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.