Saturday, June 27, 2015

Family Tech: Amazon as big of a player in the tech world as Microsoft, Google and Apple - June 26, 2015

Microsoft, Google, and Apple sell us hardware, music, videos, and application hardware as well as store our photos and files in the cloud.

Did you know there is another major player in the tech world? You know it. It does all those things and can also send you just about anything in the retail world by tomorrow.

It’s Amazon and it goes far beyond its Kindle readers.

The Kindle readers were its first venture into hardware. It seemed almost overnight you saw people carrying the compact little devices everywhere. The most recent Paperwhite model displays wonderful type, trying to be as good as a book.

There are diehards who say they will always want a real book, for the tactile feedback you get from its smell, feel and heftiness.

And then there is the younger generation who would rather carry a few ounces of electronics than five or six textbooks weighing 40 pounds.

Amazon is a lot more than just books though.

It also sells music like Apple iTunes or Google’s Play Music store as well as streaming videos. And of course, it can also sell you movies on DVD and send them to you unlike Apple or Google.

Amazon Prime is a $99 a year service that gives you a lot more than just free two-day shipping for many items Amazon sells. It also gives you a large library of videos you can stream for free, including movies and television series.

Prime members also have more than 1 million songs they can stream. A lot of CDs you have bought from them, or buy in the future, will automatically appear in your music library for streaming to your phone or other device. And you get access to the Kindle Lending Library for free reading of 60,000 titles.

Amazon needed a lot of servers to run its website. Early on, it realized it was pretty good at it and so started offering its servers to other businesses.

A lot of the websites you visit are hosted by Amazon, and you won’t realize it. Companies such as Netflix, which has to maintain massive amounts of data online, just let Amazon do it for them.

Amazon uses its massive storage facilities for us too. Prime members can store unlimited photos online for free. Non-members pay $12 a year.

Amazon also offers a Dropbox-type file storage in the cloud service. You can store an unlimited number of files online for $60 a year.

Amazon makes devices to make it easier for you to buy Amazon goods and services. The Amazon Fire tablet starts at $99. Naturally it has a Kindle App, but it can also run most Android apps. And of course, it comes setup to use all the Amazon services we have talked about. It does not run traditional Android, but rather an offshoot of Android Amazon is developing itself. There are several sizes of the tablet available.

It also sells an Amazon Fire Phone but it has been spectacularly unsuccessful in the market.

The Amazon Fire TV is a small device that hooks to your TV and, of course, streams video from Amazon.

It has also gotten quite innovative. The Amazon Dash button is a small button that does one thing and one thing only. Each comes with particular branding, like Tide, or Huggies etc.

When you push the button, it contacts Amazon through your Wi-Fi, and reorders that item. Keep the Tide button in the laundry room and when you see you are running low, push the button and more Tide comes in a couple days.

There are safeguards to keep your toddler from going on a buying frenzy. It is just a way for friction free buying.

And then there is Echo. Echo is a small device that sits in your home and you talk with it. There’s a video in this week’s Link Post at that is both intriguing and creepy.

Echo waits for you to say its trigger phrase you set up, like “Hey Hal” or “Alexa” and then listens to your question.

It can tell you the weather, set a timer or answer questions when it can find the answer in an online search. And of course, it will let you stream music from Amazon, work with your home automation equipment and let you buy from Amazon, all by talking to it.

And if that isn’t innovative enough, in some areas it has same-day delivery of physical goods. Next, it wants to use drones to deliver packages.

Links for this column are here.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Family Tech: Apple unveils new features, including musical ones

Apple recently held its developer’s conference, and like Google, showed a few fun things coming for its users including a new way to listen to music.

Coming this fall, IOS 9 brings new capabilities to iPhones and iPads.

IOS 9 offers the ability to remind you of events and understand your needs depending on your location and other clues. Reminiscent of Google Now, IOS 9 will remind you of an upcoming event if it has seen it mentioned in an email to you. It wants Siri to become your proactive personal assistant.

It can also show you news relevant to where you are, and if you plug in your headphones at the gym, it will start playing music for you, if that is what you commonly do at the gym.

Apple stressed this parsing of your personal data happens on your phone, while Google’s processing happens on Google servers, necessitating your data being shared with Google’s algorithms.

Apple Spotlight allows Siri to search within apps on your phone.

The Apple mapping program now shows transit information for many cities, including Washington.

Apple beefed up its Notes app. I haven’t used Notes but it sounds like Evernote or Google Keep. It lets you save information from websites, from your notes or by taking a photograph. This information is available to you on your iPhone, iPad and Mac PCs.

Apple News is an app that lets you pull up news of the world, country, and locale pertinent to you. Using a Flipboard like user interface, it lets you choose the kind of news in which you are interested, and shows it to you in a clean, magazine-like format.

As it goes along, it learns what you like and finds new material for you.

Publishers will be able to keep 100 percent of the revenue from ads they sell and 70 percent of the revenue from Apple sold ads. Publishers are motivated to share their content where there is an audience, without loss of revenue.

iPad users of IOS 9 can now have two apps open on the screen at one time, which will make researching and writing easier.

Apple Watch now has its own API, meaning apps written for it can run entirely on the watch and not need an iPhone close by. This should make Watch apps faster and more useful.

In its final announcement, Apple’s revealed its “One more thing” was Apple Music. This is a streaming-music service that lets you stream any song in the iTunes music catalog, even if you have not purchased it.

It will cost $10 a month. There will be a three-month free trial and there will even be an Android app for Apple Music – Apple’s first Android app. Also, good for families is a $15 a month family plan allowing up to six users. Each user is truly unique, so the music the 15 year old in the family listens to will not impact the recommendations Apple Music makes to the 45 year old in the house.

There will be tools to allow artists to interact with fans, building a community and solidifying their fan base. And there will be a 24-hour streaming radio station with carefully curated music to help listeners discover new music, one of the biggest challenges in music marketing today.

Apple Music is aimed squarely at Spotify, a streaming service also with a large music library. Spotify has premium and family plans competitive with Apple’s and a free ad supported level as well.

Apple Music is coming June 30 to Apple devices, and later in the year for Android.

Apple announced a new version of the operating system for Macs, OS X El Capitan. It will be a free upgrade coming this fall. It includes a new graphic engine game which developers will likely put to good use.

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas,” Apple’s Steve Jobs has said. Some of what we saw announced did seem inspired by other tools. The Safari web browser in El Capitan, for example, will now indicate which of its tabs is making noise, a capability other browsers have had for some time.

Siri’s proactive personal assistant capabilities were definitely inspired by Google Now. Apple had to find a way to give users the ability, while being careful with user’s privacy.

The transit data shown now in Apple Maps has been in other navigation tools for a while.

This is how this industry works. Xerox’s Alto and its windowing systems begat the Apple Lisa, then the Macintosh, and Microsoft’s Windows. Certainly much that is in Android phones was inspired by iPhones.

It’s tough on manufacturers, but ultimately benefits us consumers.

Links for this column are here.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Change your LastPass master password

I've written about LastPass in columns before as a good repository for your passwords.

LastPass is urging users change their master passwords after a recent intrusion.

Doesn't sound like this is the end-of-the-world for LastPass users, but I have changed my master password, and suggest everyone follow LastPass' advice.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Family Tech: Latest, much anticipated, Windows 10 on its way - June 12, 2015

While there may one day be a Windows 11 and then 12, Microsoft is transitioning Windows into a service. This means improvements to Windows will be incremental with new features being downloadable as they become ready. After 10’s release, there will no longer be a long wait and then massive changes and improvements in one big release.

First though, we have to get through the upcoming Windows 10 release slated for July 29. For many of us Windows 7 and 8 users, Windows 10 will be free for the first year.

And no, you did not miss a Windows 9. Microsoft decided 10 was such a big deal, it decided to skip the 9 nomenclature entirely and jump to 10.

What’s in Windows 10 is no secret. It released preview versions months ago and I’ve been running it in a virtual computer, where I can play with it without it being my primary operating system.

Microsoft made what is now regarded as missteps with Windows 8 that it has corrected in 10.

The Start button and menu is back. Gone are the two “modes” of Windows 8, the standard Windows mode, and the tiles mode. That was always confusing.

Windows 10 combines the two. Next to the pop-up Start menu are a few tiles to popular programs and snippets of information. It can be effectively ignored if you choose.

Windows 10 supports an entirely new browser called Edge. Internet Explorer has greatly improved in the last few years, but for many was the browser associated with invasive toolbars and security exploits.

Among other features, Edge lets you annotate a web page and stores the annotation for you or lets you share your annotation with others.

Larger screens let us do more. With Windows 10, we can snap up to four applications on the screen at one time to make multitasking easier.

Microsoft has its own Siri-like query ability now. Like Google’s Google Now or Apple’s Siri, Cortana asks Windows questions and it will answer them based on web searches and information it has learned about you.

Microsoft is especially proud of how it reminds you of upcoming appointments.

Since there are versions of Windows 10 for PCs, tablets, Xbox, and phones, Cortana works across your platforms if you operate entirely in the Windows ecosystem.

Developers can even create one app that will run on these various platforms. Also, Android and IOS apps can be modified by their developers to run on Windows 10.

And of course, Windows 10 works with both keyboards and touch screens.

Windows 10 comes with a number of apps at no cost, including email, maps, photos and calendar.

Windows 10 is integrated with OneNote to save new documents to OneDrive easily. OneNote is Microsoft’s online cloud storage like Dropbox.

That makes your files available to all your devices and gives them some backup protection.

Integrated into 10 is the Windows Store where you can purchase applications and download free apps as well.

Its music app is an iTunes-like store where you can purchase individual tracks or entire albums free of Digital Rights Management (DRM), meaning you can move the music freely among your devices.

Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for many of us already running Windows 7 or 8.1 at home. If you go to the page listed in this week’s link post at, you can reserve a copy. What that means is that if you leave your PC on all the time, your existing Windows will download the upgrade ahead of time, and let you install it on the July 29.

Or, you can wait and upgrade anytime during the first year for free.

If you have an old Windows XP system, and the hardware will support Windows 10, you can purchase Windows 10 Home for $11, or Windows 10 Pro for $199. Windows Pro is designed for small businesses. If you already have Windows 8.1 Pro, you will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. There is a link at explaining the various versions.

You do not have to upgrade now and if your hardware is not powerful enough, you may not be able to upgrade. However, when you buy your next PC, it will likely come with Windows 10.
For more of Mark’s online activities and contact information, visit

Links for this column are here.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Portable Chargers - or how to make your phone last all day

A friend mentioned earlier today that she wished her phone could hold a charge during one of her longer days.  It might be 14 hours from when she leaves the house in the morning, until she gets home.  It would be nice if her phone could last as long.

I told her about portable chargers, and showed her my 15,000 mah Anker.  She made a note of it.  

When I got home, it occurred to me that she probably spelled it Anchor in her notes.  I found myself about to write a long email to to clarify, and add some extra points.  

Instead, I thought I'd make this blog post.

A portable charger is a device about the size of your phone, although it can be larger and heavier, that is in itself a separate battery.  Being that it is nothing but a battery, they can recharge your phone several times over.

You have seen these a the checkout of your pharmacy.  The ones there are small tubular ones that look much like a lipstick.  Those are about 2200 mah.

Google definition:  A milliampere hour (mAh) is 1000th of an ampere hour.

Phone batteries are generally 2000 to 3500 mah.  Therefore, if your phone is 2200 mah, and your little lipstick Portable Charger is also 2200 mah, it means you can charge your phone a single time from it.

Larger batteries are available.  Personally, I like the Anker brand and have bought several for the family and as gifts.

They have one giant one of 25,600 mah.  That would recharge a 3000 mah battery over 8  times.

As of today (June 2015), that sells for $80 at Amazon.

This link takes you to the Anker Portable Chargers at Amazon

I think the way to find the best value is to discover the cost per mah.  That 25,600 mah charger for $80 would get you 320 mah per dollar.

A 3200 mah device for $20 would be about 120 mah per dollar.

The closest to the one I own is a 16,000 mah for $40.  That's 400 mah per dollar. I think that is a pretty good value, but I didn't do the math for each of the many Ankers Amazon offers.

The Portable Chargers generally do not come with their own charger, but charge from any charger for an Android phone.

They are dirt cheap.  Here are a few I found on Amazon..  

Note:  All Amazon links here are  Amazon Affiliate Links.

Crossposted from my personal blog.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Family Tech: Google has handed out free gifts, use them - June 5, 2015

Families received free gifts from Google last week, as announced at its developer conference.

The most exciting is an updated Google Photos. It has added to its already excellent product and removed it from Google+ as a standalone web, Android and IOS product.

There are a lot of places in the cloud to store and share your photos. Google now lets you store all your photos at no cost.

Tools in Google Photo let you find photos easily. When I typed Great Dane into the search box, it found photos our two Danes. When I searched dog, it found the Danes and also photos of my nephew’s retriever.

It also uses facial recognition. I clicked on my son’s face and it found photos of him going back more than 20 years.

The phone apps automatically upload your photos to the cloud. There is another app for your PC to upload photos you already have there.

Google has renamed its Auto Awesome feature to Assistant. Assistant makes brief films from a set of stills, creates photo stories automatically and does other almost magical tricks with your photos.

Google’s Play Store will soon have a kids’ section. App developers could get their app certified for children by jumping through a few additional hoops.

Soon children will touch a fun, green, smiling icon that will take them to apps and books appropriate for them. The Play store will use the same rating system we see on boxed software like Everyone, Mature, and Teen.

For the grownups inundated with unread emails, Google has made its Inbox product available to all without invitation.

Inbox is another way to read your Gmail. It automatically groups like emails together. For example, all my promotional emails from restaurants, stores and online stores are grouped together. I can quickly scan their subjects and archive them all by touching one button.

You also can tell an email to go away until a future date and time. It sort of makes Inbox a reminder system. In fact, reminders you create in Google Now show up in Inbox too.

Inbox is the first email app that has let me attain the coveted Inbox zero status.

Inbox is available for IOS and Android.

My family’s favorite gadget got some love too. Chromecast, the little $35 dongle that goes on the back of your TV and lets you stream Netflix, Youtube, Hulu and other sources, all controlled by your phone, now lets you queue up shows to watch.

At the start of a day, list the programs you want to watch in order and before you know it your day is gone, as a new program start automatically when the prior one finishes.

CBS’ and ABC’s apps let you watch their programs through Comcast. At the recent show, Google announced HBO Now will as well. HBO Now lets you subscribe to HBO even if you do not have cable TV, through the Internet.

Google spent a long time talking about the upcoming Android M, the newest version of Android.

Android M will appear on new phones this fall. Some recent phones may receive upgrades, but probably not for a year or more.

The big feature in M is custom permissions. Now, when you install a new app, it lists the permissions it needs and you have to accept them all or not to install the app.

With M, you can deny certain permissions. When the app tries to do something needing a denied permission, it will prompt you and let you grant the permission temporarily or permanently.

We’ve seen many apps asking for permissions they should not need, like a Flashlight app that tracks your location or accesses your contact list. Now we can control that.

There are also improvements to the payment system, once called Google Wallet and now called Google Pay. Also, software for a fingerprint scanner is built in leading some to believe the death of passwords may be coming.

Android M can be taught not to demand you type in your unlock code if your phone is near your Android Wear watch. The assumption is if the two are near each other, then the phone has not been stolen. That’s almost a reason for me to get a watch by itself.

For more of Mark’s online activities and contact information, visit

Links for this column are here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Microsoft reported to have bought Wunderlist Maker

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Microsoft has purchased 6Wunderkinder GmbH, maker of Wunderlist.  Many, myself included, think Wunderlist is the best task manager / ToDo List manager out there.

Wunderlist works with Sunrise, Microsoft's Calendar Program I spoke of in my recent column about Microsoft.

Microsoft is inching its way into my Google dominated personal ecosystem.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Philosophy, not a list - Things to Store in Evernote

One of my first Evernote posts on my personal blog was my list of things you could do with Evernote from way back in October of 2009.

Most every blogger that uses Evernote has published their own list.  My post cited several from that time period.

Today I was asked how I managed to accrue over 20,000 notes in just over six years, a rate of 285 notes a month.

I started to give a brief list, and then it occurred to me, I can sum up what should go into Evernote like this :

The short version:  If you encounter something you might remotely want to see again, it goes into Evernote.

Of my 20,000 notes, if I ever pull back up one half of one percent of them, that is 100 items I needed and was able find, and find easily.

In practice, that percentage is higher, but probably note more than 2 or 3%.  Evernote:  suggestion, put a read count field into each note, and provide analytics please.

The longer version:  If it comes into your life, and there is the smallest chance you'll want to see it again, then type it, scan it, photograph it, import it, web capture, screen capture, audio record it, into Evernote.

Cross posted with Ideas from Mark Stout