March Consumer Tech

Consumer Tech for March
Names Changed to Protect the Guilty
By Richard M. Sherwin

Despite 35 years in the business, I fell into a sea of technology anomalies recently where my home phone, car electronics, home computer, Tablet, mobile phone and even kitchen lights all went splooey in the space of 72 hours. Here’s what happened:

  • I woke up one morning with my usual “Hey Alexa, what’s the forecast today?” I heard nothing. So I tried news headlines. Nothing. Then asked to play Flash Phelps on the 60s channel of Sirius. Still nothing. The lights spun around but alas no sound on our brand new second generation Alexa.
  • I then went to my trusty cell phone only to find out that Verizon had changed the amount of data I could use to watch “the game” on my Samsung Note or play Words for Friends and that for the rest of the month my browsing will be slowed down by 75% unless I paid a special fee to continue to browse at a normal speed.
  • So I went to Target to get rid of Verizon and get the highest rated service (by Consumer Reports) mobile service provider, Consumer Cellular. Our 2 phones, a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Samsung Galaxy S6 were converted over to the new service. Easy as pie. But as soon as I got home I kept getting warning messages that the voice mail App and other Apps were not compatible with Consumer Cellular. Then something truly strange began happening: the numbers on our outgoing calls were being switched (by the SD card, the pop up explained) to a non-working number in Boston, and incoming calls said someone from Malaysia was calling. Incredible!
  • Now I go into the kitchen to get some comfort food and I can’t see a thing; the ceiling lights won’t turn on. I checked the fuse box, the bulbs themselves and even the light switch. All looked fine, still no lights.
  • To escape, for a while, we decided to head to a new diner a few towns away recommended by neighbors. But our brand new Subaru Forester, the much heralded number one car in its category, didn’t help. The voice activated GPS kept saying the voice I had chosen was not compatible with my cell phone. Cell phone? And the directions in the glove box said to turn on my Blue Tooth in my phone and link it to the car. I just wanted the cars navigation system to get me to the restaurant. I manually put in the address only to have the darn thing have us driving around in circles or guiding me to who knows where.
  • I find another diner and we had a nice dinner. I come home and all I want to do is read the latest thriller on my Kindle, IPad or my wife’s Android Tablet. I go to EBook. Bike, the very popular Canadian Library site where I can sample or read almost any book on the best seller list. I use my favorite converter software that usually takes about 15 seconds to convert a bunch of books to Kindle or Android or Apple and since my IPad is the closest tablet to me and I try to relax and read my book on the IPad….No good. The IPad says that the books are not formatted for IPad.
  • So I decide to take a bike ride and put my puppy in the crate and turn on the Web Cam, which when in the living room provides great sound and video of my gorgeous poodle. Trying to be a good neighbor in case the poodle makes noise I move his crate to the bedroom only about 15 feet away from the Comcast modem router. I go about a mile away from home to a gym that has Wi-Fi hoping to see and hear the poodle. Turn on my Web Cam App and there’s no picture or sound. I click the App again and it says there’s a communication error and I get back home in time to hear the poodle snoring, but again even from the next room the Web Cam isn’t working.

So how did these anomalies get taken care of?

  • It turns out that Alexa’s Echo broadband capacity is weaker than listed…maybe 25 feet at most. By moving the Echo about 5 feet closer to the front of the bedroom, she started singing again.
  • Verizon claims that it is easier to slow down your browsing capacity on your mobile phone after your data limit is reached…instead of charging your more or stopping it completely.
  • Consumer Cellular claims that its service will work with any “unlocked” phone from any manufacturer or service provider. It just isn’t true, it turns out that some of its customers happy to save a few bucks don’t realize that many of their mobile features don’t work. And when returning to Verizon (reluctantly) we actually got $200 and other benefits for dropping them, but rejoining quickly. But, some of our saved contacts and pictures are missing.
  • It turns out that “lights out” in the kitchen was caused by faulty ballast and only a trained electrician installing a new or rebuilt “blast” could repair this. And it didn’t matter whether the fixture was new or old, they just die sometimes. So now the lights are on, but now they are blinking, so far nobody knows why. Oy.
  • Subaru has been dealing with GPS and other front screen problems for more than a year and the latest “update” or software fix made the GPS more accurate, but alas, hooking up your mobile phone to the car’s Blue Tooth does make the narration and other verbal commands better despite the manufacturers claims that you don’t require your cell phone for added Blue Tooth features.
    Now when I rent, buy or sample any eBook files from eBook. bike or any library, I use either Calibre or Hamster Free Ebook converter and in seconds my Ebooks will work on all formats PC, Kindle, Android and even Apple’s IPad.
  • It turns out that Comcast’s so called improved free upgrade to its Ethernet speed seems to have downgraded to Wi-Fi capabilities in many areas. Solution: Several manufacturers produce W-Fi Extenders that give you enough (about 20-30 feet more) Wi-Fi than your service provider’s modem router does. The extenders don’t increase your Tablets, Rokus or Mobile Phone’s browsing speed, but enhances the access so you’ll have Wi-Fi in hard to reach places in the home.
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