Sunday, December 14, 2014


Recently a resident came to me panicked. Her iPhone was running out of memory space.

It soon became apparent that her phone was loaded up with photographs.

What to do?

Obviously, get the photos off the iPhone.

There are a lot of options.

One is to transfer them to a PC or Mac either wirelessly or with a cable.

There are better and easier options, the best of which is to have every photo stored on the cloud the moment it is taken.

The app Picasa was probably the first way to do this though now there are more. A search of how to do it on YouTube will point the way to instructive videos.

Next best is to store them on other media.

Most phones do not have enough storage space for a larger photo library but a few do. The Windows BLU JR phone accommodates Micro SD cards of large sizes. The Moto E phone allows for a micro SD card. Many phones have limits as true size but Microsoft claims that Windows Phones handle any size SD card. The larger ones do get expensive.

I have a 64 G Drive which handles all my music and photos and books on a Windows Phone.

Some tablets allow for memory expansion.

An expandable and inexpensive tablet is the Dell Venue, as is the new Kindle Fire 7. A cheap way to store photos is through such an inexpensive tablet.

If your phone does not provide for memory expansion, and most do not, it is still possible to use a memory device accessible via WiFi, such as WiDrive and others.

PCs and Macs also have lots of space to store photos. If not backed up elsewhere, your photos will be lost when your PC quits.

There are external drives which also exposed to the risk of loss when they fail.

I do not trust PCs or external drives for reliable storage, however.

Photos should also be backed up on a high capacity USB flash or SD drive. One backup is never enough no matter what type of backup you are using.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cheap and Accessible Phoning

Phoning needs to be available cheaply wherever you need it, especially for senior.

Tablets need to provide this capability and smartphones need to provide low cost.

Different tablets and different so-called apps provide different options.

I set about to examine them.

Skype, of course is the most widely used option, known primarily for video. However, it works well for just plain voice phoning over Internet. Calls are made using Skype names rather than numbers.

Skype costs $35 a year to phone outside internet to actual phone numbers. Getting a actual phone number for Skype to receive calls is much more expensive.

For actual limited Internet calling I have recently switched to Hangouts from Google, which works more smoothly for me than Skype. It is not available on all devices.

Whenever a device has a SIM card slot it can be made to work as a normal cell phone. Puretalk offers $5-10 plans to turn such a contract free tablet into a cellphone connected to cell towers.

Without a SIM card, devices can connect to the phone system through WiFi.

To send and receive such calls via the normal phone system, you need a normal phone number.

Talkatone provides such a number. There is a very small per minute fee for using it.

This app makes the. new Kindle Fire $100 6 inch phone sized tablet into a cell phone. That makes up for some of the limitations of this tablet. And you can't beat the price.

To phone away from WiFi, however, you also need a hotspot, such as from Freedompop and others. Such plans also start at about $5 a month.

Cheap phoning is also available from a modified Moto G phone from Republic Wireless.

Now, once you are using one or two of these options, in addition to your home landline phone, you need to be able to be able to receive your phonecalls anywhere.

For this purpose, I use Google Voice, which not only calls all my phones just from a single special phone number from Google, but also alerts me via email and records messages by both voice and text.

In summary, I get my calls wherever I am at a very low cost.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

All About Apps

Using computers is all about apps, especially nowadays with the rapid growth of tablets and phones. Computer devices are tools and are only as useful as the apps you use meet your needs best.  Like bookmarks or favorites, they organize your work

Usually the best apps are those that run on many different devices. Having gone through a huge number of apps, here are the ones I use mostly throughout the day.


Very often the first thing I check in the morning is the weather. The main ones are the Weather Channel, AccuWeather, the Weather Underground, and the WeatherBug.


I check my mail with Gmail, and newly with Inbox, which organizes things a bit better.

Calendar & Tasks

I check Google Calendar for what is coming up. Separately I check tasks.  For a long time I had been using Anydo, but I am shifting to Wunderlist because it can be used on many more devices, being what is called a cross platform application.


Next I get to the news. Google News is my first choice. Then I alternated between the number of excellent news sources. These include Google News, the BBC, The Guardian, the network apps, and local online apps.

Every day I also go to gReader, which summarizes news from my selection of many sources.

There are also apps which read the news in either a computer or human voice. This is handy if you're doing something else. The principal such apps that I use are you Umano and web2go.

Read Later

By the way all of this happens very very quickly. If I see something I have not got time to read now I send it to Pocket to read later. To keep vital information I use Evernote.

Look Up

Then, all during the day as questions arise, I go for help to Chrome browser, Wikipedia, or YouTube.


YouTube is my main source for how to do things, as it is for music. Tech how to do it sites include CNET, Tom's Hardware, Lifehacker, Phone arena. I have come to know the reliable sites for my perticular interests.


For music I use Pandora, Spotify, and my own collection of music which I keep on both Google and Amazon and on devices which have enough memory so that I can access it away from wifi.


For reading books I do mainly use Kindle but Kindle does not support all formats so that I need to use other apps as well. I use Google Books and also Overdrive for library books. I use Mantano.For heavy readers I recommend and a PC and Mac app called calibre.


For printing I use Cloud Print and a particular app for my Brother Wireless printer.


Then, for writing I of course use Blogger for my website. When I am near my iPad I now use Windows Word, free on my iPad, an ideal combination. Word, free, is also in the works for Android next spring.

Meanwhile, when using a non iPad device, I use Google Docs. I use Google Slides for presentations. I dictate everything and type almost nothing.

TV & Video

As the day wears on I eventually get to TV & video, for which I have a limited tolerance.

The PBS app and website both offer much to see and hear.I use them usually with our 42 inch HDTV by mirroring my device at times.

To get the most and the best results requires my switchbox to choose between dongles,  each offering its own unique capabilities and choices of media.

Each dongle varies in ease of use, too.  Some rely on remotes and some rely on devices while some mirror devices. Each also uses its own technical procedures to accomplish this work. Some are faster or slower than others.

For example, the iPad with Apple TV works well with mirroring, as does the Microsoft Device with Android devices, of all things, while the soon to be available Amazon Fire Stick dongle offers voice commands as well as reliable mirroring.  It uses the latest technical capabilities to speed up video and therefore provide the best reliable and resolution.


On days when I need to deal with health issues, I of course, use MyChart to keep in touch with doctor and hospitals for messages refills and referrals. For medical information I rely on websites, especially National Institute of Health, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins with its many publications available for download. I search for specific information, of course.


When traveling, I rely heavily on Waze both before starting the trip and enroute. I consider it a safety app to be able to avoid bad traffic and accidents.


For radio listening, both at home and elsewhere, I, of course, use Tunein. I also recommend stitcher which allows me to choose from what is being broadcast.

Away from home, I need data service from cell tower which I get either from Republic Wireless or Freedompop hotspot.


Then, for phoning, are you use cell phoning but also newly Google Hangouts which is widely available on most devices. It is the best yet for video phoning, such as conferencing your family members.

I still use Skype to dial phone numbers. I also receive calls using Google Voice which makes it possible to ring all my phones at one time and access me wherever I am.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cheap Phoning Choices

Cheap phoning means using a no contract phone with a no contract plan, as compared with earlier high cost plans.

Cheap phones include the Moto G and Moto E and also the Windows Blu phones.

Cheap plans include the Republic Wireless plan, the Puretalk plan, and the Freedompop plans, among others.

But that is not all there is to it. There are choices between analog and digital phoning plans. The latter may not require a phone at all but simply a small tablet.

Analog phones are the old wired landlines and talk/text only cell phones. But cell phones now provide also digital data phoning.

Using digital data from cell towers  can be extremely inexpensive, whereas WiFi data is cheap

Republic Wireless uses cheap WiFi  phoning to keep the costs to the minimum by switching from cell tower based analog phoning to free WiFi data.

Any device linked to WiFi thus offers a cheaper way to phone.

There are a variety of ways to phone using WiFi. The most prominent of these is Skype, but there are others, too.

To phone from Skype to landline phones requires an annual payment about $35. To receive landline calls requires having a special Skype number.

These arrangements can be avoided by simply switching away from landline phones for your main calling.

There are other such so-called apps for phoning from smartphones and tablets.

One of these is Talkatone, and there are others which offer free phoning.
Talkatone works to and from landline or cell analog phones.

It ought to be possible to use an Amazon Kindle Fire 6 as a smartphone like the iPhone at a small fraction of the cost.

But if you have a landline anyway, and most of your phone during is done on devices, then there is a really better way than Skype.

Google Hangouts makes phoning easy, including video phoning and conference phoning, such as between members of the same family in different places.

Hangouts is free but does require setting up a Google Plus account.

If these digital or data phone services are appropriate, it is therefore possible to use them anywhere with a hotspot such as from Freedompop for $10 a month.

Considering that a tablet is all that is needed, that might be one of the cheapest ways of all to phone.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dementia Services

(While I work up my separate Willow Valley blog, I post the following here until it is ready.)

Dementia caregivers need all the help they can get.

Some of that can come locally and some from elsewhere. Yet there is no one place yet to find out what resources are available. Help from one single social worker may be limited.

The caregiver needs more than what a single social worker can provide.

So let me help.

Here at Willow Valley itself new separate entities have just been established to provide services at home, but also here in this community, including companions.

There are many other resources outside of Willow Valley.

Brethren Village offers help to the caregiver on the basis that the stress of caregiving can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy body and without a healthy body you won't be able to do the things you need to do.

BV offers caregiver sessions open to the public starting Thursday November 13th at 6:30 p.m., with additional sessions on January 15th and February 12th. They will also take care of your loved one as you attend at no cost.

There are other such sources for care in the Lancaster area. Tap or click for one of them.

Short of physical support, there are resources in media.

Here is a great link to great help videos: Tap or click for the link.  

There is the website.

The classic book on the subject is The 36 Hour Day. The author's talks are available free on YouTube. They are immensely helpful.

The Memory Cure offers some hope for avoiding dementia.

The AARP Magazine often has articles and information on dementia, such as in the October November issue.

It is important to understand that dementia is a disease and not a normal part of aging and that understanding the disease can make it easier for the caregiver.

This is a big subject and hopefully Willow Valley will do a better job of educating people about dementia and resources to deal with it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Choose a Cell Phone Plan

It can be incredibly difficult and complicated to choose an appropriate cell phone plan to suit your needs.

In the past it cost an arm and a leg to get a plan which committed you to thousands of dollars and  a 2 year contract.

The newer no contract phones and plans still cost money and may not deliver the goods.

Here, as in many places, there are 25 cell towers within 5 miles and much variability in coverage and carriers.

Over the years I have tried a lot of carriers and never been fully satisfied, even with a no contract T Mobile service which covered 3 phones in a family plan for $135 a month.

The problems were many. Right here at home voice service was spotty throughout the community, although very good in the shopping centre only a few miles away. You could get high-speed 4G service in downtown Lancaster but not here.

So recently I set down what I needed and decided to find out how to service those requirements. Ultimately I was able to drop the cost by half and get far better coverage.

What did I need? I laid down my requirements as follows.

Most essential was traffic coverage enroute somewhere. We needed to know where the hangups,would be in advance, and we needed quick alerts where there were hazards, using the fairly new Waze navigation. This was a matter of safety and was foremost.

My wife then needed to be able to listen to radio broadcasts during the night. They put her to sleep very nicely.

She needed voice calling everywhere she traveled.
We needed good coverage along the route we traveled the most together.

My needs were different. I needed my music library everywhere, and I needed internet access while exercising or traveling.

I needed a different phone, since here older phones had insufficient memory for my huge music library and for documents.

We both needed access while waiting for services anywhere such as in the doctor's office.

Our tMobile service would actually enable us to watch movies on such occasions, but more memory would enable us to carry them with us and not use high speed LTE 4G service.

Further, I had learned over the years that 4G is a mixed and expensive blessing. The older 3G is more widely accessible and although just a trickle of 4G, still plenty for email, reading, and dictating away from home.

I often use time traveling to catch up with communications and even maintenance of my website.

It developed that I could meet these requirements far more cheaply than in the past and more effectively.

Here is how it worked out.

First, I needed a new phone with enough memory capability. These had been few and far between in the past.

Surprising myself, I picked a Windows Phone, both easy to use and the largest potential for storage. It was $90 directed from Microsoft.

But more than two cell phones would be required to meet all needs.
I also needed a backup internet service which would work with my home requirements when Senior Internet service was not working, often in the middle of the night when my wife needed it.

Experimenting with different services, I had learned from past experience that three different services would combine to provide me what I needed at a fraction of the earlier cost for tMobile.

Although Sprint coverage is not as good as tMobile in many places, it was far better here for my purposes, as 4G would not be needed. I only needed 4G for videos and movies and more memory would allow me to take them along with me.

Republic Wireless provides voicce service for a phone cheaply, just $10 a month for unlimited voice and text.
I selected that service for both of our primary phones. For data Republic also offers 3G at $25 a month but I had a better solution.

I chose Freedompop hotspot service to provide high speed data wherever I would need it. I have two hot spots. The monthly cost is under $20 for both. One of these can actually serve as my router and hotspot at home when needed.

Both services use Sprint. Coverage maps show Sprint all along the roots we normally travel, despite Sprint's reputation for not having generally good coverage elsewhere.

Freedompop service is cumulative so that any minutes not used this month are added to my reserve. That is handy when my wired service quits for a day.

Finally, I added Puretalk voice service on my Windows Phone for $10 a month, also cumulative. I get a 130 minutes a month. Puretalk is based on AT&T, so that I am not limited to just one service which may not be available in any particular area.

Converting over from my old service required transferring of telephone numbers, changing SIM cards and the like, a story worth another posting in the future.

In summary, I cut my costs in half and met my needs much more effectively.

To call all my phones from a single number I used Google Voice.

(Dictated quickly and without editing, which I will do later.)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Windows Reprieve for Some

Are Windows 8 and 8.1 really dead?

You would think so, with even Microsoft giving up on a successor in Windows 9 and going directly to a ground up overhaul in Windows 10.

Not so fast.

A number of little improvements have come along. Prices have drastically dropped.

The major problem with Windows 8 was always navigation. Blending the old desktop with the new smartphone like Modern was like mixing oil and water.

Improvements have made navigation just a bit better. You can stay with the desktop altogether if you like and avoid the Modern screen.

Meanwhile Microsoft has drastically reduced licensing cost so that the cost of a new computer has drastically dropped. In some cases they are giving away Windows Office.

The latest generation of Windows computers makes good use of the Cloud to cut costs even more. It is all to the good to eliminate a hard drive, a DVD drive, and a lot of memory.

Who needs them nowadays? They are just a source of eventual trouble.

Just being introduced now are lightweight tablets from the major producers, even direct from Microsoft itself.

These are small and look like a small Apple MacBook Air. Typically, these are a little or less than 2 pounds and less than an inch thick.

Because they need to rely on internet, they are optimized for WiFi and even for adding memory if needed via a tiny micro SD card.

So, if you can get around Windows fairly comfortably, know how to avoid viruses, and do your own maintenance support, you might pick one up. You will probably need to get comfortable with swipes and a few modifications to make things easier. (Otherwise stay with a Chromebook.)

You'll have an easily transportable device which can also serve as your tower by plugging in an external keyboard and display.

You will also gain the benefits of running a few applications only available on Window, or better on Windows, such as Calibre for readers or generally genealogy apps and studies.

You will also gain the benefits of Windows which have been overlooked as navigation problems have taken the stage.

These include a speed up in the actual system, a faster and better graphics interface, and far superior printer support from the past. They have very high speed processors and battery life up to 12 hours.

You will have a full laptop you can take easily with you, along with your Windows tablet or phone now available at just $100 or so. One from HP has lifetime phone service free.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

PC Dead - What Next?

If your PC has quit, what are your choices, from least cost up?

Here at Willow Valley you could go to a Kiosk and use a community computer at no cost.

If the hardware is OK and you have the original system disc, you could reinstall the operating system.

Or you could install a Windows lookalike CD such as Zorin Lenox, free.

If you have a smartphone, you could switch to that for most of what you do.

For $100 you could switch over to a tablet, such as from HP or Amazon.

For $200 you could buy a Chromebook, or newer, an HP, Acer, or Asus Windows laptop. The latest upgrades simplify the navigation annoyances users originally experienced.

You could plug in a laptop in place of an old tower, or Chromebox.

At $500 you could plug in a Mac Mini and get free support.

Or you could switch over to an iPad such as the iPad Air.

The last two are compelling choices if you need help.

No need to spend a lot anymore.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Dongles are devices which attach to TVs to stream Internet media. They make smart TVs out of dumb TVs.

There are a lot of them out there and few places to compare them.

They are different in what media they will stream and what technology they use to do it.

A Microsoft dongle has just been released and a Google Android dongle will be available in January .

The Microsoft technology uses the oldest but simplest Miracast system. It beams data direct from a device to the TV. Most dongles work through a router. This new dongle has a high speed processor.

I could not make it work with any of three Windows devices, including a Windows phone, a Windows Surface RT and a Windows 8.1tablet.

However, it worked beautifully and simply with my Nexus 5 phone. It mirrors the phone's screen. It did the job better than earlier Miracast devices I have seen.

The Apple TV device was the first I found that would mirror a computer or tablet. It works beautifully with an iPad.

The more recent Chromecast dongle works with a variety of devices and uses a unique technology whereby it channels through the device and can hand off to the router to continue its other device work separately. I found that awkward, though.

The Roku is the oldest streamer with which I am familiar. I use it mainly to stream PBS , but it has the largest access to other streaming media.

The Android device sells for $39 or even less if you are an Amazon Prime user. This dongle also uses the Miracast technology.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I am Almost Speechless

For Windows to come out with an easy to use smartphone at $90 without any contract was--- well it is hard to find the words.

First, the Win Blu Jr is the easiest to use smartphone yet and maybe among the best music players on the market.

Second, it runs Windows 8.1 , which has been a disaster on tablets and laptops because of its complexity.

So how could that be?  How could the same system work easily in one device and not in others? And how could Microsoft abandon its jack of all trades to come up with something very simple?

Anyway, take it from me that it did. The home screen has tiles for all the functions and main apps. Swipe to the right and all your apps are listed. Nobody has done that better.

Now, it is not perfect. Especially, you cannot use voice recognition in a word processor. Also, apps are somewhat limited. I was nonetheless able to find workarounds to do almost all the things I regularly do.

I believe voice recognition will be expanded as Microsoft even scraps Windows 9 and jumps ahead to Windows 10.

The phone also has memory expansion available on far too few phones and it is a major benefit.

In fact, that is how I came across this device. I wanted a device simply to be able to take my music and library elsewhere than home, such as the exercise room and the car.*

If you need to use your phone away from WiFi or where WiFi is unreliable, it is nice to have your whole library of books and music and movies available.

As of the end of the month Microsoft is bringing out a gadget to project the phone screen to your TV or large monitor. Add a wireless keyboard, and Voila, a big computer.

I should also mention that this phone is extremely fast and has a remarkable battery life.en

But am I about to give up my Republic Wireless Moto G phone? Certainly not, it does many more things than the basics. With my monthly cell plans costing $5 for the one phone and $10 for the other, I will carry both.

* After I got the phone, I coincidentally received another device to accomplish the same result.  My internet hotspot carrier, Freedompop, sent me a new hotspot capable of operating like my home internet router, and alternatively to it but now anywhere and with enough memory to hold music and books. It can pinch hit for my home service when not working reliably and support wireless printers.

Note: to deal with the paucity of apps for windows 8 .1, Microsoft has an app called Appswitch which will find apps which may not otherwise be obvious as alternatives to Android and iPhone phone apps.

Monday, October 13, 2014

All About Phone Plans

Well, maybe not all about phone plans but a lot more pertinent information than you are likely to find anywhere else in one place relative to seniors.

First, you ought to have a smartphone and a plan just for your own welfare and safety.

Second, they are now cheap, along with cheap plans, and are far easier to use than ever before.

Third, they do just about everything a computer can do without the nuisance.

You do need to be able to learn how to use them, which is a whole lot simpler to than using your computer. Read up and even get the manuals ahead of time and before you buy. Look for tutorials on YouTube.

You can get all phones and plans you need online. Search.

I have recommended sub $100 unlocked no-contract phones in past postings.You then need a no-contract plan.

The least cost Puretalk plan costs $5 a month for 50 minutes of talk and text.   This will work with most so-called unlocked phones bought separately without a plan.

Republic Wireless phones start at $100 for a Moto E plus no contract plans from $5 to $25. The $10 plan offers unlimited talk and text. The $25 is for browsing away from Wi-Fi. It is also nice if you want traffic information when you are using the phone's GPS.

The $25 plan gives you unlimited talk and text plus up to 5 gigabytes data per month. The data is 3G (means slow) and only a trickle but still enough for most purposes and often available along the main highway corridors. Don't expect it everywhere.

T Mobile offers a whole lot more data speed in a lot fewer places at much more cost. T Mobile offers plans from $50 a month for unlimited talk and text and just one gigabyte of data, enough for one third of a movie.

I hardly think most people need that at all. Just put a movie on your phone I ahead of time from Wi-Fi.

If you do need data out on the road and away from home it is cheaper to use a hotspot like Freedompop. The monthly rates range from $5 to $25 and make it unnecessary to have any other plan at all.

I recommend ONLY smartphones with the ability to add storage with an SD card. These are now coming down sharply in price and make it possible to use your phone as an ebook reader and music player away from Wi-Fi or cell towers by keeping your books and music on the card.

That is a great advantage when Wi-Fi is not working well or cell towers are not nearby.  The cost runs from about $15 to $45 for 25 to 50 G, which translates to a huge amount of storage of books, music, and even videos and movies.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Budget Senior Computer Survival Kit

Here is an up to date simple senior computer survival kit which will do it all for a senior.


An easy to use new smartphone at under $100, such as a Republic Moto E or a Windows Blu JR phone, along with a  no-contract $10 to $30 monthly plan.

A low-cost Android tablet such as Dell's 7" Venue at $130 or less.

A tablet such as the Acer C720 Chromebook, or Hewlett Packard Chromebook or Windows 8.1 tablet coming in November, all of which are under or just over $200.

If you go with Windows be prepared to learn some new things.

Next spring Windows 10 will restore a more friendly look and function.

Or just go one at a time.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Keeping Physically and Brain Fit at the Computer

Desk sitting and fussing at the computer is no good for seniors or for anybody else for that matter.

You need to be building muscles and brain cells, which you can do at any age.

So, when a problem comes up, use solving it as a way of building brain cells. Use a smartphone or tablet somewhere in a comfortable position where you can browse the internet for a solution.

Use speech to text dictation.  Get up and walk around while you are at it.

I find that doing a little computing at a time throughout the day and interspersing these sessions with physical activity works very well using a smartphone.

Imaginative new smartphone apps make it easier to do almost everything with your smartphone. This includes making slide presentations and both buying and selling. Easier on the eyes, too, than a large web page, as your eyes focus on a small area only.

A recent Mayo Clinic newsletter correlated sitting with shortened lifespan.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Getting Library Books on Kindle is now Simple

Getting library books on your Kindle is now vastly simplified, using a tablet or PC.

Using the Overdrive app, and connecting to your library, you download your book, tap and hold on the book cover, and share it.

In order to share it you must have previously installed the app Push to Kindle.

That's it.

You can also synchronize the book across all your Kindle device emails by setting up an account and password for Overdrive.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgot your Password?

If you forgot a password, the best thing to do is reset it.

Usually there will be a message asking if you forgot your password when you type in a password which does not work. Then,
by tapping or clicking,  you will be sent an email indicating how to reset it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Saving Money

Saving money is a top priority for most seniors. Computers can help.

Here all a resident needs to do is to go to the community's wireless kiosks and start work.

Or, if you want your own computer, a $200 Acer C 720 Chromebook will do what you need to do. Alternatively, a $150 Republic Wireless Moto G phone at $10 a month will do the same work.

The work starts on Internet: shopping, selling, evaluating, comparing, and so forth.

To shop, you can simply search for the item in the browser. Sources will then appear.

Alternatively you can go directly to the store. Many stores will have reviews of the item you are looking for, and Amazon even has very extensive and invaluable comments from buyers.

EBay offers an easy way to get a low price. In eBay you can do an ongoing search until the item becomes available. This is the place to look for hard-to-find items.

Both Amazon and eBay offer the ability to sell items you no longer need. Ebay now offers a cell phone app which makes it easy, such as to photograph the item for your listing.

You might not think of using Craigslist. I have bought and sold from some very nice people, recently a lovely Baldwin Acrosonic piano at $250 delivered . You will find a lot of free stuff from Craigslist. I recently noted a completely refurbished grand piano in this category.

Many stores offer extensive online catalogs, such as JCPenney and Walmart. It is easy to shop their sales items in most cases.

Many offer free delivery, usually for a minimum order of X dollars.

Some stores, such as drug stores, offer coupons online which apply automatically when you check out at the actual store.

Often you can check inventory, for example, in buying a new car, but also in many other items.

Some stores, such as Amazon, make it very easy to return an item.

Often it is preferable to buy from a brick and mortar store such as Best Buy, even if you are buying online. This gives you nearby support if you need it. Best Buy and Staples provide extremely fast delivery.

Some online stores are dedicated to very specific items so that if you want a very wide selection, you may want to go to them. Just browse for the item and you will come up with these dedicated sources for very specific items.

It has been very satisfying to pass on things no longer needed to those who wanted them and will use them. Selling has reduced clutter and, by passing on things to others, has done some good to the environment from not throwing them away.

Sometimes I have been able to dispose of something for something else I liked better, such as in the case of few chairs, and more than a few times, a more modern computer or printer. I sold my scarce Windows 7 laptop and replaced it with a Chromebook I like much better. In both cases I came out ahead in dollars.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Setting up a Printer with a Chromebook

Setting up a printer with a Chromebook is actually easier than setting it up on Windows up to Windows 8.

If you have an old printer you can set it up on Windows.

If your printer is cloud ready, it will be automatically set up from the printer itself.

(The printer displays ID information which is then transmitted to the cloud to register the printer from your Chromebook browser)

If Bluetooth ready, the printer will also require an adapter an adapter for that particular printer, such as Hewlett-Packard or Canon.

I sold two old printers on eBay for $90 apiece and replaced them with a new cloud ready printer from Brother at $50.

I have not set it up because my internet service here at  Willow Valley has been down for a few days.

That is a good reason to have an alternative such as Freedompop, which I will use if the service is not restored in a few days.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why the Chromebook is better

The Chromebook is better than Windows for seniors who use keyboards . Why is that so?

The Chromebook gets the job done simply and quickly without the hassles and huge investment of time to keep things running as with Windows.

Chromebooks are laptops which are easily portable and work well with a large display too. They do not have the typical fragile mechanical hard drive of Windows.

Schools and businesses are shifting to them and Chromebooks are taking an increasing share of the market.

Chromebooks avoid the many hassles and costs of Windows. Windows is a Swiss Army knife which can do many things but only at the cost of a lot more complexity and support.

When things go wrong with Windows, for example, millions of computers must be sent updates and must be updated while with Chromebooks a single change in one place instantly updates the system for all computers.

Recently a Windows update had to be recalled from millions and millions of computers and Microsoft Office was found to crash easily.

With the Chromebook any such change can be made instantly centrally in one place and instantly effective for all Chromebooks.

Viruses abound with Windows. The user is faced with constant delays of one sort or another.

With Windows things are constantly changing so that you need to scrap old and buy  and learn new.

With the Chromebook, the user is not required to use all kinds of technical software  nostrums to keep things running.

When a computer crashes your data is kept locally and is not lost as in Windows. A user can go to any other Chromebook and keep on working.

Data is kept like dollars in a bank like environment and not vulnerable locally as in your mattress.

Chromebooks are not bogged down with the necessity of running hundreds of processes required by Windows.

They also take advantage of distant super computers to get the job done quickly.

Chromebooks especially run extremely fast and have long battery lives. Because they are so simple, they are inexpensive.

They can do nearly everything a Windows computer can do with very few exceptions easily done in better ways. Nowadays they can even do office tasks offline. They can even run Windows Office on subscription.

Applications are free and are automatically installed quickly.

If you have ever used a computer with a keyboard and require a keyboard, a Chromebook will be a natural for you.

If you need help with computing an alternative is an Apple device. Apple devices are what Windows computers should have been.

They are expensive, of course, but are worth the price if you need help. An Apple iPad might be all you need.

If you are a technical expert and have technical needs you may be best advised to use Linux, an alternative. Surprisingly, Linux can be run on Chromebooks.

With any computer nowadays you do need a good fast wireless connection as with tablets.
My two Chromebook computers are the Acer C 720 and the HP Chromebook 14. Find information on both, with many comments, from Amazon.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fastest is Bestest

The best computer is the fastest computer.

After all, since most of what you do is possible with any computer or smartphone, and any computer is simply a tool to get things done, the quicker you can get things done the better.

The whole idea with the computer is to get done faster, unless you have something which cannot be done with a fast computer, pretty unlikely.

Unless you need help, available really only from Apple, the latest Chromebooks and no contract smartphones will do the job cheaply.

To take advantage of a high speed computer, you also need a reliable and fast internet service.

There are two WiFi ways to connect. One is to a Internet provider via cable and wireless router . The other is to connect to a cell tower direct.

Cable service requires that everything be just right along the pipeline. Just having too many splitters between the service and your computer can drastically cut results.

Cell service does not have these problems. It has other problems.

The quality of cell tower service depends entirely, on how close you are to the cell tower signal. That can vary a lot, even over just a short distance.

Typically cell service is good in metro areas and not so good away from them. There is also a choice of slow 3G service or high speed 4G service.

4G service can be outstanding but it may or may not be available where you need it. In my experience cheaper 3G will handle most needs when traveling and away from home.

Yet I have found 4G service to be available at home at a reasonable cost. There is less waiting time to connect with with a website than with my cable service.

My Republic Wireless phone connects to the cheapest available service.

It took some considerable tinkering for my cable service to work as well as cell service even though it has the full potential to do so and exceed it except for waiting times to connect with websites.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moving from PC to Smartphone

As we move from PC to smartphone for most of our computer activity, we are faced with the task of selecting the best apps to do so.

Nowadays inexpensive smartphones and low-cost plans ease the way. Where Wi-Fi is available a $150 smartphone and $10 a month plan will do the job.

Gmail from Google not only brings us probably the best email app, but also a whole host of other Google apps, including word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

These apps are Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides, the last quite new.

Phones such as the Google Nexus 5 allow us to put these apps up on the big screens of TV for ease of use.

Google also empowers us with voice input with Google Now, Google Voice, and Google Search.

Thus much work can be done via voice which formerly required a keyboard.

Voice texting apps simplify communication by eliminating hit or miss phone calls. The recipient receives a message he can access when convenient.

I use SMS Pro for hands free texting.

Most of all Google's Chrome browser is a key app. Getting access to the huge library of information on the Internet may be the single most important thing we do.

Another browser, called Opera, makes more efficient use of our browsing pipeline. That is useful as we are using limited data service at times.

The YouTube app at times rivals the browser and is the central media app.

We need access to more specific information sources. Google News is important especially in that it will read news items out loud.

@Voice provides a more general voice reading utility via sharing in many different apps.

Umano provides an excellent choice of human read material.

Web2go  lets you subscribe to
Sources it will read aloud for you, including this website.

News apps include the Washington Post, USA Today and others. The Manchester Guardian can be emailed to you.

Local newspapers and radio and TV stations have their own apps.

Pandora maybe the most popular music app, followed by Spotify. Pandora chooses the music for you and Spotify finds music for you. Songza is another desirable app for music.

For your own music you may need an app called Winamp, a left over from windows.

The Volume in Notifications app makes it easy to adjust sound volume.

Important media apps are Netflix and PBS. Viewing PBS may be easier from a browser than from an app.

The iTunes radio app will bring in almost any radio station for both news and music.

Buying and selling apps are the popular Amazon and eBay apps.

The Kindle and Google Play Books apps access ereading and books.  The Internet Archive is also a great source of books as well as music and video. The Open Library also offers a huge library of books. The Audiobooks app offers an extensive library read aloud by volunteers.

Weather apps are among the most frequently used apps giving you the ability to know weather at any time right up to date.

These include AccuWeather and the Weather Channel, and also The Weather Underground, and WeatherBug.

For travel the Waze GPS app is absolutely the best, accompanied also by Google Maps.  Waze warns you of traffic  issues.

That's a starter.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cleaning House of Computers

Now and then I need to clean house of computers, discard the old, and adopt the new.

My recent housecleaning has been the biggest ever.

Out went the old Windows computers, software, and peripherals. Bang!!

The old Windows computers were especially popular because of Windows 8 and sold for very close to what I had paid for them years ago.

The Chromebook laptops I replaced them with cost much less and are now far superior in my view.

Old printers went for more than new wireless printers. Old tablets, too. The tablets market is hot, even for older tablets.

Some old printers use cheaper ink and are therefore still valued. I don't print that much. My $35 Canon beats all the old printers and is a wonder. My old lookalike went for $90.

Old smartphones  and contract plans were were dropped like a hot potato. Worth more gone than kept.

The Moto G smartphone now does most of my computer work at a very low monthly cost of from 5 to 25 dollars, switchable.

My entire computer activity centers now on this smartphone after a series of very unsatisfactory phones.

The reason is that it is the easiest to use of all my equipment and is always there wherever and whenever I need it.

I really need only my Nexus 7 and I added an iPad Air after having disposed of an iPad Mini I did not like for small print.

Of what remains, the Moto G is the most used by far followed by my 14 inch HP Chromebook. The iPad, of course, does things none of the others do.

I try just about everything that comes down the road and work with others a lot so I am familiar with just about all equipment.

I suspect that most users will in time come to similar decisions. It is a new world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Far It's Come

I can recline and do all my computer work at ease now.

The latest tech capability makes it possible for me to mirror my smartphone screen to my TV.

Or,  also, newly, I can work from my Chromebook laptop the same way and mirror everything to the big TV screen.

I can use both anywhere else with a hotspot.

I can switch my smartphone from WiFi to GPS or to phoning or to media for from $5 to $25 a month.

The equipment was cheap too.  The phone cost $150, the Chromebook $200. And the mirroring Chromecast device $35.

My Republic Wireless phone plan costs only $10-$25 a month, depending upon what I am doing.

Anybody need a Windows laptop?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Locked Out of an iPad

Recently a resident was very distressed that he could not get into his iPad. He could not get past the login screen.

He had forgotten his pin number. He wanted to bypass the login screen.

Of course, it would have been a very poor security manager if he had been able to do so. The purpose of the PIN number is to provide security and prevent anyone from accessing the device.

So, what to do?

Very simple, reset the device back to factory default settings.

But then the question arose as to whether he would lose all his apps.

The solution is then simply to login to your Apple ID to restore them. They all automatically reappear.

If he had forgotten his Apple ID password then the only option would be to install them all again.

The moral of this is to be sure to remember your passwords.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Cheapest Fastest, and Best Tools

Over time, I work with many users and many computing devices. I get to learn what people really need to do their thing and avoid staying mired in the complexities of the computers of the past.

Most need just two devices, a simple smartphone and a tablet or laptop. But NOT last year's smartphone or tablet.

The $150-180 Moto G smartphone, for example, is big enough to read easily yet small enough to carry anywhere, and available with plans from: $5 to $50 a month. It is a mini tablet, yet easier for phoning than the so called the simple phones of the past.

The $200-300 Hewlett Packard Chromebook 14 laptop is lightning fast and a blast to use, while also being state of art, light, and tough, hand as capable as any other laptop out there, whatever the operating system.

Both simply erase the complexities and aggravations of the devices of the past.

For those who may need extra help, the stunning $300-$500 iPad is the device of choice, even though it lacks a true keyboard and is not really very conveniently portable.

So who needs anything else, especially those old clunky computers and operating systems of the past?

The HP can even run Linux. That's the basic system used to run Internet itself.

So throw out that old stuff and remove the barriers between what you really want to do and the clunky tools of the past

It's worth learning how to use the new tech, and a lot of fun.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Please Wait" Versus Getting up to Speed

Computers are supposed to be engines to help me do what I want to do. They are not supposed to be ends in themselves.

If they cannot help me with all my other interests what good are they?

It is like justice. If justice delayed is justice denied then computing delayed is computing denied.

"Please Wait" can be the downfall of Windows by requiring us to pay more attention to Windows than to what we are using it for.

Windows 8 just adds to the interference with what we want to get done.

But slowness can occur anywhere along the chain which leads to our computer.

I hate to see anybody dealing with exasperating delays in trying to get the full benefits of Internet while becoming reliant upon them.

Here is what I needed to do recently.

I set about to do away with delays , starting where internet comes into our apartment via cable.

It took some doing to get it done but finally my signal strength was checked. It turned out that the signal was being split before being accessible anywhere. That cut down the pipeline flow right at the start.

The removal of the initial splitter speeded up the whole system. Moving of the router to first place in line additionally speeded up the system. The signal had been split over a number of locations in the apartment.

I then had to deal with latency. Latency is the delay which occurs when the server at the other end of Internet does not respond quickly.

If the internet provider is not policing latency by monitoring servers and taking remedial action when they slow down, then I am left with one option. This option is to restart my internet connection after a short shutdown.

This hopefully automatically connects me to another server.

To make that easy I needed to install a remote switch which shuts down Internet quickly wherever I am and restarts it when I am ready.

Next, I installed a bridge or repeater which amplifies the Wi-Fi signal to cover where are I am away from my primary router, which was now in an awkward place order to be closest to first in line at my internet cable hook up point.

I needed to be sure the devices had adequate WiFi receivers and antennas.  I replaced my router with a dual band router, being careful to avoid a too fancy yet uncertified router.

The dual band router makes it possible automatically to select the best Wi-Fi connection when used with the newest devices, such as the iPad. Here at Willow Valley the 5 megahertz band is hardly used at all and is exposed to no interference.

Use of that band avoids  the congestion we have throughout this community.

It would be desirable to employ equipment to detect and avoid electrical interference, but we have no one here nor among outside consultants with such equipment or expertise.

Next, older devices are not so reliable with Wi-Fi, so I needed to update adapters and antennas. Indeed, it was necessary to replace older computers.

Note that even some new Windows 8 computers still use old hardware with limited Wi-Fi.

Windows, of course, has its own problems with delay. If I wanted to  reduce delay to the minimum, I needed to turn to something else.

That was easy to do with tablets and combo smartphone / tablets.

Still there are some things it is better to do with laptops and keyboards. I needed something which could handle a few applications common on Windows.

The alternative is Linux. Linux is a lean and mean operating system which can handle almost everything Windows can handle.

Google Chromebook laptops actually run on a system based on Linux.

Linux has gotten better and better and easier to use over the years. Chromebooks have also gotten better and better and now have taken a significant portion of the market from Windows.

The solution then came from an unlikely source when I began to read glowing reviews of a new Chromebook which could actually also run Linux with some doing.

This laptop is the Hewlett Packard Chromebook 14. When I found it for only $200  I immediately bought one to find it the best and fastest computer I have ever used, bar none.

What makes it work so well is its advanced basic processor, the Haswell processor.

The final result just blew me away. No more waiting. The Chromebook starts and runs instantly. No more battling constant interruptions from there on while I am doing my work.

That was the last link in their chain. Done.

(Note that some versions of the HP Chromebook 14 come with 200 megabytes of 4G service per month free for life.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

All I Want to Do is Email and Browsing

"All I want to do is email and browsing."  I hear that over and over again from people no longer able to use Windows XP.

That sentiment reflects a disillusionment with computers in general.

It does not need to be that way.

For example, smart phones are now a whole lot easier to use than older computers technology.

So sooner or later users switch into the newest technology whether they think they will in the beginning or not.

So getting a conventional computer is often only a short term solution. Sometimes the new device is returned very quickly to the store or sold.

So eventually those wary of computers usually end up with a tablet. Some go to first to newer inexpensive laptops like the Chromebook but most go on to a tablet early on. Some get both.

The tablet of choice for those especially anxious about using a new device is an iPad, simply because there is plenty of help available for iPad, both at the Apple Store and also Willow Valley.

For those a bit more daring there are choices out there which are even more widely used. In particular, large smartphones are now taking over.

The smartphone is not what it used to be. It is now an affordable and easy to use device relying very much on voice input and output.

You could skip ahead to the Moto G from Republic Wireless at $149.00 Plus $5 to $10 to $25 a month. No contract and you can change the service twice a month.

The biggest benefit of this smartphone is that it is accessible where you need it, that is, everywhere.

Whereas in the past, you had to conform to the computer, now the newer devices conform to you and your needs.

It may take some time to get accustomed to them but eventually the newest devices make things a whole lot easier and the best choice in the long run.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How About a $174 Desktop?

I just had a fascinating question as to whether a $174 Asus Chromebox might be good replacement for a resident with an XP tower.

Here is how I answered...

That is an absolutely fascinating question. The quick answer is yes, it is a good choice. For safety he might buy from Amazon, give it a try, and return if he did not like it within the time limit to return.

An alternative might be to use a Chromebook with an HDMI and/or VGA port.  I have a very slim and lightweight Samsung but sometimes miss a 14 inch display. At home I switch it in to my 24 inch display.

Mine has a slower processor than I would have liked though it seems to be adequate.

You are right that ram is not a concern for Chrome devices. You can plug in more USB ram, but then why?

A reminder that internet service needs to be good. As backup for varying Willow Valley service here at the North I use Freedompop and T Mobile Data from my smartphone as hotspot.

It certainly is an interesting question which boils down to whether a Chromebox might be a very good choice for those abandoning XP in general.

I find myself using voice for all my email and writing with just a smartphone and without a keyboard. It has just taken me a little while to get accustomed to it.

Either way printing goes by Cloud Print and through my wifi capable but cheap Canon all in ones.

I should add that for me a tablet is never very far out of reach. In addition to the Chromebox, how about adding a HP 7" Plus at $100 for the best of all possible worlds.

It is possible to run Linux, upon which Chromeboxes are based, from a flash drive. Click here for more information.

My bet for most users is that many leaving XP will end up with an iPad, especially here where Willow Valley supports it so well.

Internet Aloud

Those just starting to learn to use tablets and smartphones are often unaware of the resources on internet to listen to internet out loud.

These resources fall into two groups: read by human voices and transformed from text to speech by the computer.

Prominent among apps are TuneIn radio and Audiobooks and Librivox. TuneIn delivers radio stations and the last two apps access free books read by volunteers.

The Internet Archive and Open Library also provide a huge library of audio.

Using text to speech, some reader apps also read books out loud. These include the older app FB Reader and the new exhaustive reader, Mantano. The app Google Play Books reads out loud.

The app VoiceAloud reads almost any text where Share is available with its list of options including Voicealoud.

For example, I use Calibre to deliver Associated Press stories to listen to via Voicealoud. Read my postings about Calibre to see how.

Umano offers human read versions of selective articles throughout internet.

Then, web2go provides the ability to listen from a vast number of sources, including this website or blog, using artificial intelligence to approximate the human reader.

All these apps are downloadable from the Google Play Store online and/or accessible from your web browser.

Separately, the exhaustive Internet Archive has a built-in text-to- speech audio reader on its website described in this link:

Or on the iPad just install the Internet Archive Companion app.  A search of apps will find many other sources of audio books.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We Go State of Art for Low Vision

How do we help those with low vision to read the news and use a tablet? 

An app called web2go not only aggregates the news but also indexes it by article and, here is the big innovation, reads it aloud.

It accesses hundreds of news sources and hundreds of websites of all kinds, now including this website under blogs.

The benefit is that it is a whole lot easier to find what you want and access it.

For those with both low vision and poor hearing, the ability to read and hear at the same time is also a benefit.

You can actually listen and go about your business at the same time.

For now, just go to the Google Play Store and tap or click here to install it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Alternatives to Willow Valley Internet Service

One of the joys of having worked with computers over many years is to sit with seniors and open up a new world of connectivity and enrich their lives.

One of the greatest frustrations is to have them buy a new tablet and then have troubles connecting with Internet, especially when I am powerless to help.

Here at Willow Valley we live in the best of all possible worlds... except for Internet, surprisingly. Surprising because Willow Valley leads in providing staff and training to residents in use of tablets.

To its credit Willow Valley has provided a low cost connectivity. The problem is that much of the time there are problems with it.

Unless everything goes exactly right, this internet service does not work well. Reliable connectivity requires high technical skills and constant monitoring. Problems can occur anytime along a long chain.

Those of us who worked computer networks over the years have always been ready to jump in whenever needed and keep things running. Sometimes we had to call in super experts and sometimes super super experts to assist.

While Willow Valley provides the pipeline, it does not have the technical know-how needed to keep things running well for residents in their apartments.

The main alternative is Comcast of course. Comcast is expensive though reliable.

So residents come to me nearly every day with problems with Willow Valley service. I find myself with the responsibilities without the authority, equipment, and resources to be of any help. Almost all problems are elsewhere than in the apartments of residents.

I can keep my own systems working and there are others who also can do the same. I do maintain back up Internet connections at times when there is no other alternative. I have written a number of postings describing problems and solutions.

So what are those alternatives for residents just wanting to use a tablet to widen their lifestyle and keep connected to the outer world?

We have different choices depending upon where we are in the Willow Valley world.

Now that smartphones are really easy to use and the prices are dropping drastically, a no contract smart phone can provide connectivity to your laptop or computer.

For example, a $130 smart phone with a $50 a month contract, can support your needs not only at Willow valley but anywhere else, a huge advantage.  A large smartphone can even serve as your one and only tablet.

There's a major drive in the industry to move to such devices, demonstrated buy the Microsoft acquisition of the largest smart phone company in the world for a new emphasis separate from PCs. In the future many will not ever need PCs  at all, according to an official at these companies.

However, if you do not have or want a smartphone, you can obtain an even simpler and less expensive solution.

This is managed by obtaining a socalled hotspot device to which you can connect. I have had this service for years as a backup. Currently Freedompop provides it at an extremely low cost, less than Willow Valley service, with plenty of access for most residents. You need a window facing the tower to use it.

However, if you will be streaming movies you need more bandwidth. Here at Willow Valley alternatives are available, such as Windstream, which I have found extremely reliable with one caution. It is too easy to get to the wrong person at Windstream, even though they are here maintaining the telephone system regularly. Windstream is only available in certain locations here.

But in other places here Verizon services are sometimes available.

There is even a service available from Willow Valley itself in the public areas or close by, as opposed to apartment service. This costs nothing and is reasonably well maintained.

One way to use this service is to download content in these areas and then access it wherever you like.

Meanwhile there are initiatives to provide reliable service more widely. This will certainly happen as cell phones take over from old technology.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Computer Prescription for Seniors

My computer prescription for seniors follows:

New hardware and new capabilities have changed what I think a senior should have in terms of computers. I have changed nearly everything for myself in the last few months.

Unless vision is very poor a senior should have a smartphone. These are now simple to use and the price is right. A senior should have one with him or her at all times. It will do most of the things a senior will want to do without any other device.

I recommend the Motorola Moto G at about $175 and T Mobile service at about $50 a month without a contract. The Google Nexus 5 is larger and costs about twice as much. Cheaper phones are coming.

T Mobile service includes Internet data service and WiFi access from it for your separate WiFi device(s). You may not need any other WiFi service.

What else?

Windows is a problem. I always feel bad when I see seniors struggling with  Windows. Therefore I recommend you avoid  Windows unless you need it for some specific reason and are willing and able to provide your own time consuming support. Most users want to use a computer and not monkey with it all the time.

Alternatives to Windows are many.

The best choice for many seniors is simply the iPad Air, since training and help are readily available and these devices are by far the most popular with seniors. I like Android tablets better, such as the Nexus 7, but there is nowhere near as much support.

A fine inexpensive Android solution without camera is a Nook 9 inch tablet, with some support actually available from Barnes and Noble stores.

I recommend AppleCare extended warranty for the iPad. I recommend  a thin protective case  for any tablet. Pick carefully.

For almost everyone a laptop is no longer necessary. However, the Chromebook is a fine choice and works much like Windows, without all the problems. The price is low, under $300 and even $200 .

There is also the expensive but wonderful MacBook Air laptop at $900 and up.

It is possible to install WinFree lookalike Linux Zorin on an old computer.  Free.

Note that the iPad can display on your large screen display or TV with the Apple TV set top box at $100. Also note that Microsoft Office may now be rented at around for $7 a month or $70 a year. The parallel Google Office apps cost nothing: Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

So...just two devices should fill the bill; a smartphone and/or a tablet or laptop.

I do recommend one more device, however: I recommend the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite for a bunch of reasons. It is nearly indestructible with its plastic screen, has a long battery life, and is usable in both very bright direct sunlight and in the dark. It is a very small inconvenience to take along with you.

If you need Windows, the latest 8.1 with update is now appealing and available in a perfectly satisfactory laptop or tablet at under $400. But be smart and make a system image backup right at the start so that you can get out of trouble in a matter of minutes by reinstalling the system.

So, say goodbye to the past and enjoy the new technology. Computers are tools and you deserve the best tools.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

All About Routers

Routers are indispensable nowadays and not very exciting. Most of us would rather do anything else but deal with them.

Actually your router should be set up by your internet provider. The last thing a provider should do is recommend a router he does not support.

Although I cannot get around to setup routers at least I can tell you how to do it yourself if you want to try. Otherwise hire someone else to do it.

So what is the router and what is it for?

The router is a box which attaches to your Internet connection on one side and outputs to your computers on the other side.

You do not need to spend a lot for a fine wireless router, but it is wise to select the newest or updates and older one to the latest so called firmware.

One of its most important functions is to provide a firewall. What is a firewall? A firewall prohibits access without your approval.

With Windows the absence of a firewall exposes you to all the security gaps of this operating system.

The box otherwise routes to your devices and controls traffic. Wireless routers are now standard.

The router needs to be positioned centrally to your devices and high.The wireless router then needs to be set up properly.

In order to do this, you need to program the router. Every router is different.

To accomplish this task you connect an internet cable between the router and your computer. On the router side you need to connect to one of the four adjacent receptacles.

You then need to access the setup screen. This is done by going to a browser and typing in the actual address of this device.

That address is rendered in numbers
The refers to the number of your particular router, found either on the router itself or in its documentation.

You then must login with a login name and password. These are specific to your particular router and are either described in the documentation or identified on the router itself.

You then are presented with the set up screen.

From here every brand of router is different.

Usually there is a basic setup screen which takes you through the setup process. There is also a screen to set up wireless.

For wireless you will need to set up a specific so called SSID and password to access your router and internet. You will then enter this information for each wireless device to connect it

When you do this, you will be asked which scheme to use for security. Use WPA and not WEP

If you make a mess of the setup, there is a reset button somewhere on the router so you can start over again.

One of the options on the set up screen is to update the firmware. This is a wise idea.

You do not need to understand all the parameters which can be set up.

The most important of these is UPnP which has some security exposures but is also essential for communications between certain devices. Start by inactivating it and then reactivate it later if and when you need it.

You Gotta Keep Up

When changes come fast and furiously you need to keep up. You need to be able to change your ways quickly. When you took a turn in one direction a month or two ago you may need to make an even more radical turn soon again.

Taking stock, the last few weeks have shown us such new directions.

Windows 8.1 came out with an update which makes a simple but important change. That change makes Windows work like older Windows when started on a PC or laptop.

That makes it friendlier to use for older users who up to now have been insisting on Windows 7.

At about the same time, though,  a huge security exposure was found in Windows Internet Explorer. Not only that, but they couldn't get it fixed very quickly.

That underlines the big long-standing and continuing problem of Windows for unsuspecting and casual users.

Then, as Windows XP was being abandoned by Microsoft , it was announced that Linux Ubuntu will now be supported for years ahead , providing an alternative for businesses. The first Linux smartphone was announced.

In the meantime Microsoft came out with a version of, what do you know, Microsoft Office, for iPhones, of all things?

Office on iPhones? What an idea?

Not to be outdone, Google immediately issued apps to parallel Microsoft Office apps. These too, run on smartphones.

At the same time Microsoft closed the deal on the purchase of Nokia, a major world manufacture of smartphones.

Microsoft came out with a statement that were as heretofore PCs had been its major focus, now it was extending way beyond PCs.

A top Nokia executive stated that the market for smartphones was huge and that many users may never in the future need PCs at all.

What does all this mean?

I think it means we are turning the corner from PCs to smartphones as an alternative as opposed to a supplement and that a clear separation is occurring how we do things.

Will the pendulum ever swing back or do we need to learn how to do everything by smartphone?

Two months ago I would never have thought dictating a posting like this by smartphone as opposed to laptop or tablet and also publishing it by smartphone. I just turned that corner.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Am I helping?

Am  I  Helping?

My internet blog here is one of the oldest blogs extant, having been started in 2007 under Blogger, and actually initiated two years earlier when there was no Blogger and I had to write my own HTML code.

The idea was to keep a record of what I was doing to help others, both for their benefit and for others with the same problems. It also documented solutions for my own later review and reference.

During all this time I have been more and more aware of hazards to seniors and the need for avoidance of the same.

If there is one trend in hazards it is often failure of monitoring and/or quality control. Some of these biggest exposures are in Windows itself, Internet services, and Wi-Fi.

Windows has always had serious security problems. Internet service has always varied too much in reliability. Wifi has some built-in exposures.

Just this week Microsoft revealed a problem with their Internet Explorer browser which makes it unsafe to use until they get around to fixing it. This is unacceptable.

Problems are largely avoidable. There are alternatives to Windows. There are Internet services which are highly reliable. Wifi can be managed. For example, my Android Nexus 5 smartphone is pretty much immune to the problems I have described, using data services.

But for those with Windows it is really essential to know how to monitor and support Windows or have somebody else do it f you. Or you can just choose an alternative to Windows.

Windows is especially vulnerable to internet and to wifi problems. There is really no safety with it for most seniors unless these are closely monitored by the service provider.

Internet is especially subject to all kinds of variations in speed and reliability, based on the complexity of the process. One of the most prevalent problems is that the provider is simply not providing enough bandwidth to avoid traffic jams.

Unfortunately it is very difficult to help anyone solve these problems other than the service provider and his conscientiousness about monitoring what you are paying for.

For most seniors I recommend an alternative to Windows. I recommend a reliable internet service which provides a safe installation of WiFi.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Getting the Most out of eBooks

Just the other day a resident complained that she would need to buy a lot of books to use an ebook reader and had decided not to get one.

There are dozens of sources of free ebooks, of course, and all it takes is a query to a browser to find them. The Internet Archive is a major source.

Another great source is your local library online, using the overdrive app, now easy to use and inclusive of a large library of free books.

But the real secret is somewhere else in an application called Calibre.  Calibre will also access and send news feeds and subscriptions automatically.

Calibre takes a little learning to use but opens up easy access to all books. Calibre organizes your library. Calibre searches all sources.

Calibre will then send the book to your PC from which you can transfer, say, to a Nook.

You can plug in a cable for the transfer, or have Calibre Email them to you or transfer via Dropbox. I have Calibre Email them from and to my same Email address and then download them from internet on my ebook reader.

On my Android tablet, with Google Play Books installed, the attached books are opened automatically where they can also be read out loud to me. The iPad requires a helper app called Audibook.

In the case of the Nook Simple Touch wireless transfer is challenging. It takes a bit of hacking to convert it to a very limited tablet but with Email and Dropbox and a file manager.

That is not a problem with the Kindle eReader. Calibre will Email  directly to the Kindle.

To get started just go to your browser on your PC or Mac and download Calibre,, the manual, too, and probably Dropbox.

I converted a refurbished Nook SimpleTouch for wireless transfer, long battery life, and ability to read easily even in direct sunlight, as compared with a tablet. The Kindle e-reader does the same without modification.

If you prefer a Nook for its ease of use and easy organization of your library, you might forego wireless.

Both Kindle and Nook e-readers are fine choices, easy on the eyes and pocketbook, easy to carry, and easy to keep charged.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Choosing an Internet Provider

If you are about to choose an internet provider it is worthwhile to consider ALL of your options...very carefully.  Know what you are getting into.

 Your choices are to choose a provider who will provide all the necessary support or a provider who will simply throw a switch and leave it to you to provide your own support, if not also doing the whole installation yourself.   Support means having a place to go when things go wrong, as they will.

Comcast, for example, will provide full support if they supply your router, whereas Willow Valley will simply connect you up and leave the rest of the installation and ongoing support to someone else.

The key question to ask yourself is: will I be able to trace and isolate slowdowns and disconnects, the reason for them, the action(s) needed, and then find a way to get them corrected?  Will I then need to call in expensive tech help?   Etc.

(Cell phone and hotspot based services connect you up without any installation at all, and no support normally needed.  With T-Mobile monthly non-contract service at $50, and available anywhere, there are new options for service.   This posting was actually dictated and published while riding in a car, using a smartphone when I had a few moments.)

Here at Willow Valley I will be glad to advise further about your choices and, if you like, even be on hand when your installation is done.     There is no way for me to help later when your internet service fails, almost always the fault of the provider, if not a more deeply technical issue.

Forewarned, I hope this warning will cut down on some of the frustration and anger I hear so often from residents about installation and ongoing support problems.  

Don't get me wrong.    Willow Valley service is fine and inexpensive but no bargain without support.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How to Move Photos to a Tablet

How do I transfer, save and print my photos on my tablet or smartphone?

As computer users switch away from Windows XP and laptops and often to tablets, this question arises as to how to save and print them.

The easy way is to move them up to the Google cloud where they can be accessed or downloaded anywhere, just by using Google.

The first step is to download Picasa onto your PC, then run Picasa. Click here to do that. Even though support runs out for XP, Microsoft Security Essentials software will protect you long enough to do so.

Picasa will then find all your photos and organize them conveniently in one place on your PC. This is automatic.

The next step is to send photos from Picasa to PicasaWeb. This is done by selecting and highlighting your albums in Picasa and tapping or clicking at top right to do so.

Once your photos are on the web they are accessible anywhere. You need a gmail account for this, so if you do not have one then first sign up for one for this purpose. Search for Gmail and look for signing up for a gmail account.

When done, go to your tablet or smartphone and the Picasa site where you will find your photos. Click here for that.

Many photo apps will also find your photos easily from PicasaWeb.

(Another simple way to move photos and files is to install Dropbox on both PC and tablet, drag and drop to Dropbox on PC, and access from Dropbox on your tablet. Click or tap to sign up.To migrate files from an old to new PC download PC Mover.  Click for that.)

To print your photos, you will need a Cloudprint or AirPrint printer. Tapping on a photo will bring up a menu for your printer.

For Apple tablets AirPrint works automatically via your router. For other tablets download the Cloudprint utility to PC which will find your wireless printers and make them accessible, once connected to your Wi-Fi. Click for that.Then download the Cloudprint app to your tablet or smartphone, Click for that, or, with the latest Android version, just activate Print in Settings.

Once on the web your photos may also be printed from any PC connected with a printer.

Click here for a way to print from Dropbox.
There are also dozens of apps for both Apple and Android devices which transfer, and edit and print photos. Click for one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making Wi-Fi Work Well

Seniors need to keep connected wherever they are, and Wi-Fi is what connects your tablet or computer wirelessly to the world.   With Wi-Fi now taking over from wired systems, and essential for keeping us connected, the challenge is to get it working well and safely.   There is absolutely no reason Wi-Fi should not work perfectly for you.

WiFi works well and safely only if all links in the chain are secure, not just for you but for everyone else around you. Ideally, pick an Internet provider which does this for you. Too often WiFi does not work well (fast) or securely. It needs to be constantly and continuously monitored by you and others as changes are made.

It is extremely dangerous to yourself and others if your Windows system is not properly protected , though much less of a concern with tablets and phones. Your service provider needs to provide special support, though all do not do so.

The advantages of WiFi are great. It is just necessary to be responsible. Michael Miller's books on wireless and routers are excellent for an easy introduction to everyday user. Tap or Click for his Wireless Networking Absolute Beginner's Guide  Check the section on speeding up a slow internet connection. Nowadays it is just as important to master WiFi as to be able to drive a car, even more important if you can't drive any more.  Or get someone to do it for you---some providers do, and some don't.

Now that 25 percent of their users are dependent on WiFi, your company or organization or school will probably mandate procedures and enforce them with a Written Standard Practice. It would be irresponsible not to do so.   Poor performance could shut down an enterprise.


Here is a checklist of key points to consider. If unable to manage them yourself, make sure your internet provider does so.

Have wired signal strength checked to your modem by your internet service provider. Comcast always does this, using a meter.

Then, make sure your wired internet service is performing at maximum (speed) capability at a wired connection. Web pages should snap up quickly on to the screen.  Check over time at

If a problem is suspected your router, switch in  and test with a known working router or, maybe, get a new one, such as the D--Link 868L, or rent one, such as from Comcast, and let them take care of any problems.

Position your WiFi Access Point box well above floor level and in a central place well away from any other electronic equipment.

Have RF interference (microwave, cordless phone, doorbell, fluorescent lights, etc.) checked with a spectrum analyzer, either initially (when installed by a pro) or later when you find Wi-Fi is slow. Your ISP should really do this.   Requires a meter.   

 Have WiFi channel usage in your area checked so as to choose a channel without interference. This can be checked from a phone or tablet using a Wi-Fi app such as WiFi Analyzer.  Then suppress your shock at the potential conflicts.    My router (D-Link) auto selects the channel for the least interference from neighbors.

If necessary, and your computer or device supports the 5ghz band, use a dual band up-to-date router and access point, such as where many others are also using Wi-Fi on the older 2.4 Ghz band, as here.   An inexpensive state-of-art 868L router is available from D-Link.    (Most  of you are still using obsolete routers, no doubt, since big improvements came only recently.)  

Configure your router to disable PNP, if not already disabled, and provide it with a unique router login and password. Activate a firewall.    Provide a unique SSID and a secure key. Again, your Internet Service Provider should really do this for you, wireless or not.

Use a wireless n or, better, ac dual band adapter. Check out speed for throughput with a speed test, such as above. If speed is slow in a laptop add a USB external antenna access point (such as from Etekcity). I needed one even in a brand new Windows 8!! laptop still using older la[top hardware technology. Tablets have more up to date technology.

Install a repeater if necessary where performance drops with the distance from the Wi-Fi Access Point.  Mine is from Cisco.

If using a hotspot or cell phone as you computer or device WiFi Access Point, make sure placement is right to give you good results. Position near a window facing the connecting tower.  You can locate that on internet.

Use Chrome browser synchronization between devices BUT ALSO a faster browser for normal web surfing, such as Safari or Firefox or Opera. A phone or laptop may benefit from Opera's new max high-speed service for Android tablets and phones which speeds up processing by pre-processing high-speed in the cloud.

Avoid Norton or McAfee antivirus, programs which reduce speed and throughput. For Windows use Microsoft's own free Security Essentials, enhanced with the Defender and built into Windows 8 and 8.1.  

Do not under any circumstances continue to use Windows XP and expose yourself and others to security problems of ended support.

 Plan to replace your printers with wireless printers. The cheapest $50 Canon all-in-one is fine for most of us.  Love mine.

Then, say a prayer that your service provider is taking ownership of its responsibility of monitoring  and supporting the service it is providing, you deserve to get, and are paying for.  And maybe have a hotspot and service when your main provider service is down.