What’s hot? Fake reality, that’s what’s hot.
What’s really great about the technology business is the number of things you can do and make even if nobody wants them. Who knows? Somebody might buy it.
We thought the Netflix show “Stranger Things” was pretty strange. Strange enough for us to drop out and not return. But stranger still, some of the show’s characters, like “Eleven,” can drop into whatever you’re shooting with your smartphone. Characters from Star Wars can also drop in – your shopping trip can be guarded by Imperial storm troopers – and no one but you will know that you’re nuts.
They drop into the scene in 3-D, like from the moon, from thin air, and they interact with each other. So that’s “augmented reality,” or AR as they call it. (If you don’t have an acronym, you don’t have a product.) You can get it now on Google’s Pixel 2 phone, and other phones are about to get it.
You can watch a demo of all this on YouTube. Search for “Augmented Reality Demo on Pixel 2.” We always thought real reality was enough to handle.
Computer games make you smarter. Bob has been preaching this in our column since the earliest days of computer games, going back nearly 40 years. There is evidence to back him up.
The latest study is from the University of Montreal. They divided seniors aged 55 to 75 into three groups: One took piano lessons, one played “Super Mario 64” and the third did nothing. What’s particularly unusual about this was that that past studies have focused on men and women in their 20s.
Only the game playing group saw an increase in their little gray cells, as Hercule Poirot used to say. Specifically, it was gray matter in the hippocampus, which London taxi drivers are famous for having more of, since it has to do with visual mapping. The hippocampus contributes to transforming short-term memories into long-term memories. How much grey matter you have can help identify Alzheimer’s.
Digital assistants get into holiday spirit
Amazon Echo and Google Home are ready for the holidays.
You can say “Alexa, play Christmas music,” and off she goes. Or try “Alexa: Read me ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ ” To go further, turn to the Alexa app on your phone, tap “Skills” and search on “iHeart Santa.” This gets you “North Pole Radio.” We found Santa’s voice annoying, though, and he interrupts too often.
The Google Home smart speaker also has some holiday tricks. You can say “Hey Google, tell me a Santa joke,” or “talk to Santa’s hotline.” Here are some other fun things to say. The first two are from Star Trek:
“Hey, Google: set phasers to kill.” And, “Hey, Google: Beam me up Scotty.” Try “Where’s Waldo?” And the ultimate: “What is the answer to life, the universe and everything?” Just to relieve the suspense, we’ll tell you: it’s “42.”
A woman lost $20,000 in a Bitcoin scam, according to a report by Malwarebytes.org. She Googled what she thought was the support number for Coinbase.com, the No. 1 Bitcoin trading site, and got a scammer instead.
Bitcoin, in case you’ve just tuned in, is a form of digital money that doesn’t rely on banks. However, as with banks, there’s a database that keeps a record of every transaction. Instead of a central authority, it’s verified by almost 2 million computers. To hack into it, you have to hack all the computers simultaneously.
But you do have to be careful where you do your trading. We use Malwarebytes software, the paid version for $60, to add a layer of protection for three devices. Malwarebytes offers some tips for Bitcoin purchasers. One is don’t trade Bitcoin using PayPal. Get more at blog.malwarebytes.com.
Trade in old computer for new Mac
It’s undeniable: Apple computers, though expensive, offer high performance. To get you on board, they offer good prices on trade-ins of other computers. Here are some sample quotes from Phobio.com/tradein/Apple: A Macbook Pro in good working order can earn you $2,500 towards the purchase of a new Apple computer. A Windows PC or Chromebook can earn you up to $500 in a trade.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Most of the computers they accept for trade-in are Chromebooks. There are only a few Windows machines, the HP Spectre, LG Display and Lenova Yoga. We have an Acer Chromebook 14, but it’s smaller and older than those on their list and didn’t make the cut. That’s OK. It’s fast, reliable and lightweight. Chromebooks now let you use Android apps as well as the Android version of Microsoft’s Office 365. We’ll just keep it.
Not that kind of dojo
The anti-virus company Bullguard, which we’ve found to be reliable, has a new product called Dojo. It may not give you back your mojo, but it aims to prevent hackers from disrupting your smart baby monitors, thermostats, alarms and other appliances that talk to each other in the “Internet of Things.”
The Dojo looks like a rock. Once connected to a network, it will automatically detect any gadget connected to the Internet and stop anything that seems suspicious. A free Dojo app works with Android and iPhones. It costs $199 and includes 12 months free service. After that, it’s $10 a month.
And all that jazz
We hadn’t listened to Pandora radio since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but we like their new “thumbprint” feature. It plays selections from all the stations you’ve created, so you don’t have to choose between them.
When you click “create station” at Pandora.com, and type in the name of an artist or composer you like, they’ll automatically create a station around it, and save it to your list. Ours includes the Tijuana Brass, Benny Goodman, Scott Joplin, Bach, Beethoven and Boccherini. Now we can listen to a playlist that includes all of those.