Chuck Gray

My Favorite Office Alternatives

My Favorite Office Alternatives

Microsoft Office maybe the go-to suite for businessy type things, but goodness gracious, it is expensive!  And copy-protected!  A single-PC license for the most stripped-down version of Office, the Home & Student edition which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, runs $139.99.  That’s for ONE PC and lord help you if you need to reinstall it at any point - you’ll likely end up on the line with Microsoft tech support trying to re-activate your legitimately-purchased software.  You’ve also got the option of paying $400 (or as I like to call it, my grocery budget) for the full Office experience with all its bells and whistles  . . . again, for one PC.  Please.  Have some free software, on me!
 

On Becoming a Fearless Computer User

On Becoming a Fearless Computer User

From 2000-2003 I was a creative writing major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a university most well-known for its schools of engineering and computer science.  Guess I could have thought that decision through a little better, but I’m glad I didn’t.  I even lived in a private dorm adjacent to the engineering campus, Hendrick House, surrounded by some of the strangest, most intelligent and most wonderful people I’ve ever known, almost all of them engineers.  When I arrived at UIUC, I knew the bare bones of computering—how to type, how to use a Web browser, how to use a word processor, and play a few games, but not much else.  However, over the course of three years living with these technological elite, I picked up more than a few tricks not only about using computers, but about how to fearlessly teach myself more.  And now I pass that on to you.  

Attaining fearlessness in the face of learning more about the computer lies in the art of reversibility.  The most common fear my students express is that they will press the wrong keys or click the wrong thingies and destroy their computers.  I try to assure them this is highly unlikely, but that discomfort still remains. Certainly I felt that way 10 years ago.  I discovered over time that there are particular steps you need to take to ensure that, if the worst happens and your computer stops working, you can back out of your mistake or recover your computer.  With the following steps accomplished, you’ll find that you feel much less hesitant about stepping outside your comfort zone.

On the Horizon in Mobile Computing

Ubuntu Linux and Firefox Company Logos

Tech is moving faster than ever and what we might still consider novel is, in fact, quite dated.  Do you realize that the iPhone and iPad mobile iOS operating system is close to six years old?  And Google’s Android is not much younger than that.  While both companies continue to innovate marginally, it’s safe to say we know roughly what to expect from both platforms, being as entrenched as they are.  Is the mobile market then ready for fresh competition or are newcomers (and a couple of “oldcomers”) just a flash in the pan against Apple and Google?

Sideloading Android Apps to Your Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire H D

The Kindle Fire HD really is a fine piece of mobile computing hardware.  Everything from the high-definition screen to the staggering Dolby audio fidelity to the grip of the device has been well thought-out.  It’s designed with media consumption in mind, with access not only to Amazon’s vast library of ebooks, music, movies, and TV, but also to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and more.  And it’s cheap too, starting at $200 for a 16GB wifi variety.  It's a shame then that such a great device is paired with Amazon’s App Store, whose offerings are laughably, pitifully lacking when compared to the Google Play store.  What’s worse, you can’t put the Google Play store on the device without some serious Android hacking chops and voiding the warranty in the process.  But, if you or a friend own another Android device with access to the Google Play store, like an Android smartphone, there is a way around this!

Watch out for Cheap Tablets!

curtis klu tablet computer

Serial readers of the Tech Answers blog probably know that I would recommend either an iPad Mini or a Google Nexus 7 for an eReader tablet and that, though they are very pretty (the devices, not the blog readers, who could be pretty, but I wouldn’t know), I would guide most away from retailer-specific hardware like the Kindle Fire or the Barnes & Noble Nook.  But that overlooks one very important buying category: Cheap Tablets.  These are sub-$150 and often sub-$100 devices that you’ll find at convenience and drug stores.

Intro to Adobe Digital Editions

Adobe Digital Editions program icon

If you own a Nook, Sony, Kobo, or other non-Amazon e-ink (black and white) eBook reader listed here and you’ve checked out eBooks from CRRL, chances are you’ve had the misfortune of dealing with Adobe Digital Editions, the gateway between most copy-protected eBooks and reading devices.  If you’re planning on giving or receiving one of these toys this holiday season, you’ll want to read on.  Adobe Digital Editions is poorly designed, non-intuitive and relies far, far too heavily on keyboard shortcuts and buried menus.  Even with its recent, underwhelming 2.0 update, be you tech “dummy” or “genius," it’s a pain. Sadly, it’s what we’re all required to use in order to get our eBooks from the Internet to our devices.  Read on to learn its secrets.  

Rip-offs and Tributes: A Look at Derivative Works

picture of copy machine

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Isn’t that how an article about derivative works is supposed to begin?  We only ask because there are probably other articles out there on this topic that begin the same way.  Whether or not we admit it to ourselves, 100% true originality in the case of media like books, film, music and games is practically unheard of.  That’s not a bad thing; works that build on one another can be some of the richest experiences imaginable.  On the other hand, some people are just lazy and rip-off other, greater works. 

iPad Mini Review

iPad mini review

The iPad mini is awesome.  You can read on if you like, but just know that this is a tech purchase you probably will not regret.  With its slim size, diminutive weight, and full-sized iPad technology, the iPad mini is a winner with few drawbacks.  

Philosophically I approve more of Google’s open source Android than I do Apple’s closed-off iOS.  I also am not a fan of iOS devices’ lack of centralized file storage and exploration. But really, there’s no denying that Apple knows how to build a tablet that overcomes these issues.  The mini is 0.28 inches thick, 7.87 inches tall, 5.5 inches wide, and weighs only 0.68 pounds.  The front of the mini is entirely glass with a diamond-cut edge that fits snuggly into an anodized aluminum unibody that comes in both slate and silver.  The left and right bezel of the device have been narrowed significantly; at times this can make holding the device in portrait mode slightly awkward, but not as much as you might think thanks to its surprising lightness.  Apple is king when it comes to rolling out devices that are a pleasure to hold and the mini is no exception; you will not believe how light and thin it really is until you hold one.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman

If you knew when the world was going to end, to the day, what would you do? Would you abandon everything and do the things you always wanted to? Would you wallow in despair? Would you go insane? Would you end your life? Or would you cling to your identity, doing what you'd always been doing right up to the end? You will ask yourself these questions and many more as you read through Ben H. Winters' The Last Policeman.  

The 2012 Holiday eReader Tech Guide

The 2012 Holiday eReader Tech Guide

Updated November 2013: After a year of living with much of this tech, I have some new insights that should help you decide if you want to settle for slightly older hardware at cheaper prices when shopping for the 2013 holiday season.  I have also provided links to the updated versions of the devices that were listed in 2012 as alternatives to the standard Apple/Amazon/Google/B&N devices.