Beware the free upgrade

So … we’re all excited about the advent of iOS 11 for our iPads and iPhones aren’t we? Or we are if our devices can actually take the new operating system. And there’s the first challenge. Apple gives us free upgrades to its operating system software but it comes at a price in terms of the pensioning off of some hardware from ongoing support.
So, if you don’t have any of the hardware on the list below … stop reading this post and go and do something constructive.

So what’s wrong with iOS 11, nothing of course, it looks like a really feature-rich release with lots of goodies to enjoy and reports seem to suggest that it doesn’t slow down your device significantly … except it’s a wholly 64-bit operating system. This means that all applications that you run on the device must be written in code that runs on a 64-bit operating system, and the problem is that quite a few of your applications, even some you really like, may have been written using older 32-bit code. You may even have noticed some alerts coming up on your screen to say “contact the developer” when you’ve been running an application – that’s the reason for the alerts – your app is potentially going “end of life”. So … before you do the automatic upgrade just do these checks.
Goto Settings > General > About and you will see something like this …

… click on Applications, and something like this will be shown …

… read the warning message at the top of your screen carefully. What it is saying is that these apps are written in 32-bit code and will tend to run slower than if they were written in 64-bit code. What is more, they will stop working with iOS 11. Then clicking on any of the apps shown on your iPhone (similar to the ones above on my iPhone), will give you this screen message which effectively says that the app is end-of-life UNLESS the developer provides a 64-bit version.

Now most of these apps on my iPhone I can probably do without but I do know that I ought to approach Cardiff Bus to find out when their 64-bit version of the Timetable and Journey Map is going to be released, as I use that a lot!
 
 
 
 

I hate iTunes!!!

It’s that time of the year when Apple give us a new version of iOS for the iPhone and iPad, and also sometimes releases a new version of MacOS, the operating system for their laptops and desktops. A few other things creep in such as this “upgrade” – more like a wholesale change – to iTunes which may impact upon your use of your iPhone/iPad.
I’m honestly not sure what difference it will mean to me, or to anyone else, but just alerting you to the fact that if you have automatic updates on for iTunes that things might not be the same as they were. That’s why I don’t allow automatic updates. I want to hear from other people about the impact of an upgrade, and for the software developer to release a couple of “bug fixes” before I do the upgrade manually, in my own time, and hopefully better informed and aware.
In the case of this one, I did the manual upgrade, as I didn’t think it would impact upon me too much and then spent a lot of the rest of the day sorting out my iTunes Library. I know my setup is a little complex – I’ll share that story with you another time – but iTunes must be my most hated piece of software. I just wish they would re-write it from the bottom up and get their database functionally correct and usable.

Alternatives to Google Search

At the last meeting of the Cardiff U3A Computer Group I rather fell flat on my face when comparing the returns provided by three different Search Engines – Google, Bing from Microsoft and DuckDuckGo (a new entrant which is open source) and which doesn’t track, or make available to others, what your browsing/searching history is. In other words it protects your privacy and the search results returned are unbiassed by your previous browsing/searching and it doesn’t return results biassed by what advertisers have paid Google to push themselves up the list!
I have tried using DuckDuckGo in its most basic form for a couple of weeks now with a Safari browser and found it to be reliable, fast and pleasant to use. A rather good article of a week’s trial of using DuckDuckGo in preference to (but alongside) Google can be found here, and I would recommend you read it. Another article which summarises the differences of this search engine to Google can be found here. This page might help you phrase efficient searches using DuckDuckGo. You do have to add it to the browser Chrome, unlike Safari or Firefox where it is provided as an alternative automatically from the Preferences Setting.
Bing is the main competitor to Google Search and is now the search engine used by Yahoo. Essentially, it’s very similar to Google and returns the same sort of results – you might find it useful useful to bookmark this page to help you phrase efficient searches.
So you’re not convinced? That’s OK. At least you ought to know how to construct a good Google search to get the best results. This page from The Guardian is as good as any in giving you sound advice. Essentially it makes the following points:

  1. Be specific, by putting your search term in parentheses “search term”;
  2. Exclude stuff you’re not going to be interested in using the – sign, eg -notthis;
  3. Use OR (|) and AND (+) in a search, and combine them with “search term” and -notthis, as desired to improve the search;
  4. Use qualifiers such as inurl:”search term”, intext:”search term”, or intitle:”searchterm” to search for “search term” in the uRL, the body of text of an article, or the title of an article; and finally
  5. Use * (the wildcard character) to extend searches, eg walk* would return walks, walker, walked, etc.

That’s about it. I could go into using Advanced Search (Google) but I think that’s beyond the scope of this post. For me, if I do some of these things I’m sure the quality of my searches will improve.
 

Getting started with Digital Photography: Part 1

A new venture for Thought grazing …
This article starts from the assumption that you already have a digital camera, or smartphone, and doesn’t pretend to give advice on how to proceed to purchase one except to say that I would strongly recommend buying from a camera shop for the after-sales service you would get. In buying a digital camera you’re buying into a system – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic etc. – it can be a painful (and expensive) decision to change later, so it’s worth talking to someone who can talk about their experiences, or who can match your needs to what is available.
So therefore this article focusses on the software and in later posts – the processing of images using software.

Photography is a hobby that cries out to share its results (images) with other people and so therefore it’s best to work back from answering the question – what are you going to do with the images? By answering that question, the rest of the toolkit and the workflow you adopt is easier to answer. Typical workflows might be …
I just want to take a photo and print it.
I want to take a photo and possibly share it on Facebook, Instagram.
I want to take photos and make them into photobooks.
I want to take photos and post them to a website.
… of course it could be all of the above. One thing tends to unite them however, you need a place in the cloud to store your photos, from which you can then share them. If at all possible you should adopt a platform t
hat provides the maximum flexibility to allow you to do all of the above, and more, so that you don’t need to keep changing your systems as you develop your hobby. I’ve written about my workflow here.
So apart from the local USB disk-storage I use (with its backups, of course) to store and post-process my images, I use Google Photos as my main way of sharing photos in albums eg Orchids from Changi Airport, linked to the free storage (as long as you don’t store images at high resolution) you get on Google Drive. I do have other cloud storage/sharing platforms, but this is the one I use for photographs. I do also have a flickr account to share images – and I use it occasionally, as I do Instagram. As you develop your interest in photography, you may wish to have a more professional platform (I have used 500px), or the sharing platform that may be provided by your preferred software supplier (eg Adobe).
If you’re starting-out (or don’t want to spend any money) then you can use the editing software available within Google Photos, or if on a phone, or tablet, use Google’s Snapseed apps. You can still get Picasa for Windows 
and the Mac, which is software Google bought and supported for a while, but it is probably better to bite the bullet and use their Photos app in a browser, as it integrates well with Drive and Google+.
Then of course you might (like me) be an Apple user, and could of course use their Photos app and iCloud, but at the moment the editing facilities offered in the app are not (in my humble opinion) as good as Google’s. You can sync your smartphone “camera roll” to Google Photos automatically which is nice.
Other free photo-editing options are available. I will however after reviewing the other possibilities, only mention and discuss Google Photos on this blog.
If you’re a bit more sure that you want to invest in digital photography then there’s no better (imho) software than Adobe Lightroom. I’m not going into a whole set of reasons why you should invest in Lightroom rather than Photoshop Elements, or Apple’s Photo app, Paintshop, or even full-blown Photoshop. However for me these are the main benefits …

  • It doesn’t matter where your images are stored; you don’t have to import them into a database, but you can choose to import new images into a single location of your choice which is unconnected to the software.
  • It employs a catalogue which references where the images are stored. You can have multiple catalogues referencing the same set of images.
  • All changes (edits) to the images are stored in the catalogue. 
  • The original images are left untouched. This is called non-destructive editing.
  • You can go backwards and forwards through your edits, and can even create multiple virtual copies that allow you multiple versions of the same image, but only one actual (original) image.
  • You can store your images in Collections which equate to virtual albums unconnected to the actual folders the actual images are stored in.
  • You are supplied with a huge range of Plugins to allow you easy publishing to social media sites (eg flickr, Instagram, Dropbox), in addition to publishing to photobook websites (eg Blurb) and print sites (eg Smugmug).
  • You can apply presets to your images at import, developing or export so that the same look and feel can be achieved.
  • It integrates well with a whole range of other software such as WordPress (for blogging).

… I just feel that (for me at least) Lightroom is the best at the moment and it integrates with Adobe’s other software. It also now has a mobile version that allows editing on your iPad (or iPhone) if you subscribe to their Photography Creative Cloud Plan. This costs c.£9 a month and gives me both Lightroom and Photoshop, storage space in the cloud, and more besides, plus all the upgrades.
If you decide to go down the Lightroom route then here are a couple of resources you might wish to reference …

Laura Shoe’s Lightroom – http://laurashoe.com/
Lightroom Killer Tips – http://lightroomkillertips.com/
Adobe Training – http://tv.adobe.com/product/lightroom/ and https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/tutorials.html

… and for Lightroom tuition, you’ll do well to beat  …
Scott Kelby’s Lightroom books for digital photographers, New Riders

How does the Internet work?

Now there’s a question. Once upon a time it was a little easier to answer. You connected your computer with a piece of wire to a socket in the wall and beyond the wall was ?? So perhaps it’s not always been easy to answer that question. It’s not magic, it’s not fluffy, it’s actually really complicated technology which works in a relatively simple way to make things relatively easy for us to use it.
Let’s start with a few videos:
How does the internet work? – This BBC Bitesize page (for children is a really good starting point to help you understand how the internet works) and introduces the terminology you will need to understand the other videos.
How the Internet Works in 5 Minutes – the internet is not a fuzzy cloud. The internet is a wire, actually buried in the ground. Computers connected directly to the internet are called “Servers,” while the computers you and I use are “clients,” because they are not connected directly to the internet, but through an Internet Service Provider. Routers shuttle packets of information across the internet, and transmit e-mail, pictures, and web pages.
How Does the Internet Actually Work? – this discusses how internet traffic can be labelled to ensure that packets of data can arrive at their destination with the minimum amount of disruption. It discusses the role of government in all of this and provides a technical background (from Cisco’s point of view) as to what Net Neutrality should be. For an impartial point of view, you should probably look at the policy documents from the Internet Society and Electronic Frontier Federation.
You might also be interested in seeing a Google Data Centre, in particular the pieces on security and cooling are interesting.
Finally, Andrew Blum (in a TED Global talk) philosophically examines What is the Internet, really? A journey that started for him when he found out a squirrel had chewed through a cable led to him exploring trans-ocean cables and the very physical nature of the internet – a wire!

Munzee, munzee, so good to me

If you want to wow your grandchildren with your knowledge and expertise in using your smartphone, this may be the app for you!
It uses QR codes, those strange square maze-like images that you’re increasingly finding on packaging, books and even television advertising to provide the basis of a treasure-hunt game. Click on the Munzee logo above to get started.
The idea is that you search for “munzees” in your local area, shown on this map thus  
 
 

There’s a Munzee somewhere here – Devonport, Auckland, NZ

… and when you find them, you record that find on your smartphone by scanning the QR code that is on a lamp post, or even under a bench.
If you then want to get really adventurous you can start “hiding” your own munzees and adding to the fun of others.

Anyway, just a bit of fun that I thought I’d share with you to illustrate how QR Codes can be used.
Scan this one and it’ll take you straight to Wikipedia.

What's app doc?

Another U3A Computer Group meeting, another terrible experience with flaky WiFi, much more flaky than any experience any of us might have experienced anywhere else; a second attempt to discuss Facebook – failed because of the aforementioned WiFi problems; a reasonable attempt to get members registered into our Google+ Community and a discussion of WhatsApp – which is what this post is really about.
WhatsApp is a multi-media Messaging Application, owned now by Facebook (with potentially all that might involve), which allows the sharing of videos, photographs, as well as enabling voice and video calls, document sharing and straight-forward text messaging between mobile devices on WiFi. That’s about it in a nut-shell – if I’ve missed anything out, go to the link above and find out more for yourself. However the purpose of this short post is just to point you to another couple of links.
Members mentioned that there wasn’t a WhatsApp App for the iPad (or other tablets), well here’s a link to how you might be able to run WhatsApp on an iPad as long as you have a Smartphone, and here’s another one from MacWorld which explains the same workaround. Neither of these are truly satisfying, but at least it allows you to use the app from your iPad. If all you want is Chat, there is an App that you could install on an iPad, but I have no experience of using it.
If you want to install WhatsApp on your Windows or Mac device, there appears to be an App to allow you to do it, but again I can’t give you any advice on how good it is. This blogpost from WhatsApp explains where they are with the desktop version(s) of the App.
And that’s about it. I don’t use WhatsApp. Perhaps I should, but other tools I use such as Facetime and iMessage in my Apple ecosystem do the trick well for me, and I do still like Google Hangouts.