Rich Warren | Luckily, we’re more connected than ever | Science-technology

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Count your blessings: thousands of them. While we would prefer mobility during the central Illinois spring, remaining at home is far less onerous than it would have been just 30 years ago.

If this pandemic had struck in 1990, we’d be choosing among fewer than a hundred cable channels, communicating via mostly landline phones and reading hard copy books.

Today, we have thousands of cable, satellite and internet video channels (I’m including YouTube), unlimited books via Kindle, Nook and Kubo, nearly every newspaper and magazine currently published online, unlimited music via Spotify, Pandora and a dozen other online music services, and the ability to visually communicate with each other by cellphone, tablet or computer using Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and other apps.

Even people in rural areas with slow internet can partake in much of this cornucopia. So while we’re enduring a dire period of human history, we can do so without climbing the walls.

Most cellphone providers rose to the challenge and increased data plans by 10 GB or more for the next couple of months. Many cable companies, such as Comcast, eliminated data caps for the duration of the crisis. While many people feel antagonistic toward Comcast, it certainly went the extra mile.

First, it offers free previews of the following cable channels, it has made the on-demand catalogs from a series of premium networks and subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services available for its Xfinity X1 and Flex customers to enjoy starting with Showtime, Epix, CuriosityStream, History Vault, Grokker Yoga Fitness & Wellbeing, The Reading Corner and DogTV with more on the way. Apparently, you simply ask your cable box for free viewing for 60 days, after which Comcast hopes you’ll become a paid subscriber.

In addition, Comcast put together educational packages for children of all grade levels from Common Sense Media.

Finally, Xfinity WiFi Free For Everyone: Xfinity WiFi hotspots located in businesses and outdoor locations across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free — including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots available to non-customers, visit Of course, you should be at home and not out searching for hotspots.

Because of Comcast’s own internal network capabilities, its full staff continues working from home to ensure your service goes smoothly. It also keeps the company’s workers employed.

Zoom ( provides the app of the moment. It’s one of the very, very rare apps to receive five stars from PC magazine and rave reviews from most users. It allows more sophisticated video conferencing than Skype with fewer demands on your computer. The free personal version offers: hosting up to 100 participants; unlimited 1-to-1 meetings; 40-minute limit on group meetings; unlimited number of meetings; a variety of conferencing and collaboration services and online support. If you pay $15 a month, you dramatically up the power, features and versatility, but most individuals don’t need this.

Perhaps you’re already working from home and can testify about the usefulness of Zoom. I have one friend taking yoga classes and another fiddle lessons via Zoom.

There’s always the free old standby Skype (, which is now owned by Microsoft. There are versions for all current operating systems, including Amazon Fire. You may notice TV news shows increasingly using Skype for interviews and for remote reporting during this time of distancing. It’s reasonably easy to set up and use. However, be sure to go into the detailed settings and tell it you don’t want it to use your computer as a node in its network. Otherwise it sneakily uses your device to relay data.

Apple FaceTime, which works only on Apple products, is the easiest to use, requiring no technical knowledge and no settings. You simply supply a telephone number or email address.

When Bell Telephone used to advertise “Reach out and touch someone,” it never dreamed of how close we would come.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at

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