Category Archives: (Hopefully) Helpful Hint

PTJ 239: Leak Week

June is Internet Safety Month, but it hasn’t been very safe for the personal information of 198 million people, which got exposed by sloppy data handling. The notoriously private Apple got trolled as well when a top-secret meeting about stopping data leaks got, er, leaked. After wading through the tech headlines of the week,  El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the merits of RAID, as well as how to turn your smartphone into a handy magnifier for those annoying moments when you actually have to read the fine print. Episode 239 of Pop Tech Jam awaits you.

Links to Stories in This Week’s News Segment

Tech Term

RAID levels explained (PCMag.com)
Digital storage basics, Part 2: External drive vs. NAS server (CNET)
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How to configure a cheap, secure RAID backup system (Macworld)

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint

PTJ 236: Corporate Spies

On this week’s show. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss Google and Twitter’s current wave of privacy-policy changes and data-sharing with advertisers (all taking place before Facebook’s latest flap). Also in the news this week: patent trolls, resolution motion-sensor camera, Russian hackers actually hacking Russians and Iris, the data-sniffing dog. Buffer up and have a listen to Episode 236 of Pop Tech Jam!

Links to Stories in This Week’s Episode

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Go Dark

Do you long for the days of the WarGames-era VDT with the black screen and green type? Or do you just hate the glare of a bright white display? Are you coping with vision difficulties? If so,  your apps and operating system and some of your programs might include settings that make it easier on your eyes.

For example, If you don’t want to flip your whole operating system around, you can often find a dark or night mode setting in many apps — like Microsoft Edge, Twitter for Android and iOS, the Amazon Kindle and Apple’s own iBooks app, and some apps like Waze and Google Maps might flip to the night mode automatically, depending on the time of day. YouTube’s desktop site just added a dark mode, too.

But if you want things more consistently less glaring, Windows 10 has a Dark Mode available in the Settings app, as well as a High Contrast Mode in the Ease of Access controls. Dark Mode doesn’t make everything dark, mainly just the background of certain apps and system screens, but the High Contrast Mode flips the background and changes the colors of several kinds of screen type to make everything stand out better for those who have trouble discerning different tints. Apple’s System Preferences for macOS has similar controls in the Display area of the Accessibility settings.

And don’t worry — if you get tired of dark mode, you can always come back to the light.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Notification Nation

We’ve all gotten used to alerts popping up on our phones, telling us of Twitter replies, weather warnings, fresh mail, breaking news flashes and other important information to know while we’re on the go. If you miss having a consolidated set of notifications on your computer when you’re actually sitting at your desk, check out Apple’s Notifications Center panel for the Mac operating system and Microsoft’s Cortana assistant on Windows 10.

On either platform, you can customize and configure what you want to see when you pop open the info panel. On the Mac, click the icon in the top-right corner of the menu bar to pen the Notifications Center. Within the Notifications pane, you have two tabs: Today and Notifications. The Today tab shows you the date, time from world clocks you’ve added, news stories from favorite websites, Twitter trending topics, a stock ticker and other widgets you can add. Click the Notifications tab to see a collection of alerts you’ve received, Twitter mentions, your current iTunes track and more.

On a Windows 10 system, you can add information about the topics you want to see in Cortana in the Cortana Notebook. You can see your weather reports, track flights, check your calendar, get traffic updates, browse the latest news headlines and info on your favorite sports teams when you pop open Cortana.

Desktop notifications have another advantage: You’ve got more screen real estate and can multitask with other open programs and windows. Trying doing that on a 5.5-inch phone screen…

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Twitter Lists

Is your Twitter feed is feeling like a firehose these days? Are you afraid you’ll miss posts on topics you care about as the hyperactive scroll flies by? If so, get organized! You can create lists — topical collections of accounts you follow — right in the Twitter apps for Android and iOS.

Twitter’s site has instructions for setting up lists in the Android and iOS apps — and even on the Twitter web site, if you still use it that way. (Some people apparently do.)  With a list, you can group the people you follow based on what they usually tweet about — and find them all in one convenient place.

Once you have created a list, you can switch to it from your main Twitter feed on the Android and iOS apps by selecting your profile or menu icon in the upper-left corner of the app and choosing Lists from the menu. On the list of Lists, pick the one you wish to browse. It’s a helpful way to focus on all the posts about that particular topic (like Politics, Comics, Arby’s or whatnot) before heading back into the flood of your main feed.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Free Space

Here at Pop Tech Jam, we love space and we love free stuff. If you, too, love these things, visit the Universe Today astronomy blog, which has just released a free ebook called 101 Astronomical Events for 2017 by David A. Dickinson.

The ebook is more than 200 pages long, and nicely illustrated with photos and charts. It explains all the predictable things that are going to happen in the next 12 months with the stars, planets and other celestial objects.  Mr. Dickinson is a teacher, an amateur astronomer and author who has been writing and blogging about activities Out There for years.

Meteor showers, planetary conjunctions, eclipses and other happenings are covered in 101 Astronomical Events for 2017. If you want to keep up on missions and other man-made interactions in space, though, bookmark the NASA site with its various mission pages, the Watch the Skies blog and also, the European Space Agency’s site for great photos and other interesting forays into the Final Frontier.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Fight the Burned Out Battery Blues

You’ve had your smartphone a few years, but let’s face it — that battery just ain’t holding a charge like it used to. Lithium-ion batteries do have a limited lifespan and after a certain number of charge cycles, they start to lose their capacity for power.

If your phone isn’t that old, it may not be the battery’s age that’s making you drag out the charger more than once a day. Make sure environmental factors like exposure to cold, power-draining Android or iOS apps or manufacturing problems — like the unexpected shutdown issue with the iPhone 6S — are not the culprit.

However, if you have to face reality and deal with a tired old battery, here are four options to keep your mobile phone mobile and functional:

  1. If you have a smartphone with a removable battery — not an iPhone, obviously — check your phone specs, find an appropriate replacement battery on the web (or at an electronics store) and pop it in yourself.
  1. If you have a sealed battery, consider your options. You could replace it yourself using parts and instructions from iFixit or a similar repair site. This does put your phone at risk is you don’t know what you’re doing, but it can be educational.
  1. You can try an authorized service provider. Best Buy, for example, can fix a lot of gadgets. (Apple even sends people that way if there’s no Apple Store or other authorized provider in the area.) You could also contact the phone’s manufacturer about battery- replacement services. Apple and Samsung are among those who offer a battery swaps for less than $100.
  1. You could punt and get one of those extra-life battery cases like the Mophie Juice Pack, or an external battery to connect to your ailing phone. Not an elegant solution, but you don’t have to crack open the Precious and risk inadvertent damage. You may just feel like Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie when he had to drag around that car battery to stay alive.

Whatever approach you choose, it will hopefully buy you another year or two with your phone until it’s time to upgrade. And then you’ll have a brand new phone with a brand new battery again — and life will be glorious.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Vote Early

As you may have heard, the United States of America is holding a presidential election next month. In fact, the election is already happening in many states, where early voting has begun.

Want to get in ahead of the crowd? Early voting often allows you to avoid long lines and crowd hassle on Election Day, but not every state offers it. If you’re not sure if your state allows early voting, just fire up the Google search engine and search for “how to vote.”

As described in a blog post last summer, Google provides geographically relevant info as to where and when you can vote. You can also find information on absentee voting, if it’s not too late in your state. (And if you live in Oregon, everyone there can vote by mail.)

If you do plan to vote in person on November 8th, you can also find out what type of identification you need to bring with you. On your local Board of Elections site, you may also be able to see a preview copy of your local ballot — which may include independent candidates who are not on a national ticket.

whyowhyo

The campaign season — which started last year with candidate declarations and even a few bare-knuckle primary debates — has been comparatively volatile. Yet, in the midst of all the screaming from the super-sized personalities, it’s sometimes hard to hear the actual issues. If you haven’t been paying attention until now and want to know where the candidates and their parties stand on topics like healthcare, job creation, immigration and more, roll on over to the campaign’s website:

If you want to see the party’s official platform, you can find that online easily too:

The Washington Post also has a handy state-by-state voter guide with links to state elections sites and the Vote411.org site from the League of Women Voters is full of useful information, including what types of voting machines are used in your state. And if you’re tired of blathering cable-news heads bringing you the campaign news of the day, cruise by the C-SPAN site for thorough (but low-budget) coverage of the election and other government goings-on.

Already voted? Tired of the whole political season? Just want some escapist entertainment?  A new trailer for this December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dropped last week, which for many, already has a much more compelling storyline.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Recall Center

Samsung threw in the towel this week on the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after the replacement version of the device also proved a little too hot to handle for some customers. But while the drama with the Galaxy Note 7 was very public, not every product with a safety hazard gets such media attention.

If you’re worried about other electronics — or anything else in your house — carrying a risk of fire, injury or other personal danger, check out the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s website for the government’s latest warnings, news and official recall information. As the agency’s name states, it’s all about keeping consumers (you) safe.

In addition to seeing what products are currently under recall, you can report your own problems with specific products, view somewhat morbid statistics related to injury and even read up on the latest regulations. To go right to the hit list, though, just click the Recalls button and then on Recalls List at the top of the page to see the current roundup of products deemed unsafe for use.

The Consumerist blog from Consumer Reports is another great site to browse for news and information regarding customer rights and safety.

Not all electronics are dangerous, but you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using them. Always use recommended chargers with battery-powered devices (and not flimsy third-party knock-offs of suspicious origin) and don’t leave stuff plugged in forever. Stay safe, Jammers!

 

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Share and Share Alike

Smartphones and online calendars have certainly made it easier to get a handle on your daily schedule, and if you’ve gotten used to the concept of calendar events and alerts from your office or job, think of how handy these could be for keeping track of your family’s whereabouts. You can do this by setting up a shared online calendar to use for appointments, and all your family members can subscribe to it on their own smartphones and computers. When someone enters a a new event on that shared calendar, everybody else subscribed to the calendar then sees it — hopefully clearing up confusion about who’s doing what on any given day.

Sure, you can find plenty of third-party solutions like Cozi or the HUB Planner that have limited free versions and more expansive paid plans, but if your family’s needs are not complex – say, you just need to keep track of softball practice, book club, dentist appointments and so on – you might be able to get by with software you already have: The calendar component to your free email service.

For example, Microsoft has ways to share calendars using Outlook and Outlook.com. Yahoo Calendars can also be shared with family members.

famshare

Now, for iCloud. If you are an Apple-oriented group of people, you can share an iCloud calendar with others, but you don’t have to stop with just the datebook. If you have kids with their own iDevices wanting to buy stuff on iTunes, you can even set up Apple’s Family Sharing feature that lets parents approve their children’s iTunes and App Store purchases remotely, share photos and location — and yes,  there’s a family calendar.

Don’t worry, Android folks, if you’re tapped into the Google Play store and spurn iTunes, there’s also a family management tool to set up and you can always use the Android Device Manager to GPS your child’s location. If you’re a Gmail family as well, check out sharing with Google Calendar.

famcal

It may take a little work to get used to having a family calendar and entering events on it, but once it’s in place, perhaps those days of forgetting to pick up Junior from soccer practice (whoops!) will be a distant memory.