Thursday, December 31, 2015

Television Headphones With Streaming Sources

If you are lucky enough to have been gifted Sennheiser headphones for use with your television, you appreciate everyday how great they are. Unfortunately, they might not work with streaming movies from Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, etc. Fortunately, there is an easy and inexpensive fix. You just need to add a digital-to-analog decoder, available from Amazon for about $50, and a snap to set up--it takes about 30 seconds. The link below explains exactly what to buy.  If you have a different brand of headphones, check with the manufacture's support.

Link to Sennheiser Explanatory Support Page

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Troubleshooting External Devices

Whether you have a tower or a laptop, you plug in various external devices such as a keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer, scanner, network drive, etc. Sometimes, any such device just stops working one day, let's say the keyboard. And yet, when you look at the Properties for that device it says the device is working properly and, indeed, when you test it in Safe Mode, it actually does work, and when you try that the extra keyboard you have in inventory won't work either, nor will the keyboard that is working on your other computer. This post lists the generic steps to try, but before turning to them, here is what not to do: Do not call Amazon asking for a refund on the new back-up keyboard you tried thinking the initial keyboard had just died. Amazon will give you the refund, even if you bought the back-up keyboard more than a year before, and will not ask you to send back in the supposed defective keyboard, and that process will go smoothly. But, when you call them back the next morning to tell them you need to give them back the refund because the keyboard is fine, their "system" is not set up to handle such a request, although if you persevere, they will attempt to do it, but then, they will mess it up, and when you tell them your tale of woe, they ultimately will give you the refund anyhow. With that back-drop here are the things to try.

1. Re-boot the computer.

2. Find the keyboard in the Device Manager, and see if there is an updated driver.

3. Find the keyboard in the Device Manager, right-click on it, choose Uninstall and re-boot the computer (it will re-install the keyboard).

4. Find the keyboard in the Control Panel and run the trouble-shooter.

5. Check each of the USB ports in the Device Manager that all are supposedly functioning.

6. Un-check the box of each USB port that allows the computer to power down the port.

7. Run the Microsoft Fix-It Trouble-Shooter. Link to Fix It Download

8. Uninstall the last new thing you installed.

9. Keep going back to The Google looking for more things to try.

10. Do a Restore back to a date when everything worked fine.

One might ask what order these steps should be tried in. Probably Step 1 is a good first step because it's the fastest and easiest. Next probably Step 10 because it's most likely to fix the problem even at 1:45 a.m. after Steps 2-9 did no good.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


USPS online has just gotten even better. Just go to MyUSPS and it will afford you the following additional services for free:  Track your incoming domestic packages in one place from your desktop or smartphone without having to enter tracking numbers; give specific instructions on where you’d like packages delivered; request incoming packages and mail to be held while you’re away; and receive optional text and email notifications on the status of incoming domestic packages. 

Link to My USPS

AA Advantage Miles Expiration

Not that one ever can find a flight where one's AA Advantage miles will work anyhow, do not panic if you open up your account and see an expiration date for your accumulated miles that you thought had no expiration date. In reality, the stated expiration date is 18 months after your most recent "activity," and "activity" includes everything from flying to using your AA Advantage credit card to make a $.01 or more purchase of anything.

Love and Mercy (2014)

If you like the music of the Beach Boys, skip this movie. It is just too frustrating to watch the story of Brian Wilson and be treated to so little of the music. Other reasons not to see the movie are its slow pace that wears you down, and Paul Giamatti who is as a horrible person in this movie as he is in real live (he's very mean and unpleasant), and most of the other characters almost none of whom are pleasing. Elizabeth Banks is an exception but it's so unclear (at least through the half-way point of the movie when I gave up) why she was attracted to John Cusack. There are no shortages of good "band movies," from La Bamba to most especially The Commitments, any of which are better to watch a second time than Love and Mercy at any time.

IMDb Link to Love and Mercy

Monday, December 28, 2015

Magnet (Click) Glasses

Sometimes, like on an airplane, taking off your glasses is problematic because there is no easy place to store them and lifting them to the top of your head can lead to real trouble if you fall asleep with them on. You can attach froggies (straps) to the arms so that you can pull the glasses down to drape around your neck, but finding froggies that are stylish is not easy. Now, there's a great solution, for both reading glasses and prescription glasses: Magnet (click) glasses. As you can see from the picture, they have magnets in the nose piece, and a back piece in the same style as the glasses, so you can just let them drape around your neck and they will lay flat down over your shoulders.

 Clic Magnetic Front Connect Reading Glasses
Best of all, they are far more stylish than and don't pose the risk of the Opti-Grab that was the focus of The Jerk (an absolute must-see movie), the invention of which led to Steve Martin accumulating fabulous wealth and a beautiful wife--Bernadette Peters, but also resulted in everyone who bought them becoming cross-eyed, which led to a massive tort action, and Steve and Bernadette lose everything. No kidding--it is a FABULOUS movie!

Link to the Invention of the Opti-Grab

Link to Bernadette Peters' Line After She and Steve Lose All Their Money

IMDb Link to The Jerk

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Amazon Prime Now: It's Just Amazing!

Provided you live in a zip code served by it (and there are many more in all kinds of places), Amazon Prime Now enables Amazon Prime members to order things through the Amazon Prime Now App, and have delivered for free in 2 hours, and in 1 hour for $7.99, 7 days a week, from early morning until late at night. You may include a tip when ordering and a tip amount will be "suggested" which you can raise, lower, or eliminate entirely. The variety of stuff that can be ordered is mind-boggling, including: food (frozen, canned, fresh, snacks, beverages), stocking stuffers, gifting supplies, gift baskets, gift cards, movies, games, household essentials, personal care and beauty items, home decor and accessories, electronics, sports and fitness gear, pet supplies, books, alcohol, and more. And while we have not done any kind of detailed price analysis, just by way of example, Simply Orange Juice costs the same or less than is charged by supermarkets. One really cool feature is that, once your order starts nearing your house, you will get a text with a link that will track your order in real time just like airplane tracking sites do for airplanes. For anyone who abhors leaving home, Heaven just arrived on earth ... and in time for Xmas (and who doesn't love a "Xmas Miracle"?).

Amazon Prime Now App for Android

Amazon Prime Now App for iPhones

When It Comes to Waterpiks, Think Panasonic

Water flossers have two important functions: First, they help keeping one's teeth and gums clean. Second, if you ever want to refuse a request to do something, you can always say, "I'd love to, but I can't, because I have to clean my waterpik." Our Dental Department has looked in to which water flosser to buy, and their strong recommendation is to choose the Panasonic EW-DJ10A Portable Dental Flosser. You can get one for about $25, which is half the price of a Waterpik, it's portable and collapses down for easy travel (as noted in the picture below) which Waterpiks do not do, and it is battery-powered which most Waterpiks are not (and Waterpiks built-in rechargeable batteries tend to fail over time, so the Panasonic makes even more sense taking account of replacement costs.

Image result for panasonic water flosser ew-dj10-a

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Speeding Up Your Wi-Fi

Here are 9 quick and easy to read tips from cnet to speed up your wi-fi, starting with where best to position your router and how to point the external antennas if you have any: Link to cnet Article

Amazon Prime Now: Free 2-Hour Deliveries

Amazon Prime Now is a service for Amazon Prime members that gives you free deliveries in 2 hours in certain zip codes, including Phoenix zip codes. You just download an app and do your ordering through that app.

Link to Zip Code Check and App Download Website

Monday, December 21, 2015

Possible Outlook Fix for Stopping to Receive Emails

Sometimes Outlook stops receiving emails until it's closed and re-started. This has been driving our Tech Department nuts for a couple of years. Here is a possible solution: Go to the "Open Network and Sharing Center" in the Control Panel.  Select the Wireless Network Connection link, then select Properties.  Disable the Internet Protocol TCP/IPv6. No promises that this is the solution, but so far it's worked and caused no problems.

Free Antivirus Programs

Here is an excellent evaluation of the various free antivirus available: Link to Antivirus Evaluation

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Making Collages Out of Photos

A collage is a single image that consists of a collection of other images, suitably arranged, with perhaps a background image and a caption too. You can then print that collage to create a nice poster,  or use it as the basis for a greeting card.
PhotoSpills is a Windows program that makes it easy to create collages from your photos.  Just select one of the built-in designs, choose the folder that contains the images you want to use, and that's pretty much all there is to it.  The program will then produce your collage as a single image for printing or sharing on the web. And it's free.

Link to PhotoSpills Website and Download

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Smart Doorbell has a really cool door bell system. It is battery powered, installs simply in minutes, connects to your wi-fi, and lets you see and talk to anyone at your front door through your smartphone from anywhere in your house or, for that matter, if you're not home, from anywhere in the world. And for anyone who has a larger house or a separate studio, or would like to hear the doorbell when they are outback, the system allows for any number of plug-in chimes that also are wi-fi connected. The doorbell cost under $200, and the chimes cost under $30 each. And for $3/month or $30/year, the doorbell will record and store in the cloud anyone ringing the doorbell, which service is free for the first 30 days and optional thereafter. There are competitive smart door bells available, e.g., Skybell and others, but our Doorbell Department has not yet run a comparative study of the various offerings.

Link to Website

Android Marshmallow 6.0.1

If you have an Android phone or tablet that will accept the latest Android upgrade, you should do so. If you don't get a notice that it's available, check in Settings/About Tablet or the like to see if it's available for your device. Here is a summary from our Operating Systems Department thanks to Bidness New/Tech:

Google has released a new update, Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, on selected devices. The new update is meant to rectify bugs and enhance user experience. Here is what this latest update offer:

More Emojis

The update would add at least 200 new Emojis to Android’s collection, as confirmed on two different occasions by Google. More emojis mean the users will no longer have to rely on third-party apps or keyboards.
The move can be considered as Google’s response to Apple Inc.’s decision to introduce 150 emojis in its latest iOS 9.1. From the looks of it, Google has gone a step ahead and given its users a more diverse collection to choose from.

Quick Launch Camera

Android smartphone users have the option to create shortcuts and instantly access the camera. With the new update, all users will be able to launch the camera by double pressing the power button. Users can now capture precious moments without any delay.

Volume Controls

With the new update, Google has successfully unified its system volume with Bluetooth devices. Users will now no longer have to turn up the volume on both devices; it can be done with the volume controls on the tablet or the smartphone. However, a few Bluetooth devices are yet to receive the feature.
Previously, with Android Lollipop 5.0, Google introduced a “Do Not Disturb” option within the volume controls. This was something users often used to filter the notifications from disturbing them. The option allowed users to set priority on their alerts in silent mode. However, the option was not offered in the next update Android 6.0. The company has revived it again with Android 6.0.1.

No More Lags 

When Google introduced Android 6.0, it introduced some changes in the way users cut, copy, and paste words. The change considered the fact that it is easier to jump word by word when going forward, and it is more convenient to go letter by letter when going backward to be precise.
Android 6.0 Marshmallow users often complained of a lag when copy pasting content. Google has seemingly dealt with the issue by removing the lag this time around. 

Picture Message Bug

Google Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 complained of issues in sending picture messages, while others were unable to download or receive MMS. The tech giant has supposedly fixed the problem with the update.

Security Updates

After the infamous Stagefright malware attack, Google promised its Android users to roll out security updates each month after Android 6.0 Marshmallow was released. The company has kept its promise and introduced some notable security patches with the update.
The company made it a point to include December’s security patches in Android 6.0.1, indicating that users will not have to install another minor update later this month. The update will probably make compatible devices more secure.

Should You Update?


Friday, December 18, 2015

Best Apps for 2016

The New Yorker asked our Apps Development Department to come up with a list of the best apps for upcoming year. Here is a sneak preview, which we gave the New Yorker to print on Page 57 of its current issue:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Netflix Socks: Don't Leave Home Without Them

If you're afraid of falling asleep while watching a streaming show, you can put your fear to rest. All you need are "smart socks" which will pause your program if you fall asleep. I'm not kidding! Michel Keaton's most famous movie line says it all: Link to Night Shift Classic Line
We can now place "sock technology innovator" on the list of credentials Netflix would like to be known for. The streaming service this week published a DIY guide to creating a pair of holiday-themed "smart" socks capable of detecting when you've fallen asleep while binging on movies or TV shows. If that happens, whatever you were watching will automatically pause so you won’t lose your place.
The socks use a method of rest and activity monitoring known as actigraphy. So a built-in accelerometer will wait for you to stop moving for a prolonged period of time before sending a signal to the TV to prevent you from losing your place in Mad Men for the 20th time. An LED light will blink beforehand, notifying anyone who may just be chilling very hard to move their foot if they're still awake and watching.
Putting the socks together is no joke. Netflix suggests knitting your own pair — naturally, the company has detailed designs for creating socks based on its various original programs. From there you must acquire an Arduino microcontroller, infrared LEDs, a battery, and an assortment of other materials to construct the monitoring unit, which requires a bit of programming to tune it your personal viewing setup. The whole package is wrapped in wool felt and slipping inside one of the socks. Netflix's online guide comes paired with schematics, tutorials, and templates for every step, but the company suggests you have an understanding of electronics and be comfortable using a soldering iron.

Smartphone Shuts Off On Its Own and Will Not Reboot: Troubleshooting Steps to Take

One of staff's Android phone just shut off on its own, and would not re-boot. He changed batteries, which seemed to resolve the problem. Then he consulted with our Electronics Department, which provided the following list of troubleshooting steps one might take. Obviously, the battery-swap option is not available on phones that do not let you access the battery. And these are directed at Android devices, so they might or might not be applicable to Apple devices. Here goes:

Step 1: Hit the Power button – yes, please do. This is the first thing you should do when troubleshooting a problem like this. Don’t just do it once or twice but do it many times just to make sure that there is indeed a problem with the powering on of the phone.
Step 2: Remove the battery and hold the Power button – yes, I’m serious. Actually, somebody told me I was a fool when he saw me pull the battery out of his phone and hit the power button. He said, there is no way I can turn the phone on without the battery. That’s true, but we’re not actually trying to power on the phone at this point. Rather, we’re trying to drain electricity stored in electronic components inside the phone. After this, place the battery back and hit the power button again. If the phone stays dead after that, proceed to the next step.
Step 3: Boot to Safe Mode – to rule out the possibility of a third-party application preventing the phone from booting up normally, you need to boot it to Safe Mode. It will run on pre-loaded apps and nothing else. So, if it were an app causing the problem, you would know by doing this.
  1. Press and hold the Power button.
  2. Immediately after the Samsung Galaxy S3 screen appears, release the Power button then press and hold the Volume Down key.
  3. The phone would restart and the Safe Mode text will be visible in the lower-left corner of the screen.
Consider yourself lucky if you can go this far. If this is the case, then you can commence the search for the rogue app and uninstall it. Start your search from the most recent installation. The rule of thumb is to disable suspected apps first and attempt to boot normally. The problem has already been fixed at this point.
In case you cannot boot to Safe Mode, proceed with the next step.
Step 4: Boot to Recovery Mode and wipe cache partition – booting to Recovery Mode can be already be considered a desperate measure yet it is not a guarantee you can fix the problem. In fact, there is no guarantee you can even boot to this mode. But try to follow these steps:
  1. Press and hold the Volume Up, Home, and Power buttons.
  2. When the phone vibrates, release the Power button but continue holding the other two until Android System Recovery screen appears.
  3. Use the Volume Down button to highlight ‘wipe cache partition’ and press the Power button to select it.
  4. The phone will reboot automatically after the cache partition was wiped out.
At this point, if you can’t boot to Recovery Mode no matter how much you tried, then we have already narrowed down the problem. It’s either your battery is totally busted or your phone’s Power switch has a problem.
Step 5: Try a different or new battery – borrow from a friend or just buy a new battery so you can test if it was really the battery that caused the problem. If you bought a new one and you found out it wasn’t the battery, at least, you now have a spare. Of course, make sure the battery is compatible with the Galaxy S3 and make it a point to fully-charge before using it. If your phone powers on after a battery swap, then problem solved.
Step 6: Seek help from a technician – in case you’ve tried a different battery and the phone still refuses to turn on, it’s time you brought it back to the store or to a shop where it can be physically check thoroughly. If proven defective by a technician, a replacement unit may be provided for you of it could be repaired. I have a suspicion it’s a Power switch issue especially if the phone don’t respond when you pressed it.

Playing Board Games With Children: Some Non-Obvious Ramifications of Winning and Losing

Whether or not the adult should let the child win a board game is not an easy matter. This excellent article from the WSJ explains well why losing often is helpful for the child and why winning a "thrown game" can be harmful:

As we embark on the opening rounds of Monopoly, Theo, my 7-year-old, is confident. “I’m beating you, mama,” he crows when I land on his railroad. For the first time, I see in my son a worthy adversary. I start to play, for real.
I buy Boardwalk and Park Place and load them with hotels. He makes bad decisions and has bad luck and in eight turns he’s nearly broke. Tears flood his eyes. “How about a loan?”
He shakes his head. “It’s over.”
My husband tells me I should have given Theo a last-ditch strategy to win the game. He lost the last time he played our son. “It’s OK,” he says. “He saw me lose. We all lose.”


  • Parents shouldn’t throw a game to a child after age 4, experts say.
  • Monopoly was created by Charles Darrow in 1933 and takes place in Atlantic City, N.J.
  • Monopoly is sold in 100,000 stores, published in 47 languages and sold in 114 countries.
  • More than 1 billion people have played the game, Hasbro estimates.
During the holidays, families gravitate toward playing board games, relishing the memories that are created around mild competition. Conflicting parental philosophies can make even a simple game complex. On the one hand, children must be supported. On the other, the world is a tough place, and losing is vital to developing the resilience and grit necessary to succeed.
“Everyone remembers the kid in the playground who kicked the ball into the woods when he lost the game,” says Matthew Biel, a pediatric psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical Center. “That kid wasn’t given the skills to recover from failure. You don’t want to be that kid.”
At the age of 5 or 6, children become interested in competitive games. This is the onset of what developmental psychologist Erik Eriksoncalled an intensely industrious phase when children have the cognition to know rules, gauge odds and judge fair play. For the first time they begin measuring themselves against others to establish their standing in the world. If it seems like your 7-year-old is having an existential crisis after losing a game of Uno, he or she actually is.
“You have to recognize the stakes are really high for kids. That doesn’t mean they are immature. They are playing the game with the appropriate level of gravity,” says Dr. Biel. “It’s why it’s so much fun to play with them.”
Fun, yes, but this is how a game of Monopoly can also spiral out of control. Yet psychologists seem to agree that flat out throwing a game to a child over the age of 4 is a bad idea.
School-age children can tell when you aren’t playing your hardest and could view your capitulation as a loss of faith in them. Nor should you beat them with all your adult efficiency. Not only will the child likely stop playing with you, he or she could learn what psychologists term learned helplessness—the sense that success is impossible no matter the odds.
The solution, as so often in parenting, is to fudge it a little.
Bill Craver, father to three, left Wall Street several years ago and works at a micro brewery in North Carolina. He notes that if adults take a handicap playing golf, children should be allowed do-overs in board games. “Look, there are life lessons to be learned playing games. Do those lessons have to be learned every time we play? No. If my son is going to lose his Queen in chess I ask him if he really wants to do that. He knows what I’m doing, and it evens the field.”
Bending or morphing the rules is particularly popular with games like Monopoly that are passed from generation to generation. Jonathan Berkowitz, Hasbro Gaming’s senior vice president of global marketing, says families have different rules around parking and the trading of cards. Some players even lend money to each other.
“The competitive side comes out in Monopoly,” said Mr. Berkowitz. “Adults want to compete too, but done the right way kids can get a thrill.”
He added that while Hasbro didn’t have an official policy on what the ‘right way’ was, he thought that letting my son win was a bad idea. “You have to lose to know how great it is to win,” he said.
Families who enjoy game playing the most seem to incorporate values beyond winning into the game. Children are given kudos for good sportsmanship and tactical precision. Parents discuss the game beforehand and often there are customs, which wrap the starkness of winning or losing in ceremony.
Jack Thompson is an investment manager and father to 5-year-old twins and a 2-year-old. After what Mr. Thompson calls an elaborate “vetting process,” he and his wife Karin, a geriatric specialist, introduced five rules of thumb they say apply to anything in their daily lives and especially the games they play with their children. When competition gets too heated, they stop the game and ask the children to display the characteristic that will help them continue. They gently remind them to be either resilient, patient, flexible, show gratitude or helpfulness. Once the child has summoned that attribute, or says he or she has, play can continue. At the end of the game the children have to shake hands and say, “Good game.”
“It’s not my intention to be a hippie, but I don’t think they are ready for full-blown competition,” says Mr. Thompson. “We are practicing for playing games later. You have to have the rituals down.”
This method of stopping and assessing the game is very useful for children who are watching their parents to see how society accepts loss. Though the rituals may seemed forced, if started at an early age, say around age 2 or 3, they prepare children for true competition.
“Basically, you need to have a plan,” saysKenneth Barish, a clinical professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, specializing in child psychology. “Before the game starts, lay it out. ‘Listen we are playing monopoly. It’s a tough game. Business is tough like life. You might win. You might lose. But you can’t cry if you lose.’ ”
He adds that parents should listen to their instincts and watch carefully how their child reacts to losing. “When you are running in the park with a 2-year-old you let her catch you, of course you do. But when they are four you run faster, then at six faster and so on.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Caution re Trader Joe's

If you continue to shop at Trader Joe's, you might want to wear a flak-jacket and helmet, to keep you safe from exploding bottles. See Link to Exploding Bottles at TJ's

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Things to Do With Incandescent Bulbs

Our Greener Planet Department made a presentation in Paris last week on what not to do with incandescent bulbs (namely, thrown them in the trash) and what to do with them after you've replaced them with more efficient bulbs. Cnet transcribed that presentation and prepared a summary. Here is that summary:

Twine pears

You can turn old light bulbs into twine pears for an artsy centerpiece straight from Pottery Barn. Sweet Society shows that it's a very simple transformation. All you will need is a roll of twine, a small twig, some hot glue and a pair of scissors.
  • Start by gluing a short twig to the base of the light bulb.
  • Glue the loose end of the twine to the top of the bulb.
  • Once that has dried, begin winding the twine in a circle - as tightly as possible - around the glued end.
  • Continue wrapping the twine and periodically gluing it down as you go.
  • Cut away the excess and glue down the loose end with one final drop of hot glue.
  • Repeat until you have the desired amount of twine pears.

Terrariums and vases

One of the most popular alternative uses for old incandescent bulbs is to turn them into vases orterrariums.
Hollow out the light bulb by breaking away the ceramic base, breaking the inner liner and filament and removing everything from the inside of the bulb. Remove the white power coating on the inside of the bulb by adding a tablespoon of salt and swirling it around until the glass is no longer white. Wash the bulb with warm water and rinse with rubbing alcohol. Finally, fill the bulb with either moss, an air plant or water with a small plant, such as flowers.
Note that hollowing out the bulb can be rather tricky and dangerous, so be sure to use gloves and eye protection.

Wall coat hook

Taylor Martin/CNET
Another way to repurpose those old glass bulbs is to use them as a mold for a wall-mounted coat hook(link to video tutorial). Other than the bulbs, all you will need is some fine cement, a lag screw and some patience.
  • Start by carefully removing the innards of the light bulb.
  • Next, mix the cement to a melted peanut butter consistency and begin slowly packing it into the hollow bulb, using a skewer or the handle of a small brush to pack the cement tightly.
  • Once the bulb is about half full of cement, insert the lag screw and continue packing cement tightly around the screw.
  • Top off the bulb and gently tap it into the palm of your hand to remove air pockets from the cement. If needed, top off with additional cement.
  • Let the bulb sit for at least 48 hours to cure, then break away the glass. Find a stud on a wall near your front door, and install your new lightbulb-shaped coat hook.

Christmas decor

Turn old light bulbs into something you will cherish forever by making holiday ornaments with your family.
Using felt, cotton balls, paint and a little imagination, you can turn light bulbs into your favorite holiday characters. They make particularly great penguins and a Santa Claus with a very jolly belly.
Once you're done painting and decorating the ornaments, hot glue a loop of ribbon or twine to the very top and hang them on the tree.

If nothing else, recycle

If a DIY solution doesn't pique your interests, you're not entirely without options. Instead of tossing them in with the trash, contact your local retailers to see if they recycle incandescent bulbs. You shouldn't recycle incandescent bulbs with the rest of your glass, but some retail locations will collect bulbs for recycling.

Extending Smartphone Battery Life: Don't Close Apps

If you think closing apps extends your battery life, you are mistaken. It actually shortens battery life because the closed app runs in the background to "remember" where you left it, thereby draining the app. There are two ways to stop this "background" running stuff to lengthen battery life: (i) reduce the sources or eliminate entirely push notifications; and (ii) stop running apps from running in the background. Both are easy to do on both iPhones and Androids. This very short video explains how:

Link to Very Short and Excellent cnet Video

Monday, December 14, 2015

Assessing The Republican Presidential Candidates

This blog has never "done" politics and shall not start now. But, in case you missed it, here is an objective evaluation of the race by an elder Republican statesman that merits consideration not just for what it says, but how the elder statesman looks in the rear-view mirror:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Deliveries From Amazon in 1-2 Hours

You have better things to do than go to the store. Skip the trip and shop for tens of thousands of daily essentials and gift items through the Amazon Prime Now app.  Two-hour delivery is FREE and one-hour delivery is available in most areas for just $7.99. Prime Now is available from early morning to late night, seven days a week. Currently available in select areas including: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Orange County area, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis & St. Paul, New York City, Portland, and Seattle & Eastside. Our management is under tremendous pressure to move from Phoenix to one of these places.

Link to Amazon Prime Now App

Less Expensive Option to Smart Luggage

Smart loyal readers likely have bought their smart luggage by now. But, if not, a relatively lower cost alternative just came along, called Trackdot. It is a small box that one puts in one's luggage and you can communicate with it with your smartphone once the luggage has landed. If the luggage landed with you, great. But if it went off on its own to some land far far away, it will "tell" you where it is even before the airline finds it, so you can tell the airline where it is. The Trackdot box costs about $70 and one has to subscribe to its service, but the first year usually is free and the second year as well upon completing a survey.

Trakdot Luggage Tracker, Black/Orange, One Size

Link to Trackdot on Amazon

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Avoiding the Un-Paired Sock Problem

Keeping socks paired is as difficult as herding cats. Socks love to make dashes for freedom rendering their mates not only lonely, but also useless. Here is how to ameliorate the problem: For white athletic socks, but many many pairs all of which are identical; and for black dress socks (which will go with all dark suits except brown but brown suits should be eschewed anyhow), buy many many pairs all of which are identical. Then you  won't even know if one escapes and you never even have to roll two up together when sorting the wash.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Safeway Shopping Tip

Safeway tags many items with "Buy One Get One Free" labels or even "Buy One Get Two Free" labels. Usually, those tags are big, bright, and not-missable. But on some items, like a 1 lb box of spaghetti, the 2-for-1 tag can be teensy-weensy and easily-missable. So being alert can reap sizeable dividends for the careful shopper.

Ten Tips to Better and Tastier Microwaving

Link to Tips on Better Microwaving (With Illustrations)

Cleaning a Toaster

[Courtesy of cnet]

Toasters can gather an amazing amount of dust, lint and, ick, bugs because it doesn't have a door to shut out contaminants like other appliances. This means one should clean it out on a regular basis so that your toast doesn't get tainted. Just shaking it upside down over the sink is not sufficient.
Giving your toaster a good wash is easy and you won't get electrocuted. 
  1. 1. Unplug your toaster and do the normal upside-down shake thing over the sink.

  2. 2. Pull out the crumb tray, if it has one, take a second to be grossed out and then wash it with warm water and dish soap.

  3. 3. While you let the crumb tray dry, dampen a cotton cloth with a little white vinegar and wipe out the slots where the bread goes. Remember, damp is the key word here. A sopping wet cloth can leave your toaster with puddles of moisture inside, which can take forever to dry.

  4. 4. If there are stuck-on crumbs left over from breakfast pastries on the heating elements, gently brush them with a vinegar-dampened old toothbrush.
  5. 5. Wipe the insides down with a water-dampened cloth to remove any vinegar residue.
  6. Give the toaster one last good upside-down shake and let everything dry before plugging your toaster back in. It should only take a couple of hours to dry.

Stainless Steel Treatment: A Dream Come True

[Courtesy of cnet]

There are four essential features that are must-haves for any proper refrigerator/freezer: (i) The freezer is on the bottom; (ii) the handles are thin; (iii) there is an alarm if a door is not completely closed; and (iv) it resists fingerprints. But even if you did not buy a proper refrigerator, our Appliance Department has GREAT news for you: You can still make it essentially fingerprint-proof, along with any other stainless steel appliance you might have.
Stainless-steel appliances need a little more than just a wipe down with a wet sponge. You don't need harsh chemicals to get the job done, though. If you have vinegar and oil, you have all you need. It's eco-friendly and takes just a few minutes.
You would think this would leave your appliance feeling oily, but if you wipe it down properly, the appliance won't feel oily at all. I didn't believe it either until I tried it. The results are great and the oil and vinegar combination wards off fingerprints, so you don't need to clean as often.

How to treat your appliances with oil and vinegar

Step 1: Wipe down your appliance with a cotton cloth dipped in white vinegar. Be sure to rub in the direction of the stainless steel's "grain." If you look closely at your appliance you will see tiny little variances in the color of the stainless steel. These color differences form lines going in one direction. This is the grain. When you clean your stainless steel, always rub in the direction the lines are pointing.
Step 2: Dab another clean cotton cloth in olive oil or mineral oil and rub along the grain. After you're done, wipe down the area with a clean cloth.
These two oils don't yellow when they dry and they leave a protective coating to prevent moisture damage. When your appliances start to look a little rough, just reapply. How often you reapply depends on how much your appliance is used, but the treatment should last a few weeks in most homes.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dealing With Fear of Memory Loss

Many people, as they get older, become worried about their memory loss. Our Cognitive Research Department, in conjunction with our Zen Masters, have the following solace for anyone so concerned: There is no need to worry about memory loss until you get to the point where you no longer are worried about memory loss.

Tech Toys for Kids

[Courtesy of the NYT (which, btw, does not show me the same courtesy when it takes my letters, holds them without publishing them for weeks or even months, and then uses the ideas stated in them as the basis for its editorials, or feeds them to its columnists who then plagiarize the stated ideas]

Still looking for the perfect holiday gift for that little someone on your list? A lot of today’s technology is geared toward adults, but there are exciting new tech toys for children, too. Here are some good options to help a child on your list create, learn, explore and have fun.
View-Master VR, $30
CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
Mattel has teamed up with Google to update View-Master, the ubiquitous red plastic viewfinder of generations past, to offer a virtual reality experience. The new viewing process is simple: You download one of several View-Master apps to a smartphone and then secure the phone inside the View-Master device. Looking at the app through the View-Master starts an immersive exploration of, for example, Liberty Island, the African savanna or outer space, including photos, video and minigames. The starter kit includes the viewer and a preview reel; additional “experience packs” are available for $15. The device is aimed at children 7 and up. The panoramic view can produce wonderment, but also dizziness, so make sure there is nothing breakable nearby.
BB-8 App-Enabled Droid, $150
CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
BB-8, a pint-size robot from Sphero, is one of the hottest toys this holiday season. Modeled after its character in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” BB-8 has a personality that evolves, responding in different ways depending on your interactions. After connecting BB-8 to an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth Smart BLE, you can guide him around a room with the app or use voice commands. (A favorite is “It’s a trap,” which causes BB-8 to scurry away.) Or send him out on patrol, during which he will explore his surroundings on his own. You can also record and send a video message to BB-8, which he will transform into a virtual hologram. BB-8 is for children 8 and up.
Playmation Marvel Avengers, $120
CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
The Playmation Marvel Avengers system from Hasbro combines an app, wearable tech and connected toys to create an adventure story intended to get children active and using their imagination. After strapping on the Iron Man-inspired Repulsor arm armor, players interact with the toys, becoming a superhero like Captain America or Black Widow to defeat villains like Ultron and Iron Skull. Jarvis, the artificial intelligence machine from the “Iron Man” series, instructs players to shoot targets and block enemy fire while running, jumping and hiding. Between battles, players can train and improve their skills. (The system is meant for children 6 and up.) The app, for Android and iOS devices, tracks battle stats and provides additional mission content.
Lego Dimensions Starter Pack, $100
CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
With Dimensions, Lego has taken the leap into the toys-to-life category, physical toys that come to digital life. Dimensions is a video game that incorporates characters from DC Comics, “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Simpsons” and many other entertaining fictional worlds. The game, aimed at children 7 to 14, focuses on three characters — Gandalf, Batman and Wyldstyle — as they travel through a portal to solve puzzles and fight enemies. Dimensions adds physical interaction to the game: Players have to build the toys first (269 pieces come in the starter kit), then rebuild them later to unlock new features. But the real fun is mixing characters in unusual ways. Where else could Homer Simpson save Lois Lane with a belch or Scooby-Doo sniff out clues for the Twelfth Doctor?
Crayola Color Alive Easy Animation Studio, $25 
CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
Stop-motion animation typically requires painstaking hours of moving objects in small increments and photographing each pose. With its “smooth action technology,” the Color Alive Easy Animation Studio from Crayola simplifies the process, helping young directors — those 6 and up — create seamless animated clips with just a few photos. Children can choose one of 10 characters in a booklet to design, including a fairy, a robot, a superhero or a zombie. Using Crayola’s Easy Animator app for iOS and Android devices, the design is scanned into the app. Premade animations and backgrounds are offered in the app, or children can create their own using an eight-inch poseable mannequin and photographing places in their house or yard. Only a few poses are needed; the app fills in the rest.
LittleBits Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, $200
CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times
The electronic building kits developed by littleBits are popular among young tinkerers. This year, littleBits has expanded its line of electronic building kits with Gizmos & Gadgets, a set that can be used to build and recombine 12 devices, including a fan and a doorbell. The kit, aimed at children 8 and older, provides all the tools needed, including easy-to-understand instructions. The components, called Bits, include power switches, light sensors, dimmers and buzzers that snap together using magnets. For those inspired to greater heights, supplemental kits are available, and littleBits has a community website for inventors to show off their creations.