Monday, March 28, 2011

Alternative OS for Me: Windows 7

    Personally, I've been a Mac and Linux user for the past few years and enjoy using both. Since my iBook is on it's way out and my Linux box is 9 years old, we decided it was time to get a new computer. Prices for a new 27" iMac with Core i7 and 8MB RAM were ok for us until an unexpected need for some of that money came along. Maybe next year...

    I ended up getting a Lenovo 23" multi-touch All-In-One Core i5 with 4 MB RAM for about half the cost. Along with it came Windows 7. The only Windows I am really familiar with is Win 2000. Just this year, I've got a couple of machines at work running XP so I'm getting used to that a little bit and I have never used Vista. So, I thought maybe it's time to become reacquainted with Windows again.

    Of course, the first thing I did was open up Internet Explorer and download Firefox and Chrome. I don't really know how safe IE is now but back in the time it was a security sieve so I'm just going on past experience and familiarity with my browser selection. Next was installing Spybot. Knowing about ClamAV, a free Linux antivirus, I did a search and installed Immunet which uses the ClamAV engine. More about Immunet in my Antivirus report.

    I'm learning more about what is needed for my security needs on this machine. Windows 7 has it's Security Center and then there's the free McAfee trial that keeps popping up. I guess the thing I need to get used to is all the different programs needed to keep you safe using Windows. Messages keep coming coming up every time I need to download and install something. IE made me very mad when trying to download and install Firefox. It kept asking me if I really wanted to trust Mozilla.

    I probably won't get the full Microsoft experience because I have no plans to get Microsoft Office. I'm happy with the open source OpenOffice and/or a new offshot LibreOffice. I probably won't purchase any software for my Windows unless I get too much free time and can learn to use a full Adobe Creative suite for web design, Flash programming and course content authoring. Otherwise, just about everything I need is available for free. If I have time to get really involved in a particular type of application I may find that I will need to purchase a commercial product because the open source alternatives aren't up to standard yet.

    I've been a pretty complacent Mac and Linux user with regards to security and have been running them without any protection other than safe habits and knowledge. I know I should/will be doing more. Thinking about security also makes me think about all my passwords. Do I want to set up master passwords for all my stuff? Is using a master password for all my login sites even safe?

    Though I'm learning about Windows 7, I still mostly boot my new machine into Linux. I repartitioned my c: drive and installed onto the new partition Linux Mint, which is a variation of Ubuntu Linux. I'm liking the look and feel of it better than Ubuntu but the core of how everything works is still Ubuntu so I don't have to learn anything new. I don't have the Lenovo touchscreen working yet in Linux because the hacks are too complicated right now. Sooner or later someone will come up with an easy solution and it doesn't really matter because the touch screen is pretty much of a novelty and not all that useful for production. Maybe I'll find a use for it while browsing if I spend enough time on the Windows half.

    Now, I'm trying to decide best how to network all my resources. I don't really have my own network but sponge off my brother's WiFi on the floor above me. I may be deciding to go with the Tonido Plug that I mentioned previously to create private cloud storage, accessible anywhere but locally available on your own network. I need to centralize my data because I'm starting to have files here, files there, files everywhere.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Computer History for Curtis Siegmann

    My first experience with computers was when I was in 7th or 8th grade(1973?). Our high school had a time share from the mainframe at Ripon College and the teletype machine was in a small room next to the math rooms at the school. My brother was in high school and used the computer with a class or a club. He often brought home long thin rolls of yellow punch tape with computer programs on them. I had fun playing with the rolls but didn't really think too much about the implications of computers in society at the time.

    When I got into high school it was mostly the math nerds/math club members who hung out in the computer room. It wasn't a place to go if you cared anything about your social status. In some math class in high school we had a little bit of experience with the computer for a couple of weeks. We mostly just played a few games that were already programmed or watched the teletype machine print out a picture of Snoopy with bitmapped X's and O's. The whole experience didn't affect me much and interacting with the printout of the teletype machine and writing then and saving programs on punch tape seemed very tedious to me.

    A few years later I learned how to program FORTRAN and later Pascal in university. I did poorly in the courses. The whole computer thing interested me somewhat but I didn't do well and often though it was way too much work, especially the time we had to do a program on punch cards (they were already legacy but our professor thought it a worthy task). I think back now on all the basic programming knowledge I actually did learn and it was to prove useful in the years to come. I actually liked Pascal programming language much better than the BASIC or FORTRAN at the time because Basic and FORTRAN were much more linear programming whereas Pascal was a lot more modular.

    Several years later during my student teaching, I taught word processing to middle school students in Madison, WI, in the district's first computer lab. Loaded each unit with DOS by 5 1/2"disk and then loaded WordStar on every unit by disk - every time! It was a good experience but I still wasn't really into computers. Everything was still too tedious.

    For the computer experience that had the greatest effect on me we need to fast forward to 1992. I was coming home (the first time) from teaching ESL in Taiwan for 2 years and few months before I left, I bought a notebook computer with Windows 3.1 loaded with Word, Excel and Corel Graphics applications. I had previously worked a little bit on some Apple computers but never really liked it for some reason. This time however, I became immersed in learning what I could do. Maybe it was because for the first time I had my own computer. Maybe it was the user interface?

    I really enjoyed playing around with Excel and was learning to write macros and make flat-file database forms. I also liked the Corel graphics, just playing around with it to see what I could do with it. My computer high was short lived because when I got back to Wisconsin, my notebook died and there wasn't anyone around (that I knew of) who could fix a Taiwan notebook.

    A few months later I applied for a job at a motorcycle repair company who wanted something done in Excel. I thought I could do it so I went in and bluffed my way through the interview. While there they said that they had changed their minds and wanted it done in MS Access database instead and asked if I could do that. I lied and said I could ( I had never even heard of Access). I went straight out and bought a book on Access and studied it thoroughly even though I didn't have a computer to work on. I was amazed at what Access could do. I never got a callback for the job but I was on my way to learning and becoming immersed in modern computing.

   A while later when I finally got my own computer to work on I started really learning Access as well as more Corel Graphics. I produced a fine database in Access for a home construction company I worked at as a general laborer. A few years later when I returned to Taiwan and was involved in a curriculum development project, I was the "tech guy" for the project and created a database to enter and store lesson plans and supplemental materials as well as writing many lesson plans and creating graphics for numerous others. My experience with computers at this school got me the position of Director of Online Education when the school decided to embark on entering the online education market. That's a story for later.

   Just about everything I know about computers I have mostly learned on my own (except for two programming courses I had way back), experimenting, tinkering, reading books and help files and searching the net. I believe the turning point in my computer history was my fascination with Excel on my first computer, lying about knowing Access and then actually learning how to use it. Since then my computer skills have helped me or advanced me in just about every position I have had.

Sat Night - Midnight News

This just in for all you Dropbox users.

Try out Tonido if you think your home computer has better uptime.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Account Overload

    Which one to choose? With the plethora of available services on the net it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide which ones you want to use. Site X has these features, site Y some overlapping ones and site Z some of both X & Y but not all. Yes, you can do your research and find reviews and comments and comparisons and then you find your Wednesday night is gone.

     Then there is account management. Site X has openID where you can use your email or Facebook account to log in. Site Y will let you use site X's account but you dont have a real account, it's accessed through your email or Facebook and site Y doesn't allow you to to use those. Then there's mobile devices. The mobile apps don't always allow you to use an openID making it difficult to log onto site X, you need to have a "real" account/username and password.

    OPenID is a great thing but as far as I know, it only works when you set up new accounts. There is no way to go to some of your existing accounts and change your login to an openID. OpenID has this feature on a wish list of future improvements.

    The connectivity and interaction between services and devices is getting better but it still amounts to a lot of account overload. I enjoy researching and investigating new computer technology. I think I would like a job as a personal computer advisor, letting people know what the best options are for their needs. I guess that is what this course and program are preparing me to do.

    So, I've got some new accounts. While doing my initial playing around with my new Android phone a couple of months ago, trying to fill it up with as much stuff as I could I ran across Springpad, a notetaking scrapbook type application like Evernote, accessed through a browser or a mobile app. Apparently it does things a bit differently than Evernote in that it will search through your notes, bookmarks and web clips and give further recommendations based on what it finds. Here is a good review. I'll have to start using it more to see what it can do for me both personally and professionally.

   For online storage, I think I found a service that I'll be investigating a bit more and may purchase premium services or hardware from them. It's called Tonido. Instead of uploading and saving everything to a third party service, you use your own computer as a file server as long as it is connected to the Internet. You choose which folders/files to share, either publicly or with a guest login. You can access your entire computer remotely from any connected computer or smartphone. With premium services or hardware, you can mount your remote computer as a local drive and directly edit and work on files rather than downloading - editing - then syncing. The service has many more features which you should check out. There are some interesting educational uses for using Tonido, read here.