Monday, November 6, 2017

Goodbye Amazon Cloud (for us--it's not going away)

When Amazon Cloud first came out, I was happy to sign up for $60 a year for unlimited storage.

I knew there had been many unlimited cloud offers that later became limited (I'm looking at you Microsoft! among others), but I thought if anyone would keep their commitment it would be Amazon. After all, with AWS and their other services, they are as much a cloud services company as they are a retailer.  And they offer a lot of add-on benefits to Prime members like us.  I thought they stood the best chance of being truly unlimited. Or, if they did one day limit storage,to do so at a higher value than Microsoft or others.  That is, more than a terabyte.

My primary responsibility as the Director of Family IT in my opinion is to make sure there is effective backup for our various computers.  Amazon Cloud would play nicely for that.

I purchased licenses of ARQBackup and had it setup so my laptop and my wife's backed up to Amazon.  It worked wonderfully. I was even able to log into Cloud while my wife was out of the country for four months to make sure her system was still backing up.

Alas, Amazon  reneged on their unlimited offer.  They have instead setup multiple tiers.  For the $60 you used to pay for unlimited for a year, you now only get a terabyte.  And each additional terabytabout e is a full $60 annually.  It isn't a bad deal compared to the competitors.  Google is $120 a year for a terabyte, Dropbox is about $100.

My contention remains : as a service to Prime members, and considering their awesome Cloud presence, I expect better from Amazon.

And why 100% for each incremental step?  That first terabyte has customer acquisition, advertising, overhead, and retention costs in it. Why not add additional terabytes for less than the full $60?  

I think they missed a chance to soften the blow. They should have made it five terabytes for $60 a year.  In one year of Cloud service, I've paid for a physical drive (I'm assuming they pay a lot less per gigabyte of hardware drive than their charge consumers for consumer drives.   Year 2 I've likely paid for the bandwidth and overhead costs.

So why not just buy a 5 gigabyte drive of my own?  Responsible backing up requires off site backups.  That's the service I'm buying from Amazon.

So now I've switched so each machine backing up to One Drive. We get a terabyte of One Drive with our Office 365 subscriptions for five people; essentially, five terabytes for $99 a year.  It's a great deal!  But I could see us dropping Office at some point in the future; Google Docs is good enough.  

It would be great if Amazon met our needs for storage as we once hoped they would.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Delta to allow inflight texting

Now this is an idea I can get behind.

The idea of the person next to me talking on their cell phone during a flight is repulsive.  They likely have to yell to be heard,

and the coverage is likely to be spotty and frustrating (more yelling).

But texting?  That would be awesome. No yelling. Buffering of messages should coverage be momentarily lost, and people can stay in touch.

Heck, I text more than I call now, and I'm a boomer.  X-Gen and Millennials will likely have no issue with this.

Delta announced they will offer free in flight texting!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

RIP Jerry Pournelle

The writer that may have influenced me the most, is one whose books I have never read.

Jerry Pournelle has passed away at age 84.  He authored countless sci-fi books.  He is known for writing the first book using a computer; a computer that is now in the Smithsonian.

It was his column for Byte Magazine in the 80s that caught my interest.

In his monthly Chaos Manor column, he told his tales of woe for that month getting the computers in his home to work properly.  He struggled with early networking, balky printers, buggy software and all the struggles those of us from that era knew all too well.

I recall some computer publication wag as saying Apple should send a copy of Chaos Manor to every one in the country.  It showed just how much easier those early Macs were to the PCs of the day running Windows.

I still remember Pournelle's Law : check the cables first.  Too often they are the culprit, but often the last thing we check.  My cable tester is my best used tool.

When I wrote my own tech column for the newspapers of Prince William County, I strived to be like Jerry and tell stories of my own adventures but to try and make what I learned benefit the reader.

For more information about Jerry, see his website, Wikipedia and a list of his books on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Please help me make a list of note taking apps with phone & web and/or PC/Mac clients?

Regular readers know I use and write about Evernote and Keep. In fact, I am enchanted  with all notetaking apps. I'm constantly adding them to my phone to play with for a bit.

In my mind,there are three tiers of notetaking apps

  • Tier 1 : smart phone apps for iphone and/or Android coupled with both a web app and a client for PC and/or Mac
  • Tier 2 : smart phone apps for iphone and/or Android with a web app
  • Tier 3 : smart phone apps only 

The apps store list the Tier 3 apps. And if you explore each one, you can determine which are really tier 2 or 1 apps.

My question to you then, is do you know of  tier 1 or 2 note taking app I am not yet aware?

I know about :

  • Dropbox 
  • Paper 
  • Evernote 
  • Keep 
  • OneNote 
  • Trello 
  • Simplenote 
  • Audionote 
  • Also Zoho Notebook because apparently a web app is coming soon
Which ones am I missing?

You can comment here, or use this Google Form to tell me.

Once I have a good list, I'll review each in the coming months.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Do you use your cell phone for business? You need a filter between your business & personal communications.

If you use your cell phone for business calls, you will want to set up a “filter” between your phone and your business contacts i.e. clients, customers, co-workers, supervisors.

Google Voice is that filter.


How does Google Voice work?

You receive a unique telephone number.  When someone calls that number, it seamlessly forwards to your cell phone.  When you place a call, your Google Voice number shows up on caller ID.

Likewise, when someone sends a text to your GV number, it shows up on your phone. And when you text, it shows up as having come from your GV number.

And the best thing:  it is free.

What does Google Voice do?

As mentioned above,when someone dials your GV number, it can ring your cell phone. It can also ring your landline too, if you have one.

If your phone is lost or damaged, you can borrow someone else’s phone, or buy a cheap pay-as-you go phone and simply tell GV to forward calls to that phone until  you find or replace your phone.

Without GV, any business (or personal) calls to your lost or broken phone would go to voicemail you would have to pick up periodically from another phone. Not good customer service.

GV gives you a lot of power to control when your receive calls.  There is a Do Not Disturb function you can set from the mobile apps. When you go into a meeting, you can set the phone to send all phone calls to voicemail, and not notify you of text messages until you turn Do Not Disturb off.

You can set up GV so any calls from numbers you do not know, are answered with an announcement asking the caller’s name. GV then plays you the name, and lets you decide whether to take the call or not.

Voice mails are transcribed by Artificial Intelligence and text and/or emailed to you. While not perfect, it gives you the gist of what the message is about.

Voice mails and text messages are stored forever; giving you an audit trail of your business  communications.

Calls placed from GV in the US are free, and low cost for international calls.

Unfortunately, GV is only available for US customers.

What if a former client insists on contacting you?

You can make a custom voicemail announcement for a specific phone number. That client calling it, would get a message reminding them that someone else is working with their account, and giving out that phone number.

What if I leave the company?

You can simply have all of the calls go to an announcement advising your business contacts you have moved on.  And then you can create a new Google Voice number for your new job.

How do I get a Google Voice number?

In an Incognito Mode window of your desktop or laptop web browser go to
That window may be called InPrivate, or some other name depending on your browser.

Click More Options

And then Create Account

Go through the prompts to create a Google Account. You can have as many free Google accounts as you want.  So if your personal account is, you can make the one you are using while at IBM as

It really does not matter what the name is; you are not going to use that email address.  You just need to have a Google Account to get a new Google Voice Account.

Next, go to

Click the blue button, and follow the prompts.

Choose Web for now.

Follow the rest of the prompts to create and setup a Google Voice number.

Finally, search the Google Play Store, or Apple App Store as appropriate, to find the Google Voice app for your phone and install it.

You can manage your Google Voice at :

Some settings are still on the legacy Google voice at :

This is not meant to be a comprehensive user's guide for Google Voice.  There is a ton of help information and articles about Google Voice online to help you be productive.

I've been using Google Voice since it was Grand Central; before Google bought them in 2009. Since about 2006, my Grand Central/Google Voice number has been the only one I have handed out.

This might sound like an ad. It isn't. I'm just a fan.

My Pixel started playing the Morning Briefing podcasts at 50% speed

Every morning I wish my phone good morning.  Well, sort of.  After my shower, as I dress, I say "OK Google, good morning."

It then wishes me a good day, tells me the time, temperature, weather forecast and information about my commute.  It then plays the BBS Minute newscast, and an NPR news summary.

A couple months ago, the BBC came up very slow speaking. I thought it was just a case of wacky Brits. Maybe there wasn't enough news copy for a minute so they were being silly.

Then NPR's came up, also slow.

This has persisted through two monthly security updates and multiple restarts of the phone.  So today I'm putting in feedback to Google Assistant, and wanted this blog post to point at with more details then they might want in a feedback.

I know it is 50% because this morning I recorded to Audiology on my PC the full two minutes of the BBC Minute playing through Google Assistant, and then again through Pocket Casts.  And yes, Pocket Casts is set to normal speed.

If their is a speed setting for Google Assistance's playback, I can't find it. Nor can I find any other reports of this online.

Here is a 10 second sample of the BBC minute running at slow speed.

If I hear back from Google, I'll post here.

Update 8/26/2017 : The problem persisted after upgrading to Android 8.0 "Oreo". That prompted me to call Google through the support option in the Pixel settings.

The agent and tried several things,but what finally worked was uninstalling the Google apps updates (you cannot uninstall the entire app).  I then updated the app; downloading and installing the updates again, and it worked. Google Now was running, but he had me go through some steps to make Google Assistant come up. I do not recall those steps exactly and cannot find them online this morning.

Terms to improve searching for this post : Android Assistant morning briefing podcast slow slugggist half speed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

We wouldn't let our Fedex driver get away with it...

Imagine you order a critical drug from an online pharmacy.  Overnight shipping is free because it it built into the price.  And your local pharmacy can't get your specialized drug to you sooner.

The next day comes a knock on your door.  It is your Fedex driver.  He says he has your package on his truck.  "Great!", you say, "bring it in."

He then asks for $25.  "But the shipping is already paid for!" you protest using bad grammar.

"Yes," he explains, "you paid your online pharmacy and they paid Fedex, but I feel entitled to a bonus for giving it to you.  You can pay me $25 and get it tomorrow, or I'll bring it to you for no extra cost, but in five days."

Or worse, he tells you he has a private deal with a competitor of your online pharmacy and if you order from them he'll bring you the order as soon as he gets it.

That's Net Neutrality in a nutshell.

When we go to a website, we expect that website to come up on our screens as fast as the Internet and our local Internet Service Provider (think Comcast, Verizon, Frontier etc.) can bring it to us.

The website or service (Netflix, Hulu, Soundcloud, Spotify etc.) pay millions in bandwidth costs to access the internet and send it to us. That cost covers getting the content from their places of business to within a few miles of our homes.

And we pay our ISP's perhaps hundreds of dollars a month to deliver the content that last couple of miles. (higher than many other countries).  Overall, our ISPs are responsible for a minuscule portion of the trip.

But the Comcasts,Verizons, Frontiers and their ilk want the right to not only charge us for the content we want, but also charge the websites and services.

They want to be able to tell Netflix "Pay us and we'll deliver your content efficiently. Don't pay us, and we'll slow it down and your customers will experience buffering and delays that'll make your competitor, who does pay us, look better by comparison."

Even more draconian, they might not even offer a website an opportunity to pay, slowing down a website they don't like to the point of uselessness.  A website has a political view contrary to the CEO of the ISP?  Too bad, you'll never see it.  While that's unlikely, it is feasible without Net Neutrality protections.

And it's not as if we can tell a company with those bad practices "Screw you--we'll go to your competition!"  For many of us there is no competition.  Many homes in the US have only one broadband provider in their communities. Those of us with two, find they offer startlingly similar levels of service at nearly identical prices. And neither seem ready to embrace Net Neutrality as a marketing ploy; they both oppose it.

The current administration and its head of the FCC, former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai, are moving to do away with Net Neutrality protections currently in place. The changes sought by Pai have no tangible benefits for citizens and consumers, but enormous opportunities for his former employer and other ISPs (ironically some of the most hated companies by consumers in America -- you'd think we would not want to reward their bad behavior!).

How can you oppose this? How can you make your feelings known?  The FCC is taking comments up until July 17.  You can read how to best make your feelings known from this article at Mashable.

Cross posted to may Facebook account if you want to share it online.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Evernote Search

Evernote revisited a topic recently all Evernote users should periodically review :  the Evernote Search Syntax.

If you don't know about how to search Evernote using their powerful grammar, take a few minutes to read the post and play a bit with what you have learned.

It will increase the value you get from Evernote.  I'm a big advocate of putting almost everything in Evernote, but the value of the tool is getting back the notes you need.  The tips in their blog post will help you do that.

The full search grammar for Evernote is documented in their Developers pages.

I remember how thrilled I was to discover the predecessor to that page.  I wrote about it starting back in 2009.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Scripting Evernote in Windows (an updated look)

Below is a re-post of an entry from August 1, 2009.  My first ever re-post, but in my defense, still relevant.

And I've updated it slightly.

I am working on another project using Autoit and Evernote's Windows scripting engine, ENSCRIPT so have been looking at this script again, and fixing some broken links.

So, onto the old post ...

Evernote is one of those applications with a lot more power then is immediately evident. For example, Podcast #9 (June 2017 note - no longer available) debuted yesterday, and they talk about Saved Searches. As part of that, they talk about their rich search vocabulary and how they have hidden that ability in the API documentation.

Another wonderful ability not obvious until you search around on their website, is Evernote's scripting capabilities. They have one for Windows they built called ENScript (June 2017 note: link updated) , and another for the Macintosh (June 2017 note: link updated). Of course, they have their full fledged API (Link added June 2017) as well, but for a hobbyist programmer like myself, the scripting was intriguing.

Why I use Autoit 3 for many of my projects

My next post appearing in a couple of minutes is a programming project I first did in 2009 about using Excel to create notes in Evernote.

I wrote the tool in a scripting language called AutoIt.  Autoit is not generally thought of as a tool for developing applications.  I started to explain in the post why I chose Autoit, but the explanation was getting lengthy, so I decided to have just a brief statement in that post, and then link to a longer explanation.

This post is that longer explanation, and also a recommendation of Autoit for certain users and tasks.

Let's take a look at what is Autoit and why I chose it.

Look for a future, far more ambitious project being done in Autoit coming in several weeks (to a couple months--you know programming projects!)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Getting your note count in Google Keep

I've always wondered how many Notes I have in Google Keep.  Since I use it mostly on my phone, I missed this trick pointed out by Colin Bowen in a post on the Google Keep Community at Google+.

Colin wrote :
On Windows, select one note (click top-left of the note) and on keyboard use Ctrl-a (select all). With all selected there's a note count top-left of the screen. I since realized this does not include Archived, bit you can to the same with archived notes too.

 And he's right about Archives. You can find out the number of current Notes and Archived Notes.

I was pleased to find out I have fewer than I thought.

I've been a little leery about going all in on Keep, fearful I'd get so many notes the system would bog down.  Now I know how to keep a handle on my notes.

I'll have some projects built around Keep, and other tools in the works.  For sure, I'll share them here.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Automagic: Flashlight-A global variable project

With my new phone, I've been automating some repetitive things I need it to do.  Future blog posts will talk about settings I've made for different times of the day.  And a post I've already done talks about using Automagic to get around an Android Auto bug (feature?).

My Google Pixel running Nougat has a nice flashlight feature. It can be turned on my pulling down the setting menu and touching a small icon. That's not always convenient.

I was surprised there was no widget.

I discovered one of the Actions in Automagic was turning on and off the flashlight.

But how to do that without having two of Automagic's widgets, one for on, and another for off?

Then I discovered one of Automagic's Triggers can be a change in a Global Variable. When ever the value of a Global Variable changes, a flow is begun.  And depending on the value of the variable, the path of the flow can be altered.

So I created the flow shown here. A Global Variable named global_flashlight, a binary variable, is the trigger to two other Actions: Flashlight On, and Flashlight Off.

On the main screen of my phone is an Automagic Toggle Widget. When pressed it toggles the value of global_flashlight, thus triggering the flow and turning the light on or off.

Global Variables can be found in the menu on the main screen under Manage.

Download Flow

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A blog returns to its adventures in tech - starting with my new cell phone

When I began this blog back in 2008, it was a log of my adventures in tech.  The idea was not so much that others would  be interested in every one of the entries, but instead, if I solved a problem that solution might be discovered by someone else searching for a solution to the same problem.

And then I let it lapse into mostly posts pointing to my most recent column.  Recently, I withdrew the column from InsideNova.  There may be a future column for another outlet; details as they develop.

My latest post was more in the old vein. I had a problem with Android Auto, investigated it and found others had reported it.  I also came up with a work around.

I just bought my next smartphone; my fourth.  It made me think about the path to here.  I just re-read some of my posts about my first smart phone.  It was a Samsung Instinct back in 2008.

I replaced it with a Samsung S3 in 2012, my first Android phone, and then a LG G3 in 2014.  I kept the G3 longer than any phone; almost 30 months.  That is longer than most people it seems, but is in keeping with a trend of people keeping their phones longer, as Business Insider explained recently.

The LG G3 served me well. As a geek though, and a columnist, I want the latest version of Android to play with. My wife's iPhone and Watch keep me up to speed on that end of the equation.

Sprint, my provider, turned out to be the only carrier to not upgrade the G3 to Marshmallow.  What's worse, is they lied to me about their intentions to do so.

So it was with bated breath to see what Google would bring out to replace their aging Nexus phones. Phone's from Google do not rely on the manufacturer to modify the latest Android for the phone, and then the carrier to further test and modify it and push it out.

That can take a long time, if it happens at all.  If one were cynical, you'd think carriers do not want phones over a year old to have the latest version. It might keep people holding on to their phones a bit longer and not buying an upgrade.

The Google Pixel phones seemed awesome but expensive. I soldiered on with my G3.  I had a small fleet of batteries and two chargers that would charge the battery out of the phone. That was the phone's downfall.  I swapped batteries almost daily. Finally, one battery contact started to go bad.  At the end I could get a battery to make contact if I fiddled long enough. I knew I had to leave that battery in place. The phone also shutdown at random due to that bad contact. And the Bluetooth went out, something others had seen in aging G3s.

I was waiting for the Pixel XL 128 gigabyte to be available, but the LG was dying fast, so I pulled the trigger on a Pixel XL with 32 gigabytes. I'm not sorry. The 128 is still not available.  And I have 100 apps on the phone (that I actually use) and have only about half filled the phone.

What do people do with 128 gigabytes?  I don't listen to a lot of music. And my photos and videos upload to Google Photo, so other than apps and my current podcasts there is little else on my phone.  That's how I work; others might need more space.

The Pixels have a built in battery.  The phone came with two type-C USB cables and I immediately bought two more. I have the rapid charger in my home office, a cable hooked to a standard Android charger next to the bed, another in my car and the final one at my desk at work.

Turns out I didn't really need those two extra cables.  The battery is awesome!  I commute 45 minutes each way with Android Auto on, Google Maps navigating and podcasts playing. At work, I don't use the phone that much, but  on the way home I'm also calling and texting by dictating via Google Assistant. By the time I go to bed, I still have several hours left on the battery.  And I use the phone a lot for surfing.

My battery status right now.

And the rapid charger can charge the phone in 15 minutes for seven hours of use.

And the beauty of this phone most of all -- I'll get the next Android version--probably the next several.

I can't wait for Google IO in May now more than ever.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Using Automagic to get around a bug in Android Auto

I recently purchased a Google Pixel XL 32g phone. It is by far the best phone I've owned.

It is great company on my daily commute. The Android Auto app warns me of traffic, plays my podcasts for me, and lets me dictate text messages.  I've combined it with ReadItToMe so that my incoming text messages are read aloud.

I noticed on my first afternoon commute though the Do Not Disturb icon was turned on on my Android watch. At the next traffic light I discovered that Do Not Disturb was on on the phone as well.

A Google search at home found I was not alone in noticing/suffering this.  The Android Product Forum had mention of it.

People first reported this back in November 2016, so hopefully a fix will be coming.

Meanwhile, I worked out a workaround using AutoMagic.

The flow below detects the launch of Android Auto and then turns off Do Not Disturb by setting the Ringer on, and turning the audio volume up. I have tested it briefly here at home, but not yet on a commute.

Update: 3/10/2017 A link to the XML file to make this flow in AutoMagic.

Update: 3/14/2017:  I am finding this does not always work reliably. Use at your own risk.  It may also interfere with navigation.  Testing continues...

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Hidden Figures" is a must see movie.

I lived and breathed the space race when I was a kid. I was four when the first Mercury went up, and twelve when they landed on the moon. One memory I have of First Grade is all of us trooping all the way across the street to the teacher's house and crowding into her living room to watch a Mercury launch (either Cooper or Schirra).

I can't imagine a boyhood without a space race.

For all my adoration and study (I gave away a huge box of books, magazines, newspapers, mission patches etc. in late high school), I never came across the story of the black women who served as "computers" for NASA right here in Virginia.

Today, a bit late, we saw "Hidden Figures". It is an awesome movie. It is appropriate for all ages. Take your kids to see it. They can learn so much about the battle for racial and sexual equality, STEM, and yes, the space race.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Finally, Google Voice Updated!

After five years,Google has updated their Google Voice web site and apps.

I haven't seen it yet; these things roll out over weeks.  My Google Voice number is the ONLY number I give out, I'm thrilled to see their renewed commitment to Voice.

Voice is one of my corner stone apps; I would have to greatly rethink how I work if I didn't have it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Family Tech: "CES 2017 shows off possible gifts for this year" - January 13, 2017

No sooner does the holiday gift giving season end then the consumer technology manufacturers meet in Las Vegas to try and sell what they think we will want this coming December.

Yes, CES, formerly called the Consumer Electronic Show, was held last weekend.

This is an annual column, and reading past ones just underlines that we can’t expect everything we love at CES to appear. Or the products may appear and not find favor with the buying public. A couple of years ago 3D TVs were the rage.  Did you ever buy one?

Last year I wrote about the Code-a-Pillar, a toy caterpillar from Fisher-Price that taught elements of programming.  We know one family that bought one, and we may buy one soon as a gift.

Fisher-Price again this year has an intriguing device-- an upgrade actually to their Smart-Cycle exercise bike for kids. It has a holder for a tablet; previous versions required a TV. It comes with an adventure game with literary value, with others available for only $5.  Kids can play a game, learn a little and burn off some calories -- all at the same time. It will come in June or July for $150.

Coming soon to your health club are exercise bikes with VR helmets. Imagine biking along San Francisco Bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge and down into Sausalito.  On your return a setting sun lies to your right, and as your exit the bridge, a full moon hangs above the TransAmerica Pyramid.  You’ll enjoy the ride I described. I know I did many times in my 30s. But on mine, I stopped for a beer in Sausalito.

Lego Mindstorm robotics kits are meant for older kids.  Their new Lego Boost is a $160 set for the younger set that contains components that move, interact with a phone or tablet app, and can be augmented by regular Lego bricks. Kids can make up to five devices after downloading the app that provides instructions and programming for the device.

A big winner at CES was Amazon’s Echo, the voice assistant device. Both Ford and Volkswagen announced they will be integrating Echo into their cars.  This will give you the ability to give voice commands to listen to music, podcasts, books, navigate and order toilet paper, all on your commute.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Family Tech : "Life can become much easier with online services" - January 6, 2016

If you are over 40, you must have a we-live-in-the-future moment every time you Skype video with someone.  It is amazing how quickly this kind of phone call has become commonplace. My 90-year-old mother regularly video calls with her great-granddaughter, and she is hardly unique. In my experience, even the most tech resistant senior makes the effort to learn how to video call.

Now there are some innovative ways to bring valuable services via the same technology. Professionals can efficiently reach their customers/patients via online video services.

Primary among these is video psychological counseling.  Instead of driving to an office, a patient simply Skypes in and has a conversation with a therapist.  Some really like the casualness of it.  There is no sitting in a waiting room where you might feel like others there are judging you. Instead, in the comfort and safety of your own home, you are having a session with someone who wants to help you. And some studies have apparently shown online counseling can be nearly as effective as face-to-face counseling.
Online visits simplify child-care concerns.