Tag Archives: TECH TALK

DECEMBER TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: SOME INTERESTING WEBSITES

Some Interesting Websites

I always enjoy being educated and amused.  Here are a few websites that you should be aware of due to their huge amount of interesting data.  My favorite is Netflix, but that costs about $10/month, and I’ll only discuss free items here.

  1. Stumble Upon https://www.stumbleupon.com/

When you first go to this site, it asks if you want to become a member and then gives you a wide variety of subject areas to choose that represent your interests.  It asks for 10, but you can provide fewer, and the list of options is enormous.  Don’t worry about picking them perfectly; they are easy to change.  Once you provide some other information, like your name, you are ready to go.  A few times a week, you’ll receive email with links to about four articles that are chosen because StumbleUpon thinks you will find them interesting.  There are thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons on each article, and if you click on one, you are telling the system that, in fact, you enjoyed (or did not enjoy) what it provided.  This will further identify your interests.  I find that about 50% of what it now sends me is very interesting.  Articles are short, usually about 2 pages.

2.  IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. These two sites provide insight into movies and TV. Rotten Tomatoes https://www.rottentomatoes.com/ aggregate reviews, categorizes them as positive or negative, and then averages them.  They provide two scores: one based on general viewers, and the other bsed on professional reviewers.  I have learned that my preferences frequently do not align well with the professionals.  The site also allows you to purchase tickets.

IMDB is similar though it has a lot more information on the movie and links to all the directors, cast, etc.  I always check both when considering whether to watch a movie on TV. http://www.imdb.com/  IMDb also provides, if available, show times and the ability to purchase tickets.

  1. Youtube is one of my favorite sites and I use it all the time. I decided to see if he movie Gladiator was available there for free.  Frequently movies are noyt, but in this case it was https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwEWOro5o7Y.   Last year I considered buying tickets for a concert and there was a piece of modern music on the program.  I suspected that I wouldn’t like it and worried that it was going to be long.  So I did a YouTube search, found it was 7 minutes, listened to it and enjoyed it, and bought the tickets’

I love the old tap dancing movies of Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, etc.  When you search for something on youtube, it then provides a set of links to similar material so that I can watch this for hours.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T45iRSvxaVM .

Then if you follow the links, you can find The Nicholas Brothers who I suspect most of you are not familiar with.  Here is a spectacular number of theirs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNKRm6H-qOU&index=2&list=RDEBqSBVxUKM4 .

Or see the Clark Brothers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNVDBH_z8VA&index=5&list=RDEBqSBVxUKM4

And I’ll leave this section with my favorite Triplets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjW_yvrC0cE .  This looks impossible but how did they do it? By balancing on artificial legs strapped to their knees, Fabray reports; they fell dozens of times before getting it right and relied on pain-killers.

  1. Find the best price for something. PriceGrabber http://www.pricegrabber.com/ and Google Shopping https://www.google.com/shopping .  Both sites look at hundreds of places to purchase a particular item and tell you the best on-line or brick-and-mortar location.  Obviously do this when you have decided what you want.  Using Price Grabber I did a search for a ream of copy paper and got back a pretty good deal.

Let me finish with something a bit creepy.   https://www.deadmansswitch.net/.   You write emails and store them.  Periodically the system will send you an email asking if you are alive.  If you do not respond then the system will send the emails.  Batter be careful if you change your email address, though!

“Tech Talk” writer John Rud

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

NOVEMBER TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

by John Rudy

Artificial Intelligence has been around for 50 years and describes the environment where computers are able to do things that one normally associates with humans.  Years ago, there were computer programs that could easily beat most folks at backgammon, checkers and chess.  More recently the chess programs have become so good that they can routinely beat even the best players, and just this year, a Go master repeatedly lost to a computer.  But these are games.  Where does this technology apply to us?  And should we be worried?  There are many examples of how artificial intelligence can be beneficial to us.  Here are just four that can help to better understand the field.

  1. Language translation. A number of companies provide language translation, but the consensus is that the free Google software has recently become excellent.  https://translate.google.com/   I know this is a little hard to read, but on the left you can specify a language (there are about 100 available) or even let Google guess the language from the vocabulary.  On the right, you specify the language you want it translated into.  In addition to providing text as input, you can provide a URL (a web page) and it will translate that.  Try it out, you’ll be amazed.  Note that if your computer is set to receive voice input, you can do it that way too.  The translations are not perfect, but they are pretty good.

  1. Smart phone translation. There are many programs available on smart phones to provide instantaneous translation into other spoken languages.  So, you can go to a restaurant in Albania and talk onto your phone and it will speak to the waiter in Albanian.  This is truly amazing!  I’ve seen these products work but do not own this capability.  Here are some ratings of available products.

For iphones see:  http://www.macworld.co.uk/feature/iphone/best-translation-apps-for-iphone-2017-3599462/

For Android phones see:  http://thedroidguy.com/2017/03/5-best-android-translation-app-for-your-next-foreign-business-or-vacation-travel-1067355

  1. Robot companions. The last few years have seen the emergence of “robots” that can be your companions, scan peak to you, answer questions, and perform tasks.  Once again, this has its plusses and minuses as revealed when one of these units placed online orders for a child and charged the costs to the adult-provided credit card.  The Amazon Echo starts as low as $50 though there are higher priced, more functional versions. Check which of these functionalities below are available on the unit you are investigating.  Google and others have competitive products, but Amazon currently has 70% of the market.
  • Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc as requested by your voice
  • Ask Alexa to call or message anyone with an Echo, Echo Dot, or the Alexa App.
  • It can hear you from across a room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing
  • Answers questions, reads the news, reports traffic and weather, reads audiobooks from Audible, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, controls Amazon Video on Fire TV, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
  • Controls lights, fans, TVs, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Sony, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, and others
  • And whatever it doesn’t do now–just wait a year or two.
  1. Pattern Recognition. For many years, it was assumed that humans were particularly adept at pattern recognition.  Recently, though, it has been shown that this is not the case.  Let’s take the example of mammograms.  Computers were taught (“machine learning”) by being given thousands of x-rays and told which ones had tumors.  When the computer made a mistake on a new picture, the correct answer was provided which further refined the database.  https://www.sciencealert.com/ai-analyses-mammograms-30-times-faster-and-20-more-accurately-than-doctors  The machines are getting better and better.  There are many objectives: to catch more real tumors, avoid false positives (with attendant biopsies), read them faster and for less cost.
  2. Many companies are using AI to refine their marketing and help consumers. Here is one I like.  Netflix asks me to rate, on a 1-5 scale, how I like a movie.  Further, it asks how frequently I view movies of that genre (I might have loved Still Alice, but hate movies of that type).  Subsequently, it gives me a Rudy-score when I consider another movie.  This is much better than IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes which knows nothing about my personal likes and dislikes.  Other companies, like Amazon, provide a similar ability to rate what I get.

To conclude, let’s briefly discuss the Singularity.  This is the point at which computers become smarter than humans and are able to take advantage of it.  Think The Terminator.  Some very smart people like Steven Hawking and Elon Musk are worried.  See http://time.com/3614349/artificial-intelligence-singularity-stephen-hawking-elon-musk/  Musk recently called for the establishment of national or international regulations on the development of AI.  In some ways, this is like the limitations placed on cloning, yet the Chinese and others are violating those rules.  I don’t expect that advances in AI will slow down, and the implications are as great as those resulting from the Industrial Revolution.

In this blog, I’ve provided links to a number of articles on elated subjects.  Let me know if this is useful.

BOLLI Matters blogger on all things tech-related and food-centered, John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, please provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic . 

HAVE YOU FROZEN YOUR CREDIT?

HAVE YOU FROZEN YOUR CREDIT?

A “Tech Talk” Extra from John Rudy

No doubt, everyone has heard by now of the 143 million accounts (or more) that were compromised by Equifax.  And Equifax’s standing with account holders has taken a massive plunge of more than 35% since the announcement.  But have you taken steps to freeze your credit?

It’s important that you make sure that you understand what Credit Freezes are and how they might apply to you.

  1. Here is useful information from Kim Komando’s blog.  See: https://www.komando.com/happening-now/418908/dont-sign-up-for-equifaxs-free-credit-monitoring-heres-what-to-do-insteadutm_medium=nl&utm_source=notd&utm_content=2017-09-11-article-b
  2. The article noted above (read and print the first 4 pages) explains the situation, and this is MUST reading.  This article then references a second article which tells you the steps to follow.  Read and print pages 1-2:  https://www.komando.com/tips/409259/one-essential-step-to-prevent-identity-theft
  3. An interesting editorial in the Globe can be found at: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2017/09/12/equifax-messed-now-consumers-have-pay/y4wc8cHVI7MHm4KW99KTfN/story.html

I’ve compiled some information here which may prove helpful in understanding this situation.

The FICO Score  

The FICO score was first introduced in 1989 by FICO, then called Fair, Isaac, and Company. The FICO model is used by the vast majority of banks and credit grantors and is based on the consumer credit files of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Because a consumer’s credit file may contain different information at each of the bureaus, FICO scores can vary depending on which bureau provides the information.

Credit scores are designed to measure the risk of default by taking into account various factors in a person’s financial history. Although the exact formulas for calculating credit scores are secret, FICO has disclosed the following components:

  • 35%: payment history: This is best described as the presence or lack of derogatory information. Bankruptcy, liens, judgments, settlements, charge-offs, repossessions, foreclosures, and late payments can cause a FICO score to drop.
  • 30%: debt burden: This category considers a number of debt specific measurements. According to FICO, there are some six different metrics in the debt category including the debt to limit ratio, number of accounts with balances, amount owed across different types of accounts, and the amount paid down on installment loans.
  • 15%: length of credit history: As a credit history ages it can have a positive impact on its FICO score. There are two metrics in this category: the average age of the accounts on your report and the age of the oldest account.
  • 10%: types of credit used (installmentrevolvingconsumer financemortgage): Consumers can benefit by having a history of managing different types of credit.
  • 10%: recent searches for credit: hard credit inquiries, which occur when consumers apply for a credit card or loan (revolving or otherwise), can hurt scores, especially if done in great numbers. Individuals who are “rate shopping” for a mortgage, auto loan, or student loan over a short period (two weeks or 45 days, depending on the generation of FICO score used) will likely not experience a meaningful decrease in their scores as a result of these types of inquiries, as the FICO scoring model considers all of those types of hard inquiries that occur within 14 or 45 days of each other as only one. Further, mortgage, auto, and student loan inquiries do not count at all in a FICO score if they are less than 30 days old. While all credit inquiries are recorded and displayed on personal credit reports for two years, they have no effect after the first year because FICO’s scoring system ignores them after 12 months. Credit inquiries that were made by the consumer (such as pulling a credit report for personal use), by an employer (for employee verification), or by companies initiating pre-screened offers of credit or insurance do not have any impact on a credit score: these are called “soft inquiries” or “soft pulls” and do not appear on a credit report used by lenders, only on personal reports. Soft inquires are not considered by credit scoring systems.
Credit Bureaus

In the United States, there is no legal term for a credit bureau under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). A consumer reporting agency is often abbreviated in the industry as CRA.

In this country, two government bodies share responsibility for the oversight of consumer reporting agencies and those that furnish data to them. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has oversight for the consumer reporting agencies. And the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) charters, regulates, and supervises all national banks with regard to the data they furnish consumer reporting agencies.

Most U.S. consumer credit information is collected and kept by the four national traditional consumer reporting agencies: Experian (formerly TRW Information Systems & Services and the CCN Group), EquifaxTransUnion, and Innovis (which was purchased from First Data Corporation in 1999 by CBC Companies). These organizations are for-profit businesses and have no government affiliation. Though they are competitors, they are all members of a trade organization called the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) to establish reporting standards and lobby on behalf of their industry in Washington. Current reporting standards accepted by the four U.S. CRAs are Metro and Metro2. The Metro2 standard is defined in the annual CDIA publication, the Credit Reporting Resource Guide. Consumers are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Consumers can go to annualcreditreport.com, the Internet site maintained by the three companies, to get their free reports.

Equifax Inc. is a consumer credit reporting agency. Equifax collects and aggregates information on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million businesses worldwide. Founded in 1899 and based in AtlantaGeorgia, it is the oldest of the three largest American credit agencies. Equifax has US$ 3.1 billion in annual revenue and 9,000+ employees in 14 countries. It is listed on the NYSE as EFX.

In September 2017, Equifax announced a cyber-security breach, which it claims to have occurred between mid-May and July 2017 where hackers accessed more than 143 million U.S. Equifax consumers’ personal data, including their full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some cases, drivers license numbers. Equifax also confirmed at least 209,000 consumers’ credit card credentials were taken in the attack. The company claims to have discovered the hack on July 29, 2017. Residents in the United Kingdom and Canada were also impacted.

“Tech Talk” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

OCTOBER TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: MORE ON DATA SEARCHING…

Some Additional Thoughts on Data Searching, and its Implications

Back in November or December, I wrote an article regarding computer searching, starting off by defining web browsers (I recommend Chrome as Edge is not yet really ready and Chrome has half the market) and Google as the search engine because they represent 75% of the market.  My opinion has not changed despite Microsoft’s advertising

The first thing you quickly learn about Google is that it is able to make a lot of intelligent assumptions about what you want.  There are two reasons for this.  First, it can work around your mistyping or misspelling.  Second, it remembers (unless you instruct it not to remember) what you have looked for in the past.  This is a mixed blessing, mostly good.  But here are a few reasons that it could turn out to be a problem.

  • If an account is used by multiple family members, then the other person knows what you looked for. Like the birthday gift that you found and bought.  Or the porn you viewed.  Or the hotel room or jewelry you bought for the girlfriend.  Or things you don’t want the grandkids to see when they are using your computer.
  • Google uses the information in your previous searches to direct advertising towards you. So if you bought a cane, do not be surprised if you get ads for a wheelchair or another cane.  If you booked a room in Newport, do not be surprised if you get ads from other Newport attractions.  This is viewed by many as a feature, but I find it irritating.  Each of the browsers gives you an option to delete the list of searches you have made.  I do this frequently.
  • If you are doing a BOLLI paper on bombs and go to dozens of sites on bomb-making, do not be surprised if you receive a visit from Homeland Security. They and NSA have the ability to watch internet and phone traffic (do they utilize it???).  The problem, of course, is that, though your search history may have been deleted from YOUR files, it doesn’t mean that GOOGLE or Comcast doesn’t have the data on its servers.  Each year, Google gets many warrants for data and, for the moment, rejects most of them.  That may well change.

Let’s take a simple example.  You get onto the Amazon website to see if you want to purchase some shorts.  You’ve used this site before and have set up shipping addresses for a number of members of your family.  What might happen next?

  1. Amazon and other on-line purchase sites know about ALL your previous purchases AND those things you have merely looked at. They will use this data to recommend other things for you to purchase, either during this browsing session or in subsequent ones.  But Amazon and other companies have Artificial Intelligent systems studying your purchases, trying to further understand what makes you tick.  A few years ago, there was a story about a woman who made a bunch of purchases, and the company (Target) calculated that she was pregnant (she didn’t know) and started sending her baby things.  That surprised her father who was upset.  See https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/#78ba7db16668

“As Target’s computers crawled through the data, it was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed it to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score.  More important, it could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.”

This is pretty scary!  If you buy a swimsuit in April, should you be targeted with ads for sunscreen in July?  I’ll have an article on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning soon.

  1. Don’t be surprised if company A sells its purchase data to company B. I do not believe that Amazon sells their data.
  2. Your browser knows where you have been, unless you delete the entries.
  3. Your provider (like Comcast) is collecting this data.  AND, they might be selling it.  There is a lot of money available for buying focused lists.  The Obama administration tried to put in legislation to stop the selling of private data.  The Trump Administration plans to roll that back.  (See my past article on Net Neutrality for more information on this subject.)
  4. The government can request access to this data though it involves multiple legal issues. Remember a year ago when the government tried to get access to a protected Apple phone and Apple refused to provide the access?

Bottom Line: forget about privacy.  It is a myth.  Sorry.

“Tech Talk” and “Chef’s Corner” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .   John.rudy@alum.mit.edu

 

 

Leave a comment for John below–

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: SMART DEVICES

SMART DEVICES

By John Rudy

A new term is The Internet of Things.  Many years ago when the internet first appeared. it was a means of connecting computers.  What is now changing is that computers are being embedded in everyday objects.  Your car has dozens of them, and even your thermostat has them.  As computers become less and less expensive, it becomes easier to install them in refrigerators or washer/dryers– maybe even in light bulbs.  But the latest in technology isn’t just about computers.  It is about sensors gathering data which can be analyzed by a central computer and accessed over the internet.

Let’s take a simple example.  Last April, I took advantage of MassSave and had three new replacement thermostats installed.  The thermostats were wired to a hub and then connected to my router–that meant they could be found on the internet.  I could install an application on my cell phone that let me remotely view and control them.  Most thermostats allow one to program them these days, but with these, I can turn up my heat on my way home so that the house is warm when I get there.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that the thermostats may have inter-connection problems and shut down as they did when we were in Jamaica.  That particular problem required that I physically disconnect and reconnect them, so even though I knew there was a problem, I couldn’t resolve it.  This never happened with the old thermostats.

But there is a bigger fear, and that is that bad people are increasingly getting into the many systems on the internet.  Would you want someone to turn your thermostat off?  Of course, there is a password, but we know that passwords have been stolen.

In a few years, expect to see internet controlled door locks or ovens that you can control from a distance.  A few years ago on Showtime’s Homeland, a piece of the plot revolved around a pacemaker that was hooked to a computer.  The bad guys used this to kill the vice president.   Insulin pumps are already connected to computers.

Your car hosts dozens of computers that manage everything from ignition to gas mixture to steering.  There were some stories about a year ago about hackers taking over a car.  It was overblown and not totally accurate, but in a couple of years, it just might be possible.

Now, let’s look at some really positive things learned from an article in Wired magazine.   “When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpage.  This is cement that alerts us to the need to problems before they can cause catastrophes.  And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.

If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete will detect it and communicate the information via the wireless internet to your car.  Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t, then the car will slow down for him.  This is just one of the ways that sensor-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication can take place. Sensors on the bridge connect to machines in the car: we turn information into action.”

Amazon Echo is already with us–and more is on the way.

“Tech Talk” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

 

 

 

AUGUST TECH TALK: NET NEUTRALITY

NET NEUTRALITY

by John Rudy

For a few years, there has been a fair amount of coverage regarding what is called “net neutrality.”  Unless you tend to pay close attention to the computer world, you may be unaware of what this is or how it matters to you.  The Obama administration took a position on NN two years ago, and the Trump Administration has already announced that they are going to reverse it (presumably after the community has an opportunity to provide comments).  But this is something that is important to you, so here is some information that should enable you to follow net neutrality issues in the press.

What is Net Neutrality?  The principle that Internet Service Providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.  Some governments regulate Internet services in the same ways that their public utilities (electricity, gas, and water) are regulated.  This also involves limiting providers and regulating the options they can offer.

The Issues: Can a service provider slow down or speed up your service because it is better for them or because you pay them to do it?

Some Examples:

  • Could Netflix pay Verizon to provide more bandwidth to their movies?
  • Could Verizon give more bandwidth to a service they provide compared to what is being made available to a competitor?
  • A widely-cited example of a violation of net neutrality principles was when Comcastwas secretly slowing (“throttling”) certain uploads. Comcast didn’t stop blocking these protocols until the FCC ordered them to do so.

2014 Obama decision

For three months, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received 3.7 million comments to change the Internet to a telecommunications service, which would allow the FCC to uphold net neutrality.  In February of 2015, the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service applying Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934 as well as section 706 of the Telecommunications act of 1996 to Internet service providers.  In April of 2015, the FCC published the final rule on its new regulations which took effect on June 12, 2015.   

What is the FCC Doing Now?

FCC Chairman Pai claims he wants to end the “utility-style regulatory approach” to the Internet and “re-establish” the power of market forces in regulating the Internet. Details of his proposal include the reclassification of broadband access as an information service and a decrease in legal regulations on Internet service providers.

Pai says the reversal will increase infrastructure investment and innovation among broadband companies. In his proposal, he also suggests redirecting authority from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to oversee privacy practices. Pai advocates ending the broad Internet conduct standard that allows the FCC to intervene if they deem that a broadband provider either acts in a harmful fashion or is anticipated to do so.

In a 2-1 decision on May 18th, the current FCC voted to proceed with the motion to scale back the net neutrality protections put in place in 2015.

Bottom Line

  • In April 2017, an attempt to compromise net neutrality in the United Statesis being considered by the newly appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Varadaraj Pai. In  May, a process began to roll back Open Internet rules that had been in place since 2015.
  • A decision will be made soon and whether or not the FCC takes the millions of comments seriously will be known in time.
  • See https://www.aclu.org/feature/what-net-neutrality for a lot of information favoring net neutrality.
  • Who wants net neutrality? Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix
  • Who is opposed to net neutrality? National Cable and Telecomm Association, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast

My opinion

I don’t trust the cable providers.  If they think that they can make more money by selectively providing better service to someone who will pay them more, they will.  The FCC can’t wait until there is a violation and then spend months, or years, to address it.  Then if Comcast, say, takes money from Netflix to move their movies faster than, say, Hulu, will you switch your service to Netflix?  Netflix doesn’t want to be put in the position where they have to pay off the many service providers.  See the names above for who is pro and who is against the change.

Our “Tech Talker” John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

 

 

 

JULY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: MOOCS

MASSIVE OPEN ON-LINE COURSES (MOOCS)

For centuries, people traveled to school to take courses from professors.  About 30 years ago, though, some companies started taping courses and selling the results as VCRs.  They were relatively expensive (hundreds of dollars for a course), but they required significantly less money than attending a university.  Some had homework, but most did not.  There were no tests, and you could listen to the recordings whenever you wished, or listen to them multiple times.  Some years ago, VCRs were replaced by CDs and then by DVDs.

About 5 years ago, the paradigm changed once again.  Now, courses are recorded and provided through the internet, usually with quizzes and tests.  I have taken a dozen courses on CD or DVD through The Teaching Company and another dozen as MOOCs.  Quality is somewhat variable, but the companies selling these products are quite discriminating, and, as a result, the quality is excellent.  I have obtained The Teaching Company courses through my local library, and because the libraries are linked, nearly all of the courses are available.

  1.  Of course there are also a lot of courses on DVD from The Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” series, and the library has (or has access to) all of them–500 at this time. http://www.thegreatcourses.com/

  1. There are also many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available–more than 3000.  The first course I knew of was on Artificial Intelligence given by Stanford which was made available through Coursera. Over 100,000 people signed up for it. (I have heard that only 5-10% finished the course–but that is still over 5000 people.)  I have taken technical courses like MIT’s course on Genetics (from edX, the Science of Cooking from Harvard, and two courses on the Civil War.  Visit the following sites to see what they have available.

https://www.coursera.org/

https://www.edx.org/

https://www.udacity.com

A longer list can be found at https://beebom.com/sites-like-coursera/

“Tech Talk” feature writer, John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

MAY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: NEED A FIX?

COMPUTER REPAIR

One might think that, as an IT professional for 45 years, I would know a lot about fixing computers.  But I was a manager and not close to day-to-day machine operation.   And even if I had known about making repairs then, technology changes rapidly.  It involves constant relearning.  So that, friends, gets me to the topic for today’s discussion.

When I purchased my last computer a little over three years ago, I was faced with having to transport a huge amount of material (files, emails, etc.) from my old machine to my new one.  Further, I knew that many of the pieces of software I owned were not up-to-date and that some would not run on the Windows 8 system that I was buying.  I purchased my computer from Best Buy and decided to purchase their Geek Squad policy and their conversion assistance.  It was an excellent decision.

They took my old computer, made a list of all of my software, and shared it with me so I could tell them what no longer wanted.  Then, they ported over what they could.  My version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) would not run on the new machine, so I bought the upgrade.  It really made my life easy.

But Part 2 is really the important part.  During the first month, I kept running into subtle little issues.  The way that Word and Excel operated, for example, was not the same as it had been with my previous environment.  I called the Geek Squad, and they helped me through every problem.  When it was time to go to Windows 10, I had them do it.  I’m sure I could have done it myself, but I decided to avoid any potential hassle.  Yesterday, my Windows Live Mail (through Comcast) stopped working.  I tried everything I could think of—to no avail.  I called the Geek Squad, and they fixed it.  It turned out that Comcast had changed port numbers, and even when I called the company, they gave me the wrong information.  The Geek Squad, though, had the correct data.  The guy I was dealing with was in the Philippines, but his English was excellent.  After gaining some basic information, they (with your permission) gain access to your machine and do a full scan.  Subsequently, the agent used his access to my machine to work out and solve my issue.  I slept better last night.

TECH TALK feature writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

APRIL TECH TALK with John Rudy: Screen Sharing?

SHOULD I LET YOU LOG ONTO MY COMPUTER?

The simple answer is NO, but, as usual, nothing is simple. There are three circumstances I can think of (and there are probably more) when this should be fine and actually even beneficial.

  1. I have a yearly contract with The Geek Squad, an organization that is part of Best Buy, for support of my computer. For a reasonable rate, they will support up to 3 computers for me and take as many calls as necessary. Sometimes a call to them is sufficient to get an answer to your question, but at other times, you might have a complex question that requires someone to log onto your machine in order to fix it. Of course, you can take the computer to a store, but it is more convenient when, given permission, they can log in to fix whatever ails the machine. I have received similar service from Comcast.
  2. Occasionally, you might call a friend and ask how to do something, like work on a Word document. They say that they’ll be over next week. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to collaborate in real time?
  3. You want to share something, maybe pictures, with someone, and the file is too large to easily send. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just see them on your machine? There are a number of software products that accomplish this. You can check with the Geek Squad and Comcast or your own service provider to see what they deem to be safe.

Here is an article on a variety of tools. http://www.online-tech-tips.com/cool-websites/5-free-remote-desktopsharing-and-screen-sharing-solutions/  that you can choose from when looking for options like this.

I use Teamviewer (the current is version 12) because it was recommended to me a couple of years ago, and I find it easy to use. It is free and available at https://www.teamviewer.com/en/download/windows /

When using Teamviewer, you provide a code to the person to whom you are allowing access and then either they or you can move the cursor on your screen. At the end of the session, they log out and cannot get in again until a future session is initiated by you.  So it is safe. They have full documentation available on their site.

Having said all this, be very selective about allowing others onto your machine. They would then have access to material that you might rather keep private.

TECH TALK Feature Writer John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic .

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

FEBRUARY TECH TALK with John Rudy: MAKING TRAVEL PLANS

THE NEW WORLD OF ONLINE TRAVEL PLANNING

It used to be that, whenever I wanted to take a trip, I drove into Lexington and visited Colpitt’s Travel where Marilyn would help us make reservations.  Unfortunately, she often had to deal with airlines that didn’t answer the phone and hotels in places she hadn’t visited.  The situation today is very different, and most of the readers of this blog already probably take advantage of some of the tools out there.  The purpose of this entry is to provide you with some ideas you might not be familiar with—and, of course, what I provide here is just a small piece of what is available.  Be sure to use the comment box at the end to add your ideas and/or ask questions!

Step1:

Where/when do I want to go?                                                                                 Do I want to arrange for airfare or a package with car and/or hotel?     Do I have flexibility for travel dates, times of day, locations?         What am I willing to give up for the lowest price out there?                 Do I want trip cancellation insurance?

Step 2:

Pick one of the travel tools that are available online.  Various review sites contrast the different tools, but there is some consensus that www.booking.com is the best overall site and www.Priceline.com is the best for last-minute deals.

Other popular sites include: Expedia, Cheap Air, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, and Kayak.

These sites allow you to 1) search across many different airline or select specific ones; 2) deal with specific or flexible travel dates; 3) sort information by date, price, time, and number of stops.

Be sure to look carefully at car rental information, especially at drop-off fees.  Also be sure to note whether or not the site will alert you if there are price changes and if you will be able to take advantage of that information.  Be aware, too, of the busiest airports.  Smaller airports (like Providence) may be available near your destination—prices, though, might be higher, and they might have less availability.

Get Money for Change Flights

Airlines overbook assuming that they will have no-shows.  Many times, they provide offers for volunteers willing to take different flights.  Offers go up when there are no takers.  But be sure to ask questions.

Sometimes, the offer provided can only be used with a full-fare ticket.  The offer may not apply to your whole group.  What if the next flight is also fully booked?  Ask for a flight guarantee within X hours.  If the delay to a substitute flight turns out to be X hours long, will they reimburse an overnight hotel bill?

Many years ago, I met someone who located the busiest American Airlines flight to LA and booked it to visit the grandchildren.   He always got bumped.

When Should I Fly?

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least expensive days on which to fly; then Saturday.  Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.  Very early morning, late night, red-eye, and mealtime flights are cheaper than other flights.

When Should I Book?

According to FareCompare.com data, the best time for booking in the U.S. is on Tuesday at 3 p.m.  Many airlines release their weekly sales late on Mondays or early on Tuesdays.  By mid-afternoon on Tuesdays, then, the competing airlines have matched the lower prices.

U.S. domestic tickets: Shop between 3 months and 30 days before departure. International fares: Shop between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure. Peak travel: During peak seasons such as June, July and August or the December holidays, purchase tickets two months in advance.

The large companies from whom we used to buy travel books now have elaborate, comprehensive web sites.  These are particularly useful when trying to get detailed data on a location.  Browse them and see what is available.  These include, but are not limited to:  http://www.fodors.com/  and https://www.viamichelin.com  as well as https://www.lonelyplanet.com

One last item:  Google is pretty good.  If you type in, say, “American Airlines 145,” you will get the status of that flight.  If it is already airborne, you will get its ETA and the arriving Gate Number–some airlines even make it possible for you to track their in-air flights!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this month’s or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402