Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Martian (2015)

If you liked Apollo 13 and Castaway, you will love The Martian. In fact, even if you didn't like Apollo 13 and Castaway, even though there is something wrong with you, you will love The Martian. And while you don't need a degree in rocket science, because you can guess the meaning of much of the jargon and, even if you don't, it won't detract from the movie, but if you do have a degree in rocket science, the movie will just blow you away. There is a key element of similarity between The Martian and Apollo, and I won't spoil for you what it is, but it is one of two things: They both resort to the slingshot or they are both based on real stories. If you watch all the way through the credits, you'll know which it is. In the meantime, the acting is first-rate, the dialogue is tight, the scenery and the mock-ups are mesmerizing, it has a cast of thousands, and everything is just way cool! It's not a short movie, but many might find it's worth watching to the end if only to see Matt Damon's buttocks. While this is one movie that will show better on a real movie screen, it is available for home streaming.

IMDb Link to The Martian

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Viewing Distance to Make 4K Worthwhile

If you do not sit close enough to a 4K television, the higher resolution will be lost on you. Here, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 28) are the maximum seating distances for watching 4K:

Clearing System Cache

If you have problems or bugginess with your tablet or smartphone, often those problems will be solved by wiping the system cache. It's a very simple and short procedure. You don't even need to do a hard reset. In fact, deleting the system cache will NOT delete any of your personal info, but only the background and application cache. Cache is stored data on the phone which allows apps to load quicker, it's like the data is on standby until you need it again. Wiping it simply means that the app will have to reload the data. How wiping the cache is done varies by device, but you can usually find out how easily by typing "[Device Model] clear the system cache" into The Google without the quote mark:
Here's how it's done on a Samsung Galaxy S3:
Turn off phone
Remove the battery and reinsert.
Hold down the Home and Volume Up keys
Press and hold the Power button while still holding the other keys.
As soon as you see the Samsung logo, release all keys/buttons.
Press on the Volume Down to scroll down to Wipe Cache Partition.
Press the Power button to select it.
Press the Volume down button to highlight "Yes" and press the Power Button to select it.
Wait for a few minutes for the phone to clear the data.
Then press the Power button to select reboot system now.
Wait for your phone to reboot.
PS: There also usually is a setting for clearing the app cache, such as Settings/More/Storage/Cache.

PPS: Here is a similar suggestion for iPhones: Link to cnet Piece re iPhone

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Top Five (2014)

If ever you want proof that the New York Times lacks the nerve to give a movie the bad review it deserves, just watch Top Five. It is poorly written (by Chris Rock), poorly directed (by Chris Rock), poorly acted (Chris Rock stars in it), trite, and predictable, and filled with scenes (you know the kind) that have no point other than to boost the audience. While this review is based on watching less than half the movie, from all reports, it doesn't get better as it goes along. Even J.B. Smoove, who does turn in the one good performance in the film (although it's not his best performance), and can usually save anything, cannot rescue Top Five from the inferno it should be damned to for eternity.

IMDb Link to Top Five

PS: For anyone who does not know who J.B. Smoove is, and you are to be pitied and should immediately watch or re-watch Curb Your Enthusiasm in which he was brilliant, here is a hint:

J.B. Smoove Picture

Here are some clips from Season 6: Link to Best of Leon From CYE

Here are some clips from Season 8: Link to Best of Leon from CYE

Here are some more: Link to Best of Leon from CYE

And here is perhaps the most classic: Link to Short Leon Classic

Easy Way in Windows to Find Deep-Down Folders

Windows has lots of special folders and directories in which it keeps key files related to the working of your PC.  Sometimes you may need to access these folders, but discovering their location isn't always easy.  And once you know where the folder resides, navigating to it can often be troublesome because it could be 6 or 7 layers down.
Thankfully, there's actually an easy solution to the problem and you don't even need to download or install any software.  It's built right into Windows, with something called the "shell" command.  
For example, the Startup folder is where you put programs or shortcuts which I want Windows to automatically run each time I log in.  But navigating all the way to C:\Users\Robert\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup is a pain.
The solution is simple.  Press the Windows key on your keyboard, and R, at the same time. This will bring up a "run" box.  Now type shell:startup into that box, hit Return, and you'll magically be transported to the startup folder.  It's as easy as that. Here is a list of the various Shell:Commands that will take you immediately to the desired folder

Shell CommandPurpose
shell:AccountPicturesAccount Pictures
shell:Administrative ToolsAdministrative Tools
shell:Application ShortcutsApplication Shortcuts
shell:Camera RollCamera Roll
shell:CD BurningTemporary Burn Folder
shell:Common Administrative ToolsAdministrative Tools
shell:Common AppDataCommon AppData
shell:Common DesktopPublic Desktop
shell:Common DocumentsPublic Documents
shell:Common ProgramsPrograms
shell:Common Start MenuStart Menu
shell:Common StartupStartup
shell:Common TemplatesCommon Templates
shell:CommonDownloadsPublic Downloads
shell:CommonMusicPublic Music
shell:CommonPicturesPublic Pictures
shell:CommonVideoPublic Videos
shell:Device Metadata StoreDevice Metadata Store
shell:Local AppDataLocal AppData
shell:My MusicMusic
shell:My PicturesPictures
shell:My VideoVideos
shell:OEM LinksOEM Links
shell:Original ImagesOriginal Images
shell:PhotoAlbumsSlide Shows
shell:ProgramFilesProgram Files
shell:ProgramFilesX86Program Files (x86)
shell:PublicAccountPicturesPublic Account Pictures
shell:Quick LaunchQuick Launch
shell:RecentRecent Items
shell:RecordedTVLibraryRecorded TV
shell:Retail DemoRetail Demo
shell:Roamed Tile ImagesRoamed Tile Images
shell:Roaming TilesRoaming Tiles
shell:SavedGamesSaved Games
shell:Start MenuStart Menu
shell:User PinnedUser Pinned

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Home Generators

We have been asked for suggestions on how to best prepare for weather havoc or other events that might cause power outages. A power outage in the summer in Phoenix can be quite unpleasant, while a power outage in the Midwest or Northeast in the winter can be quite dangerous. The technology has developed quite remarkably. Now for about $5,000, you can get a generator that will automatically turn on and keep your house heated or cooled should a power outage ever occur. As importantly, it also will keep you modem and router running so you won't lose your connection to the internets or The Google. You can find generators anywhere, including of course Amazon and HomeDepot.

The Speechwriter PS

Two glaring omissions from yesterday's review of The Speechwriter: First, it is a true story about Terry Sanford's gubernatorial stint and its downfall as the result of a bit of an Argentinian bombshell scandal told, without any lurid details, by his speechwriter; and second, if you're a voter, or a public servant, and read nothing else, the last chapter, albeit a tad pedantic, is a must read, especially during this election period, as it addresses the question of why people who run for high office run for high office, while stressing that it is not a reason not to vote for or admire them.

[Note: We apologize for yesterday's omissions which likely were the result of a recent shake-up in our Literary Department. We believe the issues are now behind us and assure you we will continue to strive to meet or exceed our historic high standards]

Permanent Multi-Car Registrations (Arizona)

As an alternative to maintaining individual registrations that expire at different times of the year, anyone owning two or more vehicles is eligible for a permanent fleet registration account. The registration for all vehicles in the permanent fleet account will have the same expiration date. Payment for permanent fleet registration fees are required annually. This is does not change the need, if appropriate, for emission inspections.

Link to ADOT Explanation of Multi-Car Registration

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics by Barton Swaim (2015)

If you know state politics, I have no idea whether or not you will like this book. But, if you know nothing about state politics, as is my plight, you will love this book. It is a fascinating glimpse into a Southern governor's office, that often leaves you chuckling and often leaves you shaking your head. While not in the league with Blind Ambition or Catch 22 (which are absolute must reads), The Speechwriter captures brilliantly people's quirkiness and the craziness of working in any organization filled with quirky people, which all organizations surely are because ultimately everyone is quite quirky. Telling the story from the point of view of the speechwriter makes it especially insightful, e.g.., with the speechwriter's buckling under to the governor's demand that he write the way the governor speaks, only to be berated by the governor for failing to do so on a particular speech that the speechwriter convinces the governor that the governor actually wrote it. Finally, it's a fast and easy read, in large part because it is a nice example of clear, uncluttered writing.

[NB: One portion to skip is the part belittling the art of those who write letters for publication in newspapers]

Talk, Text, and Data in Mexico

Verizon has some low cost options for talk, text, and data in Mexico and Canada, especially for short trips. As for Mexico, AT&T is even better: Just sign up for Mexico Roaming Bonus and calls in Mexico or to and from Mexico and the U.S., as well as texts, and 1GB of data are free.

Link to AT&T Mexico Roaming Bonus

Link to Verizon Mexico/Canada Plans

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sarah Palin's Endorsement Fringe Jacket

We have been barraged by people asking where they can buy the "fringe jacket" worn by Sarah Palin in her endorsement speech of Donald J. Trump. Like who doesn't want one? Our Retail Sales Department has confirmed that that jacket, which goes for $695, is sold out everywhere, including at Saks, eBay, and Amazon. Link Confirming Sell Out of Palin's Jacket

Text Message Spying

One way to see what text messages are being sent and received on someone else's phone is to pick up his or her phone and look. But that's like prehistoric times. There are apps you can install on the other person's phone that will allow you to do so as well. But that's like so yesterday. There is now an app that you install on your phone and with nothing else installed on the target phone will enable you to read texts sent and received on the target's phone. Because we do not approve of such practices, we are not going to name the apps here. But for anyone interested, just type "read text messages on another phone" (without quotes) into The Google and a world you might never have dreamed existed will open up.

What to Try When Device Stops Auto-Syncing

There can be many reasons for your smart device to stop syncing email, contacts, etc. When it does, try the following:

1. Check that the auto-sync function is on in the account (e.g., Google) that is not syncing.

2. Click off and back on the auto-sync button.

3. Restart the device.

4. Turn off the device, pull the battery, hold the power button down for a minute, replace the battery, restart the device.

5. Clear the account's cache.

6. Clear the entire device's cache.

7. Do a factory re-set.

[Note: Syncing contacts have more problems than other functions. As a result, at least for Androids, there is an app for that: Link to Sync Contacts App]

Delete All in Outlook

It is easy to delete all the email in any Outlook folder. You can add a "Delete All" command button to the ribbon (it's under All Commands). Or you can right click on the folder and choose either "Delete All" or "Empty Folder." [Note: For any folder, such as Spam, where the Delete All command does not work, the Empty Folder option should work]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Spaghetti Riposte: Revenge of the Mini

A few days ago, we did a post prepared by our Culinary Department which explained  that, if you break up the spaghetti into small pieces before cooking, you can eat it with a fork without having to roll up or cut up long strands. We were shocked by some of the negative reactions we got and names we were called and derision we were subjected to, as if we had violated some ancient spaghetti taboo. Well, thanks to a loyal, informed, smart, and worldly reader, we are pleased to report that you don't even need to break up spaghetti to get the benefits of small pieces: Just look for mini-spaghetti on your grocer's shelf. We have been assured it is carried in the finest of markets and in all genuine Italian ristoranti or botteghe (just ask for mini di spaghetti).

Monday, January 18, 2016

Taking Your Temperature

It's not free, but it's cool: Taking your temperature with your phone. See Link to Kinsa Smart Thermometer

Keeping Your PC Healthy

It's useful to have easy access to key information about your PC, so you can keep it running efficiently and get to grips with any problems. Rainmeter is a useful program which displays such information, and you can customise which data gets displayed. So it's simple to keep tabs on items such as free disk space, free memory, programs that are using up all your CPU time, and so on. Unlike other such programs, Rainmeter constantly updates its information rather than just imprinting it onto your desktop wallpaper at startup. So the data is always up to date.

Link to Rainmeter

Importance of Keeping a Coffee Maker Clean

When you think about the germiest spots in your kitchen, you probably don't think your coffee pot is one of the worst. But, a 2011 NSF study found just that: People don't consider their coffeemaker a hot bed for bacteria and mold, but surprise! It totally is.
In fact, the study found that your coffeemaker's reservoir probably has a higher germ count than some spots in your bathroom — we're talking yeast, mold, and coliform bacteria. 
Each time you use it:
It's best to wash the removable parts of your coffeemaker after every use to remove coffee, grinds, and oil. You can hand wash at the sink with warm and soapy water, but usually the pieces are dishwasher-safe. And don't forget to wipe down the outside and the warming plate where spills can burn on. We also recommends leaving the reservoir's lid open use so it can thoroughly dry out (germs love moisture!)
Once per month:
Over time, hard water minerals can build up in your machine's inner workings, and you may notice that your coffee takes longer to drip. To get things back in tip-top shape, you need to cleanse and "decalcify" the machine. The trick? Good ol' reliable white vinegar.
Fill the reservoir with equal parts vinegar and water, and place a paper filter into the machine's empty basket. Position the pot in place, and "brew" the solution halfway. Turn off the machine, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then, turn the coffeemaker back on, finish the brewing, and dump the full pot of vinegar and water. Rinse everything out by putting in a new paper filter and brewing a full pot of clean water. Repeat once.
Is your carafe a bit dingy? Fill it with warm, sudsy water and a little rice. Swirl the mixture to loosen any gunk. Use a scrub sponge to remove debris and rinse well.

Mistress America (2015)

If you like Lola Kirke (and if you're watching Mozart in the Jungle you surely do) or even Greta Gerwig, you'd think you'd like this movie. You won't. It's scene after scene of jarring dialogue which is written to make you believe your watching really clever, insightful people, but it's so unrealistic that it makes you scream at the screen, "shut up, please, shut up." Compounding the problem, the men in the film are very attractive to look at as well as to listen to. Even a presidential debate is more enjoyable than Mistress America.

IMDb Link

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mozart in the Jungle Season 2 Update

It's not as good as Season 1, and the plot lines tend toward the silly and some of the scenes are just plain stupid. But it's still worth watching just for the aesthetics--it is so beautifully photographed and, while one wishes there were more, the music is wonderful, and it's still free on Amazon Prime Video.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Spaghetti With a Fork Without Having to Roll It or Cut It

Some people like to roll-up their spaghetti with a fork, but spaghetti connoisseurs know doing so tampers with the texture and thwarts the taste. Some people like to cut their spaghetti with a knife, but dislike having to soil an extra utensil. A thoughtful spaghetti cook can solve both issues easily. While the pot is boiling water, take out a large bowl, and then, open the box of spaghetti, remove about a half inch of spaghetti at a time, and break it over the bowl into 2-4" pieces. Your guests will not be more elated or their pallets more pleased: No having to roll-up the spaghetti with a fork and no having to cut it with a knife. Just happy diners grateful to a thoughtful chef.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Prescription Tips

1. If you're doctor's office phones in a prescription to a pharmacy, and it doesn't show up, when you phone the pharmacy to try to find out what's happening, be sure to ask the pharmacist if he or she has checked their voice mail. And don't get me started why prescriptions are still phoned in or faxed in instead of transmitted over the internet.

2. If you are given an estimate as to when the prescription will be ready, you might get the prescription faster if you go there rather than waiting to be alerted that it is ready. Particularly an easy-to-fill prescription may be started immediately after your arrival where, if you did not arrive, you might wait hours.

3. Best tip of all: Don't get sick.

Better Way to Search for Netflix Offerings

Browsing Netflix's offerings can be frustrating because the categories are too broad. If you want to narrow your search, Netflix has hundreds of categories that let you search not just for Dramas, but Crime Dramas or Tearjerkers or Dramas based on real life. The thing is, Netflix keeps these sub-genres hidden. Thanks to an industrious individual in our Streaming Department, you can check out these sub-genres and their corresponding codes.
To browse by one of these secret genres categories, use this URL:
and replace INSERTNUMBER with the code of the genre you want to browse from this link: Link to Netflix Codes

Ocotillo (Phoenix Restaurant)

Centrally located with excellent parking, Ocotillo is a very good new Phoenix restaurant. It is very pretty and architecturally pleasing. The menu is eclectic and the food is quite tasty, and reasonably priced, and the service is excellent. It would get an even more glowing review if the noise level were not so high, even outside where the tables are so close together that it is impossible not to listen to the conversation next to you, which might be a plus depending on who your dining companion is. Best of all, bucking a loathsome trend, it takes reservations, even for parties of two. [Contrast, e.g., Richardson's and Pizzeria Bianco (downtown) which are so crowded no one goes there any more]

Link to Ocotillo Website

Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle (1989)

It's not very good. In fact, it's awful. But there are three reasons you might stream this cult classic: It's free on Amazon Prime Video; it's Adrienne Barbeau's breakthrough movie; and it shows Bill Maher as the actor you might not have known existed.

IMDb Link

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Speeding Your Internet Connection

[Courtesy of cnet]

Changing frequencies

Homes are full of things that can mess with Wi-Fi: a microwave, a thick wall, a neighbor's network. Microwaves operate on the same 2.4GHz frequency as most Wi-Fi connections, so don't put your router in the kitchen. However, if you have a higher-end router that's broadcasting at 5GHz, use that instead and avoid congestion, assuming that the device you're connecting to it can also operate its Wi-Fi connection at 5GHz. These dual-band devices cost a little more than the vanilla variety, but the expense is worth it if you live in an apartment building. Some mobile devices can even bounce between the two networks, depending on which one is providing the strongest signal at that moment.
You may have a modem from your cable company that comes with its own router. Those are bundled with the service by default. They're generally not as good as modems and routers that you can buy from the store. Since the cable company charges around $10 a month to rent the modem to you, buying your own equipment will eventually pay for itself -- but your service provider may only provide tech support for the gear that it rents. Also, your service provider usually will give you a replacement unit at no additional cost, if yours is faulty or damaged. So there are trade-offs between having a fast and potentially more advanced device of your own, versus renting one from your Internet service provider (ISP) that will help if your router experiences issues. Also, your ISP won't normally set up your service with the hardware that you purchase. Instead, the ISP will charge you a moderate fee to set up its own gear (unless there's a promotion for free installation).

Boosting your Wi-Fi signal

The higher the Wi-Fi frequency, the more easily it's blocked by walls, so there are trade-offs. Get around blockages by adding a range extender in the hallway or a power-line adapter in the room that doesn't have the router. Range extenders are basically miniature radio towers that your router and Wi-Fi-enabled device can bounce off. It's like putting a mirror in the window to bounce sunlight into a spot where the light wouldn't otherwise directly hit.
Power-line adapters plug into a nearby electrical outlet and use your home's wiring to send data back and forth. This is possible because electrons can be used to send both power and data. So you use this adapter wirelessly on the end where your devices are, and the router uses another adapter on its end. The latter adapter connects to your router with a standard Ethernet cable.
Both range extenders and power-line adapters require power from an electrical socket, so make sure that you have one near where you want to put the device. Some adapters have Ethernet ports as well as Wi-Fi radios, so you can physically plug in a nearby desktop or laptop computer that has an Ethernet jack -- basically using the power-line method as a really long extension cable.
If your laptop has no Ethernet jack but has a USB port, you can buy a USB-to-Ethernet dongle to connect your cable anyway. Some dongles come with their own USB ports, allowing you to keep using the laptop's own port for additional USB devices, like mice or external speakers.

Troubleshooting unexpected slowness

Slow downloads and stuttering streams can happen even when you have good Wi-Fi reception and no apparent issues on your end. The reasons vary. Sometimes the website or service that you're connected to is having problems. You can test this by just downloading or streaming from another website or service and comparing the quality of your result. Other times, your Internet provider is having a technical problem, or too many other nearby users of their service are downloading a lot of stuff at once, creating congestion for that section of the neighborhood.
If you check your connection on and get an unusually slow result, the problem may be on your ISP's end. Your ISP may have a service status page that you can check for issues, or you may have to call its tech support number to figure out what's going on. If you using a game console, you can find Microsoft's Xbox Live status here, and Sony's PlayStation Network status page is here.
Lastly, keep in mind the difference between megabytes (MBs) and megabits (Mbs). Internet connections are advertised in megabits because, well, this number is eight times the size, so it sounds fast. That means that your 20Mb service is actually a 2.5MB service. And you won't get those speeds in practice. You'll get "up to" 20Mb. There's always some congestion on the network, and some data needs to be requested again and sent a second time, in case it didn't go through successfully the first time.
This means that you may pay for 20Mb but download at 2MB per second. Netflix recommends 5Mb per second for each HD stream, so if a family of four is streaming HD to four different devices at once, you may get stuttering even if your connection is officially rated for 20Mb. Sometimes you can have a technician come out and test your home's coaxial cable wiring, but that service usually has a fee attached. The tech may be able to boost your connection (or in some cases they may make it worse).