Saturday, August 27, 2016

No Family Tech this week

The paper did not run this week's Family Tech. Check next Friday's edition for one, and this website on Saturday.

If you are really hungry for Family Tech, check some of the past columns for one you have missed, or read my more technical writings, and other ramblings on my personal blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Apple’s, Google’s and Amazon’s family plans offer lots of sharing options

Twenty years ago you bought a movie and put the VHS tape on the shelf near your VCR. If the movie wasn’t quite appropriate for the kids, it went into a shoebox on the top shelf of the parent’s closet. That’s where the kids found it when they got a bit older and snooped when the parents were out.

Then along came online media purchases and things got more complex. Mom and Dad likely had separate iTunes or Android accounts. Often the kids did too.

Movies purchased on one account had to be watched on a device tied to that account. If two kids wanted to watch Frozen on their own devices, some parents bought a copy for each child’s device.

Apple, Google, and Amazon have made it a bit easier with shared family plans for the videos and other streaming and downloadable content.

These programs allow family members to share purchases and consume them on various devices, even if the purchase was made on another account, as long as that account is part of the family plan.

Apple’s plan has one adult agreeing to pay on their credit card for the purchases of up to five family members. At first, that sounds dangerous, but the kids’ purchases can require the adult’s approval before the transaction is made. This works for both paid and free downloads. The approval is done right on the adult’s device, so the child can make the request while at daycare, and the parent can approve while still at work, for example.

All downloads of movies, apps, books and music appear on the list of all family members. And the adults can hide some of their purchases if they want, to keep the six year old from watching “The Shining.”  (How to hide content on : iTunes and Google Play)

The iTunes family program also makes it easy for members to share photos in one album, no matter what device takes a photo.

It also creates a family calendar for sharing events. Now a child can post a band practice to the calendar and the parent can see they need to provide transportation that day. And it lets members know where everyone else is by using the location tracking in each phone and showing it on a map. A person can hide their location temporarily if desired. Likewise, any family member can help find another’s lost device.

Google’s plan is similar; up to six members, one central payee with parent approval of purchases made on the central card. The approval is not as easy as Apple’s. Parents need to enter in a password on the child’s device.

With both programs, not all content is available for sharing. It depends on the content creator.

Google and Apple have music programs. For $15 a month, six members can enjoy unlimited streaming of music. You will want to check the cost of data with your cell provider before you opt for this as it is going to be used when away from WiFi.

Google’s plan does not automatically create a family calendar or location sharing like Apple’s does, but Google calendar already has sharing you can set up for family, or others. 

Amazon Family is a free add-on to Amazon Prime, the $99 a year program that offers free two-day shipping on many Amazon products, and streaming of many video programs.

Family offers significant discounts on diapers and other things a family needs. And it offers free time, a service offering children’s videos, apps, music, and books aimed at children.

It also have unlimited photo storage, and more than 800,000 free eBooks.

And while Amazon does not have the location or calendar sharing of the other two programs, Amazon users can use Google’s services. Indeed, there is no reason to choose just one family program. You can use two or even all three if you choose.

Only the iTunes store offers iPhone/iPad apps, but the Google Play Store and the Amazon App store offer Android apps.

All of these services also have parental controls so you can limit the kind of content your children can view or listen.  (How to use parental controls on : 
iTunes and Google Play)

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Links for Apple’s, Google’s and Amazon’s family plans offer lots of sharing options

Links for Family Tech Column newspaper readers:

Apple’s, Google’s and Amazon’s family plans offer lots of sharing options - August 19, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, August 20, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

This column will be at this link Saturday August 20 at 9 AM.

iTunes                iTunes Music

Google               Google Music               Location Sharing

Amazon Family (made need to logout of Amazon account before you see informative page)

How to add parental controls on iTunes and Google Play

How to hide choices.on iTunes and Google Play (second section)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Best Notetaking Apps for Students

Long time readers know I find Evernote one of my most useful tools, and I advocate students use it. recently posted a wonderful comparison of a number of note taking tools for students that is worth reading.

There is some exciting new developments in this space with Zoho's Notebook and Dropbox's Paper, neither of which are mentioned in the Lifehacker post.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

School Software and Making Plans for the Disaster to Come - August 12, 2016

Have you planned on things going wrong in your tech life?  They will.  Better to plan on it now and be ready.

And if you are sending a student away to school with a laptop, plan now on it breaking or getting stolen or some other catastrophe.

In July we talked about backup options.  Have you started using one yet? Have you setup your student with an automatic, offsite backup system so they do not have to think about it?

You will need it. That is almost a certainty.

What about anti-virus, for the the PCs at home and those going to college?  Get them installed now, and if there is a subscription, make sure it is paid through the end of the school year.

For the college students, check the school’s bookstore or website. Often schools have requirements for anti-virus software for all PCs that use their networks, and site licenses to provide it to students for free.

Before you buy any software for students, check with the university. Besides site licenses that provide free software to students, they also have academic discounts for other software often at vast savings.  

For $20 a month students can get a full range of Adobe software products or a year (and then just $30 a month). The package includes Acrobat, Premiere, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Audition and many more.  These are professional grade software packages. Premiere was used to edit the movies Deadpool and Gone Girl for example.

They likely have discounts on Microsoft Office subscriptions and also for specialized software certain majors might need. Architectural, engineering, mathematics, physics, and other fields need specific and powerful software that would be costly if it were not for student discounts.

Some of these discounts are available to teachers and staff of colleges, universities and school districts as well.

What happens if your PC breaks or goes missing? With a little planning, you can have both a short term and long term solution set to go.

Let’s assume repair is out of the question. If your PC is mission critical to your life, and it will be for a student, try and have a backup PC set to go. That can be an older PC still in workable condition, or one used by another family member whose need is not mission critical. Should a student’s laptop go missing, you can express ship out the high school age siblings laptop, and the high schooler will just have to share Mom or Dad’s PC for a while.  

Or maybe you are fortunate enough to have funds available to buy a new PC direct from Amazon and have it shipped direct to your student.

If neither of these solutions are available, or you need a PC while waiting for a replacement, know where one is available for your use.  Colleges have PC labs. Here we have PCs available for use at the library or for rent by the hour at Fedex Office.

Students should be in the habit of not only saving current projects like papers-in-progress to their PCs but also to a cloud account, or to a USB drive.  That way, if they have to use a public PC to get a paper completed, they do not have to start over. And they should know how to recover a files from their cloud backup system.

What if your phone goes missing? For a student, not having a phone can be a safety issue.  There are apps to help keep a student safe as they walk across a dark campus at night.  This week’s link post at has a link to some of those apps.

Your replacement options are the same as for a PC: buy a new one immediately or borrow someone else’s whose need for a phone is not as critical.  

If you use your phone for business, then as a cost of doing business, you should have funds in reserve to buy a new phone immediately.  

This is why I use Google Voice. My phone number is not tied to a physical phone. If I have to replace my phone in a hurry, I can easily have calls sent to the new phone. If I had a small business, I’d only give out my Google Voice number.  

Plan now on your PC or phone to break or go missing. If it is going to mean borrowing a replacement device from another family member, let that family member know now why that might happen, and the importance of them being part of the solution.  Taking away a teenagers phone or PC to help out their college age sibling will never go smoothly, so lay the groundwork early.

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Links for School Software and Making Plans for the Disaster to Come - August 12, 2016

Links for Family Tech Column newspaper readers:

School Software and Making Plans for the Disaster to Come - August 12, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, August 13, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

This column will be at this link Saturday August 13 at 9 AM.

Safety Apps for Students (also, check hour University. Some schools have their own apps with direct communications to campus police).

Relevant Previous columns on Google Voice, Backup (and an update to that column)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Google Voice can scare away the scammers and more - August 5, 2016

A telemarketer called me on my cell phone the other day, and I chortled with delight.

Normally, even if you hang up on one immediately as I did, you know they are only going to call back repeatedly.

Not this one--or any of them. I use Google Voice, so I was able to go into my call history and block future calls from that number. From then on when they call, they get the annoying disconnected sound and so they think my phone number is no longer valid. And their call never rings my phone again.

If I felt really mean, I could make them their own message talking about the nature of their marketing and perhaps questioning the caller’s life choices. I did not, but the thought that I could is enough to make me chortle on receiving a spam call.

Google Voice is not a well-known Google service, but it is one of the most useful. You only need a free Google account. If you already have a Gmail account, you are set.

When you sign up for the actual Voice product, you are given a phone number. That number might be a local one or if no local ones are available, then from elsewhere in the country. That is not an issue since almost all cell phone and landline plans have free long distance.

At the Google Voice website you can choose what to do when your number is called. At its simplest, your call can be sent to your cell phone.

You can have Voice ask callers to say their name. Then your phone will ring and you will hear who is calling and have the option of taking the call or sending it to voicemail. You can have all callers prompted, or just those whose numbers are not in your contact list.

A call can ring your cell phone, landline, your direct office line or all of them at once.

You can set up unique voicemails for groups of callers. You can choose to have all calls go to voicemail at certain hours. With a little extra manipulation in the settings, you can have exceptions so all callers go to voicemail at 3 a.m., except your kids and spouse, for example.

And when someone leaves you a voicemail, Google automatically transcribes the message into text and can text it or email it to you. The transcriptions are not perfect, but they give you a good idea of who called and what it is they want. I may feel my phone vibrate in a meeting and a couple minutes later can read the transcript on my Android watch.

You can also send and receive text messages at your Google Voice phone number. You can read and compose text messages on your PC as well as on your phone.

If you need an archive of your text messages, voicemails or inbound or outbound numbers, Voice keeps it for you.

Not only is Voice free, but you can also have multiple phone numbers. You get one for each Google account you have. Have one for personal business, your side business and a unique contact number for the Little League team you coach. All calls can go to one cell phone.

So far, the only cost for Voice is if you call outside the U.S. or Canada. Even then, the rate per minute is dramatically lower than the phone company’s rates. A few months ago I called Israel and it was only 2 cents a minute to call a landline and 10 cents a minute for a cell phone.

If someone calls you on your Voice line, you can punch the number 4 key and the call is recorded for you. A voice prompt informs your caller the call is being recorded.

And if it was not already awesome at shielding me from spam calls after the first call, I have enabled Voice’s Global Spam Filtering Feature to block even first time calls if Google knows them to be spammers.

I wish my home phone had all these features. Our landline has become essentially useless for incoming calls. Most of the calls to it are spam calls. I’ve replaced our outgoing message, asking friends and family to call our cell phones. For anyone who does not know our cell numbers, I tell them they may leave a message but it may not be listened to in a timely fashion. I also give out my email address in case anyone has to contact me urgently.

Google Voice brings a 19th century tool into the 21st century.

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

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Links for Google Voice can scare away the scammers and more - August 5, 2016

Links for Family Tech Column newspaper readers:

Google Voice can scare away the scammers and more - August 5, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 9 AM EST.

Google Voice

What is Google Voice?