Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Obsolescence Comes Quickly Nowadays

Very often residents request help with the devices or software which are already obsolete.

Obsolescence nowadays can happen in only a matter of months.
For example, much has been moving to the Internet cloud. New devices are dependent upon the cloud and software has been rapidly moving there

Meanwhile many seniors have just learned of something which is already obsolete and are unaware of what is really new. What is worse, the old way maybe fraught with learning problems and other shortcomings. 

Frequently doing it the old way takes a lot more time than the new way and the results are disappointing. It may be hard to convince seniors that what was new just six months ago is now primitive.   This happens when it was hard to learn the old way, which is now comfy.   People are sometimes afraid they may fail.

The result is that to be helpful it is necessary to explain the shortcomings of the older technology and the benefits of the newer.  

Consequently, it takes more time to move ahead than earlier. It may require some new learning, both for the resident and the teacher. What helps move things along though is younger visitors, children or grandchildren, who come in with the new technology and sometimes leave it with their elders.

So keeping up is an ongoing and constant effort, if just to avoid teaching residents how to use old technology which has been the abandoned not too long ago and which requires too much time and effort to learn.

To keep up I use Google Reader to sift through dozens of publications for information on new technologies and tools to do things in better ways. One major source of information is Lifehacker, and there are many others which are checked for me everyday.

Then I need to evaluate them and learn to use them, first as a guinea pig before exposing others to them. I usually need to look at all options. Then I can offer the best tool to do the job once we have clearly defined what that job is and recognized that there will be also a better way coming. 

Whatever you learn today, whatever device you buy, these will become obsolete soon and it will be a lot easier and less time consuming to use.

Computers for Visually Impaired

Ideally the visually impaired would have a large screen TV or display coupled with voice recognition hardware. We are almost there but we have been almost there for many years.

Nonetheless equipment is good enough for now for many. This is the case even though voice recognition must be helped along with keyboard at times.

To test out out up-to-date speaker-independent speech recognition on an old PC, first click or tap to download the Chrome browser,  Click or tap to learn about VoiceNote, then install it from Chrome Web Market, (the last tab at the top right of the Chrome tab screen).    

The best components are out there, but not usually combined in one device. For example, the Kindle fire 7 inch tablet can drive a large screen but does not have the best speech recognition capabilities. At the same time the Nexus 7 has the latest and best speech recognition but cannot drive a large screen . 

The two capabilities need to be combined in one device. For the best results speech recognition needs to be helped along by the best technology.   That technology sends the speech pattern to a supercomputer which handles the heavy processing work, as opposed to a local computer.

It is no longer necessary to load a program into a PC, spend  hours in "training", and depend on limitations of  of very limited processing power.

The local device now simply serves as a terminal. In a small device this may require wifi. The best of this speech recognition software belongs to Google .(Click or tap for a comparison of voice search with Apple Siri.) The older Dragon system relied on the limited capabilities of an older computer and required expensive so called training of the computer to recognize only one  specific voice.

However Dragon is indeed offering better software these days For example, the iPad offers such software applications. Of course, any tablet also needs ideally a conventional keyboard to assist.

Very soon we may have more choices in devices which will work well for extensive dictation. Even so, the present systems do offer good enough performance and can be used, for example, for browser and short items such as emails. These technologies can be augmented by mature technology to read text from screen out loud.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Creeping Up on a new Laptop Future

While the world adopts tablets, the Gutenberg bible of the present day, there are other ways to do things.

Indeed, we need them.   Windows 8 computers are neither cheap nor easy to learn to use.

Yet, for document creation you need another device when your Windows laptop is failing and the superb MacBook Air is too costly for you.

One of these alternatives has never taken root, but then, tablets, too, never took root for a long time.

Yet progress is being made, especially in price, as low as $199.   The new way is the cloud laptop.

Heretofore, computers have needed to operate away from internet.    This new way is to work mostly dependent on internet for the heavy work, an enormous advantage, but also a disadvantage when  internet is not available, even without WiFi available.

Google brought out its Chromebook cloud laptop two years ago and it never really took off.  However, Google has not given up on it.    Indeed, Google is hard at work to improve it.

The rumor is that Google will bring out a Google branded Chromebook, even with touch screen, at an extremely low price.    This would come head to hear with Apple and Microsoft.    So-called transformer cell-phoned based tablets with keyboards are already out there.

(Physical keyboards can be used with tablets, such as keyboards for the iPad.)

Meanwhile, you can already get a ChromeBook laptop from Google without touch screen for $199. Click or tap for a look at it.

This slick and slim ChromeBook laptop will do most document creation, though not in precisely the same way Windows or Mac does it, but close enough for many
Why would we need a ChromeBook?

Mainly because our old laptop is at the end of its life.  Also, we want or need a separate tablet device which does everything quickly anywhere, so the laptop needs to be cheap.   The laptop needs to be always up to date and free of viruses. For us, Microsoft's Windows 8 Slate falls down in too many respects, especially price.    Windows 8 also introduces new complexities and start up problems. We need something to use with a big screen or TV.

Meanwhile, here is what has also been developing  with the Chromebook:

A new ability to handle basic word processing,spreadsheets, and presentations offline is now available.  The main screen now has windowing and extensive apps which are part of the system.     The phone/tablet is starting to merge with the laptop.

Note that the ChromeBook does not run Windows apps, and mostly cloud or online apps, of which there are now plenty.   Some important apps like PhotoShop do not run on the ChromeBook, though some Microsoft Office apps actually do run online. Click or tap for details. There are alternatives to PhotoShop on Windows and some run well on tablets, such as iPad.  Click or tap for limited PhotoShop tools online.  Netflix and Skype may or may not run, but use your tablet for these.

The device starts instantly and is always up to date on the cloud (without downloading updates from Microsoft constantly)..  With the Samsung version at $249 (but no HDMI) and solid state memory, no spinning mechanical hard drive is needed, and risk to hardware and data loss are greatly reduced, assisted by storage safely in the cloud. (The $199 Acer spinning drive may be replaced with solid state memory.)

With a ChromeBook laptop at $199, that way everyone can have both a tablet and a laptop.

If you are considering buying one, first read the buyer comments on Amazon.  Click or tap to read the Acer ChromeBook User Guide

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Best eBook Reader(s)

Like cameras the best eBook reader is the reader you have with you.

This would be the pocketable Kindle or Nook paperwhite touch screen device.   Click or tap for a new device already sold in Eurrope for just 10 Euros ($13)

These are far easier to use than larger devices, even 7 inch tablets, if you do any amount of reading.

Even printed books can be too weighty to read comfortably, such as lying down or in the sun.

The only problem is that each device above favors a different eBook format or library. The Kindle uses the Amazon azw proprietary format. The Nook uses public domain pdf and epub standard formats and libraries.

The Nook makes it easier to organize your libraries, both on the device and on a computer. Books can be categorized on shelves. This is important if you want to keep a large number of books available wherever you are.

Adobe Digital Editions provides a great computer program to keep track of your e-books on shelves on computer. Click or tap for ADE.

Now, if you want access to both the Kindle and the Nook libraries you have a problem.

A simple way to have access to all the major e-books is to have both a Kindle and also a nook reader. This is actually not such a bad option because both readers are very inexpensive.

There is another way if you are not faint of heart.

This is to convert the Nook Simple Touch to a full tablet which will run Kindle books.

If you try to do this and you brick your Nook, it is not my fault, but here is how to do it.

Follow the instructions:  Tap or click here. 


Be sure to insert your SD card before downloading Dropbox.

Stick to Amazon apps.

Replace the Nook menu with the Nooter menu so that you can switch between the Nook e-reader and the tablet function.

Use the tablet function mainly to access the Kindle library and maybe also only a few other tablet functions such as Gmail, a news reader, and so on.

You will still want a Nexus 7 or equivalent for such uses as dictating a posting to a website such as I am doing as I write this.

Dictated and published from my Nexus 7.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Organizing your Tablet or eReader

Seven inch tablets can already do almost everything larger computers can do, better and faster, and do the job when and where you want it done.

Not only that but it's getting better and better. In its latest update the Nexus 7 provides new ways of working more efficiently.

You can now place email on the opening lock screen so that you see your email the moment you open the tablet. You can do the same with Google News.

The setup for this is done simply by tapping at the top of the lock screen and sliding left to type again on the plus sign to add a so called widget.

In the previous version you could do the same with widgets on other screens. You can have a screen for listening, for reading, for watching, and so on. That makes it easy to organize your tablet for the most efficient possible use. A few taps will do what you need to do.

Recently the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 has been updated to do most of the things the Nexus 7 now can do. This tablet has been reduced in price and has a back facing camera, louder sound, and more memory.
Other tablets are less advanced. Both of the above can display a line of most frequently used apps at the bottom of every screen.

Organizing books is still a little more difficult. The paper white screen devices allow classifying books by subject or shelf if done locally in the device itself. Otherwise for other devices it is necessary to go to the PC or Mac .

Adobe Digital Editions comes to the rescue but only for PDF books and epub books, but not for books in the Kindle proprietary format. That actually puts the Nook Simple Touch at an advantage despite its limitations if you value portability and light weight, not to mention ability to read in direct sunlight.
Otherwise the downside is that you need to use a PC or Mac to do your organizing . There ought to be a better way directly on the device itself.

Another way to organize e-books is to use Calibre, just a bit more complicated.

Dictated and published from my Nexus 7.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Keeping Connected When Confined

Everybody gets confined now and then, sometimes to bed, such as in virus or flu season.

How do we keep connected?

What I do is keep away from others as much as possible physically, but keep in touch.   That usually does not mean by phone, especially if I have an attack of laryngitis, as recently.

I hate telephones.   They almost always interrupt.    When ill, I like to rest without interruptions.    I do that by communicating online with my doctor and others.    That avoids the big telephone annoyances---either end of the conversation can respond when ready and there is a printed record of everything.  

You get a chance to think before responding.  That saves office visits and everybody’s time   The local LGH site is wonderful---they respond quickly when necessary and when ready and able.   Click or tap to see one such website.

It is the importance of such web tools that make it desirable for me to help seniors learn to use tablet computers.

While recuperating, I still like to keep otherwise connected.   The world does not stop.

That means using a portable device.   That also means lying down sometimes.  If really sick, I like to “sleep it off” and get back up and mobile quicker.   

There is a choice of devices convenient for use in bed.    The keyboard Kindle will read out loud.    It does not have a backlight, although there is a case with one.   Instead of that light, I prefer the Mighty Bright. which clips on the flap of a case.  Click or tap for the Mighty Bright.

Size is important, and there are smaller devices.    I have the Nook Simple Touch, which can be had with a back light, as also the Kindle Touch.     The iPod Touch 4g is very small indeed and is backlit.    More important, It also has the ability to read out loud using an app called SoundGecko.    It has a small monthly fee but renders print into spoken words very nicely.  It collects from sources you identify.   SoundGecko works with both Apple and non-Apple tablets.  Click or tap for SoundGecko.

The same devices, used with AppleTV, can send videos to your TV.    Although the Apple devices work together, a tablet such as the Nexus 7, can also work with AppleTV, using an Airsync “app”.  Click or tap for AirSync.

Many of these devices can also play movies, such as from Netflix, or PBS shows, such as Nova.    Many work as radios.

For sound you may need earbuds.   The latest Apple earbuds cost $30, far more than competitors, but also with outstanding sound.  I have to recommend them.  Click or tap for Apple earbuds.   For wireless I like the LG with neck band, also with outstanding sound.     The latter can hide under a collar when out and about.    I had an awful time figuring out how to wear them, but it was worth the trouble.     Click or tap for the LG device.

You can also send the sound to a plug-in larger speaker and even manage your TV from bed, but you need a tablet like the Samsung Tab 2 7 for that.  This works as a full TV remote and enormously simplifies finding TV entertainment.   Click or tap for such a speaker.

One thing I could not manage from bed was writing this posting.  With laryngitis, I could not dictate it.      Here, an old unknown wonder from, yes, Microsoft, came to the rescue, Windows Live Writer.   Designed for the purpose, it makes posting easy.    Why are Microsoft’s freebies some of the best, like its AV software, and Microsoft Word Starter?  If you have a blog Click or tap for Windows Live Writer.