October 21, 2020

State of the Art: Ins and Outs of Using Gadgetry

I’m not trying to insult America’s clueless; exactly the opposite, in fact. How is the average person supposed to know the essentials of their phones, cameras and computers? There’s no government leaflet, no mandatory middle-school class, no state agency that teaches you some core curriculum. Instead, we muddle along, picking up scattershot techniques as we go. We wind up with enormous holes in our knowledge.

This week, for example, a reader asked me about those weird, square, pixelated black-and-white bar codes that are cropping up on billboards, movie posters, signs, magazine ads and business cards. Nobody ever bothered to explain them. (They’re QR codes — quick response bar codes. You can scan them with your iPhone’s or Android phone’s camera, using a special app that translates it into an ad or takes you to a related Web page.)

That interaction made me realize that it’s time to publish the first installment of what should be the Big Book of Basic Technology Knowledge — the prerequisite for using electronics in today’s society. Some may seem basic, but you’ll probably find at least a couple of “I didn’t know thats!” among them.

Cellphones

¶ Searching for a signal scarfs up battery juice appallingly quickly. Turn your phone off, or put it into Airplane Mode, before you travel out of cellphone range — for example, on a plane or, for ATT users, Manhattan and San Francisco.

¶ When you need the phone number, address or directions for any commercial establishment, call 800-BING-411 for an amazingly good voice-activated agent. (Thank you, Microsoft.)

¶ You can skip the inane 15-second voice-mail instructions when leaving a message (“To page this person, press 5”) — if you know your friend’s cellphone carrier. If it’s Verizon, press * to cut directly to the beep. ATT or Sprint, press 1. T-Mobile, press #. (Better yet: Do the world a favor and add this trick to your own greeting: “To cut to the beep, press 1.”)

¶ If you travel overseas, you may return to a smartphone bill for $5,000 or more, thanks to the staggering international Internet fees. (You might not even know your phone is online — if it checks e-mail every 15 minutes, for example.) Despite many well-publicized horror stories, some people still don’t realize they should call the cellphone company before traveling to buy a special temporary overseas plan.

Cameras

¶ The half-press trick eliminates the frustrating delay when you press a pocket camera’s shutter button. Frame your shot, then half-press the shutter button. The camera beeps when it has locked focus — and that’s the time-consuming part. When pushed the rest of the way down, you snap the picture instantly. No lag.

¶ Your flash is useless if the subject is more than about eight feet away. Turn it off. (This means you, concertgoers and football fans.)

¶ If you erase photos from your memory card accidentally, you can still recover them if you haven’t used the card since. For about $30, you can download memory-card recovery programs; Google “memory card recovery” to find them.

App Phones

¶ On the iPhone, the camera doesn’t snap the photo until you release the on-screen shutter button. That’s good to know if you want a steady, blur-free shot. Frame the shot with your finger on the button, then snap the photo by lifting off the screen instead of tapping it.

¶ On iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Palm/H.P. phones, tap the Space bar twice at the end of a sentence. You get a period, a space and a capitalized next letter, without hunting for punctuation keys.

¶ Also on those phones, you can type dont, wont, youre, didnt and so on. The phone adds the apostrophe to those automatically. (But you’ll have to learn the difference between it’s and its.)

¶ On a BlackBerry, hold a letter key down to capitalize it.

The Web

¶ You can press Alt+D to highlight the Address bar at the top of your Web browser. Without touching the mouse, type the site name you want.

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

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