When Updates Create More Work

Chrome2

I am all for updating and upgrading computer software and hardware when the updates make my work environment more efficient.

Today, my Google Chrome browser updated. I normally had Chrome open to a new tabbed page, with shortcuts to all of my most used applications right there. Things like Gmail, The Weather Channel, Google Maps, Calendar, etc. 

Now, when I open my Chrome, I get a page that shows my last few websites visited, along with a message in the upper right corner that tells me, “Welcome to the new way to find your favorite Good products. Click the grid to have a look.” Google also put a short cut on my Bookmarks Menu bar, off to the left, labeled, “Apps,” which does bring me to my page of apps. Still, it’s yet another click. 

Chrome2

Way to go, Google, forcing me to click extra times to get to what I need. Why not just let the end-users decide if they want an “upgrade” like this?

This kind of reminds me of the “upgrades” Microsoft has done with the last few versions of Office. Most of them do not lend to a more efficient work environment for this user. 

As an aside: if you wish to define a particular page or pages to be set as your home page on Chrome, including your Google apps page, you can set that in the Settings panel. In Chrome, go to Settings (it’s that button in the upper right corner of the browser which is a set of 3 horizontal lines), under “Start Up,” select “Open a specific page or set of pages” and click the link to the right which reads “Set pages.” You can choose which pages you want opened when Chrome starts and when you click the “Home” button in the browser.

 

Facecrooks: A Site Every Facebook User Should Check Out

Facecrooks logoI love using Facebook. I enjoy sharing information with my friends on it. I like catching up with family and old chums. And yes, I even like to engage in some political and religious debates on it.

I use information from a website called Facecrooks to help me sort through the changes Facebook makes to user account functionality as well as the many scams that seem to get posted – and reposted – on Faceook.

The information provided by Facecrooks helps me discern if something is “too good to be true” or if a new Facebook setting may compromise my privacy levels. Check it out!

Facecrooks has a website at http://www.facecrooks.com and a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Facecrooks.

 

Helping Our Heroes

I put my computer geeky skills to work over the past week and set up a new website for the “Helping Our Heroes” project. This project is sponsored by my friends, Mary and Art James, who own HAYS Cleaning, Inc.

HAYS Cleaning, Inc. launched the “Helping Our Heroes” promotion for Memorial Day 2010. It was repeated for Veterans Day 2010 and Memorial Day 2011. The promotion has been so successful that it is being offered again for Veterans Day 2011.

This complimentary service provided up to three hours of residential cleaning for local veterans, active service men and women, and their families.

Along with the complimentary cleaning services, HAYS Cleaning is also collecting care package items to send to troops overseas. For details visit the Press & News page or download the information flier here.

Visit the new website at http://www.helping-our-heroes.com.

Runkeeper Keeps Track

Let’s face it: no one really LIKES to workout. However, since I do workout, I like to keep track of my progress. It helps to look back on how far I have come – especially on those days when I  would rather sit down with a bowl of Lucky Charms than exercise!

About two years ago, I got myself back on a regular, almost-daily exercise routine. I have always liked to keep track of my workouts by noting what I did in a written journal. In April of this year, I found a website called RunKeeper. The site is geared towards tracking running, walking and cycling, but I have used it to track all of my workouts, including yoga, pilates and strength training. There is a companion application for many phones; I have an Android phone and regularly use it to input my data to RunKeeper.

You may create a free account at RunKeeper, or you can pay a fee to become an Elite member. The Elite option does give you more tracking options, report features and discounts on fitness classes. Go to http://www.runkeeper.com to create  your account.

Once you create your account, you can set up your Profile and log in your activities. You can also add friends who use the program to your “Street Team.” Being part of a Street Team allows you to share your workout information and encouragement with your teammates. You can add users by name, import Google contacts or search for local users.

When I first started using RunKeeper, the Activity Types were limited to Running, Cycling, Walking, Swimming and Other. Now when you add your activity information, you cab choose from many activity types: Running, Cycling,Walking, Hiking, Downhill Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding, Elliptical, Skating, Swimming, Rowing, Wheelchair or Other. I use the “Other” category for workouts that do not fit into the preprogrammed list, such as Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, Bootcamps and Strength Training.

When I add an activity, I also add information about how the workout went. This is usually where I will write a few details about what the workout actually was – walking outside, on the treadmill, taking a Zumba, Pilates, Yoga or Bootcamp class, etc.

Another feature that comes with RunKeeper is the ability to upload your activity information to your Twitter or Facebook account. I do use that feature with Facebook because I like sharing the information with my workout buddies who are not using RunKeeper but do keep up with me on Facebook.

I hope that RunKeeper will someday allow for tracking strength training workouts within the program. Until then, I am content with using the program online and on my phone to track my progress. It is good to be able to look back through what I have accomplished and I like being able to share with my fellow workout buddies, too.

Now, off I must go to log a few miles on my treadmill!

 

 

 

Peapod: Saves Me Time, Money

Those who know me well know I hate shopping. Most of all, I hate grocery shopping. For the last couple of years, I have used Peapod, an online grocer. I select my items and Peapod delivers them. The prices, especially the sale prices, are competitive with some of the chain grocery stores in my area. The quality of the food, even their “store brand,” is outstanding. Peapod also accepts coupons.

It is quite easy to see everything available. The online store, at www.peapod.com, is arranged by “aisles,” Specials, Lists and even recipes. Once you place an order, Peapod saves your shopping list. I find this helpful because on future shopping trips I can load the list of a particular order, or even everything I have ever purchased on Peapod, and select some or all of the items for my new order.

Try Peapod today and get $10 off of your order. If you follow this link, it will give me a coupon for future orders, too: http://peapod.tellapal.com/a/clk/Jprm

Helpful Computer Applications, Services and Websites

In my group and private computer classes, I share with my students options for different software applications and websites; most are free of  charge. Many of the applications are open source software (indicated by “FOSS” notation after application name). In this article, I am providing links to each resource, along with a brief description of  what the program does or what the website offers to the visitor. Enjoy!

A Few Words About Open Source Software

Free and open source software, also known as FOSS, grants users the opportunity to use, evaluate, change, study and even improve on an application by having access to the source code for the application. Some people think that the term “free” means that there are no costs involved with the software. In this case, “free” actually refers to the “freedom” to use, copy, re-use, change, improve and develop the software. It is said that in this instance “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.”  (For more on the topic of Free Software Definition, visit http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.)

There are many options for software for your computer. Rather than spending a lot of money for the highly advertised software products, consider open source software to get the job done. From web browsing to photo editing to word processing, the open source alternatives are just as robust as the “name brands” that we are so accustomed to hearing about and using. These applications are legitimate software products; many times, they work better than their commercial counter parts. Read on!

INTERNET AND EMAIL

WEB BROWSING: Web browsers are software applications used to view and read web pages.

Application Name: Mozilla Firefox (FOSS)
Homepage: http://getfirefox.com

Firefox is easily the most popular piece of open source software out there. It’s job is to replace Internet Explorer, if you are on Windows, or Safari, if you are on OSX (Apple). Firefox is a wonderful upgrade because in addition to running faster than most other browsers it is also secure.

Application Name: Google Chrome
Homepage: http://www.google.com/chrome

Chrome is a browser offered by Google. It is designed for efficiency, speed and safety. One thing I like about Chrome is that if one of my tabs freezes, the others remain untouched – which means I do not lose the information on my browsing session just because one page crashed.

EMAIL

Application Name: Gmail
Homepage: http://www.gmail.com

Gmail is a free email program that allows the user to access email online, on a mobile phone or within an email client (such as Thunderbird). This service is powered by Google and gives the user over 7 gigabytes of free storage. Once you set up a Gmail account, you can also use the account to access other Google services such as Calendar, Documents, Photos, Reader, YouTube and Blogger.

Application Name: Thunderbird (FOSS)
Homepage: http://www.mozillamessaging.com/en-US/thunderbird/

Thunderbird is an email program from Mozilla, the same folks that brought us the Firefox internet browser. Download the program to your computer, input your email settings and you’re good to go. Thunderbird can also be used for instant messaging and social network messages.

 

OFFICE PRODUCTS: Word processors, Spreadsheets, Databases, Presentations, PDF Creators

OFFICE SUITES

Application Name: OpenOffice (FOSS)
Homepage: http://www.openoffice.org

To pick up the latest copy of Microsoft office odds are you are looking at spending a couple hundred dollars. OpenOffice is a full featured office suit, it contains a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Drawing, and many more programs. It opens and saves files in all the standard .doc, .ppt, .xls, formats so it is full compatible with all MS Office files.

Application Name: LibreOffice (FOSS)
Homepage: http://www.libreoffice.org

LibreOffice is another open source office suite. Like OpenOffice, it is available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers. It offers a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation and Database program. It allows for saving files in formats compatible with all MS Office files.

PDF CREATORS

If you can print a document, then you can create a PDF (portable document format). When a PDF is created, the formatting of the document is saved. Formatting refers to the font style, font size, graphics and color. When a document is saved as a PDF, all of the formatting is preserved.  Below are two different PDF programs which are free for home users. Once installed on your system, they will show up as one of your printers.

Application Name: PrimoPDF
Homepage: http://www.primopdf.com

PrimoPDF offers a one-click, drag-and-drop interface that is very easy to use. Download the home user version for free, or upgrade to the NitroPDF Professional version for a fee.

Application Name: CutePDF
Homepage: http://www.cutepdf.com/

The freeware version of CutePDF allows the user to create PDF files from any printable document. There is a professional version available for a fee.

UTILITIES: Anti-virus, Anti-malware, Cleaners, Compression (Zip Files)

ANTI-VIRUS

Application Name: Avast
Homepage: http://avast.com/eng/download-avast-home.html

Many of us are aware that the quickest way to a non-functioning Windows system is to catch a virus or two. Avast is one of the best anti-virus programs out there. It provides real time protection with minimal resource usage. It is free for home use so long as you are willing to register each year for a new key (which is a short and easy process).

 

ANTI-MALWARE

Application Name: Spy Bot Search & Destroy
Homepage: http://www.safer-networking.org/en/download/index.html

The Windows system is riddled with holes and exploits just waiting to make your life in front of the computer that much harder. In addition to having an awesome name, Spy Bot Search & Destroy is the best program out there for hunting down malware that has found its way into your unsuspecting system. The only slight draw back to this one is that it is NOT real time protection, meaning you need to remember to run the update for it and scan your system each week.

Application Name: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
Homepage: http://www.malwarebytes.org/products/malwarebytes_free

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free clears out malware infections. You must run the program manually at least once week. There is a paid version which you can buy and it can be scheduled to run at certain times. My tech recommends that if you use Microsoft Security Essentials then you also run the paid version of Malwarebytes.

 

ANTI-VIRUS/ANTI-MALWARE PACKAGE

Application Name: Microsoft Security Essentials
Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/

Microsoft’s new anti-virus and anti-malware bundle is free and protects your computer from viruses, spyware and other malicious programs.

OPTIMIZATION AND CLEANING

Application Name: CCleaner
Homepage: http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner

CCleaner removes temporary files from your Windows system. It helps clean up the “crap” on your computer. This program was originally called “Crap Cleaner.” ;-) The program is free for home users.

COMPRESSION (ZIP FILES)

Application Name: 7zip (FOSS)
Homepage: http://7-zip.com

Compressing files is useful when you are trying to to send a large amount of files to someone or simply for storing files that are not often used. 7-zip contains a custom archiving format, .7z, that is much more efficient than the standard .zip. In addition to having this custom format it also can compress into the more universally standard .zip in a more timely manner than the built in Windows compression software or commercial software such as WinZip.

 

MESSAGING

Application Name: Pidgin (FOSS)
Homepage: http://www.pidgin.im/

Pidgin is a full featured instant messaging client similar to Trillian. It can connect to a wide range of networks, from AIM to Facebook, to Yahoo and MSN. It contains a logging feature that can be easily toggled on and off, along with a pile of other useful and fun plugins.

PHOTO EDITING

Application Name: Gimp (FOSS)
Homepage: http://gimp.org/

Gimp is a tool for manipulating images on the computer. In contains essentially all of the features used in Adobe Photoshop. If you are already familiar with the Photoshop interface (or GUI) there is also a plugin for Gimp called “Gimpshop” that makes the Gimps GUI mirror that of Photoshop.

Application Name: Picasa
Homepage: http://picasa.google.com/

Picasa is one of my favorite  photo applications. It can be used to view, edit and share your photographs. You can also create online photo albums quite easily. You will need a Google/Gmail account to use the online features.

 

ART PROGRAMS

Application Name: Tux Paint (FOSS)
Homepage: http://www.tuxpaint.org/

If you have children in your life who like to draw, or maybe the child in you would like to draw, check out Tux Paint. It is a very easy-to-use program that allows for creating images. I have found that kids young and old like playing with this program.

Application Name: MyPaint (FOSS)
Homepage: http://mypaint.intilinux.com/

MyPaint is a more robust drawing program. It is simple to install and use. It can make more detailed drawings than Tux Paint.

Application Name: InkScape (FOSS)
Homepage: http://www.inkscape.org/

InkScape is a vector based drawing program. It is comparable to Adobe’s Illustrator program.

Product Name: Picassohead
Homepage: http://www.picassohead.com

PicassoHead is a fun art site that uses a combination of predesigned shapes, along with your imagination, to create Picasso-inspired images. Once your picture is finished, you can email yourself a link to the completed project and the project goes into the online gallery. This is a fun site for kids of all ages!

Read more about this site in my article here: http://karenzhoogland.org/2010/07/12/picasso-this/

WEB DESIGN

Application Name: KompoZer
Homepage: http://kompozer.net/

KompoZer is a webdesign program that rivals Dreamweaver. This is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. If you can use a word processor (such as OpenOffice Writer), you can use KompoZer to create a website.

Application Name: Aptana Studio 3
Homepage: http://www.aptana.com/products/studio3

Aptana Studio 3 is a suite that can be used to create and test your website. The program is an open source tool.

BLOGGING

Application Name: Blogger
Homepage: https://www.blogger.com/start

Another popular offering from Google is Blogger. Anyone can easily set up and maintain a blog using this free online application. The only thing you need to get started is a Gmail address. If you use Picasa, you can also upload your photos right from Picasa into your Blog.

Application Name: WordPress (FOSS)
Homepage: http://wordpress.com/

WordPress offers another option for blogging. If offers a few more choices than Blogger, along with a different variety of templates for your site. This software also allows you to set up your site without the blog function; it is a quick way to get a good-looking website online quickly, with little expense. As with Blogger, this is advertiser supporter. If you have your own hosting service, you can download the WordPress software from http://wordpress.org, install it on your server and then run it without advertising. WordPress is my preferred blogging software; this blog is a WordPress blog.

FILE STORAGE AND SHARING

Application Name: DropBox
Homepage: https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTE0MTMwMTA1OQ?src=global9

DropBox is a free online storage service that allows you to store up to 2 gigabytes of data. You can download their software to your computer and it installs a “virtual folder” to your drive. You can save files here and then access them anywhere you have an internet connection. If you are on a public computer, you can to to the website, log in and download or upload files. If you send invitations to the friends to sign up for the service, you will get more free space. You can also do a paid account for larger storage space.

Read my article about DropBox here: http://karenzhoogland.org/2011/02/10/who-needs-a-flash-drive-when-you-have-dropbox/

ONLINE MUSIC

Application Name: Pandora
Homepage: http://www.pandora.com

Pandora Sign UpPandora is a music service that creates music stations based on your tastes. The service offers two different accounts. You can choose the free service, which includes 30 hours of music per month; this is advertiser supported. The fee-based service currently costs $36 for a full year; it is ad-free and also allows you to download the Pandora One application on your computer or mobile device, rather than running the program in your web browser.

Read my article about Pandora here: http://karenzhoogland.org/2011/02/26/pandora-my-musical-friend/

ONLINE TUTORIALS AND OTHER HELPFUL SITES

TUTORIALS

Product Name: InPictures – Online computer tutorials in pictures
Homepage: http://inpics.net/

This site offers tutorials in several programs, including the OpenOffice suite and Microsoft Office suite. The lessons are offered in slide format, with explicit pictures.

Product Name: GCF Learn Free
Homepage: http://www.gcflearnfree.org/

Site offers tutorials in basic computers, internet, Microsoft Office, Excel, Facebook, Math, Reading and more.

Product Name: Geekgirls Plain English Computing
Homepage: http://www.geekgirls.com/

Site offers several tutorials for different operating systems: Windows XP (which is what we use in the BAC Lab), Windows Vista and Windows 7.  These tutorials provide nice refreshers to some of the topics we covered in class, such as copying files, moving files, saving, creating folders, etc.

DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL HELP

Product: Ninite
Homepage: http://ninite.com

Ninite is a website where you can select, download and install most of the applications listed in this article. As the site says, it is the “easiest and fastest way to update or install software.”

OPEN SOURCE ALTERNATIVES

If you are interested in more open source programs, visit http://osalt.com.

NOTES AND CREDITS

Some of information in this article was adapted from an article written by my son, Jeff Hoogland, on his blog, Thoughts on Technology. You may read the original article here: http://jeffhoogland.blogspot.com/2009/10/computer-Application Names-everyone-should.html. If you would like to read more at Jeff’s blog, visit http://jeffhoogland.blogspot.com/.

I did write about some of the programs mentioned here last year in my blog post titled “Open Source Computer Applications.” You may read that post here: http://karenzhoogland.org/2010/05/26/open-source-computer-applications/.

Thanks for reading. If you have other computer programs or websites that you think I should add to this article, please share!

Until next time,
~Karen

Pandora: My Musical Friend

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.”

Pandora Sign Up

 

Over a year ago, my sons turned me on to a lovely little program called Pandora. If you have ever been a student in one of my classes, chances are you have heard music streaming from Pandora through my computer. Pandora is an internet radio service which takes music you love to listen to and creates personalized stations based on your tastes. A free account offers up to 30 hours per month of music; if you subscribe, your listening time is unlimited.


How do I get my account?

Go to the Pandora website at http://www.pandora.com and create an account. Your username will be your email address.

Creating Stations
Once you sign up, you will be able to enter in the name of an artist, song or composer; this will create a personalized radio station which will play this particular song or genre and then find other similar music. For this demonstration, I entered “John Denver” and clicked the arrow to the right of the entry field. Almost immediately, Pandora began playing my first song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Since I like the song, I clicked the “thumbs up” icon in the lower right hand corner of the song window. Note, also, that Pandora provides an opportunity to buy a copy of the song and also gives a biography of the artist. Look to the left side of the window and you will now see that I have a station called “John Denver Radio.” If I click on the “options” tab, I can rename the station, share it, edit the station details, find other folks who like this artist or even delete the station. You can create up to 100 different stations on your Pandora account.


Ads on Free Pandora

As with many free products, Pandora is advertiser supported. Every so often, you will hear an ad on your free Pandora account. You will also need to click a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” at least once an hour on a free account. To avoid ads and clicking thumbs up or thumbs down once an hour, you will need to upgrade to the paid account. At $36 for a full year, it is well worth the money if you listen to music all day long. You cannot beat the variety

 

 

Listen Everywhere!
You can listen to Pandora from the website, on your mobile device and through many other devices, such as TV’s, Tivo and WD TV Live. If you have a paid subscription, you can also download Pandora One; this is a desktop application that allows for better audio, no advertisements and unlimited listening. Instead of the web interface, you use Pandora through a tidy little application (see image to the right). You can still “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” a song. You also get all song and artist information right on the application.

Is it for me?
If you are still not sure if Pandora is for you, sign up for a free account and give the service a try. They offer thousands of songs and many genres. You will be hardpressed not to find music you would enjoy listening to on your computer or other device. It is easy to use and you certainly cannot beat the price. Shoot me a message with your email and I will even share some of my stations with you!

Happy listening!

~Karen

Who needs a flash drive when you have Dropbox?

A few months ago, I started using a snappy little application called Dropbox. This service provides an online folder where I can store and share files. I can access the files in my Dropbox account from  my desktop, my laptop, my netbook and from any other computer connected to the internet. I have also installed a Dropbox app on my HTC Evo Shift smartphone.

dropbox logoSince I teach many computer classes and work with many private students at various locations, this little tool has become quite useful. I can create and share files with any of my students and clients, without having to rely on emailing files. It has made for simpler collaboration, as well as peace of mind knowing my files are backed up.

So far, I am using the free account. This account offers up to 2 gigabytes of storage apace. As a bonus, if you refer friends to the service and they sign up, you will be gifted with more space on your Dropbox account.

If you are using Dropbox on your own computer, I highly recommend installing their application on your system. It will make the file sharing seamless because the Dropbox folder will look like just another folder on your computer. When I make a file on my desktop computer, I store it in my Dropbox folder. Later, if I am working on my laptop, I can access the same file that I created on my desktop. If I happen to be at a client’s office, I can login to my account at Dropbox.com and access any pertinent information through the web interface.

Using Dropbox has allowed me to give up my addiction for flash drives. And really, who needs a flash drive when you have Dropbox?

Try Dropbox by going here: http://db.tt/86l92b0. If you use this link, it will also give me a bit more storage on my own Dropbox.

Enjoy!

~Karen

It’s Not Too Late and You’re Not Too Old!

“You will never be able to leave that dog alone with your pet rabbit,” said the Veterinarian. She had spoken those words to me on the day my husband and I adopted a 3-year-old greyhound we named, Rosie.

Not only was our veterinarian wrong, she was VERY wrong. Within a year, I was able to leave Rosie alone with my pet rabbit, Billy. Why am I writing about my pets on my computer blog? The short story illustrates the point that you can teach an old dog new tricks! It is never too late, and one is never too old, to learn something new!

I often receive calls from adults who have received a new electronics device and are convinced they are either too old to learn something new or that it is too late for them to bother learning how to operate this new equipment. Just as I taught my old dog, Rosie, to learn to live in harmony with Billy Bunny, anyone can be taught how to use that new digital camera or laptop. The key to discovering all that your new toy can do might be as easy as spending some time with your device and the manual. Or, you may prefer to review online tutorials, take a group class or private lesson to grasp all that your device can do for you.

Check out some of the online tutorials below. If you still need help, contact me to set up some private or group lessons!

Digital Camera Tutorials:

Laptop and Desktop Tutorials:

Have fun learning a few new tricks!

~Karen

Importing from Blogger to WordPress

I had a lovely conversation with my youngest son, Doug, earlier this evening. I explained how I wanted to move all of my posts from my Blogger page to this new WordPress blog. His response: You know there must be an app for that!!

Sure enough, we did a quick “Google” and found this page: http://www.hyperarts.com/blog/import-export-blogger-wordpress-blog-wordpress/

A quick read of the instructions and in less than five minutes I had all of my articles imported to this new WordPress blog. I did the same thing with my personal blog, Crazy Cat Lady Mews.

I will be starting out the New Year with a bang!!

~Karen

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