Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Read all Major eBook formats on One Reader

EBook readers are generally limited to specific digital format libraries. For example, the Kindle reader reads books in the so called AZW Amazon proprietary digital format . The Nook reader reads books in the EPUB format, (as does Google Play Books app), and also in PDF.

The Amazon format is derived from the older MOBI format. This format has been both optimized and protected where there is digital rights management, but proprietary. Files may need to be converted before they can be accessed generally.

The Kindle reader cannot read the EPUB format and the Nook reader cannot read the Amazon AZW format. However, other tablets can perform as Kindle or Nook or Google readers, using apps.

The widely used PDF format, is read on a tablet with a dedicated PDF reader application but can be displayed on the Kindle reader or Nook. Print size may or may not be satisfactorily adjustable, a serious drawback. The Nook Simple Touch handles text in PDF files elegantly without this limitation and with ease.

Because of the format limitations of various readers, conversion is often desirable between formats. The usual tool for conversion is a program for PCs called Calibre. Books are then transferred to reader or tablet, usually with a USB cable.

Tablets, however can receive books wirelessly and simply via a program called Airdroid. Airdroid connects easily and enables transfers of files from the PC.

Books may also be transmitted to tablets using email attachment or an app called Dropbox (also Google Drive) which provides a file which is accessible to other computers on which it is installed. Once saved on one computer, the file is available on the other(s). 

Once the file is in the proper digital format and is loaded from the PC to the device, then a tablet can use a choice of reader apps. When the book filename is tapped the reader offers a selection of reader apps, each with its own unique capabilities. For example, an app may be used to read the book aloud.

Two such readers are Mantano and Moon.

Dictated and published with my Nexus 7. 

(The Nook Simple Touch is worth having in addition to a tablet for its specific benefits in reading e-books and similar documents: small size, light weight, massive expandable storage, easy organization on shelve categories for easy access, readability in sunlight, non-glare, ability to read and format PDF files in its basic reader, and make the most of battery life..)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Whither Windows 8?

Most of us seniors have grown up (old?)with Windows.   Windows is now getting old.   We are now faced with a major dilemma with Windows 8. Windows 8 may not be in our future. It is expensive, buggy, hard to learn, and tablets offered by Microsoft have poor battery life. We suspect there will be driver problems for peripherals. There is a very good chance that major businesses will not want to expend the resources needed to switch to Windows 8.. Unless it is fixed Windows 8 may become an orphan.

Faced with writing a book on Windows 8 for users, David Pogue of the New York Times has expressed his exasperation with Windows 8, and the editor of PC World, Jon Phillips, has indicated some of what needs to be done to it to make it more satisfactory.

Click or Tap for Pogue on Windows 8

Some of us who help other seniors with Windows are concerned about exposing them to the difficulties of Windows 8. 

So what are the alternatives ?

One alternative is to stay with Windows 7, universally well liked. Then obtain a tablet to keep up to date. That is what I am doing.

Click or Tap for Windows 7

There are several other alternatives.

One alternative is simply to switch to an Apple iPad or Android tablet for everything. This is a good one if you can handle document creation satisfactorily. It is not difficult in most cases to add a keyboard to a tablet, and for some capable tablets even to plug them into a large display. Works.

Click for Windows 8, iPad, and Nexus Tablets

Then there is the expensive route of switching to Apple Macintosh , the Mac Book Air being a splendid alternative with its solid state indestructible hard drive. 

The new Chromebook laptop, an inexpensive as $199, separately offers a Windows like experience and corrects two major Windows 8 deficiencies cited by PC world: . Long start up . Continual updates needed The latter are required to deal with viruses, whereas Chromebooks use a system anchored in the Internet cloud which is updated invisibly without any change to your local computer. Chromebooks start instantly.

Click or Tap for the ACER ChromeBook.

Another alternative, and certainly not the least, was offered to us by the Willow Valley Computer Club expert, Al Williams recently. This is an intriguing solution. The solution is to switch to Linux. Linux can give new life to an old system. Linux can even be made to look exactly like Windows itself. Linux is virus proof.

Click or Tap for How to make Ubuntu Linux Look Like Windows 7

I have a version of Linux called Zorin running on an old Dell for which Windows 7 had no display drivers when I attempted to upgrade from XP.

Click or Tap for Zorin

Al gave an excellent talk on the possibilities. That presentation is available in slide form from Al here at Willow Valley retirement community. 

Linux can be run from a thumb drive installed alongside an old version of Windows. It can be run directly from thumb drive, and even without being installed without any alterations to the computer.

Click or Tap for Ubuntu

Another way for some of us and for a few older computers it is to install tablet software.

And then new cheap thumb drive computers can replace your tower by plugging in between your old keyboard and display. These run Android tablet software.

Click or Tap for Mini Tower

Which alternative to take?

I can only add that more and more Chromebooks are coming out from the major manufacturers and these are beckoning to a great inexpensive solution. Chromebooks do require a connection to internet at all times and wireless internet service. Otherwise they are a fine solution. 

Dictated to my Nexus 7.   Click or Tap for the Nexuses

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Google Solves Problems

There is a single simple solution for a whole host of problems encountered by seniors with computers. Again and again I am approached to solve problems where there is a Swiss Army knife for all of them.

These problems include printer problems, document creation problems, email problems, document storage problems, backup problems, photography problems, information overload problems, vision problems, and many more.

The single solution is Google. This is not the Google search but the battery of Google targeted solutions.

To use these invaluable tools, the hardest part is simply signing up with Google. Google needs to know your identity and protect it with password in order to maintain the central files. 

For example, they need to know what printer or printer you are using. To sign up it is simply necessary to obtain a Gmail account. You do not need to use email for that but you do need that ID and password. With that ID and password you'll be able to access all these solutions anywhere. 

To sign up, just Google "sign up for email". 

I said the hard part is signing up and I meant it. I find it annoying myself. The benefits, though, are so great that everyone needs to suffer it through. 

For example, the setup for printers is greatly simplified and eased. There is no need to deal with installing printers , and they are accessible from anywhere where you login. This makes them accessible from tablets . You do not need to be at your computer to use your printer. 

Google Gmail has become the most popular email tool. Gmail is also accessible from anywhere, as are your contacts, also kept safely in the cloud. Gmail is actually the whole assortment of tools for organizing and using communication. 

With Google drive you have not only a safe place to keep documents, but also a word processor usable anywhere without exposure to problems if your computer goes down. The same applies to spreadsheets and presentations . These applications are always kept up to date on Google's server. You do not need to update them from time to time. 

Like all Google applications, they are free.

Using Google's cloud Drive for your documents avoids the need for backup, although a second backup is always desirable. 

Your photos can be kept on Google's photo website, Picasa, where they may also be edited. They are easily transferred from camera or tablet.

Information overload is addressed with Google Reader, which will keep you posted on new information in your areas of interest . Google also offers Currents for tablets which give you a graphic magazine access to publications. 

Vision and typing problems are addressed with Google speech dictation, now widely available with Google's browser. I am using that tool to write this posting. 

Google News will provide you with the latest news. 

Again, all these tools are available to you at any computer or tablet, once you log in with your password. 

Your contacts, and other information, are synchronized across multiple devices. The same applies to your event calendar.

With Google Maps you can actually navigate or just check traffic.

Google Chrome is a very advanced browser with its simple interface. It keeps your bookmarks accessible anywhere. Using Google Chrome, you can access a whole world of so called apps. These include flow charts audible books, music such as Pandora, e-books, and the like. 

Google Voice enables you to monitor your telephone calls through a special number and direct them to your home phone, cell phone, and computer, where you can listen to messages or read them from Google's text conversion from voice. 

Google Talk allows you to create text messages and also conduct video conversations. 

Google Books makes it possible to find and read books and maintain your library on your device. Google is busy cataloging and digitizing the books of the world. If you wrote a book, this would be a place to keep it. Last, Google provides a place to create a blog or website such as this one.  For more information, click or tap here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Computer Speech to Text

Computer speech or voice recognition (VR), which converts speech to text,has been in the works for many years and is now attracting the interest of many.

I got interested in computer voice recognition in the early days when I adapted it for use on a production line to record defects. I wrote of my experiences in Speech Tech magazine.

I had worked with Janet Baker who had started a company called Dragon Systems. The company has changed hands several times since then

Voice recognition is extremely difficult for computers. It requires a process called pattern matching. Pattern matching requires a comparison to a huge library of sounds. This includes many human voices and many pronunciations from different people. 

Pattern matching also requires adaptation to many different microphones and surroundings. Recognition must occur instantly and requires extremely fast processing and memory by the computer.

A single misrecognition can wreak havoc. Even 99 percent recognition is not good enough. Intervention is needed for corrections. In comparison, the computer keyboard always recognizes the letters you type.

There are two primary types of speech recognition popular today. One is quite new. The older systems, made popular by Dragon, require the user to train with the system so that the computer can adapt speech patterns to a specific voice. These also require a special microphone and headset.   They don't work on tablets and therefore are often not there when and where you need them.

Newly, cloud computing has brought about improvements. Cloud computing transmits sounds from individual computers to much more powerful computers in the Internet. A pattern match is made, and the result is transmitted back to the originating computer and user.

This process creates greater accuracy and ability to use less processing power at the source more effectively. 

This technology works well with small mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. It also avoids the complex training needed for the older systems. 

Whereas the over systems work with relatively few users, the newer systems work much more widely without training.

Google, especially, has been effective with voice recognition for browsing and for e-mail.

Even so, a keyboard is needed to make corrections. It helps to be able to tap on a misrecognition for alternatives and select the proper recognition with another tap

It still takes highly motivated and patient users to use older systems, whereas the newer system will be adopted by more users successfully. 

It helps that Google speech recognition is offered free. Devices using the latest Google Chrome browser make it easily accessible for your evaluation. Simply install Google Chrome and go from there. Make sure you have the latest version of Chrome. Google speech recognition works on the latest tablets using the latest version of the Android operating system, and Apple devices, including the original iPad, though not with Apple Pages.

Dragon also has apps which work similarly.   Apple's Siri does not work on all Apple, nor any non-Apple devices.

Dictated and Published from my Nexus 7 (which uses Google Speech Recognition to create documents)