Category Archives: (Hopefully) Helpful Hint

(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Fast Living

It’s not just the gamers and the streamers clamoring for more pipe. Some national governments have even recognized that high-speed broadband is becoming increasingly important to a nation’s economic and cultural growth — just check out the Federal Communications Commission’s annual checkup or even the Queen of England announcing that “measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband” in her speech at the State Opening of Parliament last month.

On a more personal level, with more of our home entertainment coming from streaming media — and more of it in increasingly high-definition — keeping an eye on our network speeds is vital to a good, unbuffered experience. Netflix, one of the major video-streaming sites out there, knows this.

Not wanting to take heat for slow-connection choppy streams that aren’t its fault, the company has been regularly posting its monthly ISP Speed Index rankings for the United States (and the other subscriber countries) based on its own calculations on its official blog. Last month, Netflix even went so far as to release its own Internet speed test tool.

Unlike other well-known broadband-speed testing sites like MegaPath’s Speakeasy, BandwidthPlace, SpeedOfMe or Ookla’s Speedtest.net, Netflix’s testing site only measures download speed. However, it also isn’t slathered in advertisements and doesn’t use Adobe Flash.

The site is just a simple page with a logo, white background and big numbers that tell you how fast data can download to your home over your broadband connection. It’s also got a memorable URL: https://fast.com. A small link on the main page gives you a chance to cross-reference your result with Ookla’s Speedtest site.

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Now, some people claim that Internet speed tests are rigged because the ISP’s give them a fast lane when they sense a request from one of the testing servers, and that may be true in some cases — especially if you use a speed-test page provided by your own service provider. You may also get varying results depending on the time of day, the general state of Internet congestion and activity on your own network.

But keep testing, use different test sites and various times of day and let your ISP know when you’re not getting your advertised rate. Even if it’s a technical problem on your end like a weak connection or frayed cable, you want to make sure you get what you’re paying for because reliable broadband is an important part of modern life. Her Maj thinks so, too.

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(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Sky Talker

Hate pecking away on a tiny glass keyboard? While that sort of thing may be okay for texting and other short bursts of data entry, it can become wearisome when you want to process a significant amount of words.

Voice search and dictation programs have been around for a while, and both Windows and OS X have had their own speech-to-text recognition functions for years. As we all know, Google Now, Cortana and Siri all response to brief voice commands. But if you want to compose that great American Novel on the go, you can do it without having to download a third-party dictation app, thanks to built-in functions you already have on your mobile device — as long as that device is running a fairly recent version of its maker’s operating system.

Both Android and iOS include the dictation feature, but you may have to enable the service in your system settings if you start yapping and nothing happens. Also, keep in mind that in most cases, your words are being sent up to a server in the sky for translation, so manage your own privacy expectations.

In recent versions or Android, you can dictate documents in Google Docs open in the Chrome browser — and even add punctuation and editing by calling out the commands. Just open a Google Doc and either tap the microphone, or go to the Tools menu and choose Voice Typing. Then dictate your thoughts.

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If you get no reaction from your Android device, do into the Settings app to Language and Input and make sure Google Voice Typing is enabled. You can tap further into the settings there to make adjustments, like activating the ability to record through a Bluetooth headset or to block any offensive words that may (accidentally, of course) slip into your speech while dictating.

On a compatible iOS device, turn on the speech-to-text feature by going to Settings > General > Keyboard. Flip on the button next to Dictation to enable it. Now, when you want to recite a lengthy bit of text in Notes, Mail or another wordy app, tap the small microphone icon that now resides on the iOS keyboard and start talking.

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The dictation feature may not be as precise as an real, live human secretary, but it should get you that first draft with a minimum of actual typing. So grab your phone, yell “Take a memo!” as you tap on the microphone and start talking your typing.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Set the Scene

We’ve all gotten used to using filters and camera apps on our smartphones to produce interesting photography for our social-media lives. But if you’ve still got a separate stand-alone camera and are only using it in its Automatic setting (where you just snap the photo and go with minimal fuss), you may be missing out on some handy built-in shooting and exposure modes that can give your photos more zing when you actually take them.

modedialMost decent point-and-shoot models have these modes, which you can usually find on a dial or in a menu in the camera’s controls. On the dial at the top of your camera, you may find settings for Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual and whatnot. There may also be a dial setting to take you into Scene Mode — or you may find that in one of the camera’s menus. The scene modes have names like Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Macro, Night and so on. The names typically refer to the type of photo you’re trying to take, and the camera’s settings are adjusted accordingly.

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Take Portrait mode, the one you would use when you’re trying to capture an image of someone in the middle of the frame. In most cases, switching to Portrait mode will have the camera switch to a large aperture to narrow the depth of field — which means your subject is nicely in focus and commanding attention, but the background and any distracting elements are blurred.

Other modes adjust the flash, shutter speed, exposure settings and more to capture the gist of the situation. Sports mode, for example, kicks up the shutter speed to capture more of the action in focus.

Your camera’s instruction manual should have a full explanation of the settings and shooting modes your model offers. (Some of the better cameras even have an automatic setting that picks the scene mode for you based on the shooting conditions it senses.) If you’ve chucked or lost your manual, worry not.
You can usually find copies:

On the manufacturer’s website. Look for a PDF download — Canon, NikonSony and others usually have them posted.

• In the app store you use with your mobile device. You might luck into a free electronic version or manual viewer.

Around the Web. The comprehensive  ManualsOnline.com quite possibly may have your model’s guidebook.

Or, you could do what many nerds do: Just fiddle around and press buttons until you get the machine to do what you want.