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Walking around with headphones? June 12, 2023

Walking around with headphones?

Week of June 12, 2023

This is something that I honestly don’t get. This morning I saw a middle-aged man walking down the street with a set of headphones squarely on his head. Why? With all the wonderful open ear earbuds available today, why would anyone compromise their safety by wearing headphones when they’re out and about? I don’t care if they have the world’s best transparency mode. Unless they magnify outside sounds to overcome what’s playing in the headphones, they compromise your safety. “How so,” you ask? One of the benefits of headphones is immersion – being cut off from what’s going on around you. Do you really want that when you’re out walking? Sure the traffic noise can be a bit bothersome but it’s something you should be aware of at all times for your own safety. “But I can still see,” you say. Getting immersed in your music or podcast or whatever and you can easily miss that curb that’s coming up. Or the bicyclist coming up behind you yelling “On your right!” Or the car that’s jumped the curb behind you.

What are “open ear” buds? We covered that back in my column from June 23, 2022 (https://tonystakeontech.com/headphones-headsets-earbuds-oh-my/) but let’s review. Most ear buds sit IN your ears. Open ear buds sit OUTSIDE of your ears – hey don’t insert into your ear canal at all. Early in their development their sound was really inferior to the ones that insert into your ear but nowadays their speakers have gotten better and bigger and they more accurately target your ear canal so they sound more like what you hear from speakers. The two main points to them is that they don’t necessarily cut you off from what’s going on around you and you don’t have to shove anything into your ear canal – for some, that’s a painful and annoying experience.

I have 3 or 4 high end headphones and about a dozen open ear earbuds and I use the open earbuds almost exclusively. The only time I use the headphones is when I really do want to be cut off from the outside…and that’s pretty infrequently. Up until recently I’ve had to make a few compromises when using open ear buds. They all generally work well enough for music but I’ve had to use a mono earbud for phone calls because the open ear buds don’t pick up my voice very well or they pick up too much of the sound around me. Many of the lower priced open ear buds can’t be connected to two devices (e.g. phone and laptop) at the same time so if you want to switch from your phone to your laptop you have to disconnect them from one and connect them to the other. And most can’t be used to watch a video or TV – the sound is out of sync with the video. Then, of course, there’s battery life – it’s too short to allow me to use them on and off all day long without taking an inordinate amount of time to recharge their batteries.

Recently I found a pair of open ear buds that sufficiently addresses all of these shortcomings and, I have to admit, I’m impressed! They’re not terribly cheap but they’re not terribly expensive either, costing about $100 as of this writing. They’re the Lavales Open Ear Wireless Headphones available at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BYNF64NG (I get no compensation for this – I just like them a LOT). They’re light and they come with a case that recharges them.

Are they perfect? No. You can’t control the volume from the earbuds and the wire that goes behind your ear can’t be bent to better conform to your ear. But they’re miles ahead of all the other open ear buds that I have. Battery life is great and the sound is excellent as far as I’m concerned without getting into ridiculously priced high end ear buds. Are there others that are just as good, if not better? Undoubtedly, but I’ve not found them and I’m always looking. Give these a try. Not only when out for a walk but as your regular ear buds. They’re from Amazon so you can easily return them if you’re not happy. And if you do give them a try, drop me a note and let me know what you think.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope I’ve sufficiently impressed you with the dangers of using headphones when out and about and shown you a usable alternative.. Don’t hesitate to write to me if you have questions!

As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, to sign up for my newsletter, or whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI!

With the advent of this newsletter, you’ve got choices as to how you read my columns. First, of course, you can read all my columns and sign up to have them delivered to our email when I publish them at https://go.ttot.link/TFTNT-Newsletter

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Passkeys – May 30, 2023

Passkeys

May 30, 2023

They’ve been in the news recently and are touted to replace passwords. Apple and Google were the first to announce support for them and they’ve just recently rolled out their support for it. Password managers 1Password and Bitwarden have also announced support. But what are passkeys? I’ve read that they can completely replace passwords – do they really? Are passkeys safe? How do passkeys work and how do I set them up? We’ll answer these questions and more this week.

Passkeys build on some existing standards and use public key cryptography. We won’t get into the details of public key cryptography here but if you’re interested in a lot more detail, head over to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public-key_cryptography. The point is that there is no password to crack or steal. During sign up, your phone or device generates a public key and a private key. These keys are related mathematically so that a message that’s encrypted with one can only be successfully decrypted with the other. When you sign up, your device sends your new public key to the website or app and stores your private key safely away in encrypted storage. You never need to see your private key because it’s used behind the scenes. When a site or app wants you to log in, it sends a randomly generated message, called a challenge, to your device. Your device encrypts the challenge with the private key that was generated when you signed up to use a passkey on that website or app and sends the encrypted challenge back to the site/app. That site or app decrypts the message with your public key. If the decrypted message matches the original challenge then the site/app knows it’s you who’s trying to log in and grants you access. If it doesn’t match then you don’t get in. Sure, in reality it’s a bit more complex than that but that’s the basic flow.

So, any nasty person who manages to intercept your login process never sees anything resembling a password. All they see is the challenge and your encrypted response. Since the challenge is randomly generated each time you sign in, anything they intercept won’t help them when they try to sign in – there will be a different challenge that requires a response that is generated with your private key, which they don’t have!

Browsers have to support passkeys and, so far, only Safari, Chrome, and Edge support them but more will follow soon. Websites and apps also have to add support for passkeys and there aren’t a lot of them that support them right now but more will be adding support all the time. https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/apple-passkeys-iphone-ipad-apps-websites-work-supported has a list of sites that support passkeys and there is a community-driven site that has more listed – see https://passkeys.directory/.

Apple stores your passkeys in your private keychain, an encrypted storage area in your iCloud that securely holds all of your passwords and keys. That keychain is shared amongst all of your Apple devices. So, if you sign up for a passkey at eBay, you can login with a passkey from your Macbook, your iPad, and your iPhone.

Right now Google operates a little differently. Your passkeys are only stored on the device that you used to generate them (there’s talk about this changing and that Google will do something similar to what Apple does but right now, that’s not the case). Does that mean that you need to generate a passkey on each of your devices? Well, no. If a site/app prompts you to log in and you’ve created a passkey for that app/site you will be given the opportunity to login using the passkey on the device that has the passkey. Note, the device with the passkey will have to have Bluetooth turned on and be in relatively close proximity to the device that’s trying to log in. A good article that discusses all this is available at https://www.tomsguide.com/how-to/how-to-use-passkeys-with-your-google-account.

What’s the downside to using a passkey? About the only one is that anyone who has access to a device that has access to passkeys potentially has access to all the sites and apps for which you use a passkey. And that is being countered by requiring you to authenticate to your device, via your face or fingerprint, when a passkey will be used. Another possible downside is if you lose your device or it is broken you can potentially lose access to all those sites and apps that you used your device’s passkeys to get in to. Apple’s keychain means that your passkeys are available on all your devices and Google will undoubtedly follow Apple in some way. And from what I hear, password managers will do the same. Note, though, that each passkey is unique. Sure, you can generate a different passkey on each and every device so one device does not depend on another to be in the vicinity to complete the challenge.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope this helps you understand passkeys. Don’t hesitate to write to me if you have questions!

As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

I’ve just started a newsletter. Sign up and you’ll get these columns before they’re published elsewhere plus I’ll occasionally post short updates to previous columns, short news items, and various other such things. Sign up or see what it looks like at https://tonystakeontech.beehiiv.com.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, or whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

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I need more than a password? May 17, 2023

I need more than a password?

May 17, 2023

You’ve likely been faced with a prompt from your bank or financial institution or some other site to enable “two factor authentication.” What is it? Do you want it? That’s what we’ll cover this week.

Two factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is simply a way to prove you are who you claim to be by presenting two different forms of identification which typically only you will know or have access to. The first factor is usually a password. The second can be any of a number of things: a code that’s sent to you by text message, a fingerprint or a face print, or a code that’s generated by a 2FA app (we’ll get into that a bit later).

Why would you want this? Well, doubtless you’ve heard about companies and services getting “hacked” and having their client’s information stolen. This often includes user information like user name and password. If you have enabled 2FA then the bad guy will need more than just your password to gain access to your account – they’ll need access to that second factor. Some sites will ask you to provide an answer to a question that you’ve set up with them. Yes, this is a second factor but is this a good second factor? Generally, no. The site has your answer somewhere in its data store and the hacker could have easily gotten that information, too, or have gotten it from another source. So it’s much better to use a second factor that relies on something only you have, like a fingerprint or a code from a text message or a code generator.

Do I use 2FA? Absolutely! On every site that gives me the option and I will use whatever they offer – if they only offer the question and answer model (for instance, what’s your mother’s maiden name), I’ll take it. But, like I said earlier, that’s not really terribly secure. If they offer text message or email confirmation, I’ll use that. But those aren’t terribly secure, either as your email could be hacked or your phone number could be cloned. While not likely, those hacks are still a possibility. What second factor do I prefer? I prefer to use a code generator.

Code generators take a “seed” and use it as input to a mathematical algorithm to generate a code that is a one-time use code. The most common is a “Time-based One Time Password” or TOTP. That seed and the current time is used to generate a code that changes periodically, generally every 30 seconds or so. When you sign up for a TOTP 2FA you’ll usually be presented a QR code and a string of characters. If your code generator app has access to the camera you can scan the QR code; if not you can copy the characters into your code generator app. Once you have input that, the site will present you with the TOTP, generally a 6 digit code, and your code generator will present a code. They should match and if they do, you’re set. If they don’t, you’ll need to start over – the site will ask you to confirm the code and if you don’t confirm it, you will start over.

There are a number of TOTP code generator apps available. See https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-two-factor-authentication-app/ for The Wirecutter’s favorites. Personally, I use Authy (https://authy.com/, for downloads go to https://authy.com/download/). I like that I can use it on multiple devices as it allows me to synch my accounts across all of them. Note that Google Authenticator has recently provided a similar option but security researchers have reported that the synchronization process does not use an encrypted connection so I would stay away from it. Also, I would recommend that you write down the seed for each site so that you can easily retrieve it to set up a different generator app. Lastly, Bitwarden (my favorite password manager) can generate TOTPs! When you create a new site, or when you edit one, you may enter the seed for the generator and Bitwarden will generate your TOTP for you. Not only that but if you use it to fill in userid and password for a site, it will put the current TOTP for that site on your clipboard, making it that much easier and quicker to login.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope this helps you understand two factor authentication and that you will use it whenever possible.

As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, to sign up for my newsletter, or whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

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Updates on TV and Streaming May 3, 2023

Updates on TV and Streaming

May 3, 2023

A bit has happened with over-the-air (OTA) TV since we last discussed it. Ditto with free streaming services. We’ll talk about both in this edition of my column.

ATSC 3.0 (aka NextGen TV) has been rolling out across the country. It brings 4K broadcasts, better sound, reception over longer distances, and even interactivity! Unfortunately, the new standard requires a new tuner or converter – even if your TV can receive the older ATSC 1.0, unless it’s really new, it probably won’t be able to receive the newer broadcasts without said converter. There are some new TVs that are shipping with ATSC 3.0 tuners so if you’re in the market for a new TV be sure to check if it’s compatible with ATSC 3.0. The good news is that if you have an HDTV OTA antenna, you don’t need a new one – current antennas work just fine with the new standard. NextGen TV can also make use of an Internet connection to provide interactive functions like on demand content. In fact several PBS stations already provide OTA on demand content (https://cordcuttersnews.com/atsc-3-0-nextgen-tv-now-offers-free-pbs-on-demand-tv-with-your-antenna/). Some really good information, albeit technical, is available at https://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/atsc-3-0-ota-broadcast-standard-4k-dolby-atmos/.

When it comes to streaming services, did you know that Roku has a free service? It has a reported 350 live channels and over 80,000 movies. There’s an NFL channel with season recaps and classic game replays, and a lot of Warner Brothers/Discovery content – How It’s Made is a favorite of mine. There’s some newer content like Westworld as well as films from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can create an account for free at https://therokuchannel.roku.com/. Two things to note: first, you can’t watch it on your TV unless you have a Roku stick, an Amazon Fire stick or a Samsung TV. There’s no way to “cast” it – you’re stuck watching it on your phone or tablet. Second, be aware that they offer some premium content which will cost you so be careful. For reference, we discussed casting back on May of 2022 – https://go.ttot.link/TFTNT-WatchOnMyTV

Tubi TV offers the same Warner Brothers/Discovery content that Roku offers but you can cast it to your TV. There are a lot of local news channels available including WCPO and WLWT in Cincinnati as well as New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. They have cooking shows like Lidia’s Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen as well as some original content. Check them out at https://tubitv.com/home

Pluto TV has struck a deal with Walmart – if you’re a subscriber to Walmart+ you can get some of Pluto’s usually ad-supported content free. And that comes on the heels of Walmart offering their Plus subscribers a free Paramount Plus Essential plan (usually $5/month). Walmart+ has a number of perks including free shipping, free delivery, and reduced prices on fuel. Add to that the streaming benefits and it’s a pretty compelling package. Read more about the Pluto TV deal at https://thedesk.net/2023/04/walmart-ad-free-pluto-tv-commercial/ and the Paramount Plus Essential deal at https://www.tvguide.com/news/paramount-plus-walmart-plus-deal/. A lot of questions about the Walmart+ membership can be answered at their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) site https://www.walmart.com/plus/frequently-asked-questions

Sling has just recently rolled out Sling Freestream. The thing that’s kind of cool here is you don’t have to sign up for an account. But if you do you can save channels and shows. Like most of the others they have a lot of content that they rebroadcast like episodes of America’s Test Kitchen and some oldies like Johnny Carson and The Carol Burnett Show – these are available on most free services but it’s handy to have them here if you enjoy this service. They even have a few classical performances from Carnegie Hall. You can see some of what’s available at https://watch.sling.com/dashboard/home and get more information and sign up if you want at https://www.sling.com/freestream

If you happen to have a Google TV device you might have noticed that they’ve added a few streaming services to their Live tab including Tubi and Pluto TV, both of which we discussed earlier. They’ve also added some new streams from a private labelled version of Xumo Play, which we haven’t discussed but you can read about at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xumo. You can get the same content from the Xumo Play app or website (https://play.xumo.com/) but it’s handy to have it all available in one place.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope this helps you upgrade your TV experience, both OTA and streaming.

As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

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What are Blockchain and Bitcoin? April 19, 2023

What are Blockchain and Bitcoin?

April 19, 2023

You’ve likely heard about Bitcoin by now. That’s what I intend to cover this week. Not in any detail, I’m going to explain it at a high level without delving into its deep dark mysteries. Nor will I tell you how top open account or use it – if you want to do things lie that you should learn a lot more about it before indulging.

What is Bitcoin? In a nutshell, it’s a “cryptocurrency,” one of the first – and there are hundreds now. OK, so what is a cryptocurrency? Well, let’s examine that by comparing it with a bank account and money (dollar bills, etc, which are also called “fiat money” – see https://go.ttot.link/FiatMoney for more details).

Your bank holds your money in an account that you can access with a debit card or a check or by going to the bank and identifying yourself. Cryptocurrency (which I’ll call just “crypto” to reduce my typing) is held in an account, too. You set up the account with a crypto exchange. Unlike a bank,you don’t have to identify yourself. Like your bank account you’ll get a public account identifier which is a long string of characters, and you’ll use that public identifier to buy and sell things. You’ll also either be given a digital key that is cryptographically linked to your account identifier or you’ll be asked to create a password. If you create a password, make sure that it follows the guidance for creating a good, strong password (see https://go.ttot.link/StrongPasswords for some tips). In either case, be sure to record your account identifier and your digital key someplace safe because anyone who has your account identifier and key has complete access to all the funds in that account. Lose the account identifier or the key and your crypto is lost!

You store your cryptocurrency in a digital wallet. A crypto digital wallet can be a physical device like a specially designed thumb drive, it can be a software program, or it can be stored by an online wallet provider (note that Apple Pay and Google Pay are also digital wallets but they hold fiat money). You buy crypto with fiat money at a crypto exchange at the current exchange rate, not unlike “buying” English Pounds or Japanese Yen with US Dollars. With funds in your crypto digital wallet you can pay for things and exchange one crypto for another.

Continuing with our comparisons to transactions with fiat money, when you buy something with cash, the transaction is anonymous – no one besides you and the entity at the other end of the transaction know it’s happened. But when you pay with a check or a debit or credit card, that transaction is recorded and, because your accounts are tied to you, ultimately all those transactions can be traced to you.

Crypto transactions are anonymous. You’re not using a checking account or a credit card account, you’re using your crypto account’s public identifier and no one but you knows that wallet belongs to you. The seller only knows that they were paid from a crypto account with a particular identifier. Of course if you buy something that must be shipped to you, there is an obvious linking of you to that transaction but otherwise it is anonymous.

When paying with fiat money you get a receipt and that is your record of the transaction. What sort of receipt do you get with crypto transactions? You’ll get a transaction identifier. And what good is that? Well, all crypto transactions are recorded by their transaction identifier in a ledger. If you’re using a public cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, that ledger is available on the Internet and is accessible to anyone who wants to look at it. The transactions are stored as a series of blocks that are chained together – hence the term “blockchain.” The ledger is designed so that it is “immutable,” meaning it is effectively impossible to change any previous transaction, so, at any point in the future, you or anyone else can go back and look at the transaction if they have your transaction identifier i.e. your crypto receipt.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope this explanation to some extent demystifies cryptocurrency and blockchain. Some people buy cryptocurrencies as an investment. I don’t. Their price tends to vary too much for me so if I buy $100 worth of Bitcoin today, tomorrow it may only be worth $90. I haven’t spoken about NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) which is another cryptocurrency-related item. l’ll take that up in another column.

As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

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Stay on top of those deals! November 3, 2022

Stay on top of those deals!

November 3, 2022

Black Friday isn’t too far away and the gifting season is almost upon us so wouldn’t it be great if it was possible to stay up to date on deals and the prices of products that you’re interested in? That’s what we’ll cover this week. But first let me warn you about clicking on links in emails, text messages, and, well, links in general. Just because a link says it goes to a particular website doesn’t mean that it really does link to that site. And for shortened links like I use and other link shorteners like bit.ly, there’s no way to know where they’ll really take you. There are sites that are specifically made to UNshorten links. https://checkshorturl.com/ is one such site (note that I’m giving you the actual URL rather than shortening it with a ttot.link URL). Have a look at https://go.ttot.link/UnshortenURLs for details on how to verify links. In light of this advice I won’t use many short links in this column. Feel free to verify my short links before using them.

There are lots of sites out there that aggregate bargains in all sorts of categories. Some will watch a particular product for you and let you know when it’s selling for a lower price, others just have lists of sales or promotions often divided into searchable categories. I have a few sites that I like to use and I’ll cover those. And there are browser plug-ins and extensions that can see the product you’re viewing and tell you if you can get it for a lower price elsewhere. In this case, though, you should be aware that the extension will see ALL of the sites you visit, not just Amazon or Best Buy, and send that information to a site that checks to see if you’re looking at a product that they track. In other words you’re opening yourself up to MORE tracking. If you use the Chrome browser on a desktop (i.e. MacBook, Laptop, Chromebook) you can mark the extension so it won’t have access to ANY site unless you click on the extensions icon in its Button or ToolBar (read more about the ToolBar at https://go.ttot.link/ChromeToolBar including how to only show certain extensions in the bar). I’ll list a few Chrome extensions I use.

First up is my favorite price tracker – https://www.camelcamelcamel.com/. Sign up for a free account and you can have it track products for you on Amazon, complete with a price history. You can search for a product or give it Amazon’s URL for the product and it will show you the product’s price history and give you the option to track it, sending you an email when the price goes below a threshold you specify. They have a browser extension but I don’t track very many items so I’m happy just using the site.

https://www.pcmag.com/deals is a site I like to visit every so often. They have categorized the deals, deals by brand, and also have a list of all the latest deals but I generally prefer to read their Tech Deals email newsletter every day. Sign up at https://www.pcmag.com/newsletter_manage

https://www.cnet.com/deals/ shows the latest deals and can also show deals by category. It also has links to reviews, their “best” products, comparisons (called Versus), a gift guide, and coupons from all sorts of retailers. CNet also has newsletters including the CNet Deals and Promotions newsletter. You can sign up for newsletters at https://www.cnet.com/newsletters/.

MakeUseOf is a site I visit often for tech news and how-tos but they also have a pretty good list of deals and promotions at https://www.makeuseof.com/category/best-deals/ and a newsletter that encompasses everything they track including news and deals. You can sign up for their daily newsletter at https://www.makeuseof.com/subscribe/.

Ben’s Bargains (https://bensbargains.com/) is another really good site to visit for deals of all sorts. Their main page can show their hottest deals or their newest deals but they can also show them by store at https://bensbargains.com/s/ (e.g. amazon, best buy, target), by category at https://bensbargains.com/c/ (e.g.mobile, pets, electronics and tech), by brand at https://bensbargains.com/b/ (e.g. Apple, Craftsman, Samsung), and you can get alerts by keyword and price range at https://bensbargains.com/alert-manager/

Tech Bargains at https://www.techbargains.com/ and Slick Deals at https://slickdeals.net/ are two more sites that I use on occasion. Tech Bargains lists current deals on their main page but they have also categorized deals so you can select certain categories to only see those deals. They also have a search and you can sign up for their newsletter. Slick deals has categories at https://slickdeals.net/deal-categories/ as well as search and a lot of different ways to set up and receive alerts for deals that you’re interested in – see https://slickdeals.net/deal-alerts/.

I love Wirecutter deals (at https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/deals/). You can specify category and percent off but I also use their main page at https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/ for all sorts of things including their “best” products in all sorts of categories. They have a daily email newsletter which you can get at https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/newsletters/wirecutter-daily/. They also have a paid subscription at https://www.nytimes.com/subscription/wirecutter but I’ve never found a need for it.

Three browser extensions I’ve used are CNet Shopping (https://www.cnet.com/shopping/), Honey from Paypal (https://joinhoney.com), and Rakuten. The first two do pretty much what you’d expect – they inspect the page you’re on (please re-read my caution at the beginning of this column) to see if they can find a better price or coupons to help reduce the price. Rakuten is a bit different in that they PAY you to shop at certain sites. That’s right, they will send you a check! Their Chrome extension will tell you if the site you’re visiting is eligible for cash back or you can start at https://www.rakuten.com/ and click on a store. You’ll be redirected to that store after seeing how much you can get back in cash. Some stores give you 1%, others as much as 10% and others occasionally much much more. They rotate promotions which can increase how much you’ll get back. I’ve gotten about $50 from them so far.

That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve gotten some ideas for places to see and track deals and even get some cash back. Let me know what you’d like to discuss next week.

As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

Stay on top of those deals! November 3, 2022 Read More »

How can I stay current with all those sites I visit? RSS! April 5, 2023

How can I stay current with all those sites I visit? RSS!

April 5, 2023

I’ve given you links to a lot of sites over the course of these columns. And I’m sure some of those you like to visit regularly and others you visit only occasionally. In addition, of course, you have your own sites you like to visit to get news or reviews or bargains or whatever. How can you possibly keep track of them all? Sure, you can use your browser’s bookmarks or just rely on your memory but that’s all pretty hit-and-miss. And what do you do if you forget for a while? How can you catch up on what you’ve missed? That’s what I hope to address this week.

What if I told you that many sites provide a way for you to stay current, even if you don’t visit them regularly? That those websites will give you a little synopsis of each article or item, when it was published, and give you the opportunity to read the entire thing? That mechanism is called RSS, for Really Simple Syndication, and the sites provide what is called an RSS “feed.” It’s a web address (URL) that typically has “feed” or “rss” or “atom” in it and yields a special format of output that can be read and interpreted by RSS aggregators, or “readers,” sometimes also called news readers. Some examples of feeds are Marketplace News https://www.marketplace.org/latest-stories/feed/, WCPO Cincinnati local news https://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news.rss, Bon Apetit recipe feed https://www.bonappetit.com/feed/recipes-rss-feed/rss.  

These readers can be installed as extensions or add-ons to your browser, or installed on your computer or your mobile device as an app. When a reader is installed in this way it can only update its feeds when your browser or computer is up or the app is active on your mobile device. That can drain your battery or require you to keep your computer up to keep the feeds current. So, there are websites that will store the addresses for your feeds and pull new data from them periodically, holding that information for you. You can then connect to that reader site and browse through all the feeds and articles the site has kept for you. This is the route I prefer to take, personally, and I have several RSS reader sites I will suggest to you a little later.

How do you find the “feeds” for a site you want to track? Often you can just do a search for the site name and include “rss” or “feed.” That is, in fact, how I found the WCPO feed – I searched for WCPO RSS and I got a link to the WCPO site that lists all of their RSS feeds (https://www.wcpo.com/about-us/rss). Each of the links on that page is the RSS feed for the indicated type of news

As I said earlier, I recommend using an external reader service that can retrieve your new feed items independent of your computer or mobile device. You can then connect with that service and read all your feeds at your leisure. What services do I use? My favorite and one that I’ve been using since 2013 is NewsBlur at https://newsblur.com. You can sign up for a free account which currently lets you track up to 64 feeds which should be enough to get you started. The free account restricts some of the more advanced features but you have access to the basic feed reader capabilities. If you sign up for their basic paid account (currently $36/year) you also get an email address which you can use for newsletters – give the newsletter that email address and those newsletters will go straight to NewsBlur and you can read them just like any other RSS feed. No more Inbox clutter! NewsBlur has Android and iOS apps as well as a very nice web interface.

Another feed reader that I use is InoReader at https://www.inoreader.com/ – I’ve maintained a paid account since 2020 but I used their free account for 5 years before paying. Their free account gives you access to up to 150 feeds (a full list of features and prices is available at https://www.inoreader.com/pricing). Like NewsBlur you can get an email address to use for newsletters. Like NewsBlur they have Android and iOS apps as well as a very serviceable web interface.

There are many others that offer similar features – feel free to search for rss readers – but these two are the ones I’ve been most happy with.

And last, but not least, I have RSS feeds for my pages, the ones I always list at the end of my columns. These feeds will give you a brief synopsis of each column. If you want to read the whole column, simply click on the title of the feed. I’ll be including the links to these feeds in every column.

https://tonystakeontech.com/tag/tgcolumns/feed/ is the feed for the page that links to the Times Gazette and has live, clickable links to all sites referenced in the article.

https://tonystakeontech.com/tag/fullcolumns/feed/ is the feed for the original text of the column as it was sent to the Times Gazette.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope I’ve been able to explain RSS in terms we can all understand and I hope you’ll give some of the new things a try! As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

How can I stay current with all those sites I visit? RSS! April 5, 2023 Read More »

New Tech for the non-techie

Tech for the non-techie

My columns in the Times Gazette

By Me

Tony

Who am I?

Links to topics/columns, newest to oldest

Who am I?

I’ve been in tech for more years than I can count on all my appendages. While I’m a die-hard techie, I’ve never been happy with the jargon we use in the industry nor the mystique we’ve tried to cultivate. Tech should be for everyone. I started writing this column to make tech more accessible to everyone and to address that point. I do my best to remove the jargon and, if I can’t remove it, explain it in terms we all use every day and arm everyone with the knowledge needed to acquire and use the tech in our lives.

New Tech for the non-techie Read More »

OTC Hearing Aids and More AI – March 22, 2023

OTC Hearing Aids and More AI

March 22, 2023

Hearing aids can be prohibitively expensive, to the point that some people will forgo them because they just cost too much and, as a result, miss out on a lot! We talked about Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) and Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) back in my June 30, 2022 column (https://tonystakeontech.com/assistive-listening-devices-whaaaaaa/) but I have some news! As of October, 2022, you can buy Over-The-Counter (OTC) hearing aids! They are still regulated by the federal government but you don’t need a prescription and they tend to be a bit less expensive than traditional hearing aids even though they are often quite similar to them. You don’t get them from an audiologist or an ear/nose/throat doctor, you buy them from places like Best Buy and Amazon. They’re for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still not cheap, by any means, but they’re less expensive than prescription hearing aids. Instead of costing several thousands of dollars they tend to cost less than $2,000, some are much less, and some look like regular earbuds! Information about OTC hearing aids is available directly from the National Institutes of Health at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/over-counter-hearing-aids and a good overview, along with some general information such as an explanation of the different types of OTC hearing aids is at https://www.cnet.com/health/medical/over-the-counter-hearing-aids-whats-available-and-where-to-buy/. There is a wealth of sites that purport to show you the “best” OTC hearing aids but they can be a good source of information. I have gathered 3 sites which I trust

– https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-over-the-counter-hearing-aids

– https://www.ncoa.org/adviser/hearing-aids/best-otc-hearing-aids/

– https://www.forbes.com/health/hearing-aids/best-hearing-aids/

Moving on, I know I’ve talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI) several times in the recent past but there has been a flurry of activity around AI in recent weeks so I thought now would be a good time to bring you all up to date on the latest.

The company OpenAI seems to be the 800 pound gorilla right now. Microsoft has invested over 20 billion dollars in them and has brought their AI to Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.com. To review, OpenAI has a chatbot at https://chat.openai.com (also known as ChatGPT) which uses their GPT 3.5 engine. In my column from February 9, 2023 (https://tonystakeontech.com/chatgpt) I talked about GPT-3, the third generation of their engine. Well,  they’ve continued to work on it and their free version is now based on that newer 3.5 version which has improved on its ability to “understand” typed words. OpenAI has a premium service, again at https://chat.openai.com,  which, at $20/month, gives you access to GPT-4 which OpenAI says is MUCH better at “understanding,” and responding. In addition it can take images as input (hence, the reason they call GPT-4 “multimodal”). A good, mostly jargon-free article about it can be found at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/mar/14/chat-gpt-4-new-model

Microsoft has recently announced that they will be bringing AI to their Office suite (now called Microsoft 365) in a product called Copilot. Supposedly it will be able to generate a Word document from a description you give it and will be able to summarize emails from Outlook. There’s more but these two points seem to me to be most useful outside of a business environment – you can see a more complete picture from the article at https://www.howtogeek.com/879737/microsoft-365-copilot-will-add-ai-to-word-outlook-and-more/. No, this isn’t available yet but Microsoft says it will be rolling out in the coming months.

Google, not to be outdone, has announced that they’re bringing their own AI to GMail and Google Docs, to help in pretty much the same way Microsoft’s Copilot will work. Of course it’s not generally available now either but will be generally available in coming weeks.

The search engines are also getting into the AI game. Earlier in this column I mentioned that Microsoft is bringing OpenAI’s GPT to Bing. It comes in two ways. First way is when you do a search with Bing, it will summarize your search results. The second way is you can chat with Bing much the same way you can chat with OpenAI’s chatbot. It differs in that when it answers you it gives you links to the sites it gathered the information from. In my column from February 23, 2023 (https://tonystakeontech.com/evil-ai) I mentioned that NeevaAI will summarize your search results when you use Neeva’s search engine. Well, the DuckDuckGo search engine is doing the same thing now with their DuckAssist. Right now it appears to only use Wikipedia and Britannica and then uses several AI engines to make the response more conversational. You can read more about it at https://www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/try-duckduckgos-new-ai-feature-duckassist-now-for-free/

That’s it for this week. I hope I’ve been able to explain some of the recent news in terms we can all understand and I hope you’ll give some of the new things a try! As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

OTC Hearing Aids and More AI – March 22, 2023 Read More »

MagSafe for Everyone! March 8, 2023

MagSafe for Everyone!

March 8, 2023

This week we’ll discuss Apple’s MagSafe and how you can get it on just about any phone. But first, I have to tell you about Lastpass’s latest hack. If you haven’t already heard, it’s a pretty significant breach – hackers stole entire vaults of passwords so, if you don’t have a really good, long master password you’d best be served to change ALL of your passwords and also change your master password. Make it at least 15 characters long, and remember, it can contain spaces and special characters so you could make it something like “Eldest WaS=s B0rn on 05/21/94 that’s May Twenty-First!” – something you can remember. See https://www.pcmag.com/news/lastpass-hack-gets-worse-culprit-stole-customers-encrypted-password-vaults for a little more detail on the breach.

On to MagSafe. Apple introduced MagSafe back in 2020 with the iPhone 12 and it’s been included on every one of their phones ever since. What is it? In summary, it’s a ring of magnets that are embedded in the back of the phone. It was originally intended to provide a good, safe way to attach a charger to the phone to deliver up to 15W of charging to it (depending on your phone model and charger/adapter) but has since been used to allow accessories such as battery packs, wallets, car mounts, and phone grips to attach to your phone. On Apple devices, MagSafe-certified accessories can even communicate with your phone and cause it to change its behavior like changing the color of your lock screen. See https://www.cnn.com/cnn-underscored/electronics/what-is-magsafe for more information about MagSafe.

You want to put a nice, heavy protective case on your phone but don’t want to give up your MagSafe car mount? You can buy a metal ring that has an adhesive backing and stick it to your case (for example. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B096W7), or better yet, get a case that has the MagSafe magnets embedded in it! Or maybe you’ve got an older iPhone that doesn’t have MagSafe – what then? That’s right – get a metal ring or a MagSafe case! More cases are coming on the market and they’re getting easier to find.

Android users aren’t left out either! I recently got a new Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and bought a case for it and it works great! This is the case https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BT7C3FPK. Yes, it even came with a magnetic charger – many phones, including my new one, are capable of wireless charging and if your phone is enabled for Qi wireless charging (many are) you can often use a MagSafe case and charger to charge your phone. See https://cellularnews.com/mobile-accessories/qi-charging-what-is-it-is-my-phone-qi-enabled/ for lots of good information about Qi charging and wireless charging in general.

Mainly, though, I don’t use MagSafe for charging. No, I use a MagSafe phone grip and a MagSafe stand. What’s a MagSafe phone grip? It’s a little doodad that attaches to your MagSafe magnet and gives you a way to more securely hold your phone. There are all sorts of MagSafe phone grips. There’s a Pop Socket MagSafe grip, a phone ring stand, and the EWA grip which I bought for a different phone and I like it a lot! (Pop Socket: https://www.amazon.com/PopSockets-MagSafe-Wireless-Charging-Compatible/dp/B0BFJVN371, phone ring stand: https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Arts-Magnetic-MagSafe-Kickstand/dp/B0BS5G9WMZ, and the EWA: https://www.amazon.com/EWA-Compatible-Silicone-Removable-Kickstand/dp/B09ZPN2QVD.) But the one I like the most is the one from OhSnap! – the Snap 3 Pro (https://ohsnap.com/products/snap-3-pro). It’s kinda expensive and even though it’s MagSafe it attaches to your phone or case with an adhesive. This gives it a much stronger attachment to your phone, nearly eliminating the chance that it will accidentally come off the phone. It’s very thin so a MagSafe charger can charge your phone through the Snap 3. The other thing I bought was the Snap Stand which the Snap 3 Pro just snaps on to. The stand has a nanosuction base which means it will stick to your desk or table and give you a solid stand for your phone but you can remove it fairly easily without damaging the furniture. If the nanosuction pad gets dirty or loses its stickiness, simply run some water on the pad and it’s like new! Yes, it’s kinda expensive, too, but those two items make things very much more convenient for me.

That’s it for this week. I find MagSafe accessories to be pretty handy and if you’re interested I hope you’ll give them a try! As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.

MagSafe for Everyone! March 8, 2023 Read More »