Seniors Take On Tech: Q&A Forum

This section of our website will be covered by Jennie, a senior who remembers what a black and white television looked like. Yours truly is not a computer technician or expert by any means, but I love all things tech and gadget related, such as Apple portable devices, software apps, and social media. We hope to gather your tech questions and discuss topics of interest, so please share your thoughts by commenting on these posts, or feel free to email via the Contacting Us form. 

Q: Can I Delete the AppleWatch App from My iDevices?

Q: I'm not planning to pair my iPhone or iPad with the new AppleWatch, but yet an AppleWatch app has appeared on my device. Can I delete the icon since it's just taking up screen space?

A: Periodically, the Apple device's Settings app will notify you that there is a system software update available, and most of us dutifully install it onto our phones or tablets. The latest iOS 8.2 update placed a new AppleWatch app on our devices.

The short answer to removal ability is 'no', unless you 'jailbreak' your iDevice by using hardware and software exploits to get around Apple's restrictions--something that most of us non-geeks won't be attempting. Therefore, this might be a good time to look at some app management methods instead.

If you press and hold your finger down on any app, you'll note that all of the icons will start jiggling so that you are in a mode where you can move those icons around on the screen or even over to the new screen to your right or left. This lets you arrange the icons in any organizational manner that makes sense to you.

There is a dock (see screenshot #1) on the bottom of your device where you can place a small number of apps that you use frequently, so that you can access those icons quickly, no matter which screen you happen to be on. 

Notice that some icons have a little 'x' in the upper left hand corner while others do not (screenshot #2 shows that Apple's Facetime videoconferencing app does not have the 'x' but the Twitter app does). Icons which have an 'x' represent apps that you've chosen to download from the AppStore, and you can delete them by simply tapping the 'x'.

The icons which don't display an 'x' are Apple iOS system or 'core' apps which have special programming permissions, and these apps aren't available to switch in and out of the AppStore. Instead, this operating software is 'hardwired' into your device ecosystem, such as your phone/voicemail, camera, email, calendar, address book, and messaging/texting functions. Utilities like a calculator, clock, and compass fall into the core app category, as well as Apple's own software such as iTunes, weather, stocks, maps, music/podcast players, iBooks/Newsstand viewers,  and internet web browser (Safari). Recent additions to Apple's core app lineup include Passbook (for those of you who are starting to use 'tap and pay'), Health (monitoring), and now AppleWatch.

With so many core apps floating around on our screens, we are bound to find some of them not useful, but since we can't delete them, a workaround may be to 'bury them' inside a folder to your farthest screen (you can tell which screen you are on by the dot position of your screen row (screenshot #3).

In order to create a folder containing two or more app icons, you hold your finger down on any app to enter that 'jiggly' mode, and then move/place the icon for an app that you'd like to hide directly over a second icon that you'd also like to hide in the same folder.

A white border will appear and when you release your finger, a 'folder' will have been created, and the two icons you've maneuvered are now consolidated into that folder. Once you've created the folder, you can now start moving other jiggling icons into that folder.

You can change the name of that folder from whatever Apple suggested, by tapping the 'x' next to the folder name while you are in the 'jiggly' mode, and typing in a new folder title.  As you can see in screenshot #4, I've banished quite a number of apps to a folder named 'Siberia' over to my last screen, where I will rarely see it.

For those of you who have a lot of app icons or even numerous folders because you like to bundle similar apps together, a quick way of finding an icon is to place your finger on the screen and pull down, revealing the Spotlight Search bar. In this field, you can type in the same of the app you're searching for, and even if it's only a fragment of that name, Spotlight Search  should be able to display all your app or file names that contain your requested phrase, much like the Google bar for web searches.

If any of you are using file management techniques or apps that you enjoy, please comment and share so that we all learn new methods.

Q: Can I Take Down or Change My Facebook 'Year in Review' Holiday Card?

A: You can definitely change the photo and text content displayed in your Facebook Year In Review Card. As background, for those of you who use Facebook to stay in touch with the people in your lives, you may have noticed that 'holiday albums' containing photos from the past year for each of your friends have been appearing in your Newsfeed. Generally, those holiday albums have been a fun recap of significant events during the past year.  

You may also notice that Facebook has 'prepopulated' your very own card with photos, because that card will appear every few days in your Newsfeed, or when you finish viewing a friend's card, the very last window will say "See some of the moments you shared with friends this year", along with a blue colored bar that says "View Now".

If you tap or click the blue bar, it will launch the Facebook software app that creates a customized album that you can then share with your friends. If you don't want to view your own card, you can simply click the white 'X' that appears on the top left of your friend's final card page and you'll be returned to your Newsfeed.

If you do proceed with viewing your card, through algorithm programming, Facebook prepopulates your holiday album with photos from your timeline, or photos in which you may have been tagged. As explained in our Seniors' Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media blog post, sometimes these photos may not be appropriate in the festive holiday album setting, with its happy balloons or colorful confetti. The photo images might be of loved ones that passed away this year, or tragic events like a house fire. 

Facebook's Year In Review help center  

For those of you who don't wish to post a Year In Review card, simply be careful to never click the gray "Share" button that appears either on the top right hand corner of your card, or the blue "Share" button on the bottom right of the last page when you scroll to the end of your cord.

Alternatively, if you do wish to post a card after making customized changes, then you should scroll to the bottom of your card and click the white "Customize" button on the bottom left.  The app will then show you colorful 'theme' options that will create the decorations and frames of your various card pages, and you can change the prepopulated Highlights Cover Photo to another photo in your Facebook Photos section, or you can upload new photo files from your computer hard drive or mobile device's camera directory.

As you scroll down, you'll be presented with additional chronological sections where you can write narratives about various events, and change the photos shown, or upload new ones. You can also add sections to commemorate other special events that you'd like to share (but that Facebook didn't prepopulate).

Finally, if you are seeing a friend's album in your Newsfeed that you'd prefer not to see, you can click or tap the small gray triangle that appears on the top right of the post and select "I don't want to see this". You can also do this for your 'own' card which might appear periodically in your Newsfeed, even though you haven't changed or shared it with anyone.

We hope that this article will help you customize your Facebook holiday viewing experience.


Q: How Can I Get Free Digital Books and Magazines?

Q: I'm an avid reader, but buying audio and e-books can add up. Are there affordable options?

A: I've always enjoyed reading, and after the introduction of electronic devices like Amazon's Kindle (electronic ink reader) and tablets, there's more content than ever! The ability to enlarge fonts on a screen, as well as back lighting and different page background colors (e.g. sepia tones), makes reading easier for our senior eyes.

Amazon was the original successful pioneer of e-readers, and currently maintains a huge Kindle store of e-books that can be read both on their hardware devices or your own tablet/smartphone using the Kindle software app. If you own one of the Kindle devices and have an Amazon Prime expedited shipping subscription ($99 annual fee), Amazon has a lending library where you can borrow one e-book per month for free (the extensive selections include New York Times listed bestsellers). I usually like to browse the Amazon Kindle book reviews to get other reader perspectives, but will end up getting a lot of free content through other sources. 

If you have a tablet, it's usually supported by a manufacturer (e.g.. Apple, Google Android, Kobe), and those companies maintain digital stores.

For example, Apple devices have the AppStore, iTunes, iBooks, Newsstand, iTunes University and Podcast apps, all of which can provide free content with a bit of searching. Our first screenshot is a recent listing of iBook free offerings, including e-books and comic books for the grandchildren, that you can download and read right in your iBooks app on the iPad.

Another great source of free books is of course, your local municipal library. Our Hawaii State Library is affiliated with the "Overdrive" system, so once you've downloaded the Overdrive software app onto  your device, you can specify your local library if they are a member, as well as input your library card number and other account details. From there, you can then browse your library's inventory of both e-books and audiobooks (great for listening during a commute or errands).

Our state system has the digital rights to a large selection, including multiple copies, so the trick here is to use the Overdrive filters to locate your favorite authors or topics. As demonstrated in this screenshot, I've asked the app to show me books on "Pets", and to only show me the titles that are available to be borrowed now. Small icons tell you whether the book is an audio one or an ebook for reading on your tablet. You can also view 'All Titles', and if someone else already has it out, you can put yourself on a waiting list and you'll be notified by email when the item is returned so that you can log on and borrow it at that time. 

Your local library may also have a great supply of digital magazines that you can borrow via another affiliated system called "Zinio".  It'll take setup effort to download the Zinio app which is used to view magazines on your tablet, as well as to activate your library's Zinio account from which to browse and borrow titles, but once you get both accounts set up, you may be surprised at the number of titles that you can borrow. Here are screenshots of our local library's magazine inventory. As you can see, not only are there a lot of titles, but you can also borrow back issues of a particular magazine (e.g. all available issues of Apple Magazine).

Finally, for those of you who enjoy audiobooks, you may want to consider listening to podcasts, which are shorter in length, so that the entire episode can be finished during a walk or supermarket trip. Your tablet will typically have a podcast app already provided, or you can install third party players such as Downcast or Stitcher.

Here's a glimpse at the Apple iTunes top podcast chart. The trick to an enjoyable podcast experience is finding the shows that you relate to. My personal favorite is the 'Satellite Sisters', a podcast by five biological sisters chock full of hilarious and poignant anecdotes from their personal and professional lives. There are recreational podcasts, so that you can be immersed in a fan discussion of your favorite TV show (e.g. Shark Tank, Lost) or a radio or news show (e.g. NPR, 60 Minutes).

Podcasts are also a useful learning tool. For example, if you're trying to figure out a particular software program, gain some knowledge on autism, or get cooking tips, to name a few, you can bet that there is a podcast for your topic. Once you find a good series with personable moderator(s) and guests, you can subscribe to the podcast to get new episodes as they're released. 

Hope that this summary gives you a lot of enjoyable reading and listening material throughout the holidays and the new year! Do you have other favorites and recommendations? Please share them in the comments section.


Q: Can I Better Organize My Gmails?

A: Nowadays, instead of receiving photo attachments from the kids and daily humor via email, we might turn to our family and friends’ social media sites. However, email is still an important part of the non-public communication process, and most of us at some point have set up a free email account. 

Webmail providers include Yahoo, Microsoft’s Hotmail, and AOL, so your email address might read ‘’. Alternatively, you may also be getting your email through your internet service provider (ISP), so your address might be ‘’ if you’re using cable’s Road Runner service, for example. 

Webmail is advantageous because you can have all your emails synchronized in one place (even if you later change your ISP) and retrieve/send from any device that can access the internet. One of the most popular webmail providers today is Google with its Gmail service. Google’s email system is so powerful that your ISP may be using it within its own brand. For example, customers using Clearwire DSL service are assigned an email account name ending in ‘…’, but Clear’s email service is really hosted by Gmail.

Now ten years old, with 425 million users, Gmail has a huge array of features, and because of Google’s vast resources, Gmail users enjoy one of the best spam filters provided today. Google gives you 15GB of storage which should be enough for you to go years without deleting any of your emails. However, given the high amounts of transmissions that flow into your box, you might find some of the following tools and methods useful:

Filtering – Gmail ignores the period symbol ‘.’ in email addresses, as well as anything after the ‘+’ symbol before the ‘@’ sign. As an example, let's say that your email address is: However, emails that are sent to or will also arrive in your mailbox. 

Therefore, if you must give out an address to a marketer, you might want to use, and then a month later, you can filter all incoming emails by that name and delete them. As another example, if you sign up to receive AARP’s monthly newsletter via email, by providing the ‘janedoe+AARP’ address, you can easily filter all newsletter emails from that source and place them in a separate folder. With both of these methods, you can also get an idea if the party that you originally provided the 'special' name to is sharing your email address.

Searching – You can input keywords in the Gmail search bar, for example ‘seminar’, and Gmail will list for you all the emails which contain that word. You can sort your emails, e.g. by recipient name or sent date, to look for specific transmissions. 

Organizing – As shown in the above screenshots, Gmail desktop settings let you control your email experience. By clicking on the “Gear” icon on the top right, you can customize your Gmail interface, such as the Gmail left column to show only desired boxes. Different display themes are available, as well as additional selections of stars and symbols which you can use to tag and color code different emails (e.g. red star for important family emails) making them easier to sort and group them together.

Using utilities – Within the “Gear-->Settings” menu, there are interesting “Labs” where experimental features are available. One “Labs” function that’s greatly useful is “Undo Send”. By ‘enabling’ this mode in “Labs” and specifying my ‘Undo’ time length to 30 seconds in the "Gear-->Settings-->General" menu, I now have the luxury of clicking ‘Send’, and when the ‘Your message has been sent’ status appears, I have up to 30 seconds to click the ‘Undo’ function so that the email appears back in the draft folder without being sent, for further editing. This is useful when you realize that you’ve forgotten to include an email attachment at the very moment that you click ‘Send’.

Another useful utility app is the “Offline” mode which you can install from the “Gears-->Settings” menu. Once this is installed, you can compose emails offline, and then the next time you connect/sign onto the internet, your offline emails are sent off.

Google’s goal is to ‘smarten up’ the way that we all use email. The current default Gmail Inbox categories are ‘Primary’, ‘Social’, and ‘Promotions’, and as your emails come in, Google attempts to sort the transmissions into these categories in order to make your review easier.

In future postings, we’ll address other upcoming Google enhancements, such as their separate Inbox app that's now being beta tested, as well as security concerns like protecting your password and maintaining email backup systems.


Q: Is Twitter Something That I Might Be Interested In?

A: In my experience, a lot of seniors haven’t embraced technology, but nevertheless they’ve resigned themselves to receiving and sending text messages. They realize that their children and other family members find it convenient and non-disruptive, unlike a phone call while one is driving in traffic. It’s a short quick way to keep in touch or pass on information, without having to log into email or retrieve voicemails, and always handy since texts appear on one’s mobile phone.

I think of Twitter as the global text messaging system of social media. Twitter has been a publicly traded company since late 2013. You’ve probably seen their brand logo with the cute blue bird. There are currently 280 million Twitter users, sending 500 million ‘Tweet’ messages worldwide daily. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters, so messages are brief.

You can read public tweets on the Twitter website, but in order to send tweets, you’ll need to create an account and choose a username which will be preceded by the @ symbol (for example, @johndoe). During the setup process, you’ll also install the Twitter app on your mobile device, from which you can send/receive/view tweets.  

Like Facebook, you will decide which individuals and organizations you wish to ‘follow’, and after a while, other people will become your ‘followers’. You will see the tweets of the people you follow in your Twitter Timeline (similar to the Facebook News Feed), and when you send tweets, your followers will see them. You can also ‘retweet’ public tweets that you find interesting (like Facebook’s sharing) or ‘favorite’ (aka like) tweets, and you can send ‘directed tweets’ to specific Twitter users.

Now, why would you want to become involved with messages to and from total strangers? Well, in the case of celebrities, following one is like choosing to be part of his or her audience. Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates seem to be prolific daily tweeters, Apple’s Tim Cook not so much (only 105 tweets in a year). 

Some of these celebrities respond to directed tweets. If your favorite politician, scientist, journalist, you name it, are active Twitter users, wouldn’t it be interesting to be in the pipeline for their thoughts and comments?

As expected, companies use their Twitter accounts for marketing and making product announcements. However, businesses also ‘listen’ to the Twitterverse (aka Twittersphere). There have been cases of Twitter users complaining about a product or service on Twitter, and then being contacted by the retailer to resolve their issue, because corporations care about what is being said in the Twitter public forum.

Lastly, I use the Twitter Timeline for ‘breaking news’. Because tweets are short bursts and readily sent through a variety of platforms, they’re hard to suppress, even by governments. Thus, in countries where conventional news outlets can’t broadcast, tweets become an informal commentary on current events. Locally, we’ve viewed tweets providing hurricane news, or bad traffic conditions, in real time.

Despite the 140 character limitation, when users have a longer message to deliver, it can be easily done by including a shortened URL link. For example, when Bill Clinton comments on an event organized by his foundation, a link is included to an article on that activity, which you can further view for the ‘full story’ beyond the short tweet message. Photos can also be shown in your tweet. Note, however, that the link to a website or your photo file will ‘use up’ some of your 140 character allowance per tweet.

You can make your tweet’s topic searchable with ‘hashtags’, which are a phrase preceded by the # symbol. Anyone can then search for the #phrase and see many tweets about that particular topic. When one is in the mood for some light reading, you can also browse the ‘Trending Now’ topics.

Are you now curious enough about Twitter to try it?


Q: Are There More Interesting Ways to Use Facebook?

A: Facebook has more than 1.3 billion monthly active users, so chances are that you are one of them. Perhaps some of you are casual users, occasionally posting, sharing, and checking to see what your friends and family might be up to. Others may be more active, using their Timeline as a journal of activities and a diary of thoughts and feelings, defining themselves for their friends.

Businesses can use their Facebook page as a way of marketing their services/products and giving their customers information about events, discounts, etc. Communities set up group pages to serve as a bulletin board. Organizations have pages to spearhead their causes, whether it’s shelter pet adoptions or fund raising events.

I’ve noticed that more recently, as I visit websites, I’m given the choice to log in using my Facebook account, in order to interact. Practically every site has social media buttons so that you can ‘share’ or ‘like’ content.

This means that all of your internet activities, interests, and likes are assimilated into Facebook’s algorithms. Facebook doesn’t care about you individually, but they do want everything about you to be registered in their database. 

This may sound alarming, but it’s no different from store loyalty cards. I don’t mind running all my Safeway purchases through their membership card, because the store uses that data to give me coupons for things that I’m interested in buying. Thus, the ‘deal’ that I have with Facebook is that I give it information that I am willing to share, and in return it gives me better directed content and targeted ads which I’m free to ignore.

These two screenshots give you an idea of how I personally like to use Facebook. Most functions are accessed through the control panel (#1). Using the search bar (#2), I can bring up Facebook pages relevant to what I’d like to do: If I want to see the store hours and sales for my favorite pet shop, I’d go to their Facebook page. If a hurricane is imminent, going to a local news outlet will give me ‘official’ information as well as postings from their audience. 

Normally, I'm careful about how many pages to 'like', because the more that you follow through liking, the more content will flow into your News Feed (#3). I’d rather go out and get the information that I want, rather than have an overwhelming stream pour in, especially since that puts Facebook in a position of figuring out what to show me in that News Feed, i.e. if there are 1,000 options, Facebook is only going to show 30 in my Feed. Your outside website ‘likes’ and ‘logins’ also impact what flows into your Feed. A good compromise is to 'like' the pages that you support, but realize that it's statistically impossible for Facebook to show you all posts, so visit the pages that you're interested in now and then, to catch up.

Another driving force of what comes into your Feed is the Groups that you are a member of (#4) and whether you’ve classified your ‘Friends’ into the Facebook categories of “Close Friends”, “Family” and “Acquaintances” (#5). Here, the suggestion is that you not take these categories literally. The postings by your “Close Friends” and “Family” will take priority over those from “Acquaintances”, so if you have a prolific aunt who posts ten times a day versus a casual co-worker who puts up insightful items that you always want to catch, you might consider classifying your aunt as an “Acquaintance” and your co-worker as a “Close Friend” even if that’s not the case in ‘real life’. 

Also, you can eliminate things you don’t want to see in your Feed by consistently clicking the drop down arrow on the top right corner of posts and choosing ‘I don’t want to see this’ or ‘Hide all’ from a particular poster. You can ‘Unfollow’ certain Friends without the potential drama of unfriending someone. After I did this type of filtering, I no longer see game play requests in my Feed, as an example.

With the moves that Facebook has made, it appears that they would like you to ‘live in’ their ecosystem; they’d like to get to a point where there’s no reason for you to ever leave their website or app. If you want to search for something, they’ll give you a search bar (powered by Bing), no need to go out to the Google website. You’ll see content from your ‘followers’ and vice versa, so why work with Twitter and their 140 character limitations. 

Instead of visiting blog and news sites, you can see all the ‘Trending Now’ topics right on your Facebook news feed. If instant messaging is what you desire, then they have an app for that too, along with all the gaming that you might want—Farmville was born on Facebook. There are Twitter and Pinterest 'apps for Facebook', so that your friends can view your Twitter or Pinterest posts once you've linked them to your Facebook account, without actually going out to those sites. 

Whether one 'goes along' with Facebook's vision or not is up to each individual. I do find it remarkable that no two News Feeds are exactly alike. Because of the data amassed by Facebook, the power of algorithms can provide you with a good content aggregator, as long as you take the time to ‘train’ Facebook to serve your personal interests. If you're an active Facebook user, I hope that you'll be able to customize your page a bit more after reading this article.


Q: What Is Cord Cutting and What Are My Options Afterwards?

A: Cord cutting is a popular term describing the consumer movement away from traditional cable services. For those of you who enjoy your local news, tons of sports via ESPN, PBS shows, and have finally gotten the hang of recording regularly scheduled programming on your DVR/TIVO, 'cutting' that cable cord may not be for you. For the rest, cord cutting may result in one of the following structures.

Bare bones: For some of us on fixed incomes, eliminating cable may have become a financial necessity. After all, decades ago, people just watched broadcast TV in their homes for free, with rabbit ear antennas and networks putting out content and commercials each evening. Stations would go off the air late night and resume broadcasting in the early morning starting with the national anthem. 


Since 2009, analog signals were replaced with digital feeds, but you can still get free 'over the air' programming by investing in a digital antenna/box (similar to the 'rabbit ears' setup). Inputting my residential address to a website like tells me that I can receive almost 20 stations by using a set top box antenna, and if I had the DIY knowledge to install a rooftop antenna, another half dozen stations are possible. Another website,, provides a wealth of information on antennas.

If you have a DVD player, local libraries may have a nice DVD collection; ours charges $1 for borrowing each DVD. An entire season of your favorite TV show usually fits on 3-6 DVDs, so you can view one to two dozen episodes, depending on the show, for $3-6. Of course, you'd be viewing older seasons on DVD, and sometimes out of sequential order if someone else has borrowed a disk out of the set.

Meal: A second category of cord cutters are those looking to decrease their total monthly budget from the typical $100-150 cable bill to around $75. This may mean negotiating with your provider for a plan which provides only internet data access. Depending on your location, this type of plan might be provided by a 'dish' satellite company, 'DSL' or 'fiber' telecommunications (cellular) carrier, or 'cable' via conglomerates like TimeWarner or Comcast (which might include some 'basic' stations with that package).

Once you have internet access that is hopefully 'unlimited' and fairly speedy, you can stream TV shows and movies to video playing devices such as your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

A glance through the Apple App Store tells me that the ABC, A&E, CBS, CW, History Channel, Lifetime, NBC and USA networks all have apps from which you can 'on demand' view full length episodes of selected shows. Some networks will give you certain older episodes for free, but charge you a monthly subscription fee to see entire seasons or the most recent episode. A lot of these apps seem to stream video to U.S. viewers only.

Additionally, there are websites available through desktop and laptop internet browsers that provide no-cost movie and TV show content, such as the 'free' version of Hulu.

Fine dining: Finally, there are those who have cut their cords not necessarily for financial reasons, but to better personalize their viewing options through 'a la carte' offerings, and/or to make a point to cable monopolies providing overly expensive packages and poor customer service.  When you add up all of the options below, your overall cost may end up being similar to your currently bloated cable bill, but you'll have more flexibility and control.

First, with a high-speed internet data plan and home media hardware (TV, speakers), you can hook up little set top receiver boxes, such as Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire players. All of these boxes will stream onto your TV the internet content provided by common providers such as Netflix and HuluPlus (the 'premium' version), while various players will offer different content. If you already own a large video collection purchased through Apple's iTunes Store, then the AppleTV box might be your preference. If you have Amazon's Prime Service, the Amazon Fire player may be a better choice. If you like YouTube videos, make sure your box selection accommodates that platform. Google's Chromecast is useful for 'casting' content from your mobile device onto your big screen TV. The prices and features of these boxes vary, so you'll need to do some research on which one(s) best meet your needs.

Finally, you'll add on your monthly subscriptions, including HuluPlus for $8 a month (mobile device streaming, Korean dramas, and full TV seasons), Netflix for $9 (movies, TV seasons, documentaries), and/or Amazon Prime (where your annual $99 membership fee for expedited shipping includes free video streaming offerings, go figure).

With so much available content, hardcore TV addicts have started to 'binge watch', for example, an entire past season of their favorite show over a single weekend, yikes! As cord cutting becomes more predominant, content providers are starting to create their own productions, such as Netflix's 'House of Cards', in order to entice viewers to their service. Even HBO, who has been sensitive about alienating their decades old cable partners, recently announced that they'll provide standalone subscriptions next year, though pricing was not specified. 

We're interested in seeing how long it'll take before the 'new' medium is commonplace, and whether Netflix and HuluPlus' original programming will generate buzz and Emmy awards.


Q: How Can I Do More Specific Google Searches?

A: Whenever I need to research anything, I usually use the Google search engine, even though there are other alternatives, such as Microsoft's Bing. I like the simplicity of the Google search page (linked here). All of us have typed keywords into the search bar and then clicked through the various results to get information. However, here's a few more in-depth ways to search.

For example, if I input the search phrase "puna lava flow" in the Google search bar, I'll bet that Google will come up with a lot of resulting articles on the last big Kilauea volcano lava flow in 2008, as well as the current 2014 lava stream that is slowly advancing towards residential areas on the Big Island.

If I would like to see results only for the current 2014 lava flow, I can click on the "Search Tools" menu icon on the top right of the Google search results page, and then select from the first drop down menu some additional time filters. Google will then show results for either the past "Hour", "24 Hours", "Week", "Month", "Year", or other "Custom Range" of time. This way, I'll only see the most recent web articles (e.g. for the 'past week') for my search subject., rather than from 'any (and all) time'.

Secondly, Google also has an "Images" menu icon, so if I select that in lieu of the "Web" filter, my search results will give me lava images to review, rather than web articles. Similarly, if I specified "Videos" on that menu row, I can now see search results for lava flow videos from YouTube, Yahoo or Fox News, etc.

If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, the Google engine allows you to search by inputting an image rather than typing in a phrase. On the top right corner of the Google search page, you'd click on the "Images" icon.  As demonstrated below, your search box will now be in the Google "Image" mode, and there is a camera icon to the right of the search box. 

Click on that, and then select the "Upload an Image" icon. In the above example, I uploaded from my computer local drive a photo JPG file of a red Hawaiian hibiscus flower. As you can see from the above screenshot, Google has taken my photo and found some web posts where we've used that picture on our website, as well as a few other websites that use a different red hibiscus. Google also shows me other similar images of the same subject.

This image search feature is useful if you need to match something visually. For example, a friend of ours recently broke a coffee mug bearing a Wyland whale image, but she had a digital photo of the cup. By doing a Google image search with that photo JPG file, we could locate similar mugs on eBay. 

Hope that you've found these techniques interesting. Google is a robust search engine, so these methods are probably the tip of an iceberg, but it's a nice start!


Q: What is the Cloud and How Can I Use It?

A: In the 'old days', we'd each have a desktop or laptop computer, where we'd install software programs to run applications such as word processing or spreadsheets, and our work would be stored right on that computer, aka your 'local drive'.  If your drive was damaged, you'd lose your files, or if you wanted to work on the same project at home and at work, you might need to transport files between two computers using a portable diskette.

Nowadays, with individuals on the go all the time, and families spread out geographically, 'cloud computing' is the mobile solution. Conceptually, everything that you create on a device, such as taking a picture with your smartphone, or writing an email on your tablet, or setting up a spreadsheet on your laptop, can all be stored 'up to the cloud in the sky', and then pulled back down onto another device when you are somewhere else.

This type of cloud computing has many advantages. You don't need to worry about running out of space on your 'local drive', because a lot of your files can be stored in the cloud. You have a 'backup' of your data and photos off-site in the event something happens to your 'local drive'. A lot of your files are wirelessly synchronized to the cloud, so you can view and change your data on various devices in different places, as long as you can get an internet connection to the cloud.

However, there are also drawbacks. Because operating in the cloud has become so effortless, you may not always be paying attention to what is being automatically synced from your devices to the cloud. You may think that your photos are being backed up, or that your private address book is not. Note that unless you check your 'settings' and coordinate these activities, the cloud might not be working for you in the way that you expect.

Also, the cloud has varying degrees of security, so you would hardly want to store your banking information, passwords, or private photos in the 'insecure' areas of the cloud. This brings us to questions of where is the cloud and who runs it?  Technically, the cloud is really a network of remote computer servers 'hosted' on the internet and used to store your data. Different companies pay for and run server 'farms' to accommodate their customers.

For example, if you use Gmail, then your emails are being stored in Google's cloud. If you use Apple iPhones and iPads, your texts, address book, photos and many other things are being synced to Apple's iCloud. If you buy a movie video from Amazon, you are streaming it from servers maintained by that company. Thus, there are many clusters of technology clouds globally, some larger than others, just like the real clouds! 

Hope that this article was helpful. Tech has made things better, but not necessarily easier. 


Q: What Can I Do About My Phone's Battery Life?

Q: I was stuck in traffic the other day with my smartphone battery down to 10%, but I was waiting for an important email. Is there anything I can do to save battery life when I'm not near a charger?

A: As a temporary quick fix, I usually switch my phone to 'airplane mode', which disables your device from transmitting signals (functions that use up battery life). When your phone is in airplane mode, you can't receive calls and texts, and the phone no longer sends/receives wifi or bluetooth signals. After all, if your phone shuts off at 0% battery, you'd be in the same boat, so you've nothing to lose.

Then, when you're in an area where you can check your phone, you'd switch off airplane mode which lets you quickly check your voicemails, texts, and emails, and then you can go back into airplane mode until your destination which hopefully has a charger. Another way of saving battery life is to dim your screen brightness; on Apple iPhones, this function is quickly reachable in the swipe up control panel, even in the locked mode.

If low battery life is an ongoing concern, you may want to keep your phone's wifi and bluetooth turned off, so that it's not constantly looking for wifi hotspots or bluetooth devices to pair with. You can set your phone to manually "pull in" your emails and notifications at the times when you want to check them, rather than having these items automatically "pushed" to your phone at timed intervals, since every time the phone checks for new emails, it's using up battery life.

Be sensitive to apps that use up battery life. GPS functions for location services, like Google Maps, will drain your battery. You can check the battery usage of each app on your phone. On iPhones, you'd go to "Settings-->General-->Usage-->Battery Usage" and a list like this will appear.  For apps that run in the background, you can minimize their usage by going to "Settings-->General-->Background Refresh".

Finally, if you're a road warrior, extra hardware such as car chargers may be the long term solution. Android phones usually have swapable batteries, so carrying an extra charged lithium ion will help. Apple device batteries are hardwired, but there are chargeable phone cases, such as the Mophie power pack, that can give additional juice to your thirsty device.


Q: Will New Technology Make Credit Card Payments More Secure?

Q: My credit card had to be re-issued because of the Home Depot security breach; are there newer payment systems that will be more secure?

A: In light of the JPMorgan, Home Depot, and Target security breaches, President Obama recently signed an executive order encouraging movement towards chip-and-PIN technology in 2015. This will work concurrently with law changes already in place that will shift the burden of fraud liability to the merchant or bank that has not invested in new technology.


This means that at some point soon, most of us will need to start paying for merchandise at stores or online using different systems. Most likely chip-and-PIN smartcards will replace our current credit cards that have the 'magnetic strip and security code' on the back.  With the new cards, the merchant's reader will connect with a chip embedded in your card, prompting you to enter a PIN to complete the purchase. This process is encrypted and therefore is more secure.

A more interesting skirmish is breaking out over 'tap and pay' systems, where the consumer can touch the merchant's reader with a device to make payment. Remember the battle between VHS and Betamax as to which video technology was more superior? Ironically both are now obsolete.

In one corner, we have "CurrentC" developed by MCX, a company organized by retailers including Walmart.. This system uses QR codes to make payment. You'd sign up with CurrentC, register your bank account for ACH debiting and download their app onto your smartphone.

At the cash register, you'll either use your phone to scan the QR code generated by the store for your purchase approval, or the cashier might scan the QR code on your app to apply frequent buyer rewards or coupons. To make purchases without scanning (for example, at the gas pump), the app might generate a PIN code for you to enter into the merchant's system.

This system is favored by retailers as their way of saving the 2-3% cost of working with VISA/Mastercard, and does not require replacing existing point of sale machinery. Thus, merchants like Walmart, Best Buy, CVS and Rite-Aid are currently declining to work with other tap-and-pay solutions in favor of CurrentC.

This brings us to the new contender, ApplePay. The latest Apple devices come with TouchID, a fingerprint reader, as well as a NFC antenna, enabling consumers to simply point their phone near a merchant's machine and place a finger on TouchID to approve the payment. When you register your bank card with ApplePay, a unique number is assigned, encrypted, and securely stored in a dedicated chip inside the Apple device (not on Apple servers). The device number, along with a transaction-specific one time code, is used to process your payment. The consumer enjoys convenience and security. 

However, only about a dozen large banking institutions are on board at ApplePay's launch, so you may not be able to register your card until its bank joins their system. Merchants need to invest in infrastructure, since they'll need to replace their checkout hardware. Target, Whole Foods, and Macy's are included in ApplePay's current group of participating retailers.

Initial pundit reaction is that CurrentC is geared towards its merchants' goals, with its ability to circumvent the VISA/MC charges and track of its customer purchases, while NFC systems like ApplePay and GoogleWallet focus more on consumers' anonymity, convenience and security.

We'll be watching with interest as to which system wins out, as consumers vote with their buying habits. I wonder how many people will throw up their hands and switch over to using cash currency.