Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arranging Computers

Moving, as many of you can imagine, I needed to rearrange our computers for new smaller spaces.

I decided to have computers double as TVs and vice-versa to save space. That convergence is now available, home-made or from the store.

Unfortunately I used the saved space for more devices, but I did cut the need for space in half. Each TV is also a computer. Each computer is also a TV. Also computers and TVs are far more conveniently located.

Also, it is much more convenient to sit in an easy chair and watch TV, read a book, or use a computer.---computers need such access that way, too.

To get that convenience, I had to use WiFi, which now streams HDTV to computers and also streams to HDTVs thru Apple TV. I also needed some long cables to get things where needed, up to 50 feet---existing outlet jacks were not always well placed.

What would the ideal setup be?

It is handy to watch TV and even computer screens, reclining, as TV in hotel rooms. HDTV requires half the distance from the viewer as the old analog, so that I needed to get computers and TVs half as far from old TV for the same size screen. That was arranged for chairs, sofas and beds, so that all can be used for computer or TV either sitting or reclining. I needed remote keyboards and meece (hi Herb), plus also special controllers.

I also wanted to be able to access eBooks and internet anywhere in the surroundings and further away.

In the building, TV and eBooks are accessed thru my WiFi network using HDHomeRun, the box that connects between cable and computer, and using Kindle eBooks software on the computers.

Then, the iPad works anywhere from Clear Communications pocketable WiFi “hotspot”. Initially this device worked sporadically, but now perfectly as towers and power have been upgraded. My smartphone also accesses most things from anywhere there is 3g or 4g (but not as widely available as claimed).

An electronic piano needed to be integrated for sheet music onscreen and composition. My CDs and converted LPs are accessible anywhere.

All this took some mind-bending and head-scratching.

Remote keyboards and meece from Microsoft are great. Small tables near chairs and sofas accommodate them and also remotes, such as for cable and Apple TV. Apple TV brings access to TV, Movies, YouTube, Podcasts, MP3s, and so forth. The tiny box can be moved about. Reviewers tend to overlook what this thing can do---the Apple TV, like the iPad, is a game changer.

It all finally worked, after some hurdles. My older TV devices were obsolete, and Windows 7 rejected them anyway. HDHomerun was a godsend, cheap, and paid for by selling my old stuff on EBay. I found that old monitors could not display HD.

It was a shock to learn that much cable HDTV cable is being encrypted for use only with cable boxes from Comcast, but I learned that basic cable is NOT to be affected.

The final result is access anywhere, regardless of mobility and vision problems, in minimal space, worth the struggle. The cost was low to do-it-myself.

Most will not want to do it themselves but simply to use the new combo TV/computers or boxes to use your HDTV as a computer. HDHomeRun is the best bet just to get HD on your ( newer) computer(s). But first figure out the best place(s) where you use a computer, read and watch TV.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Don't Put Up with it!

Often I find users, old and new, struggling with a computer unnecessarily.

The most common reason is a bad mouse. The mouse should move and focus almost effortlessly. If your mouse does not do that, a new one is cheap. The best I have found is the Microsoft Wireless Optical Mouse---no cord and no ball.

Next is fighting computer slowups. Unfortunately most computers slow up over time. The only solution is to reinstall the operating system from disks provided by the computer manufacturer. First, though, all your computer documents must be saved to reinstall later. But that is unnecessary if you keep all documents online, This column is being kept in Google Documents, which is free. If my computer quits, I can go to another computer and work on it, and then go back later and reinstall the OS on the original machine. Also, I use DropBox for online storage..

Then there is bucking an old system whereas the newest computers are the simplest to use. Windows 7 is very nice, especially for adding printers and other add-ons. Apple’s iPad may be a nice choice for many in November when it adds wireless printing, but get a keyboard for it..

Printers are an everlasting itch and cost. The usual problem is nothing more than an expired ink cartridge. Printers seldom get completely obsolete, so that an old one will do. However, many newer printers are also copiers and scanners and can be wireless. They are also fast. Some operate independently of computer, such as to copy to a flash drive. I like the idea of putting one anywhere I have space. Some even print CDs (Epson).

Too many cables create the potential for poor connections. Laptops eliminate many such problems, but laptops also cause problems.

Some laptop keyboards are just plain too small. There is no reason to put up with that. I use a full-size Microsoft wireless remote keyboard with my laptop when it is being used at my main computer station.

Use of old software is frequently a curse. The latest online software is usually the easiest and safest to use and is often free, especially Google software and iPad “apps”. Are you still typing out your full searches or letting Google new “instant search” anticipate suggest them to save typing?

Browsers are getting faster and faster all the time, so update to latest versions. IE Explorer just came out with its latest for the Vista and Windows 7. I use all the major browsers at one time or another. Chrome has unique features which speed up my particular activity.

Small monitors (displays) are also annoying. I use a 22” but sometimes even my full 42” HDTV. I also set my display for larger print. It is even possible to use most cheap $300 netbooks or laptops with a huge display and large keyboard

Another problem is failure to use the computer for those things which ease and enhance llife. The MLRA website is underused, and in time most senior communities will handle most communications with residents online, as some already do. Among my frequently used helpful software: probably Evernotes, but also Google Reader, bookmarks, and even Amazon for its product reviews, which often contain help.

Any reader (of books) might consider, in addition to their computer, a Kindle at $139, although all books are not digital yet.. The screen is better than computer screen for books. The Kindle also plays MP3s and recorded broadcasts (podcasts). Kindle’s experimental browser is unreadable to use for most webpages, but that will change in time---CleanPage shows how this could happen through conversion of web pages to small screen. The Kindle zooms small book print and even reads out loud to you.

If you are comfortable with computers, and XP is still OK with you, now and then give yourself a fresh start by re-installing the operating system and even adding memory. I still have two towers. I’ll explain how and why in the future. But for everyday use I have a fast 64-bit laptop. Cost about $350 with free super Canon all-in-one printer.

You don’t need to put up with more inconveniences than necessary.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


    Much talk today is about easy and efficient access to information and services.      Innovation is centered around getting you what you need as efficiently as possible, and when and where you want it.    The economy is driven by it.  Those who find new and better ways are rewarded for finding them.

    Access does not necessarily mean providing the services, just making access easier.

    In technology the new Apple iPad is an example.     The time and effort to get information and services is slashed.

    Earlier, EMail pointed the way.   Email slashes mail delay.    EMail also does away with the annoyances of telephone queues and interruptions, and allows us to address needs more efficiently.   Your communications are there when you want them.

    Access  is not all about computers, though.   Years ago, there was a trend towards pretty shopping malls.    Nowadays it is towards ugly strip malls.   Why?  You drive right up to where you need to go and get done with it.   Or you go to a single "box" store that has nearly anything.    Also more efficient than a mall.   Many more stores have restrooms right there, now often easily accessible at the front.  More have a place to grab a bite to eat.    More stores deliver, often with online ordering, even delivering groceries.

    This is a change in culture from the past, good or bad.     But it gives a social insight into what computing, and life, is nowadays, for many, especially busy younger people.  Yet it could not be more beneficial for us seniors, too, as our mobility decreases.

    Skype brings your grandchildren to you at home.   The smartphone brings access wherever you are.    With a netbook you can connect to internet even from fast foods like McDonald's.

    Development is not done, though.    The new iPad only accesses information best when another computer is used to channel information to it.    Apple pretty much controlled that process, and clones of the iPhone lacked that capability.   Of course, it should not be necessary at all to depend on a another computer to use the iPad.   To improve access that dependence must disappear.   That will happen.   (As I was writing this, a program called doubleTwist appeared, a step in the right direction.)

    Now that competitors have gotten over the initial shock of iPad innovation, there is much stirring to compete with cheaper and even more advanced alternatives, using Google's open and free Android operating system, already in wide use on smartphones.    We will see tablet or book-like products everywhere at $200 and used as matter-of-factly as books, which they really are.   EBooks are more accessible than hardcovers and paperbacks, and now outsell them on Amazon.
    Years ago, computing was all about calculating or spreadsheets or word processing.   The direction has completely changed.    Now it is all about access and easing your everyday life.
    All this is a boon for seniors who stand to benefit if they can only see what is newly available to them, and its merits, and adapt to new the improvements.    All we need to do is learn how to use the new tech.   Successful businesses of the future will be those who bring their senior services closer to us than ever thought possible before.

    In retirement communities, too, the future is all about bringing access to services closer to residents, or residents closer to services.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

What I Do with Computers

    Whatever do You DO at the computer?   I get that question sometimes, though less and less nowadays.

    I know that the person asking the question is often either thinking that I am using it as a calculator or that I am busy with spreadsheets and databases and programming.   Never mind that I do not use it for any of those things, nor have I in ten years.   They may be thinking I am using a Radio Shack TRS-80 from the 70s.

    It is still a legitimate question.    Some of us retired long before I began to do most of then things I do now.    And many of the things I am doing, I have only just begun to do.

    So what ARE they?:

    Here are some of my favorite applications!!   (Nowadays done mostly online and accessible almost anywhere.)

    I do my news reading, now mostly on the iPad.   I use Yahoo, Google News, AP, NYT and WSJ.

    I listen to the radio, especially PBS, nearly any program at any time, and from any station in the country as it is broadcast.

    I watch TV news (ABC, CNN and newspaper videos, YouTube).

    I keep my datebook calendar and notes with Google Calendar.

    I write my letters, and keep my address, contacts, and phone book, on GMail, where available anywhere on my cellphone.

    I keep indexed notes on things I don't want to forget, or keep forgetting, via Evernote.

    I get the papers screened according to my interests, using Google Reader as a selector.

    I do my shopping.  Amazon sells everything; JCPenney has a great online catalog, as does Target.

    I get rid of old stuff (and tech) around the house thru Craigslist (classified) and EBay.

    I get answers to health questions thru Mayo and the National Institute of Health (NIH).

    I arrange for travel with Southwest, Tripadvisor, and Travelocity, checking hotel and restaurant reviews first.

    I find low prices by just searching for items on Google.

    I phone with speaker and free calling, using Skype, though EMail takes much less time.

    I get solutions to computer problems. I just describe them for Google to solve.    

    I print stuff out, like maps, directions, instructions, recipes, cats.  I send my photos to Walgreen's.

    I check out books from the library and even for online reading.

    I keep up with technology via NYT thenTechnology page, WSJ, and others like TWIT.

    I get facts to support my political opinions, and vice-versa, get facts to develop my political opinions, though the latter is passe nowadays.

    I enjoy the challenge of problem solving of all kinds, and internet helps me out a lot.  eHow is a favorites site, but YouTube shows how, too.

    I voice dictate brief notes and searches with Dragon Dictate and Search.

    I maintain my blog: (snrtech), write Tech Notes, and submit comments and items of common interest to share with others on the wider world of Amazon and FaceBook..     

    Generally, Internet and networking not only service computers, but also our two iinternet bedside world clock-radios, Skype connected phones, Netflix, and even network my DISH TV to wherever I am.    Internet lets me use my CD  music library anywhere.   

    The cellphone connects to internet and also gives us driving guidance and traffic reports.  Through it my music collection, and world radio stations, play in the car and in the fitness room through smartphone or iPod.   Smartphones have their pros and cons.   Mine contains about 100 CDs of music, all on a chip the size of a pencil eraser.   I suppose they will soon be able to put them on a head of a pin.    (I don't really care--I must getting older.)    I am about to get the phone to find our car in parking lots---the car doesn't see to know where I am, or is it the reverse?

    I published two books, one with an ISBN and available anywhere in the world.   (I preserved a wonderful old autobiography by my great grandfather.)

    That would just about encompass it?   Right?

    Not at all.  Residents here are using computers to do all sorts of other things: voice recognition, designing web pages, planning social events, preparing slide shows, photos, archiving, converting slides, managing finances, tracking stocks, bird watching, and all the rest of the many activities of our busy lives.   How could we otherwise get it all done and still enjoy retirement?




Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Wonderful iPad

Tech Notes for May:

Since when was a computer ever elegant, even beautiful, and a joy to use?    Not to say slim, slick, sleek and slippery.   Well, since April 2, when Apple gave us the  iPad.

The Apple iPad is a media device the size of a pad of paper and simply the best computer yet to come.   Or maybe not a computer at all, but a successor to the computer of the past, not so much in size and shape as in HOW, how well, and how fast, it uses Internet.

I think the iPad is a a game changer, a leap ahead in technology.   So does Walt Mossberg, the dean of tech columnists.    The iPad is a device to access any media without fuss or bother or computer knowledge.  Books, journals, broadcasts, music, Email, college courses, phone, movies, personal event calendar, address list, recipes, and all the rest.   The new iPad is the model for the future.    It reads and works easily from an easy chair.

Speaking of leaps, the best prop for it in your lap is a medium-sized housecat, if you have one.

Full of unexpected benefits and a few shortcomings, this is a computer seniors should consider, housecat or not.   

First, the shortcomings:

The device is bigger than a standard book.    It might have been a bit smaller and lighter.    The screen is (tempered) glass and without a case potentially breakable if it is dropped. .      You need Apple's nice rubbery protective "dust jacket" case to make it less slippery to hold.   The case works also as a stand.  You will NEED wifi OR cell phone G3 service, or both.    The device needs to be set up initially, and very occasionally updated, and /or backed up, by someone nearby with a computer, using iTunes.    

This is not a replacement for your laptop or desktop to generate content such as webpages.  There is probably not enough functionality for an expert user.   The iPad does not run older tech (Adobe) video, though it runs most video, anyway, such as playing netflix movies.
The benefits:
T\he iPad is FAR better than a laptop or desktop at what it does to access content, plenty for a light user.   Lightning fast, it is super simple to use.    Just touch the screen---there is no mouse.   No computer know-how is needed for anyone who really wants to use some simple new and better ways of doing things.     It is more like a TV of the future than an old PC.   


The small touch keyboard is good, even for touch typists.   Yet the Apple "Pages" word processor cannot print.    WHAT were they thinking?  ( There are workarounds for that, and this will change.)

You can add a normal keyboard with optional add-ons.   Actually, my old foldup wireless keyboard worked fine, but I am typing this one-handed on the touch screen, and going fast on it.

For seniors, easy portability is especially useful.    Zooming to very  large text with finger motions is a big benefit.    Searching internet by voice is nice.    Such intuitive use, and the quick speed of response, is new, welcome, and overdue.

Here is the Mossberg review:

When you choose a computer it is always best, of course, to decide first what you want to do and then select the best match.  With 150,000 apps the iPad offers a lot of choices.   For heavy duty work you will still need an old fossil computer.  Actually, the precision of the old mouse arrow is sometimes welcome, too.        

Even with its limitations, I don't think many will be disappointed with the iPad just as it is now.   If you want a computer which will give you most of what you want with the least amount of trouble, this is plain and simply IT.     There a guided tour here:

One note: This is a proprietary device of a single company, and only just as open and adaptable as Apple sees fit to make it, for good or ill.    It does not work with everything.   It will be maybe as much as  a year or so before open systems catch up and give competition, though Google has already announced its such device.   There will also be much rapid development of applications for this and other new devices.