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ALAN ZISMAN ON TECHNOLOGY
If something seems too good to be true...
By Alan Zisman ©2021-04-16
My mother always used to tell me (and I'll bet yours did too): 'If something seems to good to be true, it probably isn't'.
Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering what if this time it's for real? And sometimes, I'll take a gamble even though I know the odds are low.
My Facebook feed, recently, was showing ads from what seemed like a variety of different companies (none of which I'd ever heard of) offering to sell large capacity USB flash drives for prices in the range of US$20 for 1 TB storage or US$30 for 2 TB.
For comparison, Amazon lists several models of 1 TB flash drive, at prices like CDN$180 to $220 (approx US$145-175). No-name brands are typically cheaper, but for 1/7th the price, there's gotta be a catch, right?
But I could afford to gamble $20, so I went ahead. After all, it claimed to be 40% for a Black Friday sale. $20 + $6 shipping, payable by Paypal.
It arrived in 2 weeks - virtually no time at all (I'm still waiting for a replacement battery for an old Macbook that I ordered in early February, with promised delivery sometime between mid-April and mid-June).
A slick little unit - nice design, a brushed steel case with a loop on the end so it could be added to a set of keys. (Canadian quarter for size comparison).
Plugged into both Mac and Windows laptops, it reported itself as having 1 TB capacity - just as advertised. I copied a small file or two and it worked just fine.
What could go wrong? Well I'd heard reports of people receiving devices that reported themselves as having more space than they actually had. It would have been nice to copy enough data to this device to see what it's actual capacity was - but keep reading.
My next step was to try to copy a relatively hefty folder full of files onto it. After all, the whole point of having a large capacity flash drive would be to be able to store and carry around a lot of files....
Musicians want to play together over the Net - is it even possible?
By Alan Zisman © 2021-03-01
Over the past year or so, with pandemic lockdowns and restrictions on getting together, musicians have seen opportunities for gigs disappear, and even the ability to get together in a rehearsal space, basement or garage become restricted.
Here in Vancouver, BC (Canada), during the summer (2020), people were able to play music together outside - as long as no more than 50 people gathered. Groups I played with were able to practise - in backyards and covered car ports. As autumn moved in, though, both colder/wetter weather and increasing infection rates resulted in these options being no longer available.
Meanwhile, many people were managing to work from home. Many meetings, public events, and classes were taking place online, using platforms like Zoom. My wife Linda, for instance, an aspiring water painter, has been pretty happy with the classes she's taking online in place of in-person lessons. She notes that in some ways they're better online - everyone is able to see, close-up, what the instructor is painting.
You may have seen social media posts with video clips of choirs, orchestras, and other musical groups appearing to be performing together, with each individual in their own window, Zoom-style. The inference: it ought to be possible for musicians to get together online to make music, playing together in real-time across the Internet.
I host a monthly accordion drop-in, the Vancouver Squeezebox Circle. Lately, we've been getting together over Zoom - which works. As long as only one person is playing music at a time. We can play together - as we do in person. That works if only one person is audible to everyone, and everyone else is muted. In the Squeezebox Circle Zoom sessions, if other musicians forget to mute their mikes, the sound of them playing along quickly gets weird and difficult to listen to.
Not a good option for a musical group trying to play together. In that case, everyone needs to be able to hear one another. Seeing one another is nice - but less necessary.
And all those videos of choirs/bands/orchestras playing together that you may have seen? Bogus! Each individual is filmed separately, and then the various video clips are assumbled into a mosaic that makes it appear as if they're all making music at the same time.
The problem - connections online involve lag - so-called latency. The Internet works by sending data. in small 'packets' over a complicated network, over a route that may hop through a dozen servers (or more) between the sender and recipient. While fast (most of the time), travel along this ever-changing route does take measureable time. And this lag time can affect trying to play music together.
Not surprisingly, connecting to a computer further away requires more hops than someone local - but even a local connection may make a bunch of hops if the destination is on a different network from you. While all of my bandmates are in Vancouver, they use a variety of different Internet service providers so it's a complex web of connections.
But that's not the only cause of delay. Sound is an analog signal - computers and the Internet work with digital signals. Your gear needs to take the sounds you create and convert them to digital equivalents that can be send over the Internet. When these are received, the reverse happens - the digital code is converted to analog sounds that you can hear through speakers or headphones. These analog to digital conversions (and the reverse) are quick, but take measureable time, adding to the delays.
Bottom line - there are going to be 'latency' issues for musicians trying to play together in 'real time' across the Internet....
Should you update your operating system? How can you tell when it's time?
By Alan Zisman © 2021-02-13
Reader alert - this blog post is mostly focused at Mac-users. Windows-users are welcome to read it, of course, but it's not about you.
Last month, I wrote a blog post about how to decide it's time to upgrade your tech hardware.... but more often, we're faced with a related question - should I go ahead and click Update when my Mac or Windows (or iOS - less often with Android) device tells me there's a new version available.
It may seem like there's no right answer. Maybe the new version will fix bugs - or maybe it will introduce new bugs. (Or both). Maybe it will make your system less vulnerable to some online vulnerabilities - but you may not have noticed these vulnerabilities affecting your digital life.
And upgrading may seem like it's a pain and that it's probably going to interupt whatever you were doing on your device, and force you to restart at an awkward time. And it may force you to do things a different way and maybe software (and sometimes hardware) you've been using and rely on won't work any more.
As I said in that other blog post, I know a bunch of people who are running older computers (and phones and tablets). And most of them are running older versions of the Mac or Windows operating system - many of them have gotten quite used to clicking Cancel when they get an update notification - if they notice it at all. Oh sure, they mean to get around to it. But now they're so many versions behind.
Apple updates Mac OS on a more or less annual basis - typically in June. The result is that each individual new version is an incremental improvement over the previous version, but it's generally not a big deal if a user skips one. Most times, the new version 'obsoletes' some older Mac hardware, but generally Apple supports its hardware for quite a long while. For instance, the 2013 MacBook Air is supported by the current (2020-21) Big Sur version 11 of Apple's Mac OS, but earlier MacBook Air models are officially 'obsolete' - no longer supported.
So owners of this 7 1/2 year old MacBook Air model could be running Apple's latest and greatest Mac OS version. But quite a few haven't taken the plunge. (That 2013 Air originally shipped with that year's current Mac OS X version - OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion).
Even if Mac users have been ignoring Apple's update suggestions, sometimes the need to update comes crashingly to their attention. For instance, if they're using Google's Chrome web browser. As I write, the current version of Chrome is 88.0. If you're running Mac OS X ver 6/7/8/9 (Snow Leopard/Lion/Mountain Lion/Mavericks), Chrome left you behind after version 35.
Or how about Zoom? During the COVID pandemic, lots of people wanted to run Zoom, replacing person-to-person events and interactions with digital video conferencing. Zoom supports Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later. That covers a lot of territory - but leaves out our hypothetical 2013 MacBook Air owner who never upgraded from Mountain Lion. Want or need Zoom? Update your Mac OS version first.
(Note - some 2013 MacBook Airs shipped with OS X 10.9 Mavericks - it all depends whether you purchased your Air before or after the June 2013 release of Mavericks)....
If it seems too good to be true....
-- a real-life Facebook scam
By Alan Zisman © 2021-02-01
Yesterday, I had an odd conversation, courtesy of Facebook Messages (viewed in my web browser on my laptop). Appearing to be from my Facebook friend, let's just call her 'M', it started off innocuously enough - let me share a series of screen captures:
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My computer's running slow - is it time to get a new one?
By Alan Zisman © 2021-01-20
I know a lot of people who bought new Macs or Windows laptops or desktops sometime between 2011 and 2014 or so.
Pretty often, I hear "My computer's running slow - is it time to get a new one?"
A while back, it would have been an easy question to answer - many people and businesses were routinely upgrading their hardware every 3 years or so; trying to use a 7-10 year old computer online would have been hard to imagine.
Now, though, not so much.
My friend Barry, for instance, got himself a new MacBook Air in 2013 - Intel Core i5 CPU, 8 GB RAM, solid state drive (SSD). Apple supports it with the company's current Mac OS version and it does what he needs, quickly enough.
What we really need to think about is what do people mean when they say their computer feels like it's running slow.
On the one hand, computers do seem to get slower over time. As more software gets installed, more programs want to load pieces of themselves at startup, slowing that down. Many users clutter their computer Desktops with icons - which slows the system down. An almost-full hard drive will slow everything down.
Freeing up space on the drive and a fresh operating system (and applications) re-install can bring things back to that new, out of the box experience.
At the same time, though, our perception of acceptable speed has changed. While Barry's 2013 MacBook Air came standard with quick SSD storage, most systems of that era - particularly at lower and middle price points - used traditional hard drives. Larger capacity solid state drives were particularly expensive, and as a result many buyers opted for more economical hard drives.
Since then, though, many of us are using smartphones and tablets for a lot of our online experiences - and taking for granted the solid state performance of those devices. When we turn on our older laptops or desktops, the slow boot time and application start-up time that comes from reading large amounts of data from a traditional hard drive feels slower than it used to - even if it's the pretty much the same amount of time it took when the computer was new.
The computer may not be running any slower, but our expectations have sped up....
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Don't save, print, or bookmark websites - create shortcuts instead.
By Alan Zisman © 2020-07-16
How do you find and return to a web page that you found useful? There are a lot of standard ways, but there are also problems. How many of these have you tried on your laptop or desktop computer? You could (for instance):
Check your web browser's History - this used to be more often done, I suspect, a few years back when the design of browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari included easy to access menu making it simple to find History. Clicking that popped up a list of recently accessed websites - you could scroll back in time for at least a while.
In today's Windows and Macintosh browsers, what were once easy to find menu items are now somewhat hidden - in Chrome (for Windows), look to the top-right and you'll find three vertical dots - a design element taken from Google's Android smartphone operating system. Click the dots to open a drop-down menu with all sorts of potential useful features - Print, for instance. Or Settings. Or even Exit. And the aforementioned History - with an arrow beside it indicating that clicking it will open another list.
A couple of problems using the History list. First, it's organized in reverse chronological order, and jam-packed with websites you've visited. Finding the one you want means scrolling through a long lst of other site names that you don't want. As well, if you visited the website a week or a month or a year ago, good luck finding it!
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You don't need expensive software to create PDF files
By Alan Zisman © 2020-07-15
PDF files have been around for quite a while - since 1993 in fact, when Adobe announced the 'Portable Document Format' as a standard way to view document that looked the same - and the same as they would in print - on a variety of different devices. Prior to this, documents looked different on screen from in print, and different from one type of computer to another (think Macs and Windows) and even between different computers of the same type.
This is handy - even if PDF's tendency towards documents that are laid out as if they were printed on paper can look odd on horizontal computer screens or on small hand-held devices.
For a long time, to create or edit a PDF, you needed expensive software that few owned - typically, Adobe Acrobat. This was both a blessing and a curse - a blessing because if you received a PDF, you knew it was probably legitimate, but a curse, because if you wanted to create your own PDF you probably couldn't.
This is no longer the case - at least for creating basic PDFs and making simple annotations to existing PDFs. But lots of people don't realize that they can do this - at least on laptop and desktop computers.
Apple added the ability to create PDFs to its Macintosh computers when it moved its operating system to OS X around 2000 or so... with that change, the standard Mac 'print' dialog box added a PDF button, so that anything that could be printed could be saved to a file in PDF format instead - with the saved file looking like it would have if printed on paper.
Mac-users can make basic changes to saved PDFs - removing pages, combining files from multiple PDFs, adding arrows, underlines, boxes or circles (filled or open), and adding bits of text by opening the PDF in the Mac's built-in Preview app - no additional software needed. (I've been meaning to go into detail about this for a while).
For a long time, similar features were not built-into Windows, but there were a number of free utilities that added the capability to 'print to PDF' to Windows computers - I got into the habit of adding the free Cute PDF Writer program to Windows computers from Windows 98 to Windows 7; there are lots of other utilities, but Cute PDF works fine.
With Windows 10, that was no longer necessary. With that Windows version, Microsoft (finally) added the ability to - like on the Mac - save a PDF version of anything that can be printed. And once again, many people don't realize that they can do it, no additional software (especially, no expensive Adobe Acrobat) needed. At least if you just want a basic PDF file. (Adobe Acrobat has many additional capabilities, making it worth the cost for some - especially for corporate users. For me, it's way more than I need).
Like on the Mac, the way to create a PDF in Windows 10 (or using add-in software like Cute PDF on earlier Windows versions) is through the Print dialog box - again, anything that can be printed can be saved in PDF format, with the resulting PDF looking like an on-screen version of the paper document you would get if you printed it on a physical printer.
Rather than keep hundreds (or thousands) of email messages in my Gmail Inbox, I've gotten into the habt of deleting most. Some, however, I want to save - for instance, receipts of online purchases, in case there's an issue later. I save these as PDFs, storing them in a 'Receipts' folder in my main Documents folder.
Here's how I do it - using an example email message viewed in Gmail using the Chrome web browser on my Windows 10 laptop. (Remember, you can create a PDF from any Print dialog - but in Windows,
the Print dialog boxes will look different depending on the program you're using. This can be confusing - see my blog post: You want to print a page? It's not as easy as it used to be so when you try to do this, what you see on screen may look different).
1) View the message on-screen. In Gmail, look for little printer icon near the top-right of the window that's displaying the contents of the email message:
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5 Common Skype Problems and How to Fix Them
You might have set yourself up , ready to talk to a close friend or relative, and then all of a sudden you encounter issues which mean your call can’t go ahead or that it simply won’t be the same. It can be incredibly infuriating.
Skype can’t seem
to find my webcam, speakers, or microphone
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Got Windows 10? You don't need to invest in expensive photo editing software to adjust colours in the scans of your old photos
By Alan Zisman © 2020-04-14
Another tech support question...
Suzanne has lots of albums full of photos. She wants to digitize them - and then she wants to correct the colours of her pix - with age, the photos have faded, and typically, as photos fade, the colours shift, becoming more yellow.
She talked about this problem with a retailer, who was suggested that the industry standard, Adobe Photoshop was too expensive and too complex for her needs (true!) and pointed her to Adobe Lightroom instead. Adobe wants users to get either of these applications by subscription - starting at $10 a month. (Yes, you can get a 7-day free trial). I suggested to Suzanne that Lightroom may also be more complex than she wants to tackle.
There are lots of alternatives, both lower-cost and free - some (such as free (Windows, Mac, Linux) GIMP) powerful and complex. I've been using the free (Windows only) Irfanview for years and years, and its Image/Color Correction option would let Suzanne do what she needs - but again, while far simpler than, say, Photoshop, Lightroom, or GIMP, there are just too many options - in Irfanview, organized in old school menus - for many people to feel comfortable with.
These are far from the only options. A search for 'image editor free' claimed to give me 140 million hits! (I didn't verify the results). Image editing software for Windows, for Mac, for iPhone, iPad, and Android. Online image editing - if you have photos in Cloud storage with Google Photos (my recommendation), Flickr, or more, you can perform basic editing like colour correction right there in the cloud.
But Suzanne is using Windows 10 on her laptop - the computer where she plans to save her scans. And that means that she already has software on her computer that will let her do what she wants, with a relatively simple to use interface. So why not give it a try?
Windows Photos is one of the set of apps that is included by Microsoft in every Windows 10 installation (Windows 7 users need not apply). Like several of the others, it's relatively low-powered, but perfectly functional for basic uses - in this case, displaying users' on-computer image libraries and allowing users to perform some basic image editing - crop, rotation, colour correction and more.....
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Don't know how to setup Skype on your Mac?
By Alan Zisman © 2010-04-10
A friend of mine - let's call him Gary - was wanting Skype on his Mac, and not sure how to go about it. These days, with folks staying at home, video calling is a popular way to keep in touch with friends and family. Apple's Facetime is popular - but it's limited to people using Apple products - Macs, iPhones, iPads. Want to connect to a Windows or Android user? Too bad.
Zoom has gotten a lot of attention recently - it's free and cross platform and relatively easy to get up and running, but more recently, it's gotten a lot of flack for privacy concerns. It uses an online meeting metaphor - even if you want to just video-chat with one other person.
(See 6 Popular Video Conferencing Tools Compared).
Anyway, Gary wanted Skype - which has some advantages - it's free and available on all sorts of platforms. it comes from Microsoft, so it has a real company backing it up - with a business model that doesn't rely on selling your personal details. And it uses a phone-call metaphor, perhaps more familiar than setting up a meeting.
Skype's been around for a long time, allowing voice and video calls to other Skype users (on computer, smartphone, or tablet) for free, while encouraging users to send them a bit of money that can be spent connecting to phone services - locally or long-distance - for inexpensive long-distance phoning to people who don't have computers (or aren't Skype users). There are lots of options now - but when Skype was new (it was first released in 2003 and peaked with 660 million users in 2010), it was a big deal.
So let's get Gary started:
Go to https://skype.com and download the installer:
If you're wanting it on an iPhone/iPad/Android device, the website will point you to your appropriate app store. Mac (or Windows users) just click on the blue Get Skype button to download the installer appropriate for your laptop or desktop computer.
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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.
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).....
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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:
Notice any differences?....
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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 © 2019-02-17
The other day, a scary message popped up in my web browser.
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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© 2018-10-24Few 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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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 © 2018-09-18
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 © 2018-04-21
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.
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
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....
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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
- Older blog postings....