spillJoy converted to using a Mac a couple months ago, after her Windows 10 machine became so slow she almost tossed it out the window. Then Bob spilled tea on the Mac (It was an accident! Really!) and the rest is history.

The genius at the Apple store’s “Genius Bar” told us it would cost $750 plus tax to fix it. A new Macbook Air is $899. Not much difference. Windows 10 looked good again.

We’d already done a lot to speed up our HP Pavilion computer — an all-in-one, heavy-to-move, they-discontinued-it — by getting rid of so-called “browser extensions” and other programs running in the background. For a while things seemed better. But then they got worse. The central processing unit (the “CPU”) would huff and puff at 99 percent of capacity. (You can check that kind of performance by right-clicking the strip along the bottom of the screen and choosing “task manager.”) One culprit was our computer’s power setting. If a PC hibernates right after you leave it, an anti-virus scan can get interrupted and take forever to finish, hogging computer resources all the while.

Another way to speed things up is dump your wireless connection, if you have one. A wired connection to the Internet is much faster and more secure. It uses Ethernet cables to connect computers to the network router. The bad side is your computers are now tethered to that router box. But the speed-up is tremendous. After we connected both of our Windows 10 computers, we were amazed. The HP’s central processor, instead of running at 99 percent of capacity as before, now typically runs at around 10 percent. The only exception is when we have a dozen websites, including video, all open at the same time. But whose fault is that?

So just remember this: to look at the Task Manager, right click the bottom of the Windows screen to see what’s hogging your computer, and either click “end task” or uninstall the offending program. If it’s still slow, switch to a wired connection.

The Flip Side of Instant Updates

marshmallow for androidA reader wrote recently to say that an Android phone upgrade is not always a good thing. After he upgraded to the new Android “Marshmallow” operating system, one of his email accounts stopped working. The only way he could get it going again was to change his server’s security settings to less-than-secure.

He spent three hours on the phone with Samsung tech support, but didn’t get a satisfactory answer. Next, he asked the tech support team at Best Buy about downgrading his phone to the previous “Lollipop” Android system. They said the process might break the phone and he’d be out $600 for a new one. So for now, he says, he’s going to have to continue to run his business using server settings that “make my email address a great candidate for purchase for $10 by a Nigerian prince.” (Our offers of Nigerian riches always come from widows of Nigerian Generals.)

According to a team of researchers from Indiana University and Microsoft Research, vulnerabilities in the Android system can allow a seemingly harmless app to automatically acquire extra permissions without a user’s consent. That’s if they upgrade.

But according to Digital Trends, most Android phones need updating. Most of them lack bug fixes and critical security patches. Some phones never get the latest operating system, which was true of our Samsung Galaxy S3. For others, the process takes a year. By contrast, iPhones and Nexus phones get updates within hours or days, direct from Apple or Google.

The Story of Upgrades

fixThis is an old story we have written about many times for many years. The title of the story is: “Just because there’s a newer version doesn’t mean it’s better.”

So-called upgrades to fix bugs often result in the installation of new bugs. Some software upgrades make the software incompatible with previous versions. Microsoft once did this with Word, which then could not edit documents written in earlier versions. (They fixed that.) Programmers even joke about it: they say “It’s not a bug it’s a new feature.” Yuk, yuk.

We have talked with sales people in office stores, computer stores and even dealers at flea markets and they all say the same thing about this: the customer always asks if it’s the latest version. If it’s not, they’re not interested.

There’s an old farmer expression which goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We use some programs that are 15 and 20 years old. They not only haven’t been upgraded, the companies don’t exist anymore. But the programs still work, and they’re nice. The latest thing isn’t always the greatest thing.

More Reader Insights

We couldn’t get a wireless signal in the whole apartment, so AT&T sent out a tech guy. He installed a “repeater,” also called a “range extender.” Took him two hours. The Internet connection was still bad. A savvy reader told us why.

“You need another router to be placed some distance from your main router/modem and connected to the main router with a cat 5 cable.” That’s the tech name for an Ethernet cable. In our case, this would mean running a cable down the hallway, around doorways and along the edges of rooms. Time to suck your thumb on that one. The reader had good results with the Asus RT-N12 D1 router from Amazon for $34, he said. But that’s after he ran an Ethernet cable to the basement.

Games Writers Play

Mystery of Mortlake Mansion gameWatching strange rooms fall to pieces and come back together again, solving puzzles, talking to ghosts: We’re having more fun with “Mystery of Mortlake Mansion” than any game we’ve played in a long time.

It’s part of a three-game set from Playrix Games, $7 at Amazon. Two of the games are turkeys, but Mortlake Mansion is fun. It’s a so-called “hidden object” game, a kind of “Where’s Waldo” for adults and kids. Unlike others we’ve played, this one has great puzzles and challenges. (We found a couple too hard, but most are fun.) In the meantime, we’re trying to escape a mansion full of surprises and mysterious events. If we don’t get out soon, send the Sherpas.



Bluetooth_Logo_RuneWe heard from a reader who wasn’t sure what Bluetooth was and why she needed it on her new iPad Mini. The answer is (the envelope, please): It’s a short-range radio transmitter and receiver, and she doesn’t need it.

No doubt you’re wondering why it’s called Bluetooth, and who wouldn’t. Harald Bluetooth was a 10th century king of Denmark — which back in those days included more than just Denmark. He had a dental problem. One of his front teeth was discolored, sort of bluish, you might say. So people used to call him — you guessed it — but not to his face, of course.

Bluetooth (radio version) has become common for communication between your watch and your smartphone and your tablet and your computer and any other device, gadget and gizmo that has the tiny hardware for receiving and sending the signal. Range is 30 feet, sometimes up to 300 feet, depending on conditions. We once used it to control an air filter with our phone, but it was actually easier just to press the button.

If you think your phone or tablet needs to communicate with another gadget, go to “settings” and tap “Bluetooth” to set it up. It has to look around (feel around?) to see if there are any brethren in the area and it will then get in touch, so to speak. For example, you might want to listen to music on a wireless headset, or transmit statistics from your Fitbit to your phone. But using Bluetooth drains batteries, so if you don’t need it, don’t use it.

Our eBay Experience

ebay logoWe thought it would be easy to sell our old phone on eBay and it was.

As you know, eBay is an auction site. You can click a “buy now” button if you’re willing to pay the asking price, but most people wait until the final hours of a sale to get a lower price. Sellers don’t pay a listing fee on the first 1,000 items, but most people wait until the final hours of a sale to get a lower price. Sellers don’t pay a listing fee on the first 1,000 items, or the first $25,000. That may seem like a huge number of transactions but some people make a business of it and buy and sell hundreds of items regularly.

EBay suggested we start the bidding on our four year-old Samsung Galaxy S3 phone at $48. As the ten-day deadline approached, it was bid up to $56. We had four bids and the winner paid within the four-day deadline. (if they don’t pay by then, you can file a complaint. The deal can be canceled and a new one begun.)

The money went right into our PayPal account. If you don’t have a PayPal account, you’ll be prompted to create one, an easy process. If you link your PayPal account to your bank account, your PayPal funds can be transferred automatically. We didn’t bother with this step. Not only do many websites accept funds from PayPal, it’s an easy way to pay freelance contractors, relatives, and even some stores. Office Depot, for example, accepts payment from PayPal right there at the cash register.

EBay made it easy to ship our item out, providing the shipping label. You can pay for the shipping cost or let the buyer pay. We let the buyer pay. That’s because they were getting a great deal anyway.

We could have sold our phone to Amazon, but they would have only given us $36 ($20 less than eBay). Still, it’s worth checking out “Amazon Trade-In” for ideas on stuff you might want to sell. Joy’s yoga book would bring us $10. Amazon will also buy stuff you didn’t get on Amazon, but prices are dismal. Forty cents for our CD of Bach partitas? Ridiculous; that’s Glenn Gould playing.

App Happy

crime app showing new york“Redzone,” from redzonemap.com, is a free app for iPhones that identifies “red zones,” by which they mean areas with high crime rates. Pins on the map show you the exact location of shootings, assaults, thefts or other crimes occurring within the past 90 days. Areas mapped include the U.S. and Israel. An Android app is due “soon,” they say.


  • PhysicasdatabaSe.com/book-list-by-title offers hundreds of free scientific books in subjects such as quantum mechanics, chemistry, biology, math and astronomy.
  • Universalenroll.dehs.gov is from the U.S. government’s transportation administration, with the idea of speeding up the security lines at airports. Enroll online, then show your passport in person at one of their security centers, and every time you fly, you can get in a faster line
  • Educents.com is an online marketplace for books and educational supplies from pre-kindergarten through college. Their best-sellers were mostly one/third off the regular price.
  • NextAdvisor.com has an article about protecting yourself from malicious advertising — ads that have been hijacked. These ads have even been found on sites like the New York Times. One remedy is a free program from Malwarebytes.org, but there are others. For more info, go to NextAdvisor.com, click “technology” and scroll down to the article on “Malvertising,” or click here.

 Tips and Tricks

silica gelIf you’ve ever bought anything electronic, you’ve probably seen those little bags of silica gel in the box. Don’t throw them out.

We watched a YouTube video called “Why You Should Never Throw Away Silica Gel Bags,” from IFlScience.com. These little bags, full of silicon dioxide, are non-toxic and will absorb moisture from anything around them. Throw them in a gym bag, and they may hinder bacteria or mold from growing. If your phone gets wet, put it in a jar with these bags and you’ll have a better chance of saving it. Put a few bags in a box of old photos to prevent them from sticking together. Your razor blades may last longer if you put them in a container with some silica bags.



marshmallow for androidLess than five percent of Android phone owners have the new “Marshmallow” operating system. A third have the previous version, Lollipop. the rest are so far back the operating systems were written on stone tablets.

Online forums are full of complaints. “When are we getting an update?” they ask.

Unless they have a Google Nexus phone, the answer is vague. This was a big reason Joy pushed Bob to get the Google Nexus 6P. In fact, it’s the first time we’ve felt up to date since we started saying “Xerox” instead of “mimeograph.”

The current “Marshmallow” flavor is version 6. Our old Samsung Galaxy S3 was stuck on “Jelly Bean,” version 4.3. (Bob doesn’t care for jelly beans.) Expect some other flavor in October. We hope it’s pumpkin pie.

Everything about Marshmallow is more convenient. Your most frequently used apps are at the top of the list. Swipe down to see the whole thing at a glance, instead of looking for apps page by page. Swipe from the top of the screen to get notifications, then swipe a second time to get options, such as a flashlight, airplane mode, data usage statistics and “do not disturb.” When the phone goes idle, put your finger on the back to start it up again. (This doesn’t work every time. Cold fingers seem to confuse the fingerprint sensor.)

We were awed by the new “Now on Tap” feature. Suppose you mention a movie in a text message or email. If you hold down the home button on your phone, you’ll get little thumbnail images along the bottom of the screen. Tap one to see a trailer, read a review, get the cast list, watch the movie, see images of it, or find its location on a map, while you’re still in the message.

Any phone with the Marshmallow system will have terrific battery life. That’s because it knows when it’s been idle and enters hibernation mode. With earlier Android versions, a phone might lose 12 to 25 percent of battery life overnight if left on. A Marshmallow phone will lose just three to five percent. What’s more, individual apps will go into deep sleep if you left them open but aren’t using them, rather than run fully in the background as before. Read more »


Portrait Pro before and afterIs it hard to believe a celebrity is really in her 60s when she looks 25 in a photo? Is there some trick to it? You bet.

There are programs out there which do the touch-up automatically, no skill involved. We’re thinking of “Portrait Pro,” a $40 program now out in a new version, with a free trial available at PortraitPro.com.

When last we tried “PortraitPro” Joy was so pleased with her enhanced photo, she was reluctant to accept her old look. As we noted then, she would only walk outside with the “Portrait Pro” photo pasted on her face. (This has caused some comment.)

The new version is easier to use than ever. Each effect you may want to apply has a slider control. Slide a little or a lot when adding mascara, eyeliner, lipstick, hair color, “baby skin,” and other effects. The program also fixes “selfie distortion,” caused by wide-angle lenses. The skin controls give you options from “healthy glow” to “nightclub” look. There’s even a child mode. Your baby won’t be mistaken for some teenager, even after you apply the effects. Read more »


NEXUS PHONESometimes we pay attention to our own column. Right after we wrote about Google’s “Project Fi” phone service, we ditched our T-Mobile service and signed up. It was, as they say, a moment of epiphany.

It’s not that our three-year-old Samsung Galaxy S3 isn’t a great phone, it is. But with Project Fi, we got unlimited talking and text for $20 a month. We only pay for the data we use, an extra $10 for each gigabyte, and they reimburse us for what we don’t use. The catch is, to be a Fi user, you have to buy a new phone, either the $199 Nexus 5x, the Nexus 6 (around $300 on eBay)  or the $499 Nexus 6p, made by Huawei, (pronounced “wa-way.”) Surprisingly, Huawei is the largest telecommunications company in the world.

We went for the top of the line, and had it in mind to sell our old Galaxy S3 on eBay to defray the cost. It came in the mail and it was beautiful. The service plan  combines T-Mobile, Sprint and Wi-Fi into a virtual network.

The Nexus 6p is about an inch longer than our old phone and a little wider. It’s sometimes called a “phablet,” for phone/tablet. The large screen makes it easier to type and the phone feels light in the hand. For us, who are very thrifty phone users, the battery lasted several days before needing a charge. The recharge took an hour and 20 minutes. Read more »


Car Hacker's Handbook“The Car Hacker’s Handbook,”  by Craig Smith is for the techie in the family. It’s an in-depth look at the computer-based systems in modern cars that make them vulnerable to attack. The book is $50 from No Starch Press.

The book teaches you how to write programs to remotely take control of a car’s engine, steering, brakes, temperature control, door locks and more. We hope no bad guys are buying this book, but people who want to prevent bad things from happening. The author says the book will help you understand the inner workings of modern cars and encourages you to let manufacturers know about the vulnerabilities. Sure, sure.


dead car batteryWe stopped paying for AAA road service after they refused Joy’s call for help. Joy’s car was sandwiched tightly between two others in a crowded medical parking garage and she couldn’t get in. She finally got help from a building employee.

So that made us wonder what we would do if our car needed a jump start and our cell phone was dead. There are a couple of portable jump starters you can get at car parts supply stores. We saw the “Road Boost XL,” a portable jump starter for $73 at Amazon. It was cheaper than AAA.


GmailSay you’re on a train without a connection to the Internet. If you’ve previously downloaded “Gmail Offline,” you can answer mail. It will be sent out the next time you’re able to connect. This is free for computers and phones. You’ll need to use the Chrome web browser. If you don’t have it, you can get it at Chrome.com; it’s free.


the iphoneIf you’re too busy to read the Web, or find the fine print too fine, let your iPhone read the Web to you.

To make the iPhone’s “Siri” voice start talking, tap “Settings,” then “General,” then “Accessibility.” Now tap “Speak Screen.” When you’re on the web, tap the uppermost left icon for “Reader View,” to skip the ads.  Then swipe down with two fingers to get playback and pause controls. Tap the turtle picture to speed up or slow down the reading.

We couldn’t find anything comparable for the Android phone. The apps we tried all used a dull, robotic voice and Google Voice just wasn’t in the mood to read to us.


Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

20 Movie Scenes Before-And-After Special Effects.” shows you what it’s like to be an actor in Hollywood. You sit stroking a lumpy stuffed toy but the movie viewer watching ‘Game of Thrones” sees a dragon. When we watched a port with ships coming in for “Boardwalk Empire” it’s really just a bunch of people milling around in front of a blank wall of green paper. Saves a lot on building stage sets.