Q: I’m unable to use a computer, but I have been using e-mail via AOL’s telephone service, called “AOL By Phone.” The service reads my e-mails to me, and it has recorded and sent my verbal replies. But AOL says it will discontinue the service. Is there a credible replacement technology?

Jaiananda Natha, Tucson, Ariz.


A: Apple and Google smartphones offer services similar to “AOL By Phone,” which AOL is discontinuing in November (see tinyurl.com/c47f46a).

You can use the iPhone’s Siri digital assistant (see tinyurl.com/ycjxbv24) to read your e-mail aloud and to type your reply as you dictate it.

After you enable Siri in the iPhone’s settings, press and hold the main button to start the app, then say, “Read my latest e-mail.” Siri will read it aloud and ask whether you want to reply. Say yes, and when Siri prompts you, dictate your reply. When Siri prompts you again, say “Send.” Alternatively, you can say “Read all e-mail,” and interrupt Siri with another command, such as “Read the next e-mail,” by pressing the microphone icon.

Google offers a similar app, Google Assistant (see tinyurl.com/ycccaykc) that works with Google’s Gmail. It can read your e-mail aloud and send your dictated reply. It can also be told to read only your most recent e-mails, just the e-mails from a particular person or just the e-mails that arrived on a particular day.

Google Assistant is available for the iPhone and some smartphones using Google’s Android operating system (including models from Samsung, Google, HTC and LG. See tinyurl.com/y9y8pkhv).


Q: In order to continue getting the latest Windows security updates, I want to install Microsoft’s Service Pack 1 software on my two Windows 7 PCs. The 32-bit laptop installed the update easily, but the 64-bit desktop won’t install it. The desktop can download the update, but the installation fails when it’s about 10 percent complete. What can I do?

Bill Mahony, Plymouth


A: First, be sure that you are installing the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (often referred to as SP1) on your 64-bit desktop PC. A 64-bit PC handles data storage somewhat differently than a 32-bit PC, so it’s important to have the correct SP1 version.

Another potential cause of your problem is your antivirus software, which can interfere with a Windows update if it mistakenly interprets the change as malicious activity. Temporarily turn off the antivirus software on your 64-bit PC during the SP1 installation, then turn it back on again.

It’s also possible that the installation issue is related to outdated PC software drivers, which control PC components. Set your desktop PC to automatically find any new software drivers that are available for it (see tinyurl.com/hgr8zab).

Other potential solutions to SP1 installation problems include removing Windows 7’s ability to display other languages, or using System Restore to return the PC’s settings to the way they were on an earlier date (see tinyurl.com/ybj66pby).

If you continue to have problems, try Microsoft’s diagnostic and repair programs for updates, called the “System Update Readiness Tool” and the “Windows Update Troubleshooter” (see tinyurl.com/hwy4j82).

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com. Include name, city and telephone number.