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Tech Shortcuts for Life

And you can shop there too

Tech Shortcuts for Life is a weekly column from Thomas Smith on Debugger exploring the apps, automation, gadgets, and other tech tricks that can make your life more efficient.

Amazon sells basically everything. A quick look through my recent order history reveals a bizarre tapestry of seemingly unrelated purchases: lightbulbs, pound cake, children’s clothing, chicken feed, an industrial CO2 meter, and a trash can, to name just a few items. It’s the modern general store.

But while Amazon excels in breadth, the site is often sorely lacking in depth. Jeff Bezos and his crew can get you a container of…

Dear Omar

Honey, Rakuten, and Capital One shopping could help you find a better price

A tip scale with one box on each scale. The box on the left of the scale is labeled “Amazon” and the box on the right is labeled “Honey.” The scale is tipped toward the Amazon box. Above the image is the “Dear Omar” column name.
A tip scale with one box on each scale. The box on the left of the scale is labeled “Amazon” and the box on the right is labeled “Honey.” The scale is tipped toward the Amazon box. Above the image is the “Dear Omar” column name.

Welcome to Dear Omar, a weekly Debugger column from tech expert Omar L. Gallaga. If you have questions for Omar, send them to with the subject line “Dear Omar.”

My kids, who are 11 and 13, are too young to buy things online, so when it comes time to enter the credit card digits and place an order, they come to me, and I usually say, “No!” and on goes a cycle of parenting that will lead to decades of retail resentment on their part.

They’ve shopped at other online storefronts, but 99% of the time, it’s an Amazon…

The Amazon Smart Oven is a capable oven for the price

A microwave.
A microwave.

A Wi-Fi-connected, voice-controlled, smart microwave sounds like a bad tech joke from 2004. I can almost picture some cruise ship comedian at the time saying, “A phone in your pocket? What’s next? A microwave that goes on the internet?” to the muffled, polite chuckles of a distracted crowd busy wolfing down buffet prime rib. When I recently learned that such a product actually exists — and that you could get it on Amazon for $249.99 — I knew I absolutely could not live without it.

The Amazon Smart Oven is a combination microwave, food warmer, air fryer, and convection oven…

Every year since 1998, my husband and I have traveled from the Bay Area to Montana to visit his parents for the Winter Holidays. We did this before we were married and after; when we had a baby and also when we had three babies. Some years we experienced blizzards and copious amounts of snow; other years their snowy lawn was covered in patches of grass.

The only constant was me giving my in-laws tech support.

Sometimes I was annoyed by this, but mostly I liked doing it. Last year a scammer had managed to dupe my mother-in-law into giving…

Cheap, fast, and in Alexa’s control

If you’ve always dreamed of turning on your lights by screaming at the wall, Amazon has a product for you. The Amazon Smart Plug ($24.99) is a compact dongle that plugs into an existing electrical outlet in your home or office. Any light, appliance, or other device that you plug into the dongle can then be controlled using Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant (and only Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant — more on that below).

Want to retrofit an existing desk lamp so you can control it with your voice? Hook the lamp into an Amazon Smart Plug, plug it into the…

Google and Facebook’s ad business might not survive Amazon

Google has long been known to monitor basically everything you do, and use the data it gleans to target banner and search ads. Facebook integrates ads into users’ news feeds, Groups, and other parts of the platform, which recently landed the company in hot water for running ads next to hate speech.

But there’s a relatively new, rapidly growing player in the online advertising world: Amazon. The company’s advertising revenue has grown from almost nothing a few years ago to over $10 billion in late 2020. Revenue is expected to quadruple by 2023. …

There are better ways to spy on your family members

As if late 2020 wasn’t exhausting enough, Amazon has announced the Ring Always Home Cam, a flying camera drone for your house. It is sublimely dumb, a supposedly innovative tool that is neither innovative nor useful. It is a home-security device that can easily be defeated by a cat. It may also be a not-very-sneaky way for Amazon to map out the interior of your house so they can gaze ever more deeply into your personal desires and insecurities.

This chunky flying personal fan that goes BRRR contains multitudes.

The Ring Always Home Cam is a T-shaped drone that is…

Have we reached peak Amazon frustration?

I’m looking for a new computer monitor. And so, with a sparkling lack of original thought, I type Amazon into my browser and search for monitors.

I get a sinking feeling when I visit Amazon these days. First, I have a sense of guilt about handing over cash to them (or, more accurately, buying with one click. I don’t even feel the money leave me). Amazon has become retail fast food: easy, convenient, bad for you, bad for the people that work there, and bad for the planet. But where else am I going to buy a monitor? You can’t…

Amazon helps independent sellers, for a price

A Bichon Frise dog lying on pathway
A Bichon Frise dog lying on pathway

My dog, Jack, is a Bichon Frise. Bichons often get tear stains under their eyes — nasty discoloration that dyes their fur a reddish, rusty color. Jack had them, and my wife and I could never get them to go away. After a vet visit in 2013 to get some shots, the vet brought Jack back to us in the waiting room, and his tear stains were almost totally gone.

Shocked, we asked what they’d done. A vet tech showed us a small comb from a specialty vet supplier. Made of surgical-grade stainless steel, the comb worked incredibly well to…

The consensus is in, and Xbox won

Amazon just announced a new game streaming service called Luna. It’s a direct competitor to Google’s Stadia, Microsoft’s Game Pass, and Nvidia GeForce Now.

We saw this coming. As Eric Ravenscraft has written before for OneZero, Amazon is incredibly well-poised to take over the gaming industry, with its massive cloud infrastructure, ownership of Twitch, and experience with digital media.

Honestly, I don’t care about that, because look at the controller Amazon released.

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