“Get a Personal Trainer for Your Computer!”©




As cell phones become more and more like computers, and actually connect to computers, it’s increasingly hard to separate one from the other.  Freed from land lines (wired telephones), first there were “cell phones” used just to place phone calls. Later, cell phones evolved into “smart phones” which added Internet connectivity. That morphed into the era of “app phones” like the iPhone and Android, with GPS locators and programs which can do anything, on or off of the Internet.  And later came the phablets, which are larger than most cell phones but smaller than a laptop or tablet computer, for those who use their phones mostly for internet purposes.  For more discussion of Cell and Smart Phones click on the link. At Computer Coach, we provide cabling and troubleshooting for land line and wireless telephones as well as setup for VoIP and internet telephony, so it’s natural that we have some information you should consider when making decisions about your service:






 SHOULD I CONSIDER GETTING A VOIP TELEPHONE SERVICE?  Services like Vonage and Skype are cost effective and a useful alternative to land line telephone services, especially if you make lots of charged long distance calls (particularly to foreign countries) but there are negatives and limitations:  Because of its nature, VoIP can be subject to remote eavesdropping, hopping, vishing, spam, toll fraud and, of course, the Skype worm (see below).  And, although the speed and reliability of these networks has increased, so has the relative insecurity of the connections, which are run continuously.  Possibly, with the cost of infringement settlements, the cost of VoIP may increase.  Finally, many claim that the quality of the call suffers over land lines, with a noticeable delay and sometime fuzziness of reception.  All in all, it’s still worth it for most of us.  However, if you don’t already have or need a fast broadband connection, the cost for this additional service (between $40 - $60 per month), when added to the per-month cost for the service itself, might not make the switch so cost-effective. Further consider:  VoIP requires electricity to connect.  So, if you live in an area where there are lots of power outages, you will also lose your telephone connection.  This hardly happens with land line telephones (unless they’re cordless; that’s why it’s always a good idea to always keep a plain old wired phone around for emergencies) because phone lines are underground, separate from most overhead electrical lines.  If you have a cell phone, this may be O.K.. with you.  But if you don’t, and an emergency arises, or you have health issues requiring dependability, if there’s a power outage, you’ll be out of luck.  Finally, VoIP isn’t compatible with many home alarm systems and TTY systems, so if you need those services, you may be out of luck.  And the 911 service is available, but it’s handled differently.

If you do decide to go the VoIP route, the most popular ones are Vonage & Skype, although there are others (e.g.  Google Talk, MSN Messenger, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Oovoo, Sightspeed, Apple’s iChat).  And, on March 12, 2009, Google also introduced Google Voice.  Each uses a different methodology to provide and charge for their service, although both directly connect to your broadband connection, separate from your computer itself.  Vonage uses commercial servers over a SIP network, sometimes charges an initial setup charge or cost for the modem, and charges a set monthly charge of $24.99 for unlimited local and long distance calls.  Skype, on the other hand, employs a methodology that uses all of its users’ computers as “supernodes” so that if Skype can’t make a direct connection, it will use one of its customers’ computers to relay the call.  There’s no setup charge for Skype, and all calls between Skype users are free,  but local calls to land lines and mobile phones may be charged on a per-minute rate, and as of June, 2010 calling plans are required for international calls.  But both plans have some limitations (e.g. on calls to cell phones, some foreign countries; 911 calls are handled differently, etc.), so check the fine print and see if it’s really for you.  In June, 2011, Microsoft acquired Skype, so that may result in further changes.  Also, if you don’t have a Skype phone number, Skype, does offer “Skype Numbers” you can buy and give out to acquaintances who do not have Skype accounts and just want to call you directly from land lines and cellphones. With a Skype Number assigned to a certain area code, people in that area can even call you when you are traveling internationally — and pay local rates. Skype Numbers cost $5 a month when you sign up for a year. [To get a Skype Number, sign into your account on the Skype website; clicking “Manage account” in the Skype program takes you there too. In the “Manage features” area of your account page, click the Skype Number button and “Get a Skype Number,” select your country and follow along to fill in payment details and other information.]

......In the video call arena, on 2/3/09 Skype released 4.0 for Windows, calling it “the biggest new release in Skype history.”  You can now place near instantaneous, clear (and free) video calls.  Skype has lots of new features:  For example, you can drag various sections of the software to resize them, discreet notifications pop up when people are trying to reach you, you can now import address books from Hotmail, Outlook or Yahoo.  And you have a dedicated start video button, so you don’t have to begin video chat by starting with an audio call any longer.  Also, a new utility strip below the picture allows you to type web addresses, instant messages, or send files while connected.  Most important of all, though, is Skype’s technology which now consumes barely half the resources previously used to transmit sound, so that the lag time, even on older computers, is much less.  With newer equipment, it’s almost full duplex, like a land line phone.  Still missing, though, are some features found on its competitors:  Video calls are still only one-to-one (although audio will allow multiple participants) (Oovoo, Sightspeed, iChat can do this).  {This was introduced by
Skype for some services in 2010; see below).  There’s no video answering machine (like Sightspeed).  And, unlike Skype for Macintosh, there’s no screen sharing, so you can’t see the other party’s screen.  Still, if you want video chat, it’s great!

See the discussion below for Skype and Vonage for cell phones...

Still interested?  Call us to set up your residential or office VoIP  service!

magicjackfooterimage SHOULD I GET A MAGICJACK? You’ve probably seen those slick MagicJack commercials on TV showing you how to plug a telephone jack into the USB jack on your computer to get telephone service for almost nothing.  As record numbers of people bail from their land line telephones, this service is becoming quite popular.  What’s the story?  Before subscribing, you’ve got to know a couple of things.  First, in order for you to have telephone service, your computer must be on continuously.  If the computer is turned off, so is your telephone service.  This isn’t the case for VoIP services, which access your broadband service off of a router, before it reaches your computer, so it doesn’t matter if your computer is on or off.  Second, your computer must (a) have a high speed broadband service, such as DSL, Cable or FIOS, at least 128 kb/s, according to MagicJack (see LINK if you need to know more), and (b) your computer must be capable of processing this signal, so it should probably be a at least a PIV with 512Mb RAM.  The fact that it uses a (slower) USB connection as opposed to an ethernet connection direct to the modem, also raises speed issues, although I’ve not verified this.  And if you have a USB-1 vs. USB-2 connection it’ll be even slower.  With VoIP, since the computer isn’t processing the broadband signal, it doesn’t matter how underpowered your actual computer is.  Other drawbacks with MagicJack may include an inability to work with fax machines or multiple lines, no long distance calls outside of the U.S. and Canada, the possibility of built-in advertising, etc.  Finally, as with VoIP, this device depends on electricity to function, which may be less reliable than standard telephone service (see VoIP, above), particularly in emergencies. Read the FAQs on their website for more information.  So who is this option good for?  Someone with a single phone line, who already is paying for high-speed broadband for their computer which has a decently fast processor and RAM and who doesn’t mind leaving the machine on continuously.  In such a case, the cost savings would outweigh the monthly cost of VoIP and make MagicJack worthwhile.  But, if you have to factor in either an upgrade your computer hardware or the cost of obtaining a broadband connection at an additional cost of $40 to $60 a month, it probably isn’t worth it as your savings would be pretty much negated.\

NEW: In 2011 MagicJack introduced MagicJack Plus, which doesn’t even require a computer to connect the phone service.  The device has built-in hardware (CPU) and software to connect.  It connects directly into an electrical outlet and uses a  Wi-Fi connection to plug into a landline jack.  It costs another $10 over the old MagicJack ($60), includes the same year of service at $19.95, and same low international calling rates. 

 Let’s say that having read all of the stuff in the news and the Are You Being Watched page of this site and you want to know how to protect your cell phone from NSA snooping. What do you do?  You could take your battery out of your phone when you’re not using it.  You could buy a signal-blocking case from Off Pocket or HideCell, or even make your own.  You could install Device Firmware Upgrade (“DFU”) software, which bypasses the phone’s operating system.  Or buy a special phone, like the Blackphone.  But unless you’re a threat to national security, all of this may be overkill.

 Simplification of cell phone plans:  Virtually every phone company now offers pay-as-you-go plans.  For example, Cricket (which uses the AT&T network) charges as little as $35 monthly for unlimited service.  But you have to pay for the phone up front.  If you want a discount on the phone, you’ll have to sign a two-year plan with most carriers and pay more for billed monthly service. 

 Beware - your rental car may be “telling on you”.  If you rent a car with the latest infotainment system, one which lets you pair your smartphone via Bluetooth or USB, so that you can make calls over the car’s audio system, dial from the center console, stream music or get directions, you should erase your data from the car’s system before returning it, otherwise the next driver will know who you called, where you went, even where you live.  The settings vary with mfr, but generally go to the list of paired Bluetooth gadgets, then delete your phone or all devices, which will effectively erase all call lots or contacts which were dialed.  Separately, you should also erase anything in the car’s navigation system if you used it.  These are good rules as well for selling your car if it has these features.  Find the “black box” and clear it.  Even if you aren’t worried about a new driver accessing your data, you can run the same risk if a hacker intrudes via this technology.

 Despite the FCC Rules and the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (see LAWS), those pesky robocallers still sometimes get through.  How to avoid this - Don’t answer unfamiliar calls, of course.  Join the National Do Not Call Registry.  It covers only personal phone calls, not faxes (but  includes texts) and has exceptions for political organizations, charities, etc.).  Don’t fall for the choice to click on a number to be taken off the list, calls purportedly from the Registry (above) or rumors that you have to re-register.  You could also download apps to block robocalls, some work.  Scrutinize your phone  bill.

 10/2015 - Don’t be surprised if sometime in the not-to-distant future your cable provider offers to be your cell phone provider.  Comcast and other providers are contemplating offering cellular phones and service that will use a combination of their own Wi-Fi hotspots and the Verizon cellular network.  This because back in 2012, Comcast, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and others made a deal with Verizon to use Verizon’s network and resell it to others.

 Apple Cell phone apps:  Fake Conversation allows you to receive fake calls, when you need an excuse to escape from a situation. Fake-A-TextFree does the same for texts.  aSmartHUD displays a variety of navigation data on your car’s windshield.

OomaOOMA: An internet phone system which provides free local and long distance calling for life with charges for only monthly taxes and fees.  There’s also a Premier version with additional services.  But you do have to purchase the hardware “box” which attaches to your computer, and that’s somewhere between $159.99 and $109.99 (discounted).  The MagicJac and NetTalk Duo equipment, though, is cheaper, but the yearly cost of $30 is more.  Actually, they even out from the cost standpoint.

 Click HERE for a comparison of the features of various Internet phone services, from netTALK.

 If you or your kids drop your cell phones and crack the screens often, there’s good news:  Motorola’s Turbo2, also the iPhone6, now come with shatterproof screens, starting November, 2015. 

 As mentioned in the preface to this page, smart phones are actually quite powerful computers.  So you should be aware of some of the computer features of your phone that might be useful.  Consider: (1) Use it just like any external hard drive.  PCs do this automatically, Macs will have to download an app.  (2) Transfer files wirelessly between your Android device and your computer.  An easy way (other than e-mail or cloud storage) is an Android app called “Pushbullet” installed on both phone and computer. (3) Access your computer’s files remotely from any Android device, by installing something like Chrome Remote Desktop, then start the companion extension.  (4) Don’t forget to get a good file manager to view and arrange the files stored on your Android device.  (5) Store your important files (or even a full backup) in the Cloud via DropBox, Box, Google Drive or OneDrive, or sync them. (6) Beam files between any two Android devices (your phone to your pad or someone else’s phone), so long as you have Android 5.0 or higher, using NFC, (7) Use the much overlooked and powerful “Share” feature to send content (even cut and paste), from one device to another, so long as the recipient has an app to view it.  Finally, (8) if your device has USB OTG (“USB on-the-go”) and a micro-USB adapter, or a special flash drive with a micro-usb adaptor, you can transfer information stored on your Android phone to an external USB flash drive.  That’s a lot of things you can do with a phone!

 Cell phones experienced roughly 4.5 billion spam texts last year, more than double the 2.2 billion received the previous year, according to Ferris Research.  While not quite as prevalent as e-mail spam, it is rapidly expanding as e-mail programs are capable of deleting it, although there are some cell phone apps that claim to do the trick.  Most such texts involve the “need cash now” type (where users are promised quick cash if they reveal personal or financial information) or gift card swindles (e.g. taking a survey which will reveal info about debt levels, income, marital status or health history) over a spoofed survey site. 

 Click HERE to learn why and how you should back up the data on your smartphone, find it if you lose it and disable it if it is stolen.

 Thinking of getting a new cell phone?  It’ll probably be a “smart phone,” one with Internet connectivity.  Just like it became impossible to buy even a plain cell phone without a camera a few years ago, you’ll now be looking at smart phones even if you aren’t interested.  iSupply predicts that between 2010 and 2013, shipments of internet-enabled devices will grow from 161 million to 503.6 million, that PC shipments will increase only from 345.4 million units to 433.7 million and that, therefore, (led by the iPad and smart phones) internet enabled devices will outship PCs.

 Cell phone jailbreaking, unlocking & tethering:  2011 - Recently carriers (AT&T and Verizon in particular) have been cracking down on “tethering.”  Tethering is using a cell phone to get a laptop onto the Internet.  This is typically done one of two ways:  First, by using free tethering apps (like MyWi) on jailbroken or rooted cell phones.  Second, by using an unlocked, unbranded cell phone.   For a phone to be unlocked, you have to have a phone with a SIM card.  That limits you to carriers which operate on GSM technology, currently only AT&T and T-Mobile.   Verizon, Sprint and most other carriers use CDMA technology and don’t have SIM cards.  It should be “unbranded,” meaning that it doesn’t use a particular carrier’s “firmware” (the software that operates the phone) so that the carrier can’t determine whether you tether your phone (so-called “tether tattling”).  An “unlocked” phone is a new phone that is not technologically tied to any particular carrier’s network.    A new unlocked phone is much easier to tether than an unbranded phone.  These phones aren’t particular easy to get in the U.S., but if you work at it, you can pick one up on the Internet, either direct from a carrier or through other sources. 2016 UPDATE:  Recently, I saw several unlocked phones offered for sale at Best Buy.  Be careful if you purchase from eBay or Craigslist - claims of unlocking are difficult to verify.  But most are manufactured for the overseas market, so make sure you get the right radio frequency (“band”) that your proposed carrier uses and, if you travel internationally, that it has “quad” or “penta” band.   Once you have the phone, you must replace the carrier-supplied firmware with third party firmware.  You’ve got to be sure that all the carrier software has been completely removed.  If you have an Android phone, you may have to root your phone before installing something called a “custom ROM” such as CyanogenMod.  “Rooting” your device means obtaining “superuser” rights and permissions to your Android’s software. With these elevated user privileges, you gain the ability to load custom software (ROM’s), install custom themes, increase performance, increase battery life, and the ability to install software that would otherwise cost extra money. Rooting is essentially “hacking” your Android device. In the iPhone ( and the AT&T) world, this would be the equivalent to “Jailbreaking” your phone.  Basic difference:  Jailbreaking a phone voids the warranty, but means that you can install third party applications on it that (Apple or AT&T, for example) might not want you to use.  Unlocking means that any SIM card can be used on it and it can access another carrier’s system or parts or your carrier’s system that they don’t want to let you access. Illegal?  Depends on whether you consider the phone yours to do with as you please or the firmware copyright protected property of the carrier.  Finally, get a cheap data plan from AT&T or T-Mobile, one of the prepaid or month-to-month types with a large or unlimited data allowance.  You don’t want to trade convenience for a huge phone bill.  Still, beware - after all this, if you constantly download movies or stream music, a carrier can follow the packet switching and see that you’re tethering.  The penalty isn’t much these days if you’re caught, but it may increase now that the carriers are aware of the increasing abuse.  All of the above being said, I’ve never personally had a problem.  I do it the easy way:  I purchased a Droid phone, continued my unlimited data plan, downloaded a program (PdaNet, FoxFi) that tethered my phone and it’s worked well ever since.  As a computer technician, if I go to a client’s house where their internet is down, all I have to do is load the program onto their computer, connect my phone with a micro-USB cable and I’m connected to the Internet.

OPHONE2You’re “smellphone” is ringing.  Check out the upcoming OPHONE, a cell phone which can create and send “smell messaging” to a recipient which has the same device.  It’s introduction in July 2014 will include some 350 aromas, from coffee to perfume.  Its inventor, Dr. David Edwards, expects thousands more scents to follow.  Similar to the Scentee plug-in which allows a smartphone user to attach a small device to their phone and receive “smell notifications” when a message arrives, as does Dr. Check, who is developing the worlds first digital smell app, that operates through a device that contains magnetic coils that send electric signals to the brain’s olfactory bulb, and a group at the National University of Singapore that is creating a Digital Taste Simulator that electrically stimulates the tongue to produce a taste sensation that they hope to use with TV and video games.  On the more useful side, NASA has developed technology that can detect chemicals in the air and then digital analyze them, useful for possibly detecting cancer, but also to transform smalls into digital signals.  Of course, as soon as someone invents a positive purpose for such a device, I’m sure a terrorist will come up with a way to atomize and send anthrax to attack us.  And I recall “SmellOvision” TV that was supposed to come out several years ago and didn’t materialize, so we’ll see.

  Looking for a way to save and print text messages from your smart phone.  Perhaps for proof of harassment or other matters in legal proceedings, or for later reference?  Check out FAQ #58.

  We knew this was coming:  The “phablet”.  A combination of a smart phone with the larger screen and capabilities of a tablet.  The first of these was the Samsung Note, with an 5+ inch screen, an Android operating system and smart phone capabilities.  And a stylus, too.  The HTC One (4/2014) followed. And Apple iPhone 6+ in 10/14.

 Are you confused by all of the advertising by the cell phone companies about the latest “3G” and “4G” technologies.  Generally, of course, the higher the number before the “G” (which stands for “Generation”), the faster and better the service.  4G’s advantage over 3G, for example, gives you much better streaming video, which means that you can video call and view movies without the “hesitation” of previous generations.  If you don’t need these services, maybe it’s not worth the extra amount for a 4G phone, if its even available by your provider.  Generally, the move to 4G networks marks the change from the slower CDMA networks used here in the U.S. to the faster LTE networks used throughout Europe. LTE networks also use SIM cards, allowing you to switch phones easier, which has not been the case with the CDMA phones, such as Verizon.  For more detail about the exact definitions of 3 and 4G, see “G” and “3G” in this glossary.  Just RememberAll that streaming video, hot-spot availability and large, clear screen mean less battery life.  You may even have to purchase an extra battery if you’re planning on using these features all day, every day.  Even so, heavy users still may not be able to the phone by evening.  Just like you can’t always watch a whole movie on your laptop without an extra battery.  Click HERE for more...

  The simultaneous voice and data capability of Apple phones is somewhat deceiving.  Even on AT&T’s network, and definitely on the Verizon and Sprint networks, the limitations of the 3G CDMA technology and some 4G LTE providers prevent the simultaneous transmissions, and thus dial back the voice calls to the older 3G technology while keeping the LTE for data only.  The iPhone5 allows voice on Verizon’s network, but surfs the web on Wi-Fi.  Apple puts it like this (try and follow): iPhone 5 supports simultaneous voice and data on networks that use CDMA for voice and LTE for data in a single radio design.  Now, Samsung’s Galaxy S III can do both, but it uses an extra antenna.  Apple already has two antennas and didn’t want to add a third.  So, if you’re considering dual capability, AT&T is it.

 It’s an excellent prediction that the next big area for viruses and malware will not be over computers but smartphones.  Companies such as McAfee (which just purchased ten-Cube), Symantec (which just updated its antivirus software for iPhone and Android and SMobile Systems are all developing protection for smartphones.  Lookout, a San Francisco startup, has compiled a database of more than 1 million smartphone apps which it uses to detect new threats and block potentially malicious applications, as well as to provide data backup and the ability to remotely wipe data in the event the phone is stolen.  Apple vets applications before allowing its users to download them to their iPhones, making them somewhat safer than the Android applications, which aren’t checked by Google before posting to the Internet for download.  So you can end up with such things as the (Droid) tip calculator which, when downloaded, also forwarded the phone user’s text messages to hackers, giving them the potential to learn potentially sensitive information, such as on-line banking information.  Or other apps that automatically call expensive, premium-rate phone numbers without the user’s knowledge, racking up potentially huge bills. 6/2013 UPDATE:  It was only a matter of time:  Ransomware has come to your smartphone.  Malware called Android.Fakedefender pretends to be antivirus software while locking up your smart phone until you pay the “registration fee”.  Sound familiar?

  There are excellent apps you can use to make your smart phone a scanner and fax machine.  Recommendations:  For iPhone, try JotNot and TurboScan.  For Android, try CamScanner.  And, if you just want to print the scan, make sure you have one of the newer wireless e-printers available from almost all manufacturers.

 Cellphones are now expanding to process payments with credit cards.  Special phones with built-in card swipers keyed to merchant accounts have been around for some time.  But for personal use, several start-ups have introduced a way to process credit cards over mobile devices.  Among them Square (co-founded by Twitter inventor Jack Dorsey), Veriphone, Incase, Intuit, PayPal and others. Basically, Square involves a sleeve or card scanning device that plugs into the cell phone’s headphone jack and is supported by an app for the credit processing.  [With some apps, you may only have to “bump” two phones together to complete the transaction or use a Bluetooth device.]  Initially, the device was introduced for iPhones, now it’s available for Android.  There will be a cost,  per transaction (2.75% - 3.5% + .15 per), although it doesn’t appear that you’ll have to apply for a traditional merchant account.  After all, the main purpose of the device is to process payments between friends, family and others.

 You’ve probably seen the iPhone apps or Google’s Goggles that take a photo of a street, then display markers for you showing where buildings, restaurants and the like are.  Now, some startup companies have been doing the same for indoor spaces, like malls, buildings and airports.  PointSide, FastMall and Micello are just a few of the apps which work on the iPhone and many Android phones.  Using these apps, you can find and map the best route to rest rooms, wheelchair access, airport gates, etc. Soon, says a startup called Aisle411, you will be able to find a specific product on a specific shelf at a specific store, along with a map of how to get there.  Of course, that’s only if Google doesn’t get there first.

 I received an e-mail from a client who forwarded an interesting e-mail to me about emergency cell phone services, allegedly sponsored by MacDonalds.  I don’t know if all of it’s true, but it’s nice to know: (1) The Emergency number for mobile phones is 112 (not 911).  (2) You can unlock your car if it has remote keyless entry by calling someone with the keys and holding the cell phone next to the lock. (3) You can disable your stolen mobile phone by calling your carrier and giving them the serial number, which can be found by typing “*#06#” on most phones.  (4) For free directory assistance, you can dial (800) FREE411 or (800) 373-3411.  (5) Finally, if your battery is running low, you can save power by entering “*3370#” and restarting the phone.  Again, this may or may not work with your carrier or even at all, but I’m passing it along.  (6)  Another client advised me that you can dial *112, which is actually a direct line to the State Trooper dispatcher, which will advise you whether or not the police cruiser pulling you over is legitimate.  You can also tell them to contact the cruiser and tell them you aren’t pulling over until they are verified.

 Depending on where you live, and soon to be available in most places, will be cell phone notifications about terrorist attacks, natural disasters, Amber alerts and BOLOS (“Be On the Lookout For” - escaped convicts, drunk drivers, etc.).  This stems from the Warning Alert and Response Network Act, a 2006 Federal law that requires upgrades to the emergency alert system and which requires the FCC to develop new ways to alert the public about emergencies.  These services will be mostly be provided, free of charge, with all cell phone subscriptions, with an “opt out” if you don’t want it.

  Often, you can skip the interminable introduction on cell phone messaging and cut directly to the “beep” by clicking  on “*” Verizon; “1” for AT&T of Sprint; “#” for T-Mobile.  Of course, you’ll have to try all of these if you don’t know the recipient’s carrier.  Some nice folks have actually added instructions to their personal (first) message like: “To skip to the message beep, press # now.”

 I thought that the “universal” chargers manufactured by Powermat and WildCharge were going to make it easier to charge all my mobile devices.  Just stick your phone, iPod, iPad on the charger when you get home and let it charge.  Not exactly.  Most devices require some sort of retrofit.  Seems that for devices such as the iPhone, Blackberry, Nintendo and iPod Touch, you have to get either a special (larger, thicker) battery door, case or dongle.  Doesn’t that defeat the point?

 Talking about traveling with your phone, try and conserve battery life.  Searching for a signal drains battery life a lot, so don’t forget to either turn your cell phone off or put it into Airplane Mode, before traveling, or else it’ll search for a local signal until you return home.

 Traveling outside of the U.S. with your cell phone? BEWARE if you travel internationally with your cellphone!  If you don’t turn off your “push” data apps, like the radios on your Windows mobile devices, they will continue to download data, in addition to your high per-call roaming charges.   Also, if your phone automatically checks your e-mail every 15 minutes, your bill may be a big surprise, easily topping $1000!   When disabled, your e-mails will be available only when you request it. There are other ways around this:  Verizon and Sprint (which use CDMA, not the GSM technology favored by Europe) will lend you a phone if you’ve been a subscriber for over 6 months.  Most iPhones will work internationally, too.  (Either way, it may require a call to your service provider to temporarily add international services to your current plan.) Or you can buy an inexpensive phone from Telestial or PlanetOmni for less than $50.  But, while it may be less expensive to purchase a compatible phone overseas, it may make it easier if you purchase it in the U.S. and set it up there to make sure it works properly.  You may also be able to change your rate plan with your current carrier to account for your travel.  Or possibly you may be able to obtain a special SIM card for your phone (unless, of course, you have a carrier like Verizon, which doesn’t use SIM cards).  You can sign up for VoIP services from Skype or Boingo to reduce your costs.  For example, for $18 for 3 months, you can make calls on Skype from any enabled smart phone, computer or tablet and even have a local number so people in the States can easily reach you.  Even overseas, Skype-to-Skype calls are free, of course.  Finally, you can always use a calling-card, some of which have discounted rates for international calls.  Just be sure to make plans ahead of your trip if you need to be connected from outside the country.  Many phone companies, like Verizon, have specific web “brochures” offering solutions for those who travel internationally, like the Verizon Passport

Other things to do if you’re traveling internationally with your phone:  Create a passcode in case it’s stolen.  Enable those features that allow remote phone locking and wiping, also auto erasing your phone data if there are too many attempted log ins (but be sure to back up your phone onto a computer or the cloud before leaving).  Separately adjust specific phone apps that auto update themselves just in case.  Don’t post your travel plans on-line for any number of obvious security reasons.  Consider getting one of those external battery packs, particularly if you’re going to be using translation and GPS features, as those suck up lots of power.  Maybe even get a power inverter for your vehicle to keep the phone charged.  And don’t forget international power adaptors for your charger as well as assuring that, if there’s a change in available voltage overseas, your usual charger can be adjusted between 120v and 240v.  While traveling, avoid the usual security pitfalls:  Avoid public Wi-Fi networks, coffee shops and those European internet “kiosks” as they’re havens for hackers.  If you must, make sure that your Windows firewall is set to ‘Public” for maximum protection.  Check with your hotel to make sure your Internet is free and not an additional charge.  Call directly to your bank or other secured server information, most have international numbers.  If you have a continuing need for a secure connection for work or otherwise, you could consider signing up for a short-term VPN service

 We all expected that, as cellphones and VoIP became more common, malware and viruses would eventually arise on these devices.  And they are.  For example, for users of Skype, there can be worries about the W32/Pykse.worm, which uses Skype for spreading.  Also, the PWS-Pkyse Trojan, which attempts to steal Skype user names and passwords (this one masquerades as a “Skype-Defender” plug-in for Skype).  Cellphones have been infected by the commwarrior virus around the world, also the RavMonE.exe virus.  In late 2009, Kaspersky Lab reported a new malicious program that steals money by taking over Nokia phones and making small charges to the owners’ wireless accounts.  Also in late 2009, an Australian student created an experimental worm that infected iPhones adapted to run unauthorized Apple software; it didn’t cause any damage, just installed a photo of 80’s pop star Rick Astley.  It can only get worse, so be vigilant! See this LINK to learn how to disinfect your cell phone if you get a virus.  Also, recognizing that this threat is increasing, various companies are starting to offer protection - Lookout (a startup), Symantec, Research In Motion, among others, are starting to get out the message.  If in doubt, or you’re afraid you’ll ruin your computer or phone, call a pro!

 We have all experienced situations where we are attempting to talk on our cell phones and the reception has become garbled or lost. Many times we discover that one or both cellphones to the connection have lost or diminished the signal because a user has moved within a steel building or is slightly out of range or between tower signals.  It’s annoying, and it usually happens with the same person more often than not.  For these situations, there is a fix.  There are many providers of so-called cell phone signal boosters, tiny plug-in units that can be plugged in between your cell phone and your office, home or car that boost the signal coming or going to the cell phone up to about 15dB.  So, if you’re one of those people that can’t receive or even send calls on your cell phone at home or at work or while traveling (e.g. a home in the mountains), check out these devices, which range between about $30 and $250, by Googling “cell phone signal boosters.”  I don’t have any recommendations, as I’ve never personally tried any of them.  I’ve been getting lots of promotional e-mail from PCWorld, which is promoting zBoost Signal Boosters, which claims to boost cell phone, aircard and 3G signals.

For those of you MacGyver types, here’s link to a site that provides you with various homemade devices (twist ties, beer cans, etc.) that you can build to create your own cell phone booster - Click HERE.

 Don’t always trust caller ID:  It’s sad, but you can’t always assume that your caller ID is really who it says it is.  “Spoofing,” which is cloaking the caller ID to make it look like someone else is calling, is on the rise and can be illegal.  (Not always - it’s o.k., say, if doctors or domestic violence shelters want to spoof their actual identity to maintain confidentiality and privacy.)  It’s so bad that the FCC has adopted rules that set significant fines for phone spoofing - $10,000 per incident and up to $1 million for ongoing violations.  Click HERE for the FCC info.

 Check for comprehensive, up-to-date and unbiased wireless communication service information.  It provides lots of answers to questions about selecting a wireless carrier, definitions, etc.

 Talking about cell phones, particularly smart phones, if your cell phone is your life, don’t forget to back it up!  If your phone stores your apps, calendar, e-mail, downloads and settings, they will be lost, just as they are lost on a computer if the hard drive crashes.  Recently, I was installing my Blackberry onto Windows 7 and, in the middle of downloading my data into the Blackberry Desktop software, Comcast service was interrupted.  My phone literally became a non-functional brick, all of my software was lost.  I was lucky:  Only a couple of weeks earlier, I had backed up my phone to my computer and all I had to do was restore it, with very little data loss.  If I hadn’t been able to the result would have been catastrophic to my business, particularly since the scheduling software on this site connects to my e-mail and Outlook calendars on the phone and the server. Only a couple of years ago, you had to bring your phone into a service center to back it up.  Later you had to pay for the service on a monthly basis on-line.  Now, for some phones at least, it’s easier and its free.  Verizon automatically backs up contacts on Android phones for free, and both Android and Apple phones have apps you can install to back up everything.  It only takes a few seconds, but can save you unbelievable anguish - use your phone software to create a backup!  Or get independent software if it doesn’t come with it.  If your employees are using smartphones in your business, you should make it an office policy and part of your disaster recovery plan to schedule backups on a regular basis, just like your computer (which really what it is).  Also, an automatic disable ability if the phone is lost.

  Starting in 2014, many states are mandating that manufacturers of cell and smart phones build in default features to let users disable and/or wipe their devices if they become lost or stolen.  Since it would be poor economics to manufacture a phone with this feature for only a few states, you can expect this to become commonplace shortly.  See “Kill Switch” LAWS.

  Cell Phone Tips and Tricks - These may not work with every single model of phone, operating system or carrier, but most will...

- You can usually type hyphenated words (you’re, don’t, didn’t, etc.) without the apostrophe, the phone will automatically add it.

- Blackberry:  Hold down a letter to capitalize it.

- Double click a word to highlight it.

- Often, to view a document without opening a program, highlight the icon then double-click the spacebar to view it.

- To scroll down a web page, tap the space bar to scroll down one screen, shift key to scroll back up again.

-  In a text, if you press the space bar twice at the end of a sentence, it will automatically add a period, space and a capitalized next letter.

- On the iPhone, the camera takes the photo only when the shutter button is released, so press it down, focus the photo, then release for a quick photo, it’ll reduce blur, too.  And don’t waste the battery or the flash if your subject if more than 8 feet away!

- On most smart phones (e.g. Android), the “long-press” (LP) function (press and hold a hardware button, icon or word, rather than “tapping” it) saves you from the effort of scrolling through multiple screens to get where you want.  For example: LP your Home key for a list of your most recently used apps; LP your search key to access the voice command system;  LP the back key in a broswer to access bookmarks, history, etc.; LP on your desktop to create folders (like a right mouse click on your computer);

- Looking for a commercial phone number, call 800-BING-411 or 800-GOOG-411 or 800-55-0000, they’ll find the number and connect you for free!

--There are lots more shortcuts using LP, double-tapping and the like.  So use your manual or search the web, they can be easily found.

-If you’re making the switch from iPhone to Android and are disturbed that you’ll lose your iTunes songs, there is help: DoubleTwist, a free downloadable app, will sync your songs, although it takes a little effort to use and may require converting from iTunes to iTunes plus to get all of them.

- If your phone is locked, you can still place a phone call by voice control by holding down the home button.  This works for other voice commands as well.

- Voice control can not only dial phone numbers, call people and control music, but can also tell you the time if you ask “What time is it?”  This is even before “Siri”.

- Double tapping the home button (when the phone is unlocked) will also let you “force quit” open apps: The list of most recently used apps with a minus sign will let you shut that app down if, say, it’s running in background (slowing things down). Swiping that screen to the right will give you music-playing controls.

- Double tapping a locked iPhone will still allow you to control audio controls.

- To take a “screen shot” of your phone screen, hold down the Power + Down Volume and the image will be saved in the “Captured Images” folder in your Gallery app.  For Apples, press & hold Home + Sleep/Wake, capture will be saved in Camera Roll/Saved Photos section. 

- Right swipe on your home screen to get the search window, also a shortcut to Google and Wikipedia.

-Both Apple and Android have “timer” apps to turn off music or other apps after a set time. 

--You can enlarge text by going to Settings>Accessibility in both Apple & Android. If you really need to, your phone can read out loud to you.  Apple’s VoiceOver settings are at Settings>General>Accessibility and Androids are at Settings>Accessibility>enable TalkBack.  Both are useful while driving, for listening to e-mail without distraction, or reading back driving instructions.- (if you don’t like GPS).

- You can lock the volume by going into Settings, then iPod, then Volume Limit, and even set a code to lock the settings, so your kids can’t split your eardrums.

-Both Apple and Android have Call Settings to block calls, plus there are other independent apps to do this as well. 

- Tapping and holding a web image when using Safari will give you buttons to save it to your camera roll or copy it to the clipboard.  Also, tapping the home and sleep buttons simultaneously will save the current display to the camera roll.

- Talking about the camera, you have options:  To take multiple photos at once, Apple has the option in the Camera app (you press and hold the Volume Up button) and so does Android (turn on “Burst Shot” in the settings for the camera app). And, if you don’t like the screen vibration (say, in macro shots), you can control the shutter by voice, you can enable Voice Control in the gear settings for Camera, and in Apple the Volume Up button will work.  Put in a command like “Cheese” and the shutter will click.

- If you want to find a word or phrase on a web page, type it in the search box then scroll to the bottom result which says “On this page” and it’ll show you.

- You can add keyboards in other languages:  Go to Settings, General, Keyboard, International Keyboards.

-Don’t like ringing or vibrating?  You can have your camera flash if you’re getting a message, although I don’t recommend it (because it rapidly drains the battery).  But if you want to go for the cool factor, both Apple and Android offer this feature, under Settings>Accessibility.

- Adding accent marks (e.g. aigu, macron) is done by tapping and holding a letter.

-Double-tap the space bar to add a period.  Double tap any word to get a pop-up options menu to bold, italicize words.

- To rewind audio or video, slide your finger down, then across (not just left and right across), allowing you to move at different speeds, rewind or advance.

- Shaking the phone when typing gives you the option to undo it.

- If your phone is acting sluggish or strangely, initiate a “hard reset” by holding down the home and sleep buttons simultaneously.  Then wait until the phone powers down completely and then (this is IMPORTANT) do not release the buttons until you see the mirrored Apple logo display.

- If you have an iPhone 4GS or later, be aware that Siri can still access much of your personal data, such as addresses, contact information and calendar appointments even when the phone is locked.   (Similar to the first item, above.)  To prevent this go to settings>general>Passcode Lock, then turn the Siri option to Off.

>>For Google Now commands, click HERE.

In addition to installing telephone, fax and VoiP systems, we also specialize in videophone and video surveillance systems.  Now that prices have come down drastically in the video camera industry, it’s possible to install a quality video camera (wired or wireless) onto an existing computer system, with motion or time activated recording capability and the ability to access the camera and the archive from another computer or smart phone, all for less than $500.  Of course, for high-resolution cameras which can pan, tilt and zoom and broadcast in color, and for multiple, night time or weather-protected camera installations, the cost increases according to the features.  But it’s still a bargain.  For example, if you travel quite a bit and want to install a camera to keep an eye on the kids, the help or the pets or want to see if the lawn or pool service came to the house on time, a well placed camera and an internet connection can be very cost effective and easily monitored from a smart phone, providing you with instant peace of mind.  Call us for more information....


See the following for other useful phone explanations in this site’s glossary: DSL, DTMF, POTS, 66 BLOCK, Trunk line, SOFTPHONE, VoIP, BLACKBERRY, iPHONE, LOOPBACK, VONAGE, SKYPE, ANDROID, DEMARC, PHONENET, PBX, TIP & RING, “G” AND “3G,” RFID AND NFC. And Human Factors Engineering for the inventor of the telephone keypad.

Interested in learning more about mobile phone technologies?  Check out the definitions of types of mobile phone services under the definitions for GSM, CDMSA, UMTS and HSDPA.  [Most cell phones fall into the CDMA/EVDO or GSM/UMTS networks (or, sometimes, both).]

MURPHY’S LAWS OF COMPUTING #24:  Computers let you waste time efficiently.


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