Google Photos (OCR)

I’ve been using Google Photos for ages, but it was only recently that they added an optical character recognition feature. Basically, if you take a photo of text on your smartphone, check it out in the Google Photos app or (after it’s been uploaded and synchronised to the cloud) computer web browser and you get the option to optically scan the text in the photo and convert it to editable text. It will even read it aloud for you.

While we’re on the subject of Google and text, there’s also another app that’s very useful, one that I use all the time. One of the features of Google Keep is that you can record audio notes that are automatically transcribed into text. It’s remarkably accurate and useful for those times when you have an idea and are unable to type. I used it for this blog post and it required minimal editing to finish it off.

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Windows 10 Preview 21292.1000

I’ve just updated my Windows 10 laptop with this pre-release build of Windows 10 via the Windows Insider Program. It’s a chance to try out new features before the normal release date of significant updates to the Windows 10 operating system (see here for more information).

When it first loaded there was initially little to distinguish it from my existing version, just the information in the bottom right-hand corner of the desktop (shown above) and a weather icon and text on the taskbar. The latter expands to show various other information (which you can customise), but I like a minimalist taskbar and so I soon got rid of it. If you like these kind of features, you might find it useful.

Geeks (like me) can find more information here.

Windows Insider Program

I hope you always make sure your Windows (or other operating system) laptop or device is always up-to-date with software updates, and that you install them when prompted to do so. Yes, I know they can sometimes cause problems, but so far I’ve never had an update problem. Far better to have an up-to-date device with all the latest security updates, at least that’s what this geek believes.

I’ve recently taken it a step further, starting to live a little dangerously, although not as dangerously the options allow. I’ve joined the Windows Insider Program which gives you the option to receive preview Windows 10 builds, so you get the new features first with an opportunity to send feedback to Microsoft. Because they are pre-release builds there is more likelihood of problems, but again I haven’t had a problem yet.

I registered on the Windows website and chose the ‘recommended’ option in [Settings] which is the middle of three. Why not have a go yourself?

13/01/21 Update: I’ve switched to the ‘Dev Channel’ option in [Settings].

See also: Windows 10 Preview 21292.1000

LibreOffice: A Free Office Suite

The best free office suite just got even better as LibreOffice 7 was released recently. It’s the nearest you’ll get to Microsoft Office without having to pay a penny, and the latest version is even more compatible to it than previous versions.

LibreOffice includes several applications that make it the most versatile Free and Open Source office suite on the market: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing). Source.

So, if you don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office and like to use software installed on your computer (rather than in the cloud) this might be for you. There’s also a portable version that you can run directly from a USB flash drive, and you can even install it on your Chromebook.

Note: I currently use both LibreOffice and Microsoft 365 (as Microsoft Office is now called) because a subscription to the latter includes OneDrive cloud storage.

Digital Wellbeing (Sue Thomas)

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Our lives crossed when I lived in Leicester and we’ve been Facebook friends since. Sue Thomas has some important things to say about digital wellbeing and I’m pleased she agreed to write a guest post for me. Her book is excellent, click here for details.

I have spent the last 15 years researching the connections between nature and our digital lives, trying to find out whether it is possible to get a real connection with nature through technology. After speaking with and studying many important thinkers in the technology industry, environmental psychology, design, and urban planning, I felt certain that it is.

At times, my findings have been seen as controversial, but today in the COVID-19 epidemic that has changed. Now, digital wellbeing is becoming a lifeline for people stuck indoors for days and weeks on end. Some of the techniques I learnt about, such as watching nature on screens, following wild animal webcams, and listening to recorded birdsong, are being recommended by health experts. More and more researchers now know that such activities reduce stress and anxiety. Even playing a video game with natural landscapes can promote mental wellbeing!

So here are a few tips to help you get the benefits of nature while you’re stuck indoors during the epidemic.

  1. First things first – what can you see from your windows? If nothing much, consider moving the furniture around. A good view of greenery, trees, or even just more sky, can slow your heart rate and help you relax.
  2. When you’re browsing through Instagram, don’t swipe too fast. Take a moment to stop and appreciate the breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. Imagine the texture of those leaves and petals. Recall the scent of that bluebell wood. Remember running your fingers along the bark of that oak tree? The sensuous outdoors is right there in your phone.
  3. Choose a new wallpaper for your phone or computer screen. Research has shown that pictures of dense groups of leafy trees are very calming, so why not search for a jungle or forest? Then make sure you set time aside on a regular basis to just be with that image and sink into it, perhaps even meditate for a short while.
  4. Do you usually ignore your houseplants? Now you have the time to give them some love and be rewarded with a relaxing biophilic experience. Gently clean their leaves with cotton wool and warm water, make sure the pot is moist and they have the light level they need. Chat to them if you like. There are benefits for both of you.
  5. Search for recordings of birdsong. They are everywhere online but the BBC is a good place to start. If you can listen with headphones that’s even better. Just allow your senses to fill with the memories of all the times in the past when you have wandered through a wood, sat in the park or just been out in the garden, yet never paid proper attention to the birds. Now you have the time to do just that. Enjoy!

Other Information: Sue Thomas is the author of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age, available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. Visit her Facebook Page. She’s also on Twitter: @suethomas and Instagram: Digital_Wellbeing.

Sue also blogs here: https://suethomasnet.wordpress.com

See also: Recognising Birdsong

Debunking Chromebooks Myths

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

If you’re having to self-isolate or work from home (or simply not going out so much) in the current coronavirus pandemic you might be considering some new computer equipment. A Chromebook is an excellent choice, but you might have some reservations or even believe some of the myths.

For a start, Chromebooks are not just a browser with a keyboard. There’s so many apps (probably the same ones you use on our smartphone) that you can install to do all the things you do on a laptop. You can easily stream music and watch movies, even in full HD if you go for that option. Editing photos is a breeze.

“Ah, but I can’t use Microsoft Office!” Sorry, yes you can! You can use the Microsoft Office Mobile App or Office 365 online, and there’s an app for OneDrive.

You might think that Chromebooks are cheap and not worth buying. Not true. Yes, you get what you pay for, but there are some excellent budget models as well as very high-end ones.

Finally, you might think switching to a Chromebook is complicated. Sorry to disappoint you again, if you can use a laptop and a mobile you can use a Chromebook. You can also access your work on all three and synchronise etc.

Oh, and I didn’t mention that they’re stylish, light, have an incredibly fast start-up time, and a battery charge lasts forever! See also here.

Note: You can also make your own Chromebook from an old laptop, it just won’t have the same battery life etc.

Boring, but potentially useful!

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As the title suggests, this post is boring, but might be potentially useful. It’s simply about the consistent naming of computer files in order to help you improve productivity whilst using a laptop or whatever.

Life (by its very nature) comes in unexpected ways, sometimes throwing things at us that we can have difficulty dealing with, even if normally organised. One area of life that I can keep relatively organised is my computer, even allowing for the dreaded blue screen of death that could occur at any time.

Windows 10 has recently made it easier to locate files, but it’s still helpful to have a system. I use folders extensively and always make sure everything saved in OneDrive, to make sure it’s immediately backed up to the cloud. I also like to keep the contents of most folders in alphanumerical order and to assist this I prefix many files (such as letters, scanned documents, sermons and the like) with the date in a specific form.

I’m writing this on Wednesday 4 March 2020 (in my lunch break) and so today’s files will be prefixed with 200304 (the date in reverse order). This ensures files are kept in alphanumeric order and I can easily locate specific files on a specific date.

A boring post I know, but I hope this simple idea helps you.

Note: the screenshot above is my backup of posts on this site named in the way I’ve described. Click to see an enlarged image.

Avira Free Antivirus Software

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I wrote about Windows Defender in 2017, suggesting that you didn’t need to pay for anti-virus software because the one bundled with Windows 10 does a good job and integrates perfectly with the OS. Since then Windows Defender has been improved* and does a really good job of keeping you safe online; so there’s really no need look for an alternative, and especially no need to pay good money for protection.

I know many of you remain unconvinced about free anti-virus software, and so even this post won’t convince you. But for the rest of you, please trust me when I tell you that free software really does do the business!

However, you might say that you really don’t trust Microsoft (despite the fact that you trust them with Windows 10 on your computer in the first place), in that case here’s a great free alternative.

I haven’t used Avira, but I have it on good authority that it’s the best free alternative to Windows Defender. It blocks all kinds of threats (including spyware, adware and the like), offers real-time protection and updates, and can repair infected files. It doesn’t hog system resources (unlike some paid-for products) and is speedy and efficient. There are even free add-ons that can boost your protection.

So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to stick with the free Windows Defender that comes bundled with Windows 10, and certainly don’t pay good money for what can actually be inferior. But if you must have something else, you can’t go far wrong with Avira!

* I think Windows Defender is called Windows Security now. That’s the label on the settings window and taskbar icon anyway. It was the anti-virus software recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019.

Windows Defender

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I have a policy of never paying for anti-virus software; but is this stance justified? Why pay for software when the free Microsoft Defender comes with Windows?

I agree with those who say Defender isn’t the best out there, but it has to be said that no anti-virus software is 100% reliable. Defender’s advantages are that it integrates perfectly with Windows 10, it’s free and it’s not system hogging. I also immunise my PC regularly with SpywareBlaster and scan regularly with Malwarebytes (the free versions of both).

This is how I live with Defender’s limitations. But the best anti-virus protection is the PC user; don’t go to dodgy[dot]com and always pay attention to potential threats. This is my joined up plan around Defender, one that has served me well for many years, and remember that most PCs get viruses (and the like) because of users’ ignorance or gullibility. So, as I often say, ‘Keep up and pay attention’ – security is your responsibility, you know it makes sense.

Update January 2020: Windows Defender has recently been beefed-up and was recommended by WebUser magazine in 2019. Often paid-for anti-virus software is bloated and slows down your system, Windows Defender (or Security I think it’s called now) integrates perfectly with Windows 10.

Microsoft Windows 10

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I’ve now had experience of upgrading three computers to Windows 10, so I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts as you may be undecided.

My first upgrade was on a Windows 7 work laptop which I upgraded before the [Get Windows 10] taskbar icon appeared. I started the process on the Microsoft website, and this went smoothly with no problems. My wife Naomi’s Windows 8.1 laptop had been having a few problems and eventually wouldn’t boot up, and so I did a factory reset followed by the Windows 10 upgrade (called a clean upgrade) which again went well.

Things started to go wrong when I was upgrading a work Windows 7 netbook. It was a simple job to backup the files on the netbook to a USB flash drive before doing a clean upgrade. So far so good, and Windows 7 successfully updated to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1). The problem came when Windows Update froze during the upgrade to Windows 10, and the process wouldn’t complete. A little research (in the form of a Google search) showed this to be a common problem, and a simple manual fix from Microsoft sorted out the problem. On my third attempt, Windows 10 installed successfully.

A couple of things are worth mentioning. It’s a good idea to review the default settings in the final stages of the upgrade, and to switch on System Restore when it’s completed (it’s off by default). System Restore is necessary to return your computer to an earlier state after you’ve made changes and can sometimes be a life saver. Also, the option to return to your previous version of Windows remains in Settings for a while should you wish to go back.

Windows 10 retains the feel of Windows 7 and integrates the new features fairly seamlessly. The distinctive features of Windows 8 (generally not well-liked by users) are there, but in a restrained way, unless you choose to make them more prominent. In fact, it’s worth finding your way around Windows 10 and tweaking it to your personal taste.

Overall, I think ‪‎Windows 10‬ is a big improvement on both ‎Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, but this is possibly down to personal preference. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 you’ll find 10 easy to use, and if you don’t like 8 you’ll love 10. However, the free upgrade period has now passed, and the latest version is the Anniversary Update (an improvement on the original release).