Category Archives: Soapbox

Amazon is on the prowl: Be afraid, be very afraid!

Macy’s - Crossroads Mall, Portage, MI

This is a tech blog. Why are we talking about department stores? Because our old nemesis Amazon is on the move again.

The picture shown above was taken at a Macy’s department store in Crossroads Mall in Portage, Michigan, a suburb of Kalamazoo. The merchandise was beautifully displayed and plentiful in colors, sizes, name brands, and variety of styles. Most items were discounted, and prices seemed reasonable.

Two things were missing: customers and sales associates. It is hard to afford good help and enough of them when store sales are down.

About fifty miles North of this store, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Amazon has just signed the papers to build a new one million square foot (that’s 1,000,000 sq. ft.) distribution center that will employ over 1,000 new full-time workers.

This will be the fourth new Amazon distribution center in Michigan (the other three are in the greater Detroit area). Where will these new workers come from? Other retail, wholesale, and service organizations in the area pay their warehouse people about $13.00 per hour. Amazon pays their workers about $17.00 per hour. You do the math.

As consumers, we all love to buy from Amazon. Variety (paper diapers to tablet computers), lower prices, no state sales tax (in some states), and free shipping (if I’m an Amazon Prime member.) Amazon is squeezing retailers from every angle and will soon offer same day delivery in medium-size cities (they are already doing this in larger cities.)

I was recently in the market for Philips Hue programmable LED bulbs and switches. I was amazed to go to my local Home Depot store and find that their selection of Philips Hue items was at the same discounted prices as Amazon. I have also experienced that both Staples and Best Buy will price match Amazon prices if asked and if Amazon (not a third party) directly delivers the product.

I would like you to consider shopping locally. Ask the merchant if they will match Amazon’s price. The worst thing they can say is no.

Unless we all want to work for Amazon and shop only Amazon (can you say the word monopoly), we need to keep local businesses alive. Regardless if the store is called ”Bob’s Books” or Barnes & Noble, keeping them alive brings wages to local employees and service company’s.

Seniors: Meet Libby, your new best reading friend!

Libby digital library app for mobile devices

A couple of days ago I posted a blog page that said photography was one of my favorite hobbies. My second favorite (there are many more favorite hobbies) is reading. And for seniors, there is no better way to read than Libby.

Libby is a free software app that works on Apple and Android mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) so that you can “borrow” books to read or to listen to them. Libby is the second generation app from developer OverDrive to support digital reading from public libraries.

Of course, we all know that reading books (or listening to them) is great for seniors. It keeps us sharp, active, knowledgeable, and more. Regardless if you purchase them from your local bookstore, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble – books are expensive.

Seniors who love to read (some read two or three books a week) and live on a fixed income have difficulty in justifying purchasing books.

Sure, you can walk, take an Uber, bus, or drive to your local library to borrow a book or sit and read but why? Paper books look and smell great. But if you are a tree hugger books are made of paper and paper is made from trees. Printing inks, binding glue, and delivery of books to stores by trucks all cause a carbon footprint.

The Libby app has similar reading tools like Barnes & Noble Nook and Amazon’s Kindle reading apps. Bookmarks, type font changes, themes, lookups, highlighting, search, and page location syncs between devices are all supported.

Check with your local public library and see if they do offer digital reading and audiobooks. If they do download the Libby app from the Apple or Android app store, enter your library card number and get reading!

Say Hello To A Good Buy! Local and National TV for Just Twenty Cents a Day.

TV for Twenty Cents a day!

You might be familiar with the concept of “The Third Wave” as applied to marketing or economics. The first “wave” introduces the concept. The second “wave” is the new and improved concept. The third “wave” is the one that finally gets “it” (whatever “it” is) right.

The “First Wave”:

Introduced in the early 1950’s TV was an immediate success. The good news is that over-the-air programming was free. The bad news is it required an expensive (at that time) TV set and big and ugly antenna on your roof – or “rabbit ears” and tin foil in your living room.

The “Second Wave”:

Of course, viewers couldn’t be satisfied with only three networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC). In the late sixties and early seventies, cable TV and Satellite systems brought us over a hundred different channels to watch – at a price. The average price for cable and satellite soon zoomed upwards to around $50 a month. This was during the days of hard-wired telephone “land lines” and “dial-up” internet.

The “Third Wave”:

Today, with high-speed internet service, WiFi, digital televisions, and mobile devices it became possible, practical and affordable to use the internet for your TV viewing. The phrase “cut the cord” became the rallying cry.

Television for Twenty Cents a Day:

If you own an Apple TV or Roku streaming box and can live with just one local station and national network you can use the CBS All Access app to watch live TV on your flat panel TV for only $5.99 a month (twenty cents a day). You can also view limited programming on other apps included with Apple TV or Roku. You can also watch CBS All Access live TV on your smartphone or tablet at home or on-the-go.

The “Land Rush”:

Cable TV and Satellite are “dead” technologies. Aging dinosaurs like buggy whips. There are almost a dozen new internet streaming television services from DirecTV NOW, Hulu, Sling, Spectrum, and others that require no hardware tuning boxes. Some even provide DVR in “the cloud.” Some of these services even include a FREE new Apple TV or Roku if you pre-pay for a few months of service.

My Mom:

A few years ago my mother lived in a senior citizens apartment on a fixed income. To watch television on her 24″ Zenith Early American console TV, she had to pay $49.95 per month to the cable company (after also paying to rent the “tuner box,” the sign-up cost, and the installation charges.) Mom would have been happy paying $5.99 per month and only getting CBS – local and national. Sigh…

What happens when the computer nerd gets hacked?

Hackers are bad
Hackers are bad

I’m considered by most of my family and friends to be some sort of computer tech nerd. This means that I am supposed to know more than the average person about computer technology. So, imagine their surprise when I got hacked on Facebook a few days ago. Now imagine my surprise that I got hacked on Facebook a few days ago.

How I got hacked on Facebook

I have absolutely no idea how I got hacked. Obviously the bad guy(s) had to break through my – what I thought was strong – password. The password I’d used consisted of three joined words (comprised of both lowercase and uppercase letters), one random punctuation symbol, and four numerals. This adds up to a total of fourteen characters. Should have been safe, right? Unfortunately, no. 

It may have been easier for her/his computer hacking software (no hacker really just guesses your password) to decode my password because: 

1. I used a short phrase (e.g. “LongLiveTheQueen”). 

2. I used a popular punctuation symbol (e.g. “#”, “!”, “$”).

3. The numerical portion was a four digit combination (e.g. Such as a PIN number, or a year, like my birth year, wedding year, or birth year of a child).
 

So, what did I do about being hacked? 

Of course, the first thing I did was to change my Facebook password and apologize to all my Facebook friends for the appearance of strange Facebook Messenger texts, emails, and even phone calls from “me” asking that they become friends (strange, they already were friends)and then invest in some sort of financial scam. 

The second thing I did was to use a feature of my password manager (the software that keeps a list of my passwords) that can generate passwords that are truly random and secure. Something such as “8aE@6QQ$17+5&d”.  

This is not an advertisement for 1Password, but it could be

I’ve tried many different password managers over the years (since 1978). My favorite is 1Password. Here’s why:

1. It works on virtually every popular computer platform – Windows PC’s, Apple Mac’s, IOS (iPhones, iPads, etc.), and Android. 

2. It allows you to access all of your passwords from all of your devices with just one “master” password.

3. It synchronizes all of your passwords and user information to all of your devices.

4. Email support is extremely fast and exceedingly friendly if you have a question or problem.

5. It provides 1GB of on-line storage to securely store your documents.

6. It works with most modern web browsers.

7. It works when you are offline.

8. It has an easy to use “app” on Windows, Macs, and mobile devices (such as Apple or Android).

9. It keeps a 365-day history that allows you to restore deleted items and passwords.

10. It’s reasonably priced, at $2.99 per month for individuals and $4.99 per month for families (up to five people).

1Password keeps track of passwords, Social Security numbers, software licenses, driver’s licenses, passports, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and many other things. Their method of security is essentially bullet proof. Agile Bits, which owns and develops 1Password, scrambles your information on their servers so no prying eyes (theirs or the bad guys’) can get to it.  Check out 1Password at the Agile Bits web site: 1password.com

My family uses it so that we’re able to have access to all of our confidential information on any of our devices by simply having to remember a single password. 

Here’s my plan to remain immune from hackers 

Beginning today, I will go through all of our on-line passwords and change each to be truly unique using the random password generator of 1Password. No more using simple, easy-to-remember passwords. 

I’m starting with the important ones first (bank and credit cards, Social Security, passports, etc.), and then on to department stores, social media sites, and the rest. 

In this digital age, $4.99 per month for security is pretty reasonable, considering that most of us spend substantial amounts on computers, smart phones, and tablets. 

A final note

Secure unique passwords are only part of the not-getting-hacked story. Strong hardware and/or software firewalls and up-to-date anti-spam and anti-virus software are also part of securing your computer and mobile devices. 

Missing headphone jack? much ado about nothing!

Apple iPhone 7
Apple iPhone 7

Much ado has already been made about the “missing” iPhone 7 3.5mm audio (headphone) jack when Apple introduced the two new iPhone 7’s yesterday.

Apple claimed that the reason they removed the jack was to make room for new technology in future iPhones.  I also suppose that the jack will be missing when Apple introduces new iPads in late 2016 or early 2017.

Sure, Apple saved a few pennies and gained a bit more room by removing the jack, but they spent more than they saved by including a set of earbud headphones with a lightning connector – and also included a little device that lets you continue to use your analog headphones by connecting them to the convertor and then onto your lightning connector.

Most folks would say that a digital headphone sounds crisper and clearer than an analog headphone.  So where is the harm or foul?  You can enjoy your new iPhone 7 with the included digital earbuds – or connect your existing Beats, Sennheiser, Sony, Motorola or other studio headphones to the phone with the included adapter. In addition Apple and Beats (owned by Apple) introduced new wireless headphones that can be used with the iPhone 7’s.  And finally there are dozens of Bluetooth wireless headphones already on the market that will work with the iPhone 7’s.  

Tell me again why you are unhappy?

Early on Friday morning (3 AM EDT) I’ll be placing my order for a new iPhone 7 Plus.  Am I disappointed that it won’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Nope!

Here’s Why Image Counts: Tesla 3 vs. Chevy Bolt

 

Tesla 3
Tesla 3
  
Chevy Bolt
Chevy Bolt
 

If you were in the market for a pure electric vehicle and the cost was the same would you buy a Tesla 3 or a Chevy Bolt?  A third of a million Americans just voted with their pocket books and the answer for them was a Tesla 3.

In comparing the two vehicles consider the following:

  • Both cost about $35,000
  • Both are total electric vehicles (no supplemental gas engines)
  • Both are made in the USA
  • Both have an electric range of about 215 miles
  • Each has a different “style” or “look” – I’ll leave which is more attractive to you, the reader
  • The Chevy Bolt will be available in late 2016
  • The Tesla 3 will be available in late 2017

If we are to believe that the two vehicles are so similar (except for that “style/look” thing) why are the following facts so dissimilar:

  • In the first week of ordering availability in late March of 2016 the Tesla 3 garnered over 325,000 pre-orders requiring a deposit of $1,000 each.
  • Since its January 2016 unveiling the Chevy Bolt’s parents (GM) has projected that it will sell 20,000 in the first year.

What?!?  How can that be??? How did the Tesla 3 beat the pants off of Chevy Bolt without any struggle at all?

Tesla basks in same sort of consumer “glow” as Apple.  Its high-end design, engineering, construction, fit and finish and a reputation for overall quality are admired by owners, and non-owners alike.  Consumer Reports magazine reviewed the original Tesla Model S vehicle and gave it the highest marks of ANY car ever reviewed.

The Chevy Bolt looks like it was designed by a committee on both the exterior and the interior.  While this is the company that brought us Corvairs and Vegas, it also brought us inspired vehicles like the Corvette Stingray. 

The Tesla 3 looks like a coordinated effort of a team that believes in synergy of both the exterior and the interior of the vehicle.  The Tesla 3 interior is of a minimalist design and the cockpit dash panel looks like an oversized iPad. 

To be successful in the long term, EV’s (Electric Vehicles) will have to be more than “boxes with wheels” that are re-engineered gas vehicles with batteries.  Only “clean sheet” electric vehicles that are designed from scratch will succeed.  And to totally succeed there will need to be nationwide electric recharging stations that can handle ALL the connectors from different EV’s and not just proprietary ones from one or two manufacturers.

We need to start thinking of personal transportation as “computers with wheels.” Those with out-of-box thinking like Apple and Tesla will most likely be the winners.  Can Detroit make the change?

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.  Thanks for reading Tom Gordon’s – The iTechGeezer blog.

I’m an autodidact.  Are you?

  

A phrase that I hear often from a senior in regards to learning about new technology is “I’m too old to learn a new thing.”

That’s crazy thinking.  Most of us are autodidacts (sort of pronounced “auto-die-dact”)  What the heck is an autodidact?

A dictionary would describe an autodidact as:

“A person who has learned a subject without the benefit of a teacher or formal education; a self-taught person.” (For more information click here Dictionary.com reference).

By the way… Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Malcom X, Benjamin Franklin, David Geffen, Jane Goodall and John D. Rockefeller are all autodidact’s.  That doesn’t mean you can drop out of school – or not go on to higher education. There are simply two (or more) ways to become educated about a particular subject – formal (school) and informal (self-taught.)

Two things that as a geezer (look that up!) I missed out on in college were – learning about (1) stocks and bonds, and (2) information technology.  The first, even though I was a business major, I simply didn’t take in college – it was offered.  The second, quite frankly, wasn’t offered because it had not been invented yet!  The two Steve’s (Jobs and Wozniak) had not invented the Apple personal computer in 1969 when I graduated from college.

It is often said that the things we have the strongest feelings about are the ones that we are curious and passionate about.  For me that is absolutely true.  As a kid I was “into” CB and Ham radios, kits that let you build electronics, photography and gadgets of almost any kind.  I was always reading books like “How Stuff Works…” My dad bought me subscriptions to Popular Science, Popular Electronics, Popular Photography and Popular Mechanics.

When the two Steve’s started Apple (1976) and invented the Apple Computer I had to have one of the first ones (the Apple ][ in 1978.)  My passion for gadgets and electronics and reading everything I could on the new subject of personal computing has led to a forty year love affair (the only one my wife lets me have) with digital devices.  As a baby boomer (1946 – the leading edge of that movement – yikes I’m almost 70 years old!) I’ve got a leg up on most folks my age when it comes to knowledge of personal computing.

My point of all this is that I’ve never taken a formal high school or college class on computing, photography or electronics.  But I AM a autodidact – a self taught person who has read thousands of magazine articles, DIY (do-it-yourself) books, and Internet on-line “webinar’s.”  In addition I’ve simply pushed myself to learn personal computing by “doing.”  Trying new things by pushing buttons, opening programs, and just plain exploring the hardware and software that I’ve owned.

I’m not sure that we are ever to old to learn new things.  If we have a curious mind, and a high degree of interest about something new I think it is possible to learn about something that previously we didn’t know too much about.

As my last official “job” (before retirement) I worked at Barnes & Noble for six years. The first three years I sold music and videos.  The last three years I sold, serviced, supported and trained mostly “oldsters” (fifty plus years old) how to use Barnes & Noble “Nooks” electronic book readers.  The oldest person I trained during those three years was a 94 year old woman who had a passion for reading and wanted the immediate gratification of being able to buy electronic books that were cheaper than paper ones, and that she could do at home.  If she could do it, so can you!

My advice?  You are not getting any younger!  If you haven’t bought your first smartphone or tablet do it now.  Don’t buy a desktop or laptop computer – for what you will be doing 95% of the time a large screen smartphone or tablet will be easier to learn and to use. My preference is Apple.  Why? – read some of my past blog articles.  After you purchase a device sign up for an adult class at your local high school or library or the Apple Store.  Next go to a Barnes & Noble, Schuler’s Books, or any good bookstore and look for books about the device you have just purchased.  Look for titles like: “iPad’s for Seniors.”  Open the first few pages and look at the published date.  If the book is over 1-1/2 years old – look for a newer one (yes, things change that fast.)  Look for books with lots of pictures and drawings and not page after page of just text.  Look at the index in the back – make sure it’s several pages long.  Now after all that you are NOT going to read it cover to cover.  You are simply going to stick it on a shelf and use it as a reference book when you are “stuck” and can’t remember how to make text larger, or make text bolder or ??? (whatever.)

Last, you are NOT going to learn how to use your new digital gadget in a day, or a week, or a month – not even a year.  I’ve been using digital devices since 1978 and I learn something new almost every day!

Happy computing older person (myself included)!  You are also an autodidact – and darn proud of it!

– Tom Gordon, the iTechGeezer