Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Upgrading While "Covid19-Safe" at Home

Many of us are upgrading our living space while being confined to home for safety from covid-19.

Having done this extensively, I may be able to save others some mistakes.

Here we go:

I upgraded our light bulbs throughout our living space with smart bulbs.My mistake was an upgrading too early.  Some bulbs got obsolete quickly.

It is safe for me to say that there is only one choice anybody should make. That choices for Wyse smart bulbs that work without a hub.

They work remotely by voice to adjust schedule and hue and brightness. What a difference in our living space.

I upgraded our computers in four different ways to find the best solution.

Simplest and cheapest and most efficient in space usage was the addition of a 24-in Insignia TV from BestBuy, which also serves as a computer display or monitor.A primitive browser even comes with it, but a cheap Intel Windows 10 PC stick makes the most of it. A caveat is that the stick has somewhat limited memory. That just means you need to store most things in the cloud.

Meanwhile I upgraded our router and moved it centrally.

Then phone arrangements needed to be upgraded to avoid nuisance calls.

Why? Because we all pay triple for our phone service. We pay for the landline, we pay for internet, and we pay for ourselves service. What a waste.

I bought it cheap VOIP device which gives me equivalent to landline service for $50 a year as compared to my previous over $300 a year cost.

I put in a Panasonic cordless system which extends cell service throughout the apartment.

I changed my cell service to Tello at $8 a month.

Next, I upgraded our printers with a Brother wireless laser at about $70 open box.  Less than buying a replacement toner for an older printer.

I also obtained a Dymo label printer now available at $50.

So I did spend some money, but the savings offset all of the costs by a wide margin

It was also pretty cheap to obtain the latest Roku and Amazon sticks which enable us to watch a lot of movies absolutely free.

I did subscribe to Peacock and CBS services, along with Acorn TV. We do use Tubi a lot which has a lot of great movies and TV series free with very limited commercials.

If we had over the air TV service here I would have done away entirely with our cable service which costs only about $30 a month anyway

I did not need to upgrade iPhone or iPad. Older Chromebooks also still work quite well.

Both Windows and Chromebooks have some really severe limitations which I found a way of overcoming.   Windows has very annoying problems with constant upgrades and exposure to viruses, while Chromebooks do not work well at all with printers.

The simple solution was to install Endless Linux which immediately recognizes any printer automatically and has painless upgrades.

With more time to play piano, I obtained fake books and sheet music collections free on the Internet Archive.

To avoid the moving cost of upgrading the whole place with repainting, I simply had touch-up done, with partial carpet replacement.

I also went through everything and disposed of things we just don't need or use anymore. I sell what we do not need on eBay.

And finally, I rearranged so that everything has a place and there is a place for everything. Things we always need in hand are now close by, and other items are in storage.

Closet type drawer storage units helped with all this rearrangement.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Goodbye Cable

Cable TV is dying.

All the big players are shifting over to internet.

The big shift is occurring as we speak.  

Consumer Reports makes the point that you can get all you need in media for $25 a month.

We have seen an explosion in content just over the last month.

More and more services provide channel guides in addition to selected sources.

Even Plex has introduced channel guides, following Peacock (NBC), and Roku.

In Germany you can already access any program and any TV station or schedule with the YOUTV app.  Access over here is free.

The hardest part is finding your way around in the jungle of available media.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The best Computing and TV for Seniors

Staying at home has launched me on a mission to work out what would be the best computing and TV station for a senior.

It worked out that I needed to abandon cable and Windows and a PC and their many annoyances and costs.

Instead, I needed to adopt what is new and more advanced, and a lot cheaper.

That consisted simply of a 24in TV which also served as a monitor or display, an assortment of so-called sticks, and a Chromebook with a 15 inch screen.

I could find only two such 24in TVs out there and both are fine. One is an Insignia Fire TV from Best Buy and the other is an LG. I also put to use an old HDMI display.

The Chromebook is an HP.

To make efficient use of space, this equipment sits in a bookshelf with one shelf extended out to accommodate a keyboard.  I sit three feet away from the screen.

All are connected direct through ethernet and avoid slow Wi-Fi where possible, such as Roku and Amazon Fire.

I run online media on the display while at the same time also using the Chromebook for computing. I can also deliver the Chromebook screen to the larger display.

This arrangement then opened up a whole new world for me.

The Roku Ultra stick especially opened up a huge array of services.  

I decided to go for broke by adding a Fire stick and a new TiVo stick, which applies TiVo tools to ease navigation. I dispensed with the Chromecast because the other sticks perform the same functions.

The array of services was dizzying at first. It took a while to find out what I really wanted and then weed out what I did not want, such as subscription costs.

I was able to get free all the local TV channels plus also the Philadelphia channels, both live and on-demand. Newson is
an app which gives access to local channels.

I did subscribe to Peacock, which offers a wonderful library of NBC and associated media. I did that also to eliminate commercials. I needed the Tivo stick for that.

There have been more and more services offering a cable like program guide. These include NBC above, and also Pluto, and as I say more and more others.

A favorite service is Acorn, along with Hulu Amazon Prime.

There are also many other services which offer media with commercials, especially movies and TV series.

I had used many of these services on my cell phone and simply had to activate them for the large screen.

These included music services such as Amazon and YouTube Music and Pandora, along with Spotify.

it is possible to subscribe to services such as Sling which give access to TV shows on demand.  These cost $20 a month and up. I avoid such costs. Sling does have some free content.

If you want to watch nearly all German TV series and movies it is possible to get them both live and on-demand via Youtv.    That is NOT YouTube.

You can get two shows at a time free or for less than $10 hundreds at one time which are downloaded for access. Wish we had that here. Yes, there are subtitles in German. Just tap on UT at the bottom of the screen.

For $5 a month I subscribe to a service which provides Canadian and Australian news TV as an antidote for our local news. Newsy is an interesting free USA app which avoids opinions.

The hardest part about the whole effort was learning how to navigate to find the best content.

Both Roku and the TiVo stick and Amazon Fire have voice input to make that easier.

Friday, July 10, 2020

TV News Goes to Internet

TV is now moving in a big way to internet.

If you don't believe that, consider that Disney and Comcast are now offering free TV on internet via the Pluto application.

It is a lot cheaper to offer TV on internet than to need to maintain cable systems and broadcast stations, as long as you have advertising income anyway.

I have Pluto, plus also a dozen other sources such as the Philadelphia TV stations online and a service called WatchnewsPro which offers MSNBC and both Australian and Canadian national news stations.

This allows me to watch news anywhere on my various devices.

I also watch our local WGAL TV news channel and a service called Newson.

In addition there is Reuters News and CBSN News Philly.

I mirror to TV with an iPhone and Apple TV  simply by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

I also use the Washington Post app which now mirrors the full printed edition on the TV screen.  Embedded with that is also streaming TV.

To read a story in large print I just tap on it.

Our daughter shares with us the News Journal from Wilmington which works the same way.

Along with that comes USA Today.

To have print content read aloud, I just tap downward with two fingers from the top of the iPhone screen.

That capability is set up with accessibility settings.

All the news that's fit to print and then some

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Making the Most of Tech for Seniors

 So what does a senior need to make the most of technology in this day and age?

The best space and cost efficient Technology setup for a senior in these days of covid-19 confinement might be the following: 

1. We all need the best choice of hardware and it need not be expensive.

2. You then need easy access to a whole host of information and media.

For hardware I suggest the following:

a big display, such as a 24” TV like the Insignia Fire TV with 3 HDMI inputs 

a rugged cheap student type Chromebook laptop to use with it or separately on your lap or desk

two cell phones,  one small and one large,  such as a iPhone SE and a Moto 7,  one always in the charger and one always in your pocket

TracFone service available for as little as $50 a year for each phone, or Tello

a tablet, such as a Kindle Fire or iPad, even an iPad only with cell service

a cheap wireless Brother laser printer

sticks such as Roku and Chromecast, even Windows (see below)

For this Hardware you will have access in the most appropriate way wherever you are for about $500-$800 total

To house the hardware I suggest a secretary desk with room for the TV/monitor and drawers

For accessing all the information you need, I suggest the following:

first, use voice wherever possible to do your work, searching and launching, including Alexa

install video phone communication services such as Duo

activate the ability to have things read out aloud to you

have your news delivered daily via Gmail, including Axios, Microsoft News and Google News, and also reasonably priced subscriptions such as the Washington Post for $4 a month

install TV apps such as Pluto, Newson, CBSN Live, Reuters Live, and those networks which provide free online access  such as ABC.    I subscribe to WatchNewsPro, which provides MSNBC at $60 a year, which also includes National TV news stations from Canada and Australia

 keep your photos online, only then print them to the nearest drug store photo service

use music services such as Amazon music or YouTube music, or free services such as Spotify  and especially Pandora

for reading, avail yourself of the free services such as Gutenberg and Internet archive, but also Amazon with its enormous libraries available for as low as $0.99 or even less

for writing, use nothing but Google Docs (free) with ability to dictate and interface with any other software

avoid everything which interferes with your ability to get things done quickly,  such as Windows,  unless you have a special need for it and the time to do all the support to keep it working

 if you do choose Windows I suggest a Intel stick coupled with a USB hub,  along with care that you do not overuse the storage---although you can add huge micro SD storage cheap 

be aware that with Chromebooks you can now run Linux applications such as Calibre,  really the only application to access and organize documents and written media of all kinds

With all this technology available, make sure you USE it to get any information you need quickly to solve countless problems, by asking for a Google or YouTube solution. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

What to do with an old iPad 2

Staying at home has made me look for new ways of spending my time.

Two ways.

I had been thinking of what to do with old abandoned devices, and I had been playing piano after a long interim.

The two came together.

I could use the old tablet for sheet music at the piano.

That would allow me to rediscover and maybe revive what I had half-forgotten from the past. Maybe learn something new.

The process of doing just that resulted in some discoveries.

I needed first to create a library of sheet music.

I went to the Internet Archive to download some fakebooks, a process which reacquainted me with the wonders of the archive. No cost and an abundance of free media of all kinds. We all use it for too little.

I downloaded two huge fakebooks to iBooks.

I then printed out a few items and then decided to simply to use the iPad screen for sheet music rignt on the piano.

I then decided to add a few functions to the iPad in between playing.

The iPad 2 cannot run newer apps.  I reset the iPad to factory with as few apps as possible to avoid slowing things down.
Most can be done with the browser anyway.

But nowadays we need to be able to stream video and prefer to use voice input.

The old iPad did a good job with YouTube streaming but at first I could not dictate to the browser.

I could not load the chrome browser and Safari did not support voice.

A big downer.

I wad stunned to find a simple solution from an unsuspected source. Microsoft Edge provided voice browsing.  A solution from Apple's competitor!!!

I could also have installed Dragon Dictate but I did not try it.

So the old iPad 2 could be made to work just fine if a bit on the slow side, well worth the effort.

Don't get me wrong. The new iPad is a bargain for its speed and updated apps.

But the only important thing I could not do with the old iPad was to dictate into Google Docs. I do that with my iPhone anyway.

Maybe I could have done that with Dragon Dictate. No matter.

Anyway, don't give up on your old iPad!


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Getting Computing Up to Date for Covid-19

 With covid-19, more time at home, and slower internet, I needed to rework my computer arrangements.     I needed to speed everything up since I am using internet so much more than before.

I realized my five year old router was very slow and I replaced it and moved it to a central position in our living space.    

At my computer stations, I installed  Intel PC Windows 10 sticks so that I could locate them in the best position to receive Wi-Fi.  They save space. 

I added a new 24” Insignia Fire TV with 3 HDMI inputs, one for my old Tower, one for the Windows PC stick, and one for Chromecast.    I installed endless Linux alongside Windows for a faster speed and fewer support issues.

I kept an old Dell display for a Chromebook and for Roku.    It never worked well with Windows.

Wherever possible, I moved away from Wi-Fi, which has become extremely slow with heavy usage nearby.     When our living space is re-carpeted this fall,  I will be extending flat ethernet cable under it to reach  everywhere as opposed to relying on Wi-Fi.     I have ethernet adapters for iPad and and tablets.

I retired other older tablets and replaced them with a Kindle Fire 8, a Walmart ONN tablet*, and a wonderful Lenovo Chromebook designed for students: fast and rugged and with a wonderful trackpad,      I use all these in my easy chair or at bedside or away from home.

None of this equipment requires special attention except where Windows is used.     I need to police Windows memory tightly, even though I added SD memory to the sticks and primarily use cloud memory anyway.  

I have added very inexpensive (under $30) microphone headsets which work both wired and with Bluetooth so that I can take advantage of using voice wherever necessary as opposed to typing.    These included a headset which works directly with USB.     

I added 7-port powered hubs for the sticks, to service printers and also support USB mics and speakers.      I did away with wireless mouses to avoid the annoyance of batteries going dead.

So now I am back to getting things done fast. 

  •   if you buy this, don't buy the Walmart case, but get a Fintie case which fits better