Simplifying Technology

Call on your tekMate to help you use and better understand your computer, your tablet, your phone, or your camera. We want you to use your digital technology to its potential, and your potential. Don't miss out on the digital age, it isn't too hard, or only for kids. It's for everybody.

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Sunday, 17 November 2013

Persistence and Scammer low-lifes

The Cells
The Cells (Photo credit: Melody Kramer)
One thing I have to grudgingly admire about the scammers out there is there persistence.  Of course this is far outweighed by their other traits, which merit some kind of retribution (I know what I'd like to do to them).  

I just got another one this morning asking me to change my security details at a bank I don't actually have an account with - which is always a giveaway.  This one obviously bypassed the scam/spam detection mechanisms of my email provider.  Luckily I don't see these mails often.

This one asked:

I changed the logo and bank name - it's not their fault.  the image above also removes the link in case there is someone out there stupid enough to follow it and fall into the scam.  There must be people still that naive out there for these guys (and gals) to keep on trying.

This is the most obvious of the scams we are subjected to, although they did upgrade the mail from courier font, and there are no spelling mistakes or major grammatical stumbles.  But, how can anyone still be fooled by these?

A lot of energy and effort goes into preventing these scams from reaching us, but I suspect there is little done to try and prevent these from occurring.  Wouldn't be nice if someone could come up with mechanisms to prevent these people from even trying.  I'm not holding my breath though.

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Who's got my package? Why it's me!

If you are one of my regular readers (that's if I have any) you may remember my last post lamenting the loss of a package of stuff purchased from a reputable on-line store in the USA.

Check out
That package had not turned up and I imagined it languishing in some obscure part of the world looking much the worse for wear.

Well, guess what...  Yep, you are right, it has finally turned up.  10 weeks after shipping from the supplier in the USA it was delivered to us here in New Zealand.  The package was in pristine condition, with no additional stickers suggesting a journey to parts unknown.  Everything inside the package was fine, it just took 10 weeks to get here.  I guess we'll never know why.  My guess is that because it was super cheap shipping the shipper just fitted it in when he had spare space.  Not often obviously.

Still, it restores my faith in internet commerce.  All I need now is for that smartphone case that we bought 2 weeks ago to turn up from Hong Kong.  What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Who's got my package?

We often buy stuff over the internet.  Over several years we have never lost anything.  Everything we have bought on-line has turned up.  Sometimes things have taken their time.  A few years back I bought a pair of sunglasses that went missing for a while.  They did turn up eventually after some discussion with the courier company - my theory was that it, being a small package, got lost somewhere in the local delivery guys van.

However now I think now we have really lost a package.  We have ordered stuff quite a few times over the last few years from iHerb in the USA.  Great service and usually pretty quick.  Over the years we have chosen their cheapest option which they call 'Priority Mail'.  That just means the Postal Service...  It has been reliable, reasonably fast and very very cheap.  But the last time we ordered was the end of August - it's now mid-October and no package.  I don't think we will see this one now.  I have let iHerb know - just for their records - it was my delivery choice so I don't expect them to fix it.  In future I will use a tracked courier option.

I have this vision of my package, all dirty and mangled, sitting in a lost parcel office in small town in Eastern Europe somewhere.  I hope somebody takes pity on it and makes use of it.

It is annoying and does make you think twice when buying online.  Not that it has stopped us as we have two packages (not counting my missing one) on their way to us now.  I wait nervously!  Am I stupid?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Google - why did you do this to me?

Yesterday I got a package in the mail - A Google Chromecast.   If you don't know what one of those is it's a cool little dongle that plugs into an HDMI port on your TV and makes it an output device for content from the Web.  These are not yet sold in New Zealand.  In the USA, of course, they are available for just $US35.  Not a lot of money in anyone's language.  I imagine if you have a friend or relative in the USA you could easily get one of these as a gift.

The beauty of this device is that it is driven from any suitable internet device, PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.  No ugly remote control with obscure and meaningless buttons, just a device that you are already using.  When you get some great content on your device you can 'cast' it to your Chromecast-enabled TV.  Magic.

[Here's my rant, see my later comment at the end.  My mistake as it wasn't as ugly as I first thought]

So I excitedly unwrapped the device, noting the USA power plug - no problem if your TV, like mine, has a USB connection as you can use that for power.  Plugged it in, grabbed my Nexus 7 tablet, and navigated to the setup website.  This transferred me to the Play Store and to the Chromecast app for Android.  This is where I got very annoyed.  The Play Store won't allow me to install the app because 'the product is not yet available in my country' !!!

Why did you do that Google?  I wasn't trying to buy one - I already have one.  It is available in my country - it's in the back of my TV.  All I want is the software to let me use it.  What's the problem with letting me have that?  The world isn't going to end if that happens is it?

I got around the problem by using my Windows 7 laptop.  Added the equivalent app and away I went. However I can't use my Android tablet for this.  I am about to buy an Android smartphone but it won't work on that either.  So I am stuck with using my laptop - at least that works.  I googled this issue - there are some very complicated ways to get around this involving shuffling Google accounts etc.  That's too stupid and dangerous.  So I'll just keep muttering under my breath.

[red-faced correction for the rant above - It DOES work with my Nexus 7 - it's just the setup app that is restricted.  While that is still stupid at least I can use the tablet with the Chromecast once it has been set up.   Joy joy happy happy]

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Advertising Pig

You may notice a few strategically placed advertisements on our website now.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  The first reason is that we needed to go through the advertising process for our own education - we may want to sell you a service to do this so we thought it wise to practice a bit first.  The second reason is that we haven't won the lottery so we thought that selling advertising might be more lucrative.  We are all saving for our, hopefully long, retirement.

We went with the Google option - they seem to know how to do this stuff.  It was pretty easy to set up and get going.  We haven't restricted any adverts so all we can say is that the ads do not in any way represent the ideas or attitudes of the management - we will be as surprised as you at what turns up here.

We would be interested in your comments.  What do you think of these ads?  what about advertising on websites in general - any winners or losers?

Friday, 30 August 2013

Old and New - Fantastic journeys on the Web

One of the cool things that the internet provides is access to all manner of unusual stuff.  Admittedly there is a lot of junk and rubbish out here, but you just have to look for the gems.  Here's an example of where I got to in my travels.  

I've always had a liking for old music, from the early to middle of the twentieth century, especially old country music, and original Blues.  By Googling some of the artists that I knew I rapidly expanded my knowledge and understanding of some of these old musicians and the music they left us, and added to my list of favourites.

From many years ago I have had a liking for Bluegrass music (remember the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band).  It's not far from there to Bill Monroe, and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (what great names).  While searching out these people, and their music, I added other musicians from other periods and related genres. Robert Johnson, the, now, well-known Blues singer/guitarist; Leadbelly - more Blues; Jimmie Rodgers with his country and "white" blues mix (the one from the 1920s, not the 1950s); through to outfits like Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

Not only can you read up about these people on various websites, including Wikipedia, but you can listen to recordings, for example on YouTube. And, of course, searching out these people adds other new ones to the mix.

Without the internet where would we find all of these people and their music?

I'll leave it to you to search out the artists above.  (Here's a puzzle for you - search out the connection between Bob Wills and Mick Jagger).  Maybe your taste in music is somewhat different to mine ("Oh Yes" I hear you cry).  So the best thing to do is chase up some of the artists that you remember from way back when.  Build and expand your own list of cool stuff.

Leave us a comment on any cool stuff you find.
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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Travel in the Information Age

Being a heavy internet user I can't imagine life without it.  There are so many things that are out there just waiting to be explored.  I was reminded of one aspect of this yesterday when I came across
No tour buses come down this lane in Cumbria

This web page contains some tips on tools and ideas for organising travel.  Last year we arranged a 7 week trip to Europe, and almost all of this was done using the internet.  Over a period of a year we researched details on where we wanted to go, accommodation choices, driving, things to do, even restaurants and pubs that were worth a visit.  We then booked accommodation, a tour or two, even a dinner in a restaurant for a birthday celebration.  We did use a travel agent for airline bookings, rental car and one two-night hotel stay.  In hindsight we could easily have done those as well, and maybe better.

Abbey of Sant'Antimo - off the beaten track in Tuscany
Because of the research and the booking capabilities on the web we had a holiday that no travel agent could have booked for us.  We spent over two weeks in Italy, mostly in Tuscany.  We had good, relatively cheap accommodation and a list of so many things to do we couldn't do them all.  This was followed up with 5 weeks in the UK, none of the time staying in cities.  Fantastic experience.

Goathland Station - off the beaten track in Yorkshire
The only down-side was that after booking everything I realised that this travel planning had become a hobby, and it was quite a wrench to stop doing something that was so much fun.  We are starting to plan another trip in 2-3 years, but it's a bit early to book anything yet!

Have you used the resources now available to plan an adventure?  Ask me sometime and I'll tell you what we did.  I could even show you the photos, there only a couple of thousand, shouldn't take too long.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

My Word

One of my neighbours recently purchased Microsoft Word (and maybe more of MS Office as well).  She had persevered for several years with Open Office (which of course, is free) but was never really happy with it. For example could never get the spell check/dictionary stuff to work.  I think this was an installation problem, I remember that installing a dictionary in Open Office was a bit of a challenge.  Since then I have seen a couple of the documents my neighbour has written.  They are well written and formatted correctly, and the spelling is pretty good.  However there is nothing special in them to warrant the sophistication (and complexity) of Word.  Everything in these documents could have easily been done with Open Office, or with my favourite free Word Processor - Google Drive (or Google Docs as it used to be known).

While this may not seem significant or important, it just reminds me that there are so many choices out there, and making the right decision is not easy.  I wonder if my neighbour even knows about Drive, even though she is currently migrating to using a GMail address.  For my neighbour, and most people who just need to write the occasional simple letter or document, I'm sure Drive would have been perfectly adequate, a lot simpler to use, more secure (Cloud storage/backup), and free.  Of course nobody makes any money selling free software, I'm sure the computer sales person didn't offer it as a choice.  Anyway my neighbour is happy and there is no point in changing that choice now.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Power to the People

Power lines/life lines

Over the last 3 weeks or so we have had 3 bursts of power cuts.  Two of them involving multiple cycles of off-on again, plus a period of about an hour with no power at all.  The last occurrence was unknown as it occurred while we were asleep.  However being deprived of electricity does show how dependent we are on the stuff.  No TV, and worse for me, no internet connection, and some scares with expensive stuff that behaved oddly until being powered off.  As we are in a rural location, with a water pump, we didn't have water either but the loss of TV and Internet was a real annoyance.  While candlelight is quite romantic, it's nigh impossible to read by it.  I suppose sitting in the dark, luckily beside a wood fire, is quite relaxing, it does get a bit boring.

I think that the occasional loss of power is one of the down-sides to rural living.  We are lower priority and probably more susceptible to these things with lots of overhead lines and trees etc.

Anyway, if anyone from the electrical supply company reads this, I do appreciate the power supply but please keep it going.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Newsflash - Chromebooks are here in New Zealand

The other day while surfing I stumbled across a reference to an Acer Chromebook for sale in NZ.  There seem to be several of the on-line retailers now selling them, and Acer's NZ site lists one device (for $429 versus the US price of $199).

I'd love to get my hands on one (Acer, Google - are you listening?).

I wonder if these machines are a better choice for an occasional computer user?  The Chromebook is effectively just a browser, and I guess there are a lot of users out there who just use a browser.  For them this would be a much simpler, cheaper, and less complex machine to use.  Several people in my immediate family could probably quite happily use one instead of a PC.

Of course if you consider going down this route then maybe a tablet, Android or Ipad, could probably perform the same function.

Either way, this choice must be one of the reasons for the languishing sales of laptops, and the slow take-up of Windows 8.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Over-sixties and the Internet

I imagine everyone reading this post would agree that having access to the internet is essential, or at least damned useful. Some members of the population do not have access, or don't want access, to the Internet. For some of these people the cost would be a major factor, in others it's perhaps a belief that the Internet isn't useful, or is just not for them. There may also be a fear of the technology involved. Whatever the reasons the sector of the population with the lowest use of the Internet is the over-sixties. In New Zealand the number of over-sixty internet users is below 70%, the 'youngsters' under sixty rate a much higher percentage. According to The Internet in New Zealand 2011 study [Smith, P., Gibson, A., Crothers, C., Billot, J., Bell, A. (2011). The Internet in New Zealand 2011. Auckland, New Zealand: Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication, AUT University]:
98% of younger New Zealanders surveyed in 2011 are Internet users, as are 93% of those aged between 30 and 59. The figure for 60-plus remains much lower

That's quite a gap, and while this study shows that usage in this age group is increasing - it's going to take a while to match the youngsters.  Not sure how to fix this faster, but maybe instead of helping that elderly person across the road you get them on the Internet instead.

That's pretty heavy for a Sunday evening, maybe I need another glass of wine.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Wow, first Blog from the new website

This is exciting.  Well maybe not that exciting, and we hope we haven't unleashed a monster.  But getting this going was a learning experience, as is everything to do with technology, and with life in general.  Ask us about it sometime.

Anyway this is the first of many blogs (well a couple anyway) about digital technology and its usefulness.  We are interested in how this technology can be opened up to everybody, so we are not into bits and bytes.  We want to simplify and de-mystify this stuff so everyone can make use of it.  Sadly a lot of the technology spokespeople are too focused on the technology itself rather than the fact that is a tool, and not an end in itself.  (I hope I didn't use the word technology too often???)

That'll do for now.  This isn't 'War and Peace'.

I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.
Isaac Asimov