Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Too much marketing and not enough meat

May 8, 2008

A message to the SeniorServ list from Allan Kleiman alerted me to BigScreenLive. Since I’m always interested in what’s available for older adults, especially the ones with limited computer experience, I had to instantly check it out. Now, the upfront disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I do see a few problems right off the bat.

The first problem, which instantly affects their credibility with me, is when they state, right on the front page:

Our goal is to make computing effortless and enjoyable. While our software runs on any PC, we also recommend hardware to make it easier.

but on the Software and Hardware page, they state,

To get started, you will need:

  • Access to a computer with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. [emphasis mine]
  • A monitor resolution of at least 1280 x 800. The experience is optimized for a resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is most 17 inch or larger monitors.
  • A high-speed internet connection.

People are aware today (yes, even the Seniors) that PC does not necessarily mean a Windows machine. Let’s have a little truth in advertising here, please.

But even larger problems loom. Who, exactly, is the site for? Children of older adults? Retirement communities? Older adults themselves? Older adults themselves range from very computer savvy to totally clueless (and generally content to stay that way). The computer savvy ones, of course, wouldn’t even look at the site; neither would the totally clueless. That still leaves a wide range of computer users, some who are already doing the things BigScreenLive wants to introduce them to, some that are struggling to learn even the basics just to be able to do the things on BigScreenLive, and some who are frustrated by the very things BigScreenLive offers to help with.

I suspect the target audience is children of older adults: the ones who call me about signing up their parent(s) for computer classes. For this group, the site looks the most inviting and promising, because this is a group that is already fairly comfortable on computers, and that wants their parents online also, but without the frustrating computer problems older novices face. The marketing makes it look like the perfect solution. Will its marketing be successful? Probably so, with enough money. I keep thinking of how many people continue to use AOL.

Whether it is a good product is another question, however. From looking through the site, and watching its tutorial, it is evident that older novices would need training just to use the program (for example, they have to know how to enlarge the text themselves). The e-mail program, while fairly basic, will definitely be confusing to novices. It boasts “Easily upload digital photos to the Family Album” (emphasis theirs). Easy, maybe, for the adult children, but not for the older novice, without some training (which is the whole problem to begin with). I think the product would be really useful for about 2% of Seniors wanting to use the computer. But I think far more will be “given” a subscription, with little hope of actually using it.

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DeLi redux

May 27, 2007

I wrote about this six months ago (here). I took out the modem on the old machine I had installed Deli on, and put in an Ethernet card. Since a new version of Deli had come out I decided to try it out again from scratch.

The install went pretty much the same as the last time, but this time I tried to configure the local network during the delisetup part (after installation). The delisetup command (at the command prompt after logging in) goes to a text-based setup. (Note: if you try to go straight to a gui interface (by typing startx) without doing the setup, it gives a group of white terminals on an icewm interface; but closing the terminals closes the gui interface). The setup categories are:

  • Keyboard
  • Language
  • Setup LILO – the Linux Loader
  • Setup PPP – Needs data from your Internet Service Provider
  • Setup local Network
  • Printer Setup
  • Setup Tiny X Server
  • Setup Window Manager
  • Install additional software packages
  • Set up your Mail system (with masqmail)
  • Select servicesto run at boot

I went through the Setup for local Network. The first screen says you can always go back and make changes by typing netconfig (it says that, but it lies: typing netconfig gets an error message that there is no such command). Then it wants a hostname and domain name. There are instructions with screenshots at the wiki on the Deli site. After the hostname and domain name, you choose between using a static IP, DHCP, or loopback. I tried both static IP and DHCP, but somehow ultimately ended up with loopback. Choosing DHCP will take you through a probe for an Ethernet card. The message I got was “A networking card using com20020.o module has been detected.” Great, but it wouldn’t connect to the network.

I tried “ifconfig” instead of “netconfig” and it showed, despite the Network configuration done in delisetup:

Link encap:Local Loopback

inet addr:127.0.0.1 Mask: 255.0.0.0

UP LOOPBACK RUNNING MTU 16436 Metric:1

After looking at a bunch of config files, going through delisetup several times, and editing the /etc/rc.d/net file, I checked the ethernet card and put it in another slot. But the browser is still giving the error: “dns can’t find slashdot.org.” I think it’s stuck in loopback purgatory, and I don’t have the right incantations to get it out.

On the other hand, it is still a nice, fast distro, even on this old dinosaur, and not that difficult to install, as long as you’re not trying to connect to the Internet.

Flock browser for Macs

May 26, 2007

I have been slogging through applications, plug-ins, extensions, and widgets for anything related to blogs and blog posting on Macintosh (OS X). Since I download anything that looks like a possibility as I come across it, I invariably end up with a lot of stuff sitting around waiting for my attention. Sometimes it may be weeks before I actually get to a downloaded file, and have no idea what it is or why it’s there until I install it and try to use it. Such was the case with Flock, a browser for quick picture uploading. But it had mentioned something about blog posting (which is why I downloaded it).

So here’s the first post from Flock! The blogging part isn’t as obvious as the photo-uploading features. In fact, it looks like the blog part is really supposed to be an enhancement to the photo-uploading feature (you can drag and drop a photo you find on the web into a web-snippet bar to “hold” it, then drag it from the snippet bar into your post). But it’s findable through the menus, or the customizable toolbar. It pops up a blog editor which operates in editor mode or source code mode (for those who like to have total control).

The browser itself is like Safari and Firefox in the look and feel. It supports tabbed browsing, and will import your bookmarks from Safari or Firefox when it is installed. It even has extensions, like Firefox. In fact, on the site, there’s an interesting promise and caveat (snipped via the Flock websnippet tool):

Very soon you will be able to add your favorite extensions and we’ll convert them on the fly for you. Extensions written for other platforms can still be used in the Flock browser, but there is no guarantee that they will work correctly.

So for Mac bloggers, here’s the site:

Flock

[addendum: the tagging tool is for technorati tags only, so I had to edit the post here to add my own tags ]

[addendum #2:  once I had posted, my categories showed up in Flock.  Unfortunately, I can’t add categories, but it does show the ones I have already used on the blog.]

technorati tags:, , , , , ,

Testing and more testing

May 10, 2007

Somehow I have ended up with a copy of ViaVoice for Mac OS X. It appears to be the newest version, although I recall hearing something about it not being updated in the last couple years. This could be a problem for a new macbook. I decided to give it a try anyway.

The package comes with an instruction book and CD, a headphone/microphone combination attached to a USB adapter, and an audio plug to connect the USB adapter box to the audio output port on the computer. There are also a few other things I haven’t figured out yet.

I inserted the CD into the macbook slot, decided to actually read the instructions in the book and try tp follow them, and found the first minor glitch. The book assumes the CD will start on its own. I helped out and opened the CD. From there it is pretty much a no brainer, going step by step through plugging all the devices in and positioning the headphone/microphone, then going through an initial test to see if all the parts are working. Audio: check. Microphone: problem. It suggested I close the setup assistant and start over. Same thing. It suggested I restart the computer after plugging in the USB. O.K. Once again, the message: “It appears that your microphone may not be connected. Check your connections, close SetUpAssistant, and repeat this setup test again. You may need to restart your compuer after plugging in the mic.” Hmmmm. Back to the book: Getting Help; Obtaining Technical Support: “A solution to your problem might already exist! Before contacting technical support, check the Frequently Asked Questions database and the Tested Systems list. The Internet address is http://www.ibm.com/viavoice. Click the support link in the left panel on the web page. Then, select your speech product.”

I typed in the url and ended up at IBM software through a redirect. Clicking on the support link took me to their websphere section. Backing up and trying the support & download link at the top and searching through their software by name and category got me nowhere. There is no more viavoice on their site. There is a Websphere Voice, however. But there is no Macintosh version (I should have paid more attention to the discussion about ViaVoice a couple months ago). Nothing, nada, nowhere.

So I made a trip to friend Google and found: Nuance – IBM ViaVoice Release 10 Mac OS X Edition. Hey! The picture looks just like the box I have here! O.K., so after navigating through the site, I found this knowledgebase article: “Error message: ‘The microphone does not appear to be connected’ when using OS 10.2.” It actually has some very good information there, like turning ON the speech and microphone recognition in System Preferences. In OS 10.4 that turns on the native speech recognition, but ViaVoice still couldn’t get through. So, the next step was to reboot and try it again. Next: Remove the ViaVoice folder from the Applications folder, and the ViaVoice login from the users folder. But there is no ViaVoice login in the users folder. Sooo, Spotlight! then trash all the ViaVoice files (about 20 of them!), and empty the trash. Reboot, re-install, reboot, download and install the update, reboot, and try again.

Oooookay, first there’s the warning on the update download page, saying this is only for OS 10.2. But I download, reboot, install, and reboot anyway. It says to start the setup assistant from a specified path in the Finder menu, but it’s not there. Spotlight! again. This time it acted like it was recognizing the microphone, but not me. After a couple tries, and taking off the headphone, I tried one last time, fairly shouting the passage. Amazingly, that worked. So I put the headphone back on, and shouted into the microphone. Finally past that hurdle, I got to the testing voice quality. I spoke slightly louder than normal, and it said the quality was good. I tried again in a normal voice and the quality dropped to poor. After getting it back up to fair quality, I moved to the next section, which is to read passages as they are displayed.

I don’t think it’s supposed to be this hard. It’s beginning to dawn on me why I ended up with this: last one to arrive, having missed out on the previous conversation about how bad it is? But giving in to a masochistic streak, I finished the setup, and now have no idea what to do with it, especially since I’m now hoarse from reading aloud. On the upside, the reading passages were interesting.

Book Review: Learning Javascript

December 4, 2006

Learning Javascript, by Shelley Powers, O’Reilly, 2006.

This is not a book for beginners. Let me repeat: this is not a book for beginners. Although the Preface states, “Readers of this book should be familiar with web page technology, including CSS and HTML/XHTML … [p]revious programming experience isn’t required, though some sections may require extra review if you have no previous exposure to programming,” there is a strong assumption from the start that the reader at least (a) has some experience with current programming concepts and practices, (b) has some experience with web page coding and practices, or (c) has a lot of time to learn (a) and (b) while working through the book. That said, however, this really is an excellent resource.

I fall into categories (a) and (b) above, but I’m rusty when it comes to javascript, and wanted something of a refresher. Instead, the book had the effect of dropping me into a working laboratory where everything, though nicely explained, remained confusing for quite a way into the book. But by the time the author got to the complex stuff, it all made sense and fell together perfectly, rather like finally understanding how all the tools in that laboratory make everything work so smoothly.

The book seems fast paced, and often left me wishing there were more detailed explanations of some of the examples. But the concepts and examples are interwoven, so just working through the book brought some understanding. The end of each chapter has review questions, with the answers at the end of the book, for those who find that helpful. But what impressed me was that the errata sheet is already available at O’Reilly. There are a few errata, and they’ll be handy to know if you’re trying the examples given in the book. Additional resources are also sprinkled throughout the book which all appear to still be working.

The author’s practical bias comes through very strongly in the book. In the introduction, and throughout the book, there are frequent “best practices.” Paramount to her philosophy of best practices is the admonition, “whatever JavaScript functionality you create, it must not come between your site and your site’s visitors.” Consequently, she often recommends solutions other than javascript to ensure accessibility by all types of browsers and users. There are also good discussions of the issues surrounding using javascript, especially the cross platform issues and what is on the horizon. Because of the browser compatibility issues, the author covers work-arounds each step of the way, with different options and a discussion of what works best and why.

If book titles are supposed to be descriptive of the content, I’m not so sure “Learning Javascript” is the best title for this book, although it fits well if one thinks of it as learning another programming language. You’ll find this book a lot more helpful if your familiarity with web technology includes using CSS and XHTML, or if you have some experience with another programming language.