Genealogy to the Cloud

I’ve been interested in genealogy for a long time – since I was a kid I guess. Back then I tried to figure out how those great-aunts and uncles and innumerable cousins fit into the family tree. i had it pretty much figured out by age 10. Then it was just a matter of filling in the charts.

It helped that a couple of generations before me were also family history nuts. The best ones were my mother’s aunts from Cleveland – who researched a rather comprehensive history of their family back in the 1930s. There was no way to have an electronic version of the family tree back then, nor print out any sort of chart. The work they left me is neatly typed into a small ringed binder, with a page for each person and grouped by family and generation. It goes back as far as they could – into the 1700s. It’s a priceless collection of 19th and early 20th century family data. I’m sure it was dug out by hand in the library, through personal contact and the contents of old family bibles.

This foundation was built upon in the next generation by my cousin Donald Fawcett –  son of one of the original ladies. Don carried on with the research and even computerized some of it. He was an electronics expert with Bell AT&T and bought one of the earliest personal computers. Unfortunately he backed the wrong horse – CP/M – when it came to operating systems. Don had a text based genealogy program with its own classification system all electronic, but in many ways similar to the Victorian aunts. When he passed away in the mid 1990s his computer system died with him – fortunately I was able to get a paper copy of his files.

I didn’t get into serious genealogy myself until around 2007 – after I retired. So I sidestepped all the paper based and early MS-DOS and Windows desktop programs. By the time I got started Genealogy had begun a serious migration online with companies like Ancestry. Although Ancestry maintained a desktop program for many years it increasingly focused on online databases and searchable family trees posted by its members. It’s a fairly costly exercise to be a member, but it’s worth it for the wealth of information. Anther excellent online resource is FamilySearch. And FamilySearch is free.

Since I had all this paper information, I thought the best thing to do was to put it online for others to use if they wanted to. So I spent a few weeks keypunching it into an Ancestry tree. I realize that Ancestry gets a lot of free information to use as it wishes – and content is king for them – but I know what I have done so far has been of benefit to others.

Ancestry has even decided to get rid of its desktop program (Family Tree Maker) at the end of 2016 and just concentrate on its Web based interface. This has caused a lot of waves in the genealogy community, especially among those who want their personal privacy and control of their own data. I do think a desktop based system is good for keeping an offline backup. You can also print a lot better charts with your own program. Right now I am looking into Legacy 8.0 as an alternative. However I’ll still continue to do most of my research online. It just makes the most sense. It’s easy enough to export your online tree to a GEDCOM file and then import it into a desktop program.

I haven’t been idle myself. In addition to updating and fleshing out the older information – some of which is now 80 years old – I have been able to research a lot of my great-grandfather MacDonald’s family. I was lucky that most of the early data about the McDonald/MacDonald clan (not sure how it was spelled originally) is found right here in Canada – in fact in a tiny town called Newburgh, Ontario. That same area is where my mother’s family lived – although I don’t think a bunch of staunch Methodists would have had much in common with a crazy bunch of Irish and French Catholics. My great grandfather Richard MacDonald had about 10 kids – and I’ve got most of their genealogy in my family tree now.

Maria’s family also comes from a tiny town in Italy which happened to be governed under the Code Napoleon back in the early 1800s. Napoleon left the legacy of civil registration for births deaths and marriages, and this tiny town in Abruzzi put it all on the Web. So – wonder of wonders – I was able to trace most of Maria’s family history back to 1780 or so. This was an incredible stroke of luck, even if I had to do the research in Italian. Maria’s mother got me back to the 1880s with her personal history and I got back another 100 years with online data. So I’m sold on doing as much as you can with the Internet.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve convinced you to set yourself up online for genealogical research. It’s probably the killer cloud application – nothing comes close to being able to look at millions of family trees and census data back to the early 1800s – all searchable five ways for Sunday. My great aunts would have approved. I doubt  that they’d like Twitter though.

 

 

 

The Full Monty – Sorta

 

When it comes to blogging, I’ve been all over the place, really. I wrote articles on my personal website using HTML back in the 1990s. Then around 2002 I started posting at Blogger – I don’t think Google owned them at the time. Then my online IDs got messed up and i had to start over in 2007 at Blogger – although I did manage to recopy some of my older posts from 2002. Finally I switched to WordPress when I set up my own blogging site here. Not exactly consistent but there ya go.

I can’t get everything in one place since my earliest stuff can’t be exported and imported as XML. However I’ve managed to bring over my earliest Blogger posts to this site. So I guess there’s at least a partial Monty if not a full Monty now at this site. Everything published under Almontage is here at least.

It was scary. The importing plugin required me to go over to my old Blogger site, export everything to my PC and then import from there. When I tried the import I got some errors about exceeding site capacity and then I couldn’t log in. I thought I might have borked the site completely, but after a while things cleared up and I do appear to have the earlier posts here, now dating back to 2007 (Whew!)

All’s well that ends well, but I don’t think I want to try this again anytime in future.

Super Cascode

2016 will mark an anniversary of sorts..it’s been 60 years since we got our first television set at home. A great story to tell my grandkids… Grandpa grew up without the benefit of television.

We were by no means early adopters. I can remember watching “Howdy Doody” at our “rich” neighbors back around 1952, and my uncle actually got a TV set before we did so I can just remember my Dad watching New Years Day football games there in 1955. But it was 1956 before my parents scraped together enough money for a “down payment” on a set of our own. I can remember my mom putting away coins in an old tin box labelled “television fund.”

I’m sure we probably paid round $400 in all with the TV, cables, outdoor antenna and a couple of stout wires to turn the head around for best reception. That would have been about $3500 today. Big time purchase. What that got was a basic 21 inch tabletop model (my uncle the woodworker built us a base to sit it on.) Black and white? Of course. No remote or electric antenna control? Naturally. But it was a “Super Cascode” chassis. It said so right on that little spring loaded door on the front that concealed the brightness, contrast and picture stability controls. Picture stability? That was my first experience with an oxymoron.

Nobody knew what “Super Cascode” meant, but it seemed high techy and a good idea at the time. I believe it had something to do with signal amplification, and boy did we need that where we lived. The simple tuner knob gave us a choice of 3 US channels (maybe 4 on a good day but don’t count on it.) There was no CBC or CTV available back then where we were trying to watch TV.

And how incredibly analog things were. The chassis itself was an all tube design, and if something went bad you called in the repairman. He took a look at the TV, opened up his manual, unscrewed the fibreboard back (ooh, scary!) and tapped a few tubes. After a bit he extracted the offending tube, replaced it from his big box of parts, and voila! You paid his bill and went back to watching your jumpy, snowy picture.

Kids never made the viewing decisions back then and we couldn’t watch until homework was done anyway. With a choice of 3 channels decisions were pretty easy. Dad liked news, sports and old movies, Jack Benny or Sid Caesar and of course “Gunsmoke.” The wee ones did get to watch old cartoons on WCNY-TV Watertown – but Dad had to go outside and move the antenna with the cable pulls.

With comparison today’s 500 channel universe, LCD monster screens HDTV, Netflix etc it all seems so primitive. And it was. But we thought of ourselves as so terribly modern when that TV first graced our living room. I suppose we were.

 

Dueling Technologies

 

When it comes to Windows systems I find that Bitdefender Internet Security is the best for me. It’s got a great Firewall and Antivirus combination, it’s silent and unobtrusive, it doesn’t bog my PC down, and best of all unlike (choke, gasp!) McAfee it actually prevents malware.

Bitdefender also has excellent online technical and commercial service and can fix most problems in a jiffy. However I recently (and not for the first time) encountered problems where BD antivirus prevented me from doing a legitimate upgrade to my PC. It’s a matter of dueling technologies I suppose.

AMD recently released its newest “Crimson” drivers and since my laptop’s graphics haven’t been updated in a year I decided to download and install the latest AMD software. When I started the installation it got all the way to 2% progress, then the text got gobbledegooky on screen and the window darkened. Finally a message came up that the Installer was not responding. This is scary; if you bork your video driver your computer is in trouble. Fortunately the old driver stayed in place and worked.

It took a couple of days of Internet research to find out that Bitdefender was at fault. Its real time antivirus solution was blocking AMD’s installation. The solution was to completely uninstall Bitdefender, install the video driver software and then reinstall the Internet Security programs. What usually takes a couple of minutes took about an hour.

This is the second time this month I’ve had trouble with Bitdefender. It wouldn’t work after I upgraded to Windows 10 so I had to remove it, install a newer Windows 10 compatible version, and verify my licence. You never find this stuff out in advance, unfortunately.

I suppose I could switch to another Internet Security suite when my licence expires but it seems to me that all of these security products have issues with legitimate changes on your PC. Part of the price you pay for the Windows way of doing things. At least BD keeps me safe (so far.)

 

Too Good to be True

If you buy a laptop or desktop computer today, chances are you don’t give much thought to the operating system it runs. And chances are it’ll run Windows. Despite the inroads made in tablets and smartphones by Apple and Android, Windows still reigns supreme in the conventional computer market. About 90% of the so called “x86 based” computers run Windows. Maybe 8% run OSX. And a tiny 2% run something you likely never heard of – Linux. Pity.

For if you thought about it a little, you might conclude that it would be a good thing to use something at home that:

  • Supports the majority of hardware and software that makes up the Internet. Linux dominates in the server universe. This blog runs on WordPress, and WordPress depends on Linux. My website provider is likewise dependent on Linux to function and deliver stuff to your (Windows) desktop.
  • Can run on anything from a tiny micro-PC like Raspberry Pi up to a huge server farm in the Cloud.
  • Forms the basis for Android and Google’s Chromebook O/S and underwrites Google itself, Facebook, and Amazon – giant companies that need Linux.
  • Is freely published, distributed and modified. Bugs are easily found and squashed because any programmer who wants to contribute can contribute. Linux is not secret nor proprietary in nature.
  • Can do essentially all the stuff you want to do – surf the Web, get email, play and record music and video, do Office work, save files to the cloud, read and save most Windows formats, organize your photos and so on.
  • Is relatively safe, secure and free of viruses and malware. You don’t need a suite of CPU sucking security apps to venture out in cyberspace. There are antivirus programs for Linux but they mostly keep your email safe so you don’t send a virus to a Windows user.
  • Is absolutely free and can save you $100 just on a Windows licence alone. In addition to the operating system, all the Web browsers, email programs, music players, Office software, photo organizers and editors, website design software and Linux based games are also absolutely free. That could potentially save you hundreds of dollars.

It all seems too good to be true, and when I first learned about Linux in 2007 or so I thought there had to be a catch. But aside from learning a little geekery, or making friends with a Linux geek to get the system installed there isn’t any catch at all.

You can get Linux easily enough – download a copy of Ubuntu or Linux Mint or one of many other possible distributions you can find at Distrowatch. You’ll need to transfer the file to a DVD or a USB stick and then you can try it on your computer as a “Live” system to see how it looks. After that your Linux geek friend can advise you as to how to install. That might be the tricky part, as Linux doesn’t always come with training wheels!

In fact my advice would be to put Linux on a second, older computer that maybe runs Vista or ran XP at one time. Linux is well suited for older hardware and can often resurrect a computer that otherwise is only good for landfill. You blow off the older Windows install and run Linux from now on.

You can set up Linux to run alongside Windows although this might be tricky with certain versions of Windows (like Windows 8 or Windows 10.) Your geek friend will be invaluable here.

If you want to run Linux on a newer machine (it’ll fly) my advice is to build your own box using slightly trailing edge hardware and install Linux from the get-go. I have two machines like this that have run nothing but Linux from the outset. I saved myself all that cash outlined above, and still have powerful and useful equipment. I expect them to last far beyond the normal working life of a Windows based machine.

Linux is not Windows so there is a learning curve – but it isn’t difficult to use. There are certain things you don’t get – Internet Explorer, Outlook, Microsoft Office, or the latest 3D games – but for most practical uses there are Linux based substitutes. However if you are an out and out gamer there’s no substitute for Windows in the computer world. That’s about the only thing you really need Windows for.

Anything you do with a browser can easily be accomplished with Google Chrome or Firefox in Linux. You probably should be using those browsers in Windows, to be honest.

Fast, safe, secure, versatile, flexible, customizable, and free. What more could you ask? Linux is really too good to be true – and it is true.

 

Laptop v. Desktop – No Contest

If you’ve had a personal computer around home for more than 10 years, chances are it started out a desktop with separate screen, speakers, and keyboard. It likely had an wired printer attached and ran Windows XP. You probably had a desk setup for it and plugged a cable into the desktop directly from your ISP’s modem.

If you are an Almonte senior you have likely replaced that machine with a newer slower laptop, a wireless printer, a wifi gateway and maybe you now have a tablet and smartphone you connect to your wireless network.  All these have increased complexity and given you more headaches if something goes awry. But you may still sit at the same desk and maybe even plug in the old desktop screen and keyboard. Go figure.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, frankly. Although it is often said in the media today that a desktop computer is a dinosaur waiting for extinction, if you aren’t traveling outside the home to do most of your Internet stuff a desktop is by far your better choice. I”ll explain why.

I have 3 (count ’em) desktops on the go right now at my place. The major computer both my wife and I use is a Windows 10 desktop in our upstairs den. I have a second wifi equipped desktop in the basement that runs Linux and that I built from scratch. That’s the one you see in the photo. A third Linux desktop plays music in the work room in the basement. They all do their jobs well and have advantages over a laptop, as follows:

  1. Longevity
    My oldest desktop still in use is now 7 years old. The newer units have 2012 technology but work just great. I have a 10 year old desktop sitting in the junk room that I could still use if needed. The older machines run Linux, so they aren’t obsolete or insecure and they still run fast. Compare that to the average laptop which is usually ready for replacement after 4 years.
  2. Performance
    Desktop processors become obsolete much more slowly than laptop processors. In fact the last few generations of die shrink and processor development have lowered power consumption and size but have done little to boost speed and performance. A 2012 era quad core processor on a desktop will still do the job impressively, even if you’re running games on your machine. Desktops use a bit more power but it isn’t really that big a deal when you see how much faster they run.
  3. Fans and Cooling
    Heat is the enemy of any computer system. In a desktop you can add as many cooling fans as you need to keep hard drives, video cards, processors etc. cool and effective. A laptop will have all its components scrunched into a tiny chassis and with one wimpy fan to keep things cool. I recently had a Dell laptop die because eventually heat destroyed the connection between the motherboard and the video chip.
  4. Upgradeability
    You can do just about anything you want with a desktop system if you have a large enough case. Add more storage, put in a solid state drive for your operating system, change the power supply, add a video card, increase memory capacity – it’s up to you to decide. With a laptop generally what you see is what you get. Also it’s a lot easier to work on a desktop as the case is generally easy to open. With a laptop you might have to tear it apart just to replace the hard drive, or add memory.
  5. Peripherals Flexibility
    You might want to get a bigger or sharper video screen and you can do that with a desktop. Try that with a laptop if you don’t want to plug in a secondary screen. On the other hand, you can re-use your keyboard, speaker system, even an old wired printer if you want. It’s all good.
  6. Want Linux?
    It’s much easier to set up Linux only on a desktop when you build it yourself. You don’t have to pay for Windows, figure out how to boot Linux alongside Windows, worry about any of that stuff. Just install Linux and you are in business. You will find it very difficult to get a laptop with Linux installed or with no operating system at all.
    An older desktop system that might not run Windows today can be re-purposed with Linux. One of my “clients” bought an new but slow Windows 7 laptop to replace a fine XP based desktop system. I put Linux on the desktop and it gives him fewer problems than his new laptop does – especially since he upgraded the laptop to Windows 10. The old PC even runs an 2005 era old genealogy program that Windows can’t use any more.

If you decide to eschew a laptop and go with a desktop, you have to be careful what you buy today though. Many low cost consumer grade desktops – especially those in “small form factor” i.e. tiny cases – are little more than laptops in disguise. They have mobile processors, small motherboards, laptop style power supplies, and limited space for upgrades or additional cooling. If you plan to buy a desktop, I would advise getting a full width commercial grade desktop from a good manufacturer. You might still have to upgrade the power supply if you want to add in a better video card – I had to do so with my Acer Veriton desktop. Otherwise it has excellent specifications and quality components.

If you are building your own desktop you can spec it out to suit yourself. I did that with my Linux box and even with a supposedly inferior AMD quad core processor at the heart of the machine, it flies.

My desktops do everything you’d expect – surf the Web, do office work, play videos, music and games, and they do so with power and speed. They are better in every way to a laptop except if I want to travel. I do have a laptop to take away with me, but I could probably get by with a tablet for those occasions. As a senior I do probably 95% of my computing from home and a desktop is the obvious solution. The big keyboard,  23 inch screen and the excellent speaker system featured on each desktop are just icing on the cake.

Windows 10 – Worth It?

Whether you’re ready or not, Windows 10 will be coming to a PC near you (Apple and Linux users excepted of course.) Microsoft is going out of its way to get existing Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade, and there are rumblings that Windows 10 will become an “optional” Windows Update candidate in future – you’ll start your computer one day and you’ll have a whole new Operating System in place.

Should you worry about that? Or should you bother upgrading now? Well, a lot of articles have already been written about Windows 10 and you can research them at your leisure. Or you can read my perspective here – which is that of Grandpa Geek helping other seniors cope. Your choice. Here’s my take with some random thoughts.

  • Microsoft has largely gotten it right with Windows 10. They have made an operating system that’ll work OK on a smartphone/tablet or on a keyboard and mouse desktop, and haven’t tried to force either method on the other. They put the Start button and Menu back. You don’t have to use a touchscreen if you don’t want to. The annoying “Modern” apps and tiles are still around but they are much less in your face and you can get rid of them easily. If you’re an old school keyboard/mouse user you can buy a new laptop or desktop without fear.
  • There are other advantages. Windows 10 starts faster and runs faster. It seems to be better adapted to the multicore processors of today and it has all the latest 3D DirectX technology if you’re a gamer. It’ll be supported for a much longer time than Windows 7.
  • If you currently run Windows 8 or 8.1, an upgrade is a no-brainer. You’ll enjoy the Start button, unobtrusive menu and best of all – no Charms Bar nonsense.
  • If you run Windows 7 and are happy with it, I see less reason to upgrade if you don’t want to. Most of Windows 10’s new features let you use a touchscreen or talk to a search “helper” named Cortana. These are of limited interest to most folks with old school hardware. That said, I upgraded a 2012 era Windows 7 desktop and my wife – the anti-geek around here – is coping just fine with it. Other seniors I know have had a learning curve or got into Tablet Mode and lost their desktop icons without knowing why.
  • To make Windows 10 really look like Windows 7 you need Classic Shell installed. I’ve done this on both my installations and I would really recommend this free add-on to any senior. You’ll then get a classic old school Start Menu and the flashing tiles will be hidden away unless you really want to see them – not! The picture above is my laptop with Classic Shell and any Windows 7 user would be happy with it. I have also banished Cortana and her search box from my taskbar.
  • Microsoft being Microsoft do not expect a seamless upgrade. I’ve now upgraded a Windows 7 machine and a Windows 8.1 laptop to Windows 10 and both gave problems.
    Some were minor niggles such as an Intel hard drive accelerator or an AMD video card enhancement program failing to run. Others were major – my security suite failed to start and I had to uninstall it and reinstall an updated Windows 10 version. Also my chosen wifi adapter was offline and I had to fix that. Nothing a geek can’t handle but could be problematic for someone less techy. The best way to be sure Windows 10 will work without fail is to get a new system with it installed from the get-go. But you knew that already.
  • The most annoying feature of Windows 10 is that when you shut it down, you don’t really shut it down. Windows 8 is the same. If you do a software upgrade that requires a reboot make sure you select Restart from the menu. Do not shut down as this simply puts the machine to sleep and any changes you made will not stick. This has caused my senior “clients” all kinds of problems – especially with security updates.
  • Windows 10 is a major upgrade. It’ll take a couple of hours to download, copy files, install and configure itself. it’s all done without your input – except you choose to keep all your files and programs, natch! Your computer will be out of service during this time.
    Before you start make sure you disconnect your printer, external hard drive etc. – everything except mouse and keyboard. Also turn off the screensaver or set it to never come on – especially make sure the machine will not go to sleep during the installation process. This has caused repeated failures for Windows 10 to install.
    There is a limited chance you’ll brick your system – if the upgrade fails you’ll be back to Windows 7 or 8.

To summarize, a Windows 10 upgrade is definitely worth a try if you have Windows 8 on a fairly new PC. If you have Windows 7 on an older one I’d say the new features won’t be of interest and it probably isn’t worth it. Of course if you want the latest DirectX gaming features on a new video card I’d upgrade – but how many seniors are like that?

Sadly in my seniors group the ones most interested in upgrading are the ones who have older, non touchscreen slow laptops running Windows 7. I can’t convince them to let sleeping dogs lie. I get ready to fix what wasn’t broken previously.

The best solution of all is to wait until a new machine is needed and then get Windows 10 on it fully installed, configured and checked out. Or maybe choose Apple. Or install Linux. Can’t be any worse than troubleshooting a quirky Windows 10 “upgrade.”

 

Too Much Information

Well maybe I can’t program a PVR but I do know how to fix most computer problems. Here are a couple I dealt with the past couple of days, courtesy of my coffee group of old fogies.

Problem #1 – Customer has a new desktop which features both a wifi and wired connection capability. He was having trouble getting on the Internet and after contacting Bell support was told that the two ways of connecting were competing. He was advised to unplug his wired connection to his gateway. When he did this, he said his problem cleared up but then his wife couldn’t get on the Internet with her iPad. I didn’t see the connection between the two problems, but a visit to his house revealed that in unplugging his wired connection he had also unplugged a special wireless access point his wife needed to get online. The cable was loose. So I plugged it back into the gateway. Problem solved.

Problem #2 – Second Customer has complained for days that after installing Windows 10 he has lost his Recycle Bin from the desktop. I tried a couple of times to troubleshoot this over the phone without success. Again I had to make an housecall.

When I saw how his desktop looked (this was an old school non- touchscreen laptop) I couldn’t believe it. No desktop icons at all, and the Windows 10 Start button didn’t appear to work in the slightest. I restarted the machine, the desktop appeared briefly and then disappeared. I dove into the settings and discovered that the laptop for some reason was in Windows 10 Tablet Mode and I was actually looking at the famous Windows 8 Start Screen. Customer had taken all the “Modern” app tiles off the screen so it was totally blank – that’s why the “Start Menu” didn’t work either. I switched off Tablet Mode, the desktop reappeared along with all the Icons, including the Recycle Bin.

Now you might ask how the machine got into Tablet Mode in the first place. Well Customer #2 has an Android tablet which has some bizarre app called Side Sync – useful to make your laptop look like a tablet. Apparently he thought this would be a good idea so he installed it on the laptop. Go figure.

All this domestic IT work happened because in my view computer technology is still too difficult for people to actually use without getting into trouble – even after 25 years of Windows. Installing Windows 10 isn’t making it any better. Most of the time when I help someone these days it’s because they have screwed something up and don’t know how to get back to normal. I end up with a lot of detective work, basically figuring out what they did wrong. Some stuff they do I never have seen in close to 50 years of computer operation. At least I know why most employers still lock computers down totally in the workplace.

Too Much Information if you ask me.

 

Wanna Blog?

 

Back in the last century if you wanted a personal “online presence” it wasn’t as easy as setting up a Twitter or Facebook account. In those days most geeky types had their own website.

You could have it hosted on one of the megasites like Tripod, Angelfire or the (now defunct) GeoCities. Each one had its own set of quirks and templates but – let’s face it – the default stuff was pretty lame. To get something personal you had to learn HTML and probably how to use an FTP program to upload your webpages and graphics. Coding was via an HTML editor or by hand in a Notepad like application.

I did that back in the day, and after GeoCities went dark I used Delphi Forums as the basis for my site. Nowadays I never bother with all the techy stuff and go straight to a blog. That’s what I want to do anyway – write some brief articles to keep friends and family up to date.

As with most online tech, blogging has seen a lot of convergence and these days the best blogging software gives you everything you need to set up a blog or a commercial site right out of the box. No HTML needed, no FTP programs – it’s all easy peasy, right? It can be that way – or not. Read on.

If I were starting a blog today I’d have three options. There are probably more, but these are the three I’d consider:

  1. Use Google’s Blogger Site
    This is indeed how I got started. As far back as 2002 I had a Blogger account – even before Google bought the company. There are some advantages for sure to Blogger. First, it is a Google app so you can access it easily through the same account you use for GMail or Google Drive. Second, it is dead easy. Set up your account and you are set to start blogging.
    The disadvantages are – first, it’s Google and you may not like Google all that much. Second, the templates are pretty lame and your blog is going to look like 100,000 other people’s. Third, I ended up with two accounts after Google got Blogger in the fold and was never able to combine them. Although this was probably my fault it was annoying and confusing.
    In summary I think this is a great way to start a blog if you just want to experiment and see if you like it. If you know you want to be more serious about it I’d try another option.
  2. Use WordPress.com
    WordPress is a competitor to Blogger in terms of software and in my view it’s more professional looking. Originally WordPress just supplied the software, but due to popular demand they set up a website where you can use it easily enough. You can even pay to have them host a personal domain if you want, so your site is called mygroovyblog.com instead of mylameblog.wordpress.com.
    WordPress gives you the ease of use that Blogger does and provides that excellent WordPress look and feel. Unfortunately you will be stuck with the generic WordPress templates and themes – I can spot a blog made with “Twenty Fourteen” a mile away.
    Nevertheless WordPress.com is a great option, and if you do select it as your host of choice your blog won’t have quite as much of a “training wheels” appearance as with Blogger.
  3. Use WordPress on Your Personal Web Host with Your Personal Domain
    In my view this is the only way to go if your goal is to have a commercial website, or if you want to sell stuff online. It’s probably a bit of overkill for a casual blog but hey..it’s what I do now.
    I had to find a hosting service, register my domain through it, and then use the web service’s scripts to install WordPress. This costs real money to do, rather than the free options offered by Blogger or WordPress.com. It’s not a lot of money though, given the flexibility it offers.
    The advantages are many. First, you control your site without any ads you may not want to he placed there. Second, you can add plug-ins that speed up your site, kill spam comments, and notify Twitter and Facebook that you published something new. Third, you have your own website in its own right, with a domain name that means something to you. Finally you can install a premium WordPress theme that is not like the thousands of others. My simple Bayse theme is used by only 130 other people on the Internet so it’s not that common.
    The only disadvantages are cost and the need to be a little more tech savvy. But it’s nowhere near as complicated as it was when I had to code all that HTML back in the day.

So there you have it. Depending on your blogging interest you can have it free and simple, or pay a bit more and invest a bit of time to get more personal. I think it’s worth the time, worth the money. Your mileage may vary. But give blogging a try at least. You can say more than you can on Twitter.

Too Much Technology

Given that I have close to half a century’s experience in programming, configuring, upgrading, repairing and building computers, plus plenty of time spent setting up printers, scanners, tablets, networks, DVD players and VCRs (!) there shouldn’t be too much in the way of electronic technology that leaves me flummoxed.

The sole exception seems to be a Cisco 9865 HD-PVR which my anonymous cable provider (Rogers) calls NextBox 3.0.

We received this mysterious piece of equipment as part of an Internet-TV-Home Phone Bundle. It replaced a perfectly easy to understand 4842 cable box. On the surface it seems like a pretty good idea:

  • It can record on one TV and be played back on another. There is a little network it sets up automatically with other HD cable boxes in your home.
  • It records in HD and has a big hard drive so you won’t likely run out of space.
  • You can record 8 different shows at a time. Why you’d want to I can’t say, but it’s a possibility.

That’s the good news. The bad news (even ugly news) is that it is the most exasperating piece of you know what to be released since Rogers’ own “advanced” wifi gateway. Fortunately we get it leased to us as part of a deal, and didn’t have the misfortune to buy it.

  • First of all when we got it, the picture the cable box part was displaying looked fuzzy. After some Internet research (there’s no manual) I found out that the default resolution isn’t what my TV is capable of, nor is it even what Rogers sends down the pipes to my house. I had to futz around deep in the bowels of the menu to set it right.
  • Second it never seems to work properly – and all it has to do is tune a TV channel. Often when we dial up said channel we get a message that “Channel X is unavailable, try later.” This channel is coming through fine on our simple 2nd cable box but not the HD-PVR.
  • Third we get freeze-ups and dead air, and the only way to get rid of that is take the ‘big hammer” out and reboot the system. I was doing this once a day for a while.
  • Fourth, often when you turn the box off for five minutes, it starts downloading heaven knows what and that takes half an hour before you can watch TV again. You get the dreaded DNLD sign in the display and you are finished.

Finally I got tired of all this garbage and swapped the unit for a new one at the local Rogers store. Well I tried to swap it; the local store had run out of exchange units so I had to go halfway to Ottawa to find a shop that had one. Is that a sign of anything?

The new one seems to be marginally better but it still randomly skips a scheduled recording. This might be a problem (missing the Y&R) but fortunately the 10 year old standard definition PVR we have in the basement never fails. I have it programmed as a backup.

Part of this conundrum is probably my fault. I never record anything to watch for myself, so I have never mastered the skills of my 6 year old grandson when it comes to manipulating a Rogers remote. This HD-PVR is just too much technology for me – sort of like an iPad or Android tablet. Something I don’t like, won’t use often and hence never acquire the skill needed to make it work the way it should. But I don’t think all of the fault lies between remote and cable box. This NextBox 3.0 gadget is just not ready for prime time. And you don’t have an alternative thanks to the cable TV monopoly.

We hear a lot about folks cutting the cable and going with IPTV – streaming their favorite show on Netflix. Given my experiences with NexBox 3.0 I can appreciate why.

 

 

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