Month: May 2016

Free International Calling

As summer approaches and some may be thinking or planning overseas trips, if you are an AT&T mobile customer, I have good news for you. AT&T has added free international WiFi calling. It does require that you have an iPhone 6 or newer. And you need to turn the option on in Settings. To do so launch Settings. Scroll down to Phone and Select Wi-Fi Calling.

Alternatively, when overseas, you can use FaceTime, Skype or WhatsApp to make free calls over WiFi.

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Cloud Backup Services

I’ve written before about backups. Apple and Microsoft make doing this easy for backing up to on-site external hard drives. For many of you with important documents or treasure troves of family photos it is really imperative that you do this.

For the ultimate in protection you also want to set yourself up with a cloud backup service. With a cloud service all your data is stored in a cloud data center, someplace, with strong security and multiple failsafe systems in place. These services are not fast — all your data is being transmitted over the internet — but once the first full backup completes, only the data you change is updated.

Two of the best and most cost effective services are Crashplan and Backblaze. I’m slightly more partial to Crashplan but both are good. You can read a comparison of them here. This reviewer favored Backblaze.

With one of these backup services, even if you drop your laptop in the bathtub and your house burns down, your data will be safe in the cloud.

Free the Box

I don’t know about you, but I find set-top cable boxes to be a real pain to use. The user interfaces of both Time Warner and Verizon FiOS are awful. They are clunky, hard to search, and require far too many steps and time to do some simple things, like watch shows on demand, and further,they are expensive to rent.

Up until now there have been no alternatives. However, Obama and the FCC may change this situation by forcing the cable providers to open the market to competitive products.

I am looking forward to this development. Maybe, someday soon, we will be using our Apple TV or Roku to control everything on our TV.

All About the Cloud

If you ever wondered what exactly is “the cloud”, check out the video in this article. It’s an inside look at one of Google’s data centers. I found it fascinating. It is nothing like the wisps of moisture floating in the sky above us that comes to mind when we think cloud. It is massive hardware with supporting power plants.

Most of the power requirement of the cloud is for cooling. If you have ever worked with a laptop on you lap for any period of time you know that computers can get very hot. Now image tens of thousands of them packed tightly together. Microsoft is exploring some unique ways to control heat. One such idea is to build a data center underwater. You can read about that here.

For those of you with Apple products, here’s a dirty little secret: all the data you store on iCloud, iPhone backups, photos, documents, are being stored in Amazon, Microsoft or Google data centers. Only now is Apple planning on building out their own data centers for their cloud services. You can read about their plans here.

And here’s something else you may not know: Amazon is by far the largest provider of cloud services. According to one study, Amazon’s cloud service is 10X larger than the next 14 providers combined. If you own Amazon stock, in reality you own a data center provider. It’s a huge profit center for Amazon.

iOS 9.3.1 – Okay to Update

This post is a bit late, but if you have not updated your iPhone to iOS 9.3.1 yet, it’s safe to do so. And if you have 9.3 but have not updated to 9.3.1, do so because 9.3 had a few annoying bugs.

This article tells you about the new stuff. Not much very exciting, but I do like the new Night Shift option. As you may, or may not know, most electronic screens emit a lot of blue light — and that is the light that stimulates your brain and keeps you awake at night.

If you have trouble going to sleep, the obvious solution is to turn off electronics a few hours ahead of time. If that does not work for you, then Night Shift is a big help. Night Shift, at a predetermined time, reduces the blue in your display. This results in giving everything a slightly orange hue. The Night Shift options can be found in Settings under Display & Brightness. You can set the times for when it is active and adjust the “Warmth” of the display. Warmer means less blue and more orange.

I have come to really like Night Shift. I like the softer cast at night and if I choose to look at my phone when I wake up at 3 AM, the orange cast of the screen is very gentle.

Finally, as always, it is important to keep your computer’s OS up to date. OS X 10.11.4 was recently released for all Macs and Microsoft is continuously releasing updates.

Computers, Phones and Kids

The combination of computers, phones and kids raises difficult questions for many parents. Most parents are at least somewhat concerned about how their kids use of these devices and what kinds of stuff they purposely look at or accidentally stumble upon. There is no right nor perfect answer to these concerns.

As with so many issues we have raising our kids, a lot depends on our own values, our relationship with our kids and each child’s disposition.

I will not attempt an exhaustive review of all options here, but rather some broad approaches and a few specific options.

Broadly, I think parental approaches fall into three categories:

1) No technical restrictions on devices. Speak with your kids about proper use, maybe set time limits on devices. Discuss situations as they arise. Look at their browsing history periodically.

2) Do all of 1) but add some parental controls to devices. Here’s a good article on how to do so on iPhone and Android devices. But know, also, as pointed out here, iPhone is much better than Android for setting tight controls.

3) Do all of 1) and 2) plus add the ability to spy on your kids. For spying there are programs like NetNanny and others.

This is just my personal opinion but I am not a fan of spying. For very young children it may be fine but for pre-teens and teens this sets up an adversarial relationship, and I have seen with some of my clients’ kids, it creates a situation where the smart teens view it as a game to defeat, and they usually do.

Having raised two boys, I can speak from experience about dealing with these issues and would be happy to discuss with anyone who has concerns.