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June 27, 2017

Voice Assistants

Some of the big technology devices to hit in recent years are Voice Assistants. The idea first came about on TV with Star Trek in the ‘60s. This was when you could communicate by voice instructions with the computers. In the real world, “Siri” started on the iPhone 4S at its release in October 2011. And then, “Ok, Google” began in July 2012, and was first supported on the Galaxy Nexus smartphone. So yes, as always Apple created it first (like phones) and then others improve on it. Most will agree that OK, Google surpasses the Siri app at this point in time. Then there came Cortana from Microsoft, which was announced in January 2015 for Windows 10 desktops and mobile devices.

With those assistants you can look up weather, call people in your address book, get a phone number, get your map to plan a drive, etc. Be careful on that mapping part as I keep seeing articles about people getting lost using them. However, for us, Waze and Google Maps have always been spot on.

Google vs Amazon

Starting last year Amazon and Google started rolling out their devices, with Alexa, (the Echo and Dot seem to be the most popular) and Home respectively. There are other devices available but they are bought in insignificant numbers by comparison.

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Now the Voice Assistants are standalone devices and are selling like, well actually better than, hot cakes. According to the 2017 report from VoiceLabs, “Amazon Echo and Google Home…will sell more than 24 million units combined through the end of 2017.”

Amazon Alexa vs Google Home

They are devices that connect to your Wi-Fi and you speak to them. You can verbally ask questions, set alarms, get news, check the weather, get directions, find phone numbers, perform conversions, do math, find how long it takes to get somewhere (using local traffic conditions) and many more things.

I have been testing a Google Home and it is very, very accurate in both translating your voice and giving accurate responses. In the morning I asked it to tell me about my day. It proceeded to first give me the weather predictions for the day followed by my calendar’s agenda. Then it started telling me the news from various news stations. You can set the news channels you prefer if you wish.

To use the Google device you must have Wi-Fi, either an Android or iPhone device, the application Google Home installed and you are ready to go. The setup process took about five minutes including Google Home updating itself. It was quite easy.

It will also integrate with some other devices; although, at this time the Alexa mixes with many more. That means it can possibly run your TV, cut off your lights, communicate between you and some of your appliances, etc. The only other system I have that it works with is Google Chromecast hooked to my TV. So I can play items there automatically and control them by voice.

Amazon’s devices work pretty much the same; however, as usual, people debate over which is better online all the time. For me, since I am a Google/Android fan I would go for the GH, but either is good. Are these devices a need? No, but I am going to predict that we are going to see a lot more of them in the future.

If you get one do not forget to play with it. Ask it to tell you a joke, ask it how tall you are, ask it if the other device is any good, etc. It made me laugh when I asked it what the fox says…give it a shot if you get the chance.

June 20, 2017

Email Negatives, Part 2

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:25 am

Last week I wrote regarding some of the good of email, see “Email Positives, Part 1” if you missed it. This week I will voice some of my concerns regarding this great feature of the computer age. Email has been around forever. Well not quite, as Ray Tomlinson is attributed with devising email in 1972 or 1971 depending on where you find that fact. Forms of it existed as far back as 1965 but not by the masses.

Email, Angel or Devil

First up, email forces employees to often multitask. Now, at this point in time multitasking is considered by the “authorities” to be costing employers a lot of time and money. One researcher said that he found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. My thought has always been that task switching was nuts from the beginning. Yay me, I got one right! I can even prove it if you take one of my classes on technology. So, jumping in and out of email costs corporations money today. There is also a personal stress factor with multitasking that we will not go into today.

Read this one of many articles on Multitasking - Lifehack

Check this article on Lifehack about the good/bad of Multitasking

Another issue for business is that email can be easily abused by many as workers jump in and out of worthless emails whether personal (yes, at work) or company produced. Some companies have found that without specific boundaries their employees may send many emails to family and friends instead of doing their jobs. Think about all of those emails you are “Courtesy Copied” (you know, the CC on your email app) on daily which are no concern of yours. You still need to review them to make sure you are not responsible for something mentioned.

Next, many people change email addresses – often. This means that if you sent email to them yesterday it may never be read. If they do not respond it does not necessarily mean they are avoiding you.

As of March, 2017, statistics indicate that 57 percent of all worldwide email is spam. Another time waster. And BIG money waster. In January, 2017, it was estimated that worldwide a little over $2 billion dollars was spent in time wasted in corporations from spam.

Catching up on Email after Vacation?!Another email time killer…email catch-up. For instance, in my first days of business with email I would go on vacation for a week. When I returned to work I would spend most of a day going through them to see what I needed to act on, save for the future, ignore, or delete. That took a lot of my time. Even though I was paid at work I felt horrible having to waste time going through this process.

Now, I, like most other employees nowadays, check it once daily or at least every other day while vacationing to keep the load down when I return. So now email is messing up your, and my off time.

Next, one of the major issues with email. Viruses, scams, phishing, frauds, deceit, etc. See the amount of money mentioned above? That does not include the individuals who continue to fall for scams from email all the time or the money they throw away.

OK, I am now done ranting about email, even though I do not consider it all bad. Do you consider it a good thing or bad for you and/or your business?

June 13, 2017

Email Positives, Part 1

Filed under: Columns — Tags: — Ron @ 5:47 am

When I started to ponder writing about email this week I thought, “This will be short and sweet.”  After I started to think more about it I found that it will be neither.  This simple email topic has turned into a series about my love/hate relationship with email, which I know many of you share.

Most likely you have at least one email address.  If you do not have one skip to the comics as this will probably make no sense to you.

This time I would like to discuss some of the good things we get from email.  First, it is very accessible and easy to use.  If you have an internet connection you can easily get to it. You do not have to wait to receive it or go to a mailbox and check to see if it is delivered yet.  It is pretty much instant, within a few seconds, since once it is sent the recipient has it too.

You can also send more than just information.  For instance, my wife and I went out of the country not too long ago.  We were told to take copies of our passports and itinerary with us just in case ours were lost/stolen.  I took a picture of them and emailed them to both of our own email accounts.  They could be accessed from phone or computer if needed.  Fortunately, they were not needed.  You can send most any type of file via email which is quite convenient.

It allows you to store documentation and information for future use.  We are currently having a flooded kitchen restored thanks to the leaky dishwasher while on that vacation.  I have a collection of all pictures, prices, contracts, insurance company interactions and everything else related to this in one folder using my email.  For me this is an excellent use of email, storage of needed information.  I also store all of my licenses for software, user manuals, and warrantees there.

email

If you are in the work place today you have a business account too.  Therefore, you can keep all of this documentation separate but also at your fingertips.  If like me you have a couple of personal accounts too, one for friends and family, one for online purchases and one for using when you know you will get spammed by signing up for something.  That is more convenient for me; although, you may not appreciate multiple accounts.  That is fine but if you want more they are free and easy to obtain.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and think of something you need to tell someone you can create and send them an email in minutes.  At the same time, what if you think of something you need to remind yourself of? Shoot yourself an email for tomorrow.  It is available 365/24/7, all the time.

If you get an email from someone that makes you angry or upsets you, you can write them and blast them!  But with email, have a little self-control.  Write it now but wait until you cool down to have it sent.  You would be wise to calm down and reconsider what you are saying after you have thought through the issue with a clearer head.

Finally, for today, how about reaching out to customer service?  Years ago, it would take weeks of back and forth snail mail to get your order straight or your warrantee work taken care of.  Now you can do it in a day or so…with reputable companies.

Next week, the negatives.

June 6, 2017

Belarc Advisor

Filed under: Columns — Ron @ 5:57 am

I was answering a question for a reader last week and mentioned an application I have used before.  She needed several pieces of information regarding her computer for a possible upgrade.  I never advise people how to upgrade a computer but I was more than happy to show her where to find the needed information.    

All of the information she required is available on every computer if you know where to dig it out; however, there is a much easier way to get it.  Enter Belarc Advisor found at belarc.com

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I reviewed all of my columns from the past 16 years and guess what?  I had never shared with you any information regarding this great application.  I have never even mentioned it in an associated article.  I could not believe it as great as this application is…if you need it.  If you do not need it you may not want to install it; however, it is fun to run once and see what is in your computer; hardware, software, network, and more. 

First you download the application, then double-click the downloaded file just like usual.  Then you run through the standards "I Agree," "check for updates to the program before proceeding," and then it will start.  The "Belarc Analysis" screen is what you will see running for a while.  It depends on what you have on your computer and its speed as to how long it will take.  One of mine took about 2 minutes to complete and another one took less than 30 seconds. 

Belarc Analysis

Once the analysis completes your default browser will open with all of your system’s obtainable information shown.  You will most likely have to scroll down as it will take multiple pages to give you all the facts and figures.  You can choose to print it if you wish and note that this file will remain locally on your computer so you can retrieve it if you need the info again.  Of course, you could also run the program again to get updated data. 

Here are just a few things you can discover about your computer.  Computer name, operating system version, computer manufacturer, type and how much memory, hard drive information, printer, all types of adapters, all of your software installed, some licensing information, and much more.

Belarc results

With this information you can not only see who to contact for an inoperable memory stick, what type of memory to purchase, and/or how much new memory your computer can take.  Most anything you would need to know about your computer can be found with Belarc Advisor. 

That being said, there is one thing that may or may not be found from BA and that is your Windows Operating System Product Key.  This is a 25 digit "license" number that Microsoft has on each copy of Windows which is specific for that installation.  If you ever rebuild or reinstall windows on your computer you may need that number to be officially licensed.  However, it is not easily available for you to find. 

Belarc Advisor will sometimes be able to provide that number, sometimes only the last 5 digits and sometimes none of them.  I recommend one of many applications which can get that information for you.  It is called "Show Key Plus" and it is usually quite effective for Product Key retrieval.  You can read more and download it from "The Windows Club" (rd.dblclx.com/2s20YC0). 

May 30, 2017

Sorry DoubleClicks.info does not run on Memorial Day this year (Sadness ensues)

Filed under: Columns — Ron @ 5:54 pm

May 23, 2017

Free Alternatives to MS Office and More!

Filed under: Columns — Ron @ 6:53 am

I get emails fairly often with this question, "I cannot afford to purchase Microsoft Office for the big dollars they charge.  What else is available?" 

Well that is an easy question to answer.  There are free alternatives out there and some are just as good as MS Office.  I also tell them that MS 2016 is available at a monthly charge of $6.99 to $9.99 per month.  It is also offered at $99.00 per year (at least when I wrote about this).  Those are the prices directly from the Microsoft store but you may be able to find other prices out there.  

Back to the particular question; the answer is LibreOffice (libreoffice.com).  It is a quality Office replacement with all of the functionality a regular person needs.  It may not have all of the utilities required by a very advanced user.  However, it is excellent and that is hard for a MS fan boy like me to say.   

There are other free alternatives out there too, not just for Office but for most every other program that you may use as well.  If you are looking for a free alternative software that is close to the quality, or in some cases surpasses the quality of the original program visit AlternativeTo.net

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AlternativeTo has free substitute applications for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android and other operating systems. 

If you go to the site and search for the software you are looking to replace it will give you a list of alternates.  They will be listed, however not in any logical way that I have figured out, i.e. not alphabetically or by number of votes, etc.  So scroll down the list and look at the ones with the higher votes. 

For an example when I searched for "Microsoft Office Suite" it resulted in a list of 36 alternative applications.  The most popular were LibreOffice and Google Drive, 1762 and 1820 votes respectively.  I guess the cloud lovers or collaborative editors out there like Google Drive for those two features but I have always found LO to be much more cooperative for me.  The next closest vote was for "Apache OpenOffice" with 694 votes/recommendations, which in my opinion is another good alternative. 

Say you are looking for a new browser; (although I would only choose Google Chrome) search for Google Chrome and get 129 alternatives.  Even though Chrome is free you can search for any replacement software.

Think of the ones you pay for now and use AlternativeTo.net to save some money.  If you try one alternative software application and do not like it, uninstall it, go back find another and test that one.  Say you are not happy with Dropbox and want to try an alternative.  I searched for Dropbox and found there are 235 alternatives listed at this time. 

Here are a few apps that I have replaced with their free alternatives.  Visio with LucidChart.com, Windows Live Writer to Open Live Writer, WinZip replaced by 7-Zip, Adobe Photoshop has been replaced by GIMP and many more. 

May 16, 2017

Stalking Your Friends in a Good Way

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:06 am

Google has been letting their developers develop and I am glad.  They have come out with some great apps since 1998 when Google was founded.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  A company less than 20 years old and most everyone knows of it.  Did you realize that in 2002, the American Dialect Society chose it as the most useful word of the year?  In 2006 the Oxford English Dictionary as well as the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary added it as a verb.  "Have you googled that?" is an actual, correctly structured question.  I think that is pretty significant.  But enough of my fan-boy infatuation – back to the story. 

They recently took an excellent app that most of us have used and added a feature that made it even better.  That app is Google Maps which is available in every platform.  It has apps for all of the smart phones made; Android, iPhone, Windows Phone even Blackberries have the app.  Along with the apps any platform that can access the internet can use maps.google.com and get the features too. 

The feature that has been added is called "Share Location" and has the "New" icon next to it, since it has just recently became available to the public.  Clicking on this feature will give you information; however, to set it up you must have a mobile device.  Go to this link (rd.dblclx.com/2q6A0pi) to see how to set it up on your device.  Before you start you need to check several things.  You both need a Gmail account, also they must be in your Google Contacts and of course, you must both have Google Maps installed on your device. 

Menu ItemsHow long to shareClick the Menu button in the map application then "Share Location" and click "Add People."  Now, select how long you want to share your location with them.  You get to choose from one hour, other increments and finally, "Until you turn this off."  That last one is for my family.  Once you have selected everyone you wish click, Share.

They will get a message that you want to share your location with them.  If they accept they can then choose to share their location with you if they wish.

After everyone has accepted once they log into Google Maps on their device or computer, click the menu button, Location Sharing and see a map with those that are sharing their location with you.   You can click on their name to get an update and a more localized map location on them.

Shared People with Ron

You may think that is a little creepy.  I told my friends about how my wife and I share our locations with each other and that is what they said.  But we like it.  That way she can check and see how close I am to home when coming in from work.  No calls need to be made to find out when I will be there.

Think too if you have a teenager, or the other end of the spectrum, an older grandparent.  If you want to keep up with their whereabouts this is an easy unobtrusive way to do so.  

If you are going to visit someone who may live far away you can share your location with them during your trip by using the "Share trip progress" feature. 

Creepy or not I think it is a great new feature from Google.

May 9, 2017

Web Page Saver and More

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 6:38 am

For years now I have not had enough time to read all of the interesting things I run into online.  And also, years ago, I wrote about a new app called Pocket (getpocket.com).  Pocket allows you to save webpages from your Chrome browser to view later.  To read them you return to the GetPocket.com site, open the website and read on.

However, over the past couple of years, others have taken the Pocket offering and improved on it.  One of those I have successfully started using is called Annotary. 

Before you install the extension in Chrome go to Annotary.com and sign up for a free account.  This site is where your webpages will be stored and you can come back to visit them at any time.  Then, just as with Pocket, go to the Chrome browser store and look up "Annotary," then finally install the extension like any other.

You will now have a new icon on your Chrome’s extension bar with an "a" in a yellow box.  This is your Annotary icon. Annotary icon

Now surf the web and work, read or research away.  You find an incredibly long, detailed discussion you would like to read but you do not have the time.  You can then click your Annotary icon and save the page to read later at Annotary.com.

However, there is much more you can do with that page.  You can use an electronic highlighter which comes built in.  You can highlight most anything on the page and then add a note regarding your thoughts on the article.   I really appreciate and enjoy using this note taking feature.  When I am reviewing articles for items to write about I use it to add my thoughts about the things I read and want to share with you. 

I make "Collections" for each topic I am researching.  Collections are what Annotary calls a group you create in your site where you can place what you are reading.  The default is Miscellaneous; however, you can create as many as you wish, they are almost like folders. 

Ron's Annotary Public Page

One thing that is not spelled out very clearly in their information is that the default collection setting is public, not private.   So, anyone can read you pages saved, when they visit the main Annotary site.  However, you can easily open a collection and mark them private so no one but you can see them.  Be aware that the default setting is Public so unless you change that setting everyone can see your saved pages. 

You can also share your pages with others and they can add comments to your pages too.  There are many good uses for this app for me for research.  There are also others that are similar to it but this is the one I have settled on.

Give Annotary a try.  Now I have to get back to Pocket and review all those articles I forgot about over the years and maybe move some of them to Annotary. 

May 2, 2017

April 25, 2017

Schemes, Part 5

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 5:44 am

As I told you last week this group of schemes are used on one specific part of our population.  Seniors, baby boomers and post baby boomers.  They even have titles.  I have found examples of these all over the net and my dad even experienced one of these years ago.

Counterfeit Prescriptions
Because prescription prices are high like all other medical costs seniors and others shop around online for less expensive prescriptions.  They are easy to find online.  This is where you may get ripped off twice.  Many times, the scam artists are selling bogus or inferior drugs.  Then you have wasted your money and your health declines.

Which one is the fake?

Funeral Scam
Some criminals read the obituaries every day and some may even attend funerals of seniors.  They will find as much information as they can about the survivor, especially contact information.  Then a week or so later the widowed person will get a call saying that their spouse owed them some money and they were supposed to collect it and now they are gone.  They get the bereaved to pay unwarranted charges. This is usually perpetrated in person.

Loving Grandparent Trick
A grandparent will get a call from a young person pretending to be their grandchild.  They may speak unclearly so that the senior thinks it is their grandchild with a cold.  They get the senior say the kid’s name and then work it further.  The final outcome is that they need the grandparent to mail them money at college, someone’s home, or have it wired to their account directly.

Grandma is so good to me.

Internet fraud
These scams include a call from someone claiming to be from a large computer company asking for permission to access the senior’s computer remotely to resolve a service issue or virus.   The bad guy then accesses saved data on the computer, such as names, addresses, account numbers, and other personal information. They use the information to apply for loans, credit cards, or to steal the senior’s identity.

Medicare/Medicaid fraud
Medicare’s universal coverage makes it easy for perpetrators to pose (either on the phone, in person, or via email) as Medicare representatives and ask seniors to provide personal information which they can then use to set up accounts or apply for credit cards.

Nigerian fraud
You know you have heard of this one, maybe even seen it in your inbox.  In one of the most common financial frauds of all time, a senior citizen receives a letter, an email, or a fax from a foreign “dignitary.” The correspondence promises huge monetary rewards in exchange for helping an official from a foreign country out of an embarrassing legal problem. All the senior needs to do, the correspondence states, is to send a small amount of money (in comparison to what he/she will receive in turn) to help out the foreign dignitary. Of course, the victim never receives any rich reward and loses the money that is sent.

Service scams
You receive a telephone call from what seems to be a legitimate company. There are problems with your account and the company simply needs to verify some information. The caller seems to already have information about you so you feel comfortable sharing additional information, such as your account number, to help the company correct the problems with your service.

So, be careful out there, no matter what your age!

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