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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Social Distancing Reflections

There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.

As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source

You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.

One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.

Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.

A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.

Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”

I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.

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

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.

Windows is NOT the only OS

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I’ve previously posted about making your own Chromebook from an old laptop (or netbook) using CloudReady, well here’s another way to do it using Linux.

Now that I have my own Chromebook, I’ve installed Linux on both an old laptop and netbook; Linux Mint on the laptop and Puppy Linux on the netbook, although there are many Linux operating systems (or distros) to choose from.

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You will need to download and install your Linux distro of choice onto a USB flash drive, and then use it to boot your laptop. This is a little bit technical, but don’t let that put you off, find a geek to help you (or ask me nicely and buy me a coffee). Then it’s a simple process. The process wipes the laptop, so backup first.

What are you waiting for? Your new FREE Linux laptop awaits you!

Note: I tried Linux Lite before Puppy Linux, but had some keyboard issues. Having said that, Puppy Linux is great and very fast on an old netbook.

Make your own Chromebook

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Have you got an old laptop (or netbook) that you don’t know what to do with? Maybe it’s running slowly and driving you to distraction? Perhaps you’ve got your eye on a shiny new laptop, but can’t afford one? Or what about a Chromebook, although you hesitate because you’re not sure?

Well here’s an answer for you! You can turn your old laptop into a Chromebook, give it a whole new lease of life, and it will cost you nothing! Everything is done online with Google apps in the Chrome browser, a bit like using an Android smartphone (and you can synchronise all your devices). I use Windows 10 mainly, but have a spare laptop running CloudReady for ease of use and ‘relative’ portability (it’s a heavy laptop).

You will need to download and install CloudReady onto a USB flash drive, and then use it to boot your laptop. This is a little bit technical, but don’t let that put you off, find a geek to help you (or ask me nicely and buy me a coffee). Then it’s a simple process, all you need is here. The process wipes the laptop, so backup first.

What are you waiting for? Your new FREE Chromebook awaits you!

Note: you can also revive an old laptop with a Linux OS, you can find about it here.