Monday, February 29, 2016

Blue Mail: Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Blue Mail is a free email client app that will "capture" any email account you have and display all the email you receive from all of them. BEST OF ALL, if you hate conversation mode in Gmail (where all email from the same sender is conflated into a single email thread), Blue Mail will let  you choose whether or not to use the dreaded, awful, outrageous conversation mode that Google will not let you change within Gmail for some inexplicable totally stupid reason or, more likely, for no reason at all. It's easy to setup and customize, and it automatically incorporates your contact lists and everything else from your respective email accounts. Once you spend a couple of minutes setting the options you like and start using it, you will LOVE it!

Link to Blue Mail in Play (Android)

Link to Blue Mail in iTunes (Apple)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Page View Milestone

We are pleased to announce that this blog has gone over 100,000 page views (not counting page views by the blog's board, staff, employees, and consultants). We wish to thank all our loyal readers as well as the sporadic ones.

Faulty Auto-Sync Fix

About 10 days, there was a post of several suggestions for fixing a faulty auto-sync. It omitted what might be the easiest and surest fix: Just install an auto-sync app/widget and that should solve the problem. Some of them have fancy features (e.g., variable interval settings). Our Tech Department's preference is the simplest one that is either on or off.

Link to Simple Auto-Sync On/Off Widget for Android

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Aging With Grace

[Piece by Fay Vincent in WSJ (Feb. 25)]

One of the many problems with advancing age—not old age, please—is there is too much to read about the end of life. Books and articles about dying are in vogue, but I could not finish Dr. Atul Gawande’s best-selling “Being Mortal.” I do not want to know how much my brain is shrinking and why my teeth will fall out. Spare me.
I am comforted by the realization that everyone is getting older and so we are all in the same boat. My contemporaries share my experiences, and they have the same fears and many of the same limitations as I do.
I am still excited by good books, and I try to persuade others to read what has thrilled me. But many of us do not want to be pushed. We prefer to discover good books on our own.
My interest in sports—baseball, of course—remains strong, though it is narrower than it used to be. I no longer watch hockey or boxing. But I never miss the World Series, or the Masters, in part because of the captivating natural beauty of the Augusta golf course. Despite a football lineage—my dad was an NFL official—I rarely watch the second half of the Super Bowl. The games are too long, and half-time shows are a bizarre reminder of music I do not understand. Why is there so much jumping up and down?
I spend most of my time in the company of my cherished wife. I think there is truth in the old line that older marrieds tend to resemble each other as time goes by. I enjoy visits with friends as well, but I have a rule: None of us can speak more than three sentences about medical news. I am certain my problems have limited interest, and so, I fib a lot when I am asked how I am doing.
To me, old age seems to be the art of keeping going. Speed and direction are not important. Movement is. I swim but slowly. I barely walk. I write, but with acute knowledge that my values and opinions are outdated. I still think duty, honor and country should be the national mantra. I know better.
The very best thing about growing older is that I no longer try to change anyone’s mind. I can easily accept disagreement from friends and even critics. I also have long since surrendered any hope of impressing others, or of being impressed by them. In these final innings I want to stay at bat, even if I know I cannot expect to get a hit.
I am not selling anything nor am I buying. I want only to be at peace and in normal discomfort. Age makes life simple until it does not.
Yes, the rear view mirror is where I get the most pleasure. There I can run and jump and shag high fly balls in the many sunny baseball fields of my youth. There are still those joyful memories of good times and old pals and long dead family and friends. That is what is left now, and that has to be fine with me.

Check Routehappy Before Deciding on Your Flight

It is easy to price-shop air flights. What has been more difficult is comparing amenities, not only between different airlines, but also between flights by the same airline. Routehappy.com is not the perfect answer, but it's a good one: It will show you an immediate comparison across various criteria, including: seat size; seating configuration (e.g., 2-3-2 vs. 3-3-3 vs. 2-4-2); on-demand entertainment; power and usb outlet availability; wi-fi availability; meals; and cost.

Link to Routehappy Website

Advice From the Oil Patch

There's an implosion going on in the energy field. As the price of oil has dropped to $30/bbl energy companies are racking up huge losses, scores have declared bankruptcy, and hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. With $20/bbl becoming a reality and the level the Saudi oil minister sees as the price that might be needed for the market to drive out companies whose production costs are unsustainable. Here, from Joe Kaeser, the CEO of Siemans, AG, is an excellent  tip on how to survive in such a hyper-competitive environment, which clearly has applicability beyond the oil patch: "To survive a bear attack, one needn't out-run the bear, just out-sprint another person running for his life."


Extending Battery Life

[Courtesy of the NYT]

Despite the leaps forward in mobile phone technology with crisp, clear screens and faster chips, batteries have made only sluggish progress. That has propelled a desire for longer battery life to the top of the list of factors considered by consumers when they purchase smartphones, according to a 2014 survey by the research firm IDC.
So why is battery technology still underwhelming? Plenty of companies have been developing smarter battery technology for years, including methods to increase battery capacity tenfold or charge devices by pulling energy from the air. But lithium ion, the technology that most mainstream batteries are based on, is low cost and easily reproducible while being safe — so we’ll be stuck with it for the foreseeable future, said Charlie Quong, an executive at Mophie, a battery accessory maker, in an interview.
“There’s a lot of investments on all fronts for improving the technology above and beyond that, but I don’t think we’re going to see that hitting any kind of mass market for several years out,” Mr. Quong said. In general, lithium ion improves about 10 percent a year in terms of the amount of energy that can be stored in a given space, which is partly why consumers perceive batteries as being far behind other technologies.
With that backdrop in mind, we teamed up with the Wirecutter, a product recommendations website, to run an array of tests to determine best and worst practices for preserving battery life on smartphones. For those who still need extra juice, the Wirecutter also picked some external battery products.
The results showed that some conventional beliefs about extending battery life — like turning off Wi-Fi or shutting down all your phone’s apps — produced negligible or even harmful results. The Wirecutter also found plenty of helpful practices to get more use out of your battery, like playing music stored directly on the device (instead of streaming it) or tweaking email configurations.
The Wirecutter tested a range of recent Apple and Android smartphones with the latest operating systems in tightly controlled environments. Your phone’s results will vary depending on the phone model, cellular carrier, location and other factors, but the general results should hold. Here are eight tips and seven myths busted by our findings:
1. Use auto-brightness for the screen.
A smartphone’s screen consumes more energy than any other component, so the easiest way to cut down battery drain is to reduce your screen brightness. In an hourlong test, an iPhone 6s used 54 percent less battery power with the screen brightness at minimum as compared with maximum brightness. An Android test phone used 30 percent less.
But it’s tough to use a dim screen in bright environments, so most phones offer an auto-brightness mode that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on ambient light. The Wirecutter found that enabling auto-brightness saved a good amount of battery life.
2. Block power-sucking ads.
When browsing the web, your smartphone also burns through power when it downloads mobile ads on websites. Installing an ad blocker will greatly extend battery life.
The Wirecutter ran a test that cycled through a list of websites for two hours over a Wi-Fi connection. Safari on an iPhone 6s used 18 percent of a full battery; Chrome on a Moto X Pure Android phone used 22 percent. Installing the 1Blockerad blocker on the iPhone reduced battery usage for the same test to only 9 percent of a full battery; on an Android phone, using the Ghostery Privacy Browser, which blocks ads, used only 8 percent of the battery.
3. Tweak your email settings.
Email can have a major impact on battery life if you have multiple email accounts and receive lots of email. Your smartphone can update your email automatically using a technology called push, which brings new messages to your phone the instant they are transmitted. Push can be a power hog because it requires your phone to constantly listen for new messages, so if you get a lot of email, there’s a good chance your phone is using lots of energy.
The Wirecutter tested an iPhone 6s Plus configured with three email accounts, receiving a total of 20 to 30 messages an hour. In these tests, having push active over the course of a day caused Mail to account for 5 to 10 percent of the phone’s overall battery use.
To save energy, most phones can be configured to instead check for (or “fetch”) emails on a schedule — say, every 30 minutes — or only when you manually tell your email app to refresh.
4. Play downloaded music instead of streaming.
The next tip may come as unwelcome news. Nowadays, online streaming is the most popular way to listen to music, with services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — but this method guzzles lots of battery power. In the Wirecutter’s tests, streaming music over a Wi-Fi connection for two hours used 10 percent of an iPhone’s battery reserves; streaming the same music stored directly on a device over two hours consumed only 5 percent.
Fortunately, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music still let you listen to songs the old-school way: by storing the music right on your device.
5. Turn off wireless when reception is poor.
You may have noticed that when you’re in a place without good Wi-Fi or cellular coverage, your phone’s battery seems to drain much more quickly. That’s because the phone uses energy searching for a good signal and, if the signal is very weak, trying to get a better connection.
To conserve battery life, disable the phone’s wireless circuitry. Airplane Mode, an option that will turn off all wireless features, is a quick and easy solution in areas with poor reception.
Alternatively, you can disable (in your phone’s settings) a single wireless feature. For example, if you have terrible wireless carrier coverage in your office, but Wi-Fi is great, disabling cellular connectivity while there will keep the phone from wasting energy trying to get a cellular connection while still letting you connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi.
6. Check the battery usage lists.
Consumers can get even better results with a bit of sleuthing. Both the iPhone and Android systems provide a simple way to see which apps are using a lot of battery power. For iPhones and Android phones, open the Settings app and in the Battery menu, there are sorted lists of apps that are using the most energy.
On the iPhone’s battery usage screen, tap the clock button to reveal information about how much of your battery life each app is consuming when you’re actively using the app (“screen”) compared with when you’re not (“backgd”). On Android, the most useful information are the timers for “CPU total” and “CPU foreground.” Foreground is how much time you had the app open; subtract “foreground” from “total,” and you’ll know how much time the app has been busy in the background.
Be on the lookout for apps that are active for extended periods in the background and are using a lot of battery power. Examples include an email app that spends lots of time checking for new messages even when your phone is asleep, a news reader that updates articles in the background or a fitness app that constantly monitors your location.
If you find apps using up lots of energy in the background, disable their background activities. On an iPhone, go to the Settings app, tap General and then Background App Refresh and disable the background activities for any apps. On Android, go inside the Settings app, tap Data Usage, choose an app, then select “Restrict Background Data” for background data usage.
7. Disable unnecessary location tracking.
Watch out for apps that track your location. Your phone’s GPS circuitry, which determines your geographic location for mapping and fitness features, consumes a lot of battery power. A run-tracking program that monitors your precise location for the duration of an hourlong run will lower your battery level.
If a location-based app is using a lot of power, especially in the background, there’s a good chance the app is using GPS, Wi-Fi and the phone’s sensors frequently. You can decide whether to disable location features for it (either via your phone’s Location Services settings, or by changing settings in the app itself). On an iPhone, you can disable the app’s ability to track your location by going to Privacy menu and Location Services.
To disable location tracking on Android, go inside the Settings app, tap Apps, choose an app and select “Permissions,” then tap to disable Location permission.
8. Shut off unnecessary push notifications.
Both Apple and Google recommend disabling push notifications, which are essentially app alerts, to conserve battery life. Notifications require regular communication with notification servers, and each notification causes your phone to wake up for a few seconds, including turning on the screen, to show you a message and give you a chance to act on it.
In the Wirecutter’s testing, receiving a few dozen notifications over the course of an hour didn’t noticeably affect battery usage. But if you get a lot of notifications each day, that energy use can add up. If a particular app or service (say, Twitter or your email client) is constantly producing notifications, consider disabling notifications for that app.
On an iPhone, open the Settings app, tap Notifications, tap the app name and disable Allow Notifications. On Android, disable notification in an app’s settings menu, or long-press the notification itself and select the “i” icon. This will send you to that app’s App Notifications settings, where you can block all notifications.
Beware battery-saving myths.
1. Closing unused apps.
There is plenty of inaccurate conventional wisdom about methods to prolong battery life. Let’s start with one of the worst “tips”: Closing (or force-quitting, as it’s commonly called) apps you are not currently using. The theory is that apps running in the background are using your phone’s components, so quitting them will save energy.
While that may be true on a computer, smartphones are designed differently: Once an app is no longer in the foreground — meaning you are not actively using it — most or all of its processes are frozen. In other words, while an app may still be loaded in a phone’s memory, it probably is not doing much in the background to drain your battery.
Finally, quitting apps actually has drawbacks: When you force-quit an app, all of its code can be purged from your phone’s RAM, which means that the next time you open the app, the phone has to reload all of that code. That, of course, requires energy.
2. Don’t assume turning off Wi-Fi will always help.
A common suggestion for extending battery life is to disable Wi-Fi. However, if you’re in range of a strong Wi-Fi signal, your phone uses less energy to connect to the Internet with a Wi-Fi connection than a cellular one. If you regularly use apps that rely on your location, having Wi-Fi enabled helps your phone determine its location without having to rely solely on power-hungry GPS features, so it actually helps a battery last longer.
An exception is when you’re at the edges of a Wi-Fi network, where your phone is struggling to get a good connection, and you have a good cellular data connection. But in most cases, you’re usually better off keeping Wi-Fi enabled.
3. Avoid disabling all location services.
Many apps that use your location do so only intermittently. Even using the Maps app for short navigation sessions doesn’t use more than a few percent of your battery’s capacity — and having the phone’s screen continually on is a big part of why navigation uses a lot of power.
In other words, don’t disable all of your phone’s location-based features just to extend your battery life. You won’t see a big jump in use time, but you may end up disabling — and subsequently missing — useful features. Instead, check (using the tips above) to see if any of apps consuming the most battery life also track your location. If so, and if you don’t need that location tracking, consider disabling it for those apps.
4. Don’t always choose Wi-Fi over cellular.
Many people, and even smartphone vendors such as Apple, claim that using Wi-Fi for wireless data consumes less power than using a cellular signal, so you should use Wi-Fi whenever you can. However, the Wirecutter’s testing found this isn’t always the case.
In testing in a location where both Wi-Fi and cellular LTE signals were strong, an hour of browsing over Wi-Fi used roughly the same amount of battery power as an hour using LTE on an iPhone. On a Motorola Android phone, LTE used only 2 to 3 percent more power than Wi-Fi.
In other words, as long as you have a good signal, you probably won’t see a huge difference between Wi-Fi and cellular data, and it’s probably not worth the hassle of switching between the two.
5. Let Siri and Google listen for your commands.
Both iPhones and Android phones include a hands-free feature for summoning their virtual assistants by speaking voice commands. You can just say “Hey Siri” to the iPhone or “O.K. Google” and then speak your request or command. While convenient, this feature requires your phone to constantly listen for that special phrase, which uses some power.
Yet if you have one of the phones that supports this feature, disabling it won’t conserve much battery life. In the Wirecutter’s testing with an iPhone 6s Plus and a Nexus 6P, there was a negligible difference in battery usage between having the always-on virtual assistant enabled or disabled over a two-hour period.
Using Siri or O.K. Google uses some energy, so if your phone’s battery is getting low, you should probably stop asking the phone question after question during your commute. But just having the feature enabled isn’t worth worrying about — and it can be quite convenient.
6. Don’t forgo third-party chargers made by reputable vendors.
A common warning around the Internet is that you should use only the charger that came with your phone, otherwise you could damage your phone’s battery. In reality, the phone itself contains all the circuitry responsible for charging its battery. The AC adapter (as it’s more accurately known) simply converts the AC current from a wall outlet into low-voltage, low-amperage DC current that it provides via a USB port. This is why you can also charge your phone using the USB port on a computer, a USB battery pack or a charger in your car — the phone is designed to allow it to charge from a variety of power sources that can produce a wide range of current.
Finally, you may see warnings that a cheap third-party charger could damage your phone. There’s some truth here: Many chargers — especially budget models sold online, or even at your local shopping mall kiosk — are poorly made, or use low-quality components. A poorly made charger can not only damage your phone, but could also hurt you by exposing you to dangerous currents. So if you’re replacing your phone’s AC adapter, or buying an extra, stick with a reputable vendor.
7. Calibrate only occasionally.
For many years, devices that used rechargeable batteries required “conditioning” or “calibrating,” a procedure that prevented the battery from forgetting how much capacity it actually had. Today’s smartphone batteries no longer suffer from this issue.
What can happen, however, is that the phone itself loses track of how much capacity its battery has: Every battery gradually loses capacity over time as you use and recharge it, and the phone’s software isn’t always good at accounting for this capacity change. By periodically (once every couple of months) fully charging the phone and then using it until it dies, your phone’s software will determine the battery’s current capacity and thus let the phone better estimate how long it will last on a charge. In other words, the battery won’t last any longer, but the phone’s battery meter will be more accurate. If you find that your phone claims you have 80 percent of a charge left, but it dies a few hours later, you should try this procedure.
If all else fails …
If you have tried all the above and still struggle to get through the day with your battery, consider buying an external battery. These accessories — which can take the form of a bulky case with a built-in battery that you wear on the phone, or a separate battery pack that connects to your phone with a cable — can provide power to last an additional few hours at the end of the day, or even to fully charge your phone’s battery.
The Wirecutter tested more than 100 external batteries for dozens of hours to pick a few favorites. Its favorite battery case for the iPhone 6 and 6s is Anker’s Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case, which has enough power to fully charge a dead iPhone and then some, more than doubling the phone’s battery life. For larger iPhones — the 6 Plus and 6s Plus — the Wirecutter prefers Tylt’s Energi Sliding Power Case because the case’s two-piece design makes it appealing.
For Android phones, an external battery pack is a good option. The AmazonBasics Portable Power Bank with Micro USB Cable 2,000 mAh is the best pack the Wirecutter tested that will fit in your pocket with your phone, and it’s less than $10. A great battery pack for the iPhone is the $29 TravelCard, which is almost thin enough to fit in a wallet — with a built-in Lightning-connector cable to charge your phone.
For days of smartphone power, the Anker PowerCore 15600 is the Wirecutter’s pick if you need to charge a phone repeatedly or keep a full-size tablet and phone topped up through a busy week. It has enough available power to charge a typical smartphone five times or to fill a large tablet such as an iPad Air almost twice — for under $40.
After her stressful day at Disneyland, Ms. TemeƱa bought an external Amazon battery pack. She said the pack could fully charge her phone six times, but it wasn’t ideal because of its bulk. Ultimately, she wishes her iPhone had a better battery.
“I don’t understand why a battery wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the other advances they’re putting into phones now,” she said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cellphone Phone Settings

If you haven't looked at your cellphone's phone settings in a while, take a look at them. There are really useful and neat ones that you never set but, now that you see them, will find them very handy. Just open your Phone and click on Settings. You will not regret it.

Bad Practices When It Comes to Battery Charging

Keeping a cellphone's or tablet's battery charging after it's fully charged is not good for and can cause damage to the battery and can cause havoc with the devices themselves. Therefore, one word of caution about leaving the device on a charger all night: Don't!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Key to Good Night's Sleep: Proper Thermostat Setting--65 Degrees or Lower

[Courtesy of the WSJ, which settles the centuries old struggle between men and women]

To get a good night’s sleep, many people should set their thermostat a few degrees lower, experts say. The role of temperature has gotten increased attention after a study published last year found sleep may be more tightly regulated by temperature than by light. What’s more, core body temperature, which tends to fluctuate by a few degrees over the course of the day, needs to drop to help initiate sleep.
Setting the thermostat to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is good for sleep, studies have found. Research has also found that room temperatures as low as 60.8 degrees are best when people pile on the blankets.
Sleep is one of the most frustrating activities in many people’s lives. Not getting enough affects mood and has long-term health consequences. Such concerns have spawned big industries of products and techniques to enhance sleep, from specialized mattresses to noise reducers and aromatherapy.
Temperature is a big point of debate for couples. Women tend to raise the thermostat while men want to lower it. While researchers haven’t focused on such differences, many companies have with products from mattress that promise zoned temperatures to apps that let you control heating.
“People tend to set their ambient house or bedroom temperature a little higher than is actually optimal for sleep,” says Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
The body’s core temperature needs to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep, Dr. Walker says. “If our core temperature is too high the brain cannot easily make the switch from being awake to being asleep, or create the best quality sleep.”
Core body temperature is the temperature of our heat-producing core, which is the brain and abdominal cavity. As the ambient temperature drops, so too does our core temperature. It usually reaches the lowest level in the early morning hours, before awakening.
When treating insomnia patients, sleep experts will often ask about room temperature and advise patients who set their thermostat to 70 or 72 degrees to drop it, Dr. Walker says. For people who live in hot climates and don’t have air conditioning he recommends minimal bed clothes, a light bed cover and open windows.
During sleep, people’s bodies naturally try to lose heat from the hands and feet, says Michael Gradisar, an associate professor and clinical psychologist at Flinders University in Australia. Put on socks if your feet are too cold, he suggests. And if you’re too hot, try sticking your hands and feet out from under the covers.
A study published in October in the journal Current Biology that examined sleep patterns of preindustrial societies found temperature played a critical role. The 94-person study suggested “the daily cycle of temperature change, largely eliminated from modern sleep environments, may be a potent natural regulator of sleep,” says Jerry Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at University of California, Los Angeles, and senior researcher on the study. The study looked at three groups living in tropical, natural environments.
Dr. Siegel says the researchers were surprised to find that none of the study participants went to sleep near sunset or woke up at sunrise. On average they fell asleep three hours and two minutes after sunset and woke up before sunrise. They slept about one more hour in the winter than in summer.
After gathering temperature information, Dr. Siegel realized the sleep period in the Hadza people of Tanzania occurred during the coldest part of the night. In follow-up studies involving groups in Namibia and Bolivia, he found the participants consistently woke up when the early-morning temperature stopped falling.
“Temperature may have a much greater role in helping promote normal sleep than we previously thought,” says John Peever, a professor in the department of cell and systems biology at the University of Toronto. He says specific brain cells located in a region called the hypothalamus sense temperature changes to control sleep.
In a 2008 study in the journal Brain, a group of researchers in the Netherlands put 24 people in a thermosuit that allowed them to manipulate temperature by running water through the veins of the suit. They found that a 0.4-degree-Celsius (or 0.72-degree-Fahrenheit) increase in skin temperature—which allows the body to release more heat—led to fewer wake-ups and more slow-wave, or deep, sleep.
“By dialing down the temperature of the body, the participants in the experiment fell asleep quicker, and they also obtain significantly deeper quality of sleep,” says Dr. Walker, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Other experiments that varied the ambient temperature—decreasing it early in the night and increasing it in the morning—have shown similar benefits for improving and maintaining sleep.
Taking a hot bath before bed has a similar effect. The hot water brings the circulating blood to the surface of the body, which is one of the quickest ways to drop core body temperature.
“When you get out of the bath you cool down more quickly, which is what the body wants to do at bed time,” says James Horne, a neuroscience professor at Loughborough University in England. His research has found that young, healthy people have about 10% more slow-wave sleep when they take a warm bath before bedtime. He says soaking in water that is about 102 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes in the early evening will improve sleep. A shower won’t have the same effect, he says.
The nonprofit National Sleep Foundation typically recommends room temperatures for sleep of between 60 and 67 degrees, says Natalie Dautovich, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University who consults for the foundation. “We know that a cool bedroom is conducive to better sleep,” she says.
The group’s 2014 poll of families found 18% of children and 35% of parents reported difficulty sleeping at least once over the past week due to a temperature issue. It is best to wear light, breathable clothing to bed, such as cotton, Dr. Dautovich says. And layers of bedding that can be easily removed are ideal.
“Sometimes there are individual differences so if you sleep with someone else it can be helpful to have two different sets of bedding,” she says.
A New York City-based company, Eight, expects to have its Eight Sleep Tracker—in the form of a mattress cover—which allows couples to manage the temperature of the mattress separately through an app later this spring, says Massimo Andreasi Bassi, co-founder and chief technology officer of the company. A queen-size mattress cover, which uses sensors to track various sleep-related measures, will cost $249.


Note to Loyal Readers: Why We Don't Do Politics Here

Many readers have asked us to expand our scope to include politics. We have so far declined to do so, and have no intention to change our position in that regard. Part of our reason for this stance is that we are fed up with this country's serial primary system for selecting presidential nominees. Pointedly, our view on this was aptly captured by a letter published in the Arizona Republic (Feb. 23), to which we have nothing to add. That letter reads as follows:

There is a good argument to make that letting three states—Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, which will have essentially no impact on the general election, to have the enormous impact they do (often decisive) on who the presidential nominees will be is just plain nuts. There are pros and cons of holding one national primary, or four regional primaries, or various other approaches, but one conclusion is inescapable: Any way of shortening and consolidating the primaries would be better than the system we have, which starts too soon, takes too long, costs too much, and mis-allocates voter preferences in states that actually matter."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Privacy Protection Against Online Ads

[Courtesy of the NYT]


Digital ads are able to follow people around the Internet because advertisers often place invisible trackers on the websites you visit. Their goal is to collect details on everywhere you go on the Internet and use that data to serve targeted ads to your computer, smartphone and connected television.
This global commercial surveillance of consumers is poised to become more extensive as tech companies expand into the Internet of Things, a category that includes wearable computers and connected home appliances like smart thermostats and refrigerators. Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google can already follow users from device to device because people log in to their services with the same IDs on various gadgets.


For other marketing companies, tracking people on multiple Internet-connected devices has become a holy grail. The process is complex, because some lack the direct relationship with people that the giant tech companies already have. Only about 6 percent of marketers can reliably track a customer on all of that customer’s devices, according to the research firm eMarketer. But advertisers are working toward the goal.
“Our privacy is completely under assault with all these connected devices,” said Jeremiah Grossman, the founder of WhiteHat Security, a web security firm.
So what better time to get a head start on defending yourself against web snoops (as if email trackers, which this column covered last year, weren’t annoying enough already)? Many companies offer tools to help obscure your digital footprints while you’re browsing the web. We researched and tested four tracker blockers and found their results varied widely. In the end, the app Disconnect became our anti-tracking tool of choice.
Here’s how web tracking works: In general, targeting individuals with digital ads involves a sophisticated ecosystem of third parties — like online advertising networks, data brokers and analytics companies — that compile information on consumers.
When you visit websites, these companies typically pick out your browser or phone using technologies like cookies, which contain unique alphanumeric identification tags that can enable trackers to identify your activities as you move from site to site. To sell ads delivered to certain categories of consumers, like suburban singles looking for romance, companies may sync these ID tags to pinpoint individuals.
“More than just being creepy, it’s a huge violation of privacy,” said Cooper Quintin, a privacy advocate for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit that also offers the anti-tracking tool Privacy Badger. “People need to be able to read things and do things and talk about things without having to worry that they’re being watched or recorded somewhere.”The downside is, your browsing history may contain sensitive information about your health concerns, political affiliations, family problems, religious beliefs or sexual habits.
We took a close look at four free privacy tools: GhosteryDisconnect,RedMorph and Privacy Badger. We tested them with the Google Chrome browser on the top 20 news websites, including Yahoo News, CNN, The Huffington Post and The New York Times.
The tracker busters generally work in similar ways. You download and install an add-on for a web browser like Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. The anti-tracking companies each compile a list of known web domains that serve trackers or show patterns of tracking services. Then when someone connects to a website, the tools prevent the browser from loading any element that matches their blacklist.
Ghostery, a popular tracker blocker, was the most difficult to set up. When you install it, it asks you to manually select the trackers you want to block. Our problem with that approach is that there are hundreds of trackers, and most consumers probably won’t recognize most of them, putting the onus on users to research which specific services they might wish to block.
Scott Meyer, the chief executive of Ghostery, said this had been a deliberate design choice. When trackers are blocked, parts of websites may not function, so it is less confusing to let users experiment and decide which ones to block on their own, he said.
“We block nothing by default,” he said. “That’s in direct contrast to other companies who are saying, ‘We’re turning everything off and let you turn whatever you want back on.’ That’s way too complex for users.”
The tracker blocking tool RedMorph takes the opposite approach. It blocks every tracking signal it can detect and lets people decide which ones to allow. For parents concerned about their children’s Internet use, RedMorph also offers a service to filter out certain sites or block certain swear words or other language they find inappropriate.
“When you go home, you lock the door and you may pull down the shades at night,” said Abhay Edlabadkar, the chief executive of RedMorph. “You should have the same level of privacy control over your Internet activities.”
In our tests, RedMorph was the most thorough with blocking trackers. It blocked 22 of them on USAToday.com, whereas Privacy Badger blocked seven, Disconnect blocked eight and Ghostery detected eight.
But in the process, RedMorph caused the most collateral damage. It blocked some videos on the websites for CNN, USA Today, Bleacher Report, The New York Times and The Daily News. It also broke the recommended reading list on Business Insider and a Twitter box on BuzzFeed. For people who run into issues loading websites, the company offers an “Easy Fix” button to stop blocking a website’s trackers, but that’s hardly an ideal solution when it causes so many websites to malfunction. Mr. Edlabadkar of RedMorph said the tool was blocking some videos or recommended reading lists because they were loading only after a tracker had been loaded first.
That leaves Privacy Badger and Disconnect. Privacy Badger detects third-party domains that users are connecting with when they’re loading a website and blocks those domains only if they are determined to be tracking you. Its widget shows sliding bars of trackers it has detected. The ones in red are blocked and the green ones are allowed.
Disconnect takes a similarly nuanced approach. The company said some tracking was fair and necessary for a website to work properly — for example, if a site like The New York Times is using analytics to collect information about readers, as it describes in its privacy policy. However, Disconnect will block trackers from third parties that are collecting, retaining or sharing user data. On its website, it publishes lists of trackers it blocks and those it allows, along with explanations of its policy. 

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge

Although not yet available, Samsung has two new phones coming: the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. They are getting a ho-hum response because, while the camera is better, battery life is improved, and the Edge now illuminates on four sides instead of just two, there is nothing revolutionary about them viz. the S6 and S6 Edge. But the ho-hum response ignores three important differences with the S6 models: The S7s are water-proof down to about 5 feet, the memory is expandable, and, most important, the battery is removable. Anyone who has had a phone with a removable battery cannot begin to understand why any smart device is made without a removable battery given that batteries go bad all the time and given that pulling the battery allows for a more complete re-boot of the device which often fixes any problem that arises and improves the device's performance.

Wi-Fi for You Car

Samsung is getting into the connected car business, but instead of building connectivity into new cars, it's providing a way for owners of older cars to add LTE connectivity to their vehicles. The Samsung Connect Auto dongle plugs into a car's OBD II diagnostic port (most cars built in the last two decades have this port) and lets drivers monitor their vehicle's performance as well as locate it. It also acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for connecting to the internet with other devices while in the vehicle.
The Connect Auto device runs on Samsung's Tizen OS and will be available in the second quarter this year. Samsung says AT&T will be the first carrier to offer it in the US and it will have LTE speeds when connected to the network. Pricing for the Connect Auto and its service was not announced. Verizon has its own connected car dongle called the Hum, which provides many similar location and diagnostic services. It does not have LTE capabilities, however.
Samsung's new dongle gives your car an LTE connection

Friday, February 19, 2016

Trump and Apple

Our readers know that we do not favor Apple products, but we trust our readers appreciate that we do try, in an effort of being fair and balanced, and in an effort to help the poor souls who own Apple products, to provide as much helpful advice re Apple products as other products. Our readers also that know we do not do politics on this blog. All that said, it is meet to note that Donald Trump is advocating a boycott of Apple products, and has threatened to stop using his iPhone and going exclusively with his Samsung (which perhaps is a sign that there might be something more important than bringing jobs back from foreign countries and making America Great Again, such as his being elected). At the same time, Trump has not asked his supporters to stop using their iPhones nor has he taken down his Trump16 app from iTunes. In fine, it now seems that this blog is not alone in its suggesting that Apple products might be shunned, which should give everyone pause.

Scallops the Easy and Delicious Way

Most scallop recipes are way too complicated. Try making them au provencale. Delicious. Select even-sized scallops, wash and dry them, and heat oil in a pan. Dice a few garlic coves into small pieces and mix together with a 1/4th cup of chopped parsley. As the scallops are cooking, add in the mixture and stir so the scallops get covered with it. The sauteing need not take but a few minutes, and then salt and pepper to taste. Using a large non-stick pan with high sides will make clean-up a breeze.  Finally, a glass of nice white wine (a Yellow Tail chardonnay is perfect) will make the process even easier and more enjoyable--just don't let the wine get anywhere near the scallops. Bon Appetite!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Smartphone With Thermal Imaging

Our long national nightmare of living with a smartphone that can't do thermal imaging finally is over. A British company has unveiled what it is billing as the "world's first" smartphone with a built-in thermal imaging camera, a feature it claims will be in 50 percent of models on the market in five years. Bullitt took the wraps off its Cat S60 smartphone on Thursday a 4.7 inch so-called "rugged phone" which can withstand a fall onto concrete from 1.8 meters high and can survive for an hour underwater at a depth of 5 meters. The thermal camera is made by U.S. firm FLIR. Bullitt said that the lack of innovation in current smartphones will help its Cat S60, which will retail for $599, gain appeal among consumers. The uses of it are boundless. For example, the next time you have to go through a building that is on fire and smoke-filled, you'll be able to "see" everything. 
A file photo taken with a thermal imaging camera. Bullitt's Cat S60 smartphone will allow the consumer to capture similar images.

Gmailify

[Courtesy of TechCrunch]
Since early 2015, Google’s Gmail Android app has allowed users to manage their mail from non-Gmail accounts, like Yahoo and Outlook. Now the company is taking things a step further. It’s today introducing a new feature called “Gmailify” that will allow anyone to take advantage of Gmail’s spam protection, inbox organization, Google Now integrations, and more, without having to change their email address.
That means you’ll be able to not only be able to check your @Yahoo.com, @Hotmail.com, or @Outlook.com email within Gmail’s mobile application – but you can also manage those accounts as if those emails were hosted on Google’s own servers. This makes sense for people who would like to choose Gmail for its advanced feature set, but are stuck with a different email and don’t want to go through the hassles involved with changing their email address.
If you’re already accessing your non-Gmail accounts from the Gmail application, you’ll still need to opt in to the “Gmailify” feature. To do so, you’ll need to open the Gmail app, sign into your external accounts, and then “enable Gmailify,” a Google blog post explains.
In practice, this involves linking your non-Gmail account(s) to Gmail. In the app’s “Settings” screen, you’ll tap on the non-Gmail account you want to link then choose “Link Account.” This is what allows the app to take advantage of Gmail’s expanded feature. This will actually work both in the Android application as well as on the web at mail.google.com. You can choose to unlink the accounts at any time, the company notes.
In addition to being able to utilize Gmail’s spam protection on this incoming mail, your non-Gmail emails will also be organized by type (e.g. Social, Updates, Promotions). Plus, you’ll be able to search your non-Gmail using advanced search operators, receive better notifications on mobile, and your travel and hotel reservations will appear automatically in Google Now.
Google is not alone in trying to cater to non-account holders by focusing on its feature set. Other top email providers are also working to court those who want to try a different user experience without having to change their address. For example, in December, Yahoo announced its mobile email app would allow users to manage their Gmail, allowing them to use things like Yahoo’s “smart” contacts and password-free sign-in. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Outlook.com even offers an import tool to help make the transition from Gmail to its app easier.
At launch, “Gmailify” only works with Yahoo and Microsoft’s Hotmail/Outlook, but Google says more providers will be supported in the future.

Private Jet Etiquette

Given the ubiquity of private jet travel, it never occurred to us that some people might be oblivious to the proper etiquette to follow when invited to fly on a private jet. Specifically, we were shocked when one of our guests on a flight from Phoenix to Aspen displayed a total etiquette failure. Here, then, to avoid embarrassing yourself, are the "rules" that should be followed when invited to fly on a private jet:
  1. Arrive 30 minutes before departure with the required ID.
  2. Pack as little as possible because there is limited baggage space.
  3. Dress well so as not to embarrass your host.
  4. After boarding, let your host choose his or her seat first.
  5. Tip $50-$100 per crew member.
  6. Do not bring an in-flight meal with you. Trust that food will be served.
  7. Do not drink heavily unless your host is totally smashed.
  8. Let the host turn on the large screen TV and choose what to watch.
  9. Do not post anything about your trip on social media.
  10. Even if it is, don't act like this is the first time you've flown in a private jet, but don't be totally blase either.
Safe flying!