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So you think you want to buy an accordion pt 2 - Checking the accordion

By Alan Zisman      2020-03-01

So you want to get an accordion.

Hopefully you've already looked at Part 1 of this blog and have decided what sort of accordion you want, and now know a little bit about the differences between low-end, mid-range, and high-end accordions.

And you've checked your local online second hand listings site - perhaps Craigslist, perhaps Kijiji, or other.... or perhaps you're in a local pawn shop or music store that has some accordions. Or you're at a garage sale or an estate sale. Or anywhere where you can get your hands on an accordion - whether you've ever played accordion or not.

How can you tell if an accordion's worth buying? Or if you should just walk away?

I'm assuming you're wanting to know if an accordion's playable or if it needs expensive work to make it playable. If you just want something cool and vintage to put on display, that's entirely up to your tastes.

And only you can decide if this playable accordion is the right choice for the musical style(s) you want to play - though Part 1of this blog can help you see what sorts of accordions are commonly used in what sorts of musical styles. And only you can decide whether any given accordion is too heavy or large for you to work with comfortably. (Don't give up to soon - you can learn to work with an accordion that seems to heavy right now. Within limits).

So you've got an accordion in your hands right now. I'm going to assume you haven't played one before - if you have, you can roll your eyes but still do all these tests.

First things first:

-- the keys go on the right side. (You laugh - but I know two people who started out playing with the keys on the left, and not knowing that it felt awkward for a reason).

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So you think you want to buy an accordion  
pt 1: Types of Accordions
By Alan Zisman      2020-02-28

Deidre posted in a Facebook accordion group: I'm in the US, & looking to learn accordion. I play piano, organ & guitar, but have NO exp w/accordion. Any advice, plz? I want to buy but want to be wise in the process. Thank you all!

I replied... here's what I said with some elaboration (and images)... there's a broader range of types, models, and styles of accordions than most non-accordion players think and it's easy to end up with something that isn't  what you really want. Many accordions are very ornate and novice buyers get 'seduced' by a pretty appearance and end up buying something that's actually not in very good playing condition ; repairs are expensive (and technicians can be hard to find) and older models - even in good shape - can be musically limited.

Some suggestions:

1) Don't be in a hurry to buy...

2) Don't buy online or without trying - unless you know what you want and can see/hear it being played. Philadelphia's Liberty Bellows for instance, posts video clips of each of their used models being played and discussed, which can be a valuable tool to see and hear the differences in various models

(Liberty Bellows also has a very good set of online lesson videos, covering a wide range of musical styles. Great resource!).

3) Store prices are higher than person-to-person 2nd hand prices, but have the possibility of a warranty or return. Hopefully you'll be assured that the accordion is in good condition.

4) New instrument prices can be very high - lovely new models from Italian accordion factories can easily cost €4000-10000. By comparison, there are lots of used accordions listed on my local (Vancouver, BC, Canada) Craigslist around CDN$300 (US$250 or so).....

-- Read More

Eating gelato in Italy
By Alan Zisman      2019-07-03

Like pizza, gelato is one of Italy's treasures that now can be found worldwide. But - also like pizza - it's best experienced in Italy. In Italy, gelato is an affordable treat - and one of the few things, in a culture where coffee bars don't offer cups to take out, that you can eat while you walk down the street.

While it might seem that there's a gelato shop on every block in every town, not all gelato in Italy is created equal. There are some things to look for to help you get the best gelato.

Even though Google Translate will tell you that 'gelato' is Italian for 'ice cream', that's not quite correct. Unlike North American-style ice cream, gelato is made with milk, not cream, so it's got much less fat. And slower churning means less air in the mix - though we'll see that there are exceptions to this. But at its best, gelato is denser than ice cream and it's typically at a somewhat higher temperature - both of these result in more intense flavours.

Unlike many Italian food and drink varieties, though, there's no regulation governing what can be sold as gelato. So - especially in popular tourist strips - there will be no shortage of shops featuring poor-quality, but eye-catching gelato.

First, look for a shop that claims its gelato is 'artigianale' - the same word is used to indicate craft beer. It's meant to suggest small batch, locally-made gelato as opposed to mass-produced factory-made stuff. This is not, however, fool-proof - while food names like 'parmeggiano' or 'prosciutto' are strictly defined, there are no regulations governing what can be called gelato artigianale. If you see 'fatto in casa', that will tell you the gelato is 'home-made' - made in the shop, rather than trucked in.

Next, take a look at the display counter. Here's a stock photo:


And here's a photo taken at the counter at Spoleto's prize-winning Gelateria Crispini:

Gelato Crispini
Notice any differences?

-- Read more....

How to Install an SSL Certificate on a WordPress Site

First of all, what exactly is an SSL Certificate? SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, and this digital certificate authenticates the identity of your website, and in turn encrypts all the information being sent to the server using SSL technology.

Having this certificate serves as a type of electronic passport, which in turn establishes your credentials while doing business on the Internet.

Each SSL certificate is made up of the following information:

      The name of the certificate holder.

      The serial number and expiration date of the certificate.

      A copy of the certificate holder’s public key.

      The digital signature of the authority who has issued the certificate

Having this certificate certifies that there is a secure channel between point A and point B on the Internet.

So you want to have an SSL certificate for your WordPress site. Since all of the above may be nonsensical to you, here are the reasons why you should have the certificate. If you have an eCommerce site, you will need to have this certificate before you can accept any form of payment.

If you have any password-protected pages on your website, you also want to know that this is protected by an SSL certificate.

What if you don’t buy and sell anything on your website, but you do collect sensitive information from your visitors? With an SSL certificate, all information is encrypted and secure.

How else can you secure your website?

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You want to print a page? It's not as easy as it used to be   
By Alan Zisman      2019-03-06

Okay, so maybe when you were young your parents or grandparents talked about how much harder it was when they were your age - how they had to walk 5 miles every morning to get to school without complaining about the rain or snow. Or.....

Well, when I got my first personal computer, in 1988, most programs (i.e. apps) ran from a DOS command line - you had to know what to type to get them started. And each had its own set of non-discoverable commands to do common functions like print or even quit the program. In the popular Word Perfect word processor, you pressed the F7 key to quit the program, while pressing Shift+F7 opened the Print dialog.

In the popular Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, pressing the 'slash' (/) key displayed a list of potential commands. Nothing in common with Word Perfect.

Microsoft Windows had been around since late 1985 and promised that - like the Mac, released the previous year - you would only have to learn how to do a task once and it would work the same way in every program. Every program designed for Windows, that is - and there weren't a lot of those. It wouldn't be until Windows 95 was released that Windows became really popular.

But for a while, say the decade after the release of Windows 95, it seemed like you really did only have to learn how to do something once, in one program, and you could do it the same way in any program.

Software designed for Windows had pretty much replaced DOS-mode programs - Microsoft's Office suite, with its Word word processor and Excel spreadsheet had become pretty standard, with both Windows and Mac versions. If you were part of the minority using Windows versions of Word Perfect or Lotus 1-2-3 you could use those 'classic' commands that had been drilled into your memory. But you could also use the same point and click commands that worked in Word and Excel and so many other programs: To print, click the word File in the menu bar, then Print in the drop-down menu.You'd get a similar Print dialog box in whatever program you were using.

To close the program, click File, then Exit. (Or Quit if using a Mac). Having a common user interface made it easier for people to become comfortable trying out lots of different programs.

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'Your system files are automatically deleted'. Should I worry?
By Alan Zisman

The other day, a scary message popped up in my web browser.

System Files deleted

In order to figure out whether I should be worried or not, let's back up a few steps. What was I doing online at the time?....

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5 Grand Things People Did in Celebration of Light


Few of today’s advancements would be here without the marvellous natural phenomena that drive them. It is precisely one of these wonders - light, that is the subject of this post. Here are five grand things that people did in celebration of light.

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The Best 5 VPNs for Encryption in 2018


What is a VPN?

In simple terms, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) assigns you a different IP address by allowing you to connect to one of its provider's servers. Your identity is hidden and you're protected from the spying eyes of hackers, government organizations, and ISPs and dangers such as cyber crime.

Benefits of using a VPN

All traffic communication between you and the VPN server is highly encrypted through cutting-edge security and encryption software so that all your sensitive data such as passwords or credit card details are kept under wraps and protected from any malicious software. Through a VPN you're in full control of your online activities, you're protected against intrusive surveillance of any ISPs, hackers can't tap in and intercept any data and you can bypass any censorships.

To help you decide which VPN is best for you we've rounded up the top 5 VPNs providing ultimate 
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Getting around Italy by Train   
By Alan Zisman

We love Italy and go there whenever we can -
though it's more of a ordeal getting there from the West Coast of Canada than, say, the UK. We just got back from our 10th trip this week. Much to the surprise of some folks we know, though, we've never rented a car - when we're there, we get around on foot much of the time, and when that won't work, we go by train.

The Italian train system goes to all the big cities and most of the small towns. (Not all of them - once in a while we have to take a bus. But not usually). And train service is reasonably comfortable, reasonably quick, and reasonably inexpensive - about half the cost of comparable British service, for instance.

There are some quirks - magnified by language, though the Italian train system tried to offer its services in English alongside Italian.

A few things to know to get started - most of the trains are part of a nationalized country-wide network run by Gruppo Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane under the name Trenitalia. There is some competition from ItaliaRail - but they only operate between major cities. There are some local, independent rail lines, like the Circumversuviana line that goes between Naples and Sorrento, with stops including Pompeii. But most of the time, you'll be dealing with Trenitalia - and that's what I'm going to focus on.

Trenitalia offers three levels of trains: Regionale trains are the local trains - they run, mostly within a single region, as the name suggests - stopping at many small stations along the way. Slowest, due to the frequent stops, but also the least expensive option. No reserved seats. You can buy first class or second class tickets - first class has 3 seats in a row, second class has 4 seats in a row, but otherwise there's not much difference. (Not all trains have first class seating available).

Intercity trains make fewer stops at small stations - making for a faster run at a higher price. Generally, tickets include reserved seating on these trains.

'Freccia' trains (Italian for 'arrow') offer the fastest service - only available between major cities. You pay extra for the extra speed. For instance, you can travel from downtown Rome to Venice in 3 hours and 45 minutes on a Frecciargento ('Silver Arrow') or Frecciarossa ('Red Arrow') for €50-75. Or you could take 11 hours (including 2 changes) on a series of Regionale trains for
€42. Or 6 hours on an Intercity train for €57. I know which I would choose!

You can book trips online and in advance - I'm told that tickets can be discounted if bought online and in advance (and also if you purchase round-trip tickets). I've rarely done this - My travel plans are rarely so carefully organized that I want to commit to a specific train long in advance. (You may be otherwise). However, I do find Trenitalia's online scheduling information very useful and refer to it often - both before travelling and while I'm in Italy. It lets me know if there is train service where I'd like to go - and if so, how often it runs. If there are a couple of trains each hour, then I can be pretty flexible in my planning. If there's just one train in the afternoon and one in the evening, though, I want to make sure I get to the station on time!

Trenitalia's website is available in English: https://ca.trenitalia.it-inter.com/ - you can customize it for your country, prefered currency, and language. New feature (Sept 2018) - you can now enter Italian city names with your choice of the English language name or the Italian name: Rome vs Roma, Florence vs Firenze, Venice vs Venezia, etc. Previously, even if you were using the English language version of the website, you needed to use the Italian version of city names.

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The role of VPN usage in the brave new internet

The popularity of VPN usage is growing in a constant pace. In fact, this piece of software
that was once used by "high tech people" and experts is now a commonplace go-to for all
sorts of users. If you're in China and want to WhatsApp your friends back home, you revert
to VPN. If you are in Russia and want access to non-censored content, you use a VPN. If
you want to download certain files anonymously, you… double click on the HMA! logo on
your desktop. From occasional use to permanent use, there are reportedly hundreds of
millions of people across the world who choose to use a VPN.

Some of the uses for a VPN are not the ones I encourage. If someone is masking his IP
through a VPN because he commits whichever cybercrimes, that's wrong. If someone is
using hacked materials that breach copyrights and stay on the down-low through his VPN,
that is something I would often condemn that. Some of the potential uses of a VPN are positive,
though, at least in my book.

With the end of Net Neutrality era, no one can really feel too safe over the internet. If your
government is in preference of commercial bodies over citizens, you cannot accept them to
do anything but protect themselves. A VPN is a way to protect yourself from several things,
for a very cheap price. Here are some of the risks eliminated or mitigated by usage of a VPN product:

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A few website-building questions     
By Alan Zisman  

I got an email this morning -
Steve, of Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center, wrote that he found my 'article on Netscape Composer on line, and found it very informative'. Hehad a pair of questions:

1. When creating links from images or symbols, how do I set up the the link, so that it will open into a new web page, without closing the page the link is set up on?

2. Is there anyway to insert a slideshow or video into a web page?

The Netscape Composer tutorial was one of several tutorials that I'd posted online to help people working with that - and other - free software.

I replied:

Netscape Composer is way, way out of date. It was replaced by the open
source Kompozer
- though even that hasn't be updated since 2010. That
said, I continue to use Kompozer for web page creation - and I'm going
to assume that's what you're wanting advice about.
(An interesting article entitled 'Whatever happened to Kompozer.net' is worth a read - note, however, that even though Kompozer is not being actively developed, it still be downloaded, installed, and used - by Windows, Mac, or Linux users).

The trick for the things you're wanting to do is that you need to edit
the actual HTML code - Kompozer doesn't let you do any of those things
in its main 'Normal' (word processor-like) interface. If you look down
at the bottom-left of the Kompozer window you'll see several tabs -
clicking on the 'Source' tab will show you the HTML code for the
currently-open page.

HTML code can seem intimidating - and I'm not going to try to teach
you to edit HTML code from scratch. Luckily, most of what you need
will simply require copying and pasting code from other sources....

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You Can Connect Your Android Device to Your PC or Mac - but be prepared for a few 'gotchas'! 
By Alan Zisman      2017-09-25

There are a lot of things I like about Android - the operating system used by the majority of the world's smartphones and tablets. I use both Android and Apple's iOS (and both Windows and Mac computers), and there are a number of things I prefer about Android.

One of them is how users can connect their Android phone or tablet to their Windows or Mac computer using the USB charging cable and transfer photos, music files, movies and documents from their device to their computer or from their computer to their device using the same file management apps and techniques you might use to transfer files to a common USB flash drive.

Apple would prefer you either plug in your iOS device and then use its cumbersome iTunes software or subscribe to its iCloud service and use that as an intermediary between your iOS device and your computer. Either way is awkward.

Transfering files, photos, music, (etc) between your Android device and your computer is simple and straightforward - at least if you're more or less comfortable with file management on your PC or Mac. And it may 'just work' (as Apple fans like to say) for you when you connect your Android device and computer.

In that case, you can skip the next section and jump down to here. Congratulations!

But in most cases, there are a couple of geeky steps you have to do first. The good news is that the first step you'll only have to do once. The bad news is you may have to do the second step every time you plug in your phone.

The First Step - Enable USB Debugging

It seems like Google, Android's developer, assumes that only software developers will ever want to connect their phone or tablet to their PC or Mac. So they make users jump through a few peculiar hoops before their phone is ready to be plugged in.

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Want to play DVD videos in Windows 10? There's an app for that   

By Alan Zisman      2019-09-19

Windows 7 included an app named Windows Media Centre. It played video DVDs - along with other media functions - just fine. Along the way to Windows 10, though, it got dropped with the result that many people with Windows 10 on their computers insert a video disc into their DVD drive and are surprised to find it doesn't work as expected.

I suppose the thinking is that most people are getting their video content from on-line streaming services like Netflix or from YouTube. Nevertheless, lots of use still want to watch a movie from a disc on our computers now and then.

(Many laptops no longer come with built-in DVD drives, especially small and compact 'ultra-book' models. I plug an external USB DVD drive (about $40 at Staples) into my Windows laptop).

Some people may find that DVDs play just fine - some manufactures routinely include a third-party media player on their models. And if you've upgraded your computer from a copy of Windows 7 or 8 that included Windows Media Centre, you'll see a new Windows DVD Player app installed.

If you don't have the Windows DVD Player app in your installation of Windows 10, Micrsoft is happy to sell you a copy for US$15 from the Windows Store - that suitcase icon on the bottom taskbar. It's bare-bones but it works. At least a lot of the time. (Note - it doesn't play Blu-Ray discs).

There's a better - and free - solution, however. My recommendation: go directly to VideoLAN's  free VLC Media Player. Note however, that there's a Windows Store version which doesn't play DVD or Blu-Ray discs. Don't get that one. Instead, download and install the 'classic Windows' version from VideoLAN's website.

VLC Media Player plays a huge variety of media file types and discs - audio and video. It can save streaming music and movies, and convert between file types. As a result, it has a lot of options and can look confusing. Here's how to make it work quickly and easily when you insert a movie on disc.

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Can a $50 tablet be any good?
- I get an Amazon Fire HD 8 on sale

By Alan Zisman 2017-07-28

When Apple announced its original iPad in 2010, it was yuge! The next big thing. Proof that we were now in a post-PC age. Maybe you were slow to get a smartphone, but you could still prove your cool by being early to jump on the tablet bandwagon.

(Embarassing admission - I bought a 1st-generation iPad the weekend they became available - paying CDN$1066 for the most expensive model - 64 GB of storage/WiFi+cellular data and a keyboard. It was also the only model still in stock on Day 2 of availability. Was I cool, or what?)

No surprise, various Android-powered tablets soon came to market, though none have been mega best-sellers. Fairly soon, smaller tablets, with 7 or 8 inch screens, joined the original 10 inch models. More recently, Apple began to sell an 12 inch 'iPad Pro' model.

But after initial success, tablet sales have slumped. Vendors have been disappointed to discover that tablet buyers seem content to hold onto to older models longer than smartphone users, who've tended to get a new phone every two or three years. That iPad 2 you bought in 2013 is still working just fine, thanks.

And the recent popularity of larger-screen smartphones (first Android, belatedly iPhone as well) has pretty flatlined the market for 7 and 8" tablets - Apple, for instance, seems to have stopped updating its 8" iPad Mini line, suggesting it's only a matter of time before it stops selling these models.

As for me, I replaced my original iPad with an  iPad 3 a few years later. Half the storage and no cellular data, but a lot less expensive than what it replaced - especially since I bought it second-hand. My generation one model was - like lots of first generation technology - slow and no longer supported by new operating system and software versions.

But I found I wasn't using the replacement iPad that much - instead, I was reaching for my laptop. It was more powerful and let me do things - like creating this blog post - that I couldn't do easily - or some cases at all - on a tablet....

... Read more

A tale of two smartphones  
By Alan Zisman 2017 May 22

Coke or Pepsi. Windows or Mac. Italy or France. Some rivalries just keep going on, with folks taking sides and not much changing, year after year

The same is true for the two smartphone behomoths, Google's Android and Apple's iOS. New hardware for each keeps coming out, more or less annual software updates. From my perspective, less and less reason to feel obligated to stay current on either hardware or software - smartphones and now a 'mature' product category with most new features rating a best a yawn.

I've tried to remain conversant with both Android and iOS. But while
I  own both Mac and Windows laptops (though I use my Mac laptop more), up until recently, I've only owned Android smartphones. (I have owned other iOS devices - an iPod Touch and a couple of iPads, though).

Recently, though, I was tempted by an eBay.ca email offering a refurbished unlocked iPhone 6 at an attractive enough price that I purchased one. As a refurbished phone, it warned that "the device has noticeable scratches or scuff marks on the casing and screen", but that the "phones are tested and in working order." Being unlocked, it would work with pretty much any cell phone provider; I could take it travelling and use it with a foreign SIM.

The iPhone 6 is no longer new or top of the line - Apple released it in September 2014, keeping it on sale through to September 2016. Today, Apple's online store offers for sale their 2016 iPhone 7 models alongside 2015's iPhone 6s. But two year-old technology seemed just fine to me - it can run up to date versions of Apple's iOS software and apps and provide reasonable - if not cutting edge - performance.

That's similar to my Android phone - a Nexus 5x, built by LG to Google's specifications. It was released in September 2015 and replaced (by the Google Pixel) in October 2016. Like the iPhone 6, it's no longer officially available, and unlike most Andoid phones it can run the current version of Google's Android software.

The Nexus 5x has a bit bigger screen - 5.2" to the iPhone 6's 4.7" and as a result is a bit larger. It's got a plastic body, while the iPhone 6 is sleeker with glass and aluminum. Put them both in cases, though, and they don't look too different from one another.

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Technology Workshops:
Spring 2017

Okay, not exactly a blog posting, but I've been offering a series of technology workshops at Vancouver's Brock House - each with a webpage summary + links that others may find useful:

-- Introduction to Android
-- Introduction to Windows 10
-- Files and Folders and Drives (Oh My!) - an introduction to file management
-- Introduction to Digital Photography
-- Introduction to Facebook
-- Introduction to digital security for Windows users
-- Better Travelling With Technology
-- Using the Internet better - email
-- Using the Internet better - the Web

Windows 10 doesn't make it straightforward to use international characters but....  
By Alan Zisman 2016-09-19

Have you ever wanted to flamb Windows?

If your computer is set with to use the US English keyboard and you wanted to type words like, oh,
flamb, that may be just what you want to do.

In Canada, both English and French are international languages, so many English Canadians find a need for characters that don't appear directly on the computer keyboard. Even unilingual Americans may want to appear more sophisticated, typing foreign-derived words like caf or maana.

If you're using a program like Microsoft Word, you may have found the menu or ribbon item to insert 'special' characters. But if you're using some other piece of software, it may be less obvious.

Macs have it easy!(If you're using a Mac, you're allowed to chuckle - at least if you realize that on a Mac, when you hold down a letter such as 'a' or 'e' or 'c' or 'n', like magic, a set of alternative versions of that letter will pop up, letting you choose or or or or what-have-you. At least most of the time. You did know that, didn't you?)

In Windows, it's never been quite so easy. Way back when, I encouraged folks needing to use accented or international characters to track down a chart of ASCI key codes, pick out the ones they needed, write them on a sticky note and paste it onto their computer display. Hold down the Alt key then, using the number keypad on the keyboard (remember those?) type a zero followed by the three number code. Lift the Alt key and bingo! - the desired characted appears. For instance, Alt+0224 =

There were other ways to get the same thing - in 2001 I wrote a tutorial titled 'Getting Easy Access to International Key Characters' describing how installing the International English keyboard might make some users' lives a bit easier.

Today I learned a trick for Windows 10. (It may work in Windows 8 as well). It makes use of the fact that Microsoft designed that operating system for both standard desktops and laptops as well as for touchscreen models like tablets. iPads and Android tablets include built-in virtual keyboards - and even if you don't have a tablet, a Windows 10 system offers an optional virtual keyboard as well.

And that virtual keyboard can be used to insert all those accented or otherwise modified letters.

- continued...

- Older blog postings....

About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to alan@zisman.ca are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Facebook for notice of new blog postings.

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