tips and tricksMost people use a simple English word as their password, like “potato.” But real words are easy for hackers to crack — once the first couple of letters are found, the hacker’s computer can immediately fill in all the words that start with those letters. Here’s a better way:

Use a song. Any song. Type the first letter for each word in the lyrics, starting wherever you want. For example, “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” This produces the password “owtwcsdtp,” which for sure is not going to come up in any dictionary. Since some sites require more, Joy adds the prefix of an old phone number and the name of a street where she lived before. That way she gets a number and capital and lower case letters. And it’s easy to remember; as you type in your password, sing along. Password too long? Pick a shorter song. If you wish, use an airplane instead of an address number, like F16 or B29.



Computer  clipartBackblaze, a backup service, used 41,213 hard drives to store customer’s data. The drives that were most reliable, they say, were four-terabyte capacity units from “HGST,” which was formerly a division of Hitachi. Only one percent of their drives failed. Western Digital, which recently bought the Hitachi unit, came in second and Seagate third.

Seagate was third largely because of its three-terabyte drives, which had a 40 percent failure rate — huge. Its larger and smaller drives, however, performed much better.



adMaker.TV offers videos on beauty, science, health, music, and everything under the sun. Their companion site on YouTube has attracted 42 million people.  We’re a little skeptical of some of these, such as “Ten Strangest Unsolved Mysteries of World War II.” They weren’t all that strange.



trainingLynda.com offers 5,700 courses online, mainly in tech topics such as video editing and photography. It costs $25 a month though they have free courses to try out.



calvin and hobbes search engineThe “Calvin and Hobbes Search Engine” will bring you the popular Calvin and Hobbes comics from the 1980s. Search on “spaceman” to see Calvin’s space fantasies, or any word you remember from the strip.



curiosity cabinetBit.ly/scicabinet is a kind of science “curiosity cabinet,” a term used to describe collections of marvels in Renaissance times. This modern cabinet contains videos explaining the wonders of science. We watched videos on the electric motor and cannons. The videos are amateurish, but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn something.



keyboardHow’s this for perking up your paranoia: 45 percent of employers monitor every keystroke typed by their employees — email, web browsing, chat, sports results, you name it, according to a survey from the American Management Association.  That’s nearly half!  If only the workers could use an encrypted keyboard.


We had never heard of such a thing until CherryCorp.com sent us the “Cherry Unlimited AES” for review. It’s expensive, starting at $181, but it masks everything you type. This could be real handy on your travels or even at home. Keyloggers — the boss, and other bad guys, can’t see a single thing you do. (We had trouble finding this for sale, by the way, but finally made contact at Memory4Less.com.)

We’re trying out the wired version but there’s also a wireless version and both come with a mouse. The keyboard has four dedicated buttons. One fires up a calculator, another starts your email, a third takes you to the web, and a fourth puts the computer in sleep mode. The wireless keyboard can control a computer up to 32 feet away. The company says keyboard is expected to last for 10 million key strokes, the mouse for  45,000 hours. (Dang, we were hoping for 11 million keystrokes.) Cherry Corp. also sells a keyboard with an integrated card reader, for debit and credit card transactions.




iphone comparisonAfter we reviewed some battery basics in a recent column, readers who own iPhones and iPads wanted more. There’s much you can do beyond looking at “Usage” in the “Settings” area to find where the battery hogs are.

While you’re in “Settings,” disable “Background App Refresh,” which keeps everything running in the background.  If you don’t need to get a notice every time an email or reminder comes in, turn off “Fetch.” Tap “Settings,” then “”Mail, Contacts, Calendars,” then “Fetch New Data,” and change the setting to manual. There are many more tips if you do a web search on “7 Ways to Save Battery Life on iOS 8.”



lollipopRemain calm. We are not going to talk about the features of Apple’s new Watch. Enough ink has already been spilled there to float this newspaper for the next thousand years. And the watch isn’t even out yet! Let’s talk about smartphones instead; hardly anybody ever talks about those.

Want a Lollipop?

 Only 3.3 percent of phones have a Lollipop, the latest Android operating system. Is it worth buying a new phone just to get it? The next question obviously is … what are the features?

Here’s what impressed us: Lollipop phones go on for hours, even after you’re down to 15 percent of battery life; that is, providing you enable the battery saver. The saver stops the phone from constantly checking for new email, texts, notifications and other floating trivia of the digital life. After you enable it, your phone won’t open apps quite so fast, but you probably won’t notice it unless you’re multi-tasker like Joy.

Lollipop makes it easier to keep working or playing when a call comes in. Instead of taking up your whole screen, a small notice tells you there’s a call coming in. If you don’t want it, tap to dismiss. Lollipop lets you pin shortcuts to your home screen, making it easier to find an important file. Put your finger on the shortcut. Lollipop also lets you restrict notifications to priority calls and messages. If someone borrows your phone, you can restrict the phone’s use to one app. Finally, your apps can run on the memory card, saving storage space.

Google’s Nexus 5, around $430 without a contract, or Nexus 6, around $650, are two Lollipop phones getting great reviews. The other giant is the Samsung Galaxy S6 which generated 20 million pre-orders. We considered a Nexus phone when we thought we’d lost our Samsung S3. (It was in our Phone Soap charger getting cleaned, which made it invisible to the forgetful eye.) But we’re too cheap to spring for an upgrade while the S3 is working well. In short, if money is less important than having the latest phone tricks, this could be the upgrade you’ve always wanted.



landlineWe had an AT&T phone for decades, but then technology advanced and they didn’t. So now we have still have a land line, but it’s not theirs. (For that matter, even they want to get rid of their land lines.)

It looks like an ordinary desk phone but connects over the Internet to a service called Vonage. This has been around for a dozen years or more and we first got onto it when we saw a computer company exec using one.

They recently added “selective call block” to block unwanted calls. They can be blocked from your home and smartphones. Another new feature is “SimulRing.” When a call comes in, it rings on all your phones, no matter which one is called. We also have call waiting and caller ID. The basic service is about $13 a month before taxes and surcharges; those just about double the bill.

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