Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Free Audiobooks to Listen to Every Day

If you want or need books read to you, new ones appear nearly every day.   Keep up by going to (click or tap for) Librivox for a listing of the the latest releases, all free.

This is a great but underused resource for those with poor vision, and for "company" while lying abed, and while exercising with a portable player, and for your "reading circle", and not to mention while using your tablet.

(You can even read a (public domain) book and contribute it.)

Click or tap here for how to listen.

Note: I keep up with new books and everything else by using Google Reader.  Google Reader automatically advises me or what's new in my areas of interest.   On my tablet all it takes is a tap to get its listing of what's new.     Click or tap here for for a video on how to set up Google Reader.   (You may need a friend to help set it up initially).    Click or tap for another helpful link.

Another way to keep track of what's new is to use If This Then That (IFTTT).  Click or tap for the IFTTT webpage.   For example, you could have it so that by choosing a "recipe" that recipe would alert you when a new eBook was added to the Kindle Top 100 Free Books.  The same tool can alert you to all sorts of other things, such as a new listing for an item you are looking for in Craigslist.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Email and Tablets

When changing from towers to tablets, as many are doing, the question frequently comes up as to what to do about your email and address books

 Older users often say they want to stay with their old email and convert their address lists to the new device. Often they have been using Outlook or AOL.

 For many reasons it is better to switch to they new email service and email address. The email of choice is Gmail , which works on all devices and also provides the best search engine and capability to create documents of all kinds. Further Gmail is kept safe on the Internet cloud and automatically synchronizes across multiple devices.

 If the address book is small, it is simplest to reenter the address book into Gmail. Conversion is awkward. Conversion requires exporting from the old files into Gmail. This can be technical and time consuming. 

Keeping the old email address is usually not even possible. It is best to bite the bullet and establish a new Gmail address. Informing others of the new address is easy. All that needs to be done is to send one email to all addresses advising of the new email address

. The most challenging task of shifting over to Gmail is simply signing up. What you do is to do a search for Gmail sign up and follow the instructions to establish an account. That new so-called account will be needed to keep track of all your activity on the web, where everything will be shifting over. You will use your account over and over again to keep track of your work.

 For example, if you buy a book, the provider will need to know that you own it and keep backup access to it on the cloud. That way also you will be able to work from any computer anywhere as long as connected to the cloud. You will be safe from losing information. 

Google is the main player in the cloud although Microsoft and Apple are starting to shift to it. Although signing up for Gmail can be a nuisance, the future benefits are to simplify what you do.

 The end result will be that you will be able to pull out your small tablet and check email, news, ebooks, tasks, and so on just by looking at the screen , or at most, with a few taps. Nearly all the other capabilities of your larger computer will be available from the cloud in the small device. 

Dictated and published to my Nexus 7 tablet 12-19-2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Nook SimpleTouch

Up to now I have not commented much about the Nook, the third major player in ebook readers. The reason has been that the Nook operating system is the most proprietary of all the readers.

The Nook makes it very difficult to access the online libraries of its competitors. Barnes and Noble is the most protective of its book clientele and business.

That is not good for the most of us who want access to all the online bookstores.

To be fair, though, Barnes and Noble has the most to lose to its competitors. Barnes and Nobles is trying to protect its brick and mortar stores and business. Those are also valuable to the rest of us. Furthermore Barnes and Nobles offers help not available from Amazon or Google.

This situation actually makes the Barnes and Noble Nook the e-reader of choice for a few of us. The Simple Touch Nook has an appeal especially to those who are computer wary. This small device could be the e-reader of choice for them.   Although it is extremely limited in what it can do, it does what it can do extremely well.

Above all, it is easy to use and there's help in the stores.

For those of us who do a lot of reading it has some other advantages. It is small, lightweight, and has a longer battery life.    It uses standard eBook formats.   On a practical level, it is a lot more convenient to use.    My iPad is much moire capable, but I find the Nook easy to slip into a pocket, read in sunlight, and hold for more than 15 minutes of reading, such as lying in bed waiting for the laundry to finish.

While the tablets have their appeal I find the paper white screen of the e-reader essential for long sessions of reading. It is much easier on the eyes than the color screen.

But for me the appeal recently has been that you could buy one, refurbished, for $50, and, what do you know, I could hack it to perform as a lightweight tablet.

Even more important than the hack turned out to be that I could have an extremely small total e-reader I could carry in a coat pocket easily and read for hours without without eye strain.

The Barnes and Noble Nook also has a long battery life. The price is certainly right. And where the Nook does not suffice I always have my Google Nexus 7. So I did the hack . The Nook fills in where the Nexus comes up short, and visa versa.

You need both devices and maybe even a third such device. After all you don't need a larger computer much anymore and you already have one.

The hack gave me the capability of accessing the Kindle online library. Also, now I could access my email and news and other simple applications.

The hack is probably not for the faint of heart.    Click or tap for instructions.     (I won't tell if your foul up and "brick" your Nook.)    Install AirDroid for easy setup and management of the hacked Nook.

Yet the device might be a good choice anyway for limited e-reader use for the same unschooled users. The Nook is easy to use for e-reading only and fills an important niche.   Ease of use is not always to come by.
Also, we need to keep Barnes and Noble going as one of the last brick and mortar bookstores where we can browse and find books that are not yet available to any e-reader. We need more than just one e-reader device or tablet.

We still have a lot more than just a few dead tree books, don't we? Think of the paper we will save.

Dictated and published from my Nexus 7.

Note that this device has no audio to read books out loud to you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What is Facebook all about?

Often puzzled seniors ask me about Facebook while others are already deep into it.

For those deep into it Facebook is a great way of keeping from being disconnected to others.

But is Facebook really worth all the hype?

What is Facebook really?

Facebook is simply a way to connect people together as opposed to connecting people just with information.

Maybe it started with the invention of the telephone and a especially the party line. With the phone we suddenly shared a lot more knowledge.

We have social media here at Willow Valley without even realizing it. It is just not electronic. Most of us eat breakfast and dinner together with many different people and constantly share information of common interest. We hardly need anything else to keep well informed.

Facebook just keeps more of us connected together with common information . Especially, Facebook keeps us connected with those of a variety of common interests.

Do I use Facebook much?  Not really, only lightly, since Willow Valley is my primary Facebook so to speak . I do enjoy the postings of my distant friends, a few of whom use it all the time, while most do not use it at all.

There is a much broader use for social media. Here is a fine example where it can benefit all of us in a real way...

A new application of computers is called Waze. Waze can be of great benefit to all of us, especially seniors. Using cell phones,Waze shares traffic information from driver to driver. Waze reports accidents and traffic . This social media tool simply provides us the best new tool for our convenience and safety. This is a real benefit anyone can appreciate and understand.

There will be many more such tools. Social media will grow and grow until all of us share the important things we all need to know. It will be more and more like having a common brain.

Is it more important then having access to information alone without the social part? The short answer is no.

We need all the tools we can get. Facebook is a good one.

Is it the most important new tool? Well, for me more important tools are coming . One of them works by pulling together relationships of Internet information to tell us of connections we have not ever made.

Such a connection might be how variables in our environment affect disease. One of the principles at Google has initiated large scale instant medical studies to find what variables are associated with Parkinson's, as opposed to the traditional small longer studies. An interesting result from studying huge populations is that swimmers get Parkinson's much less frequently.

When computers can relate huge amounts of information together, using the same connect the dot capabilities our individual brains use, and we have one huge common brain working for us, that will be even more important than Facebook.

A major developing effort in this direction is Wolfram, a search engine which relates together independent data from many otherwise unconnected sources. Meanwhile Facebook pulls us together.

Dictated to text and published from my Nexus 7 tablet, December 12 2012.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tablets and Poor Vision

How can tablets help with poor vision ?

There have been many efforts in the past to assist those with vision problems, with moderate success.
I recently had the opportunity to observe large scale magnification for those with macular degeneration. The user was computer literate and able to navigate complex web pages.

I realized that it would be possible to provide this capability using just a tablet and a large screen display.

The tablet would need to be able to mirror its screen to the TV. Some tablets already have this capability.

An off brand from China, the Matrix One, has worked well for me . The small and uncluttered tablet screen is easy to read on the big screen.

The new Kindle HD is also described as having the mirroring capability, for example.

Of course, it would be useful to have speech recognition. The effect would be to use speech recognition as I am now doing and also control the large screen.

So far I do not see one tablet with good enough capabilities for both screen mirroring and speech recognition. There may be one out there. (Note 12-6-2012: the Nexus 10" appears to have both features.)

Most tablets already have the capability of reading text out loud, an additional benefit. Keep posted.
Dictated to my Nexus 7 December 5th 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How to Choose a Tablet

Christmas is coming and I am being asked which tablet to buy.   Of course, it depends on what you will do with it, including what you may not have thought of until later when you know more about what you can do with it.

Here quickly are some factors to consider, a checklist to evaluate alternatives:

(Since no tablet will fulfill all your needs, number the following in order of importance or priority, then check out how well different tablets best meet your requirements.)

will it have the apps you want or need?  (check Apple, Amazon, Google)
how good is your vision? (larger print and tablet size needed)
how much do you travel (and need storage away from Wi-Fi)
is it to be for reading? music? movies?  (amount of storage – stream or store)
where you will use it? near Wi-Fi?  (with Wi-Fi storage is on the cloud)
or will you need storage away from Wi-Fi (traveling away from built-up areas)
your pocketbook and cost? ($200+ for a fast enough device)
need GPS? (travel a lot)
need wires or wireless speaker or phones? (music and movies)
need wireless keyboard or jack for keyboard?
use with TV or computer monitor HDMI jack? (such as for creating documents)
do you want it for photography? (the iPad is a must for serious photographers)
will you need Skype? (maybe a front camera (facing you)
a back camera,(facing away) scanning, QR codes, Barcodes, Pix and video
will you need extra help? (best: Apple, next Nook)
will you be creating documents? (size, good speech recognition, display)
will it help otherwise  to have voice recognition? (I like the Nexus 7 for this)
need to remote control a TV? (best with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7)
need 3g 4g? (variable by location, and usually slow)
will I need Wi-Fi in my place (yes, for streaming apps)
do I want the latest versions of software (Nexus and iPad)
whose music and/or storage – Amazon, Apple, Google

I will expand this list.

Generally, I like the Nexus best for its speed and portability, the Kindle Fire HD for use with media and an external display, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 for its use as TV remote via the Peel app, and tentatively the iPad Mini.      My big iPad is a slick machine but much too heavy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How Does a Senior “Newbie” Work This Little XMAS Wonder?

Yep, this is about the baby tablet Amazon Kindle Fire, or Google Asus Nexus 7, or Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7?   Or iPad Mini.    I am being swamped with questions, often from “newbies”!     Sometimes an offspring drops one off to a senior parent.  We can expect an avalanche more at Christmas. 

Welcome.   These are the absolute best of computers.  Once you get accustomed to them, you won’t want anything else.

The are like a housecat, always with you and your alarm clock, radio, and friend.  It will be a great help to read a book an any given tablet.   

You tap on the screen.  How do you tap?  You tab deliberately---don’t jab as if the screen were electrified.   That jab is too quick.   Then, a long-looong tap wiill do something else than a short tap.  There are two types of taps, and there are swipes.

But where do you tap?

Look for::
. the menu(s) – three parallel lines or dots
.search. – a magnifying glass
.back – left or down arrow, also top left arrow
.home again – house
.3-d row of rectangles – go back where you have been before
That will get you around.

There will be another screen showing date, time, battery, and current activity.  Slide down or up for it.   Slide left or right for other screens.

Often there will be waste basket.   Careful.
WHAT?  You can’t read the print?   Here is how:

There are at least four ways to zoom print, depending on the app.  I can’t help it---in this country we do not believe in standard ways of doling things---that means regulations:   You will need to use the one that works for any given app.   

Number one: on any block of text tap twice

Number two: look for AAA and tap on the right size. – sometimes there is a slider

Number Three: go to settings and select the default font

Number Four – spread two fingers

Like the rain in England, you will get used to it.

It will take a while to get accustomed to the device.    Only this morning I was in the exercise room and decided to go up to my computer to write this posting.   I then stopped, picked up the Nexus, dictated it, and Emailed it to my home computer, using my email address.

You can set the screen to rotate or not to rotate. Different on different tablets.  If rotating gives you a fit, install the Rotation app.  Then, just start it---no need to configure it.

If looking for how to add a contact, use the Peoples app on Nexus, BUT other devices may use an app called Contacts or even Phone!!!

If all else goes wrong, usually reset by holding in the start button for half a minute. These systems are growing up, so that, if you have a mouse, the mouse motions are similar to the touch motions

Once you find the Amazon Kindle or Google Books icons, You can try reading a book by searching Amazon for “public domain” or “free kindle books” or by typing “free” into the Google Play Store search window.

Where you find an icon consisting of a grid of squares, tapping will get you to your archive of apps, which may be dragged to the main screen, or any other of the main screens right and left

It helps to organize your main apps.    You can drag them to the main screen on top of each other so that all “Reading” apps are in one icon folder, etc.   Do the same for Media, Communicating, Buying, and so on.

Other hurdles.   If you want to transfer your DVDs for access to the Nexus, first load them into itTunes (download it for PC or Max), then iTunes will load and transfer them to memory as loaded and Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music will find them and put them on the cloud where accessible.     ITunes needs to be told to use MP3.  Get help to do this.

While I work this up further as I work with seniors, try these links:

Tap or Click for a Howto App
Tap or Click for a Guide


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Music for Senior Tastes

While being set in my ways, I do know what I like, and technology helps me get it.when it comes to music. 
First of all, let me explain myself.
I don’t like most TV music.    I have my own tastes.  For example, I like the piano when played right, that is out of love for the music.   No pyrotechnics.  No smashing down the keys.   No tinkliness.   And it better be a good piano.
I view the piano as a big bell with tones that need to radiate out.  Tinklytapping on it or banging on it just destroys it.  I also like to hear the whole piano not just the middle keys.  OK, well.  Enough.  Onward.    We seniors want what we want when we want it.
Often I enjoy Jerry here from our WV Maintenance when he plays here what he loves at noontime on one of our fine grands.    And Meg and Anna, residents, when they give a concert.
I happen to like ragtime, which nobody plays for the money.  But I missed the big ragtime festival in Sacramento this year.  You probably have your own tastes, and it is probably NOT ragtime. 
I also like to sit comfortably with my tablet and read mail, dictate notes, check the news, AND read a book.     All of this while listening to---you guessed it—ragtime.  I like to sit in a nice place in a nice chair.   But I don't like earbuds all the time.   
I set it up my tablet to play through a big wireless speaker.    These are usually $200-300, but I found a nice wireless stereo plugin one at under $50. though with limited volume.    Just as well.
I can get all my old 78s and CDs, almost anything I ever heard, on Spotify, and stuff I have never heard but my preferences suggests I might like, on Pandora.   (My own music is all on the “cloud” so I can get to it anywhere.) 
The icing on the cake came last week with new tech.    YouTube got reworked.     The trouble with YouTube is that, on TV or tablet, had been that it was a pain to type to search for something. 
Now Google makes it easy to play on TV via tablet.  The tablet must support output to TV, of course, and most do not.   The Kindle HD does, but it is too limited in apps for my tastes.   Remember, I am set in my ways. 
Well, turns out that the Matrix One will do the job, a $60 tablet, with keyboard adding $10.   Wow!  (I did need good wireless for it.  Too far away it could otherwise cut out.  I don’t like internet dropouts, so I have chosen a good wireless router.)  
Now I can sit in my favorite chair at the balcony overlooking our courtyard, watch TV, or swivel to view the garden, and especially watch the new HD TV music recorded at Sacramento, using my time to do multiple things at once. .You can also “pair” a tablet with your internet connected device, such as compatible TV or TIVO. 
If your newer TV runs internet, you won’t even need the tablet, except to access comfortably from your chair, though the tablet makes it easier. 
Now I can hear what people love to play and watch them, too, even selecting the piano.  I like Sue Keller playing the  Steingraber.   Also, check out Valentina Lisitsa playing any piano.  
  Choose the latest new performances made with the latest though now cheap equipment.   Now anyone can record astounding sound and superb HDMI high quality video with a tiny inexpensive camera and put it on YouTube.  Artists can make a living, or part of it, at least, on YouTube.     
And I can do all this without Windows and its bevy of complexity and annoyances.  When a tablet comes out with HDMI AND speech recognition I won't even need to type.    Actually the Nexus will do that with TIVO.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Windows 8

Should you upgrade to Windows 8.
Regardless of your misgivings about Windows, the upgrade available late this month will be only $45 and can probably run on Windows 7 newer  computers.
However, if you are not a accustomed to smartphones and tablets, you may find it confusing.
One nice thing about it is that we do not need to deal with endless talk about viruses.  AV is bullt-in.  The problem heretofore has been that Windows was never designed for internet and networks, and misinformation abounds about malware.
For ease of use and safety and support, Apple IOS is better, but $$$.
Meanwhile tablets are starting to become more and more capable.The Android system for tablets derives from Bell Labs Unix and was designed for networks like Bell’s phone system.
So, is downsizing Windows for smaller devices the right way to go?  Or should go to grown-up cellphone and tablet software such as Android?
For low cost, I like the simpler and safer Android tablets.
But I will nonetheless upgrade to Windows 8.
Revision 10-29-2012:
I canceled my order for a Windows 8 update disc after watching a presentation by Microsoft.   It is not so much that I have any concerns about it or its cost---I just don’t need it to do anything new, especially with its new complexities.   Windows 7 is just fine, and for a tablet I need only the Nexus 7.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Best Internet Service, Modem, and Router

(Note 10-9-2012: The Motorola 6580 has serious connection problems requiring firmware which must be updated via ISPs if manufactured before July of this year.   Just avoid it.   You cannot do the upgrade---it must be done by the ISP.)

This is a major question I get over and over again: Which internet service and supporting equipment?    I get HELP calls, too.

The choice of the best internet service and best equipment for it here at WV can be a challenge.  You would like the best service and equipment. 

You would like to be able to stream to TV and computer, up to 1080p, and avail yourself of more and more cloud content, both video and online activity.   Dropouts become a no-no.

At our old community, in Lumberton, NJ there is only one excellent choice: Verizon fiber optics, simple.  I had to fight for it there but I got it. there

Here the best choice is probably the community’s SeniorTV internet service, but let us look at the pros and cons, that is, unless you want TV sports under combined Comcast TV and internet service.

(Note that WV has free service in the public areas, enough for eReaders and eMail, etc.    The throughput is about .5bps as compared for 3.0 mbps to as high as peak (but not steady) 30.0+ mbps in your residence or apartment.)   

Where you live, it boils down to how much of a gambler you are and which kind of trouble would be the least frustrating.   You may be lucky---or not.   

Here are the choices.

Here at WV, DSL (phone-based) Windstream service worked well with excellent support and consistent speed, and low price.    The only ongoing problem was slowdowns corrected by calling them for a reset.   BUT this service was a bit slow for our modern media (HDTV across internet) accessibility: 2-3 mbps, and that is the technical limit.  Thanks anyway, Windstream----you did your best.  Your modem router was just plain excellent., and you supported it well.

The other choices, due to the nature of the beast, are a whole lot more variable but also usually a whole lot faster, and that counts..

Here we have Comcast and Senior TV, but before discussing them,  a quick word about a wonderful service called Clear that could have been super but bombed out for me.   This 4G service was cell tower based 5 bops service which worked superbly for a year until it got throttled---or sharply limited.  You can start and stop service, though, with it.  I gave up on it.

SeniorTV service offered by the community was cheapest.   The main alternative was Comcast, more expensive and at least initially requiring Comcast TV as opposed to cheap Senior TV  service.

Comcast service in the past has tended to be the fastest with somewhere between awful and excellent support and wide variation in speed, sometimes very high indeed.   Sometimes slow..  If you like variability, go for it.

SeniorTV internet service is the alternative.    It lacks needed support. .  

For example, the information sheet provided here at WV is wrong in claiming that “once the modem verifies there is an active internet connection, the installation is complete”.  Not so.    My “faulty” but WV recommended modem, the SBG 6580, showed all connections working, but did not connect.  Another one worked for a time for another resident, then failed.

The information sheet advises the user to contact SeniorTV direct for connection issues; however, SeniorTV here advised me that they do not deal with users, only local management.

That left me with nowhere to go when WV failed to install a needed filter, then failed again to use the correct “Mac” number I provided, after recommending the above modem/router above which also failed for another resident.

The major ISPs provide and “match” modems to their particular service protocols.  Only they can perform the recurring firmware upgrades.

The Motorola SB6121 requires a separate router but has a higher level certification and better acceptance, though I cannot recommend any particular modem.    Really, the modem needs to be matched to the service.

I bought the D-Link Systems DIR-605L Wireless-N300 Cloud Router at under $40.  Contrary to the recommended  SBG6580, it works perfectly.

SeniorTV internet comes without much support, but then Comcast support is highly variable.   With SeniorTV YOU get the equipment and it is up to YOU to support it.  Not good.   One problem is that support is divided between WV and SeniorTV, each of whom first pointed me to the other to solve problems.  Ultimately WV came through with support.

Read WV’s internet information sheet before proceeding.   Then take it with a grain of salt:   SeniorTV’s call center may entirely disclaim any support responsibility.  The recommended combined Motorola SBG-6580 is not the most liked.     The quoted prices and sources were not the lowest for the same hardware.    Better antivirus than recommended is Microsoft's own free and superlative MSE AV software, but honestly, more and more of you will over time be using Windows less and less and be exposed less and less to trouble.  Windows was never designed for networks and security, as were most cellphones, tablets to date, and Apple equipment. 

Hopefully, internet service and support will improve at WV, such as with Verizon 4G service, which is still slow here but fast (5 mbps) in the Philadelphia area.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

More on Creating Documents

All we need to do away with Windows is to get an Android device we can plug in between keyboard and display/monitor.
The new Kindle Fire HD enables that, but has limited “apps”.
How about a tablet which does the job for $60?     That would be the Matrix One 7”.
How could it be any good at this price, plus $10 shipping?     We don’t know the life of the battery, but reviews have been good, so I tried one.  Works!!  Not only that, but it is plastic and only 2/3 the weight of the light Nexus 7.
I have not found a way to use dictation, as with the Nexus 7, but I ran across a keyboard case that works like a charm, at less than $10.   There is no Bluetooth for a wireless Bluetooth keyboard..    
The OS is not the latest, but close, Android 4.0
So, now to go plug it in and try the word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation apps, along with everything else that is there now for Android.
The Matrix has a good touch screen and is pretty quick.  And slick.   You do need an HDMI cable, HDMI to HDMI MINI.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where are We are Going---from Where We’ve Been?


We are on the edge of a major change in computers not fully apprehended yet by most of us.

As I started to write this posting I realized that I was about to do it the old way.

Then I backed away from my Windows computer and picked up my new tablet to dictate the posting.

So why is the tablet such a revolution?  We can understand better if we look at where computers have been.   Development actually started long before Windows and Apple came on the scene.

Development started in 1947 with the invention of the transistor by Bell Labs.

Bell Labs had a mission of one day connecting all of us together electronically.
It was a distant vision and it was fraught with major problems.

Thousands of researchers were put to work to develop fiber optics, microwave transmission, lasers, and cell phone technology.

The big breakthrough was the development and invention of the transistor.  Today the tablet has billions of transistors.

That many transistors have the capability of indeed connecting us all together.

The objective is to share and use our collective knowledge.

The Google Nexus tablet is directly derived from the original Bell Labs Unix computer operating system developed long before Apple and Windows.  It was given to the public domain and is secure, safe, and free.

(Windows was designed as single user system, with none of the safeties which were provided for the telephone network.)

The major players in providing media, whether books or audios or videos, realize now that they cannot keep their customers without bringing the tablet to everyone.

They are furiously developing better and cheaper tablets just in order to survive. The development will continue until we are all connected with all the capabilities of tablets.

So far no single tablet includes all the capabilities, such as GPS, camera, storage, and even the ability to replace your tower and laptop with a large screen and keyboard.

Yes all these capabilities are available in one or another specific tablet already.

One otherwise basic recent tablet already works with screen and keyboard and costs $70 dollars.   

By the end of the year it is rumored that more capable all-round tablets will be available for $100 from Google as the major players struggle to be in first place.

The tablet will in time take the place of your computer your laptop, your radio, your books, your telephone, drive your TV, and most of the rest of our older tools to connect us together.

The tablet will finally achieve the goal set by Bell Labs in 1947 for one device, the phone.

Oh, yes.   Christmas is coming!

(For more on Bell Labs read Jon Gertner’s book The Idea Factory.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The New Kindles

A year ago Amazon introduced a ground-breaking tablet, the Kindle Fire.
In the meantime others have been introduced, such as the more advanced $200 basic Nexus 7, and now Amazon has a set of new tablets and eReaders.
The original basic Fire, with some improvements, has been reduced from $200 to $160.    A more advanced $250 Fire is faster and can stream to your TV or monitor if your internet service has enough speed/bandwidth to handle it.
If you don’t mind being limited to Amazon’s offerings and/or watch a lot of movies and video, either of the new Fires can be a good choice.
However, if you want a less proprietary device,which has easy access to more apps and capabilities, the Nexus 7 is the tablet of choice.     Apple is also expected to introduce a 7-9” tablet, and there will be others.
In a separate posting I have outlined how to get the most out the Fires.   If you want to save $40, or if you have an original Fire, some of the limitations of the Fires can be overcome.
My posting also is of use in setting up the Nexus, and I will soon have a posting on organizing your tablet for easy use.
Amazon also has reduced the price of its basic eReader to $69, a bargain for a still appealing device.   While the Fires offer much more access to media, the basic Fire screen is easier on the eyes for long reading sessions, and the device reads books out loud.
A newer eReader has backlighting and long battery life, but no reading out loud.   It costs $119.  These devices are also very lightweight.
Right now I recommend the Nexus 7 and the basic Kindle eReader.
Anything you buy now will be superseded, but don’t let that stop you from using a marvelous easy-to-use device.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Easy Transitioning to a New Computer Device

The great wave of new devices is accompanied by many seniors now transitioning from old to new.  These devices include Kindle Fire, Nook, Nexus 7, iPad, smartphone, and the like.
It will be easier with the new equipment, but first comes some work.    It may also be necessary to coordinate both old and new. 
The new equipment is usually wireless.     The device, laptop or tablet, can be used with available wireless wherever you are, somewhere, such as here in the common areas.  
The name of nearby wireless access points, such as WVGuest,  and others, will be found by your device, in settings or accessible from an icon, such as shown for WiFi,    Here, since here at WV, there is more than one, only  the right connection needs to be selected: WVGuest.   Then you need a password.    (Ask a computer club members for it.)
That brings us to passwords, probably the biggest transitioning problem.   The solution to the “problem” (remembering) is to keep track of all of them while also keeping them private.
Most device users will want faster wireless at home.    This requires an installation.   You may already have a wired connection.
Your wireless, too will have a name.   On recent access point boxes, this will be listed on the box itself.    You then select that name and password from your device.   So here we have another name and password.
For the least trouble in getting wireless working, the provider will come in and set it up, providing also the provider’s box or boxes.    All the responsibility is then in one place.  To insure that, with cable, for example, I have usually rented the box or boxes and also paid for a monthly maintenance contract.   With DSL, I needed to buy the box, but bought it from the DSL (phone) company.  I don’t want division of responsibility when things go wrong.
It is also possible to buy the boxes separately, though, and get someone to help or do it all yourself.   It is well first to know how to set up the equipment.   For setup you need another login and password., plus some know-how.     My experience with doing this has run from a  breeze to a nightmare.    Often you need to install the latest firmware and configure it.
Another compromise approach is to rent the boxes until you have set up your own.
Alternatively, or in addition, you may need to set up 3G or 4G cell tower data access.    You need an account with login and password.    If your device does not have such access, you can also obtain a pocket “hotspot”, such as MiFi.
The device will then also display the connection as for WiFi and ask for the 3G or 4G password.
Before you get that far, you need to find out where you will have good access.    You need to pick the right service for your area.    Most providers provide maps on their internet websites.  
You can find these websites by searching for, for example, Verizon coverage maps.  Verizon has worked well for me.
I have found that my main current 4G provider. however,  blankets my community well but fails away from built-up areas and main roads.   In this area, service is slow, just fast enough for Spotify music, but not for video, whereas in Philadelphia the same service can handle HDTV video easily.
This brings us to GPS.    You might think GPS to be superfluous, but GPS is important.     Any senior who drives NEEDS GPS navigation if only for safety. 
Now, limited or lacking 3G or 4G may or may not be a problem for GPS.    If your device is a Google Nexus 7, you will STILL have GPS satellite location service.     You will know where your are and you will get navigation directions.  What you will not have while traveling is data service, such as traffic service.  Your maps will also need to be loaded on your device.
(Without data service, before you leave, when you set up your destinations, check out the traffic with Google maps to find the least traveled route and with WAZE to get accident and construction and detour data.) 
Turning back to setting up of your new device, most users want their old Email contacts.   Worse, they may want their old Email address.     The benefits of changing to Gmail are that so much is automatically shared  that you have it on all devices, such as contacts, calendar, and so on.  When you log in on your device with you Gmail address, everything is synchronized.
Set up the Chrome browser, including on the iPad, and you will even be able to print from iPad to ANY printer. 
So  whether you ever use it or note, go through the agonies of signing up for Gmail.    Make sure you know the new address and also the password!
Well, then, what about your old contacts and address lists?     There are new a new ways to get them into your device without going through the troubles of the past.
Google: Tap or Click for Google Apps Sync
iPad, etc. Tap or Click for Apple iCloud Control Panel
As you install applications on your device, many will have logins and passwords.   Often you can use your Email address for the login.   If you want to simplify your passwords, you can do that now with  Lastpass (tap or click for it. 
The process of setup is then completed with set up of applications.  With tablets, that is easily done by going to the Google or Amazon or Apple online “store” for which you will also need an account login and password.  Don’t worry, most applications are free, but the store needs to have your account so that it can update your apps when necessary, and apps are update daily.
To install an app, go to the store, (sign in), search for the app, and simply tap on it to install it.
Which apps?     Separately I have catalogued the basic apps needed to get reasonable full functionality out of your device.   You might think 100-125 is a lot, but you will get familiar with them over time.     There are basically two types of apps: Apple and Android, with most in either format.   Google Chrome apps run on all devices.   These include Calendar, Documents, Voice (phoning), and so on.    Separately, Tango is a video phoning app which runs on all devices with microphone---it needs (borrows) a phone number for each to ide identify you.
Remember those login names and passwords.   Don’t get them mixed up. I will not tell if you keep them in a little notebook.   .


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Printer Madness

Printer troubles are not very exciting until they stop you dead in your tracks when you just want to finish up something.

Usually they fall into two categories: job stuck in buffer so that nothing happens, or the print cartridge is shot, but the printed copy looks awful..

The former is fixed by going to Control Panel in Windows and deleting jobs.  Sometimes I find dozens of attempts to print out of sheer desperation of a user.  Tap or click for Microsoft's solution for XP.

The other problem is harder for users to accept.    “It can’t be!”   But it is—happens a lot when a printer is infrequently used and the jets get clogged with dry ink.   We all know that new cartridges are EXPENSIVE, although Amazon often lists a non-oem source which has good comments and is fulfilled by Amazon itself.  I actually use a source at 20% of oem for one printer, but do not trust all such sources.

You can try to save the cartridge by cleaning the head.   This is usually hopeless with either water or alcohol.    I have dunked cartridges in a glass of water with head down with rarely any improvement.

So, then, go out and buy a new cartridge?   Maybe not.    Printers do not get outdated like computers, but the new ones are faster and better.   More than that, if you realize that you can get a new better and cheaper one for not much more than the cost of ink, why not ditch the old one?

New printers have all sorts of new capabilities, such as wireless printing if you have WiFi.    Some also work directly with a tablet computer like the iPad, though there are (Google Cloud) ways to print to any printer from tablets.

I often suggest TWO printers, one laser and one color ink-jet, to which I get unbelieving stares.    The idea is that the laser cartridge lasts a very long time for a very low cost per printed sheet.    Also, the cheapest print at $50-100 IS FINE, and you get two cartridges plus emergency backup! The laser cartridge does not dry up.

It does not really cost anymore in the long run.  You are mainly paying for cartridges.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Creating Documents with the Nexus 7

The downside of the Nexus 7 is that document creation is not as simple as on a laptop. However, there is a cheap and easy way to do simple document creation on the small screen. The basic Write: Tablet Notepad/Journal  application from Google Play Store at $2.99 does a decent job. The document is easily readable. Then, ideally, you will need an adapter to plug in a regular keyboard or just use a bluetooth external wireless keyboard. A female USB 2.0 to male USB micro adapter for a regular keyboard costs less than $1 on Amazon. Either keyboard disables dictation. (You can use dictation with the Nexus 7 screen keyboard.) There are lots of choices of sizes in USB keyboards. I tried a less than $10 rubber rollup, but liked my bluetooth better. Once your document is finished, it can be saved by Write to Dropbox, shared by EMail, or printed with the PrintShare app.  I published this posting direct to this website with Blogger direct from Nexus 7.

Tap or Click for a writer's thoughts on "A Nexus 7 is (Almost) the Only Device I Need"

Update 9-2-2012:  Voice recognition works well for document creation above.    

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Apple Opens Up to Google

Google Voice browsing is now available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
Along with this, Google has brought a whole new level of functionality to these devices: Chrome and Google apps.
This is a very big change and innovation, like having a whole new device.
This is also a new departure for Apple if it stands.    It represents competition.
Although others may disagree, I think Apple will benefit from it.    It is a major benefit to the user.
Apple’s real competitive edge is not in restricting to Apple, but in innovating devices others do not have, along with ease of use, and freedom from trouble.
If I were Apple, I would bring out a much lighter tablet, using a new low power processor and a smaller battery.   The buying public will pay for such innovation.
Click for More about the iPad Google App
The new Google Voice search app is now up and running---I have tested it on iPad and Touch.
To be included are Siri-like voice actions, such as weather (the only action that worked for me at this time)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Voice and Video

Speech recognition and video are good enough on the Nexus 7 Google tablet to be used frequently for searching, EMail, messaging, and video phoning.   That covers a lot.    Then there is Assistant, which carries out many voice actions, such as checking the weather or starting an app.  Finally there is text to speech.   The last might be useful if you have a vision problem.  
This is good thing, since entering and reading text is not always entirely comfortable. 
To send an EMail, you just speak out “Send EMail”, then dictate your message.  Even better is to dictate send a voice plus video message which shows up from the receiver’s EMail, from which it plays.   I have used the Tango app for both uses.     It was a breeze to set up.  
Tango wants your telephone number for ID, but that number does not need to be the number you use on the Nexus.   For phoning the  Nexus needs WiFi.  The person your are calling also needs Tango.
Tango is also available for Apple devices, which makes it doubly useful.
Today a new app came out to use voice input and output for GPS in the car.  It is called Robin.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More about Which Computer for ME?

I get many repeat questions.   I constantly get asked which computer to get.     (It used to be WHETHER to get one.)
Of course we need to think about what we want it to do, now and future.   But there are factors: .
The size of a device may affect your ability to use it.    Any vision problem needs to be addressed.     Often size is important, but smaller devices may zoom up text.   That text zooming feature is handled in different ways by different apps.   Sometimes with settings, sometimes by widening two fingers touching the screen to expand text, and sometimes with an AAA selector appearing somewhere on screen.   Some apps have no zoom at all.
Some Larger TVs can now perform as computers for those who must have a large screen or simply want to access the wealth of internet video.
If you do much writing, more than short emails, a laptop may be needed, although keyboards may be used with most devices with wireless Bluetooth..  The MacBook Air is a great laptop.    So-called Transformers are a cross between laptop and tablet, with keyboard.    A very few old laptops actually work as transformers (Asus 10” notebooks).
If you travel or even move around much, You will want a 7” device  or less.    If you travel a lot, a smartphone is needed.   I like the big 5” smartphones
3G or 4G
3G offers access in many more places than Wi-Fi  but costs $$$.   You can “tether” a device to your smartphone's 3g or 4G.
The iPad offers a fine front camera with editing.   The Nexus has a back facing camera for phoning (Skype, etc).
Smartphones generally have GPS.   The Nexus has GPS.    However, for traffic you need data service, 3G or 4G.  I recommend 4G.    Traffic service is free with the WAZE and Google Maps apps.    I use both of these to get local reports and map route traffic (red, green routes etc.).    I would  not want to travel without either.
The right apps are very important, although Apple and Android devices have a huge selection.   However, if you want iTunes U (lectures from the leading colleges and universities), choose an Apple iPad.     For camera and photo editing the iPad is probably the choice.
A smartphone is handy (really almost essential) for travel needs, or any smaller device with 3G or 4G., though selected airports and hotels have free Wi-Fi.
Windows and Mac systems are converging and synced with tablet and smartphone.   Users with Gmail will find much is already synced.    Apple is converging its products, as also Windows in October.     If you have either, the upgrade is CHEAP if your old computer can handle it. 
Recorded TV requires a good internet connection.   Live TV is even more demanding and may require a separate device,    My smartphone does not handle TV well.
Apple is known for its quality support in stores, including “how-to” courses.   Barnes & Noble also supports Nook in its stores.    Microsoft offers very good online support.   For seniors Tap or Click this website.
So far no one device will serves all needs, but that is true of clocks and radios and TVs.   For many, a laptop and tablet will suffice, and even take over clock, radio, and some TV.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Future of Google Computers

(Recent rumors for August are of a Kindle Fire 2, with camera version and 4G version, possibly in a deal with Google, along with price reductions of the original Kindle to $169.)
The leading players in computer development have different targets:
Apple: sells computers
Microsoft: sells systems and software
Amazon: sells books, and everything else
Google: sells advertising
To sell advertising, Google also considers itself in the business of producing innovation – getting your attention
To date it has offered free systems to help others provide computers.    Now they are in the hardware market to do it right.
Google’s new hardware lacks only a few functionalities to lead the market:
The Nexus 7 lacks only:
. front facing camera
. HDMI connector
. 4G
I cannot imagine that the innards for these are not already in the device, just not activated
The device can already do a few things not claimed:
. run the discontinued Flash videos with two apps
. run external memory with the StickMount app (requires a root hack)
Plus the Nexus has new technology not even implemented yet: near field (senses nearby objects) and SSP (fast Bluetooth to peripherals), the latter working but for newer peripherals to come
Google also includes NOW, which interacts with you proactively, once it knows your lifestyle (it also needs that for advertising)
The Nexus has wonderful speech recognition, too, from Google.
Meanwhile, Google’s other device, introduced a year ago, and almost forgotten, the ChromeBook is being transformed to a similar larger device with keyboard better capable of document creation, and supplementing Nexus functionality.
The two go hand in hand to cover the needs of most of us: elegantly and cheap.
The ChromeBook has a whole new face based on apps.   It has 3G, camera, and VGA.
There is a rumor that it will be modified to support a second “OS” which will run apps when not connected to the cloud.   That makes it perfect for document creation to supplement the Nexus 7.
Already the ChromeBook hardware resembles the MacBook Air, the best design yet.   
What the others need to do to compete is to bring out a slightly smaller, thinner, and lighter iPad with thin “slate” keyboard.  If it does not do this, Microsoft will.
And please, a protective case and handle.
The iPad is a great computer, but the existence of hundreds of cases, stands, and holders betrays its shortcomings.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Solving (Computer and Other) Problems

The job of engineers is essentially to solve problems.    Find a better tool, a better way.
There is a disciplined way to do that, more often ignored than used, though familiar to most professionals.
The simplest approach is not to try to solve the problem at all at first, but simply to do the homework, homework which is often skipped.    The result is to jump to a solution---try this, try that, and so on…
The homework is to define the problem in the greatest detail, a process which often leads to a recognition that the initial definition of the problem is superficial, if not counter-productive.
Rube Goldberg saw the folly of this.
Usually there are multiple layers to problems.
In my work almost any problem led back to the underlying definition that the company needed to make a profit.    My work could be described as “doing more with less”.  That, by the way, is often the  ”name of the game”.
Doing more for less is often skipped altogether, however, and solutions are assumed to be add-ons.
The basic issue is “WHAT ARE WE REALLY TRYING TO DO?”  That approach leads down through a number of layers.  It can never be asked too many times.
Now, then, when we have defined the problem properly, do we start at looking at solutions?
Not yet.  
The definition may BE the solution, if thorough!!   Then, if not, it is best to let our subconscious mind work on it, at least overnight.
(A colleague, who did not define problems,explained that another engineer who came up with them overnight, got solutions from his wife!!)
How many times have you participated in a committee meeting in which a problem is brought to light, various solutions are proposed, and there is a deadlock?     Could this be a process problem?
Indeed!    The initial process should be simply to define the problem clearly, even if urgent action is needed.   The problem is that we are all too impatient to get rid of the problem rather than solve it.
Committees are a wonderful place to pontificate and play politics, as opposed to defining the problem.
We also like to advance our own point of view from a self-interest vantage point.   Sound familiar?    The problem is seen as proving how superior our judgment is.   Consider Congress.
Our unconscious minds connect things together in ways we cannot.   They simply need a chance.  They just need a chance to work.  Are we smarter than our own unconscious minds?    NO!
Jumping to solutions usually is a short term fix at best, if not a new problem in itself..
There are other ways to solve problems.
In computers the first one to try is the process of elimination.
You would think with computers that computer and information-based solutions would do the job.  Yet, computers are the last area of endeavor where the main method indeed is the process of elimination.  It is entirely too complicated to do anything else!  So try this, try that!!   Oh, dear.
The other thing with computers is simply to pull the the plug and let the computer fix itself.  Really!!   Works!
A major flaw in problem-solving is in not using appropriate technology (just plain tools), usually the latest.    To do that you need to KNOW what is out here.  As an engineer you could torpedo yourself by failing to use that technology.    If you entered into a project with less effective and cruder tools, your reputation would suffer.    You needed the RIGHT tools.
That also means to look at all options for solutions.
I was always surprised as an engineer at how often then solutions came from the ranks of the union, whose workers tired of the old way, even if the new ways reduced their work!!   Day after day, they worked with tiresome old tools.   They got sick of them.    They innovated.  But they did not work with management unless they TRUSTED management not to “do them in”.    Management often fails in that department.
ANYWAY, this website is dedicated to helping seniors get the right tools to do the job of keeping connected.     That is the definition of the problem and solution.  Problem: keeping connected.   Solution: keep connected.   Use the new tools to do so.  Could it be any simpler?   Yet we persist with the old stuff.
In the past books often held the solution.  Nowadays computers themselves lead the way.    What else?   Internet.

Note: I wrote this posting to solve a problem.  Now, did I lay it out consciously?  Of course not.    I let it work itself out unconsciously and it just poured out  I did not organize it.   On reading it, my wife said : “Anybody can see that you did not organize it.”   Now, WAIT a minute!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting the MOST from Kindle Fire and new Advanced Nexus eReader/Tablets

Note 9-19-2012:
For the record, the easiest way to get free audiobooks for the Kindle Fire is to browse to websites, search, download, and open in DocumentsToGo, i.e.: and
Last fall Amazon introduced the innovative Kindle Fire. This new eReader had the potential of a much larger computer. Here this discussion is about getting the most out of the Fire and a new wave of newer, unfettered and more advanced devices.
But let’s not think of these as just computers. Consider them a natural evolution of the printed book into a device to keep you connected. A book,-radio,-tv,-music players , -all-round media machine, in addition to being a computer.
What makes the new devices new? The physical characteristics of a device greatly affect its functionality. The size of a device is crucial and Amazon picked it right. Amazon as a bookseller adopted the familiar book size most proven over the centuries. Size is crucial.
This was the first thin, light-weight, normal book-sized device to use the basic hardware of a full-fledged computer. That system had the potential capability of doing everything any other computer can do in a small space. The system software (Android from Google) was made freely usable by any computer maker. Amazon then started the new wave of eBook reader devices from it.
You can hold the device in one hand and use it easily anywhere like a smartphone. All you need is Wi-Fi access, and much of the time not even Wi-Fi . Out of the box, the Kindle Fire, however, did not make use of its full potential. (Hopefully Amazon will unfetter it.) Fortunately, it can be expanded.
This summer things evolved to the point where anyone can get a far more capable descendant of the Kindle Fire for $200 as new lookalikes are being introduced.
Google itself has come out with the Nexus 7, and Apple is reputed to have one in development using Apple’s iPad proprietary IOS system software. Samsung came out with one (Android) earlier this year.
The Fire can be brought more up to speed too, with some “doing”, even using a few voice applications, (and even more with “hacking” and “sideloading”). Much is easily done, though.
I venture to say we will have these devices everywhere, like radios and clocks. After all, we do not need radios and clocks all over but we have them. And these devices ARE also radios and clocks. Imagine one at your bedside, at your favorite chair, not just at your desk. Ladies, in your pocketbook.
. Prices will fall further.
(I envisioned a similar growth in the early days of computers. I wrote a piece entitled: ”How soon will computers outnumber telephones? (Kilobaud Microcomputing, Vol., 5, 1981 “Perspectives” under “Changing Times” ).
How do you make the Kindle Fire and its successors into more capable all-round computers?
Simple. You just add apps. With the Kindle, The result may not be to create as capable device as the new Kindle “killers” but nonetheless will vastly increase the Fire’s utility. With the Google Nexus, the result will all-round usefulness.
What are apps? Apps are a simple way to get things done, as opposed to complex hunting thru websites. They were initially developed for smartphones, where you need to get something done quickly and simply. Apps are replacing webpages as better ways to get things done. They are very specific task oriented tools, easy to tap and use from a small device. Their explosion on phones attests to their functionality and their popularity.
Apps are the secret to easy computing and media access. Amazon included just 10 apps.
An app might be a music player, a weather report, or an internet browser. There are 600,000 of them, of which I use about a hundred. Specialized apps can organize news, read a paper, keep your calendar, contacts or task list, organize your photos, watch a movie, and a whole lot more.
It is these apps that can turn the small Google Nexus into a full-fledged computer.
Although the Fire may come with just ten apps, many more are available from the Kindle online store.
It is easy to get them Here is how to get started. Go to the online market, tap, then search, then install. Simple. That’s it.
Most apps are free. But which apps? This has not been well enough documented.
Below I have listed the apps most of seniors will want. Get them one at a time.
Kindle included its small library of apps which can be downloaded with just a tap, a portion of the huge Google library of apps, but Amazon also excluded most apps easily available from Google.
These Kindle friendly apps are marked below with an asterisk (don’t hold me to this---all this may change). With some extra effort, the Kindle Fire can be made to run many more apps, however.
The Kindle Fire lookalikes and successors which have been introduced run many more apps and install them without such extra effort. These devices include both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 and the Google Nexus 7. Both add apps with a single screen tap from the Google Play online store. Both are easily transformed into full-fledged computers. Newly they can even create documents, such as in Word or Excel, or PowerPoint, best with an external keyboard. They look like the Fire but constitute a whole new generation.
There will be more devices, such as from Apple, which ushered in the smartphone and iPad tablet, after which Amazon then introduced the book-like Fire. Apple itself may be coming out with a similar-sized eReader/tablet . Although the apps mentioned below are apps for Fire, Samsung, and Google Nexus, the iPad has at least as many, of which a large number are available on both iPad and 7” platforms, as well as most smartphones.
Again, the descendants of the Fire, appearing now for the same price or a little more, can run almost all of the huge Google library of apps developed for cell phones and tablets, with little effort, directly accessible from the devices.
Bringing the Kindle Fire Up to Speed
As indicated, out of the box the Kindle Fire introduced last fall had a limited number of apps (10), which can then be augmented with many more from the Amazon Store---these last are all marked below with an asterisk.
Sometimes the Amazon store reports that an app is incompatible when, in fact, it is compatible and may be downloaded directly on the Fire by going the website on the browser and downloading it. Examples: Aldiko and Mantano, which read digital books that Kindle cannot handle without conversion. Then, using a file manager tool (below) installs them by tapping on the name.
For others it is essential with the Kindle Fire to find the “apk” (spelling is OK) files by Googling for them elsewhere: I download them on another computer, Email them to myself as an attachment, open that Email on the Fire, save in Documents To Go or ES File Manage (both from the Amazon store), where I just tap to install them.
There are other online ways to get apps. Some reliable sources are 1Mobile, GeJar, Mediafire and so on---if you have any concern about the security of these, install the anti-virus software from the Kindle Fire store, such as Norton. Or just keep to the asterisked items below. Finally, you can or go to another other device to download them from the Google Play online store and Email or “sideload” them.
Newer Android eBook readers, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 or Google Nexus 7 will install almost all of them quickly and safely directly from Google Play Market, as safe as it gets. They will also install apps from the Amazon store. If you have an iPad or are awaiting the Microsoft eReader/tablet this fall, you will want similar apps.)
What Apps do you Need?
The next question is what apps seniors need. This is the big question.
I have long promised a posting about apps. I have been busy getting familiar with apps for some time and have realized that I am shifting more and more away from Windows as I use portable devices, a smartphone, older netbooks, and most recently a very new device I am just testing which turns a TV into a computer.
I really had to absorb a new way of doing things to see what was important.
So contrary to many commentaries about apps, this posting is not about a half dozen apps you might like, but ALL the apps you need to shift much of your activity over and away from the old systems of the past to access anywhere you go.
On the Fire, to view and install the ten apps which come with the Fire, tap on Apps, then the app to install. Help, Audible (books), Contacts, Email, FaceBook, Gallery (photos), IMDB (movie and TV guide),Pulse (news), Quick Office, and Shop Amazon.
Here is how to get the rest of your apps.
For the Fire, try to download those with asterisks from the Amazon online Market accessible right from the device. For the Samsung and Google eReaders, download almost all from the Google online store, also accessible right from the device. To get those for the Fire which are not marked with an asterisk for the Fire as available from Amazon, Google them to try to find a compatible download for the apk, and then follow the instructions above.
I should make the point add here that apps now even include access to Windows as licensed by Microsoft. That tells me that apps can do anything I need to do. Also, eBook apps are now spreading to larger computers.
The iPad was the first larger tablet to use apps. There are iPad apps much like those below
Important Apps
What would be most important of all apps?
Well, start thinking about what why we are going to tablets.
Without a doubt tablets are media access devices. Why not just use books or radios or TVs or newspapers, and older media?
The answer is that tablets give us access to vast media wherever we are instantly, and more easily, while also enlarging type or even reading to us out loud.. The most important apps you need are reader apps. Close behind are organizers.
Some tablets, notably the iPad and newly the Google Nexus, are extending into photography and voice systems: voice input and output. Some have GPS, and Bluetooth, and 4g, and so on. Some have broader access to apps. Creating documents is quite new and mandates a keyboard. Such apps include Kingsoft*, Quick*, etc. Cloudon and Onlive give you Windows Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
The most important app is the eBook reader “app” right in your eReader device. These access one particular online “store” or library. The Fire uses the Kindle app, and the others the Google Books app. Each has its own library.
There are more reader apps, not built-in, but enabling us to access more libraries (and digital formats) for eBooks. For example, the Kindle Fire can access the Nook reader app. I found the Nook apk here:
Then there are other reader apps not included as basic for any given hardware reader. FBReader is the oldest, Mantano* the most advanced, Google Books the most exhaustive library, Aldiko* the all-round app. Google Books may be accessed directly from browser, using the mobile app: or here:
OverdriveMediaConsole, importantly, gets you library books directly from the devices.
On newer eBook readers (not the Kindle Fire), also, install CalibreLibrary. Calibre finds and converts books and news and magazines. Calibre also needs to be run from a PC or Mac to send books to a device. Calibre will take some learning, yet is extremely useful.
Next are browser apps. One is built into your eReader. You need others. Dolphin is popular. For readers with the latest eBook reader hardware systems software, Android 4.0, Chrome is the choice, simply because you share it across all other devices and it syncs easily, such as for bookmarks. Another one, Opera, is fastest.
The next group are reader organizer apps. These give you the ability to use the computer to help you read more selectively and better, with more choices. Consider them also aggregators. Top of the list is Flipboard*, which simply combines your choice of media into a simple magazine format. Especially, it takes cryptic Twitter feeds, if you have them, and converts them into readable format. I got FlipBoard* for Android from the Flipboard website.
Still, Google News comes first with the latest and most. gReader for Fire makes it possible to access Google News. Yahoo* and YahooNews* a new source many computer users have used for a long time.
Then there is NewsRepublic*.
Others are Taptu* and Pulse*. These read across and up and down over various sources of your choice, showing expandable squares of stories. Good for checking out a lot of sources quickly and up to date.
Then there are the actual individual older printed media sources, like USAToday*, WashingonPost, and Wall Street Journal. Good for a quick overview. Subscribe on Amazon for the New York Times or WSJ. The Times has a cheap app with limited but up-to-date news (every 4 hours) but may not continue it.
There are apps for the news services, like AP*, MSNBC* CBSNewYork*, and CNNGO*, and the elegant BBC app (don’t miss it). Some have video.
Next are “feeds”. These channel many articles from all over into one simple listing. gReader* above is the most prominent and my #1 choice. I use it for favorite sources quickly, such as Lifehacker, which has its own engaging app. Liliputing is also high on my list---you can imagine why from the name.
There are apps which read out loud about, specifically: FBReader and Mantano* do so with supporting voice apps The benefit is to have them read the latest out loud as you walk or exercise or just relax, as in nap. I use wireless earbuds.
What to read? Goodreads* will suggest based on what you have read before. Valuable to find books you might life.
Elsewhere you will find my posting on finding books. The Internet archive is the main website, along with openlibrary.
That covers printed media.
Next is Email. Your reader will have its own app. To that add Gmail. Other email apps simply make it easier to read, such as by listing to the left and displaying one at a time to the right. The device will have its Email app.
There are then apps which take dictation and send it out as Email. More about voice input later, though. Yes, the Fire will do some of this with an Apple mic/headset. One such app is Speaktoit Assistant*. This is an undocumented capability which requires the mic/headset to be plugged in to install and use.
We now shift to audio media, books first. Audiobooks is free for human read books, volunteer read---you can volunteer, too. This is a good source. Jagamaga* is like it. Audible* is an audiobook ($$$) store. All these supplant the old cassette readers. Install them all.
A major set of apps is for radio listening (and podcast listening). I put Tunein* at the top, but there are others, and any one app may not get the particular station you want, so you need more than one. Tunein records, but not on a schedule, just when started live, MediaU is next, Live365*for music, then public radio NPR, PBS, PRI etc..
Going to music, Pandora* offers custom stations, tailored to your known likes. Pandora is a major MAJOR app. Spotify (also Rdio*) give access to a huge library of major music providers. I use it every day, but it costs $10 a month. Mediafly covers podcasts, especially, TWIT*and TWITTV* (This week in Tech). IHeartradio* gets Coast to Coast network stations, such as KFI in LA.
TV and video are mainly recorded, although TIVO is introducing a device the stream it, and there is XFinity for Comcast.
I put TED* at the top of the list for its scholarly talks.
Some TV is now available in the aggregators above. Weather apps include TV: these are Accuweather* and the Weatherchannel*.
Other apps are for the networks, including abroad, such as NTV German CNN, NHK (Japan-English), Al Jazeera (English). Sometimes you cannot get coverage on TV.
These video apps are changing and may require fast wireless for the most part, although often you can download and watch later without interruptions, if need be, from balky or slow internet.
For movies, the IMDB movie database is an absolute must to avoid watching bad movies and shows on your TV. If you like bad movies, you don’t need it.
TIVO* and iMediaShare* and PEEL control your TV and/or TIVO. iMediaShare streams out to an AppleTV, a huge bunch of media not otherwise available, also in HD. LocateTV searches and finds shows. In time these small devices will probably stream direct to TV .
Voice (get the Apple mic/phone cable or generic)
Now to voice apps, growing fast in popularity. One such as DragonGo*. Voiceactions* also works for the Fire, as does Speaktoit Assistant* , also Skyvi for extended voice actions. The Fire does not support Skype, the others do, as with Google Voice. GrooveIP and Tango make a Wi-Fi phone out of the newer devices.
We now turn to utilities, with file utilities the most important. When you get comfortable with files (if not, get someone to help), you just click on one to read books with a number of choices of reader. Some read out loud, such as FBreader and Mantano*, of course, though they require SVOX speech engine app, which I was able to use on the Fire.
Documents toGo is the leader for using files, followed by ESFileExplorer* and StorageAnalyzer. WifiDrive connects external drive ($$) and Wirelessdatacable connects to your computer to avoid clumsy USB cables. Softwaredata Cable does that, too. All these come in useful for backup. The there is simply Backup and AppBackup*. Then, the popular Astro for files and backup.
There are auto app launchers which let you organize apps like in a manila folder file: AppManager* to organize apps, also AutoAppOrganizer. These greatly ease finding apps. I have about 100-150 apps. By the way, do not get them all at once, but as you need them.
I did not mention anti-virus apps You will find some in the Kindle Fire online store. Please use one of them if at all uncomfortable. The system is that of smartphones, and I have never had a problem and have only seen one ever documented on internet. Android, unlike Windows, sandboxes each app. That means that it tells you what the app has access to, and you can control that bat installation time.
Files and the Cloud
Next, cloud storage: DropBox, Box*, and Google Drive. I use them all. I also use Picfoliio* for photos and AmazonMP3* cloud Player for music (built-in for the Fire). These put your files in a universally accessible place. I think safer, too, as compared to your device or computer.
Turning to cloud apps, you may need a calendar, of which Calengoo* may be your only good Fire choice, but GoogleCalendar works well with other readers. Sorry about the funny name for Calengoo.
I will not cover photography apps. If you are a camera buff, you probably need an IPad 3 and it will have its own proprietary apps not available elsewhere. If you need a big device, the iPad is it for the moment.
You will need utilities: AlarmClock*, Battery*. There are many others to choose from. Just search in the online store.
I leave document creation to last, although Evernote * keeps and tracks your notes I also use Readability* and Pocket* to save stuff to read later.
I was late on the bandwagon for the last two, but now I use them almost daily. I could not figure out why I needed them, but as I more and more carry an eReader around and read it in short time slots, I do need to save stuff to read later, and I DO read it later.
Document creation is in its infancy for Tablets, but it is coming on quickly. I cannot give you the best choice. They all look good to me, such as CloudOn or OnLive, both of which are a bit slow. These get you access to Windows. But here is the thing. You really need a keyboard and the device may oir mat not support it.
Some keyboards are good and some bad. The tiny wireless iPazzport Touchpad is a small one. The discontinued HP external wireless is a good one. Combo cases with keyboards are available. Or you could buy a “transformer” (clamshell laptop and tablet replacement). These last are in development. Touch typists will need whatever keyboard which works for them best---go try them out in a store or read comments when shopping online. You can get a full-sized rollup rubber keyboard for $10 which should work with the Nexus (only). The Nexus should accept most keyboards.
Strangely, a few old laptops with keyboard may run the basic system software, especially Asus EEE PCs. My EEE PC notebook computer runs virtually all of the apps mentioned. It has a built-in keyboard. It never ran Windows well. It was slow on XP, lightning fast on Android 4.0.
Also essential for writing would be larger displays than 10”, and there are new choices emerging. The mini $74 PC-stick gives you the tablet system on a big screen. Here you can plug in a wired or wireless keyboard and mouse. But this is cutting edge stuff, though in rapid development.
For most tablets printing is best handled with Google Print, which I have used exclusively since its inception, more than a year . Printershare* will print to a wireless printer. I like it. Google Print sends your stuff up to the cloud, from where bit prints to any printer you have set up on your PC or Mac.
If your small tablet has GPS, you have some good choices: CoPilot, GoogleMaps, Mapquest*and WAZE*, the last with local traffic reports---the most practical and useable use of social networking I have yet witnessed. In the car WAZE requires data service via portable hotspot, such as some smartphones.
Now all of this will get outdate asd apps are updated daily. Keep tuned. And keep ME posted. Much of this is changing daily. Hopefully Amazon will unfetter the Fire to make most apps easy to install.
You doctor(s), pharmacy, or bank will have their own apps. Other apps will be accessed by photographing the bar code or QR if your tablet has a camera. The Nexus has something called near field communications (NFC) which recognizes nearby sources of information by proximity. It also as NOW, which gets to know you and help your remember things. Good potential for seniors.
Also important for seniors are tools to read aloud and use a larger computer for typing to the device: SoundGecko and Airdroid.
YouTube, widely used but also underused, accesses music, and tutorials. I use it when Google fails. Kahn accesses a new way of learning. Rotation locks portrait or landscape screen.
All this changes day to day, with many updates every day. Keep posted. Hopefully Amazon will open up the Fire to more easily installed apps so as to avoid obsolescence.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Finally, a (Handy) Computer for Seniors

Coming out this month is a new wonder from Google, the Nexus 7.   
This 7” eReader/tablet addresses many senior wants and needs. The same size and shape as the Kindle Fire, the Nexus adds a newer major operating system update with slick and fast touch controls.     The device now includes mike, Bluetooth for external headphones, GPS, and a host of new easily installed applications called apps.
Google introduced the “Android” system for smartphones and gave it to the public free.     Amazon then used it last fall for the Kindle Fire and its proprietary library of books and apps.  Meanwhile Android has been broadly improved.  Since then there have been two subsequent new generations of this device, introduced by others.
Amazon’s vision was to get its device the right size.   The right size is that of a typical book, as proved over 400 years.   On this website, a few years ago, I wrote:   “The future senior computer would be a tried and true shape: a book.     .The size and shape of a book has proved itself practical over centuries.”    However, the Fire was limited as mainly an eBook reader.     Google then set out to make the most of its lookalike device’s potential as a computer.   That potential is vast.
The result is the Google Nexus, a wonder indeed, a block buster, especially for seniors.
(I will have a posting about making the most of your Kindle Fire, also an exhaustive posting on the basic apps you need to get full use out of it and its successors---I could not find one on the internet.)
What is the most important need of seniors?  The answer is “keeping connected”: email, reading, phoning, and much more.
These functions are greatly aided by voice input, reading text out loud, enlarged print, and something new from Google called Now, which anticipates your needs your concerns and needs with reminders.
The small electronic book-computer easily goes along with you.   More than that, it does not tie you to a desk.  It works nicely in a chair or in bed, or traveling.
It is right for waiting, sitting with someone, riding in a car or  bus, wherever you need it.   You do need to go to it and accommodate yourself to it.    It accommodates to you.
All this finally in the right size.
Keeping connected also means to the radio, audio books, and recorded TV.     All these require apps, almost all free.   On this device most can be installed with a few taps.
Radio and TV programs and other media are usually available when you want them, as well as music, such as to accompany exercise.
There are, movies, too, along with TV.   Separate apps help find scheduled programs..   Some send video to TV with a separate box.   TIVO now is about to introduce a box to send your TV it.
The Google books library is exhaustive and a delight to use.   Additionally, this device will run the Calibre Manager app to find books most easily, as described in my posting on how to find books..
The Android operating system grew up from smartphones, which need to be quickly and easily used and reliable.
Gone are viruses and virus updates.  Also gone are the complexities of Windows.   Here the user is  in control.
Gone are the cables, the cryptic error massages, the interruptions of computers of the past and up to recently.
Android is a lightweight system which even runs fast on my old obsolete EEE PC, one of the first notebooks.  I have never had an error with it.
Android was developed from Bell Labs’ Unix, proved over the years.
When you get your Nexus, make sure you get a case which protects but does not interfere with it.
You do need WiFi.  Here at Willow Valley we have WiFi in the public places.
If you do much writing you may need an external keyboard and a case which props it up,, or just use your old computer for writing.
Apple will have its version out this fall, based on the iPad.  The iPad, of course, is bigger and less portable, but very appealing and capable.
The Nexus costs just $200.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cases for Phones, Readers and Tablets

                With small size being important to us, you would think devices would be made so that cases were unnecessary.   Instead, they come glitzy, slippery and slithery.   The device should itself be easy to grip safely and safe to drop without breaking.    A one-hand grip would also be handy.

                These devices lose their functionality when not with you, of course.   With the wrong case you may not carry the device around and lose its benefits altogether.

                I have tried all kinds of cases, flip, zip, and so on.    

                Some flips may not protect from device sliding out accidentally.    Zips take too long to unzip.       Flips flip only one way: horizontally or vertically and make it awkward to read and hold the other way.

                You do need to be able to get at the device in a hurry.

                I use a soft rubbery silicone skin locally for most uses plus a holster for it when going somewhere with it     The holster can be clipped on a belt or laced through it.   I don’t do either, I pocket it.

                The skin is a rubbery tread type.   I don’t use any screen cover. 

                I choose so that the silicone slips in and out of the holster with a little resistance.     That means that I need to pick a holster just a bit larger than for the phone without skin

                 To accommodate the skin, I picked a larger iPhone holster case for my iPod Touch.

EReaders/7” Tablets

I never take a 7” eReader or tablet out of the case.  I don’t use a skin at all.

Which way would you like your case to open?   The latest, the Google Nexus 7, has the home screen in portrait mode only.  
            eReader/tablet cases need to provide openings for the specific tablet.    I like the book type which simply open like a book.   Preferably these also accommodate standing at an angle.    Sometimes the angle is adjustable.

There are different a angles, but 30-45 degrees work for me.     A back tab holder works better than an adjustable angle stand which may slip.     Which way do you want it to prop up?

                A snap closer is a benefit.

10” Tablets

                I do not carry my iPad around., but I do have a cheap case which props it up.   Keyboard cases make it even bulkier.   
    The Apple triangular holder /covers work for others     Too awkward for me.

                Cases found on eBay sometimes lack something not obvious, whereas those on Amazon are accompanied by comments.   If buying a case, read those comments, especially the 1-3 star comments.  Disregard trivial carps.

                There you will find that cases can be very cheap indeed, often just a few dollars and just as good as the $30-40 cases in the stores.   Direct from Hong King or Shenzhen worked for me.

                Amazon fulfillment is a bit more of a safety than otherwise.