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'Alexa, take a note: You've still got a few things to learn'

by BOB AND JOY SCHWABACH | May 9, 2020 at 1:54 a.m.

We sometimes have a good idea late at night that we can't remember the next day. Alexa, the voice inside the free Alexa app or the Amazon Echo smart speaker, will remember it for us.

We say, "Alexa, take a note," and she'll say: "All right, what's the note?" Recently, we said, "The Guy from Ipanema." That's because Joy thought it would be funny if her women's club musical revue came up with that song instead of the original "The Girl from Ipanema." When we said, "Alexa, what's the note?" she told us. That led Bob to wonder how long of a note she could handle. Joy said: "I'm going to the drugstore later to get root beer, toilet paper and face masks." Alexa was able to repeat it later, sort of, and asked us if she got it right. Bob said, "Roughly." She said, "Do you want me to take a note that says "Roughly?" "No," Bob said. "Do you want me to take a note that says "No?" "No!" "I'm having trouble understanding," she said. No kidding.


A reader wrote: "Please ... Can you recommend a good photo stick?? So many are advertised."

Photo sticks, including the heavily advertised The Photo Stick, $54 on Amazon, are nothing but flash drives with software that copies the photos already on your computer. We looked at Amazon reviews for The Photo Stick, most of which are positive. But 29% said it stopped working or they had trouble with it. gave the reviews a "B" rating for reliability.

You can do the same thing with any flash drive, some of which sell for as little as $8.

In Windows 10, find your photos by typing "photos" in the search box in Windows, then click on the photo app. Or click the start button and choose File Explorer. Then look for your picture folders or search for all JPG photos by typing *jpg in the search box in File Explorer. If you open File Explorer a second time, you can drag and drop them onto a flash drive. It's even easier on a Mac. On the web, search on the phrase, "Transfer Mac photos to a thumb drive."


Everybody's still meeting virtually. It turns out to be so popular that the leading platform, Zoom, has competitors galore.

Google, which already has one called Meet, is now rolling it out for free. Meetings can be any length for now, but in September there will be a 60-minute limit on the freebies. Facebook is doing something similar but has yet to leave the starting gate.

We tried Google Meet and can't recommend it. For example, screen sharing is easy in Zoom and is great for sharing a slide show. When Joy tried it in Google Meet, however, she couldn't figure out how to stop sharing and get back to the meeting.

If you want to try it for yourself, wait until it's rolled out for everyone. Don't do what Joy did. She signed up for a free trial of the business service Google G Suite, which includes Meet. That spelled disaster. G Suite asked her to link her account with the company that hosts our website. As a result, Joy stopped getting her email. Even after canceling G-Suite, she received nothing. A tech guy at Google's premium support couldn't solve the problem, though we noticed many web anecdotes of users tearing their hair out over the same issue. One guy tried reapplying for G-Suite after canceling, but that didn't work either. Finally, we turned to our web hosting company, Ionos. After more than an hour on the phone, they got it going.

So what's to be said in favor of Google Meet? Besides the extra security layer, it makes it easy to kick out any participant who's being obnoxious. But this isn't worth much to us. So far we've had no hassles with Zoom, except for the time Joy didn't let her book club leader into a meeting because she didn't notice she was waiting to enter and needed the host's permission. She forgot to check off the option that lets everyone in automatically.


Bob says a bright white computer screen is hard on his eyes, and studies back him up. So what he wants is a black background. The simplest way to do this in Windows is to tap the Windows key and the "plus" keys together, which activates the magnifier. Once that's activated, if you hit the Ctrl, Alt and "i" keys, you toggle back and forth between a black screen and a white screen. But if there are any pictures in what you've called up, the Magnifier reverses those colors too. Your chance of recognizing the picture is nil. On a Mac, click the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your screen. Choose System Preferences, then Accessibility. From there, click Display, then choose Invert Colors.

An alternative is Dark Mode, a free extension for the Google Chrome browser that you can find in the Google Play store online. It puts a marker in the upper right corner in your screen; click on that to toggle between black screen and normal screen. The nice thing about Dark Mode is that any pictures you're looking at remain normal.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at and

Business on 05/09/2020

Print Headline: 'Alexa, take a note: You've still got a few things to learn'


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