Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Flip Phones

Whenever someone gives up on getting a smartphone, or goes back to an old fashioned flip phone, I have not been much help to them.   I have failed them. New smartphones are easier to use and no more expensive.

Worse, a month or two later,  when they come back with a smartphone anyway,  I am often perplexed at not having been able to do what I need to do. As I mentioned, comparative prices of phones and service are no longer a factor.

So what in fact is happening?    Not so long ago it was that way with iPads,  but that time is long gone.    Seniors lug these big iPads around wherever they go.    They LOVE them.

Clearly a revolution is happening so fast with smartphones that it takes a while to get used to it for seniors.   (That reminds me that you can phone easily with an iPad when near Wi-Fi.)

I think a smartphone may be wrongly regarded as a computer in a phone,  as it is sometimes described, as if it were Windows with all the Windows problems. No way!

Instead,  a smartphone is a highly developed communications device,  for which the modern technology was developed specifically by Bell labs, and only happened to be appropriated for computers.

Now,  with voice commands, just in the last months, it has become far easier to use than ever before.  Far easier than a flip phone.

Especially,  the smartphone overcomes the problems of older phones:  hard to use, small keys, intrusive,  burdened by telephone tag, indeed,  the many problems of “Model T” phones heretofore.

The big benefit of older phones,  the party line,  is also gone.   So you're unable to find out what the neighbors are doing.

I have nine landline or extension phones in my apartment so that I can get to them, and that is still not enough.     By the time I get there or get the cell phone out of my pocket,  the caller has given up.   

Calls come in when I am brushing my teeth,  taking a nap,  and so on.   When I call,  the line is busy.

So that type of communication  just doesn't work for a senior.

Instead, a text message or email is now easily generated on a smartphone by just saying you want to send one and  appears on my destination phone to access at my leisure.

Even better is the new technology of Alexa which enables me to phone from anywhere and hear calls wherever I am.     Now what will we need to do to get seniors convinced of using that new tech?

The smartphone is also there to get help without relying on needing to get through to a specific phone number.     Traffic warnings,  directions,  weather warnings, are invaluable.    

This morning I waited 20 minutes for a medical practice to answer my phone call.  This afternoon I made an appointment in minutes by smartphone while waiting at a RR crossing---I did not talk to anyone---I just checked off an open date and time.

So business and computers are not going to put up with the inefficiency of old tech that much longer. Consumer Reports points out that you need an app to summon an Uber car---and apps run only on smartphones. So what is more important to a senior than to be able to get transportation quickly?

Do yourself a favor and flip that flip phone into the trash, please!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Getting Tech Help for Newbie Seniors

Everyone using, or learning to use, a computer will, at some time, will need help.    Saves from trying wrong approaches  and repeating them until giving up.

Apple has led the way.     Help is part of the product. That makes the iPad an ideal choice for a senior.

But subtle changes are occurring.

Residents are now telling me that Barnes & Noble offers some very attractive small tablets now with in-store help.

I also hear that Target has in-store support.

Meanwhile, here we have more people now who volunteer to help on a one-to-one basis and also those who charge a fee.

Also, devices are designed far better now for easier use, like smartphones.    

Using voice with a smartphone makes the learning and using process simpler.     You do need to break old habits of typing.   Physical keys are starting to go away.

Once comfortable with that smartphone, you have the ability get help of all kinds anywhere you are: right from the phone itself!

Some companies, like Consumer Cellular, have some good videos on their websites.      User manuals and guides can be found on internet easily for almost anything.

YouTube offers a plethoras of help videos on all subjects.

Breaking old habits is never easy.     I am not so sure that this is a  a problem of aging, though..   Some of our 90+ year olds learn awfully quickly.     It is more a question of what they want their future lifestyle to be like.    They have just a little time and want to make the most of it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Addressing Fire Dangers via Internet

The marvel of internet access to information came home to me the other day when I was concerned about a fire hazard.

Although managing fire insurance for a company some years ago,  my technical books are now gone.    

Within minutes I had the three main technical documents I needed to address the issue.

You can access them too.

Emergency call systems for seniors

Emergency call systems of the past for seniors often employed a necklace with a push button.   You had to have it on with a good battery.

The new Amazon Echo, Alexa,. can actually dial the call center number and initiate a conversation away from the phone or even better simply establish contact with the call center if that center is also provided with an Echo.

To have Alexa call a nursing call center, install the My Buddy app and establish a phone contact for The Nurse.   Then, to call the nurse, say "Ask My Buddy to call the nurse."

Where the calling center already has an Echo installed, simply delete and reinstall the Alexa app, which will then lead you through the procedure.    This newer alternative will also connect with a two-way conversation away from the phone.

If there is no calling center, or the calling center is not set up for Alexa, you can always just set up a friend to receive an emergency call.

Meanwhile, explore the Silver Echo for seniors.  Tap or click for it.

Choosing a cell phone

Choosing a cell phone can be challenging for a senior.

Sometimes a simple non-smartphone has a special appeal because it is thought to be easier to use.

However we believe that a smartphone is easier to use once you master it.
That is true nowadays because most things can be done just by voice.

Example: "Call Sam".

So here is how to master it.

Here is a video from Consumer Cellular about a smartphone we particularly like, the Moto G 4.  Excellent cheaper phones are the Moto E and Moto G.

In any event, read the manual online before you buy.  Just do a Google search for it.

All that being said, telephoning is giving way to less intrusive and more effective and efficient methods of communicating and getting information.    Voice texting is easy and does not bother anyone who may be busy otherwise.    Sharing saves a lot of repetition.   And so on.    There is a wider world accessible with a smartphone.

With a smartphone you can eschew physical buttons most of the time.  That looks like the future.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Music, Music, Music

Nowadays, streaming of music of all kinds is available to all of us, but there are still times when CDs are handy.     CDs are still widely sold at live performances.

Streaming music and audio CDs are both digital but are in different digitized forms.

It is handy to be able to convert CDs to computer digitized MP3's and MP4s, and the reverse, from downloaded for to audio CD, such as to keep in your car or elsewhere when away from online music.

For this three PC/Mac “tools” are needed:

iTunes on Mac or PC is the easiest way to convert CDs to an MP3 or MP4 form which can be stored on your PC or cloud service:  Amazon Music, Google Music. Apple Music, or other cloud storage place like Drive and Dropbox.

When iTunes is installed,  loading a CD automatically brings up the options to save it to the computer for backup or sending to the net cloud..

I have iCloud active at $0.99 a month as an automatic iCloud storage place.

At this point the second tool comes into play.  I use Amazon Music Manager to upload the iTunes files for online access from Amazon Muisc.     The files are kept way down in the user directory where they can be dragged-and-dropped to the Amazon upload window.

The same files can be backed up to a thumb drive or Wi-Fi drive for access by Wi-Fi.       They can be put on a DVD,  too.

It is also handy to be able to do the reverse: to convert downloaded files to audio CD's.    

Hence, the third tool, which is simply the old Windows Media Player,  which can be downloaded and installed into Windows 10.     Here, files are located on the PC or Mac and can again be dragged and dropped to the Windows Media Player window which burns them to CD in an audio form which is playable anywhere.

Sources of music vary from the streaming services such as Spotify to Amazon.  From Amazon  you can buy 100 piano concertos for $0.99.   But then there are flea markets where CDs popular music and performers can be had cheaply and converted for access anywhere.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alexa Voice Calling

If you have the Amazon Echo with Alexa,  I highly recommend that you install Alexa voice calling for telephoning.

This will avoid the necessity of running to the phone whenever you want to make a call, or for those who have set up Alexa phoning,  running to receive calls, a big benefit for seniors who are not quite so mobile anymore

To set up Alexa phoning, you will need to uninstall your Alexa app on your phone and then reinstall it.   Then, when you restart the app, Alexa  will take you through the process of setting up calling using your existing contacts.

You may want to modify some of those contacts so that you can call with the first name only as the (voice) contact name.

Once set up, the people icon on the conversation screen will tell you who else in your contacts is setup to make and receive Alexa calls.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cell Plans Revisited

There is still a lot of confusion here about cell phone and smartphone plans--- I get a lot of questions.

Simply put,  where you have Wi-Fi, you don't need any plan with an unlocked phone.    Phoning can be done with Skype,  Hangouts,  and Duo,  along with other such applications.   Free.

Away from Wi-Fi,  a  $10 a month phoning only plan should suffice for most.     Good plans are available from Republic Wireless, Pure Talk, FreedomPop, and many others.

If you need more than phoning,  such as music or photos or ebooks and documents, these can be put on your phone in advance, to use anywhere without online access at all.

Only at the point where you need to access email and web sites and traffic information,  realtime, do you need so-called data.   That add-on cost comes separate from and additional  to just phoning.

Data is included in many more expensive plans automatically and is what boosts the costs,  such as to $40 or more per month and upwards.     Most of us don't need that much data.

Data use is measured in gigabytes and the going price is $10 a month per gigabyte.

You don't need much data for traffic only, which is indeed invaluable to have using the Waze app. You don't need much for emails, though messaging does not even use data..      You don’t need much even to download Kindle documents such as newspapers..    

Alternatively,  video uses a huge amount of data such as three gigabytes for a single movie.    Avoid using data that way.     Just put the movie in the cell phone's memory ahead of time, using Wi-Fi.  Make sure you have plenty of cell phone memory,  however.

For most seniors,  a fraction of a gigabyte should suffice for a month with a plan costing  little more than $20.  You heard right, $20 a month.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Printing Address Labels with iPads

Not every computer does everything well.    All have some things they do not do well.   However, thanks to Apple founder Steve Jobs, the iPad scores very high in  doing things well.

I do not use it a lot, because I am mainly helping people with other devices which have a lot more problems and no easy source of help.

But now and then I pick the iPad up and I always marvel at it.

A case in point is Contacts.  My contacts are in Google Cloud, though.

Ideally, contacts apps and databases should include and cover all the different data uses for contacts.     That includes home and business addresses,  names for voice calling,  and email addresses.    You want to be able to say to your smartphone “Call Smitty”,  tell your device to address a paper document,  and address an email.  You want that one list of contacts to apply for all your devices.

You don't want to have to type in all that data every time you use it, and into three different databases.

Not so easy.  I have never found a Windows or Google / Android app to address my Christmas card envelopes with labels.     I have always used a very old program called PCsync for which I modified the code to do the job.

But picking up my iPad the other day,  I found a solution!!:

This app synchronizes with my Google contacts and does what Google cannot do.   It takes the addresses from my updated Google contact list and produces sheets of gummed labels. Simple and automatic.

The intuitive process is typically for iPads.   Not only that, but printing wirelessly is reliable with AirPrint for iPad, not the case for a device like a Chromebook which relies on internet and cloud connections which may not be all that reliable.  And for Windows the procedure is very complicated using Word and MailMerge!

So,  the merit of iPads continues to be in making it easy to do  things which are not so easy with other devices.