Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

DSC03943How often have we received new computer hardware and we find that the only other item in the box is a single, folded sheet of very inadequate “instructions.” Or we need to use some software or social networking site or database that we have never dealt with before.  We go online to find out how our object or site of interest works. We may or may not find further instructions or an online user manual. If we do find something, we quickly learn that the information is not written for beginners.  The writer of what we have found assumes that the reader is an experienced user.  It usually takes a big chunk of time for determined neophytes to discover anything useful.

 We all find ourselves in this predicament at one time or another. In my case, librarian or not, if I’m doing something new, I’m a beginner. And where computers are concerned, there is always something new. We are inundated with suggestions and tips on our social networking sites and websites, as well as the insistent demands that come directly from our computer’s prompts.  They all tell us we should do something.  Unfortunately they neglect to tell us how.

 Confronted with this problem, I start with the website of the company that produces the hardware, software or site. They are the experts, right?  Like everyone else, I often waste a lot of time sifting through information I don’t need and not finding what I could actually use.  I always seem to end up at the library’s online book catalog. I know I have a lot of company.  The books I discover online are often already checked out by people trying to find the same answers I am looking for.  Like every other patron, I have to put reserves on them and wait. Once I get a book, I have a fighting chance. I can actually have it open next to me while I’m fighting with my gizmo, software, database, antivirus update, or whatever else some diabolical mind has decided is needed to complicate my technological life.


Bookstacks and Computer I thought I would save you some time and recommend some good book series that you might want to try when you find yourself stymied. There are so many computer subjects that it is not feasible to go into each topic.  Hence my list of book series.  I would suggest looking for these in your local public library’s catalog rather than for immediate purchase. Don’t take out jsut one. Find several, perhaps one in each series. You can see which books work best for you. Different books may have different types of information.  One may begin by telling you how to buy an item.  Another might just jump in and tell you how to use it. Another may have more detailed instructions for setup, details that might be critical for a beginner’s understanding. In the long run you probably won’t save money by using library books first. But you will have a better working home library.

 When I put [        ] with the name of a series, it’s up to you to replace the brackets with your topic of interest.  Then you just continue typing the name of the series to see if the library owns it (online catalog) or if the book has been published on your topic in a particular series (wherever you order your books). Each series will have a number of authors writing on different topics.  The only constants are the series title and the publisher.  You can do a keyword search on the entire series by using the series title and the name of the publisher if you want to see all the books in a particular series. The best place to find all of a series title would be at the publishers website. Libraries can’t buy everything in all subjects. Just because they don’t own a book, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Once you find books you want, you can look for them throughout your library network’s catalog and suggest that your local library buy a particular book (or books) they don’t own.

 The whole point of the following books is to turn someone who knows next to nothing about a computer related topic into someone who is knowledgeable and competent. Start your search with these series.



 [          ]: The Missing Manual.  Publisher: O’Reilly. 

          This is a brilliant title for a very good series.  Each book was written with the express purpose of taking the place of the manual that was not with the computer, tablet, laptop, hardware, software, social networking site, etc.

For example, I was just looking up information on what can be done with an iPad.  The author of iPad: The Missing Manual does not assume you know what you are doing.  I like authors like this.  This particular author begins at the beginning — by explaining how to set up an iPad. Then she takes readers on their first exploration of Apple’s tablet.  The rest of the book shows the various ways this thing can be used.  It suddenly goes from being an infernal gizmo to something that might actually be useful. Not all authors and their books do this.  

 [       ] in easy steps.   Publisher: Easy Steps Limited.  This one is published in Britain.  I like the Brits. They are a sensible race.

          As the title implies, this is another series that takes you step by step through the labyrinth of setting up, getting acquainted with, and using various computer related items.  I find I have a special affinity for this particular series.  Take a look at one and see if you agree with me.


 Then there is Wiley Publishing.  The following three series are all published by Wiley.

 [       ] for Dummies.  Publisher: Wiley Publishing

          This is probably the most widely recognized of the computer help books.  IDG Books was there first with their DOS for Dummies. They never looked back. It was so popular that IDG created a whole series of books covering computer based topics and then continued to expand into a large number of other topics.  Their computer series has saved my technological life at the library on occasions too numerous to count.  IDG was acquired by Wiley. “For Dummies” are still excellent books.  Although not in color, their line drawings and other illustrations are easy to follow and their instructions are usually very straightforward.  And I do not mind being considered a “dummy” if this gets me information I can work with.


I like illustrations.  The more the merrier.  The next two series have plenty. And they are in color. Since both are by the same publisher, I wondered why the company decided they needed two separate series. I discovered that Wiley has a hierarchy.

 [       ] Simplified.  Publisher:  Wiley Publishing

          This series is definitely just for beginners.  If you don’t have a clue, start here.

 Teach Yourself Visually [       ] .   Publisher:  Wiley Publishing

          Feeling a little more adventurous?  The Teach Yourself Visually starts at a beginner’s level, but then continues into areas that would be considered intermediate.

Until I find additional series that I find particularly useful, I will end here with my posting on books.  If you find any of these particularly useful, please let me know.  The same goes for a series you have used and like that I may not know.  I and other who use this site will be extremely grateful.

Books are always my starting point.  When writing a book, authors have the time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. A good how to author understands that readers are looking for information and need to have it explained carefully.  Material is checked by others and often rewritten.  For me, this is the best place to start. If I am pressed for time, which is usually the case, there are other sources that I can consult as well, especially while I’m waiting for those books to come in.  I continue with these in the next posting below.

vea/9 September 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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Periodical AreaIt’s a changing world out there and not always for the better. Have you ever noticed that new does not always mean improved? Just more complicated.

There used to be three reliable computer magazines that I often checked: Smart Computing (for beginners), PC World, and PC Magazine. The last two had a nice range of articles for every level, from beginners to experienced computer users. None now exist as either as hard copy or online magazines. If you own a Mac, however, you are in luck. Mac World still exists in a paper format.

If anyone reading this knows of a good, current computer magazine for beginners, or at least for non-techies, please let me know. It can be online or on paper.


When looking at any website for the first time, you should always do three things.
1. Read the “About” section first.
2. Check for FAQs (frequently asked questions).
3. Look for tabs near the top of the home page that have a small v next to them. This denotes a down arrow that may or may not be filled in. Clicking on the arrow gives you a drop down menu. The selections offered will provide additional information.

Following these steps will keep you from wasting time on the wrong site and completely missing the perfect one.

I have found the websites that follow to be useful. Please read the descriptions accompanying each one. In them I give you additional tips for using the site and others like them.


Computer Newbies Help (Forum)
This site is a forum. Forums are places where you can ask questions. Often these have people who work for the forum both doing the monitoring and answering queries. Other times questions are only answered by whoever happens to be visiting the site. You will find other forums on your own. You will discover which best meets your needs and who are the best responders. The nice thing about this particular forum is that is expressly designed for newbies. Computer Newbies Help does not have an “About” section, but it does have FAQ’s. Make sure you check your section of interest for the date of the latest posting. Some of these will be as up-to-date as today. One hasn’t been posted to since 2011.

Kim Komando (Radio) Show (Up-to-Date Tech News and Advice)
Kim’s radio show has been around for years. The website is definitely worth a close look. At first there appears to be no place to ask a question or to access a topic. Near the top you will see a line of tabs: The words “The Show”, “Read” and “Watch” each have that v (down arrow) I mentioned above. Here you will find information about the show, forums and topics. Kim’s radio show and the home page of her website help direct you to some of the current topics of interest. You may have to dig a bit to find your topic of interest.

eHow — the how to do just about anything site
This is one of the first “how to” sites I ever used and it is always worth a visit. The people who use it are the ones who provide the How tos. The entries are usually well written and easy to follow. (Ignore the ads that usually appear in the middle of the instructions.) Make sure you check the date the instructions were posted. If you need information on how to do something in Windows 8.1 and the post is dated 2012, it’s going to be dealing with the wrong version of Windows.

Basic Computer Knowledge Questions from eHow
eHow covers a lot more topics than just computers. The above is a shortcut to a subsection to their computer section. It specifically covers basic questions about computers.

How To Solve the 10 Most Common Tech Support Problems Yourself
These suggestions are still good, solid tips. But check the url (web address) directly above. You will see that it is from PC World. Since this magazine no longer exists. The advice given here is good general advice. But the older this piece gets, the larger the chances that the recommended websites for the fixes may not work.

Top 10 Computer Repair Forums and Message Boards from Computer Technician (if you are feeling brave)
This is an interesting listing of forums. I just wish the piece were dated. The only date I see is the copyright date of the site at the bottom of the screen – 2014.

Top 10 Safe Computing Tips from MIT (if you are not feeling quite so brave)
MIT may sound a little scary to a neophyte. Don’t let it deter you. These are good, basic rules of the road and will help keep the information on your computer safe. Another entry that is not dated, however.

Windows Basics for All Topics (for Windows 7)
Nicely set up by topic. When you pull up an article though, the print is on the small side. To make print larger on your computer screen, hold down the Ctrl key (usually on the lower left hand corner of your keyboard) and tap the + key (usually upper right). To make it smaller again, do the same only with the – key.


The next two sites are from the perspective of the person on the other side, the person who is trying to help you. Reading this may help you to figure out exactly what you need to ask and how you need to ask it.

How to Help Someone Who is Computer Illiterate with a Computer Issue

How to Help Someone Use a Computer from UCLA



Technology for Genealogy Interest Group – Facebook
Some things are worth getting a Facebook Account for and this is one of them. Not only do you get a lot of tips, but you can ask a question. The answers come from people who have already had and solved the same problem you are having.
I do have a tip about using a site like this. I have never completely trusted social networking, so I have never used my name as a sign in. I chose something relevant instead. I decided on several monikers I would wanted to use and then tried to match it to a gmail account. If you decide on one screen name for everything, people are likely to get to know you and recognize you by that. It may take you some extra time. But it’s worth it.

vea/9 September 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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115  Larger Question MarkWhen it comes to computers, I often feel like a cartoon character with a perpetual question mark over my head.  I just learned how to add a link to a pdf formatted document in WordPress. I needed to add a list resources for Spanish genealogy in my previous posting. I had never don this before and it took some hunting in WordPress to find the instructions.  I’ll say this for WordPress.  At least I found them.  And I understood the instructions when I got to them. Thank you anonymous WordPress writer.  You are worth your weight in gold.

Have you ever noticed how the answers to simple questions tend to get over complicated by many of the techie writers who create computer help pages.  I am really starting to understand the use of the words “dummies” and “idiots” in the titles of books about computers.  If people think you are a dummy or an idiot, at least in a particular subject, they may take the time to explain basic concepts to you.  They may even answer a simple question simply.

I get the feeling that most people who write computer user manuals or “help” pages think that their readers are as experienced as they are.  News flash.  If we are looking at a user manual or a help page, we aren’t.

Is it really too much to ask that a mouse comes with a slip of paper that says it’s plug and play.  That virus detection software includes instructions that tell one how to temporarily disable it so we can add our genealogy software without complications. Instructions that we can find easily. That we can understand if we actually do locate them. Is it possible to have the faq page begin simply and work it’s way up to complicated. I’m sure you can add numerous examples of your own.

I am lucky. I am a librarian.  I have research skills. I can check with colleagues to see if they have had any experience with my problem when I’m having trouble finding an answer myself. When you are dealing with computers you’re always learning something new, no matter who you are.  The rate of change is mind boggling. Even as a librarian, I have discovered a huge gap between having a computer in the library, with great tech backup, and one at home with no safety net.

This blog is obviously not about technical computer help. What I do hope is that it helps cut through some of the tall grass so that you find ancestors more easily or discover a book or website that helps solve a genealogical problem.  But when it comes to actually dealing with the technical side of computers, we’re all in this together. And if one of my readers is a computer techie, please remember — keep it simple for the rest of us.  That would be more deeply appreciated than you know.

vea/28 August 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy



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To me, there is nothing like having a book in my hands or an original record on the table in front of me.  Sometimes seeing the original gives you that one piece of information that you need that you would not get from it online. At the same time, none of us have unlimited resources (time or money).  The only things that do appear to be unlimited are the books and records that just might contain the information we are seeking.

Thank goodness for digitization. Although what is available online is still the tip of the iceberg, that tip keeps getting bigger thanks to grants for digitization projects and groups like the Internet Archive.  We are able to quickly search an entire online book electronically for one piece of information or read it page by page for a more in depth study.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Internet Archive at its Northeast Regional Scanning Center, conveniently located at the Boston Public Library.  The Archive digitizes books, yearbooks, city annual reports. Anything between covers could be a candidate for digitization. Our guide specifically discussed Boston’s annual reports. Now a city’s annual report may sound like boring reading.  Don’t you believe it. There can be all sorts of information packed away there. They have great local history. One researcher was able to digitally search city annual reports to track the growth and decline of specific ethnic groups within specific neighborhoods of Boston.  This was make possible by the work that had already been done by the Internet Archive.

Books used to be time consuming and difficult to digitize, but the Internet Archive now uses a specially designed V-shaped cradle to hold the books being copied.  [No broken spines.]  A 300 page book can now take just a few hours.  The Internet Archive scans also include OCR (Optical Code Recognition). This creates data code for the content of books which, in turn, allows information and specific words within books to be tracked. It could have taken our friend mentioned above years to do the research that he was able to search digitally in a much shorter time.

Did you know that you can read any of the books scanned by the Internet Archive on your Kindle? They can also be listened to as audio books as well, but the voice does sound canned. Internet Archive owns the books that they copy and they give their digital copies away free to whoever wants to read or listen to them.  The cost is 10 cents per page.  It’s $30.00 for a 300 page book, but you get it for free. Money for the scanning often comes from grants. Google would have digitized all these books for free, but in the end Google would have owned the digitized version of all the books.  If they wanted to charge for access in the future, they could.

The BPL has had all their genealogy books digitized.  If a book is still under copyright and it is a book that cannot be lent in hard copy, they loan out digitally only that number that they have in hard copy.  If they own three hard copy (paper) books, only three people can borrow the digital copies.  Legally this seems to satisfy the copyrights. For a link to this treasure trove, just click BPL at the Internet Archive.

vea/15 October 2012
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com

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