CallerIDs, summer reading, USB flash drives
Bob's Tech Talk
Q. When callerID displays a strange number on my phone, I ignore it unless the number is local. Yet lately when I do answer, often local numbers turn out to be a big company with something to sell. Has someone opened a call center in my neighborhood?
A. Possibly, but unlikely. “Robocall” apps can dial phones by the thousands and “spoof” callerID with friendly-looking local numbers. The practice is illegal, but enforcement is spotty. Fake callerID isn’t new, nor are robocalls, but the resulting number of problems continues to skyrocket. Your telephone, once a friendly link to the outside world, has become a personal Pandora’s Box.
The problems begin with unwanted calls. At worst they are a nuisance.
The serious damage comes from scams. Imagine the callerID says “Internal Revenue” and the person on the phone reads you a dire litany of legal threats. Or imagine your bank is calling and they need some esoteric bit of information to “correct their records.” Or perhaps it is a charity, seeking a donation. All of them will claim they are who they say they are, “just look at your callerID.”
I have gotten some version of every one of those calls, and many more. The bottom line is that callerID can be faked, it does not verify anything.
The solution is to be vigilant. Offers that sound too good to be true always are, and most legal actions do not begin with a phone call. Working from home, I receive an average of four or five unwanted calls per day, every day. If I do not recognize the number, I let the machine answer. No exceptions.
Q. What is on your summer reading list?
A. My summer reading is one or two weighty volumes from the Big Nerd Ranch. Not something I recommend for a casual beach read. However, I do know three classic books that deserve a spot on your list if you enjoy stories about people who build technology.
One of the best books ever written about the invention of the Internet is titled, “Where Wizards Stay Up Late,” by Katie Hafner. The internet profoundly affects everything it touches, an upheaval that began the moment the first two computers were linked together.
Another great story is “The Soul of a New Machine,” by Tracy Kidder, which follows the engineers who built an innovative microcomputer in the late 1970s. The themes explored in this book exist at the heart of every tech product you have ever owned.
I saved the best for last, “Hackers,” by Steven Levy. The 25th Anniversary Edition chronicles the contributions of important individuals who drove the development of personal computing. The story starts in research labs in the late 1960s and ends when personal computing is redefined by the smartphone.
Q. I back up my photos to a USB flash drive, but the copy takes so long to complete that sometimes I give up before it finishes. Is there a way to speed up copying large files?
A. The most common way to shrink large files is with a compression utility. However, since photos are already compressed, that leaves only one other option: a faster flash drive.
Flash drives, sometimes called USB thumb drives or jump drives, are primarily marketed by capacity. The larger the capacity, the more expensive the drive. Not that long ago a 64GB thumb drive cost hundreds of dollars. Today you can find them in convenience stores for less than $20.
Unfortunately, while the capacity has increased many times over and prices have dropped sharply, most USB drives use older connections, which is probably the bottleneck restricting your photo backup.
Most local retailers do not stock the fastest available models, so purchasing online is your best option. Be aware though that nearly every USB drive, from the fastest to the slowest, is probably labeled “hi-speed.”
As I write this, the two best USB drives are the SanDisk Extreme CZ80 and the Lexar JumpDrive P20. Both of these drives are a bit more expensive, but they will copy files much faster than the easy-to-find models on store shelves.
Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for some worthwhile browsing this month:
Playing Around With a New Language
This free service turns learning a new language into a game. Millions of subscribers receive bite-sized lessons that are designed like games. Score points, earn rewards, and test your knowledge, all while increasing your skills in any one of about two dozen languages. The service is available on the Web or in apps on Android and iPhone.
Make Something New
Instructables is a massive collection of crowd-sourced instructions covering everything from crafts to construction projects. If you need inspiration for a project that will consume the rest of your summer, or would like a simple project that might only take a few hours, look here. Just browsing is an entertaining look at the breadth of human ingenuity. http://www.instructables.com
Restaurant Meals at Home
This site is a bit of departure. Rather than a browsing experience, Blue Apron is a weekly subscription service that delivers fresh food and recipes to your doorstep. My wife and I have prepared several hundred new recipes at the rate of three a week for over a year. Our boring kitchen is now a gourmet’s delight. Most of the meals take about an hour to prepare. If you enjoy cooking, this service is worth a try.