Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The best Computing and TV for Seniors

Staying at home has launched me on a mission to work out what would be the best computing and TV station for a senior.

It worked out that I needed to abandon cable and Windows and a PC and their many annoyances and costs.

Instead, I needed to adopt what is new and more advanced, and a lot cheaper.

That consisted simply of a 24in TV which also served as a monitor or display, an assortment of so-called sticks, and a Chromebook with a 15 inch screen.

I could find only two such 24in TVs out there and both are fine. One is an Insignia Fire TV from Best Buy and the other is an LG. I also put to use an old HDMI display.

The Chromebook is an HP.

To make efficient use of space, this equipment sits in a bookshelf with one shelf extended out to accommodate a keyboard.  I sit three feet away from the screen.

All are connected direct through ethernet and avoid slow Wi-Fi where possible, such as Roku and Amazon Fire.

I run online media on the display while at the same time also using the Chromebook for computing. I can also deliver the Chromebook screen to the larger display.

This arrangement then opened up a whole new world for me.

The Roku Ultra stick especially opened up a huge array of services.  

I decided to go for broke by adding a Fire stick and a new TiVo stick, which applies TiVo tools to ease navigation. I dispensed with the Chromecast because the other sticks perform the same functions.

The array of services was dizzying at first. It took a while to find out what I really wanted and then weed out what I did not want, such as subscription costs.

I was able to get free all the local TV channels plus also the Philadelphia channels, both live and on-demand. Newson is
an app which gives access to local channels.

I did subscribe to Peacock, which offers a wonderful library of NBC and associated media. I did that also to eliminate commercials. I needed the Tivo stick for that.

There have been more and more services offering a cable like program guide. These include NBC above, and also Pluto, and as I say more and more others.

A favorite service is Acorn, along with Hulu Amazon Prime.

There are also many other services which offer media with commercials, especially movies and TV series.

I had used many of these services on my cell phone and simply had to activate them for the large screen.

These included music services such as Amazon and YouTube Music and Pandora, along with Spotify.

it is possible to subscribe to services such as Sling which give access to TV shows on demand.  These cost $20 a month and up. I avoid such costs. Sling does have some free content.

If you want to watch nearly all German TV series and movies it is possible to get them both live and on-demand via Youtv.    That is NOT YouTube.

You can get two shows at a time free or for less than $10 hundreds at one time which are downloaded for access. Wish we had that here. Yes, there are subtitles in German. Just tap on UT at the bottom of the screen.

For $5 a month I subscribe to a service which provides Canadian and Australian news TV as an antidote for our local news. Newsy is an interesting free USA app which avoids opinions.

The hardest part about the whole effort was learning how to navigate to find the best content.

Both Roku and the TiVo stick and Amazon Fire have voice input to make that easier.


















Friday, July 10, 2020

TV News Goes to Internet

TV is now moving in a big way to internet.

If you don't believe that, consider that Disney and Comcast are now offering free TV on internet via the Pluto application.

It is a lot cheaper to offer TV on internet than to need to maintain cable systems and broadcast stations, as long as you have advertising income anyway.

I have Pluto, plus also a dozen other sources such as the Philadelphia TV stations online and a service called WatchnewsPro which offers MSNBC and both Australian and Canadian national news stations.

This allows me to watch news anywhere on my various devices.

I also watch our local WGAL TV news channel and a service called Newson.

In addition there is Reuters News and CBSN News Philly.

I mirror to TV with an iPhone and Apple TV  simply by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

I also use the Washington Post app which now mirrors the full printed edition on the TV screen.  Embedded with that is also streaming TV.

To read a story in large print I just tap on it.

Our daughter shares with us the News Journal from Wilmington which works the same way.

Along with that comes USA Today.

To have print content read aloud, I just tap downward with two fingers from the top of the iPhone screen.

That capability is set up with accessibility settings.

All the news that's fit to print and then some






Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Making the Most of Tech for Seniors

 So what does a senior need to make the most of technology in this day and age?


The best space and cost efficient Technology setup for a senior in these days of covid-19 confinement might be the following: 

1. We all need the best choice of hardware and it need not be expensive.

2. You then need easy access to a whole host of information and media.

For hardware I suggest the following:

a big display, such as a 24” TV like the Insignia Fire TV with 3 HDMI inputs 

a rugged cheap student type Chromebook laptop to use with it or separately on your lap or desk

two cell phones,  one small and one large,  such as a iPhone SE and a Moto 7,  one always in the charger and one always in your pocket

TracFone service available for as little as $50 a year for each phone, or Tello

a tablet, such as a Kindle Fire or iPad, even an iPad only with cell service

a cheap wireless Brother laser printer

sticks such as Roku and Chromecast, even Windows (see below)

For this Hardware you will have access in the most appropriate way wherever you are for about $500-$800 total

To house the hardware I suggest a secretary desk with room for the TV/monitor and drawers

For accessing all the information you need, I suggest the following:

first, use voice wherever possible to do your work, searching and launching, including Alexa

install video phone communication services such as Duo

activate the ability to have things read out aloud to you

have your news delivered daily via Gmail, including Axios, Microsoft News and Google News, and also reasonably priced subscriptions such as the Washington Post for $4 a month

install TV apps such as Pluto, Newson, CBSN Live, Reuters Live, and those networks which provide free online access  such as ABC.    I subscribe to WatchNewsPro, which provides MSNBC at $60 a year, which also includes National TV news stations from Canada and Australia

 keep your photos online, only then print them to the nearest drug store photo service

use music services such as Amazon music or YouTube music, or free services such as Spotify  and especially Pandora

for reading, avail yourself of the free services such as Gutenberg and Internet archive, but also Amazon with its enormous libraries available for as low as $0.99 or even less

for writing, use nothing but Google Docs (free) with ability to dictate and interface with any other software

avoid everything which interferes with your ability to get things done quickly,  such as Windows,  unless you have a special need for it and the time to do all the support to keep it working

 if you do choose Windows I suggest a Intel stick coupled with a USB hub,  along with care that you do not overuse the storage---although you can add huge micro SD storage cheap 

be aware that with Chromebooks you can now run Linux applications such as Calibre,  really the only application to access and organize documents and written media of all kinds

With all this technology available, make sure you USE it to get any information you need quickly to solve countless problems, by asking for a Google or YouTube solution. 
















Saturday, June 27, 2020

What to do with an old iPad 2

Staying at home has made me look for new ways of spending my time.

Two ways.

I had been thinking of what to do with old abandoned devices, and I had been playing piano after a long interim.

The two came together.

I could use the old tablet for sheet music at the piano.

That would allow me to rediscover and maybe revive what I had half-forgotten from the past. Maybe learn something new.

The process of doing just that resulted in some discoveries.

I needed first to create a library of sheet music.

I went to the Internet Archive to download some fakebooks, a process which reacquainted me with the wonders of the archive. No cost and an abundance of free media of all kinds. We all use it for too little.

I downloaded two huge fakebooks to iBooks.

I then printed out a few items and then decided to simply to use the iPad screen for sheet music rignt on the piano.

I then decided to add a few functions to the iPad in between playing.

The iPad 2 cannot run newer apps.  I reset the iPad to factory with as few apps as possible to avoid slowing things down.
Most can be done with the browser anyway.

But nowadays we need to be able to stream video and prefer to use voice input.

The old iPad did a good job with YouTube streaming but at first I could not dictate to the browser.

I could not load the chrome browser and Safari did not support voice.

A big downer.

I wad stunned to find a simple solution from an unsuspected source. Microsoft Edge provided voice browsing.  A solution from Apple's competitor!!!

I could also have installed Dragon Dictate but I did not try it.

So the old iPad 2 could be made to work just fine if a bit on the slow side, well worth the effort.

Don't get me wrong. The new iPad is a bargain for its speed and updated apps.

But the only important thing I could not do with the old iPad was to dictate into Google Docs. I do that with my iPhone anyway.

Maybe I could have done that with Dragon Dictate. No matter.

Anyway, don't give up on your old iPad!





In






Thursday, June 18, 2020

Getting Computing Up to Date for Covid-19

 With covid-19, more time at home, and slower internet, I needed to rework my computer arrangements.     I needed to speed everything up since I am using internet so much more than before.

I realized my five year old router was very slow and I replaced it and moved it to a central position in our living space.    

At my computer stations, I installed  Intel PC Windows 10 sticks so that I could locate them in the best position to receive Wi-Fi.  They save space. 

I added a new 24” Insignia Fire TV with 3 HDMI inputs, one for my old Tower, one for the Windows PC stick, and one for Chromecast.    I installed endless Linux alongside Windows for a faster speed and fewer support issues.

I kept an old Dell display for a Chromebook and for Roku.    It never worked well with Windows.

Wherever possible, I moved away from Wi-Fi, which has become extremely slow with heavy usage nearby.     When our living space is re-carpeted this fall,  I will be extending flat ethernet cable under it to reach  everywhere as opposed to relying on Wi-Fi.     I have ethernet adapters for iPad and and tablets.

I retired other older tablets and replaced them with a Kindle Fire 8, a Walmart ONN tablet*, and a wonderful Lenovo Chromebook designed for students: fast and rugged and with a wonderful trackpad,      I use all these in my easy chair or at bedside or away from home.

None of this equipment requires special attention except where Windows is used.     I need to police Windows memory tightly, even though I added SD memory to the sticks and primarily use cloud memory anyway.  

I have added very inexpensive (under $30) microphone headsets which work both wired and with Bluetooth so that I can take advantage of using voice wherever necessary as opposed to typing.    These included a headset which works directly with USB.     

I added 7-port powered hubs for the sticks, to service printers and also support USB mics and speakers.      I did away with wireless mouses to avoid the annoyance of batteries going dead.

So now I am back to getting things done fast. 


  •   if you buy this, don't buy the Walmart case, but get a Fintie case which fits better





Thursday, April 16, 2020

Covid 19 and slow Wi-Fi

With more and more of us staying in place at home, away from Covid-19,  our usage of Wi-Fi is going up and the speed of Wi-Fi is going way down, sometimes to a trickle. Video gets the hiccups.

What to do?

Being at home, we have more time to think about it and do something.

The first thing I did was to take my shared printers offline and connect them directly to computers.  I found an inexpensive Brother laser printer with ability to connect direct to 
Ethernet.

Next I connected everything else possible direct to ethernet. My routers are of necessity next to my TV, so that I simply extended cables wherever practical, up to 25 feet away to another room.

When re-carpeting is done later this year, I will have flat cables installed under the carpet.

I used USB to ethernet converters with laptops. I ordered a special lightning converter for my iPad and iPhone.

I then checked the age of my routers only to discover they were way out of date and slow.

Much better routers are available under $50, and I purchased a TP
-link unit as a replacement. This is highly rated, speedy, and has four antennas.   I put down ethernet cable to a central location.

I will need to switch my Alexa switches over to the new network, which can be done on the Alexa site.

I installed Endless Linux on my tower in addition to slower Windows.  

I put older tablets aside and purchased a fast up-to-date touch screen RCA Cambio tablet for $99.   Why pay more?  Also an up-to-date Chromebook with strong Wi-Fi and ability to run Linux.

Where I don't need a large screen, I use a smartphone which does not need the slow refresh on a large screen and therefore runs faster.

I then settled down with a best-seller for when Wi-Fi does not work at all.  For that I put an old nook and new Walmart tablet back into use again.





Thursday, April 9, 2020

Computing with Covid-19

Covid-29 has changed the way we use our computers.

With so many at home, the use of Wi-Fi has increased and the speed decreased, sometimes to the point where it is almost unusable.

This affects iPads especially since they're almost always used only on Wi-Fi, though connectors are available to ethernet directly.

With a lot of time available at home, I took the opportunity to upgrade my computing experience with my old computers.

I had been thinking of upgrading to a newer Windows device or even a Mac.

I found a better way.

I replaced Wi-Fi with ethernet wherever possible, and after attempting to upgrade existing equipment with Windows, reverted to Chromebook and to Endless Linux.

My older computers then came to life where  Windows upgrades failed.

With Windows one Asus laptop had no voice recognition in Google Docs and would not connect to an ethernet adapter until I installed Linux.  It took ages to upgrade anything.

Wanting a large screen, I purchased an Insignia Fire TV and display from Best Buy at $120, and connected my other computers to it.

That also gave me the enhanced capability of streaming and accessing recorded TV with YouTube TV.

Linux also gave me the capability of editing PDF files and running other apps, such as CAD and Scribus professional apps.

So for a pittance I got the equivalent performance of new machines.

Oddly, the best performer with Windows was a 32-bit $99 RCA touchscreen laptop.   If you are addicted to Windows, you might like it.

Endless Linux works better, (but 64-bit).

So here is my setup.

At my primary work station, I now have an Asus tablet with Windows, Chromecast, and a Dell tower with Endless Linux, all connected to the Insignia TV/display, and a four-port ethernet
hub to Fire TV on the Insignia, Asus tablet, Dell PC, and VOIP phone.    No phone line $ or cable $ or cable alternative, just internet.  The VOIP box is Polycom from Obitalk with Anvio VOIP service with a (free) Google Voice phone number.  I also have a Chromebook connectable to the TV/display.







Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Better OS

For years we have wanted a better operating system for our computers.

Better means less vulnerable than Windows and less expensive then Macintosh.

For years the Linux operating system has been almost ready for primetime.

To date however, it has never made it.

The problem has always been like something did not work properly. It always took expertise to get things working,

Finally that has changed.

To my surprise, the Endless Linux version installed perfectly with no more effort on my part then tapping on download from the Endless website.

I note that Endless requires a 64-bit computer. That said, everything else works without a flaw.

A stunning surprise.    Faster than Windows, safer, and better apps such aa PDF editor.

Finally finally finally.    So far, not going back to Windows



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Better and Cheaper Phoning

Not long ago I was paying about $350 a year for 3/4 nuisance calls.

I now pay fifty dollars a year for no such calls.   Also, my calls come to hearing aid and bluetooth headset.

All it took was a box to onmect to internet and a Panasonic Bluetooth and cell answering machine, plus a free number with service from Google, ansd VOIP service.


Friday, February 28, 2020

Upgrade Your Computer?

If your computer is 5 years old or older or you are just ready to get rid of that tower, it is surely time to upgrade.

That effort can be a joy or a royal pain in the neck, depending on how you handle it

For most of us a Chromebook will do the job. A big downside can be connecting a printer, which is no problem whatsoever in Windows.l

So for a Chromebook a new printer may be needed, especially one of the HPs which can actually be plugged in.  Otherwise you will need to deal with a Wi-Fi set up

On the other hand, Windows may be needed for publishing a book or other such work.

Windows 10 is no longer an obstacle but has been much improved. One downside of Windows is that if you no longer have your product key for Windows Office, you will need to fork out $100 for a new copy. unless you can get by with Wordpad and the like.

There are quite a few things you can do ahead of time to make the transition easier.

You need to gather together product keys for software you need to reinstall. You'll need a list of logins and passwords.

the easiest way to transfer your documents, photos and music is to send them up to the cloud and then back down to your new computer, or just access them remotely. You can also use flash drives for this purpose but it will take more time.  I keep a flash drive of my music and photos in my safe deposit box

Photos are indeed best sent to the cloud where they are accessible anywhere.    The transfer will take time.

The transfer also reminds that many more things will be done with your smartphone that you formally needed a computer for.

I do much of my printing from a smartphone because it is easier.

Maybe you do not need any computer at all but just a smartphone. Think about that.

Computers offer a larger screen, of course. My laptops are hooked up to 24 in TVs which also serve as displays.  One is a Fire TV and the other is a Roku.

By the way, with many users Wi-Fi has gotten too slow and I use adapters to connect direct to my router.

Whatever I am doing, I do as much as possible with voice, such as this posting, done with my smartphone.

It is often a bother to go to the computer when I have the smartphone with me do handle almost everything I need to do.








.






Friday, January 3, 2020

You Might Forget Computers and Just Use a Smartphone to Get Things Done

Nowadays most of the tasks you formerly did with computers are much more easily done with a smartphone wherever you happen to be.

You simply talk to the smartphone.  You hold down the home button to do so.

Either you ask the smartphone to tell you how to do it or you have the smartphone do it for you.

For example ask the smartphone how you make a phone call or how you get the news.

Better, get the smartphone to do it for you.  Just ask the phone to call somebody or tell it to get the news.  It will lead you through most processes.

No Windows needed, no Mac, not even a Chromebook.

(Don't want a smartphone? Try a cheap Kindle Fire.)

So, for most tasks forget the old way.

Welcome and learn the new way.


Note: Old stand-alone computers were magnets for trouble.

It is nowadays simpler amnd safer for Apple and Google to make a single systems or security change on internet cloud based systems for smartphones than for Microsoft to update millions of vulnerable Windows stand-alone devices.