Too Hot To Blog? Try This

As we continue to experience a remarkable heatwave in parts of Britain, I have noticed a drop-off in blog views, and a reduction in activity by many bloggers I follow.

That’s understandable. Even though it is too hot and uncomfortable to sit outside, being indoors in front of the PC is wearing after a while, even with the windows wide open.

Then I remembered I had one of these. It was free from Amazon as part of their product testing programme, which I am a member of.

(Not my doughnuts. I haven’t got any.)

This tiny fan has three speeds, and is surprisingly effective when placed directly behind my keyboard. It can also be charged up, and used as a portable min-fan, with the charge allowing around three hours of running time. The rubber base is detachable, and the cable can be stored around it. I have it plugged directly into the USB socket of my PC tower, but it would work just as well with a laptop.

***I get nothing from Amazon for recommending this fan***.
If you are interested in getting one, they are very cheap. Search ‘Donut Fan USB’ on Google and you will see many are available.

So Far, So Good

Well who would have thought it? New PC up and running in around thirty minutes, and thanks to Google Sync, all my usual stuff is on here automatically, just by signing in to my email.

Other stuff like disk defrag and antivirus also loaded really fast, thanks to the SSD, presumably. I still have a few bits and pieces to sort out. I have to try to find my Adobe Photoshop CD and see if I can still use it, so no new photos for a while. I am not using the Microsoft search engine or the dreadful Macafee antivirus, but everything else seems to be operating much the same as yesterday, albeit faster.

I gave my desk a good clean, and now have to sort through all the paperwork that I tend to ‘file’ under the monitor screen. Have yet to test the printer, but as that is also Hewlett-Packard, I am hoping it will recognise that. It allowed my keyboard to work, though the ‘W’ is still temperamental, so that particular glitch must be an ongoing keyboard issue.

The end result is that my mood is much improved, simply by not having any serious tech issues to contend with this morning.

All being well, my serial should continue later today, and I hope to be back in business completely by bedtime.

Update: Computer

Further to my previous post, I have managed to get my PC working. But it is definitely temperamental, and feels as if it might just die at any moment.

As a result I have ordered a new one, to be delivered next week.

Meanwhile, I will soldier on with what I can do on this one.

Thanks to everyone who offered help and advice.

Blogging on a Tablet

This is a blog post about nothing more than blogging, and having to do that on a small device after years of using a PC.
With decorating going on, using the small office room is not an option today.

So I have retreated into the living room, and for the first time, I am attempting to do my blog and emails using a Tablet, specifically the Amazon Kindle Fire.

Going from a bright 24-inch monitor to a so-so 10-inch screen is a big jump for me. And having to use the irritatingly sensitive keypad device instead of hammering a keyboard is very frustrating. I make endless mistakes, even more so as the device keeps using its own suggested words, instead of those I wanted to type.

Over the years, I have realised that many of my fellow bloggers are happy to use ‘pads’ to write their blogs on. Some even use mobile phones, which sounds incredible to me. The tiny print on Tablets and phones is at the limits of my failing eyesight, so I take off my metaphorical hat to those of you who manage this every day.

Until the painter is finished, this will be my only blog post today.

Then I will return to the PC, and count my blessings.

Missing a click

Over the last few days, I have received a great deal of help and advice about how to alter sizes and ratios of photographs to insert into blog posts. The community has responded as it always does, offering genuine concern, good tips, and encouragement. There is never ridicule or scorn, or mocking of lack of ability. That is incredibly heart-warming in this day and age, and restores my faith in human nature, once again. My thanks go out to all of you, along with my sincere appreciation.

It has made me think though. I am not of an age where computer use was taught at school. It was not a feature of any job I ever did either, until my last one. I used pen and paper, or worked things out in my head. When I saw a computer for the first time, I gazed at it with ignorance and wonderment, like an Amazonian tribesman watching a jumbo jet traverse the sky.

When the first cash machines appeared in London, I still went inside the bank and wrote a cheque for cash. After renting my first VHS player, I reversed the tape numerous times, to watch the actors walking backwards. I was amazed. I was using technology, but not really embracing it, or understanding how it worked. The reason was simple enough, I didn’t want to know. I had no interest in the hardware, or the software that made the hardware function. As long as I could watch the film by pressing play, I was unconcerned about the rest. I was interested in the films, and wanted to get straight into them.

During my life, I have collected and stored a huge amount of information. Some of this has been because of interest, some was necessary for jobs. Historical facts and events, constantly devoured from reading something I was passionate about, wanted to know about. Obscure details relating to cars during the 1970s, at a time when I was very interested in motoring, rest in my brain alongside the location of thousands of streets in London, required by my job in the LAS. Later on, when I developed an interest in cameras and photography, I studied models and types in great detail, as well as some of the technical aspects, in the hope of taking better photos.

I came very late to all the rest. I didn’t have a mobile phone, as most people did. I couldn’t see the point. When my Mum became ill, in 1999, I reluctantly got one, so she could contact me at work. It was necessary at the time, and only ever used as a telephone. When I joined the Met Police as a communications officer, in 2001, I bluffed my computer knowledge, claiming an understanding of the basics of computing, and getting through with a good level of keyboard skills, from experience of using a manual typewriter. They sent me on a six week pass-or-fail course. It was very intensive, but only as far as the national police systems were concerned. There was no Microsoft Word, nothing remotely similar to a a PC, and even the keyboard was purpose-built, with familiar keys serving very different functions.

I struggled, but passed with a good enough mark considering my skill level. I still didn’t have a computer at home, and my camera still shot film. I had graduated to using cash machines, but still sent cheques in payment for bills. (And still do) In 2004, I decided to buy a laptop. It seemed to be the thing to do, and access to the Internet at work was making me miss the facility at home. I have written about this before, so won’t go into great detail. The laptop arrived, and I had to go to spend the day at a friend’s house, so he could show me how to use it. He kindly wrote down some ‘idiot guides’ to frequently used functions, and sent some other tips by e-mail.

Trouble was, I only had dial-up at 56kps in my flat in Camden. I couldn’t afford broadband at the time, and I wasn’t even sure if it was available in the area. Everything took an age to load, multi-tasking was virtually impossible, and even e-mails took forever to send. I bought a mobile broadband dongle, offering better speeds, but it still failed to enthuse me. When some of my friends and family were engaging with Apple systems, or learning all they could about Microsoft, I was still reading books, or watching films on my recently purchased DVD player. And my camera still shot film.

Fast forward to Norfolk, the year 2012. I decide to start a blog, and by now I also have a digital camera. I hate the digital camera though, as every time I have to download photos, create folders or files, it seems like an interminable chore. Besides, it never seems to work the same each time. I seek advice, and I am told to click on this, and to make sure that I don’t click on that, definitely not that. I write down instructions like a shopping list. 1) Do this. 2) Then that. 3) Don’t click on that! I slavishly follow them each time, and each time the result is different. Photos are called pictures, pictures are called files, files are called media. Every platform calls them something different, and there seems to be no uniformity, no consistency.

There’s another problem of course. I am just not interested in computing. It doesn’t grab me, and I don’t get it. Part of me doesn’t even want to get it. I just want to write my blog, send my e-mails, insert my photos. And I want it to be easy to do, and the same everywhere. Is that too much to ask? I didn’t think it was, but apparently it is a ridiculous suggestion. I have become more than ever aware of my limitations. I am shown something over and over, and it doesn’t sink in. I am sent a written instruction, which I follow to the letter, and it still doesn’t happen. I should have clicked on this, not that, I am told. I didn’t have much interest to lose, but I have certainly lost what little there was.

Somewhere along the way, I have missed a click.

Photographic frustration

Sorry readers. This is about cameras and memory cards, and all sorts of boring forum stuff. It will probably only appeal to a handful of you, so feel free to delete it without reading on.

New camera. Check. New memory card. Check. Sunny weather, and afternoon walk with Ollie. Check.

Off I go, determined to satisfy all of you who have asked to see some photos. Beetley Meadows, the small river, Ollie in the water, and Norfolk nettles. (The county plant) All on the agenda. Waiting for the light to come from the west after 2.30 pm, I have the camera set up with Kodachrome film simulation, aperture priority set at f 5.6 on the lens, +1 sharpness, and auto ISO set within a range of 200-800. With the electronic viewfinder showing adjustments made with the exposure compensation dial, I am soon snapping happily.

The viewfinder is so clear, I don’t need to resort to the rear screen at all. The Fuji X30 is remarkably small and light, and I have to keep looking down, to make sure that I am actually holding a camera. I get some good mixed ‘greens’, various views of the meadows, and some of Ollie in the river. I explore the wooded areas for a nice close-up of some bark, and even try some close-focus flowers, but it was quite breezy. I keep the settings the same, to try to get a consistent set of images, only using exp/comp as the light changes slightly. The 28-112 (equivalent) lens has a manual zoom ring that is a joy to use, and the shutter is remarkably quiet.

I set a target of fifty frames, and that takes around an hour, allowing for interaction with Ollie. At the end of the walk, I am keen to get back home, check the results in interior light, and get the better ones loaded up onto wordpress, ready for my first ‘proper’ photo post. The three-inch screen shows them up quite well; I am happy with at least ten of them, and most of the rest are still reasonable as ‘snapshots.’ I pick six, and think of suitable descriptions to write. The card is removed from the camera and inserted in my PC card slot.

Nothing. The computer shows the memory card as ‘Removable Disk (F),’ and that is empty.

Try again. And again. Still nothing. I put the card in the camera, and the photos are still there. Put it back in the PC, and nothing can be viewed. Like a cheap magic trick. I don’t have an external card reader for SDHC cards, and the camera doesn’t come with a PC/USB cable. So I turn to Antony, my photographic guru, and send him an e mail. He makes some sensible suggestions, but they don’t work. He suggests formatting the card, which will lose all the images. That’s also sensible advice, but I want to keep them, at least for a couple of days.

I decide to order a card reader online. It’s only £4, so not much to lose if it doesn’t work. Then I get on the forums, which turn out to be hit and miss. So, I ask a question at Sandisk (the memory card company) support, and begin to see what the problem might be. I have a Hewlett Packard PC. It is quite modern, bought in 2012, (running Windows 7 though) with a Pentium i3 processor. It generally works well, and I have been happy with it. But according to Sandisk, if it was made after 2008, it should have an SDHC compliant sticker near the card slot. It doesn’t. This could mean that it will not recognise anything other than normal SD cards, of less than 4 GB capacity. If this turns out to be true, it suggests that HP sold me an old-stock PC as a new item. It was discounted, but they didn’t say that it might be four-year old technology. Lesson learned. If this is not the case, then maybe the card reader has broken or malfunctioned, and I will be off to the PC repair shop.

A pleasant afternoon, rekindling my photographic interests, and looking forward to seeing the results. This turns into an evening spent almost entirely at the computer, trying to resolve a computer problem.
And I still haven’t seen the photos. I will let you know what happens, if anyone cares.

I won’t blame you if you don’t.

Going Greek

This short post is by way of an appeal to those of you with better computer skills than I possess.

For the last week or so, I appear to have relocated to Greece, at least as far as Google is concerned. Any search tab declares ‘Google Greece’ next to the box, and if I enter Google Maps, Greece is always shown as my start point, and current location. I have reset that location, and it will show Beetley at the bottom of the page. I have followed Google help pages slavishly, taking every step suggested, in efforts to establish my correct place in the computing world. But it has all been to no avail. I still pop us as in Greece on Google Maps, and every web search starts with Google Greece as my default provider.

I managed to change the language from Greek to English, but that’s not the point, as I’m sure you will understand. I have nothing against being in Greece I hasten to add, and nothing against anyone or anything Greek. I just cannot comprehend how it happened, and I would like to return to being where I actually reside. I would like my searches to suggest things near to me, not things basking in the Aegean sun. I would prefer my start point on Google Maps to at least be in Great Britain, rather than some unspecified point closer to Athens.

I have tried and tried. I have reset my location countless times, contacted Google Help, asked on forums, and if I had much hair left, I would have pulled it out by now. So dear friends, it is over to you, or anyone you might know who is good with this stuff. Any ideas?

Thanks in anticipation, Pete.

Updated 12.03.15 After another hour wading through Google search settings and options, I have got a headache. I can only come to this final conclusion.
Εντάξει έχω δώσει σε . Καλώς ήλθατε στην Ελλάδα !

Mr Magoo’s Keyboard

I got some nice presents this year. Nothing unusual there, as I generally do. However, as we are trying to keep down the piles of ‘stuff’, we both agreed that we would keep presents to a minimum this time, to save storing things in boxes that never get opened again. To make life easier, we both have a list that we tell each other about. I was well-overdue some of my preferred sheepskin bootees that serve as slippers, but couldn’t really think of much else that I needed.

I then spotted something in one of those catalogues that pop through the door now and again. It was a typewriter keyboard, but not as you would normally expect to see one. This had yellow keys, with bold black letters on them. The keys were 50% larger than normal, and boasted a ‘soft touch’ too. They also claimed a much quieter operation, and the obvious ability to type without undue eye strain. This looked pretty good to me, so as is my habit, I looked it up on Amazon. Sure enough, it was much cheaper, considerably so in fact. There were also reviews. They were mostly good ones, but many complained of the keyboard being difficult to set up, or not installing as it should.

I perused the device in detail. All the keys seemed to be in place, and more importantly, in the correct place. The enter/return key was smaller than usual, but obvious enough. Although I never use ‘multimedia’ keys, they were all there too. There was a separate number pad on the right, something I personally like. For those who don’t like this, conventional numbering is available on the top row, lower case. I could see the benefits of large letters and keys for my use. As I wear glasses to read, conventional white on black can be a trial at times, especially after a long session of typing on this blog, or writing e mails. So, I added this item to my requests for Christmas, and Julie kindly bought it for me.

A few minutes ago, I installed it on my PC, replacing the Amazon Basics keyboard that had served me well enough for some time now. Reading the short instructional leaflet, I turned off the computer, placed the usb connector into a suitable gap, and restarted the machine. Voila! It works. It is nice to type on, and very easy to see without resorting to additional lighting. This means that I can type in the office without the need for any lights on at all, lit only by the glow of the monitor. The keys are indeed soft touch, and reasonably quiet in operation. Since starting this post, I have only made three errors, as I get used to the larger keys. The scroll lock works fine, number lock operates, and the additional keys that control speaker volume and other functions all seem to be in order too. Short of a catastrophic failure at a later date, I can only say that I am very pleased.

If Mr Magoo needed a keyboard, this would be his purchase of choice.

It is not my habit to endorse products, but if you are interested, here’s a link.

And if you don’t know who Mr Magoo is, here’s a link to him. (He looks a bit like me)

My New Chair

Yesterday, my wife Julie bought me a new chair. We went over to Toftwood, and purchased it second-hand, from a nice young woman. It had been her son’s cherished computer chair, but they were moving, and needed the space. It was in excellent condition, looking almost as good as new. It has a mesh back panel, and everything on it is adjustable. A lumbar support and variable neck cushion will be most welcome, and there is good resistance at the back, to keep me sitting straight. The wheeled base moves easily, allowing me to scoot around the small room that we use as a sort of office. There are generous arms on the chair too, which is nice if I want to sit back, and contemplate my next blog post. The seat cushion is large and roomy, putting no pressure on the back of my legs, but offering a firm perch during the hours spent at the computer. It was a great gift.

‘So what?’ I can imagine you might well be wondering this, and why I have bothered to take your time (and mine) writing a post about something as mundane as an office chair. How can I get so excited about something that most bloggers take for granted? There is a very good reason. I use a PC, so cannot sprawl on a sofa or comfy armchair, as I tap away at a laptop, or tablet. For the last two years, I have sat on a dressing table stool. This has served well-enough. It is solid wood, built by Ercol, with a decent black vinyl padded seat. It was an expensive item in its day, and is still serving its intended purpose well. But it is low, and has no back, sides, or arms. After a few hours at the computer, typing away, it can play havoc with my back and legs.

So, I have finally graduated to a chair, something I considered well-worth writing about. We have also put an offer on some office furniture; book-cases, and a large desk. If we can arrange collection of those, we will be on our way to finally having a real office. It never ceases to amaze me what I can get excited about these days. But I am. Honest.

Internet Dependency

If that sounds like a disease, then maybe it should be classified as one.

I didn’t even have a computer until 2002. I took the plunge, and bought a Dell laptop, with the best specification I could afford at the time. I paid more for an upgrade from a 10gb hard drive, to a 20gb, for 256kb of memory instead of 128kb, and for a Pentium processor, supposedly maximized for laptops. It had a CD drive, but no DVD, and no wireless card, as that would have pushed it past my budget. Even that package cost me an eye-watering £1,500 then, and today I could not even give it away free.

Once I had it set up, I connected it to the dial-up Internet in my flat. That offered the not exactly head-spinning speed of 56kb/s. No option then of broadband, or any faster connection, at prices I could reasonably contemplate; I had to stay wired up, to a very long cable connector. So much for the freedom of a laptop. I started sending e mails, and surfing the ‘net, and it worked fine. Then somebody sent me an e mail with a photo attachment, and I watched as it started to download. After a full fifteen minutes, only the top inch of the large picture was visible, and it was another ten minutes before I could see what it was. If anyone sent more photos, I didn’t even bother to open them. After looking up a hotel, or holiday destination, woe betide I would like to download the brochure, pictures of the resort, or even the price list. Not unless I had a lot of time to spare.

A few painful years passed, and mobile companies introduced the broadband dongle. This small device fitted into a USB port, and replaced the tortoise-like dial-up, with an amazingly fast 3mb/s speed, based on a mobile phone contract, that surprisingly, was reasonably priced. I could hardly believe the difference. E mails flew off in the blink of an eye, photos appeared almost immediately, and web surfing became a pleasurable experience. The laptop, once only used as a last resort, had become invaluable. And even better, with the mobile dongle, I could take it anywhere. Trouble was, the specification was not capable of keeping up with advances in computing. The hard drive wasn’t even full, as I didn’t download music or films, and had never stored that many photos. But the 1.8 MHz processor, and 256kb memory could no longer cut the mustard. No You Tube, forget games, though I didn’t really play them, and before too long, even basic e mail programmes were full of spinning graphics, films clips, and zany advertisements. It was taking so long to load my e mails, I stopped bothering to look at them. I resolved to change it; even though I had paid so much a few years earlier, better ones were selling for less than £500, one third of what it had set me back.

But I knew that I would be moving the following year, and retiring from work. Might as well wait, and get the best one I could afford, in 2012. Not long after the move, I was pleased to have enough room for a desktop system. I prefer a real keyboard, and the tower systems offer better value for money for the newer high-spec computers these days. I went with Windows 7, and got a 500gb hard drive, DVD drive, i3 processor, and 4gb of memory. With a monitor donated by a friend, the whole deal came in at under £475 from Hewlett Packard. This illustrated how much cheaper computing had become, in just ten years. I signed up with BT Broadband, which I connected to the PC by cable, with a wireless option for the mobile phone and for visitors to use; and it came in handy when I got Julie a tablet. Even in rural Norfolk, I get a regular speed of 6-7mb/s, and after two years, I still marvel at the lack of delay, and the ability to use different tabs. I can listen to a song on You Tube, while I am writing about it on my blog, and at the same time, my e mails are updating. To those of you brought up with computers, this all sounds like ‘So what’, but to me, it is as miraculous as the first moving pictures, or that original light bulb.

I started writing the blog, because the computer was so easy to use, and I buy things online for the same reason. I still have lots to learn. I can never seem to be able to ‘find’ files, and have trouble locating downloads. I have stored my photos on Dropbox, but don’t seem to be able to move them anywhere else. Attaching anything to an e mail is still a major undertaking, and familiarity with the equipment has not seemed to increase my knowledge of how to use it effectively. Nonetheless, I can now enjoy computing, at least at the level of my capabilities; blogging, sending reviews to other sites, retrieving information, and being basically computer literate. The Internet has become my friend, and no longer something to avoid, or to be fearful of.

This morning, I went to check my e mails, and have a look at my blog, as I do almost every day now. Firefox took forever to appear. I suspected ‘updates’, but none were notified. When it finally loaded, I typed in the search for my Yahoo mail, and the spinning began. After almost ten minutes, there was no sign of the login page. I asked Julie if her tablet was experiencing similar problems, and she told me that she had uploaded a photo to Facebook, but it had taken a long time. I shut the tab, and typed in my blog address. Another ten minutes, and the blog appeared, minus the header photo and graphics. The computer broadband information declared a ‘very strong’ signal, so I suspected hardware or software malfunction. I did what I always do, shut it down, and walked away. I was confident that it would all be fine when I went back later to check.

It wasn’t. It was the same as before. I had uncomfortable flashbacks to the bad old days of dial-up. I couldn’t check my e mails, because the page is so graphic-heavy, and the ads are all videos, it just would not load correctly. I tried using Microsoft Explorer, in case it was a Firefox fault. I scanned the computer with the anti-virus, worried that some malicious software was attacking. I de-fragged and cleaned up files, but nothing helped. I shut it down again, and gave it one more try, resolving that it would be three goes and out. When it didn’t work, I went into the kitchen and made a late breakfast. I got ready after that, and took Ollie for a very long walk, wondering how I was going to keep in touch with everyone, update my blog, and check my online orders. I had already decided that it couldn’t be my PC, as Julie’s tablet was having the same problem, and both our smartphones were not responding either. I reasoned that I would have to spend ages on the ‘phone to BT tomorrow, trying to get them to sort out my Internet.

Across by the plum orchards, the stumpy trees were full of delicate white blossom. From a distance, they looked like small clouds, hovering six feet above the ground. The fields across Holt Road were shimmering a fluorescent yellow, as far as the eye could see; rape seed in flower. In one prepared field near the pig farm, I spotted at least a dozen rabbits scampering around. Ollie spotted them too, and gave chase enthusiastically. Hearing some squealing, I turned and saw a group of tiny piglets rushing around, playing joyously in the mud, oblivious to their fate. Somehow, the computer problems didn’t seem so important anymore. Life would go on, and it would be like it was before we had laptops and tablets. The world was becoming Internet dependent, and I was not about to let that happen to me.

I didn’t get back until after 5pm. It had been a good walk, over three hours. Before starting dinner, I checked the computer again. It was back to normal. It just needed me to take that walk.