Q: I was letting my three-year-old play with my iPhone when she spit up all over it. Eww. I need to get it clean. Like, really clean, not just “dab-it-with-a-lint-free-cloth clean.” It’s a phone. You put it up to your face! And I just know it's crawling with germs now. How can I disinfect my iPhone?
A: Oh, that is gross! However, even if your kid hadn't aimed for your iPhone, a couple of recent studies have shown that even cellphones that haven't been victims of three-year-olds are “veritable reservoirs of pathogens.” A sample of smartphones showed abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination. So, with that in mind you’ll definitely want to clean your phone. A lint-free cloth and some alcohol should kill 99% of bacteria.
However, certain touch-screen smart-phones, including the iPhone, have an oleophobic coating on them to protect them from smudges and fingerprints. Apple specifically warns not to use any product with alcohol in it to clean the iPhone or iPad screens. Using cleaners with alcohol will wear down the oleophobic coating on your iPhone and iPad.
Now, anecdotal evidence indicates that an occasional light cleaning with alcohol doesn’t seem to have much ill effect on an iPhone, but you use it against the manufacturer’s recommendations and at your own risk. Be sure to test any cleaner you try before use. Dab a small amount of it on the corner of your cellphone’s screen. Better to damage a small piece of your screen than the entire thing.
However, most phones can be cleansed with just a small amount of mild soap and a little bit of water. Make sure that the rag is just a little wet. That will get rid of most germs. It won't kill the germs, but it will get them off your phone, which is all that really matters, right? You'll have a phone with hardly any germs on it. Of course, you'll want to consult the manual for your device before trying this at …
Q: I love that the Kindle holds my furthest location, but my wife and I share one account. That makes things really annoying when she finishes a book when I am just starting it. Is there a way to reset the synchronization, or just turn it off?
A: When you read an eBook on a Kindle ereader or app, Amazon peaks over your shoulder and keeps track of what page you are on. The feature called Whispersync tracks what you are reading so you don't have to find your place. The next time you open your eBook, even if you open your eBook on another device, it will open to the last page you had open when you closed it.
But, if you are sharing an account with someone, and you are both trying to read the same book, it can get pretty irritating. However, it is pretty easy to change it so that it stops doing that, if you know where to find it.
Here’s what you do. Go to Amazon.com on your computer. Then click Your Account > Manage Your Kindle > Manage Your Devices > Manage Kindle Device Synchronization. Now, under the heading Device Synchronization (Whispersync Settings), click Turn Off.
Wait a little while, maybe about 10 minutes.
On your Kindle device or your Kindle app, exit the book and reopen it. Turn to the first page in the book, and try to sync your book to the furthest position. It should say that you are at the furthest position if it worked correctly.
If you want to turn synchronization back on, just go back to Amazon.com and click Turn On under Device Synchronization.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to synchronize or un-synchronize just one of your books. But, as long as you don’t move your position in your books, when you reopen the book after you turn synchronization back on, they will still be at the position and will sync at that position.
Q: I like to charge my phone overnight while I'm sleeping. It really only takes a couple hours to charge the phone, so this worries me. I have heard that charging a battery too long can shorten its lifespan. Is this true?
A: There’s a lot of contradictory advice about batteries out there. The reason for this is because there are a lot of different types of batteries, and different types require different care. A similar thing that I had heard was that if you unplugged them before they were finished charging, you would reduce their charging capacity. That was pretty worrying to me because sometimes I need to grab my phone and go, whether it’s done charging or not. Was this killing my battery?
Fortunately, neither of us needs to worry. You see, virtually all modern smart phones use lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are designed with the understanding that you’re going to be using your cellphone on the go. Sometimes you’ll need to unplug before you’re finished charging; sometimes you’ll plug in the phone for a quick top-off, and, of course, you'll often leave it plugged in overnight. These batteries are designed for all of that.
And it’s also OK to recharge your battery before it runs all the way down. In fact, for lithium-ion batteries, it’s preferable. Maybe once a month or so, let your battery run all the way down before charging it. This will help calibrate the battery. But most of the time you don’t need to do this.
The truth is, the major threat to your battery life is time. Rechargeable batteries have something known as "charge cycles." A charge cycle is basically going from near-empty to completely full. Every phone battery has a finite number of charge cycles. That number is very large, but eventually your phone’s battery will reach a point where its charging capacity starts getting smaller. Rechargeable batteries just don’t last forever.
Now, going back to your …
Q: I have a printer problem but not with how it works: it's the cost of operation. We bought two inkjet printers for my kids to use in college. While the printers were very cheap to purchase, they have been very expensive to operate. I am not sure which cost more - college tuition or the ink for the printers! Now that the kids have graduated, I would really like to find a printer that’s inexpensive to run and has decent print quality for occasional home use. Any ideas?
A: Inkjet printers are often cheap to buy, but they are notoriously expensive to maintain. When I was working for a certain office supply company years ago, I learned that the companies that make the printers actually make their money off selling the ink. But here's a question for you, how much do you really need to print? That question may sound crazy but, do you have a mobile device that could replace whatever you are using the printer for? In my house, we hardly print anything anymore because we have an iPad. You would be surprised at how much a tablet or good smartphone will replace printing stuff out.
Remember going to MapQuest and printing out directions before you went on a trip? A device with built-in GPS can take care of that. One of the main selling points for inkjets is that they are fantastic for printing out high resolution color pictures, but how often do you really need to do that? Again, that's something that a lot of folks who own tablets and smartphones don't need because the pictures look better on the mobile device, and if you want to show them off, most of them have a way you can show the pictures on your high def television screen. If you do need to print some pictures, your local print shop can probably do a much better job and do it cheaper, all things being equal.
My wife really only uses our printer for couponing and the occasional form that has to printed out and signed. You don't need a color printer for that. So, she did some research and discovered …
Q: I’ve heard that you’re supposed to have a good password to keep hackers from breaking into your account, but how do I know what a secure password is? I know I shouldn’t use something dumb like 123abc but I don’t think I can remember a bunch of random letters and numbers. What would you recommend?
A: First of all, there are different guidelines for home users and work users. Here are some password security basics for home users:
Never share a computer account,
never use the same password for more than one account,
never tell a password to anyone, including people who claim to be from customer service or security,
never email your password to anyone,
be sure to log off or lock your screen before leaving a computer unattended,
change your password whenever you think that it may have been compromised, and
don’t use guessable passwords: this includes your spouse’s name, your kid’s name, your pet’s name, and of course your name.
A perfect password would be made up entirely of random letters numbers and special characters, be as long as possible, and not be used anywhere else. Unfortunately, this is not humanly possible. Unless you use something like LastPass. LastPass is a password management app. It suggests complicated, secure passwords for any website or application, and it remembers all of them for you.
Here is another easy way to create strong, secure passwords: instead of using random letters and numbers, use a long string of separate words. For instance, something like "OrangeShrimpOrphanSingers."
Separate each word with a number to make the password alphanumeric. Try not to make the words related to each other because that will make them easier to guess. But you will likely find four words easier to remember than eight or 10 random characters, and because the password is longer, it is actually tougher to crack.
Oh, and you know how you’ve always been told …
Q: My son wants to make computer games for iPhones and Android phones. He’s only 15, so college is still a few years off. Should he wait until college to get started? What could he do to start learning now?
A: If he’s interested now, there's no need to wait. Kids are learning how to “code” or write computer programs or mobile phone apps as young as five and six, but really twelve is about the perfect age to start coding. He should probably start with basic web programming, for a good foundation, but he doesn’t have to. There are tons of free resources online that will teach him how to code.
Khan Academy teaches the basic concepts of computer programming, but you won't find much material that actually teaches actual coding. Code Racer is a free, fun, interactive game where you race against others to figure out the right code to build a website. It only teaches HTML and CSS, the absolute fundamentals, but its a lot of fun to play. Code Racer's parent site, Treehouse, also has great training videos and exercises to learn all of the same languages as Codecademy above plus iOS and Android. However, the …
Q: My HP Photosmart C5100 printer says that I need to insert a new ink cartridge (the pink) even though we already have. It won't let me choose black and white printing either, which it usually does when one color is out. I've tried two different pink ink cartridges so I know that isn't the problem.
A: Printers are probably the most-hated pieces of technology ever created, and at no time are they more hated than when they pop up the dreaded “Ink Cartridge(s) Are Empty” error message. Fortunately, with your model, you can override that error message without hacking into the printer. It does take a few steps though. Here's how to get rid of that pesky error message.
Before you start this, you should bookmark this page or open it on another device. You have to reboot your computer during this process, and since you can't use your printer you'll need a way to get back to this information. A fast easy way to bookmark this page is to press Ctrl-D on your keyboard. That will start the save this page as a bookmark dialogue in almost every web browser. Now that you have that saved, you can move on.
First, if the computer and the printer isn't turned on and plugged in, go ahead and do that now. This will sound ironic in a minute, but trust me, it's important.
Now, diconnect the Ethernet Cable or the USB cable from the back of the printer. (Disconnect both if you have them both plugged in for some reason.)
Restart your computer. (Make sure you've already bookmarked this page before you do that so you can easily get back here after the computer restarts.)
Once the computer is back on, and with the printer still turned on, unplug the power cord from the printer.
Now, wait 30 seconds. Listen to Her Majesty by The Beatles to kill the time. (Technically, it's only 23 seconds long but by the time you fire up the CD or record player or YouTube, you'll have burnt those extra 7 seconds.)
Put all your CDs or records back in the …
Before I jump into the question, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone that came out to see Deemable Tech at One Spark! It was wonderful getting to meet those of you that stopped to see us at Ignite Adecco, and thank you to everyone that voted for us. Now, on to the question!
Q: Our DVD player in the van broke. I would really love to download some of my DVDs to my iPad so my kids can watch them in the van, and I don’t want to buy the same movies again. I thought I could rip them in iTunes on my MacBook Pro, but I can’t figure out how to do it.
A: Ripping CDs to MP3 so that you can listen to them on your iPod is pretty easy. All you have to do is pop in the CD and iTunes does most of the work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to rip DVDs to your computer, but it can be done. The movie industry has put protection on most DVDs to prevent you from copying them. If you decide to remove the copyright protection on DVDs that you do not own, or if you try to sell copies of DVDs that you own, or give them away, you are breaking the law. I am completely against piracy. If you use this information to commit piracy, you deserve whatever punishment is doled out to you. However, and I'm not a lawyer, but if you’re removing the copyright protection so that you can make a copy of a movie that you paid for only so that you can watch it on another device, that shouldn't be against the law. The MPAA might not agree, but the law isn't completely clear one way or the other. So, if you decide to do this, understand that you are doing this at your own risk.
It’s not too hard, but it does take a few steps. First, you'll need a program to remove the copyright protection from the DVD. I'm not going to name any names so I don't give the MPAA lawyers a reason to salivate. Just suffice it to say that you'll find what you need just by searching for dvd copyright remover ripper on a popular search engine. Next you'll need to download a …
Q: What’s the big deal about T-Mobile not having contracts any more? From what I’ve read, you still have to pay for the phones over the course of two years or you get hit with a steep penalty? What’s the difference?
A: At most major carriers in the US, you can buy a phone at full price, or you can buy the same phone at a steeply discounted price and sign a two year contract with the phone company. The only difference is that if you pay full price, you’ll probably be able to get the phone “unlocked.” Since you’ll pay the same for your phone service either way, there’s no financial incentive to do anything else, and most folks just sign a two year contract. What T-Mobile did gives people a choice. You can get a new phone for cheap upfront and pay a little every month, or you keep using your old phone and save money. So, should everyone run out, and switch to T-Mobile? No, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Depending on how much data you need, T-Mobile might not be the best choice for you. Unfortunately, you have to look at all of your options at all four carriers to see what your specific situation looks like. However, if you want unlimited data, T-Mobile is the cheapest by far. However, if you are a heavy data user, you might not find T-Mobile to be adequate for you. T-Mobile's data coverage area is much less built out than the other carriers. Also, something to keep in mind is that if you're not paying the full price for the phone, instead of signing a two year contract, you're signing a two year, interest free loan. If you don't pass the credit check, you're not getting that shiny new smart phone.
Did you know that Deemable Tech is a One Spark Creator? Visit the Deemable Tech space at Ignite Adecco at 4 E Bay Street, April 17-21, and meet hosts Ray Hollister and Tom Braun in person.
Q: Michelle writes, I was wondering about ways to lower my data usage on my iPhone. I always seem to go over my limit, and then I am slapped with another monthly charge. What things can I turn "off" or put away unless I need them, and how do I do it?
A: Thanks for your question, Michelle. iPhones and Android phones can eat up a data plan like a 5 year old with an unattended candy bowl. Unless you're on an unlimited data plan, you have to keep an eye on what your phone is downloading and sending, or it'll end up taking a bite out of your wallet.
Periodically check your cellular data usage on your iPhone by opening your Settings app, and tapping General, Usage and then Cellular Usage at the bottom. On that screen you can see how much data your phone has sent and received. Each month, at the end of your billing cycle, tap the Reset Statistics button to clear out the counters and start over.
Knowing how much data you're using in the first place will help to stay you on track. Now, here's a few tips to keep your cellular data usage low. First of all, don't download or stream any video or audio unless you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. Those NPR, Netflix, Hulu and PBS Kids apps will devour your cellular data. I'm not saying don't use them! They're great apps. Just make sure to use them when you are connected to a Wi-Fi network if you're trying to save your cellular data.
And, if you have streaming video or music that you just have to watch or listen to over 3G or 4G, go for the Non-HD version or the lower quality version. That will save you a bunch of data, too. If you use Spotify, make your playlists Available Offline so that the next time you're away from home they'll play from your phone instead of over the Internet. The same thing is true for Amazon Cloud Player and the Podcast app; make sure to download your songs and new podcast episodes to your device before you leave the house. Also, and it's probably obvious, but make sure to only download new …