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Hey Siri, What Can You Do?

So, I am a little embarrassed to admit it but I bought an Amazon Echo to check out how Alexa compares with Siri. I’m a gadget guy so we will see if we find it useful and if not, I am sure I can find it a home on eBay. I use Siri more and more these days. My most common uses are asking her to settle trivia disputes with Grace or setting the timer for 5 minutes. But there is a lot more that Siri can do!

Make Relationships with Siri
When you speak Siri commands, you can refer to people by relationship, rather than name. So, if you want to call your father, you can say “call my father” instead of saying “call Bruce Leibowitz.” But to do this, you need to introduce Siri to your family. First, make sure you have a “card” in the Contacts app for yourself, and then go into Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, scroll down to find and tap My Info, and select your card. Next, make sure you have a contact card for your father, and then tell Siri, “Bruce Leibowitz is my father.” Or, if Siri doesn’t hear you correctly, open Contacts, edit your card (not your father’s!), scroll down, tap “add related name,” tap the default relationship to pick “father,” tap the info “i” icon, select your father’s card, and tap Done.

You can even use Siri to remember other types of relationships. Artie used to bring manure from his uncle’s farm for my garden and ended up with the nickname, “the spreader”. If I tell Siri “Art Hendrickson is my spreader” I can now just say “text my spreader…” and Siri knows who I am talking about. This works for nicknames but also for lawyers, accountants, doctors or any nickname you want to tell Siri about.

Take a Picture
Instead of fumbling to launch the Camera app on your iPhone you can just say “take a picture” and Siri will automatically open the Camera app and you can snap away.

Siri Converts
Need to know how many millimeters are in 4 inches? Just ask Siri and you will find that there are 101.6 mm in 4 inches. This works for currency exchange rates, too. Ask Siri how many Euros are equal to $100US you will find that 87.73 Euros is the exchange rate today. Siri has some other strong calculation features too. You can ask Siri how many calories there are in that fish sandwich or to calculate a 20% tip on your restaurant bill. You can ask her to solve math problems involving fractions and other math functions that will be faster than opening the calculator app and punching in the numbers.

Settling Up
Okay you can use Siri to look up baseball stats or other information to settle a dispute but what if you are at loggerheads and just want to get a random answer and don’t have a coin to flip. You can ask Siri to “roll the dice”, “flip a coin” or pick a random number.

Name that Tune
Siri is integrated with Shazam to help you figure out what song is playing. Just ask her “what song is playing?” and she will listen and let you know and probably try to sell you the song, too!

Find that Photo
Siri can search your photo library for you. I know how frustrating it is if your are like me and have literally thousands of photos. You can say something like “find that photo from Daytona Beach from last March” and Siri will launch Photos and take you right to any photos taken at that place and time.

Siri Takes You Out
Siri can make your restaurant reservations for you, too! Tell Siri “make a restaurant reservation for four at 7PM” and she will respond with available restaurants nearby and if you have the Open Table app installed can make the reservation for you or give you the phone number to call.

Are We There Yet?
If you are using your iPhone for navigation you can just say “ETA” and Siri will let you know how much longer you are gonna be on the road.

Leave Me Alone
Siri can do a lot for you but sometimes you just want alone time. You can tell Siri to turn on “do not disturb” and you will not be bothered. Or tell her to “turn on airplane mode” and she will turn off Wi-Fi and cellular signals.

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iOS 9.3

It’s hard to tell in advance whether or not a new iOS release will get me excited. With iOS 8 I was really excited about Continuity, and I always like the addition of Safari improvements. In iOS 9, we got proactive assistance so spotlight and Siri were more context sensitive. I think I was most excited by slide over, split view and picture-in-picture. Those features seemed to really solidify how Apple was going to be handling multitasking in iOS going forward.

So when I started hearing rumors about what would be included in the latest iOS 9.3 update, I was immediately pretty excited. Now that it was released earlier this week, I’ll go over the new features here and give my impressions.

Night Shift

Admittedly, this was the most interesting thing to me. I hear a lot of complaining (from my mom mostly) about how I shouldn’t be reading/watching movies/web browsing in bed on my iPad. Most modern displays, especially on mobile devices are notoriously “cool” meaning they tend to be towards the blue end of the color spectrum. This helps the displays to be brighter in direct sunlight, and also more vibrant, but if you’re in the dark, getting ready for bed, it’s not so great. The brightness and the “cool” tint sends signals to your brain that mimic sunlight. It’s basically telling your brain, “hey, the sun’s up, it’s time to get active.” Night Shift helps to correct that problem. It re-tunes the display to exaggerate “warmer” tones in the spectrum like red and orange. With iOS 9.3, you can turn it on manually, or on a schedule. You can also specify how much or how little “warmth” you want to use. It looks weird at first, but after as little as 15-30 seconds, you’ll adjust and won’t be able to tell the difference.


I’ll admit I’ve started using Notes a lot now that you can have checklists, formatting, drawing and more. In iOS 9.3 Apple added secure notes. You can secure notes using a password or Touch ID. This is great if you have some confidential information you want doubly protected both by your device’s PIN and Notes itself. I haven’t had a use case for this yet, but I expect I will very soon.

I think Night Shift and secure Notes are the most notable changes in iOS 9.3 for me, but other additions included improved personalization in the News app, more information about third party apps in the Health app, and additional 3D Touch context menus. I’m particularly fond of the menu on the Settings app which allows me to quickly jump to bluetooth, wifi, or battery settings in one quick motion.

One last thing to note is that the Night Shift feature isn’t available on every single device. While it is supported all the way back to the iPad 4th generation, the original iPad mini does not support it. The performance of the original iPad mini isn’t quite enough to allow for Night Shift without reducing performance and stability on the rest of the device.

Overall, I definitely give iOS 9.3 my seal of approval.

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Keyboard Shortcuts

I got my start in using computers with CPM operating system and keyboard shortcuts were present there. I used them all the time so they come as second nature to me. But as I go out and talk with customers and help them with their Macs, I am surprised by the number of people that do not know that most of the things you can do with your mouse by clicking on a menu item can be done faster with keyboard shortcuts.

The first thing to learn about shortcuts are the symbols that are used to show these keys.

Command ⌘
Shift ⇧
Option ⌥
Control ⌃
Caps Lock ⇪

These work for your Mac Keyboard but if you are using a keyboard made for a Windows machine you need to substitute the Windows logo for the Command key and the Alt key for the option key. When you look at a menu in almost any application you will find the common commands for all these symbols next to them to indicate the keyboard shortcut. Here are some common ones:

Command-X Cut Remove the selected item
Command-C Copy the selected item
Command-V Paste the contents
Command-Z Undo the previous command
Command-A Select all items
Command-F Find open a Find window
Command-G Find Again Find the next occurrence of the item previously found
Command-H Hide the windows of the front app.
Command-M Minimize the front window to the dock
Command-M New Open a new document or window
Command-P Print the current document

Command-Space bar Spotlight show or hide the spotlight search field
Command-Tab Switch apps switch to the next most recently used app
Command-shift-3 Screenshot take a screenshot of the entire screen

As you can see, there are endless keyboard shortcuts to use, and these are only a small fraction of what you can do with keyboard shortcuts. So the next time you find yourself wondering what you can do if your mouse suddenly stops working or if your just looking for a more efficient way to do something, keyboard shortcuts might just be what your looking for!

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Keep Your Passwords!

You have a password for the online banking, one for your Apple ID, one to log into your retirement amount. Your password for your bank has to have have at least one numeric number, but can’t start with a number and it can’t have any more than two of the same characters found in your username. Your retirement account must include at least 3 numbers and one special character but they can’t be consecutive.

Does this sound familiar? In the perfect world we would only need one password, but unfortunately for security purposes and as hackers get better at what they do password strength has become critical and part of our everyday lives. The hassle with this is that most sites have their own sets of rules for password strength leaving many of us to peck away at our keyboards or devices in a sometimes endless game of “remember how you manipulated your favorite password 16 different ways and can’t remember if your banking site used the password with the capitalization or the one with the ampersand”.

For a very long time I will admit my method of keeping track of my usernames and passwords was the stickies program on my Mac, much to the dismay of our IT manager! While stickies are easily accessed they are not secure and I do not recommend this method. Where you should keep them is in your keychain. You can access your keychain through applications and then utilities. Once you are in your keychain you can manually add preferred sites, accounts and passwords you wish to store. Another huge benefit is secure notes. Secure notes allow you store additional confidential information. Keychain is safe and secure because in order to view any of the passwords stored there you need to enter your administrator password. Within keychain you can make sure to safely and securely keep your passwords, and when you forget if you needed that capitalization or ampersand in your password you can simply open keychain and enter into the search field the website for which you need to confirm the password.

Now what if you don’t have a mac? The loss of passwords, and most often your Apple ID password is a huge concern with users of iOS devices only. Luckily there is an easy solution for that, iCloud and iCloud keychain. Simply go to settings, iCloud and then select keychain. Your iOS device will begin to store your logins and websites. Additionally you can add specific websites and passwords manually to your phone or iPad under safari and then selecting passwords. This is also where you would look if you can’t remember login information.

Recording safely your logins and passwords is an often overlooked step, especially when users of iOS devices accidentally have the device damaged or lost. Saving your passwords safely and using iCloud keychain can avert your being logged out of accounts.

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Migrate Your Data to a New Mac

When a customer buys a new Mac, there’s often a question of what to do about the old data. All that old data is all that stuff that made your old machine yours: it’s the settings, the pictures, saved web page bookmarks, documents, spreadsheets…all that stuff.

Frequently a Mac-to-Mac data transfer can be done without any special equipment or advanced knowledge. The easiest way is to use Apple’s Migration Assistant which is a program built into OS X, and is on every new Mac. When setting up a new Mac (or any Mac that’s been reset to factory settings, generally from the disk being wiped and the OS being reinstalled) it’ll prompt you to make a decision.

The top option is to transfer data from a start up disk or Time Machine backup. If you’re already doing a Time Machine backup to an external HDD this is the best option, just make sure your backup is completely up to date. If it’s behind, any changes you’ve made won’t show up on your new machine when the transfer completes. Once you’ve identified the drive you want the data to come from it goes through and calculates the sizes of everything on that older drive. You’ve got a little control of what comes over, like whether or not you want the entire Applications folder, but nothing more specific than that. It’ll also tell you how much available space will be left over, or if there’s more data on the source drive than the destination.

I recommend using a Time Machine backup drive (any external HDD that has a Time Machine backup on it) because it’ll be useful for backups on the new machine. It’ll even see that it’s a new machine that has all the same data and ask if you want to keep using the same Time Machine backup; this is call inheriting.

Alternatively, you can put the source machine into Target Disk Mode by pressing the T key when the machine is booting and having it connected to the destination machine through Thunderbolt or FireWire. Target disk mode only works through Thunderbolt and FireWire, don’t bother trying anything else. I’ve wasted enough time for us all: it’s not supported. If you’re transferring data from a machine with FireWire but no Thunderbolt to a new Mac that only has Thunderbolt you can get a Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter, but that’ll run you $30 and you might not have another use for it after the data migration. You could also use a Thunderbolt cable, but that’ll also run you at least $30, and again, you might not have another use for it, that’s why I recommend an external HDD. If you’re not doing a backup, it’s worth the peace of mind, and simplifies data transfers.

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