event for that matter, just phone 1-888-280-3321 and you will get through promptly. Amazon is amazing in how fast one can get through to customer support, and is by far, the best company in that regard.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Re-Think Vizio

Until now, Vizio's quality was so erratic that it was wise to eschew Vizio's televisions. But it's new M-Series has gotten top marks (see the cnet link below) and its prices are unmatchable--a 70" 4K for under $2,000 (see Costco link below).

Vizio 70" Class (69.5" Diag.) 4K Ultra HD Smart LED LCD TV M70-C3
Link to cnet Review

Link to Costco Website for Vizio 70"

Friday, June 12, 2015

Nifty Protection for Your Windows Computer

[From Gizmo's Freeware]
Most of the time, Windows behaves itself. Sometimes, of course, it doesn't. Maybe it's the PC's fault, or maybe yours. Or perhaps a cyber criminal somewhere in the world. But it's a fair bet that, at some point, you'll find yourself saying "I wish I could put the computer back to how it was 1 minute ago". Or 1 hour. Or 10 days.
Maybe you clicked a link in an email message that you now suspect you probably shouldn't have done. Or maybe you accidentally deleted a folder full of important files. Or maybe you just finished trying out some new software and discovered that your PC kept crashing when it was installed. Or maybe a broken device driver has corrupted your PC to the point where Windows won't actually boot at all.
RollBack Home Edition windowIf you've ever had such an incident, or you want to start protecting against such a thing happening in the future, then what you need is a program called Rollback Rx. And specifically, Rollback Rx Home Edition, which is a new version of this corporate favourite which is completely free.
Using the program is simplicity itself. When you think you're about to do something risky, like install new software or update a device driver, or allow someone else to use your PC, right-click on the Rollback Rx icon in the system tray and choose to take a snapshot. It takes just a few seconds. Now just carry on using your PC as before. If, subsequently, you decide that you'd like your PC put back the way it was before, you can choose any of the snapshots you created and restore your PC to that point.
The free edition allows you to create up to 7 snapshots, so you could take one every day of the week if you wanted.
A particularly clever feature is that you can mount a snapshot as a virtual drive . For example, imagine that you realize you've deleted some of last week's important files. You could restore to last week's snapshot, which would bring back the files, but you'd lose all the other work you'd done since last week. So instead of restoring, you can mount last week's snapshot as a drive, explore it using Windows Explorer, retrieve those lost files, then carry on where you left off.
If Rollback Rx does have a downside, it's that it does slow down your PC slightly. Whether this is enough to prevent you using the program is something that you'll need to decide. It does depend largely on the type of things you use your computer for. But when you weigh up the negatives and positives, I think it's certainly worth having. And as someone who regularly tests and then discards lots of software, it's something that will stay on my PC for the foreseeable future.

When Smartphones Overheat

Smartphones can overheat. You will be able to feel when it gets really hot but overheating can occur even before you feel the phone get hot. Running too many apps at once can cause overheating and leaving the phone in a hot place can cause overheating. Aside from the danger of doing possibly irreparable damage to the phone, overheating also can slow the phone down and cause malfunctions. Here are some things you can do and should not do to cool down an overheated phone:

1. Turn if off for a while. Take off the case/cover and remove the battery. Taking the case off when charging is a best practice anyhow. It is also a best practice to turn the phone off with some regularity and to re-boot it with some regularity.

2. Shut down all the apps you are not actually using (including background apps).

3. Put it in a cool place, but to not put it in a freezer. Putting it in a refrigerator is risky as well.

4. Fan it with your hand causing wind to waft over it.

5. Blow across the back panel.

6. Do not submerge it in ice water.

Improved Jet Take-Off

Everyone knows how boring it is to be subjected to long lumbering take-offs with gradual ascents. Boeing has taken a big step in relegating them to history with its 787 Dreamliner. Further, anyone taking off from the Berne Airport truly will appreciate their enhanced sense of safety. Note: You can stop watching the video at the 55-second mark unless you're in to boredom.

Link to Boeing 787 Video

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Technology to Prevent Drunken Driving

From the NYT:

This is one of the best uses one can think of for new technology: the Department of Transportation unveiled the latest steps toward developing anti-drunken-driving technology that would allow a car to detect drivers impaired by alcohol and stop them from turning on the car. Auto safety officials demonstrated a new test vehicle equipped with special touch pads that can instantly measure whether a driver has been drinking. The technology, which could exist on the steering wheel or the starter button of keyless ignitions, could become a reality for consumers as soon as the end of the decade.

A competing system being developed captures drivers’ breath and instantly analyzes it for alcohol content. Research into both systems is being funded by auto regulators and a consortium of automakers as part of what is known as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program. The goal is for at least one of the two options — or both, possibly working together — to be ready by 2020 and available as optional equipment on most vehicles sold in the United States.

Jeff Michael, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s associate administrator for research and program development, said that to get there, the new technology had to be “highly accurate, very fast and completely passive.”That is because it should remain largely invisible to drivers — activating only when necessary to prevent a car from operating. And when that decision is made, it has to be right, because sober drivers — or those below the legal limit — will not have much patience for errors that mistakenly shut down their vehicles. Mr. Michael said early adopters could include parents of teenage drivers and others looking to take special precautions. The goal, though, is to have the technology widely deployed in a range of new cars and trucks. “The potential is huge,” he said. 

Traditional breathalyzer units, used by police officers during traffic stops and also installed in the cars of some convicted drunken drivers, are commonly known to have issues with accuracy. They also require a lot of effort: A deep, sustained breath into the plastic tube is needed to capture a sample, and even then multiple attempts are sometimes required to get a reading. Bud Zaouk, director of transportation solutions at QinetiQ North America, a defense technology company, is running the research lab in Cambridge, Mass., where the N.H.T.S.A.’s project is based. He said the new breath-based system in development would avoid those problems. “It doesn’t require contact, or even a deep breath,” Mr. Zaouk said. “You just breathe normally in its direction.” He said the system also avoided another common problem with traditional breathalyzers: the need to constantly calibrate them to get accurate readings. The technology would require calibration only once, before the car was sold. “It would be ready to go for the lifetime of the vehicle,” Mr. Zaouk said.

Robots and Erotica

From the NYT, this is really weird stuff: Link to NYT Article on Sex Dolls

Picking the Best Photo Storage for You

This article in c/net is a terrific analysis of photo storage options which will enable you to pick the best one for you: cnet photo storage article

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Gmail Quirk: Phone Rings Through Computer

Even if you didn't touch anything, if you use Gmail, you might one day find that incoming calls are making a very strange ringtone through your computer. It's a very annoying ringtone you'll want to turn off. Just go to your Gmail Settings and be sure Chat and Hangouts are turned off.

Tesla Powerwall

Tired of re-setting your clocks when there is even a brief energy outage. Tired of living without energy when there is a longer energy outage. Want to cut your electric bills by up to 25%. Take a look at the Tesla Powerwall, a solar powered battery-backup system for your house. It's $3,500 or less, and easy to install. Deliveries are scheduled to start late summer, but you can reserve one now.

Link to Tesla Powerwall Website

Paper Magazine Does It Again

Paper Magazine broke the internet six months ago with its Kim Kardashian issue. It's done it again with its just-out Miley Cyrus issue. If you don't get Paper Magazine, you should. If you don't get what Paper Magazine is about, ask any millenial. Fox News clearly does not get it, but that did not stop Fox News from interviewing Paper Magazine's editorial director (Mr. Mickey) and senior editor (Elizabeth Thompson). In true Fox News fashion, the interviewer mixed viciousness with stupidity. But, as you can see, she lost big time, as both interviewees handled the questions masterfully. For anyone wanting to see handling-an-interview at the highest level, click on the this link for a must-see-interview:

Link to Paper Magazine Interview

Very Intelligent Oven

Who hasn't lost their recipe book and their internet connection is out and the library is closed? Worse, who hasn't put a prime rib roast in the oven and then mis-remembered and set the cooking time and temperature for baked lobster? Thanks to smart oven technology that never has to happen again and you can throw away your recipe book. The June Intelligent Oven automatically "knows" what you've put in it and will set the controls accordingly and give you cooking tips.

Image result for june intelligent oven

Link to June Intelligent Oven Website

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Great Travel Amenity

Pillows for airplane flights are like a necessity. Many people eschew them, however, because they don't want to schlep them around. No need. The Cocoon Ultralight Air-Core Pillow collapses into an tiny sack when deflated. If you're a AAA member, you can buy one there for under $19; if not, you will have to spend over $26.95 for one at AAA but you can get it for a $1 or so less at Amazon. Amazingly, you'll spend about $10 more than that through eBay.

Cocoon Air-Core Ultralight U-Shaped Neck Pillow

Klimpton Hotels

We sent our crack travel team to check out a Klimpton Hotel in Salt Lake City and their raves could not be higher. The staff could not be friendlier or more helpful; the room (suite) could not be more comfortable and its rate was exceedingly reasonable; the restaurant was terrific; and the fringe benefits were generous (e.g., no charge on the first $10 of stuff from the mini-bar; free valet parking for AAA members; free nightly wine happy hour in the lobby; free NYT and WSJ; wonderful restaurant; and more). As to rates, if you're going to Seattle for example, you can get a 700 sf Klimpton suite (at the Alexis) at about 1/3 the cost of an 800 sf Four Seasons suite (and note that the Goldfinch Tavern at the Four Seasons is undergoing renovation, but also note that no one on our travel seam has ever stayed at a Four Seasons).There are Klimpton hotels all over the country and, because if you stay at one it surely will become your boutique hotel chain of choice, be sure to join its Karma rewards program which will get you even more benefits (e.g., like a big rate reduction on upgrading from a 450 sf suite to a 900 sf suite).

Link to Klimpton Hotels

Phoenix Sky Harbor Parking Garage Pre-Pay

Sky Harbor Garage Pre-Pay is convenient and can save you about 25% for garage parking (e.g., $18/day instead of $25/day). There is one disadvantage and one important caveat. The disadvantage is you cannot use the "Credit Card Only" booths upon exit, which means you might have a longer wait to exit. The caveat is that, if you are not careful, you might end up paying more than you otherwise would. Here is what can happen if you are not careful. You set 7:30 am on a Saturday for your departure and 9:45 am Monday for your return. The pre-pay voucher charges you for 3 days, i.e., it charged you a full day for the extra 2 hours 15 minutes, for a total of $54. If you had not pre-paid, your charge would have been $44. If you phone to complain, and think you are being transferred to a manager, you likely will get a voice mail greeting, and even if you leave a message, your call will not be returned. If you email customer support, you likely will get two auto-responses from two different individuals saying each is out of the office on vacation. Then, you are likely to get an email saying you are being given a $10 refund. If you email them back thanking them but also pointing out you still are being overcharged, you likely will be ignored.

Link to Sky Harbor Garage Pre-Pay

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Quick Way and Reasons to Change DNS Server

A DNS server is that great big internet-based lookup table which turns textual addresses such as google.com into numerical ones such as  Without DNS, you'd have to type those numbers into your browser's address bar, so it's clearly a Good Thing.
But which DNS server does your computer use?  Chances are, you've probably got it configured to use the one provided by your Internet Service Provider.  But there are some other, free alternatives out there too.  Some of them offer additional features, such as deliberately omitting entries for any sites known to host malware, which means that they'll automatically be unreachable if you inadvertently click on a link to such a site. 
Changing the DNS server that your PC uses isn''t particularly difficult.  Just go to the control panel and change the relevant Properties page for the TCP/IP protocol of your network card.  Or, if you prefer, you could use a simple utility program such as DNS Jumper to do it.  DNS Jumper is a handy, free download for Windows XP and above. The latest version, 1.04, is only a 0.5 MB download, and it's portable so there's no need to install it.  Just download, zip, then click to run.
Not only can you choose from the program's built-in list of free DNS servers, you can also add your own to the list if you know of any that are particularly good.  Plus, there's a facillity to time how long a particular DNS server takes to do a lookup, and you can even automatically set your PC to use whichever DNS server is currently the fastest.
Note, however, that DNS Jumper only changes the DNS server setting for a particular PC.  If you have multiple computers that are connected to the internet via a router, and those machines are configured to pick up their DNS server setting from the router, you may prefer to change the setting on your router instead of each PC.  That way, you can change every machine on your network in one step, whether wired or wireless.  For that, though, you'll need to refer to your router's manual as it's not something that DNS Jumper can do.