Category Archives: Personal Tech

Alexa and the Echo Dot on the Go

Amazon Echo Dot at my office.

Setting up the Echo Dot at my remote office and hoping Alexa will absorb some more technical knowledge.

I’ve been playing around the Amazon’s Echo Dot for just under a week now and was curious about its portability. Obviously, the hardware just needs a place to plug in and a Wi-Fi network to access but I was really wondering if I could run its data through my phone’s 4G hotspot. Public networks are fine and I don’t do any secure transactions through the Dot but I just had to know!

I have one of the Samsung Galaxy Prime phones which has served me pretty well for the past year. I don’t use the hotspot much but it comes in pretty handy when I want to login to a private site from a local restaurant and the MetroPCS 4G signal is really good in the area.

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My First 24 Hours With Alexa

Chatting with Amazon's Alexa and the Echo DotI couldn’t resist any longer and decided to welcome Amazon’s Alexa into my home. I was a little hesitant at first about letting Amazon put a microphone in my house but my curiosity won out. I live alone anyway and the device can always be unplugged if necessary. At worst, it might get me to stop talking to myself so much.

I wasn’t sure how useful the service would ultimately be but at $49.99, I decided the Echo Dot was affordable enough to take a chance on.  Miniaturizing the Echo and setting the price low was a smart move on Amazon’s part.  In addition to decreasing the cost of purchase, it also turns it into a potential repeat purchase as customers decide they want access to Alexa throughout their homes. Amazon is even offering the Dot in discounted 6- and 12-packs.

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A Quick Guide To Keeping Your Flash Drive Data Safe

Flash_Drive_v._Floppy

Personal data storage has come a long way …

When I started using computers about 30 years ago, the floppy disk was the standard of personal data storage. I actually started out using the 5.25″ disk so the 3.5″ disk with it’s hard case and a little bit more space was a welcome improvement at the time.

We’ve come a long way in the last three decades and now we have flash drives that can store tens of thousands of times as much data as the old 1.44 MB disk. Although smaller sizes are still available, the smallest flash drive you’re likely to see now can carry 8 GB of data which would have been enough to backup my first hard drive a few hundred times over.

While file sizes have gotten much bigger, that’s still a lot of data to carry around, especially if some of it is of a personal nature. That has its own risks as I found out first hand a couple weeks ago.

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New Kindle Fire for $49.99!

The Kindle Fire goes on sale for $49.99 on Sept. 30, 2015.

The Kindle Fire goes on sale for $49.99 on Sept. 30, 2015.

I don’t usually do blatant advertising in these posts but I have to get the word out about this one. On September 30, 2015, Amazon.com will be selling the 7″ Kindle Fire with 8GB of memory and Wi-Fi for only $49.99. That’s a fantastic price for a great product. I’ve had mine for a few months now and love. it.  In addition to reading books, I can watch Netflix on it, surf the web, listen to music and take pictures.  I’ve been amazed by the video and audio quality on it and the camera is better than the one on my smartphone.

If you’ve been thinking about getting a tablet, I would definitely recommend the Kindle Fire. With webmail and all the free apps available through Amazon’s store, I can do most everyday tasks on my Kindle Fire. The voice recognition is also excellent so it’s easy to dictate e-mails and updates.

At $49.99, the Kindle Fire is something you definitely have to consider when buying a new tablet.

(In the interest of full-disclosure, the links in this post are affiliate links.)

Portable USB Chargers – Simple, Inexpensive and Useful Accessories

51cSWdgxMHL._SL1000_In our new world of rechargeable devices and constant connection, more battery power is never a bad thing. Seeing a battery indicator at 5% and a device begging to be recharged sends many people into a scramble looking for the nearest convenient charging solution. When there’s no outlet available or when you don’t want to leave your device tethered to a wall for the next hour, miniature USB chargers can be a lifesaver whether you’re on the road trying to summon assistance on your phone or just trying to buy some more time on your tablet at a crowded conference.

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Laptop Bags Don’t Have to be Expensive

After you’ve bought your new laptop computer, taken it out of the box and set it up, your next thought might naturally be “What am I going to carry this in?”. That laptop you just spent hundreds of dollars for is sitting there on your desk and looks naked and unprotected without one of those fancy laptop bags that will protect your new computer when you take it on trips or to the coffee shop. They’re also great for carrying cords and extra gear as well as a few papers now and then.

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Alcatel OneTouch Fierce Hotspot Stops Working

See the end of this post for the March 2015 update. I got it working again for now.

Earlier this year, I upgraded to an Alcatel OneTouch Fierce smartphone from the $20 cheapo phone I was using and was pretty happy to be back in the Android camp with all the available apps and the usable ‘Net and mail features I’d been doing without, not to mention the 4G service that Sprint had never delivered in this area but charged me for anyway. About a month ago, I noticed the hotspot feature on the Alcatel and, for $5 / month, figured it was a great deal. Now, I could share my 4G signal with my laptop, log in more securely in public and even have  a backup broadband service for my PC when my ISP’s service occasionally flakes out.

The Problem

All was going good for about a month until this weekend when the hotspot suddenly stopped working. My PC and laptop would still show a good connection to the hotspot but I couldn’t load any pages in the browser. Chrome would spend about 15 seconds trying to establish a connection and then report that the page took too long to load. Firefox was the same. I tried with three different machines and three different operating systems (Windows XP / 7  and 8) and all did the same.

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Favorite Android Apps – Hi-Q MP3 Recorder

One of the many advantages of carrying an all-in-one device like a smartphone is the ability to record notes to myself, whether it’s short reminders or dictation of study notes. A device with some storage space can even store longer recordings including lectures and meetings. The old micro-cassette recorders and other voice recording technologies have easily been made obsolete by the near-ubiquitous recording features of the current generation of phones.

The only drawback for me was the AMR format that is standard with Android sound recording apps. If I’m going to be recording, I want to use the standard MP3 format that can be played on pretty much whatever device or software I’m using and can be recorded in various bit rates to balance the need for quality against the length of the recording and the space available. After comparing a few apps, I settled on the Hi-Q MP3 Recorder from Yuku.

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Alcatel OneTouch – Fixing dark video problems on the camcorder

Yesterday, I reviewed the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce smartphone that I picked up last week. As I mentioned, one of its quirks is that the videos taken through the camcorder feature are sometimes extremely dark, so dark as to be unviewable. This only seems to happen inside and I was not able to get it to happen outside, even in dim surroundings.

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Alcatel OneTouch Fierce – Budget Phone Review

About a year ago, I got tired of the high smartphone bill I was paying for my HTC EVO
and, after trying out an ultra-budget TracFone solution, I decided to switch over to MetroPCS and a $20 Huawei phone. Over the past year, that’s probably made up for at least some of the money I threw at Sprint but I missed my mobile Internet connection and all the Android utilities I’d become so used to. I also got tired of pocket-dialing people on the cheapo Huawei keypad and the phone was starting to act flaky.

610214634436So, this past week, I started looking at some of the budget offerings from MetroPCS and saw the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce. Since it’s been out for a few months, it was as low as $29 depending on the line options and that was good enough for me.

The OneTouch actually surpasses the EVO that I had in some ways, although three years later that’s not completely surprising. it’s running Android 4.2 (Jellybean) and has a hi-def 4.5 inch screen with plenty of room to work. This is a 4G phone which is already an improvement over the 3G service I was limited to with Sprint. The service from the combination of the MetroPCS and T-Mobile networks has been pretty good so far, even outside a major metropolitan area.

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