Block Spam Calls with Help from your Carrier

We’ve all been getting too many spam, scam and telemarketing calls. Many times these illegal robocalls spoof Caller ID, making it appear that they are calling from your local area, or even from your own number. Fortunately help is on the way.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon all have anti-spoofing features which you can use for free:

Read more about phone spam and STIR/SHAKEN in this article at Consumer Reports.

Meanwhile, don’t disclose personal information to a caller, no matter who they say they are or what number they call from. Also, anytime a caller suggests you pay with a gift card, it is almost certainly a scam. There is no legitimate reason to do that.


Migrating from Android to iPhone

I recently got my first iPhone after having an Android phone. What was that experience like, and were there any pitfalls?

At the AT&T store, when buying the new phone, the guy asked if I wanted him to transfer my phone data to the new phone. They have some software and cables to do this. I said no. I knew it would take a long time, work imperfectly, and I wanted to start fresh. Although there might be a couple unique things on the old phone, the important stuff was all in the cloud. I was still going to have my old phone if I needed something from it. I wasn’t trading it in or anything. (It’s apparently worth less than $10 on resale sites.)

Moto X 1st Gen to iPhone 6s, Both on AT&T

The old and the new phones - the Moto X and iPhone 6S
The old and the new phones – the Moto X and iPhone 6s. The iPhone is definitely larger, but not a whopper

My old phone was a Motorola Moto X, first generation. I liked it a lot, but it was two years old, and the battery was about shot. I have been a Macintosh user forever, so it is a little surprising I didn’t get an iPhone sooner. So, why now? Partly it is because of the iPhone’s superior security, and continuing announcements of serious vulnerabilities in Android. Some of these affected my Moto X and didn’t get patched promptly. On the Apple side, I did not like being at the complete mercy of on-line advertisers. Now that iOS has at least some ad blocking capability, an iPhone became a real option for me.

2nd Factor Authentication

If you aren’t using 2nd factor authentication, or don’t know what it is, you won’t need to worry about this.

I have several on-line accounts set up with 2nd factor authentication: in addition to my password to login, I must provide a code. The code comes from a text message sent to my phone, or from the Google Authenticator App running on my phone. Getting a new phone made me realize how incredibly inconvenient it would be to lose my phone for any reason. If you use 2nd factor authentication, make sure that you have backup authentication methods for your accounts. The backup method can be one-time codes printed on paper and stored in a safe place, or it can be a second phone, maybe a family member’s phone. If you don’t have a backup method, you could lose access to your account(s) permanently.

I probably spent more time on 2nd factor authentication than on any other aspect of getting the new phone. For most services, I had to disable and re-enable 2nd factor authentication to get it to recognize my new iPhone Google Authenticator App.

I was pleased that AT&T asked for my ID before issuing me a new phone. I’m sure that was mostly to avoid fraudulent purchase of phones, but it also makes sure that no one else gets my phone number, and thus can receive my authentication codes.


Since I already had a Macintosh, I already had contacts from my Mac stored in iCloud. However my Android phone kept its contacts in Gmail. I have been using a Mac App called Contacts Sync for Google Gmail for some time to keep my Mac Contacts synchronized with Gmail. So, I didn’t really need to do anything special for my contacts to appear on my new iPhone. As soon as I connected to my existing iCloud account, there they were. Important note: if you already have an iCloud account, make sure you know what it is when getting a new Apple device. Don’t create a new account. You will be much better off if all your Apple devices are associated with the same iCloud account.


I went into the iPhone App store where I found the iPhone equivalent of most of my favorite apps, usually by the same developers. My favorite apps from Google and Amazon had iPhone counterparts as did social media apps, remote control apps for various gadgets, and magazine & newspaper apps.

I set up Apple Pay/Apple Wallet as the counterpart to Google Wallet/Tap & Pay/Android Pay.

I’m still looking for a favorite Twitter client. I hate the stock iPhone Twitter app.

I used to have an iPad, so I found some of my old favorite apps (paid & free) that I used to have on the iPad. Universal apps I had paid for in the past on the iPad were still available to re-download on the new iPhone without buying them again.

Music and Podcasts

Since I already had iTunes, as soon as I connected my iPhone to my computer, I was able to transfer my music, podcasts and videos to my new phone without a problem. Any music I have bought from Amazon or Google, or outside of iTunes, I have routinely imported into iTunes, so it was ready and waiting to be synced to the new iPhone.


I love Touch ID. This is a great feature on the iPhone. It means I can keep my phone securely locked, but it’s always unlocked for me because it recognizes my fingerprint. I didn’t know this, but you can register more than one fingerprint, which is convenient because sometimes you hold the phone in different positions. You can also use Touch ID to authorize things within Apps, such as buying from the iTunes music store, or paying at the register with Apple Pay. For example, it unlocks my LastPass password manager App. When choosing a case for your iPhone, make sure it doesn’t obstruct the home button (Touch ID sensor) at all.

The Moto X had its own convenience unlock feature.� It was based on NFC and was called Motorola Skip. The phone unlocks when you hold it near a unique physical tag. I lost two of the magnetic Skip clip tags, probably because they were magnetic, and they tended to stick to cars and refrigerators, etc. Even so, this was a pretty cool feature. However, it wasn’t in any other Android phones I know of, and is no longer offered in the newer versions of the Moto X.

I was getting annoying accidental photos and my Moto X would wake up in my pocket and do weird things. I set it to lock instantly, and this prevented it taking photos inside my pocket, or activating apps, but it could still try to butt-dial using the emergency dialer. There didn’t seem to be any way to prevent this. One time it dialed “9116”, which is disconcertingly close to accidentally calling 911. So far, I haven’t seen this happening at all with the iPhone. I think it’s because waking up the iPhone requires a physical press of the home button — not just a vibration and/or a screen swipe.

The new iPhone has WiFi calling and “HD Voice”. I’m happy about anything that can improve cell phone voice quality. On Android, I made WiFi calls using Google Hangouts. That improved audio quality and allowed calling from areas with poor cell coverage, but added some annoying latency (delay). I’m not sure I’ve used WiFi calling on the iPhone yet. It’s enabled, but I don’t know how to tell if it’s really working other than by visiting someplace with no cell service that has WiFi. HD voice is apparently enabled automatically on AT&T on compatible iPhones with iOS 9.2. My calls sound really great so far on the iPhone.

The Moto X had an AMOLED screen, with a cool notification feature. It could wake up momentarily in a minimalist, low-power, monochrome mode where it just shows the time and any texts, voice mails, etc. This mode can be activated by just moving the phone, so it is very easy to check the time. You don’t need to unlock your phone to see the time, or check notifications. Even though the display was usually blank, all you have to do is get your phone out of your pocket and look at it to see the time. The motion of doing so was sufficient to activate the time display. Again, this was a feature of this particular phone — it’s not present in newer versions, other Android phones, or the iPhone.

I really miss this feature - buttonless time display
I really miss this feature of the Moto X:� buttonless time display

I miss Android’s back button in the lower left. The iPhone doesn’t have this. The same functionality is available in apps, but it is located in various spots on the screen, instead of a consistent location.

I think the App permission system is nicer on the iPhone. In iOS, you can enable/disable App notifications and permissions whenever you want in Settings. On Android, you have to either accept an App with all the permissions it wants, or ditch the entire App. iPhone apps can nag you when they want to access something, but you don’t have to grant access.

For notifications, the iPhone lets you decide whether each app can issue notifications at all, can make a sound, can put a notification badge on the app, and whether it can show on the lock screen. Nice. The Android notification system is less flexible for the user.

On Android, I was being nagged to upgrade apps which suddenly wanted access to my camera or microphone, when this was never needed before. There was no way to get the update and still say no.

Many of the newer Android phones are just too damn big for me, so that was one factor in choosing the iPhone. I’m not a fan of these giant phablet phones. The Moto X was modestly sized and fit in my pocket. The iPhone 6s is very close to the same width, but is maybe a half-inch taller than the Moto X. The iPhone is thinner, so overall, reasonably sized.

The iPhone fits in two more rows of icons than the Moto X. That’s another eight icons per home screen. Nice. That’s partly because of the phone being bigger, and also because it doesn’t have the redundant Google Search bar on every page. I do wish I could place the icons where ever I wanted instead of having them autofill from the top.

There really isn’t that much difference in the experience between high-end Android� phones and the iPhone. But, I think the iPhone 6s is the best phone for me right now, and I’m happy with it.





Bluetooth Mouse Disconnect Problem

Are you having a problem with your Apple Bluetooth mouse disconnecting frequently from your Mac? The battery is fine, but you have to keep clicking to get it to connect again? The solution is so easy. Get your cell phone away from your mouse!

The cell phone emits enough radio noise to jam the Bluetooth signal from your mouse. Smartphones are just packed with radio transmitters. Besides its own Bluetooth transmitter, a phone has a WiFi transmitter (2.4 or 5 GHz), a cell network transmitter and maybe a NFC transmitter. The cellular transmitter is used periodically to maintain contact with the cell site even if you are not making or receiving a call.

That cellular transmitter is powerful — it has to reach a cell site a mile or so away. That’s probably the one that kills your mouse (or keyboard).

It is so easy to sit down and put your phone right next to the mouse without thinking. Moving it just a couple of feet away is probably enough to eliminate the problem.

Nova Flash Review


This thing is very bright -- this is not the brightest setting. I did not add any pixie dust to this photo.
The Nova Flash in action. It’s very bright�– this is not the brightest setting. I did not add any pixie dust to this photo.

I am a backer on Kickstarter for the $59 wireless Nova Flash from The hardware recently shipped to backers, so I have had a chance to try it out.

Since I have been interested in off-camera flash in general, I backed and bought the Nova flash. The Nova brings the general advantages of off-camera flash to the iPhone and Android platforms. Off-camera flash improves your photos by moving the light source away from the lens. Your subject has more natural shadows and detail. Off-camera flash is at its best in portraits, where subjects lose that deer-in-the-headlights look and have more natural skin tones. An off-camera flash can also give your portraits a nice catch-light reflection in the eyes.

The Nova flash works with a dedicated Nova camera app which fires the flash using Bluetooth radio control.

The initial release of the Nova is oriented towards the iPhone, with a very�basic camera app for the Android. I only tested with the Android version for this review.

Nova requires iOS 7 or Android 4.3 or greater. It requires that your hardware support Bluetooth 4.0 low energy. For this reason, the Nova requires newer iOS devices:�iPhone 4S/5/5C/5S, iPad 3/4/Mini/Air or the iPod Touch 5G. �I tested on the Motorola Moto X, running Android 4.4.


Nova Flash and iPhone
The Nova flash next to an iPhone 4. The Nova requires a newer model for Bluetooth compatibility.


The Nova hardware is super simple. It’s a thin white plastic case with�no user controls or buttons at all. It has a micro USB port which is used to charge the internal battery. It is extremely compact which should encourage you to take it along frequently. The translucent case allows the LED lights�to shine through with a nice diffuse glow.

Nova App on Android taking a photo
Taking a photo with Nova


Below are before and after photos taken with the regular Android camera app, and with Nova.


Stock Android camera, no flash
Before: Stock Android camera, no flash

The face is underexposed without flash. I took another�photo using the stock camera app, with the built-in flash, but it was a total disaster — shiny skin, closed eyes, really awful, trust me. Mercifully, I deleted it.


Nova App, Medium Flash Brightness
After: Nova App, Medium Flash Brightness

The Nova flash provided a nice fill-flash here and really made a much nicer photo.

Serious backlight problem
Before: Serious backlight problem
After: Backlighting somewhat overcome
After: Backlighting somewhat overcome by Nova Flash

The Nova acts more like a radio controlled LED flashlight than a traditional photo flash. When you take a picture, the flash comes on for a couple of seconds, during which time the photo is taken. So, you won’t be stopping any fast action with this flash. The long illumination time appears to allow the camera to adapt to the new lighting situation and take a properly exposed photo. The good thing about this is your subject has time to get over any blink reflex before the photo.

Nova Flash Summary

What’s Hot:

  • $59 price
  • Compact size, light weight
  • Bright enough to make a real difference

What’s Not:

  • Occasional trouble connecting via Bluetooth – restart App or turn�Bluetooth on/off to recover
  • No indication of battery state. This would be a nice addition to the app.

Update: June 2016 Not Recommended

The Nova Flash just went on the trash heap of otherwise nice products condemned by a bad battery. Mine sat in the drawer for 6 months. When I was ready to use it again, it wouldn’t charge up or operate. The battery is not replaceable. Since the unit doesn’t have an off switch, the battery discharges drastically when not in use.� I can’t recommend getting this, since the same thing is virtually guaranteed to happen to every unit eventually.


Wireless Emergency Alert System Flops Badly

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will soon. Your phone or someone’s near you will alarm loudly, and you will see an important-looking message. �This is the government-mandated Wireless Emergency Alert system in action.

This is an alert I received this morning on my android phone:

Amber Alert

A system like this depends on user acceptance to function properly. So far, the main reaction of users has been “How do I turn this off”? Why?

There are several serious problems with this particular alert and the system in general. First of all, the alert on Android is presented as a one-time modal dialog box. You have to press OK before you can do anything else. Most people will do that within seconds. On my phone, at least, once OK is pressed, the alert is gone. You have no way to retrieve or review it. How many people will remember the license plate number even a minute later?�The only way I could capture the alert dialog was to take a picture of it with another phone. I �understand that on iOS, the alert remains visible in the notification center. Can anyone confirm that? Two points for Apple if so.

I have no confidence in a system where I cannot review past history. Alerts should remain reviewable for some time, even if they are cancelled, if they appeared on my phone once, I should be able to look at them again.

The second problem is that the alert does not say who sent it. My first question on seeing one of these for the first time was, what app generated this alert? I had installed some weather apps, maybe it was one of those. I was vaguely aware of the WEA system, but wasn’t sure if that was the source of the alert I was seeing. The question of who sent the alert also applies at the agency level. Did this come from the governor, the corner police station, who?

Problem number three, the alert doesn’t say what to do. What do I do if I see the missing pickup? The weather alert said to turn on the TV, I believe, which is a little more useful. I can’t check that though, because there is no way to recall past alerts.

The fourth problem, is there is no way to get more information. Any half-baked messaging app will let you click to see a photo or web page. How about some photos of the missing person, the vehicle and the suspect? How about a weather map of the tornado warning area? We get none of that.

Another, less serious, problem is that users are unfamiliar with these alerts. They have never seen them before. I would suggest that in the settings for WEA, there be a button for users to generate a demo alert, just on their own phone, so they can see what the alerts look and sound like.

Ask about these problems, and you will hear that there are technical limitations — the system only allows 90 characters of text. I must say, that’s a pretty bad design. What do you expect from a government design? It needs to be changed. Some high school students could make a better system than this in an afternoon.

WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) Overview

WEA sends alerts through the cellular system. The alerts are sent only to phones and cell towers in the affected area. The system only operates on relatively new phones. On AT&T, the Apple models supported are the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, 5C and 5S.

The switches to turn off Amber Alerts and Emergency Alerts in iOS are in Settings/Notifications/Government Alerts. There is still the “Presidential Alert” which cannot be disabled.

I haven’t been able to determine for sure whether WEA alerts are supported on any model of iPad or not. They are not happening on mine which does have cellular.


WEA Overview from CITA

A good blog post about problems with WEA