Science and Technology

A Start Menu for Windows 8

A Start Menu for Windows 8

I can’t believe I haven’t written about this sooner. Though consumers are buying tablet computers in greater numbers than classic computers, that hasn’t removed the necessity for a laptop or desktop computer. Sooner or later these need to be replaced and that will now mean buying a PC that ispreloaded with Windows 8. And I can say without hesitation, folks despise Windows 8. I might be able to help with that.

Choose Privacy, Always

Choose Privacy

The American Library Association’s Choose Privacy Week was May 1-7.  Oops—dropped the ball on that one.  Still, one of the key points of Choose Privacy Week is that privacy awareness is something we all have to take seriously all the time, particularly online. A common mistake when considering privacy is assuming that it is something we possess naturally and have taken away from us by others. The reality is that privacy is something we have to actively claim for ourselves and work for every day. Our electronic world does not allow for anything less.  People become understandably indignant when their sense of privacy is violated. I’m not trying to blame the victim—indeed, the potential victims are any or all of us. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that today’s world of hyper-connectivity and big data doesn’t allow us the luxury of treating privacy as a given.  

First, let’s get real about privacy:

Looking for a good cheap tablet? Get a Nook HD while you can!

Looking for a good cheap tablet?  Get a Nook HD while you can!

In the past I have lambasted Barnes and Noble's Nook products for a number of reasons, but none of them have to do with device itself.  I dislike how eBooks purchased from B&N are encrypted with the credit card number used to purchase them (don't forget that number!). I dislike how stripped-down the app selection is. I dislike their severe lack of media offerings.  But the device itself?  It's got good specs!  Nice  HD screen, decent processor speed, expandable storage, slick design—it's got all the makings of a great tablet, save for the fact that it has been tethered exclusively to Barnes and Noble's horrible business practices.  But that has now changed with a significant price drop and the addition of the Google Play app store.  If you're on the fence about a tablet purchase, I now have to actually, grudgingly recommend the Nook HD over everything else!

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!

Your Own Little World: Create a Terrarium

Whether it's filled with mossy rocks and ferns or sands and cactus, a terrarium is an amazingly fun way to learn more about nature. With a terrarium in your room, something of the outdoors can always be inside.

Terrariums that feature plants (not animals!) lock water inside to keep the soil moist. When the plants transpire, they let out water vapor. When the soil gets warm, it lets out water vapor. All this vapor collects against the top and falls back as rain.

The Earth, the Moon, and the Sun

How do the Sun and the Moon affect the Earth? Without the Sun, the Earth would be a big ball of frozen mud, just another asteroid, drifting in space with no gravity to anchor it here and nothing to give us heat and light. We could not be here without the Sun.

There's Nothing Hard About Rocks!

Rocks come in all shapes and sizes, but what kind are they? You can’t ask them, but sometimes, if you know how to listen, they’ll tell you anyway.

The shape and size of a rock doesn’t tell you much about what it’s made of.
Big rocks break into smaller rocks all the time. But there are other things to look for that can give you their I.D.