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.