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Playing with possibilities

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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This past month, Verizon Wireless sent me a fun phone to try out: the Motorola Z2 Play.

Overall, it is a nice phone to play around with. The phone itself is an upper mid-range phone, but the range of possibilities it offers is the fun part.

Let me explain. The phone’s functionality is all around solid. In my use, it was speedy, lightweight, had great battery life of more than a day and had a very nice looking display. But my primary focus in testing the device was not really based on the phone functionality itself. Rather, I was in it for the Moto Mods (think modifications). This is where the fun part comes in.

I got to try out three of the different mods: a speaker, camera and projector. The mods attach via magnet and easily snap on or off. Other available mods include a gamepad, extra battery, 360-degree camera and more.

The mod for the speaker was the Soundboost ($79.99) made by JBL. Once attached, the speaker mod made the phone quite a bit chunkier, but it was better than carrying around a separate bluetooth speaker. It has a kickstand, and when in use it adds a nice full sound to the music being played.

Using the mod over a standalone bluetooth speaker is a slight convenience — one less thing to carry with you — but I didn’t find myself taking the speaker mod out of the house, even, as I was not listening to music through a speaker on the go.

The camera mod was the Hasselblad 4116 True Zoom ($199.99). Hasselblad is a well respected camera company founded in 1841. Once you click on the mod, it transforms the phone into a digital camera with an expanding lens and dedicated zoom and shutter buttons.

A very nice feature is the 10x optical zoom. It provides much more clarity than a digital zoom, which is just software creating the zoom feature. The optical zoom is just like using a zoom lens on a film camera.

The pictures I took looked great when I saw the quick preview that pops up onscreen immediately after taking the picture, but when I looked at them later on the phone they did not have the vibrancy that I had seen before. This could be due to screen calibration and the fact that I viewed them later on a different device.

My favorite of the mods that I tried out was the Moto Insta-Share Projector ($299.99). Wow! This is a fun mod that allows one to project anything from the Moto Z2 Play screen (or other compatible Moto phone).

I tried it out on my ceiling and it looked great. I also took it camping and projected Moana on the side of an RV so the kids could enjoy a movie. (I am the Gadget Guy; of course I enjoy camping with technology!) The only complaint I had was that the sound was not robust enough for us to hear the soudtrack by the campfire. You can only attach one mod at a time, so the speaker mod could not remedy this.

In the future, I would know to bring a bluetooth speaker for the audio to work with the projector. The projector mod also has a built-in battery, so it extends the life of the smartphone battery while projecting.

My favorite thing to do with the projector was lay in bed and watch on my angled ceiling. It projects up to 70 inches and looks crisp with deep colors. My wife and I have avoided a TV in our bedroom, but on nights when we are exhausted (with young kids, that’s every night), it is a nice option to lay in bed and stream Netflix.

The projector is a must-have if you get the phone, but the mods only work with the Moto Z line. If you want flagship phones by Apple (iPhones) or Samsung (their latest being the Galaxy S8 and Note 8), you are out of luck using the mods.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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4 Electrical Safety Tips to Improve Efficiency at Home

Electrical Efficiency

Not a single day would go by without you using an electrical appliance at home. Since they are so common and using them would feel like second nature, people tend to forget the electrical risks associated with using the appliances carelessly. Here are some tips to maintain electrical safety at home and minimize the associated risks.

  • Update Aging Electrical Appliances

Check the age of your electrical appliances and electrical panels. When they age, the wiring gets frayed, there will be overheating issues and the components will get worn out. These factors are responsible for increasing the risk of electrocution and electrical fires in your home. These signs may also indicate that the appliances would run less efficiently than they are designed to. The issue will amplify if the appliances do not receive routine maintenance over an extended period of time.

You must conduct timely repairs and service the appliances regularly as it will ensure that your appliances run efficiently for a long time without presenting any risk of an accident. If you want to limit the energy wastage even more, consider upgrading the appliance with a new, Energy Star-rated model. Not only will it help you save money but assure you that the new appliance operates safely for many years.

  • Consolidate Webs of Extension Cords

Are electrical wire and cables running haphazardly on the floor or behind the furniture at your home? If yes, then the risk of electrical fires will go up. You can take preventive measures to make your home more energy-friendly and safe.

Swap out multiple extension cords with a single power strip. This will ensure that the room doesn’t consist of crisscrossed wires and people don’t trip on them. At the same time, the power strip will also ensure that the outlets do not get overloaded and affect the energy efficiency.

Invest in power strips that have a surge protector as it will further limit the chances of a house fire. Be aware of appliances that continue to drain electricity even when they are turned off. You can corral such appliances to their own surge protector as it will make it easy to cut off the low-key energy wasters at the source.

  • Investigate Light Flickering

If the lights flicker a lot, it indicates that there is an electrical issue. Generally, loose wiring splices, worn light fixtures and deterioration of light fixtures are responsible for the inconsistent flow of power and such wiring types need to be replaced.

Apart from interrupted power flow, flickering lights also indicate that the wiring setup within the house may need repair. Consider all the possible solutions that you can implement in order to protect your home and family from combustible consequences of wiring failure in the future.

  • Focus on the Outdoors

Don’t just focus on the wiring inside the house. It is equally important to place attention on outdoor electrical safety as numerous electrical hazards can be found outside the house too. Here are some ways to ensure safety outdoors:

  • Prune the trees away from the power lines overhead
  • Avoid flying model aircrafts, kites or balloons near the power lines
  • Avoid swimming or playing in water during an electrical storm, even if there is no rain
  • Don’t approach a downed power line to determine if it’s live or not, because even if it looks ‘dead’ it may be live and extremely dangerous. If you have a downed line, call the concerned authorities.
  • Inspect the surrounding areas carefully when you use a ladder or construction electrical products to ensure that they are free from power lines.

Don’t take electrical safety lightly! Instill safe electrical habits amongst your family members — you won’t lose sleep over their safety.

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Author Bio: Jeson Pitt works with the marketing department of D&F Liquidators and regularly writes to share his knowledge while enlightening people about electrical products and solving their electrical dilemmas. He’s got the industry insights that you can count on along with years of experience in the field. Jeson lives in Hayward, CA and loves to explore different cuisines that the food trucks in the Bay area have to offer.

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New Developments in VR Will Change the Way You Use the Internet

VR HeadsetIt’s fascinating how virtual reality trends in recent years have paved the way for a reimagined future for all kinds of businesses. The mere fact that you can put on a VR headset and transport yourself to anywhere without budging already screams limitless possibilities.

Decades ago, virtual technologies cost a fortune and were only assigned to certain scientific practices as well as military simulations. It was only with the sudden release of consumer VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR and the PlayStation VR that companies called for an innovation in their current practices. According to a survey published by Education Technology, three quarters of people believe that VR will positively impact their lives.

Nowadays, you can see virtual reality being marketed in different industries, the gaming sector most especially. Since video games are an interactive medium that lets you escape to alternate worlds, incorporating virtual reality makes sense. Although, sometimes, depending on the game’s narrative, virtual reality can be a hit or miss.

A writer for TechRadar shared her thoughts on playing Rise of the Tomb Raider in virtual reality. She said that virtual reality brought a different experience to the game’s story elements. Since you literally play through the eyes of the protagonist Lara Croft, some emotional scenes weren’t as impactful, compared to when you see a visibly shaken Lara Croft onscreen.

For context, Tomb Raider was one of those 20-year-old classic games that long-time gamers hold dear to their hearts. The game’s reboot in 2013 made it an even bigger franchise, because it appealed to a new generation of gamers. Because of its widespread success, several other companies have adapted their signature games – partnering with the franchise because of its notoriety among gaming circles. For instance, Slingo launched a Tomb Raider-themed slot game to appeal to fans of the franchise. Similarly, Warner Bros. recently released a trailer for the live-action adaptation of the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, with the intent of introducing it to a much more mainstream audience. Since many fans have emotions attached to Lara Croft, who is now a household name, it was imperative for developers to provide other innovative ways for audiences to connect with her better.

The inclusion of virtual reality was one such method. But as previously indicated, good game design as well as a VR-friendly narrative would be integral.

Virtual reality is still in its infancy anyway, as companies are still exploring ways to utilize it. Aside from games, the Internet seems to be the next biggest beneficiary of this technology.

Google has just announced a new feature where you can browse the web through virtual reality (VR). Now most websites rely heavily on text, so it doesn’t seem very exciting to visit them in virtual reality. But other web pages will definitely take advantage. This new feature poses great opportunities for browser video games, hotels and real estate websites.

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines in 2014 when he acquired the Oculus for 2 billion dollars. He noted in a Facebook post, ”This is a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life.” Zuckerberg’s aim is bring virtual reality to a more personal and social level. Just imagine a social media platform that gives an organic experience. Instead of browsing through your friends’ photos of their travels, you can be present with them, albeit virtually.

With Google and Facebook both investing in VR, it seems like the Internet is gradually entering a virtual reality revolution. Next thing we know, we’ll have virtual online dinner parties with relatives stationed all over the world.

The future is indeed bright.

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Software for child Internet safety

Internet safetyThis post was originally published September 7, 2017 in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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I have never heard a client say, “I am happy that my child has complete access to the Internet. I don’t need to be aware of what they’re watching.” That’s because it simply isn’t true.

Parents want to protect their children and ensure they’re safe while using the Internet. And appropriate levels of access differ across age ranges.

For a while now, I have been using Qustodio, a great parental control software, for creating a safe Internet experience for my own children and setting it up for clients’ use as well. I have played around with quite a few different applications, and Qustodio is by far my favorite.

For me, it is about balancing both time limits and content safety, meaning the applications and services that are allowed to be used on their devices. But for others, it can be more about cutting off Internet access at certain hours — so that kids are not up all night on their phones, tablets or laptops — or being aware of the device usage and sites visited. Additionally, it can limit all sorts of access to the web and allow for tracking the use of their devices.

The software is fantastic. It has a web portal for parental control and it is installed as a background program, or app, on the kids’ devices. Once installed, parents can set up rules for time limits and specified hourly cutoffs, limit the type of online sites viewed and track social media, text and call info, even if it is deleted.

Qustodio is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Fire (Amazon) devices. It is free to install and use on one device, but for multiple devices there are annual fees — which most people will accept, as one generally wants to track a laptop as well as a phone, for example.

When installing the application, you have the option to choose if it is a child’s or parent’s device, meaning a tracked device or tracking device. You can also set it up so that it is not viewable on the child’s devices if you want to be stealthy about it. Note that regardless, kids cannot remove it from their devices or disable it without the password.

For my young girls, I turn off nearly all Internet access and only allow YouTube Kids, Netflix, Google Play Movies and Amazon Videos — plus games, which generally do not require Internet access. For parents with older children who want the Internet on, you can restrict types of sites like pornography, gambling, etc., and also see thumbnails of the sites that are visited. It is pretty impressive to see the actual sites visited.

There are hardware devices out there as well, like Circle with Disney, which control access to your wireless router and therefore can cut off Internet based on rules and times you set up. However, you do not get the granular detail of devices usage with Circle, such as seeing which websites were accessed, nor does it work away from your home network unless you pay for an additional service through them.

I much prefer the software control instead of the hardware control, as I have found Circle to be a bit cumbersome to set up and begin using. You can use it to completely cut off Internet at any time like a quick kill switch, which can be great when chores need to be completed before the Internet is turned back on.

Whichever route you choose to go, it is important to be responsible with children’s online usage. Having open conversations and sharing the basic dos and don’ts of their use is an important step in raising kids that are savvy and safe with online use.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Putting new wearables to the test

smartwatchThis post was originally published July 27, 2017 in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Wearable technology is a category of tech devices that are worn by the user. This includes smartwatches, smartglasses, fitness trackers and more.

Recently, I was provided with the opportunity to try out three wearables available through Verizon Wireless (they were loaned to me for review purposes). While wearables have been slow to catch on, I happen to be a fan. I wore a Fitbit for a couple of years before getting my current smartwatch, which I wear daily.

The first wearable I tried was the Verizon Wear24. It is an Android smartwatch and very similar to my daily wearable, the LG Watch Urbane, a device that is now almost two years old. The difference between the two is the Wear24 has cellular built into it. One can make and receive calls directly on one’s wrist, a feature I have to admit I didn’t find useful.

All in all, it is a solid smartwatch that can help with providing notifications on your wrist for calls, texts, emails, reminders and more. I also liked that, when used with the Google Fit app, the smartwatch could track your steps and activities. I liked the watch altogether and enjoyed wearing it.

Next, I tried the Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 smartwatch. The Gear S2 runs on the Samsung-developed Tizen operating system and can work with Android and iOS (iPhone) phones.

The Gear S2 works with all sorts of apps for notifications, including Google apps like Gmail and Google Calendar. For fitness, it is closely tied into Samsung’s S Health suite, and I did not get to experience just how that would translate over to a non-Samsung phone.

My favorite feature with the Gear S2 was that the bezel could be rotated to take one through the various options on the smartwatch. That being said, I found the Gear S2 needed quite a bit of customization to get the most use out of the apps that can be loaded from it and the quick access notification buttons. I liked the smartwatch, but recognized that more time would be needed to get it fully optimized to have all of the shortcuts and needed apps fully set up.

The Fitbit Charge 2 is a wearable, but not a traditional smartwatch; however, it is close. The wearable shows the time and provides notifications for calls and texts, but it does not allow the user to initiate any actions on the smartphone. For example, you can receive a text message but you cannot reply from the Charge 2; you have to reply from your phone.

As a fitness tracker, the Charge 2 is great. You can see your step count, heart rate, calorie count and more. It is easy to access the various readings by simply tapping through them.

Wearables really depend on the person wearing them and their purpose. If one is looking simply for tracking fitness, then Fitbit’s line of products is worth a gander. If the goal is to replace a watch and have the ability to receive notifications and quickly respond from the wrist, then a smartwatch is the route to take. All of the above are worth taking a look at.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Questions to ask before you buy

Shopping

This post was originally published in the June 29, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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When purchasing technology devices and systems like printers, computers, home theater systems and more, there are a number of things to look for. The following list is a starting point for questions to ask and information to gather while researching a technology purchase:

What is the warranty and return policy? Will I have the opportunity to test out the product?

Be wary of any products that do not guarantee satisfaction. Technology can be tricky and you may not know if it is a good fit for you without trying it out first.

What is their return policy? Does the warranty cover a year or only 30 days? I would be hesitant to purchase something with a very minimal warranty.

If the product is defective, try returning it to the retailer first; I have found returning to the retailer to be less time consuming than having to go through the manufacturer.

I am not a fan of extended warranties, but they can save you a headache later, especially for a high priced item. Keep it in mind and weigh the cost of the warranty versus replacing the product.

What additional hardware (computer, smartphone, tablet) or software (Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS) is needed?

Many devices run with a computer or smartphone being used to read results or track activity like a Fitbit or other wearable device. If it is software, make sure it is for the correct operating system. If additional hardware or software is needed, make sure you have that factored into the total cost of owning the device or system.

What is the initial cost? Is there an ongoing subscription fee? Is there any long-term commitment?

Understanding the price is always important, and sometimes there is a monthly fee associated with monitoring and/or servicing the device. Make sure you understand your total cost of ownership.

Don’t purchase a product with a subscription fee if you are not using the features. Look for a comparable product without monthly fees. The Ring Video Doorbell is a good example: It offers a small fee for recording and saving videos.

Once the product is purchased, is there a contract holding you to a period of time where you must continue to pay a subscription fee? TiVo is a great service, but in order for it to work, you either need to pay monthly or purchase a lifetime subscription. Just as suggested above, ensure you need the subscription and therefore the contract. If not, consider a comparable product without the long-term commitment.

When should you buy the most recent model versus an older model?

Technology changes quickly and it is often best to buy the newest model to ensure it will be relevant as long as possible. I would suggest this for computers. However, for smartphones you will get a better deal buying the slightly older model.

The same goes for TVs: If you don’t need the 4K TV today, buy the HD TV and save some money. Ask if they have an upgrade program to allow you to get a discounted newer model when available.

What are the features and functions?

Does this product fulfill my needs? Does it have the features and functions that I require? For many products, there are product options that are more or less full-featured and the cost will vary based on the features. Make sure the product you choose fills your needs fully; if not, find one that does. 

What do the reviews say?

If possible, read reviews on the technology product.

Do a Google search for reviews and see what others have to say. Go to the product website and see if there are reviews there. If the product is on Amazon.com, that is a great place to read user reviews; Newegg.com and Bestbuy.com are also good sites for reviews.

Is accessibility an issue?

Do you have any limitations or health concerns that may affect your use of technology? Are the buttons on the remote too small? Is it too hard to read the screen? Think about your current devices and any troubles you may have with them.

Purchasing technology can seem overwhelming if you are new to the device or system being purchased. Following the above list will help to ensure you are asking the right questions to enable you to find the appropriate technology for your needs.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through www.gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.home technology help

 

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A cheap, versatile home printer option

Printer

This post was originally published in the April, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Printers.

It used to be quite an investment to buy a new printer to go with your new computer setup. But printers have dropped tremendously in price and become disposable items with the replacement ink sometimes costing more than the printer itself.

Gone are the days of the slow dot matrix printers. Today, we get to choose between inkjet and laser printers. Laser printers are higher quality, but unless you are a professional business, an inkjet will fulfill all of your daily needs, including printing photos for personal use.

I like the all-in-one printers that include printer, scanner and copier options in one device. I also like the document feeder as opposed to only having a flatbed to lay down an image or document on for scanning, copying or faxing.

The faxing function is not one I truly worry about, but it is generally included if there is a scanning option.

If you really need to fax, and it is rare that you do these days, you can use an online service. I use faxZERO.com and it is a simple service. You scan in your own document and then the service faxes it for you; no need to use a separate phone line or have a traditional phone line for faxing at all. That specific service is free for faxes up to three pages plus a cover sheet and only $1.99 for faxes that are larger than that.

Personally, I have always been fond of Hewlett Packard printers. My recent go-to printer for clients has been a sub-$100 all-in-one inkjet, the HP Officejet 4650. It is a basic printer with a monochrome screen, but being well under $100, it is definitely a disposable that will at least last a couple of years.

The ink, for a two-pack of black and color, is about half the price of the printer, but that still isn’t much money. The printer also works with both Mac and Windows PCs, so it is an easy choice for most people.

The printer is also capable of a wireless connection with your computer, so there is no need for wires between the printer and your computer. Additionally, it can also print wirelessly from your Android or Apple mobile devices, which is a nice little bonus.

If you haven’t printed from your mobile devices like your smartphone or tablet, it is a nice treat to not have to open up your laptop or boot up your desktop just to quickly print out a PDF receipt or email.

If you are in the market for a printer, think about how you will use it and how often you realistically print and then consider an inexpensive option.

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Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found at gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Smart as a doorbell

Doorbell

This post was originally published in the May 19, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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I recently had the opportunity to test out two products available from Verizon Wireless, among other locations: the Canary security system, a video camera with motion alerts, and the Ring Video Doorbell, which is a one-way video, two-way audio doorbell system.

Canary has been on my wish list for quite some time, so when Verizon Wireless offered for me to try it out, I was looking forward to it. I already have a couple of IP cameras (wirelessly connected cameras) in my house, but the Canary is a security device, not simply a camera.

The Canary requires Internet connection. It has the usual HD camera with night vision and a 147-degree viewing angle with three times digital zoom.

Where the Canary begins to differentiate itself from other cameras is the built-in, 90-decibel siren and that it also tracks temperature, humidity and air quality. I could not pull that information to my Amazon Echo, so it appears to simply be useful information to know.

The Canary of course has native apps for both iOS (Apple) and Android smartphones.

What does it do? When I talk about it, I talk about it as a security system, not a camera system.

When opening the app, it does not automatically open to a live view of what the camera sees but rather a home page listing the environmental settings (temperature, humidity, air quality) with options to view live or view your timeline.

The timeline is pretty cool. Canary is set up to chirp at you (via your smartphone) when there is activity or motion in front of it. Other IP cameras can do motion detection, but they generally require some setup to enable that functionality. It also records a snippet of video around that notification so you can view, via your timeline, the video associated with the activity the camera saw.

Canary is a learning system and is supposed to have the ability to learn your schedule and automatically adjust the mode to home or away, but I have to admit it never thought I was home, so every movement in front of the camera triggered a notification. I have read that pets can trigger motion detection as well.

I had set my settings for when I was home to be private and not record video or give me notifications, but again, this didn’t work as set up.

According to Canary: “When set to private, Canary’s camera, microphone, and motion detection capabilities are fully disabled. Only temperature, humidity, and air quality information are uploaded to the Canary Cloud.”

Without membership, you get 24 hours of recorded video. With membership, starting at $9.99 per month, you get 30 days of stored video and reimbursement of your homeowners or renters insurance deductible up to $1,000 in case of a burglary, plus an extended two-year warranty for your Canary.

Unlike the Canary, the Ring Video Doorbells is meant to be installed at your front door. Ring Video Doorbell had never really interested me in the past, but I wanted to at least test it out.

I was very impressed. It is the product that I didn’t know I wanted or needed.

What does a video doorbell do, you may ask?

When someone rings your doorbell, you are notified on your smartphone (Android and iOS) and have the option to view the ringer through the installed HD camera in the doorbell. It also provides two-way audio so you can ask them what they want if you don’t recognize them.

Mind you, you do not even need to be home to answer the ring. I could be out and my kids alone at home and the doorbell rings; I can answer it, send the ringer away and notify my kids via phone that they should not answer the door.

You can turn on motion detection and get a notification each time there is movement in front of your doorbell, and you can always look in live.

With a paid account of $3 per month, it provides the ability to have all of your alerted events recorded and viewable in a cloud account for up to 6 months, plus a one-year warranty. You can even download or share the events — useful if it recorded an activity outside your door that you’d like to share with police. The free account simply doesn’t record anything.

You need to spend an additional $30 for the Chime accessory if you want it to ring a sound in your home. It’s free if you just want the ring on your smartphone. However, it is fully compatible with the doorbell you may already have wired, and it can use that doorbell for inside notification.

One drawback that I found with Ring was that it needs charging, even when hardwired.

If it is hardwired to your existing doorbell chime, that will hopefully keep it charged. But there is the following message on Ring’s website: “Note: Depending on usage and temperature, the power from the doorbell wires may not be enough to keep your Ring charged, and the battery percentage may drop slightly over time.”

From the forum posts I read, it sounds like you will have to take it inside to charge every once in awhile. Ring provides a proprietary screw and driver so that it cannot simply be removed by anyone who wants to steal it.

Unless you don’t mind a lot of false-alarm beeps, I would hold off on the Canary for now. But give the Ring Video Doorbell a try. It provides a fun, new experience and added security to your front door entry.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Troubleshooting home Wi-Fi

Wireless RouterThis post was originally published in the April 6, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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“My Wi-Fi doesn’t work.”

I hear this quite a bit. Wireless networks can be finicky and there are quite a few things to look at to ensure your network is working properly and to its fullest potential. Without getting into the deepest of technical details, the following are basic things to look at and correct when trying to improve your home wireless signal and coverage.

The first thing to do in troubleshooting is to connect a computer directly to your router via ethernet cable. This rules out that any connectivity issues you have are due to your internet service provider (ISP) such as US Internet, Comcast or CenturyLink. If you have a strong signal while connected via ethernet, then it is time to look at your router to see if you can fix the problem with the wireless signal that is being spread through your home.

Next, power cycle your router. Unplug the power cord, wait 10 seconds and then plug it back in, giving it time to get back up and running. This generally solves temporary problems, but will not fix any bigger problems or long-term issues.

If that doesn’t work, review the router’s placement. Routers can be placed under desks or behind other electronics like a TV, and if you have problems, shifting that placement can help. It may be that, for your setup, the router needs to be in plain view in order to maintain adequate coverage.

The construction of your home can be a factor here, and what may work in one home or even one room may not work in another room with a similar layout. The material of your walls matters; brick walls are typically not good for Wi-Fi signals. As I understand it, wireless signals are stronger going up than down.

If you have ever tried to get into the administrative settings on your router (logging into your router), you can see that there are a lot of settings that you may have never heard of before. One of these settings is “channel.” The channel is not something you normally need to change, but there are ways to see if the same channel is being used by your neighbors and causing interference. If that is the case, you can look for a stronger channel and manually change it.

Another way to improve Wi-Fi in your home is to use a powerline adapter, wireless extender or both.

Powerline adapters are quite amazing. They connect between two units, the first one directly connected to your router and the second one connected to a device of your choice (i.e smart TV, streaming box, computer, etc.) via ethernet cable. Both powerline adapter units plug into your wall outlets and use your home’s circuitry to send the wireless signal as though it were hardlined. It is a great way to get wireless to a smart TV or streaming box.

If you have an older house with old wiring, the powerline adapter may not work as well. Both outlets you use should be on the same circuit for optimal performance, however I have seen them still work well regardless.

Wireless extenders are another way of getting your signal to spread farther in your home. They just plug into an outlet and then take your existing signal and boost it. They create a new network name — “mynetwork_EXT,” for example, with the “EXT” for extender. You can keep them the same name as your existing network, but then your devices may be connecting to the weaker part of a network rather than the extender.

Be on the lookout for the new, up-and-coming option of mesh networks, like Google Wi-Fi and the Netgear Orbi system. Supposedly mesh networks offer much better wireless speeds than range extenders and blanket an area in wireless to lose dead spots.

Hopefully this will help with some basic troubleshooting that you can do to improve your home wireless network.

 

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through www.gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Surround Sound: From 2.0 to 7.1 and Beyond

Surround Sound

This post was originally published in the February 23, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Surround sound systems can be confusing when reviewing how many audio channels they have, and this includes sound bars, which are not simply one long speaker.

Let’s go through and review what the different numbers mean when you look at a system that says Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 Channel DTS. The gist is that the numbers refer to discrete speakers — or really channels, as you can have one speaker that plays more than one channel.

— 2.0 means right and left stereo sound with two distinct channels. This is just like your old stereo systems that separate sounds to create a more full experience. Almost all devices you have with two speakers will at least have stereo sound.

— 2.1 adds in a subwoofer for a separate bass sound. The subwoofer only gets counted as one tenth of a channel; this is because it is not distinct sounds that come through the bass, but rather low frequency effects. Many sound bars have 2.1 surround; you have stereo sound but also the subwoofer helping to fill in more depth to the audio. Sometimes the subwoofer is even built into the sound bar, which can muffle sounds a bit.

— 3.1 adds a center speaker to separate audio dialogue that has been processed for a distinct channel. The right and left channels are still distinct and the third channel/speaker is between them. This can be found in sound bars and home theater systems that have three speakers or a bar in the front and then a separate or built-in subwoofer.

— 5.1 adds in two rear speakers to the mix. The new channels offer rear surround sound and with higher quality processing on even right and left channels (Dolby Digital 5.1 has 5 distinct channels plus subwoofer, whereas the older Dolby Pro Logic only has the rear sound in mono as opposed to stereo). This is the sound that most people are looking for in a home theater system. When watching something move in a circle on TV like a helicopter, the sound can travel from directly in front of you (center channel) to your right (right front speaker), behind you on your right (right rear speaker), continue on behind you to your left (left rear speaker) and end on your left in front of you (left front speaker) — all the while with some bass added in for low-frequency effects.

— 6.1 adds in an additional back surround channel that is like your center channel, but for sound behind of you. This is a less common setup but still available, nonetheless.

— 7.1 adds in two inward facing side speakers, but my research shows that DVD movies are not made with 7.1 discrete channels for viewing in the home (Blu-Rays can be). Of course, in a movie theater there are many more channels and speakers!

With even more channels, there are more speakers added to create a complete surround sound effect. Systems can have 8.1, 9.1, and so on.

Confused yet? The most common configurations are 2.0, 2.1 and 5.1. If you want to hear the sound behind you, then 5.1 is the way to go.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through www.gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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