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TikTok all the rage -- for informative tidbits as well as fun

by BOB AND JOY SCHWABACH | August 1, 2020 at 1:53 a.m.

TikTok is the hot application right now. It allows you to post 15-second videos or see what other people have posted. There's soon to be a similar app for Instagram, called Reels.

Both the free app and remind us of the show "America's Funniest Home Videos." When we tuned in, we saw the back half of a large car going down the highway. It was an illusion. Then we watched a girl vault a basketball over her head backwards. It knocked over a nearby jogger.

TikTok is more than just silly stuff. Our favorite podcast, Planet Money (produced by National Public Radio), is there along with many others. One of its videos describes the thuggishness of medieval knights. Another goes into the similarity between central planning and a badly played guitar. A third describes IBM's invention of the magnetic strip on credit cards. (The airlines asked IBM to come up with a way to check a person's credit rating without having to get on the phone every time.)

To find other educational stuff, tap Discover and type in a word like "physics," "history" or "how to." Then tap Hashtags in the upper right to see lots of videos in that category. We tapped the hashtag Quantumphysics. It explained a Stephen Hawking theory on the origin of the universe in 15 seconds. Originally, he theorized, a massive black hole couldn't take on any more matter and reversed itself, spewing out what became our universe.

Though TikTok videos are only 15 seconds long, you can string four of them together to make a 60-second series. To add one of your own, tap the word Me in the lower right. Then tap the plus sign to upload it.

To avoid seeing any videos with foul language or crudity, turn on Restricted Mode. Find it by tapping Me in the lower right corner of the app. Then tap the three dots in the upper right corner. Choose Digital Wellbeing, and Restricted Mode.


A reader wrote: "I save my passwords in an email so I have access any time. How safe is this?"

It's handy to send yourself an email with all your passwords on it, so you'll have access to them whatever computer or device you use. We've done it too. It's fine if you're using Gmail to send the passwords to yourself. Gmail encrypts your mail with its security tool called Transport Layer Security. Of course, it works only if the recipient's email uses it too, but in this case, you are the recipient. So you're fine. Yahoo, Outlook and other services use the same system.

You can find out if any of the passwords stored on your computer have been compromised by going to, if you use Google Chrome to save them. Firefox users can check at Safari says it will soon be able to tell you if your passwords have been breached. It's part of the next operating system for the Mac, dubbed Big Sur.


A reader told us he uses the free app Google Lens to send text from his Android phone to his two computers. We'd never thought of that, or of most of the other things Lens does. Here are a few of them.

If you're out and about, you can point the app at foreign words and get a translation rather than having to look them up. If you see an event listing, point the app at it and it will add itself to your calendar. We pointed it at a Panera Bread's salad menu online and got instant recipes for many of them. You can also use it to identify animals. We pointed the app at an unidentified dog on the web and it came back "Scottish terrier." It wasn't so good with plants. It knew we had a bonsai, but got the kind wrong.


Did you know you can make calls through your Echo Dot or Google Home smart speaker? If you don't have a smart speaker, you can ask the Google Assistant app or Alexa app on your phone, but you'll have to unlock it first. For Google Home, say "Hey Google, call Joe Doe," or whoever you want. If you have an Amazon Echo, say "Alexa, call Poopsy," or whatever you call your favorite contact.

This is especially handy if you've fallen on the floor and can't reach your phone, or have forgotten where you put it. But it's best to practice first. We noticed that Alexa had three listings for Bob, and none of them included the home number. Only the info under "Robert" had the home phone. We tried to edit the Bob list by going into the Alexa app. But Alexa wouldn't let us alter the ones for Bob, because they were automatically imported by Skype. If Joy wants to call Bob using Alexa, she'll have to remember to ask for Robert.

We find Google contacts easier to edit than those Alexa uses. Google Contacts can be edited by tapping the Contacts app on an Android phone or by going to

MEETING VIRTUALLY brings people together for outings, projects and learning experiences. Now that the virus has us meeting online, it's easier to safely try out some of these experiences.

If you're learning a new language, go to and search on French or Spanish or whatever you're learning. We tried French and noticed a lot of fun-sounding virtual get-togethers with games.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at and


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