Our new tech columnist says hitting 'restart' is often the best move
Q. One of the apps on my smartphone does not work. I tap on it, and after a brief animation nothing else happens. What is going on and how can I fix it?
A. Every device eventually does something unexpected. One of the enduring trouble spots in tech is when something suddenly stops working, seemingly for no reason whatsoever. Recovery may be a simple fix or a long frustrating battle, but the first step is the same: restart the device.
The advice to “turn it off and turn it back on again” has been around forever because it works surprisingly often. I remember workdays in the 1990s when I would restart my PC every few hours. If I didn’t, it would crash anyway.
Today laptops and smartphones can go months without a restart. Reliability has improved compared to even a few years ago, but it is still not perfect. A restart is still the best first response to unexpected behavior on any type of device.
In the case of an app, if a restart doesn’t help, the next step is usually to delete the app and reinstall it. Restarting the device or reinstalling a fresh copy of the app has fixed nearly every odd behavior I have encountered on my phone, ever. But as always whenever you consider deleting an app, first insure that your personal data is safely backed up.
Q. I want to keep in touch with my family online. With all the choices for different networks and messaging apps out there, where do I start?
A. That is a big question that needs more than a few paragraphs to answer properly. I think the best way to communicate with someone online is to be where they are. In other words, use the same service they frequently visit.
The simplest way to find out which service someone prefers is to ask them. Facebook is the most obvious choice, and the first place you should consider. But while apparently everyone has a Facebook account, not everyone actively participates there.
Two of the most popular alternative networks are Instagram and Pinterest. Unlike Facebook, they cater to specific audiences and are not as universally available. Instagram for example is mostly only accessible via its app.
Both Apple and Google offer services that let you create private spaces online which can only be accessed by family or friends. While setting these services up takes some effort, they enable a new kind of shared experience that can connect people regardless of where they live or when they are online. And unlike public social networks, your personal information is less exposed. I’ll revisit these private spaces in a future column.
Q. I recently left my iPhone’s power adapter in a hotel. When I went to the Apple Store, I was shocked at how expensive it was to replace. Are there less expensive alternatives?
A. There is no question that tech manufacturers charge a premium price for easily lost items like power adapters and cords. And there is no shortage of low cost alternatives. Some are astonishingly cheap. But my advice is to steer clear of third party accessories unless you know they are manufactured to a high standard. Especially power adapters. There is a lot going on inside those little plastic blocks. I have taken several apart, and inside it is easy to see a difference. The cheap adapters I’ve examined typically lack insulation or exhibit less than ideal quality control. The money saved on power cables isn’t worth the risk.
About our new columnist:
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob has found a way to transform most of his interests into gainful employment in one way or another. When not writing, he is in the kitchen cooking up something unusual, or outside with a camera. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for some worthwhile browsing this month:
Inside the White House
Presidential politics is inescapable this year, but this website is a pleasant diversion from the campaign trail. The White House itself is a building steeped in history and its inner workings are a fascinating topic to explore. Operated by the White House Historical Association, this site is a treasure trove of information about the building and its famous residents. Anyone fond of American history, architecture or formal gardens can enjoy hours of fruitful exploration at this behind the scenes look at the White House.
The World’s Daily Photo Album
Flickr.com is one of the largest collections of photographs in human history, and this site delivers a daily snapshot of its 500 most popular images. Given the overwhelming volume of photos uploaded by users around the world, the full variety and breadth of human activity is on display. It is like a daily highlight reel for planet earth. The site loads fast, the images display automatically, and there are several options for adjusting the presentation. Most noteworthy is a setting for choosing the display size. I recommend “fit to screen,” which will display each image as large and detailed as possible.
Khan Academy is perhaps best known for short videos that teach students basic academic subjects like math and chemistry. Recently, however, they have expanded their audience beyond students preparing for the SAT. One of my favorite places to visit is the Humanities section. Kahn Academy’s Art History video series is an excellent introduction into the value of art and its place in history. From the basics to specific genres such as the Art of Asia or the Renaissance and Reformation, there is always more to learn.