Q. I have a cordless phone in my townhouse. I think my neighbors are listening to my calls. What can I do?
A. Buy a new cordless phone. Older cordless phones use an analog signal to send information between the handset and base station. The only thing a snooper needs to do to eavesdrop is get a radio receiver on the right frequency and get close enough to your house to pick up the signal. Not so hard to do. The newest cordless phones use DECT (stands for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications). This adds encryption and changes the wireless frequency to 1.9Ghz to avoid interference with Wi-Fi, microwaves and other cordless phones. Hackers have cracked DECT, but it requires an expensive, high-end radio and other special hardware and software. Your neighbors aren’t going to have access to that kind of gear.
Fun Fact: DSS (the precursor to DECT) was co-developed by Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr during World War II. Click here to learn more of her incredible story.
Q. I am in charge of my company’s Facebook page but I don’t know what I am doing. Can you come over and help me? OK, if not, how about some pointers?
A. There are behind-the-scenes tricks that you need to know to really bring your company Facebook page to life. This includes knowing what your audience is doing, finding old posts, saving testimonials, identifying your biggest fans and probably the most important tip of all, securing the page. Fortunately, I have a step-by-step guide on my site here. Be sure to “Like” my Facebook page at Facebook.com/KimKomando. I bet you learn a few things there too.
Q. We bought a new TV and the sales guy insisted a $50 surge protector to go along with it. I saw a $5 power strip that looked like the same thing. Was the sales guy trying to rip us off?
A. It’s true that some home theater accessories are way overpriced, but in this case you do want the more expensive option. A surge protector keeps your sensitive electronics safe from the regular electrical spikes that are part of any household, along with the rarer large surges. Cheap power strips usually do include some protection, but in the end they really aren’t going to do much. You want a surge protector rated for at least 1,500 joules.
Q. I heard you say on your national radio show that your son plays Minecraft. Mine does too, just all the time. Is anything positive coming out of this game?
A. There are a few things that make the hours playing Minecraft a little more bearable. It does build creativity. Some things Minecraft players have built are truly staggering: massive vehicles, intricate skyscrapers, working analog computers, and even the entire country of Denmark exactly to scale. Click here to see it. Kids also learn patience, perseverance and teamwork. I wrote an entire column about this very topic that you can read on my site here.
Q. I depend on hotel Wi-Fi when I’m traveling, but it’s so hit or miss. Is there a way to know how good a hotel’s Wi-Fi is before I book a room?
A. I feel your pain. Check out Hotel Wi-Fi Test and OpenSignal to see Wi-Fi speeds for specific hotels and locations. You’ll want to check both because one might have a location the other doesn’t. Of course, if you’re in a bind, you can always tether your laptop to your phone and take advantage of your cellular signal. You might find your cellular speed is more consistent in many cities than Wi-Fi. Be careful what you do on the hotel’s Wi-Fi. Click here to learn how criminals use hotel Wi-Fi to snoop on you and how to stop it.
Q. I’m upgrading to a new smartphone. My old one works OK, but it’s getting a little slow and doesn’t have the newer features I want. I found that I wouldn’t get much money by selling it. Is there anything else I can do with it?
A. There are so many things you can do with an older smartphone or tablet. You could turn it into a security camera with free apps like Salient Eye (Android) and Manything (Apple). Make a tablet a digital photo frame with the free apps Dayframe (Android) or Digital Photo Frame (Apple). That’s just the beginning. Click here to make your old gadget into a universal remote, kid-friendly toy, eBook reader and more.
Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.