Author Archive

Farewell Friday

Posted May 18, 2017 By Mom

This is normally my weekly slot to run Freebie Friday, but I’ve got an announcement: for me, today, it’s Farewell Friday.

 

Thanks Goodbye Good Luck

 

I’ve been running this site since the beginning of 2013 and while the audience for it grew respectably at first, traffic eventually flattened out and nothing I’ve tried to improve the situation has worked. Unfortunately, I can no longer justify the monthly time commitment, hosting and registration fees, email subscriber service fees and other miscellaneous software expense. I simply don’t earn enough from the site to make it worthwhile, particularly since I already work a day job and have to do all the work on this and my other sites in my free time.

 

Therefore, I’ve decided to stop posting new content to Digital Media Mom, effective today.

 

I will leave the site up through the end of the year, as a resource for those who still find the how-to articles helpful, but after that I will remove it from the internet completely. Also, after the email announcement of this goodbye message goes out I will delete the Digital Media Mom email subscriber list from my email service provider, so subscribers can feel secure their email addresses cannot possibly be shared.

Thank you, to everyone who’s ever written to express their appreciation for the site. Thanks too, everyone who’s shared Digital Media Mom site content, books or apps with friends, family or colleagues, and everyone who’s ever clicked on my links. I hope some of you will drop in on me at my other site, Love My Echo.

 

May all your emails be malware free and all your digital media fully functional!

April Hamilton

The Digital Media Mom

 

I’ll keep it short and sweet today, because this is VERY important for Windows users. The WannaCry ransomware attack you’ve been hearing about lately is not limited to big companies. This nasty little program can be unleashed on virtually any Windows computer, going all the way back to XP.

 

Hefty Ransom

 

Microsoft became aware of the security hole in March of this year and quickly released a patch, so if you’ve been keeping up with your Windows Update “critical” patches, you’re in good shape. If not, you could be victimized by this malware, which encrypts every file on your hard drive and demands payment in Bitcoin to unlock them. To avoid that horrible fate, turn on Windows Update and let it run all “critical” updates.

To access the Windows Update tool, enter “Windows Update” in the Windows search bar at the bottom of your Windows screen for versions Vista, 7 or 10. For other versions of Windows, see this Microsoft page to get the correct patch or instructions for your machine.

This is one of those types of malware that can spread across networks, so you will also want to ensure any Windows computers on your network have been updated with the security patch. If you don’t and another computer on your network gets infected, every unpatched Windows machine on your network is toast.

 

If you want to learn the full story on WannaCry, read this post from the excellent and reliable Tom’s Guide.

 

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If you’ve been listening to friends, family and co-workers rave about shows like Outlander, The White Princess, Black Sails or the upcoming American Gods, but haven’t been able to join in because you don’t get Starz! and don’t want to sign up for a whole cable package just to get these shows, no worries! With an Amazon Channels Free Trial (not available outside the US) you can sign up for individual premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz! with no cable contract or commitment. You get access to all of each channel’s great programming—movies and original series alike—on all your streaming video and mobile devices, and the first month is free of charge. Try your favorite channel out for 30 days at no charge (Psst! You can binge watch during the free trial, there are no limits on how much or when you can watch!), and if you decide not to cancel the price for Starz! is currently $8.99 per month after that (prices vary by channel; at $14.99, HBO is currently the most expensive). You can cancel at any time, so unlike a cable subscription, there’s no minimum contract and no commitment.

Amazon Channels Starz Trial Subscription

Advertisements make it possible for Digital Media Mom to bring you great content for free, so thanks for your support.

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Welcome to DMM’s 5/12/17 Freebie Friday!
Today, I’ve got ten free utility apps for Android that are tried and true.

Remember that free apps may include in-app purchase (IAP) options or be ad-supported, but given that these apps have been given very high ratings by MANY consumers, where IAP links or ads are present they must be pretty unobtrusive. Descriptions below are from the apps’ product pages.

 

 

Calculator Plus Free – for Fire tablet – I’m Calculator Plus – the perfect calculator for Kindle Fire. I remember everything you calculate, and let you review it anytime, making me perfect for adding up receipts, balancing checkbooks, or even calculating taxes.

Calculator Free – for all Android devices – Calculator Free combines the Normal and Scientific calculator for Free!

Final Countdown – Count down to events that you have been looking forward to: birthday, vacation, concert, sporting game, holiday, wedding, anniversary, graduation, to-do, New Year.

High Powered Flashlight – Bright. Fast. Simple. The most elegant and functional LED flashlight app, ever!

 

 

Clinometer – The best and most accurate level from iPhone now on Android.

Tip Calc – Simple tip calculator. Just enter a Bill Total and instantly get a 15% tip and total amount. Also allows you to enter a custom tip percent and number of people to split the bill between.

GSam Battery Monitor – GSam Battery Monitor lets you easily see the state of your battery and time-left estimates as well as view a detailed display of each item using your battery.

 

 

StopWatch – Own the cleanest looking, easiest to use stopwatch available. No fancy bells n’ whistles, just a great stopwatch that works!

Voice Recorder – Record your audio into space-saving mp3 format.

Jorte Calendar and Organizer – This application “Jorte” is a personal organizer. Our objective was to create an app with the look and feel of real paper personal organizer with an appealing appearance and easy practical use.

 

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With the iFox iF012 Bluetooth Shower Speaker (UK visitors click here), you can bring your music, audiobooks and podcasts into the shower or bath with you! Currently (as of 5/12/17) rated 4.5/5 stars across over 1,100 reviews and priced at $29.99.

iFox Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker

Advertisements make it possible for Digital Media Mom to bring you great content for free, so thanks for your support.

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Alexa Is A Phone Now!

Posted May 9, 2017 By Mom

By now you’ve surely heard about the release of the new Amazon Echo Show, which is now available for pre-order and set for release at the end of June. I’ll be doing an FAQ post about that device later, but for today I’ve got some news that’s too big to keep. Alexa is a phone now!

**5/14/17 UPDATE – Please see this follow up post, which addresses a serious privacy issue with the new features and explains how to turn off the new Alexa communication features for the time being—or permanently—, if that’s your preference.

Anyone with a cell phone can now call you or leave a voice message or Alexa-recited text message for you on your Echo, Dot, Echo Look, Echo Show or Tap**!

Anyone with an Echo, Dot, Echo Look, Echo Show or Tap** can now use those devices to call the phone of anyone in their cell phone’s contacts list!

Echo, Dot, Echo Look, Echo Show and Tap** owners can now call each other and leave each other voice and text messages on those devices!

And it’s all FREE!

**I’m not positive about Tap functionality; since I don’t know anyone who owns a Tap outside my own home, I haven’t been able to test it. However, I can’t think of any technical or business reason why these new features wouldn’t be made available on Tap, and have seen one online discussion board post from a Tap owner who says it works. If you have a Tap and can confirm all this stuff works on it, use the Contact form to let me know!

UK Readers: Note that I’m based in the Los Angeles area so while I can attest all of this works in the US, I have no way of knowing about the UK situation. If it’s not there yet, it will get there eventually.

 

Always On The Phone

 

There’s a whole lot of awesome to unpack here, and those with elder care and accessibility concerns will be particularly interested. I know this post is long, but bear with me. There’s quite a lot to cover! I’m using the wake word Alexa throughout this post, but it’s just a placeholder; if you’ve chosen a different wake word for your Alexa device, you can substitute it in any of the voice commands described here.

 

The Big Picture: It’s All About VoIP
It’s the same kind of Voice over IP (VoIP) functionality that supports Skype and other internet calling services, which is why it’s free.

The calls and messages don’t go over a landline or a cell phone line, they go over your WiFi connection. From there the calls or messages are routed across the internet to the other person’s WiFi connection, and finally to their Alexa device or phone.

 

What Happens When A Call Or Message Comes In?
When a call comes in, all the Alexa devices on the recipient’s WiFi network will sound a gentle ringtone and all their light rings will spin green to notify the call recipient about the incoming call. Alexa will say, “[contact name] would like to talk.” If the recipient doesn’t immediately answer, Alexa will continue spinning the green ring, sounding the tone and will say, “It’s [contact].” To answer, the call recipient can say, “Alexa, answer call,” to the Alexa device that’s closest to them at the moment. “Alexa, hang up,” will immediately disconnect the call. If the recipient doesn’t respond at all, it seems the call will disconnect automatically after three ringtone repeats.

When a voice or text message comes in, all the Alexa devices on the recipient’s WiFi network will sound a gentle ringtone only once, and all their light rings will spin green to notify the message recipient that there’s a message waiting. The light ring will continue to spin every few seconds as a visual alert until the message recipient says, “Alexa, get my messages.” Alexa will announce each message by sender/contact name. The Alexa device owner can also fetch past messages at any time with the same command; Alexa will warn there are no new messages, then ask if the user wants to hear past messages. A “yes” answer will start the replay.

Note that there may be a bug with contact names. When I call or message my own Alexa device from my own cell phone, “contact” is named by Alexa as “unknown”. This may just be because there’s no provision in place for people calling their own Alexa devices from their own cell phones, I won’t know for certain until I have other people with Alexa devices to call and message.

 

It All Starts With The Alexa App, And Anyone Can Use The App Now
All of the new functionality requires use of the latest version of the Alexa mobile app. Originally, only Alexa device owners were able to use the Alexa app because you had to pretty much immediately connect to an Alexa device the first time you launched the app. This is no longer true, Amazon has opened up the app to the general public in both iOS and Android versions.

I can confirm the latest version of the Alexa mobile app is currently available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, but ironically the version on the Amazon site has not yet been updated. If you already have the mobile app installed on your cell and can’t force it to update, uninstall it so you can download a totally fresh copy of the latest version for this.

If you get the latest version from Google Play, just be sure the developer name is listed as “Amazon Mobile LLC” and you see the little blue diamond that signifies ‘top developer’ next to the developer name. There’s an ongoing problem with fake, phishing apps in the Google Play store so you have to be careful you’re getting the genuine article.

 

Getting Set Up In The App: Required Permissions
When you fire up the app for the first time, you’ll be prompted to login to your Amazon account. Go ahead and do it, this is necessary to connect you to your Alexa devices and/or to the Alexa Voice Service (for those who don’t own Alexa devices).

Next, you’ll see a popup alerting you that Alexa can now help you communicate with family and friends. Tap the button to continue, and you’ll be prompted to confirm your identity:

 

Alexa App Call Setup

 

I believe it was after I tapped my name in the screen shown above and confirmed my name that I was prompted to grant Alexa access to sync my Contacts list to the cloud, but I didn’t get the screenshot and now I can’t go back to make it display again. The important thing to note here is that you must grant this permission in order to allow all the hands-free goodness, because it’s what allows Alexa to look people up in your Contacts list and get in touch with them. Don’t be alarmed by the verbiage indicating your Contacts will periodically sync to the cloud: that’s how your Contacts list will be kept up to date in the Alexa Voice Service.

In the permissions screen, whether you access it from the pop-up I’m not showing here or later on (on your phone, go to App Settings > Alexa app > Permissions to access the screen shown below), you must grant Contacts permission to use the new calling and messaging features at all. You must also enable the Microphone permission if you want to be able to make voice calls or leave voice messages—remember, text messages recited by Alexa on Alexa/Echo devices are part of this package now too, so you can limit yourself to text messaging.

The Camera permission will come into play once Echo Show is “in the wild”, since it will enable you to make video calls from the Alexa mobile app to your contacts’ Echo Show devices.

 

Alexa App Permissions

 

After permissions are granted, you’ll see the confirmation screen shown below. Note the two highlighted icons: one for Contacts (the little humanoid figure at top) and one for Messaging (the little talk bubble at the bottom). In the new app, the Messaging icon is available at the bottom of the screen in the Alexa app at all times, and when you tap it you will be returned to this screen.

Note that the “Try Saying” section refers to voice commands you can use on your Alexa device.

 

Alexa App Conversations Screen

 

Tap the Contacts link to access a listing of everyone you’ve contacted via the Alexa Voice Service so far. At first the list will only have your own name, but after you’ve started using the new features and get some other Alexa device owners you know set up to use these features (see next section), it’ll serve as a quick-access list for initiating messages and calls from within the Alexa app.

Select a contact from the list to load the screen below, where you can confirm the contact’s details (I’ve censored my own cell number here) and specify the type of communication you’d like to initiate with that contact.

 

Alexa App Contact Detail Screen

Remember that messaging and voice call features described here will only work if the contact has set up voice features and necessary permissions in the latest version of the Alexa app (see next section, ‘How To Hook Up Your Friends and Family…’).

The phone icon is for making voice calls to the contact’s Alexa device.

When you tap the Messaging icon (talk bubble), you’ll be taken to the Messaging screen (below). From there, you can tap the microphone icon to send a voice voice message to the contact’s Alexa device, or the keyboard icon to send a text message to the contact’s Alexa device. Voice messages will be recorded and played for the recipient just like a regular voicemail. Text messages will be read by Alexa on the recipient’s device.

 

Alexa App Leave Message Screen

 

Just as with your voice commands, Alexa keeps a history of your recent messages here and allows you to play them back. I don’t know how many messages are saved here, and whether they are automatically archived or deleted at some point. It’s just too early to tell.

 

How To Hook Up Your Friends & Family, Whether They Own An Alexa Device Or Not
Anyone you want to interact with via these new Alexa features must install the latest version of the Alexa mobile app on their mobile device. If they’re technologically challenged, walk them through it or set it up for them.

Once that’s done, you can call your elderly parent on their Echo or Dot. Your sight-impaired friend can message you from their Alexa device or the Alexa app. Alexa device owners can bypass the cell and call or message one another directly on their Alexa devices. And remember: it’s all FREE.

Rumor has it that inter-Alexa intercom functionality for households with more than one Alexa device is coming next, when the Show is released.

 

I’ve tried to cover everything here, and if I’ve missed any details I’m sorry. This is all brand new, and Amazon hasn’t even posted its own complete help pages about it yet.

But like I said at the start of this post: it’s a whole lot of awesome!

This is a cross-post from my Love My Echo site.

 

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If you’ve been listening to friends, family and co-workers rave about shows like Outlander, The White Princess, Black Sails or the upcoming American Gods, but haven’t been able to join in because you don’t get Starz! and don’t want to sign up for a whole cable package just to get these shows, no worries! With an Amazon Channels Free Trial (not available outside the US) you can sign up for individual premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz! with no cable contract or commitment. You get access to all of each channel’s great programming—movies and original series alike—on all your streaming video and mobile devices, and the first month is free of charge. Try your favorite channel out for 30 days at no charge (Psst! You can binge watch during the free trial, there are no limits on how much or when you can watch!), and if you decide not to cancel the price for Starz! is currently $8.99 per month after that (prices vary by channel; at $14.99, HBO is currently the most expensive). You can cancel at any time, so unlike a cable subscription, there’s no minimum contract and no commitment.

Amazon Channels Starz Trial Subscription

Advertisements make it possible for Love My Echo to bring you great content for free, so thanks for your support.

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Welcome to DMM’s 5/8/17 Movie Monday, where I’ll help you tackle movie night with brief reviews of movies and videos you may have missed that are worth the rental or purchase. This week I’m shining the spotlight on the films of John Cusack.

 

John Cusack In Every Movie

 

Here are three movies that, taken together, show Cusack’s impressive range as an actor.

 

Midnight In The Garden

Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil (R)
The most important party of the Savannah Christmas season ends with a bang! When affable host Jim Williams shoots a man to death. The party is over, the investigation begins.

A movie that proves truth can be every bit as riveting as fiction. John Cusack plays magazine writer John Kelso. Kelso has come to Savannah, Georgia to cover the glittering, annual Christmas bash thrown by local art collector, antiques dealer and “confirmed bachelor” Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). It seems everyone in this town has a story to tell and at least one secret to hide. When Williams’ hotheaded young lover Billy (Jude Law) turns up dead, Kelso decides to stay on during the investigation and through the murder trial to write a much more interesting story—one that eventually became the John Berendt book on which this film is based.

 

The Raven

The Raven (R)
A brutal killing spree terrorizes 19th-century Baltimore and a young detective turns to notorious author Edgar Allan Poe for help getting inside the mind of a serial killer.

Cusack stars as Poe in this thriller, in which a copycat is recreating the murders from Poe’s works. Luke Evans co-stars as the detective who works to help Poe clear his name and catch the real killer. Twisty and atmospheric, though a bit gory at times. If you’ve read any of Poe’s work, it’s not hard to imagine how the copycat murders play out. Cusack does a wonderful turn here as the melancholy, alcoholic and misunderstood author.

 

Dragon Blade

Dragon Blade (R)
Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Academy Award winner Adrien Brody star as warriors battling over the lucrative Silk Road in this epic action adventure.

The biggest-budget Chinese film to date, this fact-based movie drips with attention to historic detail and exceptional production design. Of course you know that with Jackie Chan, there will be many complex martial arts fight sequences choreographed in original ways as well.

Cusack co-stars as Roman Legion General Lucius, sworn to protect Publius, the young heir to the throne. Publius has been poisoned by his grasping older brother Tiberius (Adrien Brody) and Lucius has fled with the boy and a small command of elite troops loyal to them. Lucius’ men reach the Silk Road with Tiberius in pursuit, and join forces with wrongfully accused Chinese commander Huo An (Chan). Tiberius has made deals with Chinese warlords to add Silk Road control to the spoils of Rome, but Lucius, Huo An and warriors from the 36 different local ethnic tribes join forces against Tiberius and the corrupt warlords. Lots of action and some pretty strong performances, particularly from Cusack and Chan.