Jun 192014

By Sandy Berger, CompuKISS
sandy (at) compukiss.com

Don’t be fooled by a cheap price on a product. It may be last year’s model. While sometimes this is okay, for others it is a real rip-off. Here are some examples that you may want to read. Remember being a savvy consumer is essential in today’s high tech world.

In the recent past, when a new version of a product was introduced, the old versions were removed from the retailer’s shelves. So when you went into the store, you were sure of getting the latest and greatest version of each product.

But times have changed. Now the manufacturers are keeping their old versions available right alongside the newest models. In some cases, the product names have changed enough that the average person can easily tell the new from the old. For example, the iPad Air is Apple’s newest full-sized iPad. You will see that Apple is also still selling the older iPad 2 model. In this case, the name actually changed and the marketing will usually indicate which is new and which is old.

In many cases, however, the name of the product doesn’t change. There are often several versions of the same product with the same name or similar names selling at different prices.

Take the iPad mini, for example. Apple recently introduced a new, improved version of that product. The cheapest current version is selling for $399. So when Walmart advertised the iPad mini for $299 and it offered a $100 gift card with that purchase, it seemed like a fantastic deal. However, Walmart was selling last year’s model in that ad. They didn’t have to stipulate anything other than “iPad mini” because both last year’s model and the latest version are both simply called “iPad mini”. The same is true for devices from other manufacturers, as well. The Microsoft Surface tablet has an original version and a newer updated version. If you purchase a Nexus tablet, you will find a version from last year right alongside the newest 2013 version that was just released.

The newer versions almost always have improved functionality and new features, but buying last year’s model is not necessarily bad. To be a smart consumer, however, you need to know exactly what you are buying. It is always wise to ask if you are purchasing the latest version. Even better, take the time to research the older version and compare it spec-by-spec with the newest version. That is the only way to know if the price difference is worthwhile for you.

Luckily, the Internet make such research easy. Right on the Apple website you can find a comparison for the two versions of the iPad mini. The newer iPad mini has a much improved screen resolution and a faster processor but the main specifications of the device remain the same. If you don’t care that much about the screen clarity or the speed, the savings may be worthwhile.

You may not always need to purchase the latest and greatest version of each product. Only you can determine exactly what you need and which features you will use, and which you can do without. Doing research on the products can be time-consuming, but it is a worthwhile endeavor that will help you find the perfect device at the right price.

When it comes to high tech gadgets, being a savvy consumer is essential. You need to be “in the know” so you can make an informed decision on whether you would rather have the best device currently on the market or a little extra money in your pocket.

 Posted by at 4:36 pm
Jun 122014

By Phil Sorrentino, Past President, Sarasota PCUG, Florida
February 2014 issue, PC Monitor
philsorr (at) yahoo.com

I know you’ve all heard this before, but it is very true. Backup your data and backup your system. When we talk about the Backup activity, we mean copying the files that you definitely want to have, should you lose your computer. But first, I’d like to discuss some Backup Philosophy. There are many levels of backup. The correct amount of backup is that level that lets you sleep at night. (Kind of like a well balanced portfolio.)  You have to have enough backed up and you need enough backup copies. No doubt this can be taken to the extreme, as I’m sure it is by many obsessive-compulsive types. But, everyone needs to make these decisions;

  1.  What shall I backup
  2. How often shall I backup, and
  3. How many backup copies do I need.

Before we answer these questions, a few words on why we back up. In a perfect world we would not need to backup anything. Every time we turned on our computer, it would turn on without a hesitation or problem. And, there would never be cause to worry about viruses, spyware or any such malware, because they would not exist. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world and we have to be concerned with potential hardware and software problems. Hardware sometimes fails, and software problems and malware do exist. So, backup is protection against some hardware failures, namely hard drive failures. And backup is protection against software problems or an infection of malware. In either case not having your data and system backed up may force you to re-load your system and begin from a fresh start, and/or spend a lot of time reproducing the data that was lost.

Now back to those questions. The first one, what to backup?  Generally, the answer is: all of the data that you have produced and is difficult to re-create, and your system (Operating System and applications that you are using). So this really has two components, data and system. Data backup is the easier. Just copy all the files you want to backup to another drive (internal, not on the same physical drive, or external), or to other memory devices such as CDs, DVDs, and flash memory devices. The amount of data to be backed up helps determine the backup media. For small amounts of data, CD or flash memory devices work just fine. For large amounts of data, a second internal hard drive, or an external hard drive is probably a good choice. (External hard drives seem to becoming the best choice for most backup needs.)

Data Backup

So, what exactly are we backing up?

  1. All of your digital pictures. These are usually .jpg or .bmp file types. Actually, there are many other file types that could be pictures or graphics. But with modern digital cameras, most of the pictures are going to be .jpg (or .jpeg, or .jpe) file types. These are probably in a general “photos” folder.
  2. All of the data that you have created using “Office like” applications. Such as .doc, .xls, .ppt, .pps, .docx, .xlsx, .rtf file types. These files usually include personal and financial data that you have created for convenience. These could be in a general “Personal Information” folder or they could be spread out among a few folders.
  3. All of the video files you have created or collected. Again, there are many video file types. Some of the more common ones are .mov, .avi, .mpg, .vob, .wmv, .swf. Many of these are created by digital cameras shooting video, or video cameras. These are probably in a general “video” folder.
  4. All of the music files that you have bought, created, collected, or ripped from CDs. Some common file types are .mp3, .wma, .m3u, aac. There are many other audio file types that could be produced by common applications in use. These are probably in a general “music” folder.
  5. Any other data that you feel you cannot live without, such as Quicken or Money backup files, or the data files from TurboTax or TaxCut. These may be spread out among many folders.

How often to backup is the next decision. Basically, as soon as a file is created or changed, it is a candidate for backup, but, let’s be practical. If during the day, there were a large number of files created or changed, then they are probably reason enough to backup at the end of the day. If there are very few changes from day to day, then daily backups are probably not necessary. So, some days you might backup certain folders and some days you may not. But, at the end of the week, it is time for a weekly backup. (This doesn’t have to be any specific day of the week, but must happen at least once a week.)  With this philosophy, in the worst case, all of your data is only one week old, and your important data is only one day old. This should let you sleep pretty well.

Now, on to the decision of how many backup copies? This is a very personal decision. For many, one copy on an external hard drive will more than suffice. That can be augmented by copying all of the files, once or twice a year to DVDs. That way, if the external hard drive goes down, and you haven’t replaced it, in the worst case, you have the latest DVD copies to go back to, although that data could be 6 month old. For guaranteed safety, two external hard drives, one updated weekly, and the other updated once or twice a month, and a set of DVDs every six months should make almost anyone feel good and sleep well. An even greater precaution taken by most businesses and some people is to take one set of Backup files (External or DVDs) and store it off-site, in a bank vault or a friend or relative’s house. (For businesses, this is almost a necessity.)

Now, for the question, how to implement a backup strategy?  If you only have a few files, you can just copy them to the backup device on the schedule that you have established. If you have a large to medium collection of files, you will probably need the assistance of a software application to make it palatable. The first backup is simply a copy of all of the files to be backed up. Each backup after the first need only to be a copy of the new files created and the files that have changed since the last backup. This is called an incremental backup. As your number of files to be backed up grows, you will grow to appreciate the incremental backup. The software will determine which files, in the folder to be backed up, are either new or changed and then only copy those files to the backup device. Some applications call this “synchronizing” the files. Synchronizing can be done in a few different ways and the application will allow you to choose the one that is right for you. For backup, make a selection that will not change the source files. Source files are those to be backed up, and target or destination files are the backup copies.

System Backup

So far, we’ve only backed up our data files. Now, on to backing up the system. The whole system has to be backed up, in total. The system is not backed up by a simple copy of the system files. The system must be backed up by saving the system as an “image”, using imaging software, specifically designed for this purpose. Normally, the system doesn’t change as frequently as the data files. However, each time you get an update from Microsoft, the system changes, albeit slightly. The system also changes each time you install (or uninstall) an application, peripheral device (like a printer), or hardware driver.

So, how often should we backup the system, another very personal decision. A good strategy for the system backup is to “take an image” every time a big change is made (a software installation, a software un-installation, or a Service Pack installation), or a fixed amount of time has passed, say 3 months. Taking an image takes a good bit of time, so you don’t want to do this too often. If you have many large software applications on your system, it may take hours to take an image. Images are usually saved compressed, and the amount of compression is usually adjustable, for example low, medium, or high. The low compression choice will take an image quicker, with a larger image file being created. The high compression choice will be the slowest, but the file created will be the smallest. Medium will be somewhere in between. Highly compressed image files can be from 2 to 10 GB, so you need to have a good bit of storage just for the images. These images should be stored on a different physical drive from the drive that your C: drive is on. Saving them on another partition on the same physical drive will not help you if the drive goes down.

Just how many copies of the system image backup should be kept?  Considering the size of the image files, you may want to keep only a few, maybe 3 or 4, and some that were taken at key points. These key images might be the initial load of the operating system, or the initial load of the operating with the initial applications installed, or before any critical application was installed and checked out. Actually, any image that you are confident is reliable, and would be a worthwhile starting point, can be kept.

Once your backup philosophy is established and a backup strategy is put in place, and you execute the strategy, that is, you routinely backup your data and your system, you will be able to sleep more soundly at night, never having to worry about “what happens if”.

If a hard disk failure occurs, your backup data can quickly and easily be copied to the new hard drive. If your C: drive with the system goes down, the last image can be restored to the new C: drive. If a software problem or malware infection occurs, the last image can be restored and you are back up and running. All of these problems are now less a problem because you can recover from them without any question and in a reasonable amount of time.

 Posted by at 6:05 pm
Jun 122014

By Joel Lee, MakeUseOf.com, MakeUseOf Logo
May 5, 2014
3-better-ways-store-files-desktop article

Did you know that storing files directly on your desktop can harm your productivity? I used to be one of “those” people who downloaded files straight to the desktop. If you can identify with that, then I have good news for you: you can do better. Desktop storage is simple, sure, but it comes with hidden drawbacks you may not know about.

Kick the bad habit with these alternative file storage methods. They may not be as convenient but I promise that you’ll learn to love them in the long run.

MakeUseOf desktopThe urge to save files to the desktop is understandable. It provides immediate access with a single click, which means that it’s tempting to turn the desktop into a de facto headquarters for storage. But unless you are strict with maintenance, you’ll eventually succumb to these issues:


  • No file protection. As noted by PC World, certain directories are not affected by System Restore, the most recognizable location being My Documents. Files on the desktop are affected by System Restore, which can result in unexpected file disappearances.
  • No file backups. Many file backup programs ignore desktop files by default. Most programs worth their salt will allow you to change the settings and include the desktop if necessary, but all it takes is one forgetful moment to accidentally lose an important desktop file.
  • Clutter, clutter, clutter. The story is always the same. You begin your desktop collection with a few documents. Over time, the collection grows to include images, music, programs, zip files, and more documents. Suddenly, finding the right document takes more time than actually opening it.

Separate Drive Partitions

MakeUseOf drives

One bit of computer wisdom that you should learn is this: “Never save data on the same partition as your operating system.” In Windows, the location of the desktop on the file system does reside on the same partition as the operating system itself.

Why is this important advice? Because you want to avoid putting all of your eggs in the same basket.

Let’s say that you happen to contract a mild virus or malware that attacks your operating system. It might wipe all files related to the operating system itself OR it may affect the entire partition that holds the operating system. By losing the operating system, you lose all of your saved data as well.

But if you installed Windows to the C: partition and stored all of your files on the D: partition, your files on D: would be safe even if C: were wiped clean. The only way D: would be affected is if the physical hard drive itself was wiped or damaged.

One additional benefit of having separate partitions is that you can reinstall Windows without losing your saved data. Tina has written on the subject of resizing Windows partitions, so check it out if you want to take advantage of this feature. http://bit.ly/1lfBCDe

Use Windows Libraries

MakeUseOf libraries
Every installation of Windows comes with a directory called My Documents. In Windows 7, it was renamed to Documents and came with a couple of buddies: Music, Pictures, and Videos. They’re called libraries and you’ve probably seen them before, but never really used them, right? Well, you should reconsider.

In truth, these four libraries are special. They aren’t just directories; they’re collections of multiple directories. In each library, you can specify different directories to be included and that library will show the content from all included directories. It sounds more complicated than it is.

Think of it like this: You can save your videos to many different locations and link those directories to the Videos library. Then, whenever you access the Videos library, you’ll see all of those files in one place.

It’s just as convenient as storing everything on the desktop, yet infinitely more flexible and organized. For more details on how to take advantage of this feature, check out Chris’s writeup on how to use Windows Libraries. http://bit.ly/1iMkORF

Store Files in the Cloud

Cloud storage has been a big buzz term over the past few years and for good reason. While cloud-related solutions like Dropbox, G+ Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive come with privacy concerns <http://bit.ly/1lzsQ4F>, they also offer many benefits and I think people are too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

MakeUseOf cloudHere’s how it works: You set aside one or more directories that automatically sync with whatever service you’re using (comparison of cloud storage services). These files can be accessed from anywhere and they can be set to private or public.

Why is this better than storing straight on the desktop?

  • Immediate backups. Due to automatic synchronization, you rarely need to worry about lost files. If your computer gets wiped somehow, those files still reside on the cloud and you can always retrieve them again.
  • Revision history. Not every cloud service offers a revision history, but most do and it’s an important feature. Basically, the service will track every change that’s made to the file (it may be limited to the last X changes) and allow you to instantly revert to a past version if necessary.

One Drive (aka SkyDrive) comes integrated with Windows 8 and can help you keep your files synced.

Need Quick Access to Files?

Sometimes convenience wins out over practicality and reason. The desktop is great because it allows for immediate access, right? With one small compromise, you can maintain that convenience. The answer is to use shortcuts.

Creating a shortcut is as simple as dragging a file using the right mouse button to where you want the shortcut to appear, then selecting Create shortcut here from the menu. Even if a shortcut gets wiped, the actual file will still be safe.

But instead of putting the shortcuts on the desktop, why not take it one step further?

Right click on any file shortcut and select either Pin to taskbar or Pin to start menu. It’s a self-explanatory feature that works just as well as, if not better than, traditional desktop shortcuts. I use it day in and day out and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Ultimately, personal preference will always win. For those of you who have been “desktopping” for years, you’ll probably find it near impossible to break the habit. I still do it from time to time, though I try my best to clean up after myself when I realize what I’m doing. It just doesn’t make sense to store everything on the desktop anymore.

Do you clutter up your desktop with files and folders galore? If so, are you convinced enough to try a safer method of file storage? Share your thoughts with us in the comments! http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/3-better-ways-store-files-desktop/

 Posted by at 5:06 pm
Jun 122014

By Phil Sorrentino, Past President, Sarasota PCUG, Florida
January 2014 issue, PC Monitor
philsorr (at) yahoo.com

Well, now that I have your attention, let me tell you how you can accomplish this without any trickery or dishonesty. (Remember, 1TB is equal to 1,000 GB)  Wouldn’t it be nice to have all of your pictures, videos and documents available to you whenever and wherever you want it? Cloud storage is a great way to accomplish this. Cloud storage is available from many sources like Skydrive, Google Drive, SugarSync, Dropbox, etc. Some of these cloud services give you from 2GB to 7GB of free storage and then you pay for additional space (Skydrive provides 7GB free). With over 100GB of pictures and more than double that amount of videos, this could run into quite an expense using one of the commercial cloud storage services.

The cloud service I’m suggesting is your own computer system with an additional external (or internal) 2TB hard drive. You don’t have to use a 2TB drive if you don’t need that much storage. Maybe you have an old 300 or 500GB hard drive around that would do the trick. The size of the drive is not that important. What is important is that the information on that drive will be available to you wherever you are. The software that makes this incredible benefit possible is called Teamviewer. Teamviewer is available for your PC, and the Teamviewer App is available for your smartphone and/or tablet; both the PC software and the App are free for personal use. (Though the App can work on a smartphone, a 4 or 5 inch display is really too small. If you try this on a smartphone, I think you will find that the objects you will want to control will be too small when you try to use your finger to select these objects. It really works well on a larger display, so I will be limiting my discussion to a tablet with at least a 7 or 8 inch display. It works great on a 10 inch display.)

For this arrangement to work, you install Teamviewer on your home computer, you install the Teamviewer App on to your tablet, and then you leave your home computer on whenever you want access to it and the hard drive. Because I’ve limited this to tablets, the tablet will have to be in reach of a Wi-Fi network because most tablets only have Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi networks are typically found in many places such as homes, airports, libraries, Starbucks, Panera Bread, shopping centers, and some McDonalds.) If your tablet has cell phone capability then you don’t have this restriction.

Teamviewer is a software package used for remote control, desktop sharing, online meetings, web conferencing, and file transfer between computers. It runs on Windows, Apple and Android operating systems. The basic features of Teamviewer are similar to Crossloop. (You might remember Crossloop from an article published in the Sarasota PC Users Group Monitor in Feb. 2010. The intent of that article was “Assisting another member with a computer problem”, but if you’ll remember it was stated that “CrossLoop provides a quick, easy, and completely free way to give another member, a friend, or a relative, access to your computer”. This remote control feature is also part of Teamviewer, and Teamviewer has the App for tablets that allows these devices to act as remote controllers. As it says on the Teamviewer website, “Teamviewer allows you to control computers remotely via the internet, as if you were sitting right in front of them”. The home computer desktop appears on the tablet and you can interact with your home computer by using various touch-screen gestures to control the home computer and its software. Just start Windows explorer on your tablet with a double tap, (once your home computer desktop appears on the tablet) and then navigate to the Drive you have designated as “Cloud Storage”, and navigate to the folders and files of interest. To show a picture, just double tap on the file in question. You can even start a video or music and it will be streamed to your tablet, for your enjoyment. (The video will only be acceptable if you have a fast uplink at home.)

To download Teamviewer for your computer, just go to www.teamviewer.com and click on the Download button. To download the Teamviewer App for your Android tablet, just go to the Google Play Store and touch the Magnifying Glass to search for “Teamviewer”, and then download the App. The Teamviewer App logo is as shown here:

Teamviewer Logo





Teamviewer Logo

After Teamviewer has been installed on your PC, start it and you will be presented with a window that gives you a “Your ID” and a “Password” for this Computer. This ID is what you will need when you are attempting to remotely control this PC. (The “Partner ID” would be used if you were going to attempt to control another PC from this PC. That might be the subject of another article.)  The last item needed is the “Personal Password”. You can use the “Setup unattended access” wizard by clicking on the pencil icon in the Personal Password box, or you can just assign a personal password by entering a password that you desire into the Personal Password box. I would suggest you use the wizard, at least the first time. Once you have the Personal Password setup you are ready to allow remote control, or Unattended Access, as the wizard calls it.

Teamviewer on the PC







Teamviewer on the PC

The last thing to do is set up the tablet for remote control, or “unattended access of the PC”. After the Teamviewer App is installed on the tablet, start it by tapping it’s icon. This will bring up the Teamviewer remote control screen. Enter the “Your ID” number that was assigned to your PC and tap Remote Control. Teamviewer will make a connection with your PC and display an Authentication window (if it doesn’t, your tablet may not be on the Wi-Fi network). Enter your “Personal Password” into the password box and tap OK. The first time this is done you will see a screen of Touch interactions as a primer for tablet control; just tap Continue (and check the “Don’t show this dialog again” if you don’t want to see this screen again.)  After you tap Continue, your PC desktop will appear on your tablet. There is a box on the bottom right that indicates you are using Teamviewer; flick the box to the right so it will be out of your way. Now you can operate your computer just as if you were sitting in front of it. The only difference is that there is no keyboard, but you can use the tablet virtual keyboard by taping on the keyboard icon on the bottom towards the left, whenever it is needed.

Tablet showing the PC Desktop

Tablet showing the PC Desktop

Now to get to your data, just open the Windows Explorer and navigate to the drive and open any of the folders and files that are now part of your 2TB cloud storage. Make sure you close everything and save any changes you made before leaving Teamviewer. To leave Teamviewer and close the connection, tap the big X on the bottom left, and then go back to your home screen.

Now, how is that for 2TB of cloud storage with no monthly storage charge?
(I’d like to thank Dennis Russell, a student in my Android Tablets class, for making me aware of Teamviewer.)

 Posted by at 3:12 pm
Apr 142014

By Ralph Crookshanks, Webmaster, WPCUG

I got into this, trying to help a church get their Powerpoint presentation to two new TV’s that have WIFI built in. I stupidly assumed that it would be a simple matter to get it working. After much trial and error I got it working on my home computer. Even then it does not work smoothly. My home computer has six processors, and when I have a desktop streaming they are all working at 60% to 70% capacity. The second problem is that there is a 10 to 15 second delay of a change on the desktop showing up on the TV. The church decided to run cables to the TV’s.

I used Serviio‘s media server program to get the media stream to my TV. My computer connected to a wireless router, connecting via WIFI to my Roku box attached to my TV. One of my initial problems was getting to see the Serviio icon on my Roku box. I was using NOD32 Security suite, and though is indicated Serviio was acceptable software, it still blocked it. Disabling the firewall did not solve the problem, I had to disable all security to test it. I then had to change the settings in NOD32 for it to ask to allow traffic. Which is a PAIN!! It may be a topic for another article.

In the Roku box, I used the Roku media player app to see the Serviio media content. You could also use the Chaneru app. You may also see Windows Media player icon in the app. If you have a TV with WIFI, check your owners manual on how to select a media server.

The second software program you will need is VideoLAN‘s media player called VLC. It preforms the steaming process and video conversion from the desktop to what a TV can display. You will also need a plugin to do the screen capture. I used Unreal Media’s Screen Capture DirectShow source filter (UScreenCapture), under “Add-Ons”. And if you wish to add a soundtrack, you will need the virtual-audio-capture-grabber-device plugin. I did not try it, but the screen-capture-recorder-to-video-windows-free plugin includes the audio plugin, and should also work. I used what someone else got to work.

Once you have installed the above software, follow these steps to try this on your own system.

  1. Start VLC
  2. Select “Media” -> “Open Capture Device”, and the “Capture Device” tab in the “Open Media” window opens.
  3. In Device Selection area, set the “Video device name” to “UScreenCapture”.
  4. Set the “Audio device name” to “virtual-audio -capture” if you wish to add a soundtrack or to “None” for no sound as I did.
  5. Select the “Advanced options…” button.
  6. In “Advanced options”, set “Picture aspect-ratio” to “16:9” and select the “Device properties” check box. Then select “OK”. I did not try anything else.
  7. Back in “Open Media” window, click the down arrow beside “Play” and select “Stream”.
  8. The “Steam Output” window opens and should show the “Source” as “dshow://”.
  9. Select “Next”, and in “Destination Setup” click the down arrow beside “File” and select “HTTP”. Then click the “Add” button.
  10. On the “HTTP” tab opening, in “Path” add a file name, something like “/go.mpg”.
  11. Select “Next”, and you get the “Transcoding Options” page. ****Not sure what yet. Ignored.****
  12. Select “Next”, and you get the “Option Setup” page. Do not change it.
  13. Select the “Stream” button.
  14. The “Properties – Screen Capture” window then opens. Select the “Monitor” you wish to capture, and if you need to, adjust the “Capture Frame Rate” and “Capture cursor” options. Then select “OK”.
  15. You should now see “Streaming” under “Title” in the VLC “Playlist” window.
  16. Open the Serviio console, select the “Library” tab, and then it’s “Online sources” tab.
  17. Select the “Add” button to open the “Enter details of online source” window.
  18. Select the “Source type” as “Live stream”.
  19. Enter your http:ipaddress:8080/filename address; such as “http:” in the “Source URL” box.
  20. Select the “Check stream URL” button, and after a short wait, if it detects the stream okay, you will see a check mark appear. If an “X” appears, double check your address entry.
  21. Enter “Desktop” in the “Display name” box, and then select the “Add” button.
  22. Back in the “Library/Online sources” window, select the “Save” button.
  23. On the TV open the media browser, Serviio icon, video selection, and then online folder. You should see a “Desktop” file to play. After clicking “Play”, there will be a wait of about 30 seconds before your desktop displays on the TV.


Here is an optional test of the desktop stream:

  1. Start a second instance of VLC as a client to check the stream.
  2. Select “Media” -> “Open Network Steam”, and the “Network” tab in the “Open Media” window opens.
  3. Under “Please enter a network URL:” enter http:ipaddress:8080/filename address; such as “http:”.
  4. Select “Play”, and after a short wait you should see your desktop in the VLC window.


It works. and if you need to get a desktop displayed it is an option.  As I found, this is not a practical way of displaying a desktop on a TV. Using a cable would be much more practical.

It was definitely an interesting and frustrating exercise. I wish anyone trying this process the best of luck.


 Posted by at 7:07 pm
Feb 112014

By Phil Sorrentino, Past President, Sarasota PCUG, FL
October 2013 Issue, PC Monitor
philsorr (at) yahoo.com

Microsoft gave us a gift when they included Media Center in Windows. Windows Media Center (WMC) is a media player (organize and show pictures, slideshows and videos) and a digital video recorder (view and record live TV). Pictures and videos are really no big deal, Windows Media Player, WinAmp and VLC all do a fine job. The real gift is the ability to watch and record TV. It is possible to configure Media Center to handle up to 4 TV signals. Originally WMC was a separate version of Windows XP (Windows XP Media Center Edition), but it was later included in Vista (Home Premium and Ultimate), and finally all versions of Windows 7 (except Starter). Unfortunately, it is not included in Windows 8, but is available for Windows 8 Pro as an add-on for $9.99. (It was free for Windows 8 Pro early adopters up until January 31, 2013.)

WMC uses TV tuners to record and play back TV from a standard antenna, cable or satellite signal. Digital tuners support TV broadcasts in High Definition or Standard Definition. A TV tuner is a device you use to connect an analog or digital TV signal to your computer. TV tuners come in two basic model types: external TV tuners, which usually plug into a USB port on your computer (the only choice if you are using a laptop), and internal TV tuner cards, which you must install inside your computer. In order to watch and/or record TV using Media Center, you’ll need to physically connect a TV signal to the TV tuner on your computer. This typically involves connecting one end of a coaxial cable to your tuner and the other end to your TV signal source (e.g. over-the-air antenna, cable TV jack in the wall, cable TV set-top box, or satellite TV set-top box).

WMC can record TV programs manually, on a One-Touch-Record basis, or it can schedule recording shows using an included Program guide (that is customized to the local TV broadcaster). Recordings can then be put on to a DVD or portable media player (given that there are no copy restrictions). While watching live TV, WMC buffers the program so that the user can rewind, fast-forward or pause the live show, allowing users to review a spectacular touch-down pass or simply skip the commercials.

The User Interface is a little different than what Windows users are used to. The menus are very large, making them suitable for viewing on a big screen TV from your most comfortable chair. With the addition of a Media Center Remote, the user can control the operation from his/her easy chair without having to go to the computer keyboard (a wireless keyboard also gives the desired result). As expected, the “Close”, “Restore Down”, and “Minimize” buttons are in the upper right of the display, and note that a “Back” button is a left facing arrow in the upper left side of the display. These buttons appear when the mouse is moved.
You can record a live (currently airing) TV show (the show is recorded from the moment you press the “Record” button). Obviously, if you’re halfway through watching a show before you start recording, the first half won’t be recorded. (Microsoft has not yet conquered time travel.)  To start recording a show, Click the “Start” button, click “All Programs”, and then click Windows Media Center.

On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to TV, and then click “Live TV”. Move the mouse so that the playback controls appear, and then click “Record‌”.
WMC provides a Guide that is customized to your own local provider and typically displays a schedule for the next 12 or 13 days. To schedule recordings using the Guide, scroll to TV and then right-click the program that you want to record, and then left-click “Record” to schedule the recording of that program. You can also search to find a TV show or movie that you want to record. On the WMC start screen, scroll to TV, and then click Search. Click the category that you want to search by (such as Title), and then follow the instructions to start the search. On the search results page, click the TV show that you want to record, and then click “Record” to schedule a recording of that program. In order to record your favorite TV show every week, you can automate the process by scheduling the recording of an entire series. On the WMC start screen, scroll to TV, and then click Guide. Locate the TV series that you want to record, click it, and then click “Record Series”.

Once you have recorded shows, they can easily be watched. From the WMC start screen, click TV and then click Recorded TV. This will display all the shows that have been recorded in order of “date-recorded”, “title”, or “original air date”. This display is a horizontal scrolling list of thumbnails that represent each of the recorded shows. To move left or right, hover around the end of the list to illuminate the arrow for that direction, then click the arrow to move the list. Select a show to watch by clicking the thumbnail. This will display a summary of the show selected. To watch the show, click “Play”, (or click “Delete” to remove the recorded show, or “cancel series” if you’ve changed your mind about the future recording of this show). When you click “Play”, the show will start with playback controls in the lower right hand side of the show. These controls will disappear in time, but to get them back, just move the mouse. Click “Pause” to temporarily stop the program. Click “Play” to resume the show. Click “Rewind”, to watch something again, or click “Fast Forward”, ‌to move ahead in the show. Click the “Volume Increase” button (the plus to the right of speaker) or the “Volume Decrease” button (the minus to the right of speaker) to increase or decrease the volume, or click the “Mute” button (the speaker) to turn the sound on or off. When you’ve finished watching the show, move the mouse, and then click “Stop”.
WMC provides many additional features, many of which allow you more specific control of the recording process. You can set up Media Center to automatically record a specific channel at a specific time. And, you can set up Media Center to automatically record TV shows and movies based on keywords that are associated with a program such as actor’s name, director’s name, or even a word that appears in the title. (Then in the future, when a TV show or movie airs that matches keywords you specified, the program will automatically record.)  But even without these extra features, WMC turns your computer into a very capable Digital Video Recorder that you can use to time-shift TV shows.

 Posted by at 9:47 pm
Feb 112014

By Rosita Herrick, Director, Sarasota PCUG, FL
November 2013 issue, PC Monitor
editor (at) spcug.org

I have been asked quite a few questions about virus and malware protection, so I thought I would spend some time to write about Microsoft’s security options in Windows 8. The Windows Defender is part of Windows 8 and comes with the installed system.

If you have another virus protection program like Norton, McAfee, AVG, AVAST etc., the Defender is not activated. While having one software package to protect you is good, two is not better. Matter of fact two active anti-virus programs can cause lots of trouble.

The quickest way to access the security options in Windows 8 is from the Search Charm.
Click on  Charms bar   to invoke the Charms bar.
Click on Settings and type Action in the search bar. This will be the result:
Charms bar settings

Now click on the Action Center box and you will be able to access both system security and system maintenance option. In order to view what you can do, click on the little arrow on the right side of the subject. If you want to make changes you will need to have Administrator privileges.

Control panel W8

In summary, if you have no virus protection, activate Windows Defender. It is quiet, fast and will protect you from intrusions.

 Posted by at 9:41 pm
Feb 112014

By Sandy Berger, CompuKISS
sandy (at) compukiss.com

If you’ve seen QR or Quick Response Codes, but don’t know what they mean, this article will explain it all for you.  QR codes are becoming more and more prevalent and offer additional information on many of the things you read and see. QR codes can be found in many current magazines and newspapers.

QR codes: They are small squares filled with black square dots arranged in a grid pattern on a white background. If you look carefully at a QR code, you will see that each one is unique in the placement of the small black and white squares. While this doesn’t mean anything to the eye of the beholder, the placement of the dots defines the additional data that is embedded in the code. The QR code on the left will lead you to The website of The Pilot, a newspaper I write for. The one on the right will lead you to the home page on my Compu-KISS website.

QR code 1 QR code 2

Although most QR codes are black and white, they can also contain stars, squares, and other color and/or black and white images.

QR codes are now linking paper content like newspapers and magazines to digital content. To understand QR codes, you can think of them as paper-based hyperlinks that work like bar codes.  To access the digital content, you need a QR reader which you can easily download to your smart phone or tablet. Most of these are free. They use the camera in your phone to read the QR code and take you to the digital content.

You can find a QR code on a newspaper or magazine article, a business card, or a menu. Actually QR codes can be printed on just about anything. I’ve even seen them printed on T-shirts. Of course, they can also be used digitally. For example a QR code could be displayed on a web page to transfer information directly to a cell phone. A QR code can even be added to a Tweet.

To access the information in a QR code, after you download a free QR reader, you simply start the app and hold your mobile phone or tablet about 4” to 6” with the camera squarely above the QR code. When you get it positioned properly, you phone will take the picture and display the additional information on your device. You don’t have to press any buttons or the screen, everything is done automatically.

QR codes can give you many different types of additional information. If you see one on an advertisement, it will probably lead you to more information about the product. A QR code on a business card can lead you to more information about that person or company. QR codes can lead you to things like coupons, movie trailers, phone numbers, or directions. I find them invaluable when on a recipe because they allow me to view the recipe on a tablet and use it immediately in the kitchen.

Several companies have developed further enhancements for QR codes allowing them to hidden in a picture. They embed imperceptible digital information in pictures or behind text, creating an invisible hyperlink to online content. They can even embed a QR code in an audio file.

Digimarc is a company in the forefront of the QR world. I use the free Digimarc app because it works with their own “hidden” codes as well as regular QR codes and barcodes. It is available for both Android and Apple.

When a QR code is hidden, there will usually be a note to that effect or a small logo on or near the picture to indicate that it is, in fact, a QR code. Even though you don’t see the code, you can hold your phone or tablet over the picture to activate the code.

QR codes are very popular in Japan and are becoming more and more popular here as people find new uses for them. I imagine that sometime soon, all smart phones and tablets will come with a QR code reader so you won’t have to download one.

If you are interested in creating a QR code for your T-shirt, business card, or website, the easiest way to do it is to use a third-party QR code generator. I created the two QR codes shown in this article using a website called Kaywa at http://qrcode.kaywa.com. Of course, Kaywa has professional options that you have to pay for, but creating a few simple QR codes is completely free.

 Posted by at 9:04 pm
Feb 112014

By Jim Cerny, Director, Sarasota PCUG, Florida
November 2013 issue, PC Monitor
jimcerny123 (at) gmail.com

If you use email or a word-processing application (like Microsoft Word or WordPad) you probably have no trouble entering and editing text. But when it comes to putting things exactly where you want on the page, well, word processing programs can become difficult. For example, if you delete a few lines toward the beginning of your document, the rest of the document “moves up” so that no empty space appears in the middle of your text. This is great for email and word processing programs but can be a pain if you wanted to place things on a page and have them stay where you put them. Most editions of Microsoft Office (a set of application programs) contain Word (for word processing) and Publisher (for creating all sorts of wonderful publications). If you do not have Microsoft Office or Microsoft Publisher, you can purchase a cheap publishing program such as “Printshop”, “Printmaster” or “Page Plus” or other discount software. Just Google “cheap publisher software” to find these or others, some are even free. Most publisher-type programs work the same way. The following works for Microsoft Publisher (2003 edition) and is a good example of how such programs are used.

Basically a publisher program works with “objects”, not words. Oh, an object certainly CAN be words (I’ll use the term “text” if you don’t mind), but an object can be anything else as well – a photo for example. Let’s say you wanted to create and print some business cards. You would open the publisher program and first look to see what samples or “templates” the program already has to pick from. Select one that you like and it should open in the program ready for you to change anything you want. Click on the text that you want to replace with your name. A “box” will appear around the text – that is the object, in this case a box that contains text – and within this box you can change the text anyway you like. If you have a long name or if you pick a font that is too large, the result may not fit in the box. The easy solution to this is to drag the box to make it larger. You can change the size of a box (object) by dragging a “handle” at the corner or the middle edge of the box. You can also drag the whole box (not dragging on a handle point) to reposition the box anywhere you like. Whether things fit on the card or in the boxes is up to you. Remember you can make the boxes any size you want, but then you have to make sure the text size will fit in it.

Would you like to insert a photo?  Click on “insert” (it will be on a tab or a menu somewhere) and select “photo from file” – this indicates that you have a photo on your computer that you want to insert. A small window should open to allow you to go to the folder you want to find the photo. Just click on the file name to highlight it and click “ok” or “insert”. Now the photo will appear on your business card as an “object” – it will probably be very large, so you need to find the corner handle and drag it to reduce the size of the photo (you may have to use the scrollbars to get to find the handle). With resizing photos dragging a corner handle keeps the photo in the same proportion. Dragging a side handle will distort the photo. What you see on the screen will be exactly what is printed on the paper.

Once you catch on to creating and working with object boxes, everything is easy. Changing what is in once box does not affect the other boxes. But wait, there is more.

If boxes overlap, one box will be on top of the other and will block the one underneath from being seen. Boxes can be filled with any background color, or be “clear” so that what is behind them is visible. You can change the order of the objects to put the one you want on top of the others. Publisher programs also allow you to “draw” anything you want and keep it as an object (like a photo). Naturally different programs will have different options, but each should have a way to get “help” and find out how to use the tools and options you want. Whatever program you use, knowing how to use the “help” option or tab is always a good idea. Most programs do not come with printed manuals anymore.

Ok, once you have completed your fabulous design of your business cards, you will want to print them out. Because business cards are a standard size, they will print ten cards per 8.5 x 11 inch page. It is best to buy the business card stock from an office supply store – you may even find ones with backgrounds already on them. They will be already perforated for easy separation. I always print on plain paper first and then compare the sheet carefully to the cardstock to make sure all fits nicely before I print.

With a little practice you will be designing your own greeting cards, labels, tags, return address labels, invitations, banners, and much more. Along the way you will have learned how to use some graphics tools too, and that’s a good thing. Don’t be afraid to explore the program – see what other templates and options are available to try, you will discover some amazing things. Try designing and printing some creative business cards for your spouse or friend, it will make you look like a printing (and computer) wizard.

 Posted by at 8:53 pm
Feb 112014

Bill Sheff, Novice SIG Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Computer Group, PA
November 2013 issue, The LVCG Journal
nsheff (at) aol.com

Buying a Computer
The holidays are nearly upon us, and some of us are considering purchasing a computer either as a gift or for ourselves. So usually one of the first questions is: which PC brand is best?  Some swear by a particular brand, and there is probably an equal amount swearing at it. Let’s consider the fact that every PC consists of different parts, even within the same brand or model. So let’s look at what we should be considering in the purchase of a new computer. (For the purpose of this discussion I am leaving the choice of PC or Apple to the reader. Much can be said for either choice.)

Value! Before we decide on a price range we should consider what we want in a computer and then we can compare prices among various brands that are providing the same items within the “box.”

So first off, do we want a Laptop or Desktop?
This used to be a simple choice. Laptops offered mobility, but sacrificed a lot of performance.

Today many laptops, while sometimes being slightly slower than similarly priced desktops, offer more than enough performance for more than just everyday tasks. With a desktop you can always add additional cards, but outside of an ability to increase memory there are not too many add-ons for a laptop. If you decide that you want the portability and convenience of a laptop, it should have a good screen since it is not easily replaceable.  And while you are at it, consider what size screen fits your need. Today, not only can you get very large monitors, you can also get monitors that are
touch sensitive (like a cell phone). Additionally, today’s memory should be between four to eight GB depending upon how much graphic editing you plan to do, but you do not need any ram over 16 GB.

The increase in speed over 8GB is negligible. For normal use four GB of ram should be sufficient to handle most programs including the threshold needed for the operating system.

OK! Let’s look further under the hood.
On a PC you should have a 400 Watt power supply to cover any additional cards you might require.

Laptops provide sufficient wattage. Today’s hard drives are usually 7200 RPM so do not settle for the older 5400 RPM models. Most DVD drives have been upgraded to read Blu-ray, but you don’t want to have to pay extra to be able to record Blu-ray. Also, do you want or need a light scribe disk burner to be able to print labels on the special light scribe disks?

Today’s processors have greatly improved. Look for the Intel I3 (or higher) or an AMD A6 (or higher). I would suggest you do not use the older Celeron, Pentium or AMD E or X2 series.

Ports. I can only suggest you cannot have too many ports. A minimum of four to six USB2 ports should be the minimum. Also see if there is a firewire port and for sure an HDMI port for video transfer.

Most laptops provide a pcmcia card slot which allows adding many useful options. Also both usually have slots to slide in memory sticks.

Motherboards. Almost all motherboards offer video and audio on the board. I have found that except for gaming where you need higher speed graphics the on board audio and video are quite sufficient.

Warranty & Support
Pay careful attention to the warranty and support policies, because they are getting more complicated than ever. Many companies offer various levels of in-home, mail-in or even local repair.

If your warranty is “mail-in after 90 days for a period of 1 year,” it means if anything goes wrong hardware-wise, you’ll need to mail the computer in. You may wait up to two weeks to get it back.

Buying from a local computer shop can often result in faster service and better component choices (to reduce service costs), but may cost you a bit more initially. Since most computers work pretty problem-free after a brief burn-in period; there are some who suggest that additional warranties are not price effective.

Finally, while not readily apparent, tech support from the various brands should be a consideration when choosing a brand.

Reinstall your operating system
When you purchase a new computer you normally do not get any restore disks to reinstall the hard drive to its original condition in case of a virus or failure. Sometimes they suggest you make a copy of the restore disks and keep them safe. Often they suggest you can restore directly from the partition “D” drive for Vista or Win 7. The “D” drive is a “restore partition” which holds the recovery programs. This partition costs less to make than it does to manufacture restore discs. This is good if you cannot locate the restore disks at a crucial time.

If you feel you want to restore from a restore partition, and you can, back up your computer, at least all the files and data you want to save. You probably could do a “non-destructive” restore that will allow you to keep all of your files intact, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

All HPs and Dells manufactured within the past five years include them, as do most other computers these days. You can check for the restore partition by clicking START and then COMPUTER. What you’re looking for is labeled “restore” or “recovery”.

Next, click START and then enter “recovery” into the search box. Click on RECOVERY

When you run the recovery manager, you’ll see a screen with various options.

If your problem is that one of the original programs that came with your computer has become corrupt, you use SOFTWARE PROGRAM REINSTALLATION. MICROSOFT SYSTEM RESTORE will close the recovery manager and launch Microsoft’s system restore program to fix broken Windows. The final option here is REALLY the final option. SYSTEM RECOVERY is for when your system has become hopelessly corrupt and you need to start from scratch.

COMPUTER CHECKUP will check your system for errors and problems. If you’re not sure what’s wrong, this might be a good place to start.

RECOVERY MEDIA CREATION allows you to make the external disks you should have made when you turned your computer on for the first time. These disks are in case  there was a total hard disk failure. You can take out the damaged drive and put in a new one and reinstall the programs.

Try and make those disks before the total hard disk failure.  Once you have those disks made put them where they won’t be lost or forgotten. Also on the screen mentioned above is a  RECOVER REPORT which  is pretty self-explanatory. Finally there is a  REMOVE RESTORE PARTITION option on the screen.

Once you have restored your operating program be prepared to wait while all the updates get installed.

What Do I Do With a Flash Drive?
I really didn’t know if I had to put in a tip like this, but once in a while we have to go back to basics just in case there are a few of us out there who are newbies, or just confused.

A USB flash drive is sometimes called a jump drive or memory stick. (A thumb drive is slightly different because they have a write-protect feature). In either case the drive is simply a data storage device just like a floppy disk, or even a hard drive. Unlike a hard drive it has no moving parts. It draws power from the USB port on your computer. There are other USB drives that are actually spinning hard drives and sometimes include external power plugs. USB ports can be located in the front or back or even both on a desktop, and usually on the sides of a laptop or all-in-one.

Once you put the drive into the port, the computer will recognize it as a removable drive and assign it a drive letter.

Now you can copy or move items to the drive, the way you would copy to a floppy or transfer to another file or folder. You can add new folders to the drive and do practically any other action that you can do with a regular drive.

It is a good idea to click the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in your system tray to avoid any possible loss of data. This is not too important with the solid state flash drives, but is important with any USB drives that are spinning.

Besides having the ability to hold a lot of data, USB drives can also be used for creating a bootable USB drive and even putting many apps on it to keep some data from having to be installed on your computer.

 Posted by at 8:49 pm
Feb 112014

By Dick Maybach, Member, Brookdale Computer Users’ Group, NJ
November 2013 issue, BUG Bytes
n2nd (@) att.net

Personal computers are vital appliances for most of us. We use them to balance our checkbooks, calculate our taxes, communicate with friends and family, store our memories, and keep us informed. This is much different than when they were first introduced, when we felt free to perform experiments using them that today are unthinkable because of the risk of losing valuable data. As a result, we have the ironic situation that as our PCs become more and more complex, we know less and less about them. A solution is to acquire a smaller and simpler computer just to play with. Ideally, it won’t take up much space on our crowded computer desk and will be cheap to replace if something goes horribly (or wonderfully, if you’re adventuresome) wrong.

There are dozens of these tiny computers, but here I’ll talk about just two, the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi. Both are supported by active on-line communities, both are described in several books, both are open source, which means you are free to make any changes you like to their software, and both are cheap – less than $50. (Although you will probably pay more for a complete starter or experimenter’s kit.) Both were developed by educators, the Arduino in Italy and the Raspberry Pi in the UK, for the purpose of helping people learn about computers and computing. However, the two are quite different. The Arduino is really a controller, about as smart are your washing machine, and its inputs and outputs are Voltages on its pins. It runs only one program at a time, and once started, runs it forever. As you use an Arduino, you’ll be learning programming and electronics. The Raspberry Pi is a real computer that runs Linux and comes with a full complement of PC software, including a Web browser. Its inputs and outputs are a keyboard, mouse, graphical display, and Ethernet and USB ports. As you use the Raspberry Pi, you’ll learn programming, networking, and operating system operation and configuration.

The Arduino (http://www.arduino.cc/), like the Raspberry Pi, is about the size of a credit card. In the photo below, the Arduino is the blue card in the foreground. Normally, it’s programmed and powered through the USB connector at the rear of the left edge. Once, a program has been loaded, it can be powered via the black connector at the front of the left edge (for example by a 9-volt battery). This unit illustrated is mated to a solder less breadboard, on which you can build circuits just by pushing component leads into its holes. Jumpers connect the breadboard with the Arduino’s input/output pins along its front and rear edges. The Arduino is almost always used as a circuit element, and many experimenter’s kits are available to get you started. These usually include an Arduino, a breadboard, and a collection of jumpers and electronic parts, e.g., LEDs, switches, motors, and sensors. Make an Internet search, and you will certainly find many interesting products and projects. My favorite vendor is Adafruit, but it has many fine competitors.

The Arduino

Getting started with the Arduino is quite easy. Go to their home page, http://www.arduino.cc/, and download the Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which is available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. (Linux users can also find it in their repositories.) Connect an Arduino board to a USB port and start the IDE. As you may be able to tell from the screenshot, the Arduino uses a variant of the C programming language. The example here is the program blink, which just cycles an LED on and off. This is the equivalent of the classic “Hello World” program that is almost every C programmer’s first effort.

The Arduino screen

The Arduino’s capabilities are quite modest – typically the processor runs at 16 MHz, has about 20 I/O pins (some analog, some digital), and is equipped with 32 kbytes of EEPROM (for programs) and 2 kbytes of RAM (for data). Normally, you would use the Arduino just to control the hardware and send any data it collects to a PC for analysis. To make this easier, consider using the Processing language on your computer, available at http://processing.org/. It’s very close to what the Arduino uses and has an almost identical IDE.

You should be able to get started using only information available from the Internet, but if you prefer a book, look at Getting Started with Arduino by Massimo Banzi. Many others are available, some for the beginner and others describing advanced projects.

While the Arduino is a simple controller, the Raspberry Pi, http://www.raspberrypi.org/, is a real computer that uses the Linux operating system. The kit I purchased (from Adafruit) included a clear plastic case and a solder less breadboard, but many projects won’t need the latter. The Pi has two USB ports (silver connectors on the center right), an Ethernet port (silver connector on the front right), a HDMI port for the display (silver connector on the center front), a power connector (micro USB connector on the front left), a SD connector for storage (a SD card protrudes from the case on the left), a collection of ports (connected to the breadboard by a black ribbon cable at the left rear), an analog video port (yellow connector at the rear), and a stereo audio jack (blue connector at the rear).

The Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is more powerful than the Arduino, with a 700-MHz ARM CPU and 512 Mbytes of RAM. (These specs are for the model B. The model A is much less capable and costs only a few Dollars less.) The processor is not Intel compatible; however, its overall performance is similar to a 300MHz Pentium 2, but with much better graphics. Clearly, it isn’t an acceptable replacement for any modern home computer. However, it does act like a (slow) PC, as you can see from the screen-shot below, which shows the desktop with windows open for the Internet browser and file manager.

The Raspberry Pi screen

Getting a Raspberry Pi running is more involved than with the Arduino. Although it’s powered through a USB port, PC USB ports can’t supply enough current; you will need either a cell phone recharger or a powered USB hub. Be careful of cell phone rechargers though; many cheap units can’t supply the current they claim. The safe approach is to purchase one from the vendor from whom you buy your Pi. You will need a USB keyboard and mouse; if you don’t have an extra set, they are quite cheap. Hopefully, you have a HDMI display, either for your PC or a flat-screen TV; if not, you could try an old analog TV set, but its resolution will be poor. Finally, connect any USB peripherals through a powered hub, rather than ask the Pi to power them. I bought a no-name 10-port hub that had good user reports on Amazon, and it can also power the Pi. Finally, unlike the Arduino, which comes with its control software installed, you must supply the SD card for the Raspberry Pi and install Linux and its applications on it. This requires a SD card burner, and unfortunately many on the market aren’t up to the job. Again, purchasing one from your Pi supplier is the safe approach.

As with the Arduino, you can probably get started with the Pi using only what you learn on the Internet, but there are also numerous books. The project has published Raspberry Pi User Guide by Eben Upton. There are numerous others, as well as magazine and Internet articles. I’ve seen descriptions of a media center, an Internet radio, a time-lapse camera control, a network file server, a firewall, and a wireless access point. (Many of these don’t require a keyboard, mouse, or display once they are running, so you could disconnect these for use elsewhere once the project is on line.) You could even connect an Arduino to a Raspberry to obtain a portable sophisticated hardware control and data processing system.

Both these devices are ideal for experimenting. No matter how badly you screw up the software, you can just download a new program to your Arduino or reburn the SD card on your Raspberry Pi. Even if you manage to fry the electronics, you can replace either card for less than $50. Both are wonderful platforms for introducing electronics and computers to young people. There are many Arduino projects that can be completed in less than an hour, including building the circuit and writing the program. The Raspberry Pi software includes Scratch, a programming language for children that builds animated graphics with sound, and Python, a more sophisticated language for older kids and adults.


 Posted by at 8:37 pm
Feb 112014

By Harold Davis
Review by Mark Mattson, Editor, Computer Users of Erie, Pennsylvania
October 2013 issue, Horizons
bookworm8 (at) verizon.net

Hot off the press comes the latest book from photographer and author Harold Davis dealing with the subject of post-production techniques in the digital photography world.

The Way of the Digital PhotographerAt first glance, the title may seem to some to indicate that this volume deals with how to improve your digital photography skills. In a way, it might, because Harold keeps impressing on the reader that getting it as right in-camera is important to producing great images. Rather, ‘The Way’ he presents to you is how to take your already good images and make them the best they can be…or better.

As you travel along the journey this book takes you on, you discover many gems of wisdom Harold has learned over the years, and passes them on to you. For instance, one passage early in the book struck me as something I never thought of before when doing my photography. It starts on page 27 and continues onto 28. Basically what he is telling you is that you are not photographing an object, rather you are photographing
the LIGHT that defines the object. The light falling on your subject can make it appear different, depending on the direction and quality the light has at any given moment. You
may notice a subject and shoot an image right at that moment. But if you wait a minute or an hour or longer, the light will change and oftentimes make for an even better photo.

Reading this passage made me stop and really think about how I’ve been looking at photography all these years. It made me wonder if I had it wrong, and that was what holds me back from making even better images. It’s now part of my thinking when I pick up the camera… and something I need to explore further.

Study your subject…see how the light shapes and defines it. Move around, change positions and see how it changes the scene. Unless you’re shooting fast-paced action such as sports, time is your friend to making great images. Be patient.

The book runs 192 pages. It is divided into three main sections, with chapters falling under those sections detailing further the subject at hand. The main sections are:

● Digital Photography is Painting
● Multi-RAW and Hand-HDR Processing
● Enhancement to Glory

Also present is a short Resources section, and a detailed Index to all topics covered in the book.

The volume is filled with both color and black and white photos taken by author Davis to
Illustrate the concepts he is presenting to you. Being a volume on Photoshop post-processing techniques, there are also many screen captures of his system illustrating how the concept being discussed is performed, so you may apply them to your own images.

Two of the chapters were of particular interest to me, the one dealing with Multi-RAW processing and that dealing with the LAB color space. MultiRAW processing is another way of making an image with a high contrast range, similar to HDR processing. However, it is accomplished using a single RAW file that is processed twice.

The LAB color space is a different mode in Photoshop used to adjust color in your image; some prefer it as it gives more precise results in certain circumstances than using the RGB adjustments.

There are many of what Harold calls ‘Meditations’ interspersed throughout the book, intended to make you think about and understand the topic being covered. They give you an exercise to make the topic clearer to you. Be sure to read through them as well when working through the volume

The Way of the Digital Photographer is published by Peachpit Press, and is available now. The ISBN number is 978-0321943071.

You may purchase the title direct from the publisher, and use your UG discount code for a discount. It is also available for purchase on Amazon for $23.03 (list price is $34.99).
The Way of the Digital Photographer paperback version is at Amazon.ca for $23.19 (list price is $36.99).

Photography is an art form that can be frustrating, satisfying, creative, and any number of other forms and feelings, depending on how you view it. Experience comes with time, as well as with guidance from those that have gone before. It can be a long and winding path, but with an author such as Harold Davis to show you the way, it can be satisfying and rewarding as well.

 Posted by at 8:02 pm
Feb 112014

By Linda Gonse, Editor & Webmaster, Orange County PC Users’ Group, CA
October 2013 issue, Nibbles & Bits
editor (at) orcopug.org

The final question on Jeopardy on its September 26 episode was based on the category “Internet.” The question was “The animal for which this computer program is named is actually a red panda.”

Do you have any idea what that program is? When I tell you the answer, you will shake your head — as I did — and you will say “What? That’s not right!”— just as I did.

Are you ready? The answer is “What is Firefox (the internet browser)?”

“Fire fox,” in Chinese, is another name for the red panda.

In fact, Mozilla launched a website called “Firefox Live” in November 2011 to educate and raise awareness of the endangered red panda species.

Live videos of three baby red pandas, Bernadette, Dolly, and Winston, that were sheltered at the Knoxville Zoo, were streamed on the Firefox Live website until March 2012. When the babies reached maturity they were sent to breed and become part of the animal families at the Virginia Zoo (Norfolk, Virginia) and the Zoo Boise (Boise, Idaho). Subsequently, the Firefox Live website was retired.

If you’d like to find a red panda in a zoo near you, go to http://redpandanetwork.org/red_panda/find-a-red-panda-near-you/

 Posted by at 7:20 pm
Feb 112014

By Mike Lyons, ORCOPUG President
October 2013 issue, Nibbles & Bits
editor (at) orcopug.org

It’s been quite a while since I mentioned one of the best photo education sites on the web — Strobist.com.

Started in March 2006, David Hobby created a lighting tutorial to help beginning photo students learn flash photography with a minimum of equipment. What is really cool is he explains in understandable terms and gives you his thoughts behind the instructions.

Between 2006 and 2013, David learned a lot about lighting and how to do things better. In addition, lighting equipment and lighting styles have evolved.

David has just completed a rewrite of Lighting 101, called Lighting 102. If you haven’t read Lighting 101, I’d start there and move onto Lighting 102 (although you don’t have to).

He also has a bunch of behind the scene shots with his thought process included. It’s another great resource on the site.

 Posted by at 7:15 pm
Feb 112014

By Bill Crowe, 2nd  VP, Sarasota PCUG, Florida
October 2013 issue, PC Monitor
editor (at) spcug.org

Apple’s iPhone/iPad operating system, called iOS, got a huge makeover and you may be considering not upgrading. After all I am just getting the hang of iOS6. The changes, while numerous, are not difficult.

The new operating system, called iOS 7, involves hundreds of interface changes and adds a new “control center” (sweet up from the bottom of the screen) that gives you access to important features like the camera, clock, and music player.

It even includes a new way to multi-task between programs and a built-in flashlight. In short, it makes your iPhone look brand new.

But what are you really getting when you upgrade to iOS 7?

Here are some of some favorite features.

1. It looks completely different. The first thing you’ll notice about the new iPhone OS is how different it is.

All the icons have been “flattened” with a lot of the textures associated with Steve Jobs’ efforts removed.

Instead of rich leather lookalikes, you get clean, clear, and crisp text and lines. Instead of photo-realistic icons you get images that “suggest” their purpose.

2. It is truly secure. This is an interesting feature: when you lose your phone, you can lock it completely and thieves won’t be able to reactivate it even if they want to. In short, in 99 percent of cases, a thief will never be able to use your stolen phone again. This should, Apple hopes, reduce iPhone theft.

3. Photo browsing got a lot easier. When you take photos in iOS 7 they are automatically organized into moments. For example, when you shoot a bunch of photos at the petting zoo and then come home and shoot a few more, these photos are broken up by time and location.

4. Expect better battery life. The phone should perform better thanks to upgraded multi-tasking and improvements to the base software. While you probably will still suffer if your phone has horrible battery life now — it probably means your actual battery is broken — new users can expect snappier performance.

5. Siri is smarter. First, Siri doesn’t sound like a robot anymore, which is good news. Second, Siri offers more information in a more pleasing way and it can now search more sources of information and do more

6. It has some 3D tricks up its sleeve. One of the coolest features is one of the most subtle: the icons on the screen “float” over the background. In other words, when you move the phone the icons move around to reveal parts of the wallpaper underneath. It’s a very cute feature that lets you see more of your favorite photos and offers a much cleaner view of the interface.

7. It includes iTunes Radio, a cool way to discover new music. If you’ve used services like Pandora or Radio, you’re probably familiar with how iTunes Radio works. In short, it lets you stream music (and buy it) right from your music player. This means you can listen to almost as much new music as you want whenever you want as well as playlists of popular hits.

Think of it as a way to preview iTunes purchases and a fun way to discover new music.

 Posted by at 7:08 pm
Feb 112014

By Rosita Herrick, Director, Sarasota PCUG, FL
October 2013 issue, PC Monitor
editor (at) spcug.org

Using the version of 8.1 that was made available for testing, I can state that the improvements make access easier. As I mentioned last month, grouping like apps on the Start Screen makes for faster access even of desktop applications.

When you click on the search charm, the search box shows by itself and the default is a search of the C: drive. The results are displayed below the search box so it is easier to click on the found App.

You will notice that next to the word Everywhere there is a down pointing arrow. If you click on it, You get the choice of searching Everywhere, Settings, and Files.

Windows 8.1 Search-1Windows 8.1 Search-2

Another improvement is the capability to display all the Apps and Programs easily from the Start Screen. Notice below the arrow at the lower left, clicking on it will display all Apps and Programs in alphabetical order. All items can be grouped to make it easier to personalize the screen.

 Posted by at 7:03 pm
Feb 112014

Kathy Frey, Member, Computer Club of Green Valley, AZ
October Issue, Green Bytes
Freyrbgv (at) gmail.com

Traveling to and from Green Valley or other parts of the world with a laptop in tow? Then here a few tips to keep it from being stolen.

1. Never leave it in your car.
2. Keep it locked with a strong password and lock your case.
3. Do not put it on the floor of a restaurant, meeting room, airport, etc. If you do, then put your leg through the strap so you can feel its presence.
4. Do not keep your password in or around the case.
5. Do not leave it in the care of someone you just met so you can go to the restroom or talk to an airport agent.
6. Turn on alarms if you have them so you can hear if someone is tampering with your laptop or laptop case.
7. Check on the internet for other ways to secure your valuables whether it be a laptop, iPad, iPhone or other device.
8. Treat your electronic gadgets like cash.

 Posted by at 6:53 pm
Feb 112014

Review by George Harding, Treasurer, Tucson Computer Society, AZ
October 2013 issue, TCS eJournal
georgehardingsbd (at) earthlink.net

Here’s a company that has grown by providing just what the customer wants. It started with a line of waterproof cases and continued with cases through which the enclosed device could be manipulated. From that point on it was a matter of adapting cases to the continuing flow of new types of devices, still keeping each case waterproof and protective.

Every time I go to a computer show, Otterbox is there and has a new case to give away. I currently have two new cases, the Pursuit and the Armor, which the Company describes as “The toughest case ever made.”

The PursuitThe Pursuit is about the width and height of a cell phone, but is a good bit thicker, a bit over an inch. It has a latch that brings the top snugly down to the bottom. The top has a flexible strip just inside its rim, which is what makes the interior waterproof (up to 100 feet deep). Protection also includes crush (up to 1,000 pounds), drop and impact, as well as dust and debris. It’s designed to provide super protection for outdoor activities.
The exterior of the case has hard plastic “bumpers” on each corner and end. There is a flexible loop attached to make it easy to fasten the case to your belt. Inside, both the top and bottom have semi-rigid pads to help soften impacts.


The ArmorThe Armor is a cell phone case sized for the iPhone 5, iPhone 4 or Samsung Galaxy, but could be used for others as well. The case is described as waterproof, drop proof, dust proof and crush proof.




For Otterbox waterproof is no big deal; all their cases are waterproof! For this case,however, “water proof” means submersion for 30 minutes at 6.6 feet of water. “Drop proof” for this case means protection for drops up to 10 feet. “Crush proof” is probably the most amazing – up to 2 tons! Soft foam on the interior provides a custom fit and cushioning. There is also a screen protector built in that prevents scratches and damage to the glass display. It’s hard to imagine any type of action that would damage your cell phone!

Otterbox Pursuit and Armor cases
Vendor: Otterbox
www.otterbox .com
Price: Pursuit about $20, Armor about $100

 Posted by at 5:32 pm