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Wherever I May Roam

Q: I need a simple phone for use in Costa Rica. I know very little about cell phones. The New York Times recommended the Nokia 2700 unlocked GSM quad band world phone, which I found at for $79. What else do I need and how can I make sure this phone will work before my trip?

A: Finding the right phone for international travel can get complicated and expensive in a hurry. Whatever you do, don't just take your normal phone to Central America and start racking up roaming charges. They start at ridiculous and go up from there. If your phone even works, that is. There are two main types of cell networks worldwide: GSM and CDMA. GSM is the worldwide standard while CDMA is most common in the US. So you really want a GSM phone, specifically a "quad band" GSM phone. A "quad band" GSM phone will work on just about any cell network in any country. One such phone is the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 5 also supports quad band... providing you bought yours in Europe.

The type of network your phone is compatible with is determined by the carrier you bought it for. The US carriers that use GSM are AT&T and T-Mobile. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA. LTE networks are basically all completely incompatible with each other. Once you have a quad-band GSM phone, you will need to buy an international SIM card so you can make calls without racking up astronomical roaming charges.

Now, if this all sounds complicated, that's because it is, but there's a simple trick to finding a phone that is guaranteed to work cheaply in the country you are visiting. Wait until you get to Costa Rica, and buy a phone there. When you arrive in Costa Rica, go to the local mobile store and buy the cheapest prepaid cell phone there. I bet you can find one for under thirty US dollars.

Whatever you do, don't buy a phone or SIM card at or near the airport, though. Prices are almost always much higher there. Once you get out of the airport, ask a local to point you to a good cheap store. Of course, …   More


Black Cat on the Windows

Q: My cat walked on my computer one day, and now my Dell laptop boots upside down. That is, the screen is upside down. To get it right I have to press the Windows key and the "p" button to duplicate the screen. Then, when I press it again the screen reverts back to normal. How can I get it to boot up correctly?

A: I know cats can be pranksters, but yours has taken it to new extremes. Fortunately, as easy as it was for your cat to screw up your computer, it is just as easy to fix.

For some reason, some genius at Microsoft thought it was a good idea to have a hot-key combination that changes the orientation of your screen. I can see why very occasionally you might want to flip your screen 90 degrees, but I can’t imagine doing it often enough that you would need a short sequence of keystrokes to do it. Basically, Microsoft created the ultimate hotkey shortcut for pranksters or cats.

You can change the orientation of the monitor on most Windows laptops by pressing Ctrl-Alt and an arrow key at the same time. To change the orientation of your screen, once you’ve logged in upside-down, hold down Ctrl+Alt+Up, and that ought to return your screen to normal. Ctrl-Alt-Down will flip it upside down, and Ctrl-Alt-Left and Ctrl-Alt-Right will flip the screen sideways facing left or right respectively. 

Do us a favor though: once you change your screen back, don’t use this knowledge for evil. Nothing will make your IT department hate you more than dozens of calls from frantic coworkers because their screens have flipped sideways and upside down. 

If you try the hotkey trick and it doesn’t work for some reason, there is another way that will definitely fix it for you.

Click the Start menu and open "Control Panel."

Click "Adjust Screen Resolution"

Click to open the "Orientation" menu.

Choose from : "Landscape," "Portrait," "Landscape (Flipped)" and "Portrait (Flipped)" Click your desired orientation option to have Windows …   More


What Do You Do with a Busted Laptop?

Q: I have a laptop that is about 10 years old, and it is completely beyond repair. What can I do with it? Is it OK to just throw it in the trash?

A: NO! Stop! If you've already put it out for the trash, stop reading this right now, and go bring it back inside! Never, ever, throw computers, or almost any electronics, in the trash.

First of all, you need to protect yourself and clear any personal data off of that thing before you release it into the wild. I'm not talking about a simple, quick re-formatting. I mean such a thorough scrubbing of your data that it would take the entire cast of CSI to recreate it. When you delete something from your hard drive, it isn't really erased. The computer just pretends it's not there.

To really delete a file from your computer's hard drive, you have to write something over that file. There are a few programs that will securely delete your files for you. If it's a Windows PC you're getting rid of, use a program like Eraser or the Drive Wiper in CCleaner to completely eradicate your data. If you're tossing out a Mac, there's a program called Permanent Eraser.

Once you've taken care of protecting yourself, you need to protect the environment. Computers are loaded with toxic metals and materials that are dangerous to the environment and need to be handled appropriately. Some cities and counties have curbside pickup of e-waste, but you should never just toss your computer in with the regular trash.

Check with your municipality's website to find out where you can drop off your computer so that it is disposed of properly. Here in Jacksonville e-waste can be dropped off Tuesday through Saturday at the city's Household Hazardous Waste Facility located at 2675 Commonwealth Ave.

Of course as they say, one man’s toxic trash is another man’s treasure. There are companies that will take computers and monitors apart and extract the metals out of them to sell as scrap. So before you just throw that old junker away, …   More


Hey! You! Go Print on My Cloud!

Q: A classmate came over to my house recently to work on a project with me. She brought her laptop. When it came time to print, we had to print from her laptop, which meant I had to find the printer disk, hook her laptop up to the printer, and install it, just to print one thing. Is there a better way?

A: First of all, you did consider emailing it from her laptop to your computer or transferring it on a thumb drive, right? I know that probably sounds sarcastic, but sometimes we can look right past the most obvious solution.

Assuming that you did consider that, and you weren't able to transfer the file, there is a way to fairly easily share your printer with anyone you choose. Google Cloud Print allows you to print from any computer in the world to any printer, as long as both of them are connected to the Internet. Setting up Google Cloud Print so that you can wirelessly share your printer with your classmate, or anyone else, is fairly easy.

Many new printers are “Google Cloud Print Ready.” That means that once you have them turned on and connected to a network you can share them through Google Cloud Print quickly and easily. Just follow the directions for your printer at

If you have what Google calls a “classic” printer, an older printer that doesn't connect to the cloud, you can still use it with Google Cloud Print. The only extra requirement is that the printer must be hooked up to a computer with Google Chrome installed on it. Open up the settings in Google Chrome on that computer, search for ‘cloud printer.' You’ll see options to add your printer to cloud print and share it with your classmate, co-worker, or whoever. Once your printer is connected to Google Cloud Print, it’s a simple matter to print from Google Docs, Google Chrome, or any Google app. The Cloud Printer app lets you print directly in any app on your Mac, and Google Cloud Printer Driver allows you to print …   More


Am I Ruining My Phone's Battery?

Q: I like to charge my phone overnight while I'm sleeping. It really only takes a couple hours to charge the phone, so this worries me. I have heard that charging a battery too long can shorten its lifespan. Is this true?

A: There’s a lot of contradictory advice about batteries out there. The reason for this is because there are a lot of different types of batteries, and different types require different care. A similar thing that I had heard was that if you unplugged them before they were finished charging, you would reduce their charging capacity. That was pretty worrying to me because sometimes I need to grab my phone and go, whether it’s done charging or not. Was this killing my battery?

Fortunately, neither of us needs to worry. You see, virtually all modern smart phones use lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are designed with the understanding that you’re going to be using your cellphone on the go. Sometimes you’ll need to unplug before you’re finished charging; sometimes you’ll plug in the phone for a quick top-off, and, of course, you'll often leave it plugged in overnight. These batteries are designed for all of that.

And it’s also OK to recharge your battery before it runs all the way down. In fact, for lithium-ion batteries, it’s preferable. Maybe once a month or so, let your battery run all the way down before charging it. This will help calibrate the battery. But most of the time you don’t need to do this.

The truth is, the major threat to your battery life is time. Rechargeable batteries have something known as "charge cycles." A charge cycle is basically going from near-empty to completely full. Every phone battery has a finite number of charge cycles. That number is very large, but eventually your phone’s battery will reach a point where its charging capacity starts getting smaller. Rechargeable batteries just don’t last forever.

Now, going back to your …   More


Can You Make Kindle Stop Syncing?

Q: I love that the Kindle holds my furthest location, but my wife and I share one account. That makes things really annoying when she finishes a book when I am just starting it. Is there a way to reset the synchronization, or just turn it off?

A: When you read an eBook on a Kindle ereader or app, Amazon peaks over your shoulder and keeps track of what page you are on. The feature called Whispersync tracks what you are reading so you don't have to find your place. The next time you open your eBook, even if you open your eBook on another device, it will open to the last page you had open when you closed it.

But, if you are sharing an account with someone, and you are both trying to read the same book, it can get pretty irritating. However, it is pretty easy to change it so that it stops doing that, if you know where to find it.

Here’s what you do. Go to on your computer. Then click Your Account > Manage Your Kindle > Manage Your Devices > Manage Kindle Device Synchronization. Now, under the heading Device Synchronization (Whispersync Settings), click Turn Off.

Wait a little while, maybe about 10 minutes.

On your Kindle device or your Kindle app, exit the book and reopen it. Turn to the first page in the book, and try to sync your book to the furthest position. It should say that you are at the furthest position if it worked correctly.

If you want to turn synchronization back on, just go back to and click Turn On under Device Synchronization.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to synchronize or un-synchronize just one of your books. But, as long as you don’t move your position in your books, when you reopen the book after you turn synchronization back on, they will still be at the position and will sync at that position.   More


I Need a Cheap Laptop

Q: My old laptop is pretty close to being completely dead. It's no longer a "laptop" since it has to stay plugged in, and it's over five years old. Any recommendations for good, inexpensive laptops? I just need to be able to run Microsoft Office and do Internet stuff.

A: We get this question all the time at Deemable Tech. No one wants to spend a lot of money on a computer, unless they want a really powerful machine. Most people don't use their computer for editing video, photography, or recording and mixing music. If you did, I'd recommend buying a Mac. Most people also don't use their computer for playing video games, programming or web design. If you did, I'd heavily recommend buying a Windows PC.

You can't buy a Mac laptop for less than $999, unless you buy something used or refurbished. Even then, you'll only save a few hundred off of that price, at most. You can buy a cheap Windows laptop for $200-$400, but you're going to get an underpowered computer that barely meets the minimum requirements for the operating system. It'll probably run fine for a little while, but once you get a few updates and install a few programs on it, it will start feeling sluggish. Cheap laptops are the worst thing you can buy for the money.

If you're like most people, you just need a computer that you can get on the Internet with and do some document creating and editing. If that's you, there is a much better option than Windows or Mac, and it is really cheap. It's called a Chromebook. Chromebooks don't run Windows or Mac OS; they run an operating system that's been out for a few years from Google called Chrome OS. If you are familiar with Google's Chrome web browser, you already know how to use Chrome OS. It's a very simple computer that boots up in 5 seconds. Chromebooks are made by companies like Acer $199, Samsung $249 and HP $329.  Chrome OS has tons of apps that will let you do almost everything you can do on a Windows or Mac computer. You don't need to worry …   More


Stop the Pop

Before we jump into the question, did you know we have an hour-long weekly podcast? If you like these articles go to or search for Deemable Tech in iTunes to hear our full hour-long show where we answer more tech questions and review apps and new tech gadgets, and we don't have any pop-up ads!

Q: Bill writes: Is there any way to completely block pop-up ads while running Chrome or Internet Explorer? I have to wonder what's the point of blocking pop-ups when so many get through anyway, slowing down the page loading to the point that it reminds me of being on dial-up.

A: It's been so long since I have dealt with a pop up, that I had forgotten Chrome and IE even had settings to block pop-ups. To turn on the pop-up blocker in Chrome click the button at the top right of the screen that has three horizontal lines. Then click on settings, and search for "pop-ups" in the search box. In Internet Explorer click on Tools, and then go to Internet Options. There you can find the setting under the Privacy tab. Recent versions of Firefox have this option too, and you can find it under the Firefox settings.

But Bill says this setting doesn't work, or at least not all the time. You have to understand that pop-up blocking is like an arms race. Every time there's some new advance in pop-up blocker technology, the people making the pop up ads just get smarter.

To make things more complicated, browser-makers can't simply ban all pop-ups. There are lots of legitimate uses for pop-ups. Half the websites on the internet would stop working.

Now, the other way to deal with pop-up ads is with what Firefox calls 'extensions'. Extensions are small programs you can download which add features to your browser, including more effective pop-up blocking.

Extensions also work for Chrome and Internet Explorer, where they're known as 'plug-ins' and 'add-ons', respectively. One of the most popular extensions or plug-ins is Ad Block Plus. You can …   More


One iPhone, Two Phone Numbers?

Q: I have an iPhone 4S, and I'm wondering if I can keep the number that I already have as my own personal line and have a separate phone number that I can give out to other people? I'm wondering this because there's certain people that I wouldn't mind giving my phone number, but when they start acting creepy I'd like to ignore them. Also, would I have to have Wi-Fi to make it work?

A: Several years ago, some phone carriers in the US would let you have two different phone numbers on one cell phone. You had to pay an extra ten dollars a month or so, but then you could have a personal line and a professional line. Unfortunately, that practice has fallen to the wayside in the US like the roadside attractions on Route 66. I'm not sure if the US cell phone networks stop supporting it or the manufacturers stop making phones that could do it, or both. Overseas, Dual SIM card phones have started getting popular, but there's no way to have two phone numbers on one iPhone in the US. Well, you can buy a iPhone case from China that lets you have two SIM cards, but trust me, you don't want to mess with it. However, there's a few options that you can try that will accomplish the same thing you are trying to do.

The simplest option would be to get a cheap, prepaid phone for the creeps. Give them that number, and you can toss it if you have to. Another option is to simply block them from calling your phone number. Lifehacker has a great breakdown of how to block someone from calling you depending on who your phone carrier is. However, this only prevents them from calling your phone number from their phone number. If they get a new phone number, or try to call you from somewhere else, they'll still get to you. 

A slightly more complicated trick is to use Google Voice. With Google Voice, you'll have a separate phone number that you can set to forward to your phone number. I have several for different projects I work on. Each project gets its own phone number …   More


Not Feeling It

Q: Touch screen phones don't work very well for me. When I touch the screen of a smartphone it often doesn't recognize that I've touched it. The strange thing is my mom has the same problem with touchscreens. We've always figured it had something to do with our circulation or something, but neither of us has cold or clammy hands. So my question is two part. First, what's up with that? Why don't touch screens like me? And second, I'm getting to the point where I need to upgrade my old phone which has a fold-out keyboard. Can you recommend a new phone that has a keyboard?

A: That does seem kind of unusual. I did a little Googling though, and you're not alone in your complaint. Some people refer to it as 'zombie fingers'. But don't worry, you're probably not about to develop a taste for brains.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of touchscreens - resistive and capacitive. Resistive screens are pressure sensitive. They are composed of two layers, and when you press down on them the layers make contact and send out an electrical signal.

Capacitive touch screens, on the other hand (hah!) work based on the fact that human skin is electrically conductive. When your finger makes contact with a capacitive screen, it creates a tiny electrical disturbance which the phone detects to know that it's been touched.

It used to be the case that there were lots of phones with each type of screen; nowadays most modern high-end phones feature capacitive screens and it's getting harder to find a good resistive screen phone. You have to apply pressure to get a resistive screen to recognize your touch, while with a capacitive screen you don't (that means that pushing harder on your iPhone screen won't make you any better at iPhone games). Most people don't like that, and they're voting with their fingers, er, feet.

Now, I haven't found any scientific studies on people whose fingers don't get along with capacitive screens, but my guess is that …   More