Syncing Files to the Cloud

I know that many of you use Dropbox, One Drive, Google Drive or iCloud Drive for storing files. The problem I find with these services is that they require me to change my file system.

Normally, I store everything in the Documents folder with many sub-folders. If I start using Dropbox, I have to move the files I want out of Documents and into Dropbox. Now I have to remember if a particular file is stored locally or in Dropbox.

I have found a better way, at least for me, to use Dropbox or any of the cloud services. There is a small app called MacDropAny that can link any file or folder on your computer to any of the major cloud services. This is a set it and forget it type of thing. For example, you can use MacDropAny to link your entire Documents folder to Dropbox, and then, without having moved a single file, your entire Documents folder will be synced to Dropbox and any changes you make will be automatically reflected in Dropbox. Now I can continue to orghanize my documents as I like.

The same can be done in Windows but not with MacDropAny. To do this in Windows requires some tinkering under the hood. It’s not difficult, just technical, and I don’t recommend doing this on your own unless you are comfortable with terminal commands.an

iPhone 7 and Watch Series 2

Apple announced the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2 on September 7th. There were no big surprises, unless you count Pokemon Go coming to the Watch as a big surprise.

There was no news about new MacBooks, something I have been waiting for. It appears they will announce new laptops in October.

A quick summary of the new devices is this: the new iPhones are faster, water-resistant, have a better screen, much better cameras, a redesigned home button and no headphone jack. My bottom line is this — if you have an iPhone 6 there is no reason to upgrade unless you really want the new camera. If you have an older iPhone the iPhone 7 will be a good choice.

There is a difference in the cameras on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The 7, the smaller of the two, compared to previous iPhones has better resolution and color, better adaptive technology for color correction, and image stabilization. The 7 Plus, has two camera lenses, one for wide angle and one telephoto providing real optical zoom. You camera buffs will know the difference between digital zoom (the pixels just get bigger) and optical zoom (like a real camera).

What about no headphone jack? you ask. The supposed reason for eliminating this is space. It’s a real design challenge to pack everything needed into the iPhone. Apple’s plan is that everything will be wireless. In fact, they will be releasing their own wireless earbuds called AirPods. They will cost you $159. Also, Apple owns Beats which has it’s own line of wireless headphones.

If you want to continue to use your wired earbuds or headphones you can do so. The new iPhones come with an adaptor that plugs into the lightning port (the charging port) and provides a headphone jack on the other end. The only problem that will arise with this solution is if you want to use your headphones and charge the iPhone at the same time. Apple has a history of eliminating accessories that it deems no longer necessary, like 3.5 floppy drives, then CD/DVD drives, and the rest of the industry seems to follow them. It’s a good bet that soon most headphones will be wireless but the transition is a bit clumsy.

The new Watch Series 2 (the original Watch is still available at a reduced price) in addition to being faster has two nice features: water proof to 50m, which means you can swim with it, and a built-in GPS which will vastly improve the stand alone capabilities of the fitness apps, maps and a new hiking app.

You can read more about the new products here and here.

More radical changes are coming with the new operating systems being released in the next week or two: iOS 10 for iPhones and MacOS Sierra for MacBooks and iMacs. I previously wrote about them here. When they are released, I suggest you wait to upgrade. These are big revisions and it’s best to let the dust settle before diving in — unless you are like me and just can’t wait to try the new stuff. I’ll let you know what I think in my next newsletter.

Who Kicked Over the Apple Cart?

This may be the question you’ll be asking yourself come the fall. Apple just announced major new releases for all their operating systems: iOS, OS X, watchOS and tvOS.

These new versions will be packed with changes, and given that, it may pay to wait a bit before upgrading you devices. Let the bugs be worked out. I’ll write more about this as the release date approaches. For now, I’ll tell you some of the highlights.

Cosmetically, OS X, the operating system for all Apple computers will have a name change. It will now be known as macOS, and the code name will be Sierra — as in the Sierra Mountains.

A few of the changes in macOS will be:

— Desktop sync across devices. I like this. If you have multiple computers your desktop can be kept in sync on all of them. Add a file to your desktop on your iMac and if will appear on your desktop on your Macbook Air, for example.

— Universal clipboard. Very cool, maybe useful. You can copy something on your iPhone or iPad, for example, and then paste in into a document on your computer.

— Optimized storage. You’ll be able to set up iCloud to find all the old files you have not touched for many months or years and have them all moved onto iCloud thus freeing up space on your computer. Think of it as an automatic archival service.

— Siri will be on the Mac so now you can ask your computer questions and ask it to do things for you. Who knows if it will listen to you or not?

If you have an Apple Watch or are thinking of getting one, the new watchOS looks great. Much faster. Easier to access apps and to switch between apps and clock faces. And if you are wearing your Apple Watch and using your computer, it will automatically log you in.

iOS has a ton of changes in store with major enhancements to Maps, iMessage, Photos, Siri and a major overhaul of Music. One extremely useful enhancement is voice mail transcription. You will no longer have to listen to someone’s long drawn out voice mail. The iPhone will automatically convert the voice mail to text so you can quickly read (and discard) the message.

You can find many articles about the coming changes online. Here is one article that I think provides a decent summary of the highlights.

How’s Your Speed?

Maybe not what you think. New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing Time Warner for under-delivering on the internet speed you are paying for each month. He calls their service “abysmal” and “troubling”.

If you have Time Warner, look at your bill and consider this: in Romania you can get 300Mbps for just 6 Euros, less than $7, a month. The cost of internet access (much like prescription drugs and medical care — don’t get me started) is much more expensive in the U.S. than in most of the world.

Netflix has also expressed concern that internet providers are putting the brakes on internet speed, particularly when you are streaming video. Netflix put up this site to measure your streaming speed.

If you want to measure your over all speed, check out internethealthtest.org. It is way better than the old standby, Speedtest.net. There are no ads to accidentally click on.

Pssst. Want a Tip?

Here are a few tips and tricks that I have been collecting:

How to create a good password. A tip from a hacker consultant.

If you really don’t want to upgrade to Windows 10, here’s how to stop the annoying pop-ups.

If your Mac charger needs replacing, do not purchase a counterfeit product. It is dangerous. Make sure to get an Apple charger or Apple certified charger.

Here are some Tips and Myths about saving Smartphone battery life. And you can save your battery by changing how you use Facebook.

You Taking to Me?

I am sure that most of you know of Apple’s Siri, the voice activated personal assistant that is included with every iPhone and iPad. Microsoft has it’s own version called Cortana. Google has OK Google. And Amazon has a stand alone device called the Amazon Echo, also known as Alexa.

Each of these services can help you in similar ways. You wake them up with a voice command then ask a question or ask the service to do something for you like call someone, schedule an appointment, look up movie times or maybe play some music. The list of capabilities continues to expand rapidly. For example, not too surprisingly, you can now ask Amazon’s Alexa to order things for you. “Alexa, I need toilet paper.”

Where the Amazon Echo differ’s from the other products is that it is a stand-alone device: a black cylinder with a blue light that also is a speaker for talking to you and playing music. You can read a review of the Echo here. And here’s another article about how the voice-first interface will become ubiquitous.

All of these services are based upon some very sophisticated artificial intelligence (A.I.) that for now listens to you, understands you and provides you with answers. Before too long they will become smarter than you, able to anticipate what you want and need before you even think about it. This is where it starts to get dark.

The first issue is one of privacy. If you can say “Hey, Siri” to get Siri’s attention that means that Siri is always listening to you. When you ask any of these services a question your question does not stay private to your device, it is sent to Apple or Amazon or Google for analysis and the answer is sent back to you. These companies are all building profiles on you to better understand what you might be asking and what you are looking for, and as I mentioned, to anticipate your needs. You can read about these privacy issues here and here.

And if the privacy issue is not enough to worry about there is the concern that as A.I. continues to improve it will make humans redundant. More: Google is concerned enough about A.I. getting out of control (Can you say Skynet?), it wants to build an off switch into sophisticated, decentralized A.I.

For now, however, I comfort myself knowing that when I ask “Hey Siri. Will it rain today?” the answer is wrong half the time.

Is Your Smart TV Dumb?

I have never been a fan of Smart TVs. Most hardware manufacturers are not very good at software which is why I am partial to dedicated streaming products like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV. I have found them to be more responsive with better interfaces. Now I have another powerful reason.

Samsung is beginning to introduce ads into their Smart TV stream and screen. So now you spend big bucks on a Samsung TV and they want to make more money off you by displaying ads on your TV. My feeling is that I should have a choice of purchasing a full priced ad-free TV or a discounted ad-displaying TV.

Security. Again?

Nothing scary this month. Just two things to consider.

First, did you know that it’s super easy to check your credit rating on an on-going basis. Some credit cards like Capital One and Discover have been offering this to their clients for awhile. Capital One even sends alerts if anything significant changes.

Now, Discover is offering this service to everyone. You do not need to be a Discover card member. Just go to this link and sign up.

The second item is password management. (Am I beating a dead horse?) It’s very important that your passwords are strong and that you use different passwords on most or every site. This, of course, makes it difficult to manage. There are basically two ways to do so: keep a paper book with a list of all your accounts. You can also do this in a spreadsheet but if you do so, the spreadsheet should be password protected. The other option is to use a password manager. I use Dashlane but the other two products mentioned in the article, 1password and LastPass are also good.

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.