A satisfying and pleasant end to a trying day.

You’ve got to hand it to Apple. They do look after their customers well – at least this one they do!
You may remember I’d been having trouble with the boot-up of my 2013 iMac – yes, it’s at least 5 years old. It’s a powerful machine which I bought to do photo work and it’s been a delight, but the problems reported here …
I’ve now had an introduction to the SBOD
… had come back this month. After a couple of attempts to fix the problem myself, which I had assumed to be software problems, which involved me re-installing the operating system on a completely clean disk (ie I had to re-install all my data and applications from backup which was painless and automatic, but took a bit of time), I contacted their support via online chat, and after Traci had exhausted everything she could remotely, I was referred to the Genius Bar in the local Apple Store for an appointment that same day (actually 18:45 in the evening). A very competent and pleasant hardware technician (David) did “triage” on the machine and announced that the Fusion Drive was in fact faulty – it was a hardware problem.
And … they offered to replace and repair it at no cost to myself as I’d bought it from Apple, not elsewhere.
That’s the way to create brand loyalty. Thanks David. Thanks Apple Store, Cardiff.

Getting started with Digital Photography (revisited) – Organising your pictures

This post re-visits a subject I looked at back in 2017, and developed last year when I looked at how Google Photos could be used for simple editing. The links to these posts are here …
First two posts which set out how I go about learning about photography and the decisions I made on which software to use …
Getting started with Digital Photography: Part 1
Getting started with Digital Photography: Part 2
Then three posts about using Google Photos …
Getting to grips with Google Photos
More Google Photos – some simple image manipulation
Sharing an image (or album) from Google Photos
… I haven’t checked that all the links are still “active”, so if you come across any that are not working, don’t despair, just let me know and I’ll sort it!
What this posts addresses is something much more fundamental
Tidying-up your photos and getting ready to import/process them
This is not a trivial task; for too many years your photo collection (and mine) has been allowed to grow unchecked and uncared for. The downside of digital photography is that you have no hard copy to sort into boxes, or albums, and no cases to put 35mm slides/transparencies into either!!
Taking a photo has become the end in itself, and because it’s so easy to do and it doesn’t cost much to take multiple pictures of the same scene/person, that’s what you do.
You know all this. I don’t need to tell you, and yet you keep on putting off the evil day when you have to do something about it and get to grips with sorting all those pictures out, labelling (tagging) them and putting them into some form when you can actually find the one you want, or the place/holiday/person you want without scrolling through loads of images whilst the person you want to show the picture(s) to politely (or perhaps not) waits for you to find (not always) the picture(s).
So now’s the time to sort your digital photo collection out. Get some order into them. Get rid of duplicates, and make a new year resolution to not let them get on top of you again. Read this article to see what you might need to do, and make a list of the things you might wish to do.
Let’s assume however that you’re starting from scratch, what would be a good set of practices …

  1.  Store all your pictures in one place on your computer – eg Google Photos on a Google Drive – and create a folder structure that helps you find them
  2. Tag them (to describe what/where/who is in them) and title them – img2634.jpg doesn’t tell you much!
  3. Back them up, consider using cloud storage for this as well – eg Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive etc.
  4. Consider using an automatic way of backing-up the photos to the cloud so that they can be shared as well as preserved – eg Google Backup and Sync

… again you probably know all of that, but just in case!
Here’s an article that suggests a few tools to help you start the clean-up and another one from The Guardian.
So what’s my recommendation? Only one approach of many, but here it is … shoot it down!

  1. If you don’t want to pay out anything to organise your Photos and you don’t have an Apple Mac – let Google do it for you (and this is the solution I’ll describe below).
  2. If you do have a Mac, use the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad and the Photos application on your Mac desktop or MacBook [a couple of provisos for this however based on sharing with non-Apple users, or using in a non-Apple environment].
  3. Create a Google Account, if you haven’t got one already, and get 15Gb of free Google Drive (cloud) storage and unlimited storage if you choose to store the photos in High Quality (rather than Original Quality)
    It’s a good idea in any case to have a Google Account as it allows you to create another eMail address – I’m a strong advocate for having more than one eMail address anyway. Go to Google Accounts to setup your Google ID – you can use your existing eMail address if you want to. Then with your account set up you can go to this page. I would suggest you download the Backup and Sync application for your desktop at the same time. Installing the application on your Windows PC, or your Apple Mac, will then create a Google Drive Folder in which you can store information and which then will then be backed-up to your Google Drive “in the cloud”. Voila – you have peace of mind that your precious information has been saved. Any changes you make to the information will be synchronised with the version saved on your cloud storage.
  4. Set Google Photos up as a folder in your Google Drive.
  5. Allow Backup and Sync to copy photos from your phone/tablet to Google Photos (in your Google Drive).
  6. Only Import photos from your camera to your computer into a Google Photos folder using a structure such as [Year]>[Month & Date]
  7. Change the name of your photos in the folder to something a bit more meaningful.
  8. Get ready for some processing and sharing.


 
 
 

Wikipedia … oh dear!

I’ve known for a long time – in fact ever since my Librarian colleagues brought it to my attention and advised me to use it with great care – that Wikipedia was, and is, not a reliable source for information. Along with the myth of “just google it” to get information on almost anything … and then not subsequently and consciously make a decision on whether the search results returned were reliable, or even the best, the other myth has been “just look it up on wikipedia”.
I’ve subscribed to this myth – quite literally – donating regularly when asked, thinking that a collective is, and was, a good way to collect and curate information – harnessing the power, enthusiasm and knowledge of the crowd to plant, weed and publish articles. Whilst I realised that it could NEVER be an authoritative reference source, I accepted it as a good, quick and easy way of looking things up. My online dictionary/encyclopedia. Not any more.
I’ve written about why this came to my attention on my other blog – “Just thoughts …” in this article – “Well this is fascinating, and very disturbing …” but I thought it important to bring it to your attention on this blog as well. The issue is that reputable professionals are being targeted by anonymous “editors” on Wikipedia and having entries about them taken down.
As I understand it – and please add to my knowledge if incomplete or incorrect – the way Wikipedia works is that once you’ve established the right to create an entry – a page – that article can be modified through voting up or down proposed changes. Beyond that however it would appear that if you have a privileged position – obtained it would seem solely by virtue of the amount of your activity – you can propose deletion of any other entry, and then it’s up to others to vote to keep an article, or indeed support the deletion. It is therefore very easy to co-ordinate an attack on a Wikipedia page to have it removed. In the case of an individual, if they didn’t create the page for themselves, no reference will be made to the person targeted, they do not have any rights to object, they may not even know the page written about them is under discussion for deletion. They can cease to exist on Wikipedia!!!
So we have an extension to our world of fake news; that is the deletion of truth. What is the world coming to!
 

Is it time to move to more paid subscription services?

I have to admit, the events of the past few weeks have made me look much more seriously at paying more for the IT services that I’ve taken for free up until now. Of course they’ve never been free, I’ve had to put up with the adverts and the email messages I don’t really want – alerting me to this deal, or that deal, and I’ve willingly put up with that as a price worth paying for the service I’ve been receiving. But two events have changed my mind, and moreover I feel the IT world is actually changing slowly as a consequence of the mistakes (to be exceptionally generous) of Facebook and Google; and the decision of Apple to switch more attention to Services, targeting this as their  main income stream for the future, and not relying on Hardware alone.
So what were the earth-shaking events in the Harrison-IT-world? Well the first was Google’s announcement that having hidden the news of a potential security weakness in an API, for several months (presumably to secure their stock-market price at the time Facebook was struggling, and presumably also after ensuring that the potential breach was secured) they used this as an excuse to kill-off (sorry “sunset”) Google+ next August. Now this service was not the success Google hoped it to be, and most definitely has not generated the revenue they hoped it might, but for me, my family and for many communities (particularly of photographers – because of the close linkage to Google Photos) – it was a hugely valuable tool. Now, we have to look for another social media platform. It could be Google Photos – Google may have plans to “enhance” it to take on features from Google+, or it could be another platform, but it’s just a pain in the neck having to move off something we’re used to! Google have real history with “sunsetting” tools that people get used to using [Thanks to @MrSimonWood for this link.]
The second was Flickr’s announcement that they were going to limit their Free account to 1000 imagesexcluding those that were licensed under Creative Commons, which a lot of mine are. They are encouraging users to take out a Pro subscription to remove restrictions and allow more and larger images to be uploaded. This didn’t meet with the same “horror” feeling. I immediately felt that this was a decision that would secure the future long-term of the service under the new owners – SmugMug. [A feeling that I didn’t have when 500px made changes to their platform which led me to delete my account.] So I immediately subscribed and took advantage of the first-year discount price (still available for a few more days I believe).
So what am I saying. I’m saying that if there’s a service that I really want, and I really need some feeling that it’s going to be around for a while, I should pay for it. I wasn’t given that option by Google – shame on them; it appears I’ll never be given that opportunity by Facebook. Both of them are essentially marketing and advertising platforms. I don’t see either of them being able to develop a hybrid model as Flickr has been able to do.
This all makes Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan and Microsofts’ Office 365 seem so much more sensible. I’ll continue with the former, but decline the latter as my roots are now firmly planted in the Apple world where I look to see how they will develop their Service offerings in Music, TV, Home and Car fields.
Interesting times.

Creating your own online magazine

I am a creature of routine. I used to listen to Today on Radio 4 when I got up in the morning; now because I can’t stand the egos being pushed into my ears, I have a much more peaceful and indeed useful start to the day – after I’ve scanned The Guardian (online), BBC News (online) and Wales Online websites, and checked my email and other social media such as Google+ (alas – soon to be no more), WhatsApp, Twitter and less frequently than I used to – Facebook.
I’ll start at the beginning and describe what I do to curate my interests, my daily internet workflow. The jumping-off point is to check my RSS Feeds using Feedly. What is an RSS Feed I hear some of you say? Well it’s a signal from a website that new content has been posted on a website. So if there are a number of sites that you are interested in, you can get an alert with an extract of content sent to you by what is called a RSS Feed, which you can then pick-up and read in full using a RSS Reader. Now the favoured Reader for a long-time was Reader (from Google) – but as is their wont, Google “sunsetted” it. That is they killed it off. Fortunately a really good alternative came to the rescue in Feedly. Every time I come across a website I want to follow, I add it to my Feedly and, as long as a RSS Feed can be setup for the site, place it in a category for the feed (eg photography, or IT) so that my stream of reading is organised to some level. I could stop there, after all I’ve got the link to the webpage, it’s stored in a category and I can go back and read it anytime I’m online. However, what if I just want to scan quickly the content, and go back to it later, or what if I want to read it online? That’s where Pocket comes in.
If I see an article in Feedly that I want to read later, or even archive, I add it to my Pocket, giving it some tags to help me find it later. I do both of these tasks on a smartphone, or tablet, it’s much easier than using a desktop/laptop as there are good apps which work together for both Feedly and Pocket. Once in Pocket, the article, stripped of everything that is irrelevant, can be read offline – once it’s sync’d the content from the web to your device – or alternatively you can click on a button to read the original article online.
But then occasionally, I come across some content that I want to share more widely – to the Thought grazing community for instance; and for this I use Flipboard which is a really easy way of creating an online magazine; made up of articles (perhaps with comments added) which you found interesting. From my Pocket app, I just click on the Share button and select <Share via …> and chose Flipboard. On Flipboard I’ve created a couple of “magazines”, so I chose which one I want to “publish” the article to, and perhaps write a comment about the article; and then Post it. That’s all there is to it, but what do you need to do to replicate my workflow and produce something like this …
View my Flipboard Magazine.

Curating the web
Step 1 – create a Feedly account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – select websites you want to get an RSS feed from [see above, or read What is an RSS feed?]
Step 3 – check periodically to see what has “popped-up” in your feed reader.
Saving for another day, or for off-line reading (bookmarking+)
Step 1 – create a Pocket account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – save to Pocket from your browser (perhaps using a browser extension), or from a sharing icon in Feedly
Step 3 – tag your articles, and read at your leisure, or when you want to
Creating a magazine to share with others
Step 1 – create a Flipboard account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – create a Magazine within your Flipboard account, and decide whether to make it Private or Public
Step 3 – add articles to your magazine from your Pocket app (as described above) , or from your web browser
Good luck!

iPhone Battery Replacement

I was in conversation the other day with someone who was complaining about the short battery life of their iPhone. I remembered that I’d put an alert in my calendar for later this year to take my 6s, and Jenny’s SE down to the Apple Store to get a battery replacement under their “special offer” scheme.
This came about as a result of them changing the way the operating system (iOS) worked on older models – slowing them down – to retain battery life. This caused a bit of a stink at the time, and so Apple responded with a replacement programme that means a replacement battery would cost £25, as opposed to £79, through 2018.
Apple also issued an advisory note to tell users a little bit more about how batteries would cease to work at full performance in this note which also explained how you could manage performance – which is of course what they should have done before they implemented it in the background without telling anyone. This article tells you how you can monitor and manage your battery health.
So … if you have one of the affected models (iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus) you should consider taking advantage of the Battery Replacement Offer, but for a few people with a 6S, it could be a free replacement.
The Apple Store calls …

"Just google it …"

Something I’ve only just recently become aware of is that people don’t know the difference between Google and an internet browser. Now this is a spectacular success for Google (the company) and drives their revenues up a lot, but means that users are potentially missing out on a lot in terms of their internet experience so this short note attempts to address that balance, albeit in a very small way!

How did this come about? Well principally because Google introduced an app for the iPhone and other smartphones and tablets called (unsurprisingly) … Google. It presents in a nice easy to use interface a way of searching for information on the internet – that is how Google started after all, which is how they also managed to corner the term for searching the internet – “just google it”. [You don’t hear many people saying – “just bing it”, or “just yahoo! it” – in fact in the case of the latter they just gave up and decided to use the Google search engine and ditch their own one.] So … at a stroke, new users to digital devices thought that the way to connect to the internet was through their “Google” app.
No, no – there is another way that presents you with so many other possibilities and no, no – you don’t have to restrict yourself to using just Google as your search tool. [In an earlier post I described some experiments with using DuckDuckGo and other search engines and I will return to that subject at another time.] So … what might you use?
Well even using Google’s Chrome browser is better than using the Google app on your smartphone or tablet. It probably uses the same software  “under the hood” based on Google’s Open Source Chromium code base but it does offer the possibility of adding extensions, and allowing the use of alternative search engines.
But what else could you use? On my iOS (Apple mobile devices) I tend to use Apple’s Safari browser. On my desktop/laptop I tend to use Chrome, or Firefox (another Open Source project) from the Mozilla Foundation. Then there’s Microsoft’s Edge – supplied with Windows, or Opera (a lean,  clean browsing machine), or I could be really radical and use something like Brave (and I am) which doesn’t track my browsing history … but I’ll leave that for another day, and for another post.
For today, the message is simple … don’t use the Google app as your main internet browser, just use it if you want to for simple searches. Find a browser you like and use that … and maybe even choose which search engine to use, it doesn’t need to be Google – I’m using Chrome with DuckDuckGo as I write this. You won’t regret making a change to your internet browsing/searching experience – believe me!
 
 
 

I've now had an introduction to the SBOD

Now I’ve been uber-charitable about Apple and their MacOS, but yesterday and today I was introduced to the Spinning Beachball of Death which froze me out of doing anything on my iMac whilst I trawled the internet (on another machine) trying to find out what could be wrong.
I’d not left the machine on, in sleep mode, and yet it just crawled through boot and sign-in until it basically gave up the ghost when it got to the Desktop. What could it be?
Obviously it was probably a hardware problem … wasn’t it? Well a bit of Cmd + R work, running disk utility showed everything was in fine fettle, many re-boots later things seemed to be improving, but not all was right. What could it be? Try logging-in to another account on the same machine I thought. Well I had one, but it wasn’t an Admin account, but it was worth a try. This seemed to be much better so I was now thinking about Corruption of the User Profile and the need to Restore from a Time Machine backup … maybe. But then, out of the blue, all seemed to be well again … until this morning, when the SBOD returned.
This time I knew it was likely to be something to do with my User Profile, so I setup a new Admin account once I managed to get to the screen that allowed me to do that. Logged out, and then logged into the new account and, as I hoped, the login screamed through. I set up the machine and right at the end I was told that my Paragon NTFS for Mac (which allows me to read Windows files) needed to be updated as it was not optimal for my version of MacOS (High Sierra, 10.13.6). The penny dropped! This software wasn’t installed on my MacBook Pro. This piece of software was interfering with Finder on the iMac in some way to slow everything down. Quickly into System Preferences then, disable the NTFS for Mac driver, and re-boot. All seems to be well. Some hard lessons learnt and a lot of time wasted.
The lessons learnt?

  1. Have a spare Admin account on your machine so that you can check your user profile
  2. Disable, or Uninstall any software that you’re not using because inevitably it will go out of sync with something else
  3. Make sure that you know how to start your machine in a number of different ways to check for faults – I had to print out a cheat sheet to do this
  4. Make sure you have an up-to-date backup … just in case; I did, so that was my last option, and I’d have been OK … I think!

 

ICE – that's In Case of Emergency

Recent discussion in U3A has been on what role a Group Convenor should have in case of emergency. It’s a difficult one, I haven’t fully resolved in my mind what responsibility I should have – I think it’s one that’s worth discussing. Should I, can I request that information be lodged with me? Should the group member provide it to a membership record on a database system that the Convenor can access? Or, should – and this is the purpose of this post – the individual take the responsibility upon themselves. This can be done by either carrying a card – this one is used by The Ramblers – there are many providers of this sort of card, eg ICEcard, or should we use the facilities on our Smartphones which allow access without unlocking the phone from the Home screen.

How much do you know about computer fraud?


Recently in a U3A meeting we discussed Computer Fraud. We often do, or so it seems. If it’s not fraud, it’s security online, or scams and what’s done with our data … but more about that later!!!

This short post is just to alert people to a simple, short quiz (or test) that has been produced in conjunction with the UK Government to help people recognise fraudulent activity.

Go to this website, satisfy yourself it’s genuine and is a government backed initiative. According to the Daily Mail – so it must be true – only 9% of people taking a test were able to accurately recognise all the scams and false messages, that despite a claim that 80% felt that they were able to recognise a fraudulent message.