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Online Menus

Many restaurants post their menus online; you can click the “menu” link on the restaurant’s website to see if your dietary restrictions are accommodated, whether smaller plates are an option, what indulgent desserts you might save room for, and the price you’ll pay for an entree. There is certainly value in that.

And yet, I still like to be surprised.

As often as I gravitate toward tech options — I text instead of call, take a picture of information rather than write it down — I prefer not to study online menus before dining out. Part of the fun of the restaurant experience is being handed a menu and anticipating what treats lie in store for me.

Long before internet menus were available, Jerry Seinfeld did a comedy bit about “winning the ordering game.” To Jerry, the person at the table who sees and orders the “best” option on the menu first, wins. I wonder now whether he peeks at the online menu?

Whatever your preference, enjoy your meal!

Family Tree

This weekend I hosted a luncheon for 12 of my cousins. One highlight was the poster-size family tree I created using a computer-based genealogy program. It made for what one of my cousins called “a valuable roadmap” to understand how everyone in the room was related. Just seeing some of the names prompted wonderful stories about past generations.

A handful of genealogy programs exist for under $50. By adding the names of your close relatives into the program — and then enlisting others to help with names of more distant relatives — you easily build a database. (Additionally, you can pay to join an online ancestry search but you don’t have to do this just to keep your own local database).

In time, you can add significant dates, milestones, photos, anecdotes, and documents. As you come across new facts, add them where they belong.

You don’t even have to have a plan for this data from the outset. As long as you enjoy the process of collecting the information, keep doing it.

Perhaps you will create a family tree for a reunion as I did, or maybe make an album as a gift, or even write a book. Perhaps you will share the file with your children and grandchildren. Future generations can keep updating the data.

Even if you already have a “historian” in your family, don’t hesitate to create your own database. Your perspective is unique.

For one review of the most popular genealogy software programs, click here.*

*Within this comprehensive review of genealogy programs is the somewhat intimidting term GEDCOM. This stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunications. It’s the standard computer file format family historians use to exchange information. (Read more here.) While the programs differ in their ability to translate GEDCOM data, you don’t have to know technical GEDCOM issues to enjoy any of the genealogy programs.

Your Voicemail Message

When was the last time you listened to your cell phone’s out-going voicemail message? (It’s the greeting your callers hear before they leave you a message).

If it’s been a while, you might wish to update it. Times have changed.

Here are a few suggestions:

Make it Personal
Callers would probably prefer to hear your voice rather than a computer-generated “default” voice.

Make it Short
We all know what to do after the beep; no need to explain it.

Make it Easy
You don’t need to ask your callers to leave a number or the time that they called; cell phones record this information automatically.

Make it Friendly
Think about the recordings you hear when you make a call. Yours should be more like the ones you like and less like the ones you don’t.


iCloud Backup

True or False?

If your information is backed up to the iCloud, you can recover something you deleted before yesterday.


Ugh. Then what’s the point of the iCloud backup?

I get this question all the time. I think the word “backup” itself is confusing; it describes very different approaches.

Traditional backup systems copy data from your computer to an external hard drive and keep each complete backup intact; nothing is overwritten by subsequent backups. In these systems — Apple’s Time Machine and Windows’ File History, for example — you can locate and restore a file or files you deleted a day, week, or month ago.

Apple’s iCloud backs up your mobile data too, but primarily for sharing contacts, music, pictures and calendar events, etc. with your other devices in real time. In the process, it backs up your data, but only as one ever-changing daily backup that keeps overwriting yesterday’s backup. It is not your long term storage. (The limited, although important, function of iCloud’s backup is to load your data onto a new device. That it does seamlessly.)

To work efficiently, you want both systems:

  • Back up to the iCloud to keep a current copy of your mobile data to share among your devices, and to share with a new device if necessary. Be sure it is turned on: iPhone Settings > tap your name > iCloud > iCloud Backup > On.
  • Back up your computer to an external hard drive to keep your information longer term and unchanged by more recent activity.

Is that clearer or should I, um, back up???

Note: some of you backup your computer data to Carbonite. This offsite system’s data retention is somewhere between the iCloud and an external hard drive. From the Carbonite website: When Carbonite is backing up, it will keep a copy of your files in the backup as long as the files exist on your computer. If files are deleted or missing from your computer while Carbonite is backing up, the files will be removed from Carbonite after 30 days (15 days for trials).

Recipe Mode

As far as I know, there is no official “Recipe Mode” but that’s what I call my setup for keeping my phone or tablet clean, visible, and on(!) while I follow a recipe.
Three steps:
  1. Place your device in a clear, resealable plastic bag. (Nothing more pleasant than peanut butter on the phone). The touch screen will still work through the plastic.
  2. Prop up the device so you can read the recipe; anything on the counter will do, including the wall.
  3. Turn the automatic sleep/lock function off temporarily so the recipe will stay on the screen.*
*On an iPhone or iPad, tap “Settings > Display and Brightness > Auto Lock > Never” to keep the screen from going dark. On an Android phone, tap “Settings > Display > Screen Timeout > Never” (or long enough to follow your recipe).

When you are finished cooking, be sure to change your display time back to where it was so you don’t run down your battery.

Of course you can always print the recipe and work off the paper copy, but some on-screen recipes may be YouTube videos or include helpful video demonstrations which must be viewed on screen.

If you are thinking, “I could have used this information last week while cooking for the Passover/Easter holidays,” just think how much more you will appreciate it when Mother’s Day rolls around!

Sharing eBooks

Ebooks are genius!
Read books on your vacation without taking up more space than the phone or tablet you were already packing. Continue reading on one device where you left off on another device. Choose your print size, screen brightness, and page orientation. Awesome.

But what about sharing an ebook with your spouse? Not so easy.

Or is it?

If you purchase an ebook from the Apple Store or the Google Play Store, the book is owned by the account the device is registered to — your Apple ID or Google Account. If you and your spouse do not share the account, you cannot share the books. For your spouse to read the same book without also buying it, he/she would need to read it on your device, or sign out of his/her account and sign into yours (this has many downsides and limitations; it is not at all practical).

However, if you purchase ebooks from Amazon (for the Kindle or Kindle app) or Barnes and Noble (for the Nook or Nook app), you can register your separate mobile devices to the same Kindle or Nook account — without impacting other phone functions — and share the books in different devices without re-buying them. And you can delete a downloaded book from one device without deleting it from other device(s).
Happy sharing!

Publix App

If you shop at a Publix supermarket, you should have the Publix mobile app on your phone.

Here’s why I like the Publix app (the last one on my list is my new favorite):

  • I can designate my closest store as “My Store.”
  • I can create shopping lists.
  • I can order sandwiches just the way I like them for later pickup.
  • I can check items in the “Digital Coupon” section for savings at the register, and I don’t have to remember to bring the coupons with me.
  • I can determine if the store has an item before I go.
  • I can look up where the item is in the store, before I get there or while I’m shopping.*
*Even if you know your store really well, there are some items you may not be able to find. And even if your Publix store has particularly helpful employees (mine does; they always walk customers to the items they need help finding), sometimes there are no employees in sight, or you just want to run in quickly to get one thing. The aisle designation in the app is great; look how many different places you can find nuts. And that’s just nuts!

You can download the Publix app for iPhone or Android here:

Note: there is also a separate Publix Delivery app for home deliveries. I haven’t tried it.

Save for Later

I love the “Save for Later” option in my Amazon Shopping Cart. You might also.
Sometimes I take a while to decide to buy something. I read descriptions, check out the reviews, look at the questions and answers, and double-check the dimensions. And even then I may not be ready to buy. But I don’t want to lose the item either; I’d like to come back to it later.
The simplest way I have found to keep the item current is to
  1. Click “Add to Cart”
  2. Click “Cart”
  3. Click “Save for later” under that specific item
This creates a new “Saved for later” category in my shopping cart. I can return to it later, open the description, delete the item, move it to my cart, or just leave it there indefinitely.

I could skip the “Save for later” option and just leave the item in my Cart — as long as I don’t forget it’s there when I go to buy something else. Or I could use Amazon’s “List” feature to save the item in a personalized list, but I find “Save for later” more efficient than “Add to List.”

Any shortcut — like “Save for later” — that keeps me from having to search for the item again is a real time saver. Might be for you too.

Voicemail to Email

Get your landline voicemail as an email!

If your landline is provided by Comcast (xfinity), and you use the xfinity voice mail system (not an answering machine box), you can receive your voice mail messages (text and audio) as an email.*

I love this feature.


  • You don’t have to “call in” to check your voice messages (but you do have to check your email).
  • If the caller doesn’t leave a message (many marketing calls don’t), you will not even be bothered.
  • If a robo caller does leave a message, you can “see” it faster than that you can listen to it, and delete it sooner.
Other notes
  • To set this up, you will need to have an xfinity account and know your username and password. You probably have an account if you already have Comcast service; your username and password can be located or reset.
  • Even if you delete the voice mail email, the voice mail message itself is still on the xfinity website. Go to your xfinity account periodically and delete old messages.
  • The voice-to-text is not always accurate. Best to listen to the audio (scroll to the bottom of the email to press “play”) if you question the translation.
To set this up:

* I am highlighting Comcast as most of my ITmail readers on Skidaway Island have Comcast. If you have a landline with another provider, check to see if it offers the same service.

The Correct Password

If you choose to save a password so it auto-fills when you sign in to a website, I have one suggestion: be sure to save the correct password.

“Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But this is how easy it is to store an incorrect password:

You start to log into a website and your computer asks if you wish to save the password. You click “Save Password” while you wait to access the site. If the password is not correct — maybe you mis-typed or remembered an old password — you have saved an incorrect password. Even if you click “Forgot Password” and go through the steps to create a new password, your machine may still use the incorrect password you saved to deny you access in the future. Ugh.

My advice: don’t click “Save Password” until after the site lets you in. Some devices ask you right away about saving the password, even before the site has assessed your credentials. Just wait a few seconds to be sure.

If you wish to delete old, incorrect, or duplicate passwords stored in your device, open and edit your list of saved passwords.*

I hope this helps.

*Each type of device stores your list of saved passwords in a different place and each device will ask you for a master password or passcode to reveal it.

Some examples of password storage locations:

  • Safari on Apple computers: Safari > Preferences > Passwords.
  • iPhones: Settings > Passwords and Accounts > Website and App Passwords.
  • Windows 10: type “Credential Manager” in the Search field and click on the “Credential Manager in Control Panel” option.

For more details about these and other machines, search the internet for your specific device and “where are passwords stored.”

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