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    September 2, 2014
    Ten Awesome Tricks Your Phone Can Do

    Smartphones are everywhere, and it seems that most people have them these days, leaving only old-timers and hold-outs like myself bucking against the current for awesome phones that do every trick in the book.  However, just because you have a smartphone, that doesn’t mean you’re using it to the fullest of its abilities.  After all, not everyone is a master with the smartphone, most people are just users.  Time to step up your game.  USA Today has a list of helpful tricks your phone can do that most people don’t know about.

    None of these are game-breakers, but the option to block calls and texts just might change some lives, particularly if you get hassled by robo-calls or other nefarious folks who tend to interrupt your sleep with trivial matters.  For the more visually-challenged set, the tip on how to make the text bigger on the phone just might spare a few headaches.  And, let’s be honest, custom vibration settings would be perfect for call-screening without having to take your phone out of your pocket and risk accidentally answering a call from someone you don’t want to talk to.

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    August 29, 2014
    MSN Messenger Signing Off For Good

    I bet you thought it was gone, didn’t you?  Once upon a time, when people need computers to chat with one another over long distances, there were a host of chatting options:  AOL/AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and the least-heralded of the three, MSN Messenger.  AIM is still around, and I think Yahoo Messenger probably is too, but MSN Messenger has long since disappeared in the United States, supplanted by Microsoft’s purchase of Skype.  However, while MSN may be gone in the US, it still has a home in China, where Messgenger lived on for years after its unceremonious dumping Stateside.

    That’s all changing.  Facing competition from Skype and Chinese-developed QQ chat service from Tencent, Microsoft is reading the writing on the wall and powering down the servers.  MSN Messenger will be signing off for good in October.  Talk about the end of an era.  I think anyone in their late 20s or early 30s remembers spending hours online chatting via various things, struggling to play games via dial-up modem, and other things that s0und like my grandmother talking about the radio, or my parents talking about black-and-white TV.

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    August 27, 2014
    Wordless Wednesday: Windows 1.0

    Image:  Wikipedia

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    August 26, 2014
    Smartphone “Kill Switch” Coming To California

    Every year, 1.6 million phones are stolen, and most of those phones are smartphones.  In a smartphone is a lot of personal information.  Everything from banking apps to emails to home security systems to car starting apps, the smartphone is the hub of the average user’s universe and to lose that hub is bad enough.  To lose that hub to someone with no scruples is borderline unthinkable.  That’s why customers, and governments, are looking for a way to kill that information theft before it can happen.  California has passed a law saying all smartphones sold in the state must have a “kill switch” that bricks the phone in the event of theft or loss.

    California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 962 into law on Monday, which mandates a “kill switch” but gives companies the freedom to decide how best to lock down phones based on their software and hardware options.  Minnesota was the first state to pass the “kill switch” law, and companies are totally on board with the concept.  Google, Microsoft, and Apple all have or will be adding “kill switch” options on their phones, though customers typically have to set up that themselves.  Under California’s new law, the “kill switch” will be set up upon activation of the phone, forcing customers to opt in or out.

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    August 25, 2014
    TiVo’s Cable-Free DVR

    With every signal-disrupting thunderstorm, I consider even stronger the possibility of cutting out television entirely.  I like DirecTV quite a bit (definitely much more than my current cable option), but that’s both irritating and a disruption to my freelance writing career.  After all, you can’t write about TV if you can’t watch TV.  However, my satellite comes with a DVR, which is a really handy tool to have when you’ve got lots of programs and lots of options all on at the same time.  Those who have cut the cable don’t have that luxury, particularly if they lean on satellite television for their local programming.

    Enter TiVo, the original DVR company, who have a solution.  The TiVo Roamio OTA DVR is a $50 DVR with four tuners designed to record antenna television.  The Roamio packs in four tuners and a 500GB hard drive, meaning you can record about 75 hours of HD television.  As if that wasn’t enough, it also retains TiVo’s streaming media interfaces for Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video, to further make life easier for the cord-cutters.  It still has a $15-per-month TiVo subscription fee, but that’s a small price to pay for a high-tech VCR replacement capable of recording four programs at once.

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    August 22, 2014
    Windows 9 Coming September 30

    The future is the tablet.  The future is the touch screen.  The future is the smartphone.  None of these things (except maybe the touchscreen) are anything like a desktop computer.  If you want power, speed, reliability, ease of use… for the most part, that’s the desktop in a nutshell.  The tablet is a go-kart; the desktop is a full-sized car.  For the moment, it can do more, but it’s also a little harder to maintain.  That leads us to the newest “engine” on the computer market, from the biggest software company out there.  Microsoft Windows 9 is rumored to make its public debut on September 30.

    Of course, that’s all rumors for the moment, but it’s coming from The Verge, so it’s a pretty reliable rumor.  The above leaked screenshot is alleged to be Windows Threshold (the codename for Windows 9) in action.  It is believed that Windows 9 will offer both programs and live widgets, and will allow for users to run apps in resizable windows, rather than making them full-screen.  The popular voice-powered live assistant Cortana, currently living on Windows phones, is expected to make the trip over to the desktop side, as well.

    All in all, it looks like a more desktop-friendly OS, after Windows 8′s attempt to marry the smartphone and desktop operating systems was panned so widely by desktop users.  Still, Cortana will be fun, assuming you have a microphone and can talk to your computer.

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    August 22, 2014
    Five Helpful Back To School Apps

    Going back to school is always a major disruption in routine.  No matter your age, your life will be interrupted.  Kids know the pain all too well, and that pain doesn’t go away when elementary school becomes college and uniforms become pajamas to class.  Fortunately, college students these days have many more advantages than I did when I went to college back in the early 00′s, and that advantage is in their pocket.  Smart phones make life worlds easier, and apps make that process even more painless.  Here are NBC’s picks for five helpful back-to-school apps.

    Of these, the one that seems like it might be the most helpful to pretty much anyone is Sleepbot.  If I had a smart phone, I’d probably be downloading it as we speak to help monitor my sleeping patterns and see if there’s any rhyme to the reason I get wake up three times a night lately.  Keeping track of my sleep debt also seems like it might be helpful information, if only because I know I owe the Sandman a lot of ZZZs.

    Image:  Little Big Details

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    August 20, 2014
    Roku’s Streaming-Media TV

    Roku was one of the first companies to tap the power of the Internet to make the home television experience more pleasant.  Everyone wants to watch YouTube videos, but why watch them on a phone screen when you can watch them on a full-sized television like an adult?  Since then, Roku has only expanded their offerings while improving their services, and this latest announcement from the company may be the biggest, and best, news of all.  Roku is launching their first line of streaming-video televisions dedicated to streaming video.

    If you want to stream it,  you can.  Cable or antenna service is only added after you request it during television set-up, but streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Walmart’s VUDU, Rdio, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and more are all included from the jump, with the bigger services (Hulu, Amazon, VUDU, and Rdio) having one-touch launch buttons on the remote.  The televisions range in size from a 32-inch model for $229 to a 55-inch model for $649 and feature three HDMI inputs, just in case you didn’t have enough with 1500 available streaming channels.  The televisions are all 1080p full HD and are compatible with the Roku app for control via tablets and smartphones.

    The sets themselves will be manufactured by Hisense and TCL, both Chinese companies, and will feature the same features with the same remotes; the Hisense models don’t have an MSRP, with sellers able to set prices.  The TCL sets will be for sale beginning in late August, while the Hisense sets will be available by September.

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    August 20, 2014
    Wordless Wednesday: Email For Old People

    From a #TEDC14 talk by MailChimp’s John Foreman as taken by @jennstolen.

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    August 19, 2014
    Verizon Tops Speed And Reliability Measures Yet Again

    Once again, Verizon is the king of cell service providers.  According to RootMetrics, Verizon bested the competition in all categories except text messages, where it came in second to AT&T.  However, the gap between Verizon and AT&T is very narrow indeed, so it’s looking like a real war of attrition between the two top providers, with everyone else fighting for third place.  Speed, performance, call performance, data performance, reliability… everything but texting was Verizon’s category to win, with AT&T nipping at their heels the entire way.

    Interestingly, T-Mobile is making a big push as well, improving its coverage in several big cities and states and making big strides in ratings from where it once lingered at the bottom of all the rankings.  Of course, performance in a few locations isn’t performance everywhere, and if you’re going to be doing any kind of traveling, Verizon is probably still your choice to get coverage in areas in the hinterlands, as well as a performance leader in big cities and most states.  Any improvement is a good sign, and it’s nice to see that T-Mobile is teaming its renewed push for customers with a renewed interest in improving service.

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