Cord cutting is becoming more and more mainstream as consumers get fed up with the high cost of cable tv and incessant, interruptive advertising.
If you have been looking to cut the cable cord, or if you already have and are looking for some more sources of media, then your local library may have you covered!
Our library began advertising their partnership with Hoopla.Hoopla is an add-on service that your library may offer to you for free. Here is a bit more about Hoopla from their About page:
hoopla digital builds on that passion by providing public libraries of all sizes the ability to offer patrons an enormous selection of digital video (movies and TV shows), music, audiobooks, ebooks and comics to their patrons. For these libraries, we’ve pioneered a unique model that allows patrons to borrow content immediately, removing artificial availability constraints and maximizing the power of digital content and Internet distribution. Technologically, we focus on the latest browser, phone, tablet, and TV products to deliver the best possible experience to our user – our passion – the public library patron.
There are currently over 1,200 libraries in the USA and Canada that have partnered with them.The signup process took less than 2 minutes.
Each library sets its own Hoopla borrowing limit. For me, that means that I can borrow a total of five (5) items per month. I had to dig around the help quite a bit to find out that returning an item early does not increment your borrow quota for the month. So if I borrow five digital items today, I have to wait until the start of the next month before I can borrow anything else. Obviously this kind of stinks, but for the price (FREE) how picky can you be?
There does seem to be wide support for devices. It looks like both TV and chrome cast are both supported via mirroring from a phone or tablet.
Ok, what about the actual content available? It looks like they have Audiobooks, Movies, Music, Comics, Ebooks, and Television.While there are some bigger well known titles in the catalogue, there is also quite a bit of B and C roll material. You might get lucky and find just what you are looking for however to scratch that ear worm.
A thorough review is available here if you want to read more.
While this post is written for iOS/iPhone there is likely a similar feature on Android. I do not know the step-by-step process for that system, but if you do please leave a comment.
Ugh… telemarketers and robocalls are the worst. You have just drifted off to sleep or sat down to eat when your phone goes off. You don’t recognize the area code, it must be a telemarketer. If you are like me, you find it infuriating, but what can you do?
I have had my phone number for about eight years now. I shouldn’t have to change my number to avoid getting called two or three times a day.
Do Not Call Registry
“The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls”
This government run consumer protection program lets you register your phone number with the FTC. Legitimate telemarketers will check the government list and avoid calling your number if it is on there. You can check if your number is registered or not by going to donotcall.gov
I checked my registration while typing this post and it said I registered on 9/2/2009, but the screenshot I posted above with all those telemarketer/spam calls was taken just this week. So what gives?
How to Block Robodialers and Scammers
While the Do Not Call list is great for stopping respectable companies, it does nothing to stop unscrupulous scammers. If you block one number they just call from a different one. You need some way to only allow known good numbers through. We can do that by setting up a whitelist.
Here is how I put an end to scammers on my iPhone 4S running iOS 9.
First, go into Settings > Do Not Disturb
Then turn on “Manual” and set “Allow Calls From” to All Contacts.
Scroll down and set “Silence” to Always.
There. Now only numbers in your address book can call you and make your iPhone make noise. All other phone numbers will be silenced automatically.
That is all well and good, but what if you need to get a phone call from someone not in your address book?
Extra Bonus Step
Let’s say that you are selling something on Craigslist and you want strangers to be able to text or call you. How can they, if you don’t know their phone number to add it to the whitelist?
The answer is pretty simple. We just need to setup a free Google Voice number that forwards to your phone. While that may sound tricky it isn’t too complicated.
Create or login to your Google account. Go to https://voice.google.com
From there you can setup a new Google Voice phone number. Then you link your existing phone number and set the Google Voice number to forward calls and messages to your existing phone number.
Finally, add your new Google Voice number to your address book on your iPhone. Now you can hand out your GV number to strangers without risking your primary phone number. The best part is that GV includes a spam filter.
If you ever do start getting bombarded with scammers on the GV number and Google doesn’t automatically filter them out, you can change your GV number for a small fee. Your family and friends will always have your primary number which won’t have to change.
How many scam calls do you get a day? Have you found any other solutions to getting rid of them? Leave a comment.
Earlier this week, I came across a nifty resource at socialsecurity.tools. The website, made by an individual not the government, helps provide a clearer picture of what one’s Social Security benefits will be at different ages and different working year earnings. This is particularly helpful for planning a retirement that is before the normal age of 65 or when you expect your earnings to significantly change up or down in the coming years. As it stands, the official SSA.gov website only gives very generic estimates about your SS benefits and it only does so after you have earned the prerequisite 40 working credits, something that is difficult for anyone in their 20s to accomplish (because you can only earn a maximum of 4 per year).
Seeing as this tool was created by a stranger on the internet and deals with personal finances, it is prudent to check the security and safety of the site before entering numbers. The about page has this to say about Security.
While unnecessary for security, this can be confirmed by loading the site in your browser, and then disconnecting your computer before entering any additional data.
Yes, it is safe to use. Furthermore, it is really interests you, the author of the tool has made the source code public on GitHub.
You will need a free SSA.gov account in order to use the tool. SSA.gov keeps a record of your earnings that you will copy and paste into the tool. Once you have done that, you’ll see a screen that looks similar to this (I used one of the demos for all the screenshots below, they are not my numbers).
Additional information is available as you scroll down the page. You may recognize the PIA vs AIE ‘bend-point’ graph from one of my previous blog posts. With this tool, you can see where exactly you’ll be on that graph.
Finally, farther down, you can get an idea of how your benefit will change depending on when you start taking it. Currently, age 62 is the soonest that you can begin taking benefits. It also carries a -30% penalty. You must start taking benefits by age 70, and waiting that extra time caries a 24% increase in yearly benefit payout.
I would encourage you to check out this tool, doubly so if you are in your twenties or thirties. One of the greatest misconceptions about retirement planning is that it is something that you do when you are in your fifties or sixties. Retirement planning is best done early in your career so you have time for compounding interest to work!
You may have heard of Moore’s law, in simple terms it was an observation made 50 years ago that computers would become twice as fast every two years. For the most part, this ‘law’ held true for the past fifty years thanks to scientific and manufacturing advances in semiconductor technology. Companies such as IBM and Intel were able to cram more transistors onto a silicon wafer by shrinking down the transistor size.
Over the past few years, Moore’s Law has been proclaimed dead or failed a dozen times by pundits. The real laws of physics seem to have caught up with transistors and they simply cannot be shrunk down any further before the electrons traveling inside start to do funny things, like teleporting. The result is a stagnation in computer CPU performance.
For example, consider the 2010 Macbook and its 2016 descendent. According to benchmark tests, the 2010 laptop scores 1536. By Moore’s Law, every two years, that score should double. You’d expect the 2016 to score 12,288, but it actually only scores 3221. So a six year difference only amounts to a doubling in CPU performance.
So why would you bother buying a brand new laptop if it is not leaps and bounds faster than a six year old machine? Well, typically because other components are leaps and bounds better. The two biggest areas are in Random Access Memory, RAM, and storage space, i.e. hard drives. Usually, both of these items are user upgradeable, so you can take that six year old machine and make it very competitive with a brand new machine.
The 2010 Macbook comes with 2 GB (gigabytes) of RAM, and a 250 GB spinning disk hard drive. For $100, you can upgrade that to 8 GB of RAM and a 250 GB solid state hard drive (SSD). A solid state hard drive is faster, lighter, and more robust than the traditional spinning platter hard drives of old. The computer will boot up faster, apps will start quicker, and the whole feel of the computer will be ‘snappier’.
Doing these upgrades on a 2010 Macbook is extremely simple. Use a philips screwdriver to undo the bottom cover screws.
You can see the blue RAM chips in the right side of the picture. The silver hard drive is in the bottom right corner.
The two RAM chips will pop right out from the motherboard. The hard drive has a couple additional screws holding it in place. Installation is the reverse.
After replacing RAM, it is generally a good idea to run a test. MemTest86 is a free piece of software that will do an exhaustive battery of tests. The setup instructions are a little technical, but once you have made up the flash drive or CD, the test itself is incredibly easy to run.
TADA! You now have a cheap laptop that is almost as good as a brand new expensive one. What a great deal for an ‘obsolete‘ machine.
Desktop tower computers have gone the way of pickup trucks. You can still see them chugging along in work environments, but you probably won’t find many in homes unless they are ancient and collecting dust. Most consumers only need a machine capable of browsing the internet, playing videos, and sending emails and those types of machines can easily be crammed into a touchscreen tablet (a convertible) or a laptop (sedan) or even a smartphone (mini smart car).
The last computer that I built was put together in 2011. I needed something cheap to do eight hours of work on a day. I believe I spent $700 on parts back then and it had served me well enough as a stop gap. Five years of constant use can be tough on a computer, just like it is on a truck. Eventually the physical hardware was just falling apart. I could have thrown parts at it, but computers age like large breed dogs.
I knew this day was coming over a year ago when my first DIY computer build was starting to give me signs of failure, so I had been setting aside money to fund a replacement.
This time around, I splurged, and spent about $1100 on parts. So what does that get you in 2016? (Yes, this should be a funny post to re-read in 5 years).
I salvaged the following parts from my first computer
NVIDIA GTX 960 SSC Graphics Card
VESA 3-way Monitor Mount
2.1 Speaker Setup
1 250 GB SSD
1 320 GB HD
1 500 GB HD
I trashed the old case and sold the old motherboard, CPU, RAM, and heatsink on eBay for $80.
My goal for this build was to make a compact, powerful, and quiet running system. I chose an itx motherboard and case. ITX just describes the size of the case and motherboard.
I liked working with this particular case because it was very flexible. For instance, both hard drive cages could be removed to make extra space.
The motherboard only has two RAM slots, so I won’t be able to add extra RAM later on. I feel that 32 GB or RAM should be enough to get me through the next five years.
The CPU came with a heatsink and fan (below left), but I purchased an aftermarket unit (below right) that does a better job of cooling the hottest part of the computer.
Installing the CPU into the motherboard is a simple affair. It only fits one way.
Then you lock it down with the little metal lever and spread some thermal compound on top of the CPU. The thermal compound is a heat conductive material that helps transfer the heat from the CPU to the heatsink.
Then the heatsink gets installed on top of the CPU.
The two sticks of white RAM get installed onto the motherboard next.
With the CPU, heatsink, and ram installed, it is a good time to install the motherboard in the case.
Next I installed a couple of SSDs on the case side panel. Storage options have really taken off over the past few years offering larger drives with faster speeds. The particular motherboard that I selected even has a port on the backside for a super fast blade style M2 drive.
The power supply and case fans get installed next.
Then once you connect all of the cables, the user manuals make it clear as to what goes where, you can boot the computer up for the first time.
You’ll likely see the BIOS screen.
This is the little operating system that comes with the motherboard. You can configure some of your hardware with these screens and the motherboard manual will have more information on all of the options.
Turning off the computer, I installed the 3 salvaged hard drives and the graphics card.
The BluRay drive also gets installed and then the whole thing gets closed up.
Hook up all the cables in the back and you are ready to install your favorite OS.
My new computer is about 5 times faster than the old one. I did use all 32 GB of RAM when I was working on a promotional video for one of my Apps. Adobe After Effects is a memory hog.
As a strange tangent, I did recently read about one crafty individuals experience creating a ‘new’ computer in the Cloud so he could play the latest and greatest video games without having to build a new physical computer. You can read more about his 60¢/hour Cloud gaming rig here. Forewarning, it is pretty technical jargon heavy!